Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hai (MF) Husain!

Yes, he faced a number of cases from some publicity hungry maniacs and those who chose to compete for the title of bigger fundamentalist. The Supreme Court clubbed them. Being a celebrity has a price. He could afford a hundred lawyers and not be worried.

In any case he has lived abroad for decades, even though he has professed love for his country sometimes. But he is a hugely successful artist and a businessman. I admire everything about him. And, I respect his right to take up any other citizenship. Many of my friends have taken American citizenship and they are still my friends.

So, why the breast-beating, just because MF has taken Qatari citizenship? Some say, he was a national asset and we have lost him. Do we own him? Is it his problem? Many of those who are wailing, will themselves start salivating at the prospect of a green card. Many of us will not think twice before plundering national assets, from electricity to environment.

My friend says, “That is not the issue. He had to take up Qatari citizenship because a secular country could not protect him”. Did he say so, or is it our assumption? And, who said, we are secular? Just because, it is written in the Constitution? Unless secularism means pandering to fringe, obscurantist elements from every section of the society, or giving equal right to followers of all religion to grab public space or vandal public property, we are not. Religions, communities and castes are currencies of power in my ‘secular’ country. One party which was responsible for the genocide of thousands of citizens in the national capital is secular, while the other connected with similar connivance, abetment or dereliction in a state is not.

If there were to be a global index or award for hypocrisy, we will win it hands down year after year, unlike Olympics medals. Perhaps the only competition may come from our neighbour or the US. It is just a manifestation of that the culture with a history of the most liberal ethos, temples like Khajuraho and worship of the ‘lingam’, is supposed to be defiled by an artist of the stature of MF, just because the goddess was not ‘properly dressed’ in the painting. We will claim our culture to be superior’ but will rush to draw parallels with ‘others’ to justify our competitive bigotry. We will host Tasleema (even though in a jail-like condition, remember ‘Atithi Devo Bhav’?) and lose MF, if we did so at all. We will embrace all things western, from dress to Pepsi to MJ, but our millennia-old culture can not sustain the tsunami of Valentine’s Day. We will gloss over widespread incest, but 377 cannot be changed. The list is endless.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I am my word

There are some people who are very talented, while some are not. Some are born rich with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth, while others are not so lucky. Some are born in the land of opportunity, yet others in hopeless anarchies. There are many things on which we may not have control, but there is one on which each of us has exclusive control. Nobody can take it away from us. This is our integrity. Do I say what I think? Do I do what I do what I say? Or, is there a variance?
Like Stephen Covey says, Integrity is like a bicycle wheel. Every time, there is a gap between thought, words and action, one spoke goes. For instance, one of my friends invites me to his wedding in Indore. Not to offend him, I tell him, “sure”. Later, I think of my own engagements, cost, etc. and when the time comes, I make an excuse like my aunt has come over, or my wife is not well or whatever. Even if what I say is a fact, one spoke of the wheel of integrity is broken. My friend may not even protest. So far no problem. Next time, a phone call comes at my home, and I ask someone to tell that I am not at home. One more spoke is broken. Still, no problem.
A time will however come when enough number of wheels will have broken, and my wheel of integrity may collapse. People may stop trusting me and I may become like meteorological department. When they say it will rain heavily, people may say that now it will surely not rain today. (No offence meant to meteorological department, there are far too many factors involved in prediction). Is integrity, honesty? No, like nobody questions the honesty or sincerity of meteorological department, even when predictions go wrong.
Integrity does not mean ‘no breakdown’. It only means a decision if I am going to expand or contract it. Whether I am going to play by the rules of expediency or diplomacy? Or do I realize that every expediency has a long term cost?
This way, my words and speech may lose value in public eye. Mind you, this has nothing to do with my background, social status, intelligence, etc. This integrity is not something I was born with. It is my choice. It is possible that I may have picked up such habits from others in my early formative years, but I can always decide to restore my integrity. It may take some time if considerable erosion has taken place. Life is not like chess; one can bounce back even if one has been checkmated.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Blessings of not having a blessed life

As I look back on having completed 53 years of my life, I find it very fascinating. One of the things that I learned is that it is actually a blessing not to have a ‘blessed life’. I was born in a typical middle class and had a large family. Only when I grew up a little, I realized that the family was not actually so large and a good number of my uncles and aunts were actually helping hands like cook, house cleaner, washer man, milkman etc. Some time back was reading an article by Subroto Bagchi and then I realized from where I got a habit of treating even the junior most members of my team with utmost respect.
I studied in a neighbourhood Hindi-medium government school. My English writing was passable but English conversation was a herculean task and I had to prepare beforehand for speaking anything in English. I consistently scored first class, which used to be an achievement in those days. Yet the first major disaster struck when in an interdepartmental debate competition in the university, I forgot in the middle, and there was no way I could have carried on without crammed lines.
Back at home, having been brought up in a joint family, I did most of my studies in a shed on rooftop which helps me deal with extremes of weather better than most of my friends. For example, I become aware of excess humidity only when my friends complain.
Another challenge came when I joined MBA. From classrooms to canteen to toilet, suddenly the language of conversation became English. I somehow managed but as I came out of this ordeal, I resolved to master the Queen’s language. I even tried to master 1100-page Webster’s dictionary! The effort paid off as sometime later I rose to become the highest paid copywriter in my State with frequent day-commute to Delhi. And, all this as a part-time vocation.
My basic profession was in HR and I left job to start consultancy after working for 36 years. Being an entrepreneur has not been easy, specially the transition from worries about one’s own salary to those of other employees. But despite some tough times during this recession, I hate to trade-off my freedom, fun and learning for security of a job.
I have been training and speaking to thousands of people all these years, improving myself more than others. A long way for a person who found difficult to speak.
If one were to ask me to sum up my life experiences, I would say two things. I am blessed that I went through many adversities, each of which made me better. Secondly, the best is yet to begin.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Don’t worry, be happy and gay

Presto! India may finally shed some of its baggage of hypocrisy. Homosexuals and transgenders have not only been a part of Indian landscape from the time immemorial, they have been respected as a part of the society by those who may not agree with their preferences. When I was a child, there were some trans-genders in the area where I used to live. Some people even laughed at them ( for example, when one trans-gender in my locality used to tweeze out facial hair to look feminine and his face would get red) but nobody violated their dignity and self respect when they were around. Some were quite lovable and sought after. We just knew they were different. The only thing I did not know then that there was some article 377 which proscribed “sex against natural order of things”. When I grew, I came to know of ancient treatises on oral and all other kinds of sex. Still later, when I visited places like Khajuraho, I was amused to see statues displaying even sex with animals on the walls of the temple. It was embarrassing to see those statues with family elders, but one thing was obviously clear: one may or may not agree, but one should respect even deviance, especially in something as private as sex.
Yet, we take a totally different stand in public and many of us also believe that accepting facts will bring the edifice of society crashing down. So you see most politicians scurrying for cover after the court judgment. And, you have a spectacle of religious fundamentalists fighting out with activists. One minority trying to marginalise another minority! Some leading channels arrayed head of church organization, maulvis and Bajrang Dal leaders. These very channels will strongly protest against the impression that Bajrang Dal represents Hindus. Then why give them prominence? These leaders do not even know enough about Hinduism to have any semblance of an authority figure.
Anyway, there is an occasion to rejoice that the basic spirit of tolerance and acknowledgment of individual freedom has been upheld.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mind Your 'Footprint'

Global warming has transcended debate to a growing reality with most educated people. They are slowly getting exposed to the ominous repercussions; the world is likely to face with this change. A fifth of global wetlands are threatened, up to 300 crore more people will face water shortages, 40 crore more people will be staring at hunger and so on. These facts are widely shared.
What is not so widely shared is that methane (20 times more harmful) and nitrous oxide (300 times more harmful) are the other two major green house gases, in addition to carbon dioxide. But people do know that the single biggest source of carbon emission is burning of fossil fuels, and certain industrial processes.
Yet, most of us consider themselves to be bystanders affected by this new reality, and not the contributors to global warming. We may even get offended if someone were to point out that at least some of our actions may be leading to more global warming and it is possible to be more prudent, without so much coming out of our comfort zones.
Home solutions
Let us take a check, whether we are a part of the solution, or we are a part of the problem.
1. We are being a part of the problem if we unnecessarily lower AC temperatures. Human comfort range is 24 to 28 degree Celsius with light clothing. Likewise, we can comfortably sleep if the temperature is below 27 degrees. There is no basic need to lower AC temperatures below these. Even 2-3 degrees can make a lot of difference to energy consumption. When I was working in a Japanese company, Denso, I saw that one was supposed to switch on Ac only when the room temperature went above 28 degrees.
Most of us counter that they are paying the charges. They do not realize that they are only paying conversion charges, and not the cost of side effects. After all, the electricity for air-conditioning may be coming from burning of fossil fuels, pushing up overall temperatures.
2. Do we switch off appliances, when we are not using? These appliances may be sipping electricity when they are in standby mode. Do we watch and promptly switch off chargers when mobiles, i-phones, etc. are fully charged, instead of leaving them on?

3. If we eat local, in-season agricultural produce then we are a part of the solution. If we have a fascination for exotic fruits and vegetables coming from faraway places, then we are a part of the problem.

4. Likewise, if we prefer bottled water over the one from water purifier at our home, we are being a part of the problem.

5. If we are predominantly vegetarian, we are part of the solution. Beef is especially harmful because cattle belch out methane, which is more harmful, as mentioned earlier.

6. If we prefer and use shower or a bath tub, instead of a bucket and mug bath, we are surely not being a part of the solution. The same goes for a car wash. In Denso, it was a serious offence, if a driver was seen washing a company car with a pipe!

7. If we plant gardens, especially low water consuming plants and trees, we are surely being a part of the solution.

8. If we hang out clothes for drying, instead of tumble drying, we are a part of the solution.
Likewise, if we do not use half filled dishwater or a washing machine, we are a part of the solution.

9. If we drive to the gym, instead of running, we are being a part of the problem.

10. If we leave the engine or AC idling at traffic lights, we are a part of the problem.

11. If prefer overnight train instead of flight, then we are a part of the solution.

12. If we walk or cycle short distances, we are a part of the solution.

13. If we do weekly or longer shopping in single trips, we are a part of the solution.

14. If we use glasses, instead of plastic cups, then we are part of the solution.

15. If we use double sided printing, we are a part of the solution.

16. If we switch off lights etc. when we can do without them, we are a part of the solution.

17. If we unnecessarily use search engines, when we can do without it by remembering or recording sites, we are a part of the problem.

18. If we wear light clothing reducing the need for more air-conditioning, we are being a part of the solution.

19. More than anything else, if we champion change and spread awareness, we are being a part of the solution.

The underlying idea is that we should endeavour to reduce our ‘carbon footprint’ as a responsible citizen of the world. For those new to this debate, carbon footprint is the sum of greenhouse gas emission directly or indirectly attributable to a person or an entity.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Happily Yours

If you were to choose between success and happiness, what will you choose? Or, if there is a possibility that you may not be happy after you achieve success, what will you do?

If you are ambivalent, it is natural. While it is human to pursue growth and success, happiness is a biological goal of every human being. In fact, our ancestors put happiness on divine pedestal, calling even God, Sachhidanand (the eternal happiness). They went even a step further putting sex statues on the walls of temples- an unthinkable proposition in any other part of the world. In a culture, where there are even precise descriptions of planetary constellations at the time of birth of Lords Rama and Krishna, there is no reference of their dates of death. In fact, the concept of death anniversary first came to this land with Buddha's Parinirvana diwas. It was not without reason. The overarching philosophy was to celebrate happiness and underplay sadness. 

What is happiness? Is it pursuit of material success? Or, something more than that? Does it have many flavours or textures? We will share some research findings. We will also talk about who is likely to be happier than others.

There is an emerging movement led by social scientists like Dr. Martin Seligman and others. They call it a positive psychology movement, devoted to study of happiness, and how people can be happier?  Their research talks about three kinds of happiness. One is through pursuit of pleasure, symbolised by celebrities. Researchers steer clear of value judgments and affirm that there is nothing wrong in this kind of happiness. The effects and results are immediately tangible.

The second kind of happiness comes from an intense engagement of any activity. Ask a mother breast feeding her child, a composer composing music, or even a software developer writing a new package. Their excitement and thrill is beyond words. They derive happiness through the intensity of involvement in whatever they do.

There is a third kind of happiness and this comes from and this comes from leading a life of significance for others. There is a saying in Sanskrit that the crux of Vyas’s eighteen puranas is that there is no greater virtue in doing good to others and no greater sin than hurting others. That is the source of happiness for Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Vinoba Bhave, and countless others who live and die for others.

As said earlier, there is nothing better or worse in any of these three types, and an individual’s happiness is a combination of the three types of happiness at any point of time. Those who have more types have more likelihood to be happy than those who rely only on material happiness.

Is happiness an inside thing or depends on external factors? Again, the answer is both. There are certain personality traits that make one happier than others. For example, extroverts are happier than introverts, says the research. One’s world view, philosophy and vision have a large role in one’s happiness.

On the other hand, research also shows that certain level of prosperity is positively associated with happiness. People around a person also make a difference. Those who live in the company of happy people are happier than those surrounded by whiners, critics, run-downers.

Research also says that happiness is learnable and one can train himself or herself to be a lot more happier even in the same circumstances.

So, in an allusion to Biblical injunction, let us go forth and be happy, our vicissitudes notwith standing! We even have a cultural and divine sanction.

Monday, May 4, 2009

FAQs on Science of Love

Love has been defined and interpreted in countless ways. However, most rationalise it as God's gift and divine, just as they treated moon before they could understand that it is just another planet or a satellite. It is just a 'chemical locha' as propounded in one of the Bollywood films, as one of my friends reminded. I have attempted to compile existing understanding and extrapolations therefrom.

The attempt is merely to demistify and understand the scientific basis. It does not make it any less fascinating, just as knowing the science of childbirth does not reduce its profoundness as a human experience.

Q: What is love?

Ans: As per Wikipedia, love is any of a number of experiences related to a sense of strong affection and attachment . It can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure ("I loved that meal") to intense interpersonal attraction ("I love my boyfriend"). In abstract sense, love is a combined feeling of bonding, caring for the other beyond self.

Q: Why does one chase romantic love?

Ans: Brain mapping shows that early stage intense romantic love activates the same sub-cortical reward regions that are rich with dopamine and are associated with the motivations to win rewards in contests.

Q: Is attractiveness of the beloved necessary for romantic love?

Ans: No. Activation regions of romance and attractiveness are on the right and the left side respectively. Romantic love is distinct from, though inter-related to sex-drive for which attractiveness may be a stimulant as a part of natural mate selection process.

Q: What is love-at-first sight?

Ans: Love-at-first sight is a basic mammalian response to speed up the mating process.

Q: Does love evolve?

Ans: As per Dr. Helen Fisher of Rutgers University, NJ, The USA, there are three stages. First is lust stage, in which a male or female notices and chooses a mate. Second stage is that of attraction. The third and the final stage is attachment. Different chemicals come into play at each of these stages. Testosterones and estrogens promote aggressiveness and have a role in the first stage.

Dopamine plays an active role in the second stage creating a craving and a feeling of ‘not being able to get enough of each other’. This leads to day-dreaming and a partial detachment from the reality.

Another chemical produced during this phase is Serotonin. Serotonin produces light mood and happy feeling. Serotonin combines with dopamine to promote fantasizing and a partial disconnect with the reality. It is partial because one is able to see ‘beautiful things’ like flowers, butterflies, etc., but may not be able to see a precipice in front. Wikipedia says that chemically, the serotonin effects of being in love have a similar chemical appearance to obessessive-compulsive disorder. This could explain why a person in love cannot think of anyone else, people say that love is blind.

Attachment is the third stage of love. There are two key chemicals in this process, oxytocin and vasopressin. Oxytocin creates emotional bonding and physical contractions in child birth and orgasm. It also creates bonding of mother with child during breast feeding.

This bonding makes it difficult to let go of the relationship and triggers production of dopamine etc., which, in turn creates desperation for uniting with the absent partner. However, with the passage of time, as the contact dwindles, these chemicals get depleted and there is a realization and acceptance of break.

Vassopressin strengthens attachment as the relationship grows older. If there is no reinforcement, production of vasopressin also goes down, slowly reducing attachment.

Q: Why does the heart get broken in the event of unrequited love?

Ans: Heart does not appear to have any role in matters of love; a broken brain would have been more appropriate. Generally people associate brain with thinking processes and, therefore, they had to find an alternative place to associate with feelings.

There is also a chemical associated with the second stage of love, and is called norepinephrine (Norpee in short). When a lover sees or thinks of another, this chemical creates ‘butterfly effect’, in which, there is a rush of emotions creating goose bumps, healthier looking skin tone, increase in pulse rate and heart rate, sweating, etc. This may be the cause of associating love with heart.

In fact, the ubiquitous heart is not the symbol of love as we understand. Any biology student will tell you that heart’s actual shape is different. According to Desmond Morris, much before the advent of ‘missionary position’ in the western world, common love making position was from behind and this so-called symbol of love is actually a representation of ‘female behind’.

Q: What is true love?

Ans: A balance of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine counters the negative effects (like continued craving) of each other. This is called true love. There are shades of positivity, longing and This may or may not be accompanied with other chemicals associated with love making, and therefore, true love may not be restricted to stereotypical man-woman relationship.

Q: Is it possible to have platonic love?

Ans: Yes but as it is all about interplay of neurochemicals, there is no guarantee that it may or may not remain so.

Q: Is it possible to 'switch off and on' love medically?

Ans: Successful experiments have been done on animals in the regard.