Monday, March 31, 2008

A blogger's lame attempt at humour

Came across this while surfing randomly. Truemors is a Silicon Valley blog. And the writer claims that, "Jaguar is expected to become affectionately known as the “left Tata”, while the slightly larger Land Rover will take the role of “right Tata”." Tata in old English slang means breast... I don't find this funny. Do you? To me, the whole post reeks of an imperialist hangover. Tata Motors is here to stay. Deal with it!

On science and humanities...

There is an ad on television for Kissan's new health drink. The drink is called "Amaze Brain Food." The ad features a bunch of kids in a school. A voice-over asks who is going to be tomorrow's Einstein/Abdul Kalam/Sunita Williams/Narayanamurthy et. al. A point to be noted here is that the product is called "Brain Food" and the role models mentioned are all technical and scientific greats. The ad made me wonder why people like Sachin Tendulkar, Padma Subrahmaniam, Amartya Sen and M S Subbalakshmi had been left out. Their work requires no "brain power" perhaps? Wait a sec. I am not saying that dance or music require less intelligence than science. But, that's the only explanation I can think of when I try to justify the choice of role models. Can the bias against non-science disciplines be any more obvious? It irritates and even depresses me to see such an obvious bias against anyone who does not conform. In what way is Sunita Williams or Abdul Kalam better than Amartya Sen? Does his work not require intelligence and application of mind? Then why are we, as a society reinforcing and perpetrating the myth that science is somehow better than humanities?

My sixteen-year-old cousin firmly believes that the only way to do well in life is to do engineering. And too, only computer science engineering. All through my teenage years, I was told incessantly by my extended family and sometimes even my close relatives that the only way I could hope to live a good life was by getting into a good engineering college. Even medicine was discouraged because it takes longer to "get settled" in the profession. When I chose not to take the engineering entrance exams, my decision was met with a stoic but disapproving silence from all parts of the family. The only saving grace were my parents who simply let me do what I loved doing. Even later, after I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in History, I was actively encouraged to do a management course in the fond hope that I would get back into the mainstream and see the world "practically". Today, with a bachelor's degree in History, a Master's in French and a second Master's in International Relations, I still get free advice from anyone and everyone around me on how best I can get into the IT industry. I mean, give me a break! I don't want to get into the IT industry. Why does it not strike anyone that I might just enjoy being a teacher? I don't want a big fat pay packet and no time for myself or my friends and family. I want to live my life the way I deem it fit.

This general idea that science is somehow better than humanities is perpetrated in this discussion I found on Nita's blog. In the discussion, discussants have implied that being a science student is somehow better than being a non-science student. I hear all kinds of justifications for the statement. They process quantities better, they understand the industry better, they are more at ease with management roles...etc..etc... What I cannot understand is this. Is the worth of a human being measured only in terms of the quantity of money you make on your job? I earn, on an average, one-tenth that of an IT professional. So, I am in some way, inferior? What the hell? Even by that definition, I am probably paid more than the average IT professional if you looked at the per-hour fee I am paid. As a teacher of French I am paid nearly 200 rupees for every hour I work. If I were to work 10 hours a day, like anyone in the IT industry would, I would be making 2000 rupees every day. In a month, I would be making nearly 60,000 rupees, more than most IT professionals do in a month. Still think I am worth less?

Having said that, I think it's unfair to compare professions solely on the basis of the money people make. There are other things to life. Like love, like enjoyment, like interest, like hobbies and like the desire to do something different. Not all children need to become tomorrow's Abdul Kalam or Einstein to be successful. If they do, it's great. But, if they don't manage it. If they prefer to take the less-trodden path, are we not, as a society responsible for giving them the support and encouragement they deserve? I think we need to change. For the better.

Friday, March 28, 2008

On female foeticide

I came across this very interesting, and moving blog recently, thanks to a comment its author left on my blog. It contains many things, personal experiences, horror stories, and plain and simple logic. In short, it raises awareness on an issue that must be spoken about and discussed if we really want to make a difference. One post that left me particularly angry was about an upper middle class family from Eastern UP that forced its daughter-in-law to abort because she was carrying a girl. I find it extremely hard to digest that fact that a mother is forced to destroy her child because it happens to be a girl.

There are two issues involved in this story. The first, and in my opinion, the most important is this obsession with having a son. I grew up in a female-dominated household. My mother has four sisters. One is not married, and the other lived with us for many years, in blocs of a few years, thanks to the transferable Air Force job her husband had. In short, I grew up with two aunts, a grandmum, occasionally a great grandmother and my mother. All women. My dad and grandfather were present, and so was my grandfather's younger brother. But the women outnumbered the men two to one. Add to this the fact that I was an only grandchild for ten long years, at least until Vidyesh was born in 1992. My grandfather has no sons. Nor do my parents. Not one day have I felt bad about it. Or regretted being born a girl. In fact, being an only grandchild for ten years spoilt me to the extent that I am still given preferential treatment over my cousins sometimes. I am the first, and so I am treated as special by everyone. Including my two aunts who have a son each. Given the background and family in which I grew up, I will never understand why women want sons. In fact, the situation was sort of reversed in my family. My aunt's first child was a boy. She prayed practically every day during her second pregnancy for a girl. Girls are precious in our family. And will always be.

But, when I step back from this situation and examine the issue objectively, it all adds up. It still does not make sense though. Some time back, I had written about dowry. That's the issue. Dowry. Girls are considered a financial liability. Not because they must be educated or fed. But because they must be married away. To put it crudely, they are often treated like a piece of unwanted furniture to be sold to the lowest bidder. In this case, lowest bidder because its the girl's parents who pay the bidder to take her away. So, whoever agrees to take her away at the lowest cost gets her. Have we no shame? How can any self-respecting man ask his wife's parents to pay him? A car, a house, a couple of lakhs in cash, a few hundred sovereigns of gold, a diamond jewel or two... the list is endless. I am disheartened to see that this trend shows no signs of ending. In fact, it gets more and more fashionable to demand dowry. Even in previously matrilineal systems like the Nairs and Menons of Kerala, dowry is becoming an accepted practice. When will we change, if we ever will...?


The second issue is that of abortion in general. I have come across three cases of abortion in the past two years. All three women belong to the upper middle class. All are well-educated and well-settled. They have the proverbial house, car and dog. They have a decent income. All three are housewives. I refuse to call these people home-makers because the term housewife seems more appropriate. All three have ambitions, not for themselves, but for their husbands. They want to go abroad, settle down there, build a house, buy a car and be generally successful. But none of them want kids. Well, that's fine by me. If you don't want kids use contraception. But no, all three got pregnant within six months of marriage. And all three aborted the foetus. To me, that's cold-blooded murder. There is nothing wrong in not wanting a kid right away. There are a dozen different ways to prevent conception. These women are educated right? Should they not take responsibility for their lapses? I find it impossible to accept that abortion can be used to get rid of a child you don't want. A child is precious. There are millions of infertile couples trying desperately to have a baby. And these women throw away what they get because they claim children are too expensive to take care of. One husband actually told me that the cost of a child diapers would be too expensive for him to sustain. The said husband is in a good job earning more than 40,000 rupees a month. He does not think twice about taking his wife out to the Taj for dinner but calculates the cost of a child's diaper? Its simply selfish. On second thoughts, I would rather such people not have kids. At least, the kid won't suffer.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

India and Poverty

Came across this page when I tried to sphere content related to my most recent post. No, I don't dispute any of the statistics. I am sure all of them are true. There certainly are 22 million cases pending in Indian courts. And all the other stats about rapes, discrimination, poverty, farmer suicides and the like are true. But, what I find amusing is that all this is being disclosed by a Pakistani, who calls himself a social scientist. I wouldn't have had a problem if he had been equally critical of his own country on the rest of his blog. But, he seems to be trying rather hard to prove that India is not as great as the media would like everyone to believe.

Just one thing on the courts issue: Mr. Ansari forgot to mention that Indian courts function and that Chief Justices are not thrown into prison or sacked because the President fought with his wife (or husband, as the case is with Ms. Patil).

South vs. North - a reprise

I got a comment the other day, on my earlier post titled, "Bihari is not a bad word, but Madrasi?" I wondered briefly if I should delete it because it is so... meaningless. Example: "The central govt in Delhi has plans to wantonly ignore other languages and pave the way for their decline by sole use of Hindi and by the portrial of India to the outside world as Hindia." Eh? Does this guy (girl?) really believe what he/she says? I mean, who actually thinks and believes such total crap? It does not add to the credibility of the person that he/she was too cowardly to leave a name, any name. Maybe I should enforce moderation. But somehow, the idea of moderation does not really appeal to me. I will probably include a comment policy instead. But, to make my point clear. I do not share or endorse such points of view expressed in comments."

Speaking of languages and cultures, the kind of keywords used to search Google for my blog always throw up some surprises. This post on Biharis seems to be among the most popular ones. One oft-searched term is "Hate Hindi" and surfaces on the first page of Google Search. But why? I never claimed to hate Hindi. Ever. In fact, I speak the language rather well. In addition to some 5 others.

Ok, on to the topic of the day. I stumbled across this wonderful blog yesterday. And my, I was hooked almost instantly. Of all the interesting post on it, one caught my attention because of the sheer number of comments on it. It's amazing to see so many people wanting to express an opinion on something. But then, it is sometimes disheartening to see many of them rooting for the imposition of one language as a "National Language." I mean, why do we need a national language. We are managing perfectly well with about 22 official ones. Each person has the right to speak in a language they are most fluent in. Why should we complicate things by wanting to name one language as "national." One comment to the post claimed that Hindi is spoken by the maximum number and so must be national. Let me extend that logic a bit. Christianity is the world's most widely practised religion. So, let's all convert to Christianity. And oh yes, Mandarin is the language with the most speakers. Let's all go learn Chinese then. Some day, it will be the "global" language. In India itself, almost 85% of the population is Hindu. So Hinduism can be the "national" religion? Ok? Can't accept it, can you? So why do you expect people to accept Hindi because its speakers are numerically superior? Why should language be any different?

As I said in my post on Biharis, the anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu happened at a certain time and place. It was inevitable then. That doesn't mean the violence associated with it was justified. There is no stopping mob violence once it starts. The best thing to do is to find a middle path and avoid making language such a divisive issue. Let's get one thing straight. It is to have a national language because of the sheer number of languages that exist in India. India has never been, and will never be, a monolingual state. There is no point in rooting for one language as opposed to another. The current system works wonderfully because no Indian language is more important than the other. And please don't tell me that English is unnecessary. But for English, I wouldn't understand any official correspondence. My knowledge of most Indian languages is pathetic, despite the fact that I speak at least three of them fluently. And yes, people like me have a right to exist and live in India. English is as much my mother tongue, or perhaps even more, than Kannada can ever be. I am not ashamed of that because I don't find a reason to be apologetic about my preference for English.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Free speech or irresponsible politicking?

India should adopt the chicken, and not the peacock as its national bird, says Jug Suraiya. Why? Because the government has allegedly been chicken hearted on issues ranging from Taslima to Tibet. Ok. Our esteemed Ms. Nasreen first. She recently left India to an undisclosed European destination, claiming that her physical security would be compromised if she told us where she was going. And why did she do so? Because the Indian government kept her under "house arrest" and caused much emotional distress. She doesn't stop there. She claims that the treatment meted out to her by the Indian government was no less than "cold-blooded state terrorism to drive her out of the country."

Oh yes, it's terrorism when you try to protect a person from angry mobs throwing stones at her house and request that she maintain a low profile until things calm down a bit. Maybe we should have left her at her house in Calcutta, or waited until she was grievously injured and then filed a case of attempted murder on the angry mobs. Would Ms. Nasreen have been happy then? How can a person, whose only connection to India is a temporary visitor's visa, be so ungrateful and accuse the government of state terrorism? I mean, just because she is a woman? Just why is India obliged to host her and provide shelter? She is not an Indian. M F Hussain would have deserved it. But Taslima? Why should we stick our neck out for someone who doesn't care a damn for us? For someone who equates India with countries like Afghanistan under the Taliban and calls the Indian state a terrorist? I am sorry to say that my regard for Ms. Nasreen went down several notches after reading this report.

I certainly support her right to free speech. But one must understand that with freedom, comes responsibility. You can't say what you please and expect your audience not to react. Mob violence is unacceptable in any context and deserves to be condemned and punished. But does a writer not owe something to the society too? She may have had a difficult childhood and adolescence, but that does not give her the right to heap such abuse on a state that tried its best to help her out. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs extended her visa despite much opposition, and on the condition that she tone down her criticism and try to respect the sentiments of the people whose hospitality is enjoying. Is that too much to ask?

Her claims that she was denied access to healthcare and that the Indian government tried to "poison" her through drugs is simply too far-fetched to believe. I do not hold the current Congress government in very high esteem and have in the past questioned its attitude on various issues. But, even I find it impossible to believe that it is capable of plotting someone's slow death. I mean...come on! To me, this seems like the result of a hyper-active imagination. As far as all that crap about Indians treating a guest nobly is concerned, I don't care any more. As far as I am concerned, Ms. Nasreen has proven herself unworthy of the old Indian adage, "Athithi Devo Bhava" (May the guest be treated as God.) by heaping abuse on the very country that has hosted her and kept her safe for almost four years now.

And then, comes Tibet. All I say is this. India has enough problems without taking on those of Tibet right now. Let's set our house in order and concentrate on the more important issues of education, economic development, military and energy security and poverty reduction before we set out to "liberate" anyone else from oppressors. Was one Bangladesh experience not enough? Let's please mind our own business. Let's leave the world's problems to George W Bush.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Of apples and oranges

Here is a gem from Sitaram Yechury. I mean, who publishes such crap? Oh, a well-known newspaper like Hindustan Times of course. I actually checked if it was published under a satire or humour column or something. But no. I had overestimated their intelligence I suppose. And did you know that our dear Mr. Yechury got his BA (Hons.) in Economics from St. Stephen's? I find that rather hard to believe after reading the following words.
"...globalisation has given rise to the phenomenon of ‘jobless growth’. The growth of employment has always been lower than the GDP growth rate globally. Both these features put together mean that the purchasing power of the vast majority of the world’s population has been declining."
Eh? What's the relation? It's like putting apples and oranges together and claiming that there is a fall in mango production this year. Ok. Ok. I think it's time I stop taking any communist seriously. As Amit Varma so succintly puts it,
"Let’s all just stay poor then, so there’s no danger of losing the money we haven’t had a chance to earn anyway."
Someone teach these guys basic economics please!!

Friday, March 14, 2008

God, astrology and religion

I have been meaning to write this for some time now. But, this is one of those posts that requires serious reflection, analysis and questioning and so I have been postponing this for a few days. But today, I decided it could not wait any longer. Does God exist? If yes, what is he/she? Someone sitting up there in the skies and commanding our every action? If no, why does humankind need the concept? Personally, I believe in God. Call it what you may, God, the Almighty, a creature of the nth dimension, an extra-terrestrial with superior intelligence...whatever it is, I believe. Not because I am stupid or naive, but because I need something to believe in. I am human too. I need to believe that there is a power above mine that makes things happen the way they happen. Existential philosophers believed that there is no such thing as God. That is a scary proposition. Because if there was no God, we would have to take responsibility for every little thing in our lives. An accident, a power failure, an illness...we would be responsible for everything. And that kind of responsibility is too heavy for any individual to bear. There is no doubt in my mind that there is God. That He takes care of everything and makes things happen in my life. I don't mean that I can sit back and relax while He does all the hard work. It means that success is 99% hard work and 1% divine providence.

That brings me to the next question. Must I believe in religion because I believe in God? Can I not worship Him the way I deem fit? Will He not listen to me and solve my problems if I ask Him to? Why is there a single acceptable way of worshipping? I spent two years away from India. I lit a lamp something like 5 times in those two years. I did not visit a single temple in that time. But, He took care of me and ensured my physical and emotional well-being. Will all that change because I am now in India and refuse to go to a temple? Yes, I believe in God, but not in religion. I believe that there is a supreme power that makes things happen, but I refuse to get carried away by ritualism and devote my time to pointless worship. Does that make me an atheist? I will worship when I feel like it. I will go to a temple because I want to. I refuse to be forced into performing such rituals to satisfy others. So, is God going to punish me for that attitude? I doubt it. Because, if God really is omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient, he will understand and appreciate my faith in Him. Why should I pretend for the sake of other mere humans?

The humans in question masquerade as astrologers. They claim they can read God's mind. They claim you have hurt His sentiments or defiled Him by behaving in a certain manner. They also claim He can only be pacified by begging for forgiveness through some elaborate ritual costing a couple of thousand rupees. Excuse me if I sound like an atheist, but I find the whole thing ridiculous. The Vedas prescribe something called the Kshama Prarthana. It involves asking for forgiveness for mistakes committed, knowingly or unknowingly. And it about two lines long and takes exactly 25 seconds to say. Will God not accept that? Will He not forgive? Why do we need these astrologers and fake pujaaris to act as intermediaries in our business with God? I know my questions are pertinent. But my asking them makes me a heretic. It hurts to see that a religion that was once so inclusive and tolerant is becoming increasingly intolerant and ritualistic. But, who is to say? Who is to fight these self-proclaimed guardians of faith?

Monday, March 10, 2008

International Women's Day

March 8 was International Women's Day. That's a great thing isn't it? One day in the year, people can remember the silent half of humanity, sing her praises, talk about her emancipation and then forget about it for the next 364 days. What a day! And did I mention that Women's Day does not mean the husband cooks for the day, or takes her out, or even offers to help in her chores. But still! It's Women's Day! Let's all celebrate. Oh come on! Stop the lip service. I have had enough. Of men who claim they understand women, and of women who claim that they don't need to feel special. I won't even get started on the men who are patronising, condescending or falsely encouraging. They are not worth the effort. But the women?

This post really got on my nerves. I felt like I was listening to the sound of nails scratching a blackboard. That's right! It's that annoying. What the hell? Why do women feel offended if a man offers his seat on a bus, or holds the door open for them? Because he feels the woman is incapable of such things? For God's sake, stop being so hyper-sensitive woman! The watchman of my building opens doors for people. Does he honestly think it's because people are incapable of opening their own doors? I don't know where to start, but this post rankles from the word go. The blogger in question says,
"Do-gooders act and behave like they are God’s gift to women. They open doors and let women pass through first (don’t we know how to open a door for god’s sake?). They offer to drop women if they get delayed at work for an extra five minutes. They nab at bills in restaurants before the woman even offers to pay for her food. They talk feminism and woman’s rights. And all this stems out of a feeling that women are lesser creatures and need to be taken care of. Like a porcelain doll. Or a pet Pomeranian. And the worst part is that, such men are considered ‘oh-so-sweet’, ‘he’s so considerate’, etc."
I mean, give the poor man a break! He probably thinks he is being charming. One of the stereotypes that is undoubtedly true about men is that they are less complicated than women. They don't think so much. They just do what they think is right. While such behaviour is not always indefensible, they at least justify their actions in some way. At the end of the post, the blogger asks if there is some such thing as a Men's Day. Of course not. Men are not killed off in infancy, aborted inside the womb, told they are worthless or discouraged from doing what they want because of their sex. They don't need a Men's Day, because we are living in a man's world. Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that our society remains essentially patriarchal.

I will never finish this post at this rate. So, my message to all you women out there is just this. You are lucky to be born a woman. Be proud of the fact. I have no shame in admitting, as I have before, that I am happy to be pampered by the man in my life. I feel good when a man holds a door open for me, or vacates a seat on a crowded bus. I actually like it when someone offers to do me a favour, or drop me off somewhere because I am running late. You would not question it if a woman offered you a lift. Then why are you so distrusting of men. Even if they are brothers, close friends, colleagues or boyfriend? Give the poor guys a chance. Don't be so judgemental of them. It is the very same thing you fault in men right? Then what gives you the right to be judgemental of them? Are they not human too?