Sunday, December 15, 2019

India, my India?

A painful realization dawned on me recently: I may not be able to exercise my right to vote, for the foreseeable future. That is the life of expats who attempt to make a life in a country different from where they are born.

I have spent most of my life in India; I grew up in India, I grew as a person in India. The person I am today is because of everything I saw, learnt, read, heard and observed growing up. India instilled in me the importance of individual values, taught me that humanity is the most important religion and being considerate to our fellow human beings is the most honest act of worship.

My experience of India was mostly academic, filled with idealism, honesty, freedom, optimism and respect. To me, India was synonymous with freedom and liberty. The largest democracy in the world succeeding in its effort to bring together people from different regions, religions, languages, castes and cultures. A melting pot of diversity, color, festivals, and most of all, people. Oh, the people!

I revelled in joy when Akshay Kumar and Katrina Kaif, so eloquently, in a couple minutes, summarized so succintly what was great about India. I still get goosebumps and a deep smile when I listen to it. It was a jarring realization that the experiment that is the Indian democracy (much to the surprise of Western democracies) was working!

To my delicate mind, the Constitution enshrined what it meant to be Indian. It provided the guiding light. Understanding the societal values it exuberated, helped shape my opinions on liberalism and its importance in democracies. 'Of the people, by the people, for the people', establishes the virtue of equal power to every individual in choosing people to govern them, holds a special place in my heart. 'Unity in diversity' were an expression of what India embodied for me, not random words strewed together.

I knew the Indian democracy had had its fair share of struggle. To me, 1947, 1950, 1971, 1975, 1984, 1992, 1993, existed in history, but the times I grew up in, were defined by peace and happiness. Communal disharmony was not a part of 'my' India, outside the discourse of vengeful uncles who I dismissed as a part of the fringe.

In the general elections of 2014, I exercised my right to vote. I was overjoyed and gratified that I could participate in the largest and most important festival of a democracy. And since then, I thought it was fair to ask my elected governments the tough questions and expect more from them. I judged my government for the promises they had made, not for what their predecessors had done. After all, I was only asking for what was my right. After all, it was a government for me. But one thing changed, through that period: An atmosphere of dialog and freedom, became one of repression and doubt. Pessimism crept in.

Even after I left the country in late 2016, I continued to engage in ways I could. The governments I had voted to power were still in term and represented me. And yet, with each day, the cracks in the society around me kept deepening. Ever since I had known, despite ideological differences between me, my family and my friends, we could still communicate with each other, not over each other. These days, we refrain from raising political topics, just to maintain civility in conversations, even though we feel the discomfort in the air surrounding us.

But now, everything seems different. India seems different.

Of late, I have struggled to reconcile with everything that's happening in India and wondered if I really know India. Not having voted in the national elections earlier this year, the results stunned me. I have struggled with a moral dilemma since. Do I even have a right to raise my concerns about a country where I don't vote anymore? Is it fair for me to critic a government that I didn't elect? I consider myself Indian, I will always be one. That allows me to share my opinions about what is going on, right? I never thought I would say this, but I also understand the apathy of the people that distance themselves from politics and don't bother with exercising their right to vote. (I understand it, but I don't accept it.)

Maybe I was blinded by optimism, and the distance cleared the air. Maybe, I was living a utopian dream that I had for what I want India to be, and I was oblivious to its problems. Maybe I never knew. Maybe I lived in a bubble.

India made me who I am today, I owe myself to India. But do I really know India... Anymore?

Monday, April 22, 2019

Fact check, maybe?

The world has changed over the last 5 years. The world today feels more polarized and divided, than it has in recent history. There are deep-seated divisions in our society, which come to the fore every day in the form of resentment, biases, abuse and hatred.

But in the race to form, express and defend opinions, we have forgotten the importance of something integral that helps us form opinions: Facts.

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."         -Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Facts do not belong to a political party, a social position, a religious group or a country. Facts are universal, substantiated, proven with evidence, and grounded in truth. Quite simply, facts are the truth.

We do not have to agree on our beliefs and opinions, but we must ascribe to the same facts. Facts form one of the tentpoles of a society. While our scientific and industrial prowess separates us from other living organisms, our disdain for antithetical facts tears apart millennia of progress.

Facts that do not conform to our opinions may be uncomfortable, and our immediate instinct often is to defend our opinions, but that doesn't turn facts into fable.

The world has changed over the last 5 years. Social media has given all of us a voice to share and connect, but also given the worst elements among us a platform to showcase their anger. In times of fake news, it is all the more important that facts take precedence. While there is enough information to suit any line opinion one may have, sorting fact from fiction sometimes feels like looking for a needle in a haystack. But isn't that also why we must?

Taking claims put forth by politicians with a grain of salt, becomes even more important in a polarizing atmosphere that seeks to divide to earn votes. It is easy to believe lies, which is why, 'A lie will go round the world while truth is putting its boots on.' (C. H. Spurgeon, not Mark Twain or Winston Churchill. Fact check.)

Speaking truth to power remains one of the most important adages of a citizenry that desires to keep their democratic governments in check. And truth must be rooted in facts, always.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Opinions Matter.

I have strong opinions. But I also have weak opinions, and at times, no opinion. These opinions have defined actions I have taken at different times of life. Some pleasant, some terrible. The beauty, though, of these actions has been that they have been mine and I have lived with them, learnt from them and course-corrected. I have abandoned beliefs I have held for decades within minutes, and I have been reaffirmed of my opinions despite days of disagreements.

Our lives may be the results of our actions, but our actions are certainly a result of our opinions. These opinions stem from a variety of places. They include things we have learnt while growing up, things we fear, things we have read, things we have heard, things we have endorsed to fit in, and things that we adopt to rebel. More often than not, these things are fleeting, but the opinions that form from them, are not.

What bothers me the most, though, is the reluctance we tend to have to listen to conflicting or contradictory opinions. This reluctance stems in multiple forms and has detrimental effects not just to relationships but also to the individuals involved in the conversations. The suppressed opinions force people to follow the herd instead of taking the time to think and form their own opinions.

And it is important to understand where we all come from. After all, these opinions that we have have influenced not just our actions but our life. These opinions have indirectly shaped who we are, and having someone question the very basis of our lives certainly isn't a pleasant prospect. Lesser so when that person plays a significant role in your life. But isn't that also the very reason we should pause and listen?

The way I see it, shared opinions are but a gateway to another person's thought process. Someone sharing their opinions allows us to step into their shoes and look at the world from their eyes. An opinion is but an opportunity for initiating a dialog within ourselves. And rejecting an opinion without fully considering it is us blatantly stealing that precious opportunity from ourselves.

This conversation began as a previous post that talks about the importance of identifying who we are, and that individuality is simply a reflection of opinions we have at that given time. This fluid nature of individuality thus screams why we should be more receptive to objecting opinions, not less.

I have strong opinions. We all do. That is the beauty and curse, of this ever-connected world of ours. The internet that connects us to the rest of the world can also push us down an echo chamber of affirmative opinions. Self-gratification through likes is easy; letting skeptics put you through the paces in the comments on your strongest beliefs is not.

If we refuse to form and change our opinions, aren't we just a species of sheep?

Friday, December 1, 2017


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.

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