From Sania to Shashi: Media in overdrive

The Indian media are at it again. Frothing at the mouth over the shenanigans of Sania and Shashi. In the latter case they are justified to the extent that it concerns probable impropriety on the part of a member of the union cabinet. But the Sania mania on the part of the media defied logic. Here was a national icon who decided in her wisdom to marry what appears to be a boor from a part of our country’s neighbourhood that most part of civilised mankind keeps at an arm’s length, and in so doing more or less disappointed her adoring compatriots in her choice of groom. But what the heck, it’s her life!Like someone wisely remarked let her marry an Eskimo if she finds such a person compatible. Lets leave it at that.
Why did the media have to devote hours of prime time and reams of print to Shoab Malik’s previous marriage. How does it matter to you and me, whether he deserted his first wife, or she hoodwinked a gullible but upcoming young Pakistani cricketer into marrying an obese but moneyed lass 9 years his senior. I say let them stew in their own choices! Like I said that Sania was much beloved of the masses, and if she chooses to be a part of this nightmare let everybody, the media included be civilised about it and wash our hands off these people.
Now for the Shashi Tharoor case. The media was quite right about asserting that something was not right in the state of Denmark, in so far as Tharoor’s role in organising the sweat equity for his friend is concerned, and it is the combined result of their and the opposition parties’ vigilance that the suave man and so called smooth operator of UN fame had to eat humble pie and cool off his heels. But to make a Mata Hari out of his alleged love interest is way out of proportion. Does it matter the lady had a nose job done ten years ago (her nationally felicitated doctor had no qualms in breaching client confidentiality and squeaking to the press)?
Let’s have the details of the whole affair out, in so far as they impact the people of the nation. Why should we have to be subject to grand pontification and forensic analyses by media experts and their guests hours at an end? Can we instead have 96 hours of non stop TV debate on why we still have close to 40% people below the poverty line, when we also boast of some of the richest people in the world? What happened to philanthropy and charity? Surely such a debate would be far more useful.
It is disgraceful that 25 year old incidents from Lalit Modi’s life are dug out with relish, when the same media had so far been promoting him as a visionary along the lines of Keynes! Really guys get a grip on yourselves.

Why no ego?

A common refrain in all religions is that man is not to have an ego. He is but a servant of the lord. It is by his will alone that he shall live. Tell me is this healthy? Isn’t ego a necessary prerequisite for a healthy human mind.
What the scriptures teach(of all religions) doesn’t seem very enligthened to me.

Why can’t they instead encourage healthy curiousity? Man should be free to put eveything to test, and only after he is satisfied in his mind about something should he believe in it.

I am not saying that man should be an ego maniac, but what is to stop him from striving for immortality? In that striving there will be much good that will be bestowed upon this world. In fact all progres that mankind has made has been a result of this questioning striving attitude, not some soul-less bending and bowing to ancient tenets set in stone.

Why can’t a healthy respect for the human being and his achievements and his pursuit of impossible dreams be respected? Isn’t that the highest form of divinity? Why stop man? Let him reach out and become God. Let fear and ignorance be banished. Amen!

Sullen Retailers

I have noticed a discernible lack of enthusiasm for their jobs in most sales people working in the retail industry. Be it a swanky mall or a stand alone outlet, there seems to be absolutely no intention among the staff to encourage anyone to buy. On the contrary, you feel most hesitant to disturb the engrossing conversations they seem to be having among themselves.
When they do deign to attend to you over a stifled yawn it is with a look of betrayal and dismay. If you are planning to buy a pair of shoes, you would actually be worried that it would be chucked at you were you to ask for the price. Today I bought myself a pair at a mall and purposefully strode to the cashier to get my card swiped. He did that with a lazy and exaggerated action and very soon his face lit up, and he came up with,”It has been declined”. I was like,”what was that you said, my man?” “Its been declined”, he repeated for the benefit of a moron. “But that’s not possible dude”, my credit is rock solid. Maybe your machine is at fault”, I countered. ” I swipe hundred of cards a day. “I am telling you the transaction has been declined”, he growled menacingly. “I saw that he was almost frothing at his mouth, and not wanting to take any chances with a lunatic, promptly gave him another card which passed his acid test. I walked out of the mall into the cool breeze of a late winter night, thinking about what makes people behave the way they do.
A typical sales person at a branded retail outlet would probably be spending 8 to 9 hours standing behind a counter watching people come in, browse through the merchandise and then buy some. Day in and day out that would be his routine, and at the end of 30 days he would get a pittance as a salary, the promised incentive never coming his way, as the sales targets would purposely be kept out of his reach.
What would a life like that do to any one’s spirit? It would be the life of a circus animal minus the cage. A human being deserves better. We should all practise being nicer to everybody we meet. Everyone has a life,and a history behind them. The biggest thing is that there is a human being in front of you who has to be acknowledged as your brother or sister. So the next time your pizza delivery boy is late ask him if he had too much trouble finding the place and share a slice of pizza with him. Cheers!

Religion vs. Humanity

Does organized religion come in the way of humanity? What I mean by this is that religion is possibly an impediment in the progress and growth of humanity. Sheer data support this contention. Organised religion has systematically opposed every rational scientific discovery that was ever made through the millennia, has caused more wars and death than any other factor, steeped some nations in superstitions which led to their decline and fall, galvanized others to conquer and enslave other nations and their peoples with disastrous consequences to follow for generations to come, and come to hold a vice like grip on every human being’s ability to find happiness and fulfillment.
If at all religion is to have a role, it has to be on a very basic and personal level. It’s like I might like to read the Times of India in the morning to someone else’s wanting to read Hindustan Times. The choice of newspaper will not come in the way of both of us playing for the same football team. Now look at what organized religion will do to two similarly placed people. They may speak the same language, eat the same food, listen to the same kind of music, but because of their religion they can’t even live in the same country.
Doesn’t this make religion absolutely diabolical? Close your eyes and imagine a world without religion. What do you see? 99.9% of the strife and tension in the world will cease. World trade will blossom, there will be uninterrupted flow of culture across the world, the like of which the world would never have witnessed.
Why can’t we reduce religion to a personal indulgence and hobby like trekking in the hills or perhaps gambling? Let those who are compulsively obsessed (religion is an OCD really)with it cling to it with all their life; for the rest of us things like increasing human longevity, colonisation of other planets by humans, and yes (not in that order)complete eradication of poverty, disease and deprivation(caused mainly by religion) are better pursuits
I may not think very highly of organized religion, but I do believe in divinity. Divinity is palpable in a nation or world where people are fee to engage in the lawful pursuit of happiness through commerce and leisure. Let’s give old organized religion the cold shoulder and focus on working and enjoying. Amen!

Private Sector vs Public Sector

We all are ardent votaries of the private sector and free enterprise, and why shouldn’t we be considering the seismic changes the opening up of the economy has brought about. We all live, at least the educated middle classes and above, a life which we could not even fantasize or visualise a mere twenty years back. The changes are well documented and we don’t need to mention them in this blog.
Instead I want to relate a recent incident to put things in perspective. I had gone to my neighbouring HDFC bank branch to get a current account opened. I went there because, I have held a savings account with HDFC for donkeys’ years and also hold a dmat and trading account with the group.
Opening a current account would be a breeze I thought. I was wrong. I was told that I was ineligible for opening the account, as my firm a sole proprietorship was not registred. When reminded that under Indian law that wasn’t necessary, they decided to give it a shot, and said they would depute somebody to verify my address, which thy subsequently did.
I waited for three days to hear as to when they would deign to open my account, only to be told that they were unable to open my account for the same reason. I gave them a mouthful, and shot off a mail to their feedback section, as also the Reserve Bank of India demanding an apology for the insulting behaviour of the bank.
Today I went to my neighbouring public sector bank(Syndicate Bank) to try my luck there, and to my utter surprise, not only were they happy to have me as their customer, the bank manager helped fill up the form ,and assured me that I would get my account number by the afternoon and my atm card tomorrow! Wow.

PR vs Advertising

Advertising has had its heyday. And not surprisingly so. Anything which can be paid for does not have the ring of truth attached to it, even if it is indeed telling the truth. Moreover everybody can pay and advertise. So how does a product or service stand out? One way is to do personal and niche advertising through the new media of internet and mobile telephones. But pretty soon even these will suffer from the same disadvantages.

The best way to get your product noticed is to get it endorsed by media and other influencers without paying for it. Or have people recommend it of their own. This is where PR or Public Relations comes in. It is the art of leveraging opinions, points of view, and approaches to a product or service’s perceived values or benefits. It’s akin to winning general elections, where all political parties leverage opinions, and agendas. But the one party or combination of parties who get the messaging right win and form a government. Mere spending power, nor tom toming of achievements does not guarantee success; it is the actual perception of the electorate that matters.

Companies and indeed political parties have realised it, and that is why the PR industry is on an ascendant, as opposed to advertising which appears to be at a crossroads in this information, and increasingly individual driven market-place. Of course the budgets devoted to advertising are colossal, but they seem to be delivering at a diminishing rate of return. PR on the other hand demands comparatively miniscule investments, but a whole lot of understanding, strategizing ability, and exceptional communication skills.

The way we are.

We Indians as a people have never been as brash, as in the face and as willing to blow our own trumpet as we are now. But this is a recent phenomenon. The bed-rock of our culture has for thousands of years been moderation, sobriety and abstinence. While this may have made us excessively inward looking and conservative, and unable to absorb change and embrace progress quickly, it did give us an ethos of knowing exactly who we were, and where we were going. This bred contentment, nay complacence which led to our country lagging behind most of the world in so many important things like universal education, the right to a life of dignity for everyone, and the necessity of engaging with the rest of the world.

That was then, and this is now. In the early nineties, when we had to mortgage our national gold overseas, a seismic shift occurred in the way Indians lived their lives. We opened ourselves to the world. Overnight(two decades) we got exposed to the best cars in the world, Mobile phones, mineral water, multiple airlines, shopping malls, BT seeds, internet, laptops, i-phones, ATMs, call centers and an endless variety of modern technological marvels.

In addition Indian have begun traveling like never before with most nations of the world vying with each other to welcome them(a few racist attacks in Australia notwithstanding). The Indian economy in close comeptition with its Chinese neighbour will continue to grow at a blistering pace(the recession being a mere hiccup here).

What happens to our national ethos? In place of the meditative giant, we now have an elephant in full canter. There are DINKS(double income no kids), DICIC( double income children in creches-my coinage, take away dinners, holidays on the continent along with farmer suicides in Maharashtra and honour killings a mere 50 kilometers from the capital in the still extant cow belt. How do these two versions of India in close proximity and constant contact with each other still manage to be impervious to each other? Where are we headed as a nation?

The mobility of work force is the greatest unifier culturally, and economically within the country, and to a large extent globally as well, with Indians settling in the four corners of the globe and expatsseeking employment in India to beat the recession abroad.
What has emerged from all this churning is that we are right now in the throes of evolving a new global identity, which shall eventually define us as a heterogeneous group of people with exceptional intelligence, expertise, managerial and entrepreneurial ability- literally an evolved people who will make a desert bloom, and a marsh cultivable. A people much in demand the world over because of the type of people they are.
The present lot of us( a sizable proportion) in the meantime can play the typical neo- rich, Johnny come lately show offs throwing lavish farm house weddings, and making crass movies(for most part), as long as we continue to engage in frenetic economic activity which raises the standards and expectations of more and more of our impoverished millions till one day we become a first world nation. That is when we will move on the path of self actualisation, as a nation.

What do we like about being young?

What do we like about being young? Is it the fact that our life is ahead of us and we have so much to look forward to? Or is it our belief that no one who came before us has or ever had quite the qualities we possess, and the world just need wait with bated breath for what we have to offer?
What is it about youth that wants us to hold on to it forever? Doesn’t middle or old age have its advantages? Like opting out of cut-throat competition , enjoying the fruits of one’s efforts in the youth, the joy of seeing things in perspective or the vicarious pleasures of seeing the young making the same mistakes that man has been making in his youth since the dawn of time. Sure that comes a close second to the sheer joy of being young. Why sheer joy?
Well for one you look the best you would ever physically, and believe me that means a hellauva lot! As a middle aged man you refuse to recognise the stranger in the mirror! That’s not me! Everyone is fixated on the image we presented when we were in our twenties. That is the best decade. We look great,have boundless energy and are learning fast.
By the time you are in your thirties the worry lines start apperaing. Already you are a little worldly wise and a bit jaded. By the time you are in your forties you are desperate. Your youthfulness will last no more than a decade.By the time you hit fifty, you might as well start thinking about your grand children’s careers!
The physicality apart there is a certain joyfulness in all that you do when you are in your twenties that is almost divine in its purity. The absence of cynicism, and the enthusiasm that comes from your sheer youthfulness which while it lasts is akin to immortality(who in his twenties does not believe that he is immortal) lend a bit of magic to eveything you do.

Years later when you reminisce about your journeys, your escapades, your liaisons and your memories from that time of your life are pure enchantment. You feel something similar when you view an old movie showcasing the youth of an actor who is now a pale shadow of himself. You are reminded of the transience of life, and there is this strong urge to be young again – to go through the whole learning process one more time. To be born again.

Is charity akin to favour?

How often have I seen people talk passionately about the charitable acts they perform. They will mention how they helped malnutritioned children get two square meals a day, put clothes on their back ,and when they see them now their chests swell with pride. How well fed and happy they look! Really!
So do you! But nobody seems to notice. If children are sleeping hungry, its not their fault. If you have helped feed them, keep quiet about it. Your good deed is done. Don’t gloat about it. Let the children go about their lives with dignity. They are as human as your children.
If tomorrow your child brings home an injured puppy ,tends to it and feeds it and decides to adopt it, he or she will grow to love it as family, not as a trophy. Philantrophy and charity should be something you do because you are a human being with feelings, and you cannot bear to see anyone in pain. Not because you are a feudal lord disburing largesse. The way corportae houses go about branding charity; or the way celebrities will have stories planted about how they have arranged to take care of the education of the only son a secretary or relative of theirs who died in an accident, deprives the beneficiary of every shred of dignity.
Let no one be so full of themselves that they don’t realise that behind somebody’s better circumstances always lie many other people’s misfortune. I am not saying that nobody should get ahead in life, but one should keep things in perspective. Nothing is more precious than the right of every living being to be able to live without pain and fear, and humanity is nothing but an endeavour in letting something like that prevail. There is no such thing as charity.

How quickly we age!

It was just yesterday that I was immortal. My life lay ahead of me and that was a very long time indeed. Most people who were older than me would learn the meaning of life from me, who was at the cusp of life. The ones who were younger would of course look up to me.
Today at 44 I suddenly realise there is very little life head of me. People my age have had heart attacks. My head is a quarter full of white hair, prematurely, I agree but can I deny that I am on the way out, metaphorically speaking, when kids who were lisping the other day are strapping 6 footers with a world view of their own. I hardly matter to them. Why they regard me with the same genial indifference with which I would regard my somewaht older cousins.
Sure I could pass off as a young man, sometimes. Actors my age are lording it over both Hollywood and Bollywood playing strapping youngsters. But how long will they go on? How long will I go on? In another 6 years I will br 50. 50 can you imagine? I will be 50 someday. Man that is a death sentence! I used to be reading superman comics just the other day.

My son in 8 years old; will be 9 in another 18 days. He is my shoulder height already. In his face, (still a baby’s face), I can see the outline of the strapping man he will be what in another 8 years? I should tell him to hold on to evey moment of his youth.

What lies ahead in life? Quite frankly, I don’t feel much different from what I used to feel in my twenties apart from an obvious but seemingly minor depletion in physical stamina. But the lessons that experience teaches you make you compenaste for it in other ways. But I don’t feel any slowdown of my mental faculties. I don’t feel that ten years from now my son will inform me that I am not smart as he used to think that I was. Is that possible? Will I eventually become a senile duffer nodding my way to oblivion? Won’t I kick the bucket gracefully and full in control of my faculties some day?

Will science come to my rescue? I have heard in a decade or so longivity shall extend to 150 yeras of age. If I got such a fresh lease of life, would I be happy again? A little perhaps, but will it be like the first flush of life? I don’t think so. I really should prepare to eventually set like the evening sun and hope that while I shone others benefitted to some extent.