Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Possibilities galore

Do people imagine and think of others as their lovers, just to see how it might feel being loved by a particular person? Like, how would this person call me if he was my lover? Dreaming of the way it sounds when the person calls your name. Imagining being lovers. Not that one seriously wants all these people to be one’s lovers nor that one may even be attracted to all these people. Still. The curiosity to see that which may never happen. Imagination opens up a world full of exciting possibilities to satisfy such curiosity.

I play a song in my head to entertain myself while sitting through a boring class. Imagination provides me the much needed distraction from reality while not taking me away from it so much so that I’m scared of being so totally in knowledge of what I want and see and thus, deprive myself of the surprises that reality offers.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead

This book could as well have been a theory of her philosophy with the ideal person being Howard Roark and the others just examples of variations of imperfect people. The story was just a prop, a background to the real intention of explaining her philosophy. Probably, that's what makes the book attractive to many. A philosophy told as a story. Few other books if any do this, none as far as I know. And this very form adopted to explain a philosophy is what creates problems. All the characters are integral in the way they are portrayed, each a different single colour. No hues allowed. The differences between them are crystal clear. Though very unrealistic, this could still be pardoned if not for her ruthless disapproval of Peter Keating when he wants to pursue his passion later in life. Sorry, but there are no second chances. It's like once she has defined Peter Keating, she wants no confusion in his characterisation because if he reforms, Peter Keating won't be Peter Keating, he will become Roark which cannot be allowed. There can only be one Peter Keating and one Howard Roark. The characters don't seem to breathe. She holds them tight and puts them in their slots with her obsession with perfection.

Towards the end of the story, she even leaves the pretence of a story and gets into a preachy tone, defining the concept of a second hander and on and on. Not that it doesn't make sense. Some of it does. The problem is not with the content but with how she goes about delivering it. She doesn't let the readers choose the characters they like. She tells them what is good, what is bad, what is ugly. She gives her own opinion and she is present throughout the novel like an unnamed invisible character in the story shouting what she has to say. She is not a neutral narrator just telling a story of Roark, Keating or Wynand. She has already decided what she wants the reader to pick from it and what to think about it. Every time before Roark or Dominique enter the scene, there are sevaral hints given to prepare the reader for their entry and how the reader should feel when her hero or heroine enter. She almost announces them loudly. A halo each would have completed the picture.

She compels her readers, especially the younger folks, (I was one of them), to try hard and convince themselves that they are Roarks or Dominques. If one fails to do so, one is left with no choice but to see oneself as a Keating or a Wynand or a Toohey which doesn't make the reader feel good. This is disturbing. Reality is not among the choices. Most youngsters, after reading this book, start calling themselves Roark and probably judge themselves all the time to live upto the ideal nature of the character. This is brutal. It kills the identity of the reader if the reader buys her philosophy. It makes them convince themselves that they always had a purpose in life, an undiscovered passion. If there was no story but just theoretical philosophy, it wouldn't have been so bad as there wouldn't be an example of a real life character called Roark who makes it possible to imagine an idealistic life lived. People would've cut it off saying this is just philosophy which cannot be put into practice and would have taken it in a lighter sense.

Also, because of her obsession with her philosophy, even her novels become repetitive. I couldn't go beyond a few pages of Atlas Shrugged or We The Living after reading The Fountainhead. To be honest, this book, The Fountainhead, shook me for almost a month when I was judging myself, comparing myself to the characters in the book, how much of whom I was. It's not a nice feeling. However, better sense prevailed. Maybe, all that I said is triggered by my discomfort with her philosophy but I do believe I have been honest with my evaluation. Anyway, one should start from one's own vantage point and see what one makes of her novel or her philosophy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

“Is the death of Osama Bin Laden the end of terrorism?” – An essay topic

The question itself seems to want to answer itself in the way it is asked. In order to question the question, we need to ask the following. Is Osama Bin Laden the only terrorist? Is he the cause of terrorism? We may arrive at a “No” for both the questions but our question here seems to want to make us believe otherwise. The question wants us to merely justify what it has already answered. Osama Bin Laden may provide a context for a tea time talk about terrorism but if we really want to understand what causes terrorism, we may have to look deeper. It might take a researcher to exactly tell what the causes are but using our logical mind we can definitely tell where to look for the causes. It is true when they say what you see is determined by what you want to see with the lenses you have. Today, our lenses have been tweaked with by our dear mass media so much that we seem to miss the reality as we are deliberately kept away from it.

Coming back to the question, framed differently, a question that doesn’t try to deliberately lead us somewhere, we may ask, “What causes terrorism?” Why would anybody want to terrorize anybody? What kind of life experiences one might have gone through to cause terror? Are terrorists born terrorists? Why do they become terrorists? Is it like the way most of us choose to become doctors or engineers? Now, for most of us, being a terrorist is something abnormal because our life experiences do not normally make us choose to become a terrorist. But hey, let us hold on and understand who ‘we’ are. We are a minority living in a highly protected environment, safely ignoring the world outside, having the luxury to discuss terrorism. And most often, we stop at discussing who the terrorists are with gory pictures of killings and bombings in our minds. It’s not by chance that this is so. Our media, which feeds us with a daily dose of the world stops there at these pictures and mysteriously doesn’t seem to go further. Coming back to ‘we’, taking India as an example, ‘we’ are at the maximum, 20% of India’s population. What do the remaining 80% discuss? Never mind.

In India, we are not unaware of terrorism. We do not have to be introduced to Mr. Osama to understand terrorism. The rising levels of naxalism in the country is no surprise. But all we read or hear about is how to curb it. Never mind why there is naxalism in the first place. 80% of India lives on less than $2 a day. How do they see the world? Do they discuss terrorism at tea time? We should ask ourselves how we would look at the world if we were living on less than $2 a day. Our mighty government keeps pushing the poverty line lower and lower so that we do not have to bother ourselves thinking of ‘them’. Even media protects our mind space from thinking about them. We seem to have drawn lines, their world and ours without even consciously accepting it. But the truth is that there’s just one world for all and everybody has to live together. By denying the majority their basic needs, a minority no matter how powerful is only short-sighted if it believes that the majority will accept its fate. Acceptance does not come easily when one doesn’t have enough to eat, talking at the minimum level. That is what is happening today. But we still don’t seem to see the time bomb ticking and we talk of the end of terrorism with Mr. Osama’s death.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Prison of Perspectives

I just watched this documentary called Born into Brothels. I sat down wondering when I finished watching it. I can start being critical about it with a go. However, I stopped. I tried to appreciate that it produced at least some feeling in this insensitive head watching it. I kept thinking.

What should I do?

How do I look at the world? There seem to be so many ways to look at it. So many.
I ask questions. What makes people happy and what makes them sad? I realize my questions are not good enough. They are not good enough to get answers that capture the reality, whatever it is, or are.

There’s no one thing or a couple of things that make one happy or sad. It’s much more complex than that. It’s a combination of things of various measures in various contexts. Sometimes, I feel just too helpless. I feel tied up with so many perspectives which do not let me decide how to act. What am I doing anyway? Watching these documentaries and movies and feeling them or thinking about them for a day or two. Then, what?

I never knew if there’s anything I’m good at. Am I even looking at everything around with any sensitivity? Am I really sensitive about things happening around me? Do I feel them? Am I conscious of them? How conscious can one be? Is there a limit? Till where do I go? Where do I stop? Would I know?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

To Write or Not to Write

When a friend suddenly brought it to my notice that I haven't updated my blog for a while, I realized I haven't been writing at all these days and it didn't even occur to me. I seem to lack any interest in most things around me or I am just not looking the right places. Either way, life seems pretty jobless and everything so overrated. I keep shunning the word important as I always do but even more these days. I'm curious to find anything that interests me just for the sake of understanding it. Not to use it or apply it but just to understand it. That's enough to make me happy, worth my time if it's worth any. I've become too choosy for movies or books. I hardly read which is too bad especially when I have time to read. I search for a dream but the same old ones keep coming back. Memory can make life so boring. Scarcity of dreams blurs one's imagination. I extrapolate and dread the time when I run out of memories going over them over and over again and get so bored with the lack of new ones. I dread boredom. Two eyes staring at nothing, looking nowhere. Silence. Emptiness. A dead end. Full stop.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Electoral 'democracy'

“Secret ballot doesn't allow voters to be accountable to the others, also affected by their vote, for their vote. With the lack of accountability, voters make biased choices, reflecting badly for the majority, when most voters act this way. This may be viewed as a collective action problem when people act as individuals. This may partially explain why good people do not get elected. Eg. of a biased choice: I vote for 'those who are likely to win because my vote is a waste otherwise'”

The story of democracy seems to look like a sorry tale. Is it just another system with the flawed assumption of equality? We may start off by asking, What is democracy? What we have today in various countries across the world, is this democracy? In that case, it definitely is a sorry affair. What in fact, we have mostly is electoral 'democracy'. Democracy is a theoretical concept. To appreciate or criticize the use of it as a system for nations, one needs to understand how it is being operationalized. Is electoral democracy the best way of practicing democracy? Have we really explored many ways in which democracy can be operationalized in order to benefit the majority which it theoretically claims to do. "Of the people, by the people, for the people." Can we say the governments that form with the elected representatives is of the people, by the people and for the people? The results definitely do not reflect this. Most places across the world, the majority of the population, who are poor and deprived, do not seem to benefit by the democracy practiced in these countries. So does that mean that democracy as a system has failed? The way I'd interpret this is that we have not really operationalised democracy in a way that benefits the majority. And unless that is done, it wouldn’t be a valid argument to say democracy is not good enough.

Now, some assumptions that we make while adopting electoral democracy seem to be
1. Popular opinion is reflected through elections
2. People who really want to serve the society contest for elections
3. Those who are elected will always act in the best interests of the people
4. The voters have a healthy choice of contestants to choose from
5. When a person votes, the person is consciously making an unbiased choice of a people’s representative who would serve in the interests of all
6. Those who are popular are those who ought to be in power
Clearly, all the assumptions are flawed. Popular opinion is that there is an utter lack of morality in the majority of the politicians who are misusing their power. So, elections do not reflect popular opinion. Today, in India, we see that a majority of those who are contesting do not have the best interests of the people as their aim. Many of them have criminal records. Those who are elected have not acted in the best interest of the majority. The contradictions that exist in the society are being perpetuated, inequality is rising in disastrous proportions, to the extent where society is divided into several layers, disconnected from each other, blind to the existence of each other. Do we really have a choice when we vote? Does anybody who wants to serve the society contest in elections? Do people who have the best interest of serving the society, if they do contest, get elected? Are people making an unbiased choice? Or with hardly any real 'choice', people's basis for electing a candidate changes drastically from what it should be? Lastly, a more fundamental assumption behind elections seems to be that those who are popular are those who ought to be in power. Popularity is assumed to be a trait that proves a person to be a good leader. I wonder whether this correlation really exists. Are all those who are popular good leaders? So, if we only take into account popularity which is assumed to get reflected in electoral democracy, is it good enough to prove a candidate to be a good leader?

I would argue, firstly, popularity does not really get reflected in the outcome of elections as the voters hardly have a healthy choice of candidates to choose from. Secondly, even if a person is popular, does that automatically make that person a good leader, does it ensure that the government, made by those winning elections on this basis of popularity, is of the people, for the people and by the people?

There may be not-so-popular people willing to serve the society who may be able to serve the society better than those who are popular. Does electoral democracy have any mechanism to filter in such people and filter out those who are popular but lack any willingness to serve the society?

Is voting the best way to choose our leaders? When we vote through secret ballot, it only reflects an individual’s choice. When a person votes, this person’s vote not only creates a chance for the voted candidate to represent this voter but many others. In that case, does a secret ballot, ensure any accountability of this voter to choose in the best interests of the society which also consists of others? Shouldn’t there be such accountability? Definitely, such accountability should be there. But again, the question is about how this can be operationalized. I have my own assumptions when I’m saying this. There are people with a good record of having served the society in whatever positions they held. When these people contest elections, they do not get elected. Why? It shows that people are not unbiased in their choices. How to ensure that their bias is filtered out of their choice? Is there a mechanism? Can bringing in accountability into the voting system, where each person is held accountable for making a choice that affects a lot many others, ensure this? This is still a theoretical concept. One needs to figure out how to build such accountability into the voting system. Also, there is often this criterion of people that those whom they vote should win and this in turn determines who they vote. It thus, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy when a majority do this based on their perception of who is likely to win. This is an example of how biased choices are exercised.

Now, the question arises whether by factoring in such accountability into the system, good leaders can be elected. My answer would be that this alone may not be enough. There are multiple interests in candidates contesting for elections which can be pursued by becoming an elected ‘representative’. Serving the society with the best interest for the welfare of the society may not be the sole interest. In the present electoral system, there is no way to figure this out and exclude, from contesting or getting elected, those who do not have any good interests and those who have harmful interests for the society. And the power to create such a mechanism is in the hands of those who do get elected. If these elected representatives are the people who have harmful interests, it is not in their interest to create such mechanisms of filtration. Probably, an enormous amount of mass mobilization is required to make this happen.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Before the Rains" - So what happened when the rains came?

A movie by Santosh Sivan, "Before the Rains" tells a story with an ending that only partially ends the story while ignoring a large part of what it depicts.

Why did Sajani kill herself?
Who do we hold responsible for her death?
Just the Englishman? Because he didn't accept her into his family? Or is it deeper than that?
What about the society?
Did she ever have a choice?
Did she have the choice to marry the guy she'd have liked to? Did she love the man she was married to? Is it wrong that she had a relationship with a man she loved?
Who gave her husband the right to beat her?

How different would it have been if the society she lived in wasn't the way it was? Would she still have killed herself if the society respected her freedom and choice? You tell a person whom to marry and you expect the person to love that person too.

Flags for freedom are raised in the end. What about the freedom of women? Does the flag make any difference to them? Would they also be free with the independence of the country? Are they free today?

What hypocrisy does the movie propagate when it symbolizes freedom with just the going away of the englishman? What society does it depict in the end? A society which doesn't look into its own flaws but considers only the foreigners as the cause of all its problems? Whose freedom were they fighting for?

Also
Why does TK join the independence struggle in the end? Does he suddenly realise that he was being a slave of the Englishman, who is now a bad guy?

And then comes the "song". "All is well that ends with patriotism and its symbols."
Is patriotism a way to preserve one's "identity" attached to a "nation" or a mechanism to propagate intolerance of one "nation"'s people for the other or something else altogether? Is it real? Do we need patriotism? Can there be life without it?

And it seems the director is in a dilemma about the language preference of his audience. Just the right mix of English speaking malayalis with a little Malayalam here and there seems to resolve it.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Shall I drink modern education?

I cannot indulge in asking how it tastes
For I'm thirsty
Fill me with your knowledge
the knowledge you have been filled with
by someone who was also filled with it
by someone who was also filled with it
by someone..
Is knowledge constant?
Then, how does it expand?
Does it expand as a rule or an exception?
Or is expansion of knowledge only reserved for a few born to be the few?
I don't have to be bothered with expanding it?

I cannot tell a fact from an opinion
I never learnt to question
I can only question to the extent that I am able to fill myself with your drink
I cough
You give me some more of it to drink
Do I like its taste? Nevermind. Have it. You're thirsty.
I should be grateful to you that you're quenching my thirst
Am I educated?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

End of imagination?

Boy: I Love you
Girl: You are attracted to me because nature wants humans to reproduce. Love and everything else is our imagination. That too is part of the plan. Through our imagination we keep justifying our existence and everything in it. So, shall we play according to the plan? I don’t know if there’s a choice anyway. We are already in the game. Let me think. If you fit into my imagination, I will ‘love’ you too.
Boy: You make it sound like there’s nothing special about it.
Girl: Special makes it appeal to our imagination. Like a shiny package. It increases the aesthetic value of the product. Let me see if I can imagine special.
Boy: You’re a cynic.
Girl: I guess I have lost my ability to imagine.

Monday, March 28, 2011

an old mail

When I started reading it, I tried to remember what it was. When I started remembering, I slowly recalled. Then I believed I had really written it. Then, I was embarassed to have written it. But I was happy to be embarassed because the very fact that I'm embarassed about it now is because I've moved ahead of what I was then, maybe a little bit evolved from then. So, the embarassment and delight go togther. Maybe I'll be embarassed someday that I wrote this. But I'll be happy about it all the same. Nostalgia is a waste of time. Nostalgia is biased. It only reminds one of the nice things of the past. If one tries to recall the not-so-nice things too, one'll feel things are fine the way they are today and one wouldn't really feel too great about the past or too bad about the present. Life goes on all the same gradually evolving as slowly as a centimetre of more water on an ocean.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Free?

As he puts the duster on the blackboard and moves it, it magically absorbs all those words. The words hide squeezing themselves inside the duster like small children in a closet. Books are shut without warning the air resting on the pages which then vacates the space with an escape cry. Clap! Weights are shifted from chairs to feet which then carry them out of the classroom. Freedom restored.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lost.

Multiple voices speak simultaneously, incessantly, one fighting with the other to be heard. Nothing but lots of static. Static. Tuning. Tuning. To find a clear channel. Clear channels escape me in the ocean of voices. Thought is lost, kidnapped by emotions, hidden far away where no one can find it. Loud music and sweet sorrow make a great combo while I pick a random string of goings-on in the head and type it down with my fingers trying hard to coordinate with the randomness. Emotions stand like guards around a fort with tall walls hiding all my friends, logic, reason and clarity. I give up as always accepting defeat. Lost. In acceptance.