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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Role Models

India is passing through the transformative period when we are shifting slowly from being a culture "based on a largely diverse but shared core of faith, tradition and authority" to one in which "everything under sun, no matter how fundamental or deeply rooted in values, is under the scanner of reason". We need role models more than ever in this changing phase of economy and society. We have either western educated elites, who always remain resentful for anything traditional or nationalists who see every change as an act of corruption to pious way of Indian tradition. We need examples of person who are not involved in corruption, conspicuous consumption and oppression of their unlettered citizens. They must be good role models in the eyes of their less educated and younger compatriots. What I ask may sound unrealistic perfection of the characters, but we can lookfor.

Role modelling is important for a person. I was once destined for bigger and better things through IIT JEE. In the eyes of society, I was qualified for a glamorous life in a metropolitan, a job with the prestigious MNC and the pleasures of such lifestyle. Yet, I never arrived on the scene. DNA of my values were completely different. This is because, I chose different role models in my life. I am always a person looking for 'Balance' rather than 'Success' in life.

My brain not physique has always been my asset. While growing up, my role models were different from others. I use to prefer Robin Singh, Andy Flower, Heath Streak, Lance Klusener and Rahul Dravid for their grit and hard work. They were athletes playing for a weak team and often end up with the losing side despite brave efforts. That was the core reason for me becoming a supporter of underdogs. The noble knights of mythical stories, animated series of superheroes and Bollywood movies also contributed in building a character. I came to respect values like personal liberty, freedom and justice above identity issues. I have strong opinion in the favour of Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, Bradley Manning, and Julian Assange who are people who have the balls to do what they think is right.  The journalist like Arun Shourie, Christopher Hitchens and P Sainath are a source of inspiration to me. I took persons like Deep Joshi as perfect role model due to brilliant brain, compassion and integrity. I am a person who will any day prefer Dennis Ritchie to Steve Jobs. I prefer a role model who can be remarkable for their "intellectual complexity, compassion, and resourcefulness";

Moderates are made not born. - Robert M.Calhoon

Act 3, scene ii of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (Mark Antony: "The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones". History makes people unidimensional and lives are summed up by a single incident. Hansie Cronje was my hero who can't do anything wrong. The Cronje Match fixing scandal was the most shocking incident with which the worship era of teenage years came to a disruptive end. It showed me that our heroes are fallible and the justice is important rather than following personality cult.  Even liking for a person must be built on hard facts. That was only half of the lesson.

The historical injustice are often mixed with our identities. There's a strong silence, sometimes people even don't want to listen leave apart understand it. Injustice is often inherent one in the system, it cannot exist without it. I can be an idealist and can be against everything—that won't change me. Can I look for some feasible solution ? I learn importance of practical and inclusive decision making from NDA government. I gradually came to respect Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhimrao Ambedkar for their role in political space. The other half of the lesson was delivered. I didn't turn into self righteous, cynical and vague critic due to a simple interest in politics.

I look for truth but am happy with less than perfect solution. That is why, I didn't turn a NaMo fan boy despite supporting BJP. Today, I am too radical for the conservatives and too social-democrat for the neo-liberals. I am committed to the higher values like justice, love, peace and freedom. I value excellence but pay heed to voices for equality. A person who shows me knowledge gets my attention but those who show wisdom always gets my respect. I am as reckless and foolish as only young men can be - and that is why ideological differences with family, friends and community appear in no quick time. I have a dry sense of the absurd mixed with humanistic, passionate and rational approach towards life.

It was one of the best moments of my life when I met Prof. M S Sriram at XIMB. He has an unsurpassed blend of the sublime and the precise knowledge combined with wit. I was much impressed with his gyaan but resisted taking his autograph for a particular reason. Autographs are taken by people who wants to collect soverigners and are struggling to find an identity for themselves. I am also struggling to build an identity. I want to explore it instead of handing useless bits of paper even to my role model.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

LokSabha Elections 2014

Leadership and ideas can change the working of institutions and affect policies in long term. Atal Bihari Bajpai is a name whose transformative leadership changed landscape of Indian politics. Mild nature of his personality led to partial reconciliation and negotiations of different ideology leading to the formation of NDA. Nehru's Unity in Diversity was the old idea that shaped India. Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi is creating big change in the thinking of new generation.

Eric Hoffer once stated that Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket. That is the life cycle each political party. Indian politics scenario is always revamped in the period of nearly 20 years. Be it 1970's J P Narayan or 1989 Mandal commission has brought of youth into the politics. In 1977 elections, which ended the emergency and ousted congress from national power for the first time, three quarters of the electorate were either born or reached voting age after 1947. Indian Youths with age of 18-31will decide the fate of election if we look into census data. Most of the political parties lack leaders in their late thirties from whom one can expect disruptive thinking.

We are seeing decline of social engineering of caste and religion, twenty first century voting pattern gave the word Development a new importance. While Congress was giving illusion to voters with secular and inclusive image, BJP was projecting itself as development oriented and nationalist part. Regional parties were still caught in their own trap of caste based politics. India against corruption is the new talk of the town. Recent research by Toke Aidt, Miriam Golden and Devesh Tiwari (“Incumbents and Criminals in the Indian National Legislature”) shows there are other very problematic aspects of the Indian democratic system: a quarter of the members of the Lok Sabha, the Indian legislature, have faced criminal charges. Corruption, Transparency in election funding and Decriminalization of politics are big three pointers projected by AAP. AAP  has transformed a social movement to political party. With the absence of a thriving leftist scene, AAP is gradually filling the political vacuum. Despite of their all backing of Jan-Lokpal Bill, we all know that no law is strong enough to fight corrupt minds and methods. But they have given direction to the agenda of future elections.

Poverty, Secularism and Economic Growth

Public dissatisfaction continues to grow due to unprecedented rise in corruption under UPA-2. Deja vu is never so good the third time around. Congress always plans to buy loyalty of voters with an unprecedented expansion of what is an already generous welfare state. The "Congress is bad" defence does not exonerate the BJP; being equally bad is not good enough for our times. BJP has its own problem as it is not able to create a new cadre of leaders at national level. In the chaos like environment created by indecisive policies of UPA, there is fair chance of rise of Narendra Modi.

Each party irks at the mere mention of secularism because they really confuse its meaning with minority appeasement. If young people think that they can assess someone's viewpoint from social media branding, they're being naive. But a large number of Hindus to continue to believe in the developmental yet non communal image of BJP.  Muslims and Christians still vote for congress despite of poor track record in the safety of minorities. 1992, 2002 and 2013 riots affected Muslims but they are crimes on par with the 1984 genocide of the Sikhs. 1989 exodus and near genocide of Kashmiri Pandits must be described in the same line. There can't be double standards in a secular governance as shown by Congress.

There is a persuasive power in numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments. National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data shows that the percentage of population below the poverty line has come down from 37 per cent in 2004-05 to 22 per cent in 2011-12. Planning Commission has last year (in Mar 2012) announced that poverty percentage has come down by 7.3 per cent, which means from 37.2 per cent in 2004-05 to 29.8 per cent in 2009-2010. This shows numbers related to poverty are manipulated for political benefits of ruling Congress Party rather simply becoming a statistical exercise.

Economic progress brings social and political change, eroding the political power of elites, who in response often prefer to sacrifice economic development for political status quo with a bit of welfare policies. Inflation has devastated financial growth of India. Let me quote Pai Panikkar for explaining this point - "India’s present concerns are of a different kind. Inflation is too high and instead of providing stimulus to the economy, it has actually weakened growth. The jump in inflation from 4 percent to 9 percent dragged growth down from 9 percent to 4.7 percent. Inflation beyond a point can be as detrimental to growth as inflation below a level is. It is generally accepted that 3 percent inflation is just enough to stimulate growth and prevent the economy from sliding into recession. At that level, repo will be about 5 percent and interest on bank credit 7 percent. This combination will be ideal for growth with relative stability, provided other components of growth are in place.What about political susceptibility of inflation? The government has expressed concern only when inflation exceeds 5 percent. It would appear that inflation below 3 percent may hurt growth and above 5 percent may not be politically acceptable. The inflation target for the RBI should be in the range of 3 to 5 percent to balance growth and consumer concerns."

Discontent is simmering under the surface but I had given above three reasons to ouster UPA-2. India is growing because of the institutions that we have built and sustained over the years. They are often under stress beyond their capacities but have never given right of way to leaders who thought they could subvert them. As per Prof Cornel West, Democracy always raises the fundamental question: What is the role of the most disadvantaged in relation to the public interest? But no political party is seriously working on this answer. The results of this election will have long term effect on the history of India. Embrace yourself Indian citizens, 2014 election is coming !

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Books Read in 2013

Literature demands something, not just from the reader but from society at large. It demands not just that we watch or cheer together, play or dance together, but that we take the time to understand one another. It demands that we create the institutions and the time to make this possible. It demands that we put in the effort. And it demands, most of all, that we agree that it is worthwhile to do so. - Hasan Altaf

History has showed us that leisured aristocracies tend to become bored, hedonistic and eventually decadent. This proves that power is not enough. One must set goals to excel in them, even if done slowly. I had set such goal and polish mental agility through the habit of reading. Reading books is an exercise in self knowledge and carries risk. These thought provoking books estranges our familiar landscape of settled beliefs into strange wonderland (may be dystopia) through new viewpoints. Good books open windows through mysterious ways. I had already listed down books by different authors of various regions, languages and backgrounds in  a wish list.

There are two articles worth mentioning here. I read about "Let them eat cake" phrase at the age of eight in a history book. It was the supposedly spoken by "a great princess" upon learning that the peasants had no bread and further events lead to the french revolution. That phrase always remained in back of the mind since that day. The Necessity of Atheism was an astounding article that I read as a young engineering student. It blow my world apart with the power of the words. The religion and society never remained same for me .

While the reading journey has been going on, it has been quite fulfilling till now. I grew old and wise with each book that I read. I enjoy rich earthy humor, satire and cultural essays. I even felt nostalgic with the death of Christopher Hitchens and Peter Roebuck. I miss their strong words, remarkable anecdotes and deep analysis. And. I found new gems like Ian Chappel, Martin Crowe and Pratap Bhanu Mehta.

Many giants of Hindi literature are still untouched by me.  I am living in the world created by Munsi Premchand in his short stories. I have no clue of the progress made in literature on last 30 years of Mandal, Kamandal & Dalit movements. I don't even know the names of Urdu books and their transliterated versions are out of my reach. I want to start reading more of fiction genre and real life stories more in upcoming months. '26 Books in 52 Weeks' is a goal for next year. I'm a super slow reader, but I usually get through ten to twelve books a year, mostly non fiction. I had accelerated pace of reading to utilize the time. And, the result shows in the reading list. I mostly try good reads and rarely best sellers. As well said by Frank Zappa : “So many books, so little time.”

Books Read in 2013:

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich :- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - (Russian) English - 9/10 - A brilliant and mind blowing description of just one day of prisoner in Gulag at Siberia

The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End :- Peter W. Galbraith - English - 8.5/10 - The name is sufficient to describe good work of journalism.

Tuesday With Morrie :- Mitch Albom - English - 8/10 - A beautiful memoir or discussion of teacher student on life, love and death.

Burden of Democracy :- Pratap Bhanu Mehta - English - 7.5/10 - : A very well written essay which discuss the reasons for which spirit of democracy is failing in India.

Lord of the Flies :- William Golding - English - 7/10 - A study of human behaviour through backdrop of group of British boys stuck on an uninhabited island.

Patriots and Partisans: From Nehru to Hindutva and Beyond :- Ramachandra Guha - English - 7.5/10 - A honest attempt on showing builders of country across all ideologies in Independent India.

Bharat ka Bhavisya :- Osho - Hindi - 4/10 - A below average book even with Osho standard having collection of speeches.

Karmath Mahilayein :- Reethu Menon - Hindi - 7.5/10 - A book on the path-breaking Indian women who defined their fields through their works.

Ek Gadhe ki Aatmkatha :- Krishna Chander - Hindi - 7/10 - Satire written during Nehru era still holding true to its core.

Uncle Tom's Cabin :- Harriet Beecher Stowe - English - 8/10 - An anti-slavery novel to be read for emotional reasons only.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft :- Stephen King - English - 8/10 - A simple story of life with great tips on writing coming in patches.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty :- Daron Acemoglu & James Robinson - English - 8.5/10 - man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success.

Joothan:- Omprakash Valmiki - Hindi - 10/10 - A personal account of a stalwart of Hindi literature describing caste system in Hindu society.

The Immortals of Meluha :- Amish - English - 6/10 - A below par average first part of triology with Hindu mythology background.

The Secret of the Nagas :- Amish - English - 6.5/10 - Second part of the book series with little improvement.

The Oath of the Vayuputras :- Amish - English - 7.5/10 - Third and Last part series is more mature and enjoyable.

And Quiet flows the Dons :- Michail Sholokhov - (Russian) Hindi - 7.5/10 - It depicts the lives and struggles of Don Cossacks during era of Soviet revolution.

Bitter chocolate: child sexual abuse in India :- Pinki Virani - English - 9.5/10 - Felt broken and depressed on reading about child abuse stories and awareness among our own Indian society.

Yuganta: The End Of An Epoch :- Irawati Karve - English - 9.5/10 - This study of the main characters of the Mahabharata treats them as historical figures and uses their attitudes and behavior to gain an understanding of the times in which they lived.

O Jerusalem ! :- Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins - English - 8.5/10 - A great book capturing the events and struggles surrounding the creation of the state of Israel.

My Days in Prison -: Iftikhar Gilani - English - 8/10 - A shocking story of trial and triumph under the framework of exploitative power of state.

The Idea of India :- Sunil Khilnani - English - 7/10 - Comprehensive account of India's economic and political journey from the independence to the liberalization.

I Too Had a Dream :- Verghese Kurien - English - 8.5/10 - Dr. Kurien's life story is chronicled in his memoir and must be read by teenagers and youths.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist:- Mohsin Hamid - English - 8/10 - A political thriller set in Pakistan but will appeal to the globe with sharp focus on fundamentalist mentality.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break :- R Fields - English - 6.5/10 - A simple book on managing daily business through example from movies of WC Fields.

Quotes for the Year 2013 -:

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” - Carl Sagan

Great stories agree with our world view. The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place. — Seth Godin (Author, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us)

You have to understand, my dears, that the shortest distance between truth and a human being is a story. — Anthony de Mello, from One Minute Wisdom

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