Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Excerpts: "India was one of the earliest of the great civilizations. It defined the goals of civilized life very differently from the west. The west raised individualism, materialism, rationality, masculinity as its ideals. India’s great tradition insisted on non-violence, renunciation, being alive, the female as pillars of civilization. And through all the triumphs and disasters of her history she hung on to that ideal; an eternal quest to identify humanity with the whole of creation; a unity in diversity."

Mark Twain: The Indians may seem poor to we rich westerners, but in matters of the spirit it’s we who are the poor person and they who are the millionaires. History is full of empires of the soul but India alone created an empire of the spirit.

I loved hearing these. Felt my chest swell with pride. That Indianness in me was stroked pleasantly.

Then, I just paused..To be my own devil's advocate, I just took a step back and thought for a while.

All that is said above is true. I do feel proud about it as an Indian. But I question myself, do these grand beliefs apply to this day? I hesitate..I cannot get myself to say a honest 'Yes'. I sense that the ideals we hung on to as a nation for thousands of years are now slowly dissolving and moving more towards the ideals of the west - individuality, materialism, rationality and masculinity. Good or bad, each one might have different opinions. If we think it is good, we should stop talking about ourselves as if we still continue to embody non-violence, renunciation and the others as our ideals. We should come out and accept that we like the ideals of the west and so are going to embrace them proudly. We like materialism. We like individualism. We like rationality. We like masculinity. Can we say that, true to ourselves? I think most of us feel conflicted here. Ofcourse there are people who can cross the bridge and go over the the other side. But a good majority of us are caught in a place where we like some but not all the ideals of the west and we do not want to let go of our ideals either because we see their value too. So we choose to live in this false notion - basking in the past glory, telling ourselves our ideals havent changed, when in reality we are just deluding ourselves.

Knowing this makes me feel very uncomfortable. I suddenly feel myself stripped of that protective shield that I had in front of me - my defense against any attack against me or my country - that we have a rich heritage, a rich culture, we value life, we value spirituality, we know, we are Indians, we were once the most powerful country in the world, even when you westerners were hunting and gathering we had flourishin civilizations, we wrote the vedas, we knew all about astronomy, stars, planets, positions, galaxys thousands of years before Copernicus, we knew all about surgery, we were the masters! But isnt that all what it is..just history? What is gone, is just what it is, its gone. We cannot continue to delude ourselves with that and forget about the present.

With India rising and shining again, it puts so much more pressure on us as a country to remind ourselves of our true values, ideals, capabilities and most importantly, our limitations, which are many! Thankfully for us, our rich culture and heritage has given us the resilience and the power to surge forward. But in order to sustain the surge we should make sure we are critical about ourselves in all respects.

There are glaring defects in us -
We need to come out of Indian Standard Time (First this applies to me)
We need to stop aping the west
We need to start practising what we preach
We need to start appreciating and valuing what is ours
We need to start taking ownership for our follies and those of our countrymen
We need to stop blaming the government
We need to start respecting our fellow countrymen as much as ourselves
Small things - civic sense, helping a blind person cross a road, giving up our seat for an old man, standing up for justice if you see injustice being meted out, these are a few of our true values, what we claim to stand for as a nation.

The other day I heard a friend say that we are beginning to be more progressive in our thinking as a nation. The example s/he gave was that there are more and more youngsters getting into live-in relationships before marriage. I was shocked! Shocked not because I am against live-in relationships, but because such a thing was seen as a sign of progressive thinking! More premarital live-in relationships, more free sex, more divorce on the name of independence - these are not signs of progress! These are just manifestations of free will! These will not do us any good..we will just go down the path paved for us by the West.

As a society we need to change many things - we need to rebel against the vertically structured caste system that says one caste is below or above another, we need to rebel against corruption which is against every fundamental belief in our heritage, we need to truly see humanity as one and stop drawing lines based on caste, creed language and nationality - that doesnt mean blatantly opposing our parents and family and moving out to live with someone we love who belongs to a different caste/religion or speaks a different language or whatever. That is brash and doesnt lead anywhere. No, instead before even going there, we should first clean our system of the corruption, of the lack of ownership, of the lack of civic sense, of the mindless violence, of the deep-rooted inefficiencies. First these should be tackled. Once these start getting set right we automatically build a platform for transformation and change. As a next step we should make a concerted effort to remove the basic underlying bias in society against people 'different' from us just because of 'birth'. However this is a gradual change. And it can be effective only when done gradually. We have seen in the past revolutionaries - Lord Basaveshwara, Gautama Buddha, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, and many such others - go down in history making their mark but not being able to institute permanent change in the entire society. Such is the resistance this deep rooted system offers to even such strong revolutionaries. These people are the Bhagat Singhs of societal reforms. But it takes a Gandhi to get freedom. Bhagat Singhs are necessary to shake up the system too. But to achieve the end goal, the patient and concerted effort of a Gandhi is what is needed.

When I started writing I had no idea where this will lead. But now I know where it has led me. To our very own dear Munnabhai! :D Yes, Gandhigiri as preached by Munna is what we need to practice today as a nation! :)

We want to be a developed nation, not another America. Do you see the difference? The way society is moving today seems to me that we will be another America with all the bads and some of the goods. Instead we should aim to be a developed India, with all the goods of America and all the goods of India and if any, the bads of India and not of America!

Forgive me here - I have nothing against the West or against America. I myself am studying here right now and benefiting from all the great things this country has to offer. But living here also makes me see more of the great things our country has to offer and how as a nation we seem to be giving those up for the superficial attractions of the West, which the West itself is now trying to shed.

I am not saying India is no longer spiritual, no longer united in diversity, no longer believes in the pillars of civilization as mentioned earlier. India does, but not Indians. We like to delude ourselves into believing this to be true that we have this rich culture and tradition and energy and what not and hence are superior beings in this world. We can beat the US to death, give China the run for the money, etc., etc.. We like to live in the glory of the past and have a tendency to ignore the ignominy of the present. I am one of those people myself. Ofcourse, here I am taking an extreme stance, which most people will push back on, call me delusive even, but I would rather take a pessimistic approach when it comes to working towards improvement, than be an optimist who overlooks the glaring lacunae of India's modern society.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Home is where home is :)

My summer in LA, where I was working for 9 weeks and living in a sub-let apartment, sharing the house with 3 other undergrad girls gave me first real feel of life in the US.

Both in terms of the 'real' American's life and also in terms of my real life in America if I were to work here.

Life gets pretty isolated here even if you are living with 4 other high energy 20 odd year olds. I am not very sure why..

Cars whizzing past, everything so clean and orderly, everyone following rules, everyone restpectful of each others personal space, everything so prim and proper. Maybe thats what it is. Its the chaos in my country that I miss the most here. It is that crazy noisy honking, the curious eyes of my neighbour 'aunty' watching me get off my friend's bike, it is the incessant questions from the 'aunty' sitting next to me in the city bus, it is the insane driving of the autorikshaws, it is the loud music blaring from the Ganesh pandal two blocks away (even 3 months after Ganesh Chaturthi), it is the always-in-a-hurry crowd of vehicles nudging through any little space to get ahead of the others at the signal, it is the 'madam, jeans madam; madam, imported purse madam' of the Alankar plaza vendors, it is the crowded majestic bus stand, it is the little panipuri-bhelpuri carts, it is all this and so much more that I miss so terribly in this orderly, prim and proper, organized, clean country of America!

I miss my friends, nightouts with Shu, boat rides with Chitti, Praveen's complaints about making him wait all the time, Suppu's refusals to cater to my whims any more, Madhu's silence, Sarvesh's jokes, long conversations with Archu, Kavya's 'what da, stupid', bumming around in Prav's room doing 'combined study', treks with the group, our yearly trips, long bike rides, long phone conversations with all friends and getting scolded by appaji and amma for the same, going out with cousins, Ramesh anna's double entendres, arguments with Anal, miss everything here.

More than anything else I miss coming back home and plonking on my divan, asking amma to come and sit down so that I can lie with my head on her lap and watch the TV Serial on ETV Kannada, appaji getting me a glass of water and telling amma to hurry up because putti is hungry, ajji feeding me anna mosuru saaru and uppinkai my favourite combo, dancing with appaji to a radio city number, my brother lifting a screaming me and plonking me on the sofa, appaji scolding me for coming back home later than 9.00pm, amma telling me to spend my time better by reading a good biography rather than a silly Sidney Sheldon book, gangakka pampering me with my favourite dishes and scolding me for my bad habit of staying up late into the nights, my lill sister so ready to help me with anything, but grudgingly opening a book to read and hoping akka forgets to ask for an update, dancing (jumping) around the living room for those peppy radio city songs putting up a show for the opposite-house occupants, all this and so much much more.

Home is where home is! Hope life, jobs and careers take me back to where I want to be - Home!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Marriage, as I have always envisioned it:
Two best friends living together. Only additional factor being that they share a sexual relationship.

Over the last few years I had begun to think that that was a very utopian idea..maybe my vision was too idealistic..such things never happen in real life. I was beginning to get disappointed and disillusioned a little even. Thought I would pen my thoughts down before they go away completely.

How would life be with two best friends living together?

They respect and love each other.
There is equality in the relationship - Equality in decision making, equality in responsibility sharing.
They are accountable to each other.
They each have their own dreams, passions, career aspirations and life ambitions.
They motivate and push each other towards achieving these dreams.
They support each other when in need of support.
Finances are split equally - But they are never a point of contention.
Household chores are split equally - Again there is no fixed rule, but it automatically is split equally because each person feels its their responsibility (Unlike in most marriages I know where a man contributing to household chores is seen as a 'help' by everyone including the wife, and a wife doing the same is seen as doing her 'duty'. Ofcourse when it comes to earning it works the other way around)
They respect each other's families and make sure they get along well with each other's parents and families and usually do a good job with it.
They share every detail of their life, thoughts and ideas with each other, however small, silly, major or crucial.
Very importantly they trust each other about everything mentioned above and are there for each other when in need!

Now why cant this be replicated in a marriage?! Why have I heard many people say, friendships go down when converted to relationships. That is not because friends should not become husband-wife, but just because various external and internal factors come into play to disrupt the previously harmonic co-existence of the same two inividuals. Sound complicated eh? Basically to put it in simple terms, as soon as the word marriage is associated with them, some things start changing, start moving around. What are these 'some things'? They are nothing but expectations. Expectations of what is expected of the two individuals in their new roles. These changes are influenced by society, by family, by the two individuals themselves. Both the guy and girl involved see a change in expectations and routines around them. Societal expectations also play a significant role here. However if the individuals are strong enough, this doesnt have to happen! They can continue to share that wonderful supportive relationship and transition from friendship to marriage smoothly and amicably. Today I saw an example of a couple who seemed to have made this work. They were guest speakers in one of my classes. Both doing very well in their respective careers, with two kids and a 10 year marriage going strong. (May God keep them thus!)

Seeing them reminded me of my old ideas about marriage that I had started letting go. Maybe I shouldnt let go. Maybe I can work it out that way with whoever it is that enters my life. It is afterall all about setting expectations right at the offset and maintaining open and honest communication throughout. Add to this willingness to be objective and compromise when needed (exactly like how you would with that best friend of yours). And finally not taking the other person for granted. These together build a sense of almost unshakeable trust in the relationship and with the mutual respect that already exists, thats the formula for happiness with your life-partner!!

Simple, isnt it! ;D

Easier said than done of course!! Execution is the HARDEST part here. But it CAN be done. Thats where it matters to find a person who you would be willing to make this work for. Not who you think will do this for you, but who you think you could do it for!

It is not easy to defy 'norms'. But if the end goal is one that does something good to society, sets a better example for others to follow, changes a norm that existed because people werent brave enough to defy it and more than anything else makes you happy, then it surely is worth the initial standing-up to what you believe in. Especially when you can see that your stance is not wrong, is not harmful. It worked for these two individuals who came to my class because they made the effort to make it work. They started on a clean slate. They did not let society write the slate for them. They wrote their own rules. They agreed on some, agreed to disagree on some. But it was all theirs. It wasnt imposed by what 'norms' already existed. It doesnt come easy. It needs a lot of strength and conviction and hanging in there. In the end everyone else will see things your way and the overall happiness will be greater than what it would have been had you gone down the tried and tested path.

Ultimately however, the caveat to all I just said is that Marriage is a gamble! You can only do everything possible from your side to make it less risky. But there are so many more factors not in your control that can dictate terms and so you need to learn to accept, forgive and move on and continue to live life by your convictions. Beliefs change, values change, priorities change, however the spirit of enthusiasm should never fade!

Its all in the game of life!! :D Whats life without a little adventure!! ;D

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