‘Democracy’ – a flawed masterpiece

Last night I was watching an excerpt from an interview that famous stand-up comic Louis CK gave a year ago. In the interview, he discussed why he had spoken and written about Trump and the potential impact he could have on the system – mainly because, unlike his role model and mentor George Carlin, political critique was never Louie’s style. In spite of the controversy around this comments and his explanations to those in the interview, he said something that really hit me – hard.

Democracy means that many times I’m not comfortable or even completely disagree to what the government is doing. That’s how I know that the system is working.

This is such a simple yet the most powerful definition of democracy that I have come across. The most marked characteristic of humankind is the diversity that it offers. Race, ethnicity, cultures, religion, sexual orientation – we are one of the most diverse species to have inhabited the planet. When we imbibe ‘democracy’ as a principle, it comes with two caveats – first, everyone has equal rights to participate, and second, the majority decides. You can question the basics of this principle as much as you want, but you got to live with the corollary of this hypothesis – that sometimes you will not be okay with the way things are. And that is a good sign, because in that case the other side is also heard.

I do agree that the gravity of those inconveniences can vary from the troubling conditions of the roads to a systemic communal divide that is creeping up in the society. But just ask yourself this question – if you choose to make a generalized view of the whole system because of a microscopic view, aren’t you part of the problem itself? Do you not, by extrapolation, disrespecting every other opinion in that regard? It’s a vicious cycle because then the people on the other side of the argument do the same thing. No one wants to lose the fight, and the irony is that the only way you can win is by realizing that there is no fight. It’s a classic example of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

Democracy is an imperfect solution. But it is far better than any other alternative that we have. We need to keep perfecting this idea, that iteration upon iteration, the solutions churned out by this system allow for inclusion of as many people as it can. Don’t stop fighting against the things that you feel are not right or raising your voice. Democracy is better because it allows for course correction.

George Bernard Shaw had yet another take on the system which I often relate to –

Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

Advertisements

Kintsukuroi

Why do we fall, Bruce? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.

~ Thomas Wayne

The Internet is a treasure chest full of amazing things. Often we stumble upon things, in this wonderful maze, that are so stimulating and intriguing that they catch our attention at once and leave us pondering about their beauty, infiniteness and the sheer subtlety. One such thing I found was a word. Yes, a word. A specific sequence of alphabets set to convey a meaning. But this word does not just conveys an expression or describe a process, it professes a philosophy.

Kintsukuroi is a Japanese technique of mending broken vessels and pots by joining the broken pieces using lacquer mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. The concept, considered by many as an art form, originates from the philosophy that breaking and repair are part of the object’s history and that the object is now more beautiful for having broken. Take a set of glass bowls from the same pack. They all look the same when they leave the factory, packed nicely, protected by Styrofoam peanuts. Now drop the bowls, one by one, from the same height and in the same way. Each of them breaks differently. The way the cracks develop and the way pieces fall apart, everything is different. Now try to take the pieces of each of the bowls and try to put them together. If you manage to do that, you will find that they are not similar anymore.

Why does it so happen that the seemingly identical bowls break in a different way under the same conditions? In this answer, lies the most innate quality of human nature. Our skin color, the languages we speak, the countries and cities and homes we live in, the families we belong to, they are just one side of our personality. Our names, identities, jobs, relationships – they don’t define us. What defines us is how we react to situations under hardships. How do we break when we fall? Most importantly even, how do we mend ourselves after being broken?

Kintsukuroi teaches us that if you are broken, pour in gold in the cracks. Let the beauty and happiness in the world become your healer. And there is enough of it, should you choose to seek it. Each person may do it in his or her own way. And that makes us rare in our own light. You were sand and fire before. Now you are sand, fire and gold. You are more beautiful than ever because you got back up. You mended yourself. And in that process, may be, just maybe, you inspired someone else to take that step – to heal. You let your light liberate others from the darkness they were suffering in.

In this eternal cosmic play, that could be your verse. And wouldn’t it be a beautiful verse

THE CHENNAI AFFAIR

‘The story of life is quicker than the wink of an eye,
the story of love is hello and goodbye…
until we meet again’

Jimi said it right, as always. 6 months ago, when I landed in Chennai, I was not in the most jovial of moods, having said goodbye to my friends and my beloved city – Mumbai. Little did I know that life was going to throw a bouquet of pleasant surprises at me.

We are slaves of our minds, more importantly, our biases. I was told by a lot of people that Chennai is a land that fun forgot. So, let me say this, once and for all – they were wrong. Yes, the city IS different. But that’s what makes it unique. It is quiet yet bustling, relaxed yet diligent and chilled out yet not without purpose. It’s not Mumbai or Delhi or Bengaluru, but then again, it doesn’t have to be. The food, the air, the people, the beaches, the sunsets .. In it’s own way, mark their impressions upon you, ones that would last for a lifetime.

In and out of office, life could not have been more fun. I was a lucky bastard who got into a company of some amazing friends. Shubhra​, Nehal​, Robin​, Akriti​, Sonal​ – together you created an invisible time machine that slowed down time to seem like eternity with awesomeness all the way through. We kept trashing the same place till they threw us out, literally. Our Plan B’s became our Plan A’s. Our Whatsapp chat group, called “Friendships and Serendipity” because it was mere chance that brought this crazy bunch together. I also had some interesting encounters along the way and each was a memory worth cherishing.

But now, as I bid adieu to Chennai, and even though I’m moving to my happy place again, I feel a pang in my heart. For time flew by a bit too quickly – the Srilanka trip that never happened, the gourmet at Fisherman’s Cove that was always on the itinerary of every weekend, the early morning run at Besant Nagar beach that was quashed by laziness… *sigh*. But as Jimi said “until we meet again”, I place a bookmark on this chapter, to be continued later, some day.

Till then, it’s Au Revoir and Muchas Gracias. 🙂

IMG_20150708_232130

एक minute

“मोहब्बत करने वाले कम ना होंगे,
तेरी महफ़िल में लेकिन हम ना होंगे,
ज़माने भर के ग़म या इक तेरा ग़म,
ये ग़म होगा तो कितने ग़म ना होंगे..”

रात और ग़ज़ल की एक अलग chemistry है। उस ख़ामोश से लम्हे में जब खिड़की पे अकेले बैठ कर आप अपनी favorite ग़ज़ल सुन रहे होते हैं… जब हफ्ते भर की tension एक minute में भूल जाते हैं… जब हलकी हलकी हवा आपके कानों को छूकर निकल जाती है.. जब उस एक minute के लिए सब कुछ Utopia जैसा feel होता है.. ऐसा लगता है जैसे दुनिया में गरीबी, terrorism, rape, भुखमरी, corruption.. कुछ भी नहीं है..

बस एक चाँद है जो बादलों के साथ छुपन-छिपाई खेल रहा है.. एक सड़क है, अकेली सी रात में जो street light में नहा रही है.. एक पेड़ है जिसके पत्तों की सरसराहट कुछ कहना छह रही है.. और आप हैं जो इस भागती-दौड़ती, घर और office के बीच सिमट के रह गयी ज़िन्दगी के पेचो ख़म से उकता कर बस उस एक minute को जी भर के जी लेना चाहते हैं..

एक advice है.. जब ही ऐसा एक minute आपको मिले, तो उसे और उसकी यादों को संभाल के रखियेगा.. बड़ी खुशनसीबी से मिलता है वो.. बता कर भी नहीं आता.. बस यूं ही रात के साये में ज़िन्दगी जीने के कुछ राज़ बता जाता है..

image

The Gift

The following conversation took place last night between me and a friend of mine, Elizabeth Bennett (name changed for the purpose of this article):

Me       : “You’re not much of a music freak, are you?”

E.B.     : “I am… Or at least I used to be. Now I’m bound by my limited data plans”

Me       : “Dear, if you have to use YouTube to listen to music, you’re not much of a music freak.”

E.B.     : (sighs, probably) “Okay then, maybe I’m not.”

Me       : “Hey, it’s alright! All of us are freaks, but of different nature.”

E.B.     : “Is that right?”

Me       : “Yeah, I have an obsession towards songs, while you have an obsession towards literature. I could never read books the way you do. And probably, you wouldn’t care for storing 20,000 songs on your computer’s hard drive.”

This whole conversation got me thinking. We all really are freaks, aren’t we? And I mean freaks in a good sense. Like the wonderful obsession we have over certain things. Songs, books, photography, painting, dancing, guitar etc. Now, you’d be wondering why do I use the word freaks and why not passionate or hobbyists. Well, because those words sound very resume-ish. They don’t aptly describe the kind of dedication and madness I’m talking about.  I mean, we like to be the master of these things. We want that we should know everything there is to know about them. We read obscure blogs, visit exhibitions no one else would go with us to, buy insanely expensive stuff that even though has a marginally incremental utility, but we would feel incomplete without them and the likes of it.

But I realized that all these things have one thing in common. Art. All these passionate obsessions revolve around art. Art makes us the freaks we are. And remember, I’m talking about the good kind of freaks here. I think it is only art that allows us the opportunity to do something extraordinarily well in its absolute sense. Let me elaborate. Consider a guy who works on an assembly line. He has been given certain set of instructions to perform. The paradigm of his performance in confined in the gambit of those instructions. Any other person can also read those instructions and perform the same action within a reasonable degree of acceptance. Now consider an artist, any artist. He has got myriad ways in which he can explore the depth and breadth of a particular art form. He can create, imitate, rework, adapt and still produce something amazing. And no one can say that a particular piece of art is better than another. Each is wonderful in its own. There are no standard operating procedures to do something.

Such abstraction is a gift that art has given mankind. And what a wonderful gift it is – for each individual to be extraordinary.  They are the ones who run this world, who excel, who succeed – the freaks or as Steve Jobs called them – the misfits, the square pegs in round holes. Whenever a freak has been successful of transforming any mechanical thing into an art, he/she has succeeded not only in his/her own, individual sense but also given the chance to others who practice the same thing to do wonders with it. Steve Jobs took the mechanics of making phones and made it into an art and thereby became a global phenomenon. Brandon Stanton, the Humans of New York guy, the man responsible behind making celebrities out of common people, took story telling through pictures to a whole new level. Salvador Dali, Coco Chanel, Shakespeare, Pele, Picasso, Anne Leibovitz, Sachin Tendulkar and many more – these men and women changed the course of their fields in ways that inspired hundreds and thousands and millions. And I think the only reason why your and my name is not in that list is probably we are not devoted freakishly enough to what we love to do. But, there’s always a new dawn.

Go. Be a freak!


P.S.: By the way, if you’re still wondering, my friend asked me to replace her name with a pseudonym and since she’s a reading ‘freak’, she asked me to use the name Elizabeth Bennett (neé Darcy),  from Pride and Prejudice. See, I told you; freaks always surprise and amaze you in myriad ways. 🙂

Image

We, the People

“Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.”

– George Bernard Shaw

Before I begin, I would like to make a few clarifications that might help you put this article in a clearer perspective. I worked on the campaigning of Mr. Modi, I support him and I voted for him. Also, that by default doesn’t make me a Hindu nationalist. Now, moving on.

Over the last 5-6 months, I have seen unfold a mind-boggling story in front of my eyes. A story of triumph and of loss, of love and of hatred, of politics and of personal vendetta, of innovative strategies and of clichéd shenanigans. I’m glad I got to be a part of this gala in a very small form as a campaigner for Mr. Modi in a few constituencies in Uttar Pradesh through Citizens for Accountable Governance. For those who don’t know what CAG is, can check out here: http://www.indiancag.org. In the run up to the actual polling, I had read and watched and heard a lot about vote polarization, communalism, secular hatred and God knows what not. And while I’m a person with a usually optimistic outlook, I had developed some questions that I needed to answer and hence I thought working with CAG would be a good opportunity to take a closer look at election politics. A lot of my questions were in fact answered and some new ones crept up. But one thing that I learned changed my outlook in a significant way. While I was surveying people and talking to party workers of not just BJP but other party people I met in the market, I realized communal divide is a staggering reality of our society. And unlike what Facebook preachers talk about, this is something that people want themselves.

See, for the larger part in the rural parts of our country, sections of society are not ready to merge so easily with one another when it comes to elections. The primary reason behind this being that elections are an opportune moment to get their demands fulfilled. And we still haven’t reached the apex of Maslow’s Need Hierarchy pyramid that we start putting needs of others first. I wouldn’t call it selfish, rather merely human. So, I realized that votes do get swayed on the basis of religion, caste, community and what not. And we cannot turn a blind eye to it. We cannot counter it overnight. It will take years and decades of continual efforts and urbanization and inclusive development that will slowly turn the perception of the people. I absolutely agree that politicians need to stop fueling it further, but they can’t tell lakhs of voters on how to live their lives. However, in spite of this face-off with darker side, I also came to know that in that particular constituency no Hindu-Muslim riots have taken place in 40 years. I was shocked to hear this. One elderly gentleman told me a very interesting thing. He said “Polarization does not mean we hate the other community. It merely means that everyone is looking out for their own interest.” He added “There can be communal harmony in spite of polarization of votes. And it will take a conscious effort from your generation and younger people because we [older people] are set in our ways”. This really hit me. I could very well relate this to what Mr. Modi said in his interview to ANI “I will follow my religious paradigm. I will respect ALL religious paradigms”. Now, I know this is a very small sample set and hence I won’t make any generalizations. I understand that worse realities exist in many other parts of the country. But can we not take an example from this and build upon it?

Well, eventually, stint with CAG came to end and so did the polling in all 543 constituencies of the country. On May 16, 2014 Indian public handed over a massive mandate in favor of BJP and Mr. Modi crowning him as their new helmsman. We all know that a lot, and I mean a LOT, has been spoken and written over the General Elections 2014. To put things into perspective, I was just 1 out of 29 million Indians who discussed the Elections on Facebook and I was responsible for like 10-15 out of 56 million tweets on the Indian Elections. And I’m the talkative one. LOL 🙂 I have had countless debates on Facebook threads and even in my inbox with quite a few people who upon the declaration of results, called that India’s defeat. The defeat of Democracy and what not. And just because this article starts with a quote that highlights one of the biggest flaws of Democracy, doesn’t mean I don’t believe in it. But I also witnessed that guy like Assaduddin Owaisi won from Hyderabad – a guy who has openly made hate-speeches against Hindus in the country. A guy who’s own brother, whom Mr. Owaisi has defended behind the scenes, spoke in a public meeting urging Indian Muslims to collude with Pakistani military in a fight against India. It is clear that his comments are asinine to the highest order but his brother just got elected MP. And this isn’t the first time he has won. Isn’t this a defeat of democracy rather than crying wolf over the victory of a respected CM who has never spoken against any sect or religion in any of his speeches? The answer, whether you and I may like it or not, is NO. This is the very victory of democracy. We can debate whether democracy itself is a good institution or not. But when PEOPLE elect their representative and when we have by default established that we follow a democratic form of governance, it is nothing but our fundamental duty to respect their mandate. As GBS accurately pointed out, the biggest strength and weakness of a democracy is that its governance can only be as good as its people. Sujit Patel, a friend and colleague aptly stated, “Democracy is a great system of electing a leader only if it is who WE want. Else, it is a system bordering on majoritarian fascism.”

I read another series of posts that talked about whether there will be a place for dissent in the Modi government. In one of the articles in that effect, in a very euphemistic way, the author compared Modi to a tyrant who would put to task anyone who dared oppose him. There are many others who say that skeptics need to find their voice; a strong opposition is what will keep the Modi government in check; we must scrutinize Mr. Modi’s each and every action meticulously etc. etc. I couldn’t agree more. But why Mr. Modi only? Why don’t we and why haven’t we done with every other government and every one of their politicians till now? We do need a strong opposition. When governments come to power with an overwhelming majority like the one Mr. Modi’s government has, they tend to misuse it. It has happened in 2009 and there’s no reason it can’t happen again. But why do we pro-actively make this conjecture that dissent will be met with punishment under the new government. And those talking about the voice of skeptics, where were these voices when the UPA government and their policy paralysis was eating away at our economy, at our industrial growth, at our social fabric? Where were these voices when Muzaffarnagar happened? Where were these voices when they plunged the nation into an abyss of corruption and scams and a farce in the name of law and order?

But let’s not go into the past. I made a promise to myself that over the coming months and years, I will look at the policies of the Modi government as objectively as I can. Before a supporter of Mr. Modi, I am an Indian citizen. I want to believe that the conviction, with which I voted for change and development in these elections, is respected and some good comes out of it. And what reaffirms my faith is exactly this overwhelming majority that BJP got in these elections. Our democratic electorate, the largest in the world, overthrew a dynastic and corrupt government who thought they were infallible with their sheer power of their vote. I hope that the new government takes this as a learning. If a party as old as INC can be uprooted and thrown out so can they. And God forbid, if the day comes when we think Mr. Modi’s government is incapable of leading this country, it is this democratic stronghold that will show the door to him.

In the opening lines of this article, I clarified that even though I support Mr. Modi, I am not a Hindu nationalist. While I was in the middle of writing this article, I realized how sad a state it is in our country and in spite of it being my constitutional right, I have to give explanation of my religious inclination and ameliorate any controversy(ies) thereby. I decided I won’t change the opening line. But let me clarify further here. There is a group of people that have distorted the meaning of the word nationalism. The term in its original sense means the idea of supporting one’s country and culture. However, the proponent of paranoia and what are commonly referred to as “pseudo-seculars” have portrayed nationalism as exclusion and hatred of other cultures or jingoism. This is a depressing state of thought. And what’s more dismal is that some highly intellectual and thinking individuals belong to this group. I don’t know whether this definition was created by these pseudo-seculars or was fed to them as a result of a systematic propaganda by the so called “secular” forces of the country like INC, Samajwadi Party, TMC and RJD by comparing Modi to Hitler and Muslims to Jews. What we need to really understand is that the voter is now aware if not fully educated. He/she *thinks* about what’s right and what’s wrong rather than getting influenced by which cap my party leaders wear.

May be the people of Hyderabad think they made the right choice. And if tomorrow this choice turns out to be sour, I have belief in our constitutional machinery to set the course right again. We can and should not meddle in democratic process. We can’t shout at the top of our voices or write dissenting posts and tweets and expect the entire country to follow suit. But what we CAN do is strengthen the integrity and the credibility of institutions that are put in place to protect the interest of the people and of the country. 100% people where won’t ever agree on anything. They don’t approve of one God least of all one human being. So either we can spend countless hours debating on our own self-proclaimed perspective of righteousness or we can devote that same time and energy in doing something constructive.

And like in every democratic process, the choice is with us.

Image

I Breathed Among Rockstars

Image

On 25th June 2012, when I entered CR-111 of the academic block at Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow to attend the first lecture of my MBA program, I was nervous, happy, anxious, determined and was going through a multitude of almost all emotions enlisted in the “Feeling _____” feature in Facebook status updates, all of them simultaneously. I saw some 15-20 people inside. Some of them already seated while some trying to locate their seats. Eventually, I found my seat – first column, 4th row, 2nd from the aisle. Thus began what was to be an amazing journey that had a profound impact on my life in every way possible.

That room, CR-111 was home to a special bunch of folks – Section D. A group of 66 highly talented, intelligent and hard-working individuals, each one with a heart of gold. You see, when all of us sat in that classroom for the first time, we were strangers. We were here from different cities, different situations, different lifestyles and for different purposes. Yet over the next 21 months, we found a family among ourselves – friends, brothers, sisters, lovers and mentors. We cried and laughed and fought and danced together. We didn’t celebrate our joy because one of our own was suffering. And we made thunders shy when we roared in unison.

When I talk about the profound impact of IIM Lucknow upon me, I attribute it to something that I saw here, with these people. I believe each person is a uniquely crafted design shaped in an intricate balance of his or her virtues and flaws – like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But you see, each piece of a jigsaw puzzle only fits in with a certain type of pieces. What I learnt here was that unlike inanimate jigsaw pieces, people are and must be flexible. No matter who, no matter how – they embraced everyone with open arms. In a place where your neighbor could be your fiercest competitor, I found unconditional love and affection among these men and women. To accept another in his or her bad same as in his or her good – there is no greater lesson in humility than that.

Parting is momentary, nostalgia is forever. And even though I bid adieu to these lovely people, I am sure their love and kindness will resonate in my heart forever. To these 66 Rockstars who made a seemingly arduous journey into a joyful adventure, I want to dedicate this wonderful Pink Floyd song: