Friday, 24 April 2015

Vintage Whine

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"With great ownership comes great sense of responsibility"

Expectations vs Reality
We like things to be perfect. We have a certain set of ideas of what perfection is. These are expectations. Then there is reality. The greater the gap between reality and expectation, the greater the disappointment. When there is disappointment, there are four things that can be done.
  1. We can sit quietly and remain disappointed. 
  2. We can try and do things to bridge the gap. 
  3. Change expectations
  4. Whine about it.

Sitting quietly and remaining disappointed is not a great option. It quietly sucks out your morale and eat you away from within. There are many who do this; they end up feeling worthless. They resign to their fate. A good example of this would be women in Saudi Arabia. The society in which they live is in a certain way and they are, or feel, so powerless to change it that they have accepted their fate.

Changing expectations is what Buddha suggested - specifically, he asked us to not have any desires or expectations. When you expect something and you don't get it, it leads to disappointment. Having no expectations automatically removes the possibility of disappointment. However, the state of mind required for having no expectations and no desires is much harder to reach than one can imagine.

The option "Whine about it" is the one that most people prefer to pick. It is a very easy option. And with the increased use of social media, the whines can spread quite a lot. The biggest problem with whining combined with social media is the enormous negativity that it can spread. When you hear a complaint, you feel that there is something wrong. If you hear complaints day in and day out, that feeling gets reinforced. It may initially seem like a good idea. You may feel that you are spreading awareness. But you should also remember that men of action would not resort to talking a lot about it and most of us are not men of action. Most of us are armchair activists. Therefore, the effect of spreading the word is just "raising awareness" of how bad the situation is and nothing more than that. It does not accomplish anything beyond increasing a feeling of negativity.

This causes a feeling of resentment. Let me give you a simple example. Imagine you work in an office where one of your colleague has a squeaky chair. Every time he bends back or shifts his position, the chair makes a squeaky noise. It's a very irritating noise, one that makes you lose your train of thought. The first few times you turn your head around and glare at him while he nervously apologises. But after some time, one of two things happen - either you resign to your fate (Yeah, the chair makes noise, nothing that can be done about it) or you start complaining. You some times wonder why that guy needs to adjust his position so often. It is very rare that you would take steps to fix the problem, perhaps apply a drop of oil or ask the maintenance staff to have a look at it.

While the above example might seem like a trivial issue, the same attitude can be seen across issues of all proportions. I believe that the root of this is "Ownership". Or rather, the lack of ownership. When something belongs to you, you are always very careful and protective of them. Think about it. If your mother met with an accident or your car got a dent in traffic, you would move quickly. It's yours and you will do whatever you can to resolve the problem. If your maid has gone to her hometown, you will not let your house become a pigsty. You will sweep and clean up your house. You won't resign to your fate and say "Well, it cannot be helped, the maid isn't here"

The same isn't true when things are not happening in your immediate circles. Your interest in others' problems decreases as the radius of the circle increases. If someone drove rashly and dented a stranger's car, we are going to be mere spectators. We tell ourselves, "Too bad, but let's watch and see how the situation develops" perhaps with a sense of schadenfreude. The reason is that we do not identify with them.

"It's not my problem. Why should I care?" - This train of thought is the number one reason for failure of development - Whether you are writing software or trying to live in a society. If your neighbours are throwing garbage in a vacant plot of land near your house, the garbage will only accumulate over a period of time. If your neighbour was throwing garbage into your yard, would you keep quiet? But when it's someone else's yard, you complain to your friends saying that the neighbour in question has no civic sense. You whine and you rant. And then you forget about it. You don't feel it is your problem. Perhaps it is the job of the land owner or the civic body or govt. Why should I get involved?

We always talk about collaboration, but how much do we really collaborate? In the critically acclaimed book, "Vedanta Treatise", there is a paragraph that talks about identifying the quality of people.

  1. Those who think only about themselves  (Worst)
  2. Those who think only about them and their family
  3. Those who include their clan
  4. Those who include their country
  5. Those who think of the entire world (Best)

You might notice that the majority of us fall in the block "About themselves and their family" - How do we increase our salary, our savings, our trips, our cars, etc. remains our primary concern

Here's another example. In the midst of bad traffic, people are in a hurry and end up forming deadlocks. Then they end up making deadlocks worse by trying to get out of deadlocks. The thought process here is - "Let ME get out of this mess first. Let the others figure this out themselves, what do I care?" Wouldn't it be nicer if people waited and let others go first?

Take action
The irony of this post vis-à-vis the whining and ranting is not lost to me.

That being said, I would like to quote Lord Krishna - "Action is always better than inaction".

The first step towards improving society is to take ownership - of whatever it is that you are trying to improve. We are very busy building our career and improving our standard of living - and I am, at no point of time, saying that we should all become social workers or renounce everything and become monks. But, if we are not taking steps towards improvement, how can we expect our society and country to reach its maximum potential?

Let me give you some simple things that you can do immediately after reading this post.

Many of us always talk about women empowerment, but few actually take action. Why not head over to Milaap? Milaap is a site where you may lend out small amounts of money to people who are trying to build small businesses. And you will be amazed how many women are trying to stand up on their own. You can donate very small amounts too, but the difference it makes in their lives is huge. Something as low as Rs. 2500 (or maybe lesser)

While I frown upon NGOs, Akshayapatra is perhaps the only one I swear by. You can donate amounts as low as Rs. 750 and that's enough to feed a child for a year! That's ONE meal for us at times...

It's not about donations... It's about Nationalism
While I did appeal to your philanthropic side, my interest lies in increasing nationalism. Nationalistic pride is very important and this has to be inculcated in people right from their childhood. If you do not identify yourself with your society and your country, you will not have ownership. And when you don't have ownership, you do not care enough to make a difference. You will not put in that requisite effort to make things better. You will not have pride.

You don't have to donate money to improve society. You can come up with clever solutions too. Think about various problems that we have around us. Maybe living in cities doesn't give you the full impact of real problems, such as insufficient electricity or lack of clean drinking water. If we can come up with ways to ease garbage disposal, you will create a cleaner society. If you watch TED videos of various simple inventions that kids in Africa are coming up with, you will know what I mean - using simple LEDs to drive away lions, for instance. They have real problems, and they are solving them with simple yet ingenious solutions. What if we spend an hour or two to think of solutions for these problems?

Instead of making 'settling in the US' our life's ambition, we should think about ways of giving back to the society in which we grew up and improve it.

Remember, this is not some idealistic nonsense. This is like crowdfunding - small steps by everyone can make a huge difference.

The mantra is simple - Ownership and Identifying Oneself With The Society. If you do not identify yourself with your society and think only about yourself and your family, we will never ever grow together as a society. We should identify ourselves with others, and grow together. Only then can we truly grow as a society, as a country and eventually lead to the growth of humanity.

Ownership... Think about it...

Related Links:

Vedanta Treatise
This is not some random book that gives you a lecture, but is one that makes you think and explore on your own. So don't think of this as some sort of right-wing propaganda. It's a fantastic book. Do read the reviews
Amazon Link

The Ugly Indian
A fantastic talk by an anonymous Bangalorean who talks about DOING rather than complaining - How they clean up garbage in Bangalore

Richard Turere
In the Maasai community where Richard Turere lives with his family, cattle are all-important. But lion attacks were growing more frequent. In this short, inspiring talk, the young inventor shares the solar-powered solution he designed to safely scare the lions away
Watch Video

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Quota Paradox

Swami Gulagulaananda said:
"Some see the glass half empty, others see the glass half full"

The reservation system in India is one of the most debated topics among people. I, for one, strongly oppose caste based reservation system. To deny meritorious students of seats in good institutions (and jobs) simply because certain seats are reserved for people who belong to a particular caste is as unjust as people looking down upon a certain caste because they belong to that caste.

While many of you may agree with my argument above, I would like to pose a series of situations before you and ask you for your opinions and thoughts.

I read a news article that spoke about the situation of daily soap opera makers of Tamil Nadu. 50% of Tamil Nadu's serials are local shows made by people of Tamil Nadu while the remaining 50% are Hindi series that are dubbed to Tamil. A lot of Tamilians feel that this is unfair because other serial makers are unable to compete against big budget Hindi production houses. In fact, they are running into losses and one debt-ridden director apparently committed suicide. Local technicians and artisans are not getting jobs, they claim. There are several strikes & protests happening in TN now asking for some sort of reservation. Andhra Pradesh allows for only 30% dubbed series while Karnataka has completely banned dubbed series. You can read the entire article here. The question now is - Do you think that this fair?

One the one hand, if the local artistes are not making quality series, we don't have any options and are stuck to watching whatever tripe they churn out. You may argue saying that you should dub Tamil series to Hindi and take it to their backyard. What's preventing you from doing that? On the other hand, it's easier said than done when it comes to spending and outspending. If local artisans get wiped out completely, is that good? What are the long reaching repercussions? Something to think about. Before we answer this question, let's move on to the next topic.

The hot topic of recent times, net neutrality. Essentially the debate revolves around Airtel's new scheme where companies that are willing to become their members gain the advantage of having their customers not paying for the internet to use their apps as long as they are Airtel customers. While customers seem to benefit from this outwardly, several people see many things wrong with it. While we shall refrain from debating the wrongs and rights of the topic, it is clear that the membership is offered to those who can afford to shell out huge amounts of money to Airtel. And clearly all companies cannot afford that - Companies such as Flipkart will gain an unfair advantage over others, is the claim being made. Too bad that you couldn't pay more... You don't think it's a level playing field? Who's stopping you from paying and joining, Flipkart and Airtel may ask...

Now let's come to the last case of our little discussion - It's perhaps easy to say that merit has to win in the cases of education, series and movies. How about China vs India? Chinese manufacturing is known for producing products at extremely low costs. Their costs are unbelievably low. To give you an example, an RFID tag costs Rs. 100 in India and Rs 10 when obtained from China. That's a 10:1 difference! It's no wonder why many businessmen heavily incline towards Chinese manufacturers - imagine the difference it makes to their revenues. However, as a result of this, Indian manufacturers and companies will not be able to withstand this Chinese onslaught. Many companies shut shop for this same reason. Now, one might argue for free market and say, "Too bad, you were not good enough and thus you died" and notice that this is similar to survival of the fittest. However, this systematic destruction of Indian industries can have a detrimental effect in our long term goals of becoming a superpower. The ability to produce and manufacture indigenously is extremely important and one cannot rely on a foreign country, a rival in our case, for products. As you can see, a quota system to stem the Chinese doesn't seem like such a bad idea now, does it?

Remember, the rule is always simple; The playing field should always be level and only then one can say - May the best man win. But can we simply stick to that rule in a one shoe fit all manner? If you defended India in India vs China, think about the case of Tamil Nadu vs Hindi serials... Do you see a similarity? Something to think about. What are your opinions about quotas in each of these cases?

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Greenpeace, NGOs & WYSINWYG

Swami Gulagulaananda paraphrased Jacob Braude:
"The duck seems calm and unruffled at the outset, but paddles like crazy under water"

In the good ol' days when I was trying to learn HTML, there were a set of editors called WYSIWYG - What You See Is What You Get, where you could visually design web pages as you would write a Word document without writing a single line of code, and the final page would look as it did in the editor.

However, a majority of the times, life is not WYSIWYG (pronounced wee-see-wig). It is the opposite of that - thus WYSINWYG.

Several years ago, before Facebook (and perhaps before Orkut) became a rage, I had a chance encounter with a website called Greenpeace. I was very young and I didn't know anything about them. The page I was looking at was campaigning for turtles against an industrial conglomerate. I immediately decided to join the fight - My reasoning at that time was simple: I love animals, I know turtles are getting extinct, industrial conglomerates are evil; Greenpeace sounded like an amazing organisation, a small group of people fighting a large evil organisation. Even the name Greenpeace had a nice ring to it - Green, for the bountiful prosperity and nature that we have come to associate it with, and of course, peace, for we are all supposed to be peace-lovers...

Without even knowing anything about Greenpeace or their arch enemy, Tata & Sons (the industrial conglomerate they were against), I decided to sign their petition and join the fight. I felt very good for fighting evil. Now, however, I can easily tell that my reasoning at that time was completely immature and wrong. I have heard that youth is a period of idealism - and I think it was this idealistic notion combined with lack of knowledge and understanding compounded with immaturity that got me so wrong. It's a different story that I marked them as spam for bombarding me with newsletters.

First of all, the idea that all industrial conglomerates are evil is not necessarily correct. Second, the idea that all turtles are getting extinct is not correct. It's true that they had mentioned the species of turtle - but I hadn't bothered to check if that particular species was in the place that Tata intended to build their factory (or something) and if Tata's factories would indeed cause harm to the turtles. I also assumed that Greenpeace was a small organisation because I hadn't heard about them while everyone knows about Tata. Another mistake. However, I was very incensed at that time - I was completely convinced that an industry was destroying an entire species of unique turtles.

Let's take a look at another story that has allegedly happened in Bangalore. A lady from Delhi boarded an auto - the driver agreed to a certain rate and some time later asked for a higher rate. The lady apparently questioned this and the driver suddenly turned around and climbed up behind and started hitting her, got out of the auto, pulled her by her wrist and started beating her etc. On questioning his atrocious behaviour, he started claiming he is from Ola Cabs and that was supposed to be some kind of a threat. Eventually she called up the police and they didn't respond well, nor did the local public etc. She posted it on Social Media and immediately people reacted to it, linking and threatening Ola with poor ratings, linking Bangalore Police etc. and sharing it and making it viral. I even saw some lady from the press asking her if she wanted to publish this in the papers to increase pressure.

The beauty of this little narrative is that we immediately side with the lady without knowing facts on the ground. We don't know what happened in reality and if what she claims is even true. We are inclined to agree with the lady because auto drivers have a history of being a rude lot, the police are believed to be insensitive to the plight of the general public and that there is a strong inclination to believe "victims" - everyone loves the underdog and this is especially true if the victim is a lady. Have you ever stopped to wonder if this lady is partially telling the truth? For instance, I don't see why Ola Cabs is supposed to be a threat - it's just another company that provide cabs. It doesn't even make sense for him to say it. Secondly, just saying, "You are reneging on our earlier agreement" resulted in the man becoming that violent also sounds sketchy to me.

In fact, I believe there is a lot of omission of details here - She might have been beaten up and this is no way a justification of his actions. Also, perhaps her narrative is 100% true. What I am questioning here is our reactions to such stories. We immediately take sides and don't do a thorough investigation before choosing sides. This is a huge blunder because if pictures are painted in a certain fashion, it is very easy to sway public opinion.

This is very well understood by countries such as the US. Now imagine a situation - India starts to realise that there is severe power shortage and decides to put up a nuclear power plant. If India gets more power, it can result in boosting of industries. This will result in less dependence on imports, thereby resulting in strengthening of the nation. On the other hand, this will hit the exports of other countries who are generating revenue from us. Assume a group of locals are paid a lot of money by a foreign country to organise protests. They start holding placards, shout out slogans and send out email newsletters to "educate" the masses. The media (presstitutes) are known to be heavily biased (allegedly :P) towards people who pay more money and they immediately start to cover this. Ordinary people now start believing that there is going to be destruction of natural treasures, forests, death of animals, possibility of radiation leakages etc. By repeatedly showing these telecasts, we start thinking that the govt. is indeed working towards some self-annihilation. "Use renewable sources of energy instead!", people say. Have we done enough research to compare costs and output and compare it with need? Have we taken time to build into consideration? We simply blurt out suggestions without applying deep thought. Considering the entire movement is spearheaded by a lovely organisation like Greenpeace, you probably might begin to have more faith in all this. The more the protests, the slower the development and you know what can happen. At the outset, we do not see any connection between a foreign country and people protesting...

There is also this other post that talks about the indifference of Jet Airways after their plane was made to land in Muscat instead of Dubai due to sandstorm - The narrative talks against the crew and paints a beautiful picture of gross indifference and apathy. People are writing comments supporting the writer without knowing full facts. Just because you are not privy to all details doesn't make you an expert on the matter.

To summarise, it's extremely important to analyse and research every single article or news item that we come across before taking sides. We shouldn't take them at face value. If the media was truly unbiased, perhaps, this would not have been necessary. They are clearly biased and they take sides. This is one of the main reasons why I hate Times Of India's "Times View" - They shouldn't have views - they should just report information (White Hat) in an unbiased manner. By carefully omitting certain details and portraying half-truths, it is possible to swing public opinions in certain directions. This is why videos like Deepika Padukone's dumb "My Choice" video was hailed by some - they truly believe that women are given second class status and that the video is a true reflection of what needs to happen. This is especially true when media depicts "minority" religions getting stamped on. It's a load of balderdash when you do more research.

Analyse everything and don't take things as they seem... For the duck seems calm and unruffled at the outset, but paddles like crazy under water

Comments from Facebook:

  • Bhargava Aswathanarayan Soopar Writing. As for these thugs, you should read the suspension order (Available here In one of the audits, starting balance (from foreign funds) was mentioned as NIL while it actually was 6.6 crores. When questioned, the thugs said it was a typo...yes TYPO
    Apparently a drone was used for filming in Mahan forest without prior permission from the defence ministry. This is not a trivial matter..its a threat to our national security. What stops them from doing shit like these in the future ?
    Its not for nothing that these thugs have been called out in places like Canada and South-Korea. Its high time we weed out these pests
    4 hrs · Edited · Like
  • Bhavana Rangaraj Yes correct!!! I had a bad experience with Greenpeace.. I had donated 3000 rupees once as their annual donation.. The guy came to my office , made me sign forms and also took card details.. I should have not shared details but I was naive.. They continuously cut money from my account for 3 months, I happen to neglect second thinking they cut for next annual fee.. Its when they cut 3rd month I changed my cars details and emailed them for refund.. No one bothered and then after almost a year they started calling me and telling they can repay and all that.. They are big fraud
    2 hrs · Like
  • Aditya Kiran You should start making podcasts 
  • Nikhil Baliga That's not a bad idea  maybe I will. Thanks maga
  • Goutham Kamath Or start a website which only publishes unbiased true story. Will research hot trending topics and try to establish the true story and keep updating. It will be one stop for anyone to get real story of any topics. It is hard to research on any topics these days especially if you are remote. I am not sure if there is one. Nice writing btw and your story telling aligns with that of Malcom Gladwell