Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why do family and friends interfere in our marriages in India

The question of why friends and family interfere so much in our marriages, in the Indian context, has been vexing me for some time.  

And I believe, I've finally cracked it!

The answer is simple.  It is because we invite them into our marriages. Let me explain.

Take a random Indian wedding invitation. Yes I am talking about both the printed variety as well as the ones that are nowadays ubiquitous on social media (mainly Facebook & Twitter).  Up front and centre the invitation reads:

“Smt. and Shri (or the more modern Mrs. and Mr) So and So, Cordially invite you with family and friends…… “

- Ahaa!  The first mistake!  You might as well invite the whole town. We are all one big family and where the bloodline breaks, we have so many friends! Of the social media (Facebook) variety!

But the problem does not stop there! The next words are in my opinion the root cause of the whole problem.  Continuing with our example:

 “Smt. and Shri (or the more modern Mrs. and Mr) So and So, Cordially invite you with family and friends to the marriage of their daughter (or son)  XYZ  with ABC  etc etc…… “ .

Note that I have highlighted the word ‘marriage’. Now that means the whole period from the time the young couple tie the knot till ‘Death doth do them apart’!  That’s what is commonly meant by the term marriage. e.g., “my marriage is successful”, “She is in her third marriage”, or that famous line from Princess Diana, “I often felt there were three of us in this marriage”.  So if you invite someone (and worse still with their family and friends) to the “marriage”, you have invited them for a long, long time.

Now I don’t believe in just diagnosing the problem and not giving a remedy. The first simple remedy is to put the names of the persons you are inviting on the top of the invite and cut out the ‘with family and friends’ part.

But this is not so effective until you follow the second corrective step. Replace the word ‘marriage’ with  ‘wedding’ or ‘wedding ceremony’. This way you are sure that you are inviting certain specified individuals (& not their whole brood consisting of extended family & friends) to a certain specified ceremony/function called– yes you guessed it – the ‘wedding’. This is the brief 2-3 hours that it takes for the bride and the groom to exchange vows, accept the gifts from invitees and for all to enjoy the good food, music and dance and then depart.

So if you want peace and quiet from interfering friends and relatives in any marriage, amend your invitation to read:  

“Smt. and Shri (or the more modern Mrs. and Mr) So and So, cordially invite you to the wedding ceremony of their daughter (or son)  XYZ  with ABC  etc etc…… “.

Problem solved!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Now, Earn that Bharat Ratna, Sachin!

Dear Sachin,

There has been considerable hoopla about your retirement from test cricket. Your fans and the media have been involved in a keen tussle to out-awe each other with their praises for you, their wailing about what will happen to Indian Cricket and all the talk about this being the end of an era!

I do not share any of their angst – after all an era is longer than 24 years! Nor do I share Shashi Tharoor’s worries about how India will cope without you wielding the willow in Test Cricket. I think India has bigger problems than your retirement.  There’s the poverty, the hunger, the illiteracy not to speak of the communal hatred being spread by self seeking politicians. But that should not bother you!

What should bother you is: “What now?”If I were you, I would sit down in front of a mirror and look myself in the eye and ask myself, what it means to be the nation’s 43rd Bharat Ratna. Who are the other 42? What is/was their claim to fame?  For the most part they were either Freedom activists or self- seeking politicians (people who you co-awardee Dr Rao referred to as ‘idiots’)! There are of course some who excelled in the fields of Music/ Entertainment, the Sciences, Educationists, and even a couple of non-citizens (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Nelson Mandela).  I would then wonder, what it is that made the powers that be think that I deserved this award. Is it just a political stunt on the part of the ruling party to cash in on my popularity and keep my myriad fans happy just when the elections are around the corner? Or is there finally recognition of the image building value that 'Brand Sachin Tendulkar' brings to India? Whatever, the reasoning, I would probably conclude that it is what it is; I might as well bask in the glory. This could probably explain your magnanimous gesture in dedicating your award to all mothers in India. What does this ‘dedicating’ mean?  Will it mean that you will take up the causes of mothers, instead of the inane ad promotions for various material goods that you get paid so fabulously for?  Or maybe you will use some of the wealth that fame has bestowed you with, to set up hospitals in remote locations with only one mission:  “No more mothers dying during child-birth!” Or maybe it is just a cliché and I am digressing in delusion!

Anyway, back to the “What now?” question. How can you silence all those critics who think that awarding you the Bharat Ratna was misplaced?  Here are just a couple of humble suggestions to actually ‘earn’ that Bharat Ratna: 
  1. You could set up a 'Sachin Tendulkar Foundation' that will spot talent and train deserving children in every Olympic sport, setting your administrators and coaches the goal of 20 Gold Medals in the 2020 (Tokyo). That is 7-years from now! And Tokyo has just started building the facilities. So if they can plan and deliver the Olympics in 7-years, I guess  you can plan and get to the target of producing seven Gold medal winning athletes. Money should not be a problem for you. And judging by the harsh life that most children in rural India live neither should physical grit, endurance and will-power.  What is needed is good coaching, motivation, proper equipment and the right nutrition! This way you can be the catalyst for spawning many more Bharat Ratnas from the field of sports!  When you are 70, would you prefer to be known for all your cricketing records (some of which might be bettered by then) or would you want to be known for your service to Indian sport in all its shapes and forms. 
  2. You could use Brand Sachin for promoting India as a tourism destination.  God knows we have more natural beauty that any other place in the world. And we need that foreign exchange to save the Rupee.

 So go for it Sachin.  You described your cricketing life as between 24 years and 22 yards.  But come on, Sachin! Life is more than years and yards.  It is also about how many lives one has tangibly touched and improved.

Eagerly looking forward to your second innings,



Friday, September 20, 2013

Seven reasons to love living in Canada,

Seven reasons to love living in Canada, based on a just released OECD report:
·         Income: The average household earns US$28,194 each year after taxes. That’s more than US$5,000 above the OECD average. There is disparity at both ends of the earnings spectrum though, not surprisingly. The top 20% takes home US$55,718, while the bottom 20% earns US$10,526. We ranked seventh on household wealth and ninth on income.
·         Community: Canadians spend two minutes a day volunteering; that’s about half the OECD average. On the other hand, 64% said they’d helped a stranger in the last month. (The OECD average is 48%.) And 94% know someone they could count on if needed. We ranked seventh on support network.
·         Housing: Nine in 10 Canadians are satisfied with their housing. The average home in this country provides 2.6 rooms per occupant, more than any other country. And 99.8% of Canadians live in a home with a private washroom that has an indoor, flushing toilet. (The OECD average is 97.8%.) We ranked 24th on the ratio of housing costs to income, eighth on basic facilities and first on number of rooms per person.
·         Environment: We’re better than average on both air pollution and water quality measures. We ranked 14th on pollution and 12th on water quality.
·         Health: Our life expectancy at birth is 81, a full year above the OECD average. And 88% of Canadians say they are in good health. Health spending in this country makes up 11.4% of gross domestic product. (The OECD average is 9.5% of gross domestic product.) We ranked third in health and 17th in life expectancy.
·         Safety: Just 1.3% of Canadians said they were assaulted over the one-year period leading up to the survey. That’s well below the OECD average of 4%. Our homicide rate is less impressive. It’s 1.6%, only marginally below the average rate of 2.2%. We ranked first on assault rate and 23rd on homicide rate.
·         Work-life balance: Canadians work an average 1,702 hours per year. That’s 74 hours below the OECD average. When asked if they work more than 50 hours a week, 4% said yes. (The OECD average is 9%.) We ranked ninth on working long hours.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The US FED just gave the junkies more Opium!

Imagine your son or favorite nephew (or any one you love a lot and are in charge of caring for) is hooked on drugs! Doctors have told you that if he continues with this habit, his end is near. There are two ways to cure him of his addiction. One is by taking away his stash of drugs -which will in the short run aggravate his condition and make him more violent and increase your task of caring for him. You may have to probably give up your day job to care for him. A painful process for both. The other way is to say, ”YOLO -You only live once!” and let him continue on his drug habit- in fact supplying him more, to ensure that he is apparently happy, while you can go about your daily business! What would you do?

Now, replace the addict with the “Markets” and yourself with the “US Federal Reserve”. Yesterday the FED decided to keep the taps flowing. What’s flowing out of the tap was once antibiotics for the market (QE). It has now become pure opium! And the markets are cheering that the taps will continue to flow! Come on you faceless Market! The US Fed just said that they are not sure of growth prospects for the world’s largest economy. In fact they trimmed the growth forecast. So what the hell are you cheering about?   

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Another Gang Rape!

One more gang-rape – this time in Mumbai! It once again brought back memories of the horrific Delhi incident of December last year! The whole country – physically and in the social media- is going atwitter with laments of the state of affairs and calls for stricter punishment, some going to extremes to say we should introduce ‘Shariaa’ laws in India! But, stepping back from the immediacy of this case, it seems strange to me that all this outpouring of disgust and revulsion seems to be reserved for cases emanating from India’s Metros, where the victim is an educated and or upwardly mobile, hard working young woman. While deplorable, these are only two cases out of hundreds in the past 8-months. There have been umpteen cases, before and after the Delhi case. And these are happening all over the country. The people who are taking to the streets and the social media clearly identify with these victims as one of their own. And it is admirable that the spotlight that is cast on these cases, is causing the law enforcement agencies to up their act and be seen to be taking action. But what about those hundreds of rapes and gang-rapes – some where the victims are as young as 4-yrs old? Who is shedding a tear for them or pushing the administration to bring the culprits to justice?

That apart, are stricter laws (death penalty or ‘castration’ as the reference to Shariaa law seems to suggest) the solution? What about the efficacy with which the law enforcement machinery is able to bring a case to court, try the accused and prove them guilty beyond reasonable doubt and mete out the appropriate punishment? What eventually is a good deterrent? A strict law or stricter enforcement? We have the death penalty for murder –in extreme, ‘rarest of the rare’ cases! But has that meant that we have no murders? What is the conviction rate? What is the speed with which successful convictions happen? It’s been 8-months since the Delhi gang-rape. And the case is being tried in a ‘Fast Track court’. Under what definition is ‘8-months and counting’ Fast? Why is about 40% of the police force engaged in protecting VIPs? What if India were to have a full blown economic crisis like the one in Punjab, where the State Government is apparently unable to pay salaries of policemen among other government employees? These are disturbing questions for which I don’t have the answers.

I noticed that some of the comments on Facebook and other social media ask the question: “What makes men turn into such devils?” or “our culture is all about respect for women- they are symbolized by our mother or sisters Why then do some men treat women with such contempt and violate their inner persona”. These are definitely good questions for psychologists to attempt to answer. But I have a theory and it has to do with the way societal morals have changed over time. Our cinema, like all of show biz, now promotes promiscuity like never before! Senseless Item numbers like ‘Sheela Ki Jawaani” and “Munni Badnaam Hui” only glamorize the vamp. Most of us watch such movies for three hours, get back to our lives and think nothing more about it. But there must be a lumpen element out there who possibly are not able to distinguish between the make-believe world of cinema and the real world. These are the people who actually believe that Shah Rukh Khan / Rajnikant can single-handedly smash 20 sword wielding guys to pulp! For these people such item numbers only help to reinforce years of cultural power stereo type of male supremacy and convey the message:  “It is okay to look upon women as objects!”  From there it is a downhill slope – beginning with staring at women, passing lewd comments, grabbing various parts of the anatomy of women in crowded places and in some cases, rape.  I am not saying that cinema is the main factor in the ‘objectification’ of women. I use it as an example for one of the players along with other elements like the fashion world, the ad-world ( the way products for ‘fair skin’ are pushed) and also factors like illiteracy and unemployment.

Any comments are welcome.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tussle between India's Politicos and Administrators!

My thoughts  on the spate of news items on politicians targeting ('punishing') IAS officers-junior as in UP (Ms Durga) as well as senior ones (Ms Sonali Kumar) as in J&K :

1. It is nothing new. Politicians have always wanted the babus to kow-tow to them;
Some have been nice and sweet about this expectation and mesmerized the bureaucrats into licking their boots (like JN) and some have done this in a crass manner (Laalu reportedly, in his hey days used to refer to the state Police head as "Darogaaji" and his chief secretary as "Badaa Babu"). Akhilesh in his brash young style is only the latest to join this club of arrogant politicians. Keeping the IAS officers on a leash without them realizing it or even penalizing them for angering the master, is an art. By the sheer fact that it has been in power for so long, the Congress has perfected this into a fine art. (which is why little is heard about the way the IAS officer one Mr Khemka, who took on 'Raabert' and his land deals!), The others are still learning this art and Ms Durga is only one of the victims of that learning process.

2. Apart from a handful of honest officers - and I don't know all the facts or other incidents in her life to say with 100% certainty that Ms Durga is one of this rare breed --the majority of civil servants are happy to be cozy with the politicos and live in an exclusive "Club of Mutual Back Scratchers!" ( This term CMBS :Copyright JRR-2013).

3. Taking a 20,000 foot view of the whole system, I look upon this as just one part of the food chain making a huge song and dance about what is essentially an aberratiion. The Civil Servants themselves are known to lord it over their lesser cousins and definitely ride rough over the masses of people in their care. I have been BM of an SBI Branch in a District HQ town (20 yrs ago) and know first-hand how exclusive these guys are. They pull no punches in pulling up people lower down the food chain for say not meeting soft loan targets. When professional bankers have found certain loans non-viable and refuse to make the loans in order to protect their depositors' interests, these ladies and gentlemen - probably misguided by fear or greed about their next promotion - arm twisted the bankers into making the loans as if it was their 'baap ka paisa'! As a common man, even getting into the SDM or DMs office is an achievement- leave alone getting one's grievance heard or attended to.

4. The media is as usual having a ball in the whole drama. When has the media run a sustained campaign backing the rare honest IAS officer? They cover whatever is topical and trending and as soon as the next not potato comes along they abandon any issue.

Disclaimer:  This is only a frustrated view of the dismal state of affairs! In no way am I suggesting that what happened to Ms Durga is right. I am only saying that it is part of a larger malaise in the system.  There are two reasons I did not join the IAS. Firstly I did not want to kow-tow to a 4th class pass minister. Secondly, I did not make the grade in the second stage of the Main Exam. Thank God for that! 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Model RIsk- Humor

In the financial world, Model Risk is a type of risk that occurs when a financial model used for any financial decision, does not perform as designed due to various reasons, the major one being the reality being a far cry from the underlying assumptions of the model. Model risk is a subset of operational risk, as it is usually a failure of either the systems or the people running the systems, might not completely understand its assumptions and limitations.

Increasing models are now being used in a wide variety of fields, other than finance.
The following anecdote is a classic case of Model Risk. In plain layman terms it exemplifies Blind leading Blind!
It was autumn, and the American Indians on the remote reservation asked their new Chief if the winter was going to be cold or mild. Since he was a new Indian Chief in a modern society, he had never been taught the old secrets, and when he looked at the sky, he couldn't tell what the weather was going to be. Nevertheless, to be on the safe side, he replied to his tribe that the winter was indeed going to be cold and that the members of the village should collect wood to be prepared. But also being a practical leader, after several days he got an idea. He went to the phone booth, called the National Weather Service and asked, 
"Is the coming winter going to be cold?" 
"It looks like this winter is going to be quite cold indeed," the meteorologist at the weather service responded. 
So the Chief went back to his people and told them to collect even more wood in order to be prepared. A week later he called the National Weather Service again. 
"Is it going to be a very cold winter?" 
"Yes," the man at National Weather Service again replied, "it's going to be a very cold winter." 
The Chief again went back to his people and ordered them to collect every scrap of wood they could find. Two weeks later he called the National Weather Service again. 
"Are you absolutely sure that the winter is going to be very cold?" 
"Absolutely," the man replied. "It's going to be one of the coldest winters ever." 
"How can you be so sure?" the Chief asked. 
The weatherman replied, "Well our weather prediction model considers a lot of factors, but over the years, due to back-testing and fine tuning we have given a 75% weight to the actions of the Indians, who know better than us. And this year although the other weather indicators are pointing to a very mild winter, the Indians are collecting wood like crazy!"

Saturday, May 11, 2013

How close are we to replacing God?

My 20-something daughter woke up this morning with a severe headache, decidedly a bad way to start one’s weekend. She told me this as she joined me in the kitchen for our morning coffee.

But she did not just say, “Dad, I am having a severe headache”. No, that would be a very simple way of conveying information. What she said was: “Dad why did I have to get the ‘migraine’ gene from you?” Pretty dramatic eh! It sure got my attention and sympathy if that is what she was looking out for.

The initial repartee that came to my mind was, “Well you were conceived in the bedroom and not in a Petri-dish in some laboratory”. But I am a prude who was born in the 1960’s and brought up in conservative India.  We don’t talk about the science behind procreation with our children, even grown up ones. Left to ourselves we would like to let them believe that children just happened once a man and woman got married. So I held my tongue and responded with something like, “you get your genes as a package deal and cannot pick and choose”.

But later I was thinking about my initial repartee. Would it be possible to genetically engineer (the petri-dish way) a child today? What is the present state of scientific research on this? Are we anywhere close to allowing man to play God to be able to pick and choose the genetic traits of our offspring? And even if scientifically feasible, what are the practical and ethical challenges that lie ahead of us?

Having nothing better to do on a Saturday morning, I decided to devote about 30 minutes to surfing the web to see what I could find. This blog is a summary of my 30-minute Saturday morning surfing. It is not the last word on this topic nor do I claim that Google search came-up the most insightful articles.  But for whatever it is worth here is what I found from the first page of results:

The first link that I hit on took me to www.naturalnews.com and their series on the top ten technologies. They put Genetic Engineering at #7 and the author of this piece, Mike Adams discusses the moral and ethical issues of genetic engineering and concludes that:
“We currently have neither the understanding of how DNA actually controls human behavior, nor the technology to selectively replace undesirable behaviors with ones we would prefer. There is no "violence" gene, for example, that could be reconfigured into a "peace" gene.
So we are nowhere close to being able to accomplish meaningful genetic engineering of humans even if we wanted, and that's a blessing, since we aren't mature enough as a civilization to deal with its implications”.
When I hit the second link on the Google search results page, I landed on a blog posting by Rebecca Sato on http://www.dailygalaxy.com. This is a 2009 article and in sharp contrast to the earlier article, Rebecca Sato maintains that:
“Nearly every day we are inundated with new genetic discoveries. Scientists can now pinpoint many specific genes including being lean, living a long life, improved self-healing, thrill seeking behavior, and having an improved memory among many other incredible traits. Many believe that these genes can be manipulated in ordinary humans, in effect creating Super-Mutants”
She goes on a flight of fantasy thinking about the limitless possibilities that genetic engineering throws up, but concludes that “Ethics, not scientific limitations, is the real brick wall”. An interesting article indeed!
I will conclude this blog post with the reference to the third link that I hit on. This seemed a more holistic and balanced article which acknowledged both the technological as well as ethical barriers to Human Genetic Engineering (HGE). In this essay, David King takes the reader through a fascinating journey touching on the various aspects of this hot topic of the day. He discusses the distinction between current knowledge (Currently, genetic engineering is only applied to non-reproductive cells -known as 'gene therapy'. in order to treat diseases in a single patient, rather than in all their descendants) and wholesale genetic engineering of the type that my daughter would have wished for (eliminate the ‘migraine gene’). He then goes on to discuss in some detail the various arguments for and against HGE, concluding with a discussion on the possible consequences if HGE became as ubiquitous as Facebook!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Can anyone run a lottery?

About 10 year’s ago, I received and re-circulated an emailed joke about a scam that ran as follows:  (Disclaimer:  I am not that organized so have not retrieved this story from my archives. I ‘googled’ it and got this version):
A city boy moved to the country and bought a donkey from an old farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the mule the next day.
The next day, the farmer drove up and said, "Sorry son, but I have some bad news. The donkey died."
"Well then, just give me my money back."
"Can't do that. I went and spent it already."
"Okay then. Just unload the donkey."
"What Ya gonna do with him?"
"I'm going to raffle him off."
"You can't raffle off a dead donkey!"
"Sure I can. Watch me. I just won't tell anybody he's dead."
A month later the farmer met up with the city boy and asked, "Whatever happened with that dead donkey?"
"I raffled him off. I sold 500 hundred tickets at two dollars apiece and made a profit of $898."
"Didn't anyone complain?"
"Just the guy who won. So I gave him his two dollars back."
I was reminded about this joke when I read a story on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation website www.cbc.ca .  But this time the couple who are doing something similar are apparently backed by sound legal advice.  The main difference though is that they are doing this with full disclosure. Their story briefly is as under:
The couple are running a creative contest hoping that it will help them to sell their home in Ontario province at the market appraised price;
They are asking people to write a story or essay on how winning the couple's home would benefit them Contestants also pay a $100 entry fee for consideration of their essay, and the couple will judge the entries and pick a winner after the contest closes on Aug. 31, 2013.
The couple assures the idea is perfectly legal. I think mainly because they are not hiding anything in what they are doing.  It is similar to buying a lottery ticket for $100 with the prize being a $300,000 house. Of course the essay part makes it look like a game of skill rather than pure chance.
All entries are being accepted by a third party, who will log them numerically, remove all identifying characteristics and friends and family aren't eligible.
They have covered themselves pretty well in the disclosures:
  • They are  hoping for 3,000 essays, which equates to $300,000 — which is the value of the home;
  • If they get less than 3,000 essays,  the whole thing will be called off and the entry fee will be returned to all contestants  minus a processing fee of a money order and a stamp -- so they may lose approximately $7;
  • If they get more than 3,000 entries, anything over the appraised value of their home will go to a charity they run that supports families in Haiti.

Isn’t that creative?

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Living Happily, Living Long – 10 Inspiring Thoughts From Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara

Doctor Shigeaki Hinohara of Japan, who turned 100 on 4th October 2011, is world’s longest serving physician. Starting from 1941, his service has entered the eighth decade. His power of healing and giving mankind a better life is extra-ordinary. His career marked by kindness, perseverance, and a positive vision dedicated to make people’s life happy and healthy. His life and work is an inspiration and a lesson in living well.
Here are ten inspiring lessons from the life and experiences shared by Doctor Hinohara to live with renewed vigor and spirit as you usher in the New Year 2012.
Living happily, living long – 10 inspiring thoughts from Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara :
  1. Feeling good is most importantAs compared to eating well or sleeping enough, it is most important to feel good. Just as children do not remember to eat or sleep when they are playing, if we as adults can rekindle the same spiritedness we would feel the energy inside us.
  2. Manage your weightYour body cannot carry on for long if it has to carry the extra kilos. Eat light and healthy meals. Never burden your stomach. It causes slumber and sluggishness.  
  3. Have a plan to look forward toTo sustain the vigor of the mind and soul, there has to be a consistent flow of positive, creative and enjoyable activities. The more things you have to look forward to, the more upbeat and interested you would be.
  4. Enjoy what you do, and then there would be no need to retirePeople who are living and loving every moment of their work have the energy that is unparalleled. It keeps them charged up and going. They naturally have a desire and drive to live longer so that they can do more of what they already like. Till the age of sixty, people are concerned about providing for the family. Thereafter, the purpose of work could be much larger – for society and mankind. Those who think beyond there immediate duties and attachments realize that the amount of work is immense and they have no thought of retiring once they set themselves on that path.
  5. Reach out and share what you have learntLearned people are everywhere, but it is rare to find those who make active effort to share what they know. There must be an inner realization of giving back, so that others can benefit. Try to find ways to share your knowledge and wisdom you have gathered through your experience. It enriches your own life too.
  6. Give nature a chanceEvery ailment has a scientific cure. But science has its limitations because sometimes illness in the mind and worse still, in the heart. For true healing there is greater power in the beauty and abundance of nature. Be it in the form of a garden, or a pet or simply the songs of birds, what the soul needs cannot be prescribed by a doctor nor can it be provided by the chemist. Indulge in art, music and the beauty of nature, because we too are a part of it.
  7. Climb the stairsEasy ways to keep your muscles healthy and going strong is to never miss an opportunity to use them. Resist taking the lift or escalator. Take the stairs instead. The benefit add up in the long run.
  8. Be moderate about money and materialAfter all the things that bring us deepest and lasting joy are those which cannot be bought by money. Spending the greatest part of your life acquiring wealth is hardly the best use of your life. Money is important, but contentment, even more.
  9. Expect some unexpected incidentsLife is unpredictable, so naturally a lot of times unexpected things will happen. Some pleasant and some not quite. Take things in your stride. Man is engineered to be able to thrive and not merely survive. Make the most of every situation, there is always something to learn from each experience.
  10. Find a role modelSet yourself a target higher than ordinary or normal. You would be surprised at the ability of a goal to propel you to higher levels. Have a role model, in fact have as many people who can inspire you to do your best. Examine your challenges using their perspective. It would unleash your inner potential, what you may not have even known.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Musings On A Broken Arm

Exactly a week ago, I slipped on an icy road, fell on my back and broke the radial bone on my right elbow. 6-hours later, accompanied by my daughter Ankita, who endured the long wait for a doctor to see me, I walked out of the ER with my right arm in a cast and a sling. It is immobilized for about 3-weeks until I go back for a review. But that is not the point of this blog-post.

Now that I can move my fingers, which are sticking out of the cast, with minimal pain and am able to type, I want to record some of my experiences during this past week.  

I have learnt a lot about society in general and acquaintances in particular during this week. 

Learning #1:  The conversations which I have with people follow a pattern:
Person X: “Hey, What happened to your arm?”
Me: “Oh! I slipped on ice and fell.”
Person X: “How did this happen?” OR “When and where?”
Me: “I was coming out of ABC store with a bag of heavy grocery and stepped off the curb and hidden beneath the fresh snow was solid frozen ice. And Swwooosh…..! I landed on my back. My entire right arm numb with pain. Luckily my elbow took the knock and possibly saved my head from hitting the curb behind.”
Person X: “Oh My God! Yes last Saturday was particularly bad because of the freezing rain the night before. You just can’t be careful enough!”
Me:  “Yeah! I’ve slipped and fallen quite a few times but every time I’ve managed to get up and walked away. This time the law of averages clearly caught up with me, eh!” I chuckle.
Roughly at this point every person I have met immediately starts narrating a personal story about a time (1, 2 5, 10 or whatever) years ago when (s)he slipped on icy road/ pavement and had a serious injury.  

This I guess is supposed to cheer me up and aimed at making me feel that it is alright to slip and fall on ice. It happens to all of us all the time. This is Canada, what do you expect? And yes it does help. Suddenly this person and I are part of a common club – call it ‘Slippers Anonymous’. And we are trying to get over the common feeling of pain that slipping causes!

(Disclosure: This experiment in societal interaction involved upwards of 50 interactions with colleagues, acquaintances and random people on the street.)

Learning #2: Recently there were a quite a few posts on Facebook which read:
This is a short experiment to see who reads posts and who just scrolls. So, if you read this, leave one word on how we met. Only one word, then copy this to your wall so I can leave a word for you. Please don't add your word and then not bother to copy. It should be an interesting exercise.

Such posts have received an average of 5 likes and 3 shares. Is it then that people don’t read posts? Is FB that over-hyped?  Or is it that people don’t like to be treated like (free) guinea pigs in someone’s social experiment?

My own recent experience suggests it could be the latter. My post about my injury elicited almost instantaneous responses (many while I was still in the ER) and I continue to get comments wishing me a speedy recovery. My friends care enough to be concerned about me, take the time to offer me advice and also offer prayers and best wishes for a quick recovery. What more can one ask for? These friends are like stars in the universe. We may not always see them, but we can be damned sure they are there! Thanks everyone for your messages, calls and good wishes. As I mentioned in one of my responses to all the messages: For the pain and inflammation, there's acetaminophen + ibuprofen. And for the spirit, I am blessed to have so many caring friends. Your thoughts, wishes and calls have lifted my spirits immensely.
And Facebook is a fantastic social medium. It builds on the ubiquitous nature of the Internet to bind our own social eco-system together, regardless of time and distance separating each of us.

Learning #3: We live and are part of a big network, taking what we need and giving what we can. Case in point: I am not the only one who feels the effect of the loss of use of my right hand. My family too has been feeling that loss. My wife, daughter and son have had to step up to the plate and take over some of the tasks that I was doing at home. Additionally they had to take care of me and my needs.  My colleagues at work have been very understanding too.

Learning #4:  A lot of colleagues now routinely step up to open doors for me – even though only my right arm is in a cast & sling and my left hand and two feet are perfectly capable of doing the needful. I am still trying to figure out what inner emotional need motivates such behavior? Is it out of a sense of chivalry or charity? I have always felt that people generally feel charitable towards the visibly disabled but I am now confused. I must read up some more and address this issue in a future blog if I can sort this out.

Learning #5: We have to be grateful for small mercies. During the 6-hour long wait at the ER of one of Edmonton’s best hospitals my daughter and I were exchanging our grumblings with other patients about the slowness of the supposedly world class publicly funded and totally free health care system. But when I finally saw a doctor and later the cast-room assistant, I realized in conversations with them that they were having a terrible day attending to people with hip bone, thigh bone, back and head fractures! I was low priority. All I needed on an urgent basis was an ice-pack to control the swelling and pain which they repeatedly provided me. And I am grateful for that!  The Canadian health care system is in my eyes still the best in the world. If you are involved in a serious accident and are in imminent danger of dying you can be sure they will spare no effort or expense to reach you –whether by road or air-ambulance- to a medical facility. That is how much a human life is valued!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Secrets- a Rejoinder by Gopalan Parthasarathy

The following is the thought provoking and interesting rejoinder (to my post on "The Emotional (& Physical) Burdent of Keeping Secrets) that I received in the mail from my dear friend Gopalan Parthasarathy. We were colleagues in State Bank of India and many years later again in Kuwait International Bank. Gopalan is a prolific and gifted poet who contributes regularly to the facebook groups: Beacon Literary Group International, Helping Hands and Green LifeHe felt that the word limit in the comments section was curtailing his creativity and hence sent me the following by email.  I am reproducing his submission verbatim:   
Secrets are relevant in the context of objectives they are supposed to serve. For children they are just fun. For adults they tend to get serious.
Often the person sharing secrets may share the same with more than one person for the objectives of healing a hurt, sharing an excitement or consulting the other person(s)for overcoming a dilemma and making choices. There could be other objectives as well.
Often the objectives may not be shared objectives between the people "holding a secret". This is so because, the process is not focused on objectives the originator had in mind. The originator has an objective and lets the trusted person another. If the latter's objective is the request by the originator to maintain secrecy, it may not be a strong enough objective. The latter is insulated from sensitivity to consequences of not keeping it a secret. In other words, keeping the secret is not worth the burden.
Thus, if the persons concerned share an objective which they value, it is possible they may hold "the burden" long enough. When the objectives are not set, the "secret" loses some of its longevity.
Secondly, the number of secrets one can hold is limited - this is also for the reason of objectives. If the objectives come in conflict or some objectives are not worth the trouble, the mortality rate of secrets, if you may, will go up.
Thirdly, some "secrets" lead to additional requirements of having to keep fabricating stories and lies - here the weight of "secrets" as a burden keeps increasing.
Fourthly, ill kept secrets de motivate the person with whom they were shared in confidence.The person feels stupid for having guarded a secret which was nearly in the domain of so many persons around. In other words, it is hard to keep the credibility of the whole exercise.
Fifthly and not really lastly, over time the objectives set are outlived and the person who shared a secret is unlikely to go back to the trusted friend and say now the secret need not be kept any more. Obviously this is the ugly side. No one can expect the trusted person to become a warehouse of secrets with date of expiry of the secret kept as infinite.
The topic sets me thinking about "secrets" nations keep in the matter of defence or for that matter "secrets" about product formulae or Research and Development. The longer is the life of secrets, more are chances of an enemy of secrets emerging on the horizon. It is hard to say whether nations spend more for preserving secrets or for spying secrets kept by their rivals and perhaps even allies.
Now coming to lies, do perhaps serve objectives of secrets? Possible. A secret cannot be preserved in a vacuum. It may be better preserved in the august company of lies. The human appetite for information is enormous. It is unwise, so to say, to keep humanity starved of information in the name of keeping secrets. It is wise to feed them with "lies", "half truths" and "fiction". Look at the appetite among readers and viewers for fiction and non fiction. The appetite for fiction is almost unlimited. While we all start our lives learning to be true to our parents and family, we end up learning to be "not so true" to others - to the exception of a few more friends and relatives. Why is it so? Why are we insecure with truth? Why are we afraid the truth we know can be exploited by the other person? Sometimes our compassion, a noble truth about ourselves, has to be hid when we start fearing it is leading to a loose habit of borrowing (of course with little plans for repayment) by a friend or someone who is depending on us for financial emergencies.
Lies are self seeking. They seek to multiply themselves continuously. One lie to be well kept needs almost a continuous fabrication of so many others; otherwise somewhere the lies would get exposed - the tragedy of lies and the liar is that the liar has to keep an eye on all of them and ensure none of them gets exposed. And they grow monstrously trapping the liar into an endless, meaningless, unsustainable cycle of fabrication. It is vicious. The end is tragic - the liar has to come clean and embrace truth. That is the only way forward. So many scandals in the lives of celebrities are an easy evidence. The harder evidence may be hidden in any one and everyone's life.
Going to a different plane, sometimes one is forced to or one tends to keep one's good qualities a secret. For example, how long can we keep our compassion, a secret? Behind secrets and lies, there is somewhere, a fear or sense of security, a perceived outcome not preferred and not prepared for.
Sooner than later, time tells us the fears were unfounded. Time tells us truth cannot be played around and it is not worth it.
If we keep revisiting our situations when we thought of keeping a secret (and often failed to keep a secret) we may laugh at ourselves. But still we may not change our intuitive resort to "secrets" and "collateral lies" that go with "secrets". That is integral to our survival instinct. That is the void within our personality. That is the darkness we carry with ourselves, no matter how well we get lit in truth. Most of the biographies are written, as it were, to get rid of this darkness of secrets, lies, half truths and their after effects on us (this is the counterproductive side of the objectives, fulfilled or failed) in later years of one's life as it takes time to mature and graduate out of the process. A most important thing about secrets, lies and half truths is they are like junk food. They keep demanding you to have more of them. It is difficult to live on junk food. It is not advisable to have it at all. But still, the truth is we all end up consuming the junk food. We only vary in how much and how long. As the adage goes, truth alone triumphs but it lets a lot of half truth and lies to hang around and is indifferent to their growing population.
An ideal "sweet spot" in all our lives may be a spot where we do not get the appetite for a secret, a lie or a half truth or a perception that is as consequential as any of these, embracing the truth and the one truth that is supreme to all. That is the spot where one is free from survival. Free from objectives that drove one's life into trivial and sensitive secrets, lies, half truths and perceptions. Free to be real, once and for all. While one can aim to be in a direction to such a spiritual sweet spot, one is never sure when they can reach there and be there. There is a lot of secrets, lies, half truths and perceptions to go through before embracing truth in its purest form. And life as a journey is exciting, if it is, it is so not without these excitements, trivial or otherwise.
Thanks, Jammi. As usual, you have provoked me to think. My day is somewhat made. (Truly and it is no secret!)

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Emotional ( & Physical) Burden of Keeping Secrets

Many years ago I was in a discussion about a personal problem with a colleague, I’ll call him G, and I was pouring my heart out to him.
At one point I said, “Hey G, I want to tell you something. However, you must promise to keep it a secret and not tell it to anyone else, even your wife.” 
He replied, “Jammi, you know the funny thing about secrets? Person A thinks he needs to lighten his burden by sharing his ‘burdensome’ secret to one (and only one) friend, let’s call him B. He binds him to a promise not to tell anyone else.  But if A could make that concession for something that is HIS secret, what about B, for whom it is not even his secret? So sooner or later B will probably feel the urge or give up his self control by telling A’s secret to just one (& possibly another) close friend. Of course he will dutifully bind them to a similar promise of secrecy. This cycle of ‘kiss and tell’ now propagates in geometric progression, as the distance from the subject of the secret (A) increases. So if you really want something to remain a secret don’t even tell me.”
His response left a lasting impression on my mind and I have been thinking and reading up on this issue since then. This is also one of the ideas for the book that I intend to write once I retire! (I would of course need another lifetime to market the book!). But, I offer some thoughts of what I gathered from the analysis:
1.       A secret (whether ours or another’s) is a burden we carry.
This has been proved by scientific experimentation. A research article in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, describes an experiment in which participants were divided into two groups. One group was asked to write details of a serious secret, e.g., cheating on their spouse or similar. The control group on other hand wrote details of a trivial secret, like when they lied on their tax return. They were then asked to look at a hill in the distance and estimate the steepness of the hill. The participants with the serious secret perceived the hill as significantly steeper than those from the control group. In prior research psychologists have proved that people with physical burdens also perceive distant hills as steeper than the control group which was not similarly burdened.
2.       Keeping a secret requires lying.
A lie is generally defined as conveying something which is not truthful. The Wikipedia entry for lie reads: “To lie is to intentionally deliver a false statement to another person which the speaking person knows is not the whole truth.”   So the moment we hide something, our words, even if factually correct, become a lie. Let me illustrate this with what to me is the most famous lie from Hindu scriptures - the lie uttered by Yudhishthira during the Mahabharata war. When Drona, the commander of the Kauravas was wreaking havoc on the Pandava army, Krishna realised that the only way to get him down was to make him lose the will to live. He came up with a plan to achieve this conveying to him the news of the killing of his son Ashwathama.  As per the plan, Bhima killed an elephant named Ashwathama and the whole Pandava army proclaimed loudly, "Ashwathama is dead! Ashwathama is dead!".  When Drona heard this he sought out Yudhisthira and, believing that Yudhisthira would never lie, asked him if his son Ashwathama was indeed dead. Prompted by Krishna, Yudhisthira said "Ashwathama is dead" (in sanskit अश्वत्थामा हतः). Stung by a pang of conscience he immediately muttered inaudibly, naro vā kuñjaro vā, नरो वा, कुञ्जरो वा (not the man but the elephant). But in the din of battle Drona did not hear the second sentence, laid down his arms and sat in meditation. Dhristadyumna took this opportunity, and beheaded him. (It is said that because of this deception Yudhisthira’s chariot, which always levitated 4 cm above the ground, immediately touched the ground).
When we keep a secret we have to resort to subterfuge and use various deceptive techniques like, economising with the truth, bluffing, lying by omission etc. In Yudhishtira’s case he sought to clarify the truth sotto voce. However we do it, in our heart of hearts we probably know that we are lying and therefore carry an emotional burden.  Some people have a weaker moral standard which enables them to withstand such emotional burdens better than others, but sooner or later it gets to us.
3.       We all have the urge to tell secrets to others:
Maybe not our own, but generally other’s. The moment we hear a secret about someone else we want to share that with some others in our circle. Usually the juicier the secret, the bigger the temptation.   Maybe the motivation is something as harmless as the need to show off that ‘we know’. Or the motivation could be a malicious intent to hurt the subject of the secret. Sometimes it is not even the temptation to tell, but just that we feel over-burdened by carrying the secret in our hearts.
All Secret Services and the Mafia understand this human tendency. In addition they have the fear that any enemy can torture the secret out of people. They therefore have policies in place that information is to be shared only on a ‘Need to know’ basis.
Moral of the story:
Know the seriousness of your secrets before sharing. If it is something that will blow away after a month or a year, it’s not bad. You could share it with a ‘close friend’. But share it with the sure knowledge that he/she would one day pass it on. If, however, it is something that you would not want to be known even after you are long dead and gone (like a marital infidelity), then zip your lips.
As for a friend’s secret, if she/he comes up to you and wants to tell you a secret provided you promise not to tell anyone else, tell them that you are human and cannot make that promise. We don’t need a group of psychologists to tell us that losing a friend puts an unimaginable emotional burden on us – more than the burden of keeping a secret! 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Societal Attitudes need to change.

3 weeks have passed since the gruesome and barbarous attack on a defenseless young girl and her male companion on a bus in Delhi.  After a brave fight, she finally succumbed to her injuries and died of multiple organ failure, just 3-days after being flown to Singapore to be treated in a multi-specialty hospital. She has been aptly named ‘Nirbhaya’ by the Indian media in deference to Indian laws prohibiting the naming of a rape victim (more about this later).
Since the day the incident came to light (Dec 17, 2012) there has been non-stop local and international media coverage of her case and its aftermath. Youngsters, who have the highest stake in the country’s future, have taken to the streets to ensure that a slumbering government hears their plea for a safer environment for women. There is no doubt that the situation is pretty grim. Practically, every woman interviewed on various local and international channels, have mentioned that they have experienced some kind of sexual harassment- whether it is groping in crowded buses and trains or the discomfiture caused by the way men look at women. A telling comment that I heard was on an NDTV talk show where one agitated young lady from the audience put it bluntly:  “men usually talk to our chest not to our face”.  Every well known personality from across the spectrum of political parties to the film world and various religious leaders including the Dalai Lama have weighed in with their comments. Almost all (or at least 99%) of the comments fall under one of the following categories:
  • Comment on the sad state of Law and Order;
  • The utter failure of the Government;
  • 'foot in the mouth' comments from worthless politicians.  

In all the heat and dust generated by the spontaneous public anger and non-stop media coverage of the on-going protests, the whole incident is risking losing its potential to be a game-changer for Indian society and becoming just one more, albeit a well publicized one, crime with the usual players: perpetrators, victims, the police and prosecutors and the judicial system. Are we losing the momentum, to carry this fight to a logical conclusion of bringing about a radical change in our society?
This thought came to me when I read two interviews that have been published within the past two days. These are interview given to the media by two people directly involved in the incident.  One is Nirbhaya’s father and the other is her male companion who was with her during the incident and is possibly the only witness alive to the happenings inside that bus on that fateful night of Dec 16. What struck me, when I read these interviews, was that despite their personal anguish at the loss of someone close to them, they seem to have risen above it all and are able to see the bigger picture. Something that all of us who are protesting in the streets, blaming the government for inaction or just observing or writing about the case, do not seem to be seeing.  Let me elaborate.
The girl’s father, during his interview to London’s Mirror which features the interview in their Sunday People newspaper says, “I want the world to know my daughter's name is < her real name>” (The paper published her real name with the father’s consent.) In the interview he goes on to explain his hope that “revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived such attacks” (to come forward). He further says, in an apparent reference to the sense of shame and guilt attached to rape victims in India, “My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her”.
This is the spirit that we need in India. We need the awareness to recognize that a raped woman is the victim and not a criminal who needs to hide herself! It is something bad that happened to her, against her will and therefore there is nothing to be ashamed of! My point being that while rapist(s) may have raped the woman for 5 (or 30) minutes, society continues to add insult to injury by ostracizing such unfortunate victims for their entire life.  To the point that most families would prefer anonymity and to push things under the carpet rather than fight the case and help to bring the culprits to justice. Underlying this fear of society is a tacit admission that in some ways (dress, behavior, being out late etc) it is the woman’s, or her family’s, fault. As a society, we need to recognize that regardless of dress, behavior or when and with whom she goes out, a woman has a fundamental right to her dignity which must be respected and protected at all costs.  
Now for the lessons to be learnt from the second interview. Nirbhaya’s companion that night, a software engineer who was also badly beaten, stripped and thrown off the bus along with Nirbhaya . In his interview he brought out a very sad reminder of societal apathy towards others. I am quoting from the account of his interview given to Zee News as reported in the Mirror of London:
  • “Before throwing us off the bus, they tore off our clothes in order to destroy any evidence of the crime.
  • “We were without clothes. We tried to stop people passing by but no one stopped for about 25 minutes. 
  • “People were probably afraid they would become a witness to the crime.”
His words say it all – people are afraid of becoming a witness to a crime! Where are people’s hearts and souls these days! A huge negative mark for society!
But when I read the full transcript of this interview in other Indian Media he pointed out another weak point in our after-care for victims of crime. When the police did finally arrive, they were apparently bickering for 30-40 minutes as to which jurisdiction the case should fall under! And all the time, the Nirbhaya was bleeding! Maybe, just maybe, had those 30-40 minutes not been lost, she could have been saved! And when the ambulance did arrive, the cops were apparently reluctant to spoil their clothes and he had to carry his friend into the ambulance.
Ultimately the men who committed the heinous crime will be tried and punished as per the law. But what do we do about the apathy and insensitivity of society? That thought makes me despair. And hang my head in shame.