Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Gems - A Tribute

(Caution: Long overdue and as much promised, this is a reconstruction, embellishment, amalgamation and mild distortion of various things that people have said at school debates in the years gone by. Take literally at your own, er, pareil.)

*****

A very good morning to all of you all here today. Welcome to the Open Debate on Inarticulation. I, Cyberswami, is here to chair the open house debate this morning, and I will make a just job of fairly doing my best.

Without further adieu, I invite the first speaker to come and introduce the house to the motions.

*****

Reverend judges, respected jury, and dear student-mates. You have received lovely good morning this morning by chairperson sir. It gives me immense pleasure to come back to my opponents on this honourable occasion and I will not waste any time for it.

You see, ladies and gentleman, the time is very high. Really, the time is to what we will be after fifty years from now.

Our main problem today is poverty problem. That is by itself a result of population problem. But, ladies and gentlemens, if prompt measures are not taken about this very soon, if everything will not start from the scratches, then we will find ourselves in deep pareil.

You can even go far so as to say, in our case, that had it not been for a few huge populations, we would have been a prosperous country.

My first point then this evening is that steps should be laid on family planning. You see, family planning is the main cause of poverty problem. Too much planning of family means that in our day and age we have many many kids. But our country cannot sport many many kids, so that means to poverty.

Think of an average family. Picture Kishen, a pity farmer. Kishen has a wife and a boy from the wife. But suppose Kishen dies one day. Say he had accident and he scum to his injuries.

There is no money for family, boy is young and cannot work and poor wife is also helpless. The lady is barely covered in tatters. With no money there is no food; there is no food and without food what will happen? I tell you what will happen, the boy would grow tall and thin, ladies and gently, the lady would grow stoop. You can say it that a person can die of food later than a person can die of sleep or entertainment.

The lady might even overcome the barriers, barriers and barriers, but what about the boy. The boy will also be poor in his life. The cycle continues.

Who will solve this problem for us? Scientists? No my friends. You see, in school, if you have taken science, you must be a genie. Recent advancements in science and technology such as euthanasia mean science is very powerful today. But science means also to undergo some kinds of haphazards. For example, NASA sends people to space knowing that they are going to die.

If not science then what will help the problem? Public sector is that’s why important. Public sector is one day vanished from India and we must prevent this. Otherwise we have nobody to spend money on poor except Government. Privatisation is not solution.

Look at power industry, almost privatised. Then why does the power prices continue? In rular areas, there is no power. The private sector can come into beings, but it is only public sector that can provide efficient public service. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, an anonymous company, is a public sector company and it very finely does a job.

We will now come to the next head. Now I leave upon to the second speaker who will come upon and accentuate.

*****

Good day friends.

I don’t know whether I would be burnt alive by marriage. I am still standing here alive – I have not been killed by parents either. That means we have good society. But world does not has a good society like us ladies and gentlemen. World society is a gang of rogues and criminals. For example, apartheid still have traces that have to be left for people to suffer from.

Think of Nazism. Hitler killed the Jews – did he persuaded them not to exist? Think of the Muslim world. There ladies have to keep their faces wailed, so much so that their feet must be covered also. If you think the West is different, the West is also no better. There you find a Christ sign on one side and whatever all around. Last year in the world 140,000 died of AIDS and many died of Australia. Slovanians all over the world are being prosecuted. Et cetera, et cetera and et cetera. I would like to tell you something that the UN Charter is useless.

These give all wrong signals to us. Here we do not have wrong signals. A Singh, uh, Sikh follower, is treated with the same respect as a Jain or a Nepali. I will illustrate with the help of an example.

A frog lived in a well for a long time and was brought up there. Yet he was a little frog. And that is the effect of the media ladies and gentlemen! Today, in our country, infants raised without the media are infertile and barren. The media nowadays has become very good source for fact. Like, do aliens come to your houses for lunches? They do not, and so media does not report.

Globlisation is also a world phenomenon but not bad a one. Today, because of globlisation and media, the whole world moans for Princess Diana. Because of the very so many newspapers, many children who had went away also are coming back now.

The third speaker will now reimburse this point.

*****

Good day friends. In the course of my debate today, let me very confidently take down the arguments of the opposition. If the house is still not persuaded, they are asking for punishment.

Bluntly, repeat, baluntly, I tell you that our society and government is not so good as dear friend just spoke to you. Religion is actually a divider of the people not a unity. Religion says to us that you dare to do something bad and you’re thrown into hell. It is not the job of religion to tell us this, it is the job of the law to punishes and persuades us to prevent that.

But friends, law and order today is the very major problem today. You must all aware of problem. As far as the law goes, rapists and thieves etc. are the ones who gain. Not the common man or women like you or me. This fact, does it not pinch you? How many of you have spent sleepless nights tossing and turning your beds?

Also the fact that remains hanging is that the government is irresponsible with foreign policy. We have such a strong government, such a well government, but where was government during Kargil? How could they overlooked? Our Prime Minister was busy making merry in a bus with the Pakistanis when it happened, and then they wept with crocodile tears.

The Lok Sabha also is a shame on country. On TV it looks like everyday Parliament had a fancy dress party and Prime Minister wore a turban and swore, er, sword.

Friends, the more the there is the bloodshed, the more we allow creepy debt to sink in. Even though the government has been the cutting trees since independence, the time now is ripe.

Our arguments are not empty arguments. I assure you they are amply supported by examples. I rest my case. With this, I keep my foot down. Thank you.

*****

Hello friends this is the first speaker and I’m back to sum up for the arguments. I very fairly agree with my partner that the picture is not so rosy, but the future is still bright. But you be yourself answering the question.

I'm not saying this for saying this only, but a rose will not change its smell if it has a different name. We cannot take away from the argument with such examples.

Today we need a positive attitude to solve many problems. After all, our father nation, Gandhiji, said, and I quote, ‘you must turn the other cheek’. I unquote.

The answer today it does not mean that by any chance to give up. With such attitude, we will be back to the square one from which we started from. And that is completely vice versa.

In the end, I would like to conclude.

*****

Hello ladies and gentlemen it is me your chairperson back on the microphone. Judges, kindly note the exceedal of time. As quite a hot air blows across the floor, the topic is open thrown to the house...

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Shape Of Things To Come

It's a tough time to be young, isn't it? It seems like school-going and college-going kids in India these days are forever in the news for one reason or another.

Sometimes it is because student politics has become more competitive, violent and, well, political. Sometimes it is because some kids have dropped out of school to start a rock band that, well, rocks.

Or it could be that a couple of kids are getting jiggy with each other when one decides to make a mobile phone video of it, which promptly gets around. Or it could well be a prodigy from a village who wins a full scholarship to study physics at some US Ivy League university.

In other words, whether good or bad, it seems like young people are making their presence felt somehow, certainly more than was the case say a few years ago.

But it is about more than simply making news. It seems like bigger things are afoot. What?

Okay, the first thing to mention at this point is that this surge in youth exposure (or whatever you like to call it) may simply be a consequence of numbers. In other words, once you realise that there are millions and millions of youngsters out there just waiting to be made captive in a market-sort-of-way, and you consider the money being thrown into advertising, you could possibly explain why there are so many more channels for kids, so many more advertisements for them, and generally so much more attention paid to them.

This is true, of course. It helps explain why Pogo and Cartoon Network went completely Hindi. Much bigger market, of course. But forget the numbers game for a minute.

Qualitatively, everyone goes on about how children today are ill-mannered, disrespectful, and care a damn about any kind of authority. There is no shortage of stories about how kids come to school with long hair and no regard for uniforms or rules of any sort. Parents often complain that their kids are disobedient, rebellious, unconcerned, that they lack focus. You know, the sort of conversation old aunties get into around a dinner table, competing over whose kid is worse. Now what's all this about?

One possibility is that it is not true - at least, not any more true than it ever was. I don't think this is the case, however. Until about four years ago, middle class kids came out of school with a certain set of values that are quite different from those held by kids after that point. In fact, the break is rather noticeable, and distinct. I didn't finish school all that long ago, and I can tell a difference. It is not about which is better or worse, it is just that kids nowadays are different.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, here's what I think:

I think that things like rebellion, disobedience, and a lack of respect for authority amongst the young today, instead of simply being bad behaviour as is normally the case, are reflections of the fact that we, as Indians, are on the verge of a shift in paradigm, starting now and to be with us for a few years to come.

In other words, it appears that India, after years of colonialism and a poor-man's-mentality, is getting ready to flex some muscle. I think most of the changes will be cultural, but the change will manifest itself economically, politically, and every other way too, once this generation comes of age.

Now what makes me say this? Well, in truth, nothing more than what you might call circumstantial evidence. And a gut feeling, of course.

Firstly, for probably the first (consistent) time in recent history, there is a clear national feeling of pride. Indians are doing well in many diverse things - sportspeople are showing up on the radar (something previously never seen), Indians are making their way to the top of big companies worldwide, India is increasingly being taken seriously by other countries.

There is, then, an implicit yet definitive shift in the way Indians feel about themselves. There is less shamefaced slinking, making excuses, being self-deprecatory in an embarrassed way. And there is more pride, more swagger, more self-belief, and more assuredness that we are, in fact, good enough.

Secondly, and this is more circumstantial, there is what appears to be a parallel between this generation I've been talking about and the American generation that is called the Baby Boomer generation - those born shortly after World War II.

If you remember, that generation was about 15-20 years old around the time of Vietnam. They were similarly accused of being anti-establishment, revolutionary, rebellious, and of holding any kind of rule in deep contempt. They didn't end up quite so badly, did they?

To be sure, many of that generation fell by the wayside, but few would argue that they were not not supremely influential in creating and maintaining the American superiority of the last three decades. After all, it is precisely because that generation is gradually retiring today that Americans feel they are on the verge of a crisis of some sort - certainly one of inspiration. Some may have died of drug overdose, but many went on to make more of a difference than that. In that case, too, the contempt for authority and the firm redefining of the rules was merely the result of the collective strength of the generation. It is, in a way, the rules they made that are with us today.

What I'm trying to suggest is that such behaviour might be because of more than just good-for-nothing-ness. I'm not necessarily condoning it. I'm simply saying that being rebellious and anti-establishment in this case is not merely a fashion statement. It might be for some, but for the most part it is because it is inevitable. This generation has no choice.

Our society and culture as it exists today is not flexible enough to allow the kinds of expression that are consequences of this, quite like the excessive morality of the American mid-century experience. Nor is it likely to be in the near future. We cannot stop - or even channel - the ways in which such expression is manifest; in the long-term only cultural change does the trick. And that, like I said, is long-term.

When kids today, the inspirational generation, perhaps, look to try and express themselves in more modern ways, and find they are unable to because of societal or cultural restrictions, they rebel. The difference between then and now is that today it is a more collective phenomenon.

What else would explain, for example, girls being more daring in what they choose to wear, or where they go, or how late at night they stay out. What else might explain the phenomenon of single-motherhood, mostly unheard of some years ago. Or boys experimenting with careers, rather than following the tried-and-tested doctor/lawyer/engineer route. And these are just the more conspicuous examples.

The American generation of the '70s too inspired change. In fact, they virtually turned American culture and society on its head. Feminism, for example, in its modern avataar, was born in this period. I don't even have to mention how influential the music of that generation has been.

Look around you now. Look at the sudden spurt of Indian bands. Consider the spike in creativity - be it in film music, in art, in literature, in anything you care to mention. Look at the explosion in radio, in film, in television soaps. Indian athletes are suddenly winning medals. As are Indian shooters. Everything is bursting at the seams all at once.

Well, everything but our hockey team. But its time, too, shall come.

Look at the unique way that English is spoken in this country. Look at the sudden influx of slang, colloquialism, and turns of phrase that you will not find anywhere else. Where until now we would have laughed if we heard anybody talk like that, it is becoming more and more natural and commonplace. In fact, it is embraced in movies and on TV as being perfectly acceptable.

Which it is. In other words, we're putting our own stamp on the global language, quite like what the Americans did to English in their own turn. As our reach grows, so will our influence. Indian English, whether we like it or not (and whether anyone else likes it or not) is going to be the language of the future. Either that or Chinese English, but I don't hear too much of that so I don't know.

Think of it if you will as being a pot of water that has almost come to boil. Until now the water was cold and the surface calm. But now there are bubbles, and more and more of them disturb the surface of the water. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, the whole pot is frothing and bubbling. You may complain that the surface isn't calm any more but, you see, the bubbles have nowhere else to go but violently up.

I think there's quite a bit of bubbling ahead - a lot of social and cultural upheaval, perhaps even an identity crisis or two for good measure - but they might pass easier if they're considered for what they are, namely, manifestations of a generation strong enough to finally break the shackles. And for this generation there is the added happy coincidence of being in an India which is finally worth being in. That is to say, the vessel is finally strong enough to be able to take such frantic boiling.

We have no idea where it'll take us, but we're sure the journey will be worth it. Stick around.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

The A To My T, The G To My C

I think some of you might have been wondering why I’ve been away so long. Wait, don’t go away I’m not about to start going on about my midterms again, this is about something else this time. Warning: this is a very long post and it's not very much of a fun read.

Well, exams were the reason I was away, coupled with the fact that I haven't had regular access to internet in the last month or so, but there’ve also been a few things recently that I’ve been thinking about, and trying to come to terms with.

I suppose I could say that in a sense I’ve lost my ‘get out of jail free’ card and I don’t know what to do without it. In fact, to extend an unwieldy metaphor, it’s more like a ‘go back to start’ sort of card that I’ve just picked up.

Wait. I’ll give you a little background first. You see, I was eighteen years old when I went to McGill. Eighteen, almost freshly out of school, tired of the way things were and how they were going, delighted to be given a chance to start again, but otherwise completely unprepared for what was ahead. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’d probably know a thing or two about it, I’ve moped over it before, I think.

I’ve always been accused of being arrogant, or snobbish in some way, but that’s far from the truth – to be honest, it’s always been a perception of what is really a cross between periods of little self-confidence to periods of lots. From being on my guard all the time to not being on my guard at all. Around people, that is. Yeah, I think I’m a little crazy too, but only, I guess, as much as each person thinks he or she is crazy. Even you would call yourself crazy if asked, I suspect. We have our ways. All this, coupled with subjects touched on in previous posts, meant that I took a while to warm up to any kind of social circle, and was mostly at the perimeter of things.

I think I’ll skip the whole 'there was once this girl, looking at me' bit. Rather fascinating as those parts might be to those involved, it will probably only add to the length of this post insofar as the effect it has on you is concerned. There was one such girl, and I leave it to you to imagine what you will of it, but try haring off on the ‘he was somewhat tentative, very shy, but seemingly very confident as he charmed the pants off her’ path, it’s certainly not off in the wrong direction.

I’ll stop confusing you now. This post is about the ‘And now here I am many years later, wondering how to live happily ever after’ bit, which I think should appear somewhere in the middle, at least if it were a well-crafted tale. In other words, it's from when the dust has settled and I’ve come full circle.

Oh very well, I’ll start from the beginning. As a beginning, it couldn’t have been any better. There was never, not for a second, any awkwardness about the relationship, from neither her nor me. I’ll paraphrase: it was completely natural. And it was natural at the moment as well as in hindsight, a rare thing. Natural even to the point where I didn’t really even notice it happening until awhile later. We talked a lot and things moved really quickly.

This was all during exam time in first semester of first year, and she was off soon after for her winter break, and I went to my uncle’s house in the US. It had only been maybe two weeks up to that point but I think it was pretty concrete by then. I think we both felt so comfortable with it that there was nothing more we could have asked for. Even without asking for anything, we implicitly had got what we might have wanted.

Major advantage: neither person was going to be going anywhere for a long time, except for these pesky holidays. This was first year and there was nothing on the horizon. Of course, this is purely hindsight, nobody thought of it this way at the time, but it is a big lesson learnt: always keep an eye out for things on the horizon. It is something that both of us will do henceforth inevitably.

Anyway, she came back from her holidays and the worst was over. Thereafter we coasted our way to the summer break, in the meantime growing closer. Both of us had been given much freedom by being in Montreal, and we used it to the fullest. Grades were the first thing to suffer.

We were rarely out of each other’s company, although we didn’t lose our individual identities. We managed to preserve ourselves too, and there is no way to describe this effectively, but the point is that we were not one of those couples who could not function if not together. It was a heady mix of separateness and togetherness, and beyond even my simple powers of comprehension, let alone me trying to outline it for you. But I think you follow.

For some reasons – well, many reasons – it felt like the best time of my life. From whatever little moth-eaten knowledge I had of relationships, and most of that from observation, I had always expected there to be some conflict of interests somewhere. But there was none. I think we were both in a state of mind where we were easily manipulated, and being together meant that we moulded each other completely around ourselves, with none of the hardened rubber that becomes brittle feel to us.

It is only now, in hindsight as always, that I’m beginning to realise just how different she made me, over the next three years, from what I used to be. Now, when I find myself being slowly reverse-moulded, I can take some time to admire all the major monuments of change along the way. And I don’t know what kind of effect I had on her, but I’m willing to bet that it was a lot too.

You see, she broke through all the walls and barricades and other defensive measures I had erected around me in all the years previously. She made me open up, talk about myself, show some emotion, in short do all the things that until then nobody had been able to. It took a while for all this to happen, to be sure, but she was remarkably patient through the whole thing, and it happened in stages. It took a while simply because I had never been so open in my life, not because I had any hesitation in doing so. I never had to think about it really.

But by making me more open and more social, she made me more vulnerable to many things. Where I had usually kept a check on what I was thinking and how I felt about it, now that I began to show them more, my ability to keep a tight rein on them was weakening. There was never any occasion to notice this before, but now I can see it, and it has had its (rather unpleasant) consequences. Now, more than ever when I want to hold it in until it dissipates, I find I cannot.

By making me a better speaker, as opposed to merely being a good listener, she rounded my personality. And I think we both learnt what it is like to live so closely with another person, and experience first-hand the good and the bad of an almost-complete relationship. I have definitely become a better, more whole, person as a result.

By providing such solidity and support personally, both she and the friends we had allowed me to express myself better, joining organisations, making new friends, widening my friend circles, and developing myself more fully. I can go on about other things that changed over the last three years.

Anyway, the next two years were, by relationship standards, the usual. The odd fight here or there, the occasional huge fight, but mostly life was normal. We lived in the same building on different floors, but we mostly lived on a sofa. Er, you know. Watching TV.

But we were also stupid. And na├»ve. Knowing fully well that one of us (me) was going to leave in a couple of years – next year – six months later – and all of that, we didn’t think about it at all. And that is also the best thing if you ask me now, because we enjoyed it like there was no tomorrow rather than fretting about it all the time, like how it was to become some months later.

But, as always happens, two years later came, and I had to leave. There were too many good times in there to sit and write about right now, but two-and-a-half years really felt more like five or six, in terms of the degree of effect that we had had on each other. What had started off as something without any thought having gone into it had become something I could see myself as being a part of for as long as was possible.

We were not prepared for the separation though. Actually, there is no way we could have been. We had really left too big an impression on each other, even to extent of becoming mutual security blankets. No matter how independent our personalities really were, there had never been any thought of not being with each other, that was always treated as given and almost in the background. Literally, too, quite as much as metaphorically. As people, as friends, we were too close, so even if you were to take any emotional angle out of it, the bond by then had become stronger than any other that either of us had. We spent hours in the same room, sometimes without even having to say a word to each other. It was comfort at an unparalleled level.

I left last year, if you remember. Much changed for both us after that, not only personally, but also in terms of contact with the world, and reality. And the world was very different from how we never bothered to imagine it. What had been ahead for us all along, what we had been hiding from, all of that happened in quick succession, and the resulting shock was more than we could handle.

We had been hiding from two things: one, that there are more people in the world than just the two of us, and some of those will try and coerce us in different directions, and that all our decisions are not ours alone to make. We never acknowledged this possibility before last year.

The other thing we were hiding from was the true effect that we had on each other’s personalities. In other words, in separate environments, faced with different influences (and in particular the lack of each other’s influence), small chinks began to emerge where they were never thought possible. We thought we could adjust to each other all the time and in all circumstances, but I think something changed somewhere.

We were also running away from the set of challenges that we would have to undergo in order to be together. The challenge was to the strength of the relationship. The phrase ‘we can do anything’ is to her and me somewhat like ‘we bring good things to life’ is to GE. Overused, and perhaps incorrect as well.

We did most things. But we could not do everything. When we were placed in a situation of whether to choose to remain with each other but pay a very heavy price each, we chose instead not to play. We each had, I suppose, what in game theory I suppose you would call a heavy credible threat. It was a no-win situation, a zero-sum game, where one or the other person would have to make all the sacrifices, but there was no way to share the damage. Maybe that was the problem. Maybe it wasn’t time to do anything, these were things that were likely to happen a few years hence, but we couldn’t face the prospect of having to make this same choice later. After all, we weren’t too hopeful about any contrary information presenting itself at any point in the future.

So we decided to do what is sort of like a very long chess game where suddenly the players look up, shake hands, say ‘good game’, and walk off with an honourable draw. At least that is how it was supposed to be in theory. I don’t think it worked very well.

Could we have done differently? Maybe. Would I have been willing to try? Yes. Could I think of cases where such things have happened and have worked? Yes, in my family too. Have not worked? Not directly, but yes. Was it worth the effort? Most definitely. Do I regret not having stayed the course, taken the test, and then made a decision? I don't know, but probably. Was there a solution you could have worked towards? There is always a solution, something or the other comes up.

If you ask me, this past year has been very good on the one hand but not so good on the other. Even though I’ve come back home, as such, and things are the same and I don’t feel out of place or any of that, one foot in the last year had always been planted in Montreal. For more than one reason, but none stronger than this one I’m sure. But now I can already feel the ties that bind me there weakened substantially, quite like those chaps in that film when the little golden ring fell into the hot place.

Now my choices are simple: either I erupt spectacularly like the nasty ones in the film, or continue life in peace and harmony like the even uglier ones who went home and wrote a book about it. I put my money on the latter though. In fact, now that I think of it, I may as well call this post There and Back Again by Me, Not Them Bagginses. I'm at peace with Montreal, though I wouldn't want to go back there again.

In a way, the physical distance, the different worlds we live in, should allow us to forget and move on. I’m here now, in Delhi, and increasingly likely to be here for a while, at least two years more, at which point I apply for a PhD someplace. That provides me a little time-frame in which to put things together or tear them apart maybe. After all, I love to try and figure out what makes a person tick, and this gives me a chance to find out what other sides there are to me. There are a few already, but I’d like to know if there are more.

But, and here’s the rub: how do you make yourself forget something, especially a strong memory? I used to think I could successfully block things out, but either because of this or even generally now it just seems that bit harder.

Sometimes I wonder if it might have been better if we could have found a way to be fed up of each other before ending it, simply because that provides you that little nucleus that is needed to build and spin off in a new direction. This way, having to simply stop being attached one day after years of being inseparable, without anything to sponsor the effort and motivate you along the way, is about as hard as anything I’ve had to do, and being a matter not even two months old, it is already taking longer than I thought. I am no closer to a solution than I was.

I think there are very few memories that are completely neutral, especially long drawn-out ones. The memory meter usually points either towards positive or negative, and rarely remains on zero. Now I have to find a way to make this memory zero, especially without a reverse current to work with that would make it negative.

Taking out the battery is one way I suppose, but I haven’t found a way to do that either. Do you remember those funky little dual battery units in physics lab that allowed you to send current alternatively in either direction around the wire? I think I’ll get me one of those, much good may it do me.

Anyway, never mind that. The question I’d like to ask you is: how do you ‘forget’ a memory? How do you stop thinking about someone or something?

And for once, unlike all the previous times on this blog, I’m asking you this question without thinking that I know the answer. In fact, knowing that I don’t have an answer.

I've told myself this is the only time I'm going to write about this, but I don't know if I will be able to stick to it.