Saturday, December 2, 2017

Individuality.

Until a couple of years ago, my short temper was one of my biggest regrets and an understood weakness. A lot of times when I got angry over a difference of opinion, my mother would share with me a metaphor: "When the 5 fingers on our hands are different, why do we expect others in the world to be just like us?" That, or the daily recitation of the Indian National Pledge in school that reminded me how India's diversity is its strength and pride, instilled in me the value of every person's individuality, and the respect for the same.

For quite a while now, I have seen people (and Indians in particular) struggle with their identities. Especially since a single opinion you have can come to define your identity among a group of people. Support a particular political outfit, and you get branded with a name that is supposed to be an insult. Support a particular idea, and the you will be labelled with an associated leader and interrogated about their mistakes. A lot of these thoughts plague me with quite a few questions:
  • Is one opinion enough to identify an individual?
  • Why is one peculiar, unusual, unpopular, radical, conflicting opinion you have enough to worship, demonize, abuse or insult someone?
  • Why are others' choices of political leadership made abuses to ridicule them by?
  • Why is anyone's liberalism so hurtful to a left / right-wing follower, that he / she feels the need to insult them and their opinions? And vice versa?
  • Why has the conversation drifted from merits and demerits of an issue, to deriding people at a personal level?
  • Why shouldn't one voice their opinion for something that doesn't affect them, even if they think it is unfair?
It is ironic how even as the most diverse country in the world, in recent times, some of us have wanted to singularize a plural voice. One religion, one language, one diet, one belief system. Instead, why can't we celebrate our individuality, and in turn, our diversity? I would rather have one country that embraces every person for their individuality!

The most fascinating thing to me about individuality is that it is transient. We rarely ever realize it, but we change from one moment to the next. Our opinions and beliefs are influenced by those around us and the things we read, watch, hear. Some ideas take root and come to define us. Others, we come to hate. The strength of these opinions and beliefs isn't constant, either. Some are powerful, others weak. But the only constant is the sate of flux that empowers us to change our opinions and beliefs.

To illustrate, I spent years worshiping and then randomly announced my belief in atheism, before realizing I align more closely with agnosticism. I was convinced socialism was the right way, before understanding the merits of capitalism and consumerism. I didn't know about the unfair way our society treats women before observing it in public places and listening to first hand accounts from friends and acquaintances. I consider myself a liberal, while strongly voicing my opinions about the associated responsibilities that come with the freedom. I unequivocally support net neutrality, but I also read the other side to understand where they come from. Despite my disagreement with the government, I still believe in the power of democracy. And even though I have been burned a number of times, I choose to believe that people are inherently good at heart.

I choose. I believe. And through each of those choices, I have become who I am today. Each choice that I have made, right or wrong, has shaped me. And the choices you have made, and the beliefs you hold have shaped you. Shouldn't each one of us be proud of that? I also know that I may not hold an opinion I have today tomorrow, and I would rather be judged by my actions of today than yesterday.

You may not agree with me and I may not agree with you. I struggle day-in and day-out to accept opposing opinions about things that I feel strongly about. But, isn't that difference between us the very crux of humanity? The disagreement is exactly what allows for the thought process to never stop and in turn, helping us grow as individuals, through listening, debating, expressing. And as long as that growth in all of us doesn't stop, there is hope. The world is becoming a better place. Slowly, maybe, but surely.

Over the years, I have come to realize that every person, no matter how much they mean to us, how close we are to them, how long they have been with us, or how similar they look, are different. No two people are the same, and in our uniqueness lies the very essence of humanity.

Until next time.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Onward and Forward.

It is amusing to me how more often than not, we are more invested in the future than the present. We keep thinking about the what next, planning ahead, measuring our steps today and working steadily towards that well-defined goal. We carve out a path in our head and we try to stick to it, avoid deviating from it. Eventually, we get there. We achieve what we strove for.

But, somewhere between that journey, there's this sweet spot when all the pieces fall into place and the vision that kept you captivated is within an arm's reach with no hurdle in between. And that is a beautiful feeling. The last few days have been such for me and the goals I had set for myself a couple of years back, now seem right here. It is an understated, subdued emotion of happiness and serenity. The bearing of fruit of months and years of hard-work and systematic, planned efforts, coupled with the excitement of the life that lays ahead.

I keep going back to the past, and realize how it all falls into place, in the end. The sadness of each failure seems unnecessary in hindsight. The apprehension and queasiness after each speed-bump seem naive. And I think of the numerous times I've been at crossroads and each decision I've taken, each choice I've made; and how each one of them has gone on to bring me here today.

The thing about decisions and choices is that they shape us. They shape our whites and blacks and in that process, our greys. They test our abilities to do the obvious thing, or to be creative and find a way out. Throughout, at each step, essentially carving our personality and creating the essence of who we become. It is also what drives us to do things we've never done and go where we've never gone. We don't take the time to feel those changes that have taken place over the months or years. Some for better, some for worse. Some deeply entrenched, some shallow.

And soon, I will be planning ahead of time and thinking about the next big leap that I want to make. I will be imagining the life that I want for myself and draw substantial diagrams of the path to the next milestone I want to scale. As I should and am happy to. But not now, not today. Today is for me. Today is the future I had dreamt of years ago. To admire the success of the time and energy I've spent in getting here. The struggles and the sacrifices, the joys and the achievements. To absorb the gravity of this leap and gently pat myself on the back for a job well done. And, at the end, smile to myself.

In the haste to know where we'll be and to achieve more than what we have set our eyes on, we sometimes forget to relish the little joys and the tranquil moments like these. I hope you do not skip this pleasure of the efficacy the next time you're at the point of inflection. Trust me, it is infectious.

Tomorrow, I get going. Onward and forward.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

I Will Be Your Prime Minister, Too!

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.
It was the morning of 5th November, 2008 when I heard these words from the then President-Elect Barack Obama as a part of his victory speech. This was a proclamation from the man who had just been elected the most powerful man in the world, that he understood the responsibility of the office he was just elected to. They were simple words exhilarating humility and goodwill, at the same time. For the last 8 years, I have had these very lines stuck in the back of my head, and even more piercingly in the last 6-7 months, and specifically in the Indian context.

When we talk about India, we talk about the diversity of the country. 'Unity in diversity' is often the one sentence definition of India cited across the world. It is a society where each person is respected for their individuality as an Indian. It is a society of differences, of acceptance, of respect, and most importantly, of love. But sadly (and disturbingly), in the last few months there's a very strong voice from the extreme right-wing of the country's political class that is harming the social harmony that we, the populous of this country, has consistently taken pride over.

When religion, caste or sexuality is used to seclude and target an individual, it is not just a violation of their fundamental rights, it is also inhumane. The presence of bigots in a society who are the proponents of an extremist ideology, forces those with milder and more amenable opinions to take sides. The atmosphere becomes tense and people fortify themselves in lieu of the impending feuds.

In the last 22 months, slowly but steadily, I have seen the battle lines being drawn. From when your nickname was derived from your name to a time when your political opinions are your salutation. From civility the situation has slowly been turning more and more pertinently hostile. Dissent and disagreement are quickly and dismissively termed as treason.

In all these years, I have never seen people from any section of the society grossly pronounce their superiority and establish their beliefs as decree. I have seen people who listen to opinions and sometimes indulge in a debate. I have seen people criticized, but never belittled, insulted, derided. I have observed the altercations but never seen one that questions the patriotism to the extent of being told to settle in an entirely different country.

The reminder that ours is a democracy becomes extremely relevant in such times. The essence of our democracy runs much deeper than even the diversity which we pride over. Democracy bestows upon us rights, responsibilities and duties. The strength of a democracy arises from the divergent opinions, the distinguishable voices and healthy debates. It is only in a democracy that every citizen, man or woman, Hindu or Muslim, from general or backward classes, rich or poor, is treated alike.

I am a human being first. But, I also am a proud Indian. I am respectful of my roots, and grateful to those that serve in the military and protect our borders. I am a student of science, but being a voting citizen I have an opinion about the kind of governance I want to be subjected to. I am a tax-payer who expects my Government to create and implement laws that would ensure progress. I hope that my country's police force will get to the root of the problems, and that my judiciary will impart quick, fair and unbiased judgments. I yearn for a time when my female friends and sisters can roam around the country with the same level of safety as I often enjoy. I am waiting for a time when reservations will exist for those from the economically backward classes of the society and not the socially backward ones.

But at the same time, I also am a liberal, with no political affiliations or preferences. I am a vegetarian by choice, but I wouldn't mind sharing the table with someone consuming cow or pig meat. I have no religious inclinations and I am still trying to find my balance between agnosticism and deism. I take my freedom of speech and my fundamental rights very seriously. I respect my Supreme Court, but strongly believe it isn't infallible. I want a clean India, regardless of what the Government scheme is called. I care more about the quality of education than the race for marks. I believe that any celebration (religious, political or whimsical) that hinders the normal lives of someone else, is an infringement to fundamental rights.

I take pride in the rich cultural heritage of this country (yes, Mughal history too). I am humbled to be from the land that produced scholars like Aryabhata, Kalidas, Ghalib. I wouldn't shy from calling both Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose, great in the same breath. I very thoroughly support the laws that promise equality for everyone despite their sexual orientation. I understand and can speak various Indian and foreign languages, but prefer communicating in English. I think climate change is real. I am of the strong opinion that social inequality is as big a threat to every nation as terrorism.

And guess what? You don't have to agree with me on everything. That's the beauty of a democracy! It gives you the right to form and have your measured opinions, just as it gives me, and every other person we know. We don't have to like them or believe them to be right. We don't have to agree to appease. We just have to be worthy enough to debate each topic on its own merit, and its merit alone. And that's the very same expectation we should have of our elected representatives and by extension, the Prime Minister.

It is easy to divide a society into pieces and distinguish it. It gets you votes, but it can't get you respect or progress. How much ever further wishful thinking may take us, but 'Sabka saath, sabka vikaas' isn't possible without Narendra Modi humbly asserting to every Indian, no matter their affiliations and opinions, "I will be your Prime Minister, too!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

May The Light Shine.

I have respected the need for 'Freedom of Speech' ever since I first understood what it meant, sometime during a Civics class in school. It is the necessity for a society to grow. Ideas and opinions need to flow from one side of the table to the other. As a proponent of free speech, this freedom is something I take very personally and seriously.

But, today, almost 18 months after one of the most hallmark decisions taken by the Indian electorate, I wonder if such a freedom exists anymore. It does exist in the Constitution, technically, but on the ground? I'm skeptical.

A democracy like ours is very complex for me to explain, but a few things that I believe are underlying to the very fabric of our country are the need for rules and laws that are common to everybody. That all people, all religions, all languages must be treated equally.

Yes, the Constitution of India doesn't recognize a national religion or national language. Hinduism isn't the national religion, and Hindi isn't the national language. And that, has been the reason for the harmony throughout the country despite the differences! Isn't that something we Indians have been taking pride over for decades?

A very significant difference I have observed is around me towards any critic of our respected PM Narendra Modi, his policies or the BJP. Be it renowned authors, journalists or the humble blogger. Each word of opposition uttered is disregarded and the person in question termed anti-national, quicker than the blink of an eye!

A debate over every decision, every choice, every law, is quintessential to a democracy. It ensures that each ground is covered and there's little chance for a mistake. A country that doesn't allow such a debate isn't much different from a dictatorship. And while many among us may wish that for India with NaMo at the helm, the Constitution in its current form doesn't allow for it.

A democracy allows me to not have the same opinion as the leader of my country, and yet peacefully co-exist without any fear. If this provision didn't exist, we wouldn't be able to fearlessly promote NaMo pre-2014 elections. Think about this for a second. 

If pro-NaMo is showered with praises, shouldn't someone anti-NaMo atleast be heard, too?

The most often cited reason for criticism of anyone with an anti-BJP opinion is that they are paid by the opposition party to do so. And, I don't deny that some may as well be! But, is that how blinded this country has become in 18 short months to ridicule every speck of criticism without even a fair thought? Doesn't that scare you?

Everyone who points out NaMo's mistakes shouldn't be going to Pakistan. Everyone who presents opinions that don't align with the Government's isn't endorsing other parties. Everyone who returns an award isn't looking for headlines and publicity. They may not have supported BJP before elections, but this BJP Government is their Government too, and they deserve to be heard without any reservations.

Something has gone wrong in the last few months, something very simple but, significant.

May the light shine.

P. S.: I do understand the responsibility that lies comes with the freedom that words shouldn't incite communal violence in any form. And, I am not contesting that for even the slightest second.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Cost of Freedom: Responsibility.

Exactly 5 years ago, almost around the same time, I wrote 'The Dream Called 'India'...', my understanding of the dream that those who fought for the freedom of our nation must've seen, 69 years ago.

Today, I am at the crossroads that has me turning cynical to the very same dreams that I believed were real and obvious. And that, not because I've lost the faith, not because I am any less determined to be a part of the change; but because I'm instigate and angry seeing otherwise happen all around me. All the time.

Over the past few weeks, I've been struggling with many things that I see around me, and trying to get to the literal 'root' of the problem, and maybe I'm seeing things, but it takes me to a common conclusion about the country we have become: We love our freedom, but we love skirting the responsibilities tagged along with it, even more. And, there, we forget that the freedom comes with responsibilities. The burden of responsibilities, is the sweetest cost and reward, both, of freedom.  

We love our freedom of speech, but we also love disrespecting someone else's, just as much. Just look at how unashamedly we abuse the media of this country, that is only but a reflection of the general populous. We resort to name-calling and abusing those who have an opinion that doesn't fit well in our psyche, without ever giving them a chance to tell their side of the story.

We love unabashedly abusing the government for providing inadequate, incompetent roads, while conveniently disobeying traffic rules flamboyantly. Right from not following signals, to driving under influence, to driving on the wrong side of the road, to avoiding the simple safety helmet or seat-belt, to handing a  ₹50/- note to escape a ₹500/- fine. 

We take pride in Indians who have achieved great heights elsewhere, while continually overlooking the greater problems of why they didn't achieve the same in this country. We take credit for the progress of companies and countries elsewhere, while our country and companies stay stuck in the 'developing' phase.

We talk a big game about equality among the sexes, and soon after, discriminate explicitly between the things the daughter can't do, while the son can, or vice versa. At the end of the day, we still see our women in the kitchen and completing household chores, while the 'man of the house' goes out and earns.

I could rant all day, and I'd still not tire. I could point out each and everything that I observe, day in and day out, and the list would still be incomplete. But this is about the real, core issue about do we deserve the freedom bestowed upon us by the Hon. Constitution of India? Are we worthy of that freedom, if we abstain from fulfilling our responsibilities?

I recently came across this incredible video of Dr. Shashi Tharoor at the Oxford Union Society, where he debates why Britain does owe reparations to the colonies. Since, I've only been wondering, did we win our Independence, and thereafter our freedoms, at a rate faster than what we could understand it, digest it, cherish it? Right about now, it sure seems that way.

Let's be clear, I'm not taking the side of the Government and saying they're as pure as the Ganga. Hell, I loathe our elected representatives to the Lok Sabha. Even more so right now because they have just wasted most of one month of the monsoon session of the Parliament, for no concrete reason, but just to prove that they can do it and nobody can stop them! Various real issues of the citizens pending before the Parliament will just have to wait a few more months before any decision can be arrived at.

But, before we lift a finger at someone else, and demand our freedom, let's look into ourselves, and think, do we actually deserve that freedom? And, that leads me to ask, are we as a country really responsible enough to deserve the freedom we have?

Yes, I am ranting. Yes, I am complaining. Yes, I am picking and seeing the flaws, over the victories. But, that is because I love this country, and I can't see it be disrespected this way by people who demean the nation with sheer, unashamed, blatant, dirty hurls of abuses. And, there isn't anything new here that I haven't said in numerous other posts before today.

Responsibilities aren't an outcome of freedom, they are the requirements to deserve freedom.

Let's listen to what the next person has to say, before judging him on the basis of who he is. Let's wait for those 5 seconds at the next signal and actually wait for the signal to turn green, instead of believing it must have. Let's fix our education system and create worthy professionals, who'll make more a difference to this country. Let's just hit the brakes on the discrimination and treat every individual with the same dignity and respect that we want for ourselves. Let's not forget that we are the system and the change begins with us, not elsewhere.

Let's be better citizens of this country, this Independence Day, before we demand some more freedom.

Jai Hind!

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