Thursday, August 24, 2006

understanding and agreement!

i realize that this is related to my last post ...

the other day, it occurred to me that often people don't really believe that you understand them unless you agree to the point of view that they are expressing.

if it is difficult to visualize this in an abstract way, think of a time when you have explained something to someone. at the end of it, if the person said something that was not in agreement, you would try to explain again ... if the person claimed to understand, you smile at yourself and say, he thinks he understands ... i know he doesn't.

i am not getting the words right... perhaps because something as simple as this should not require so many words ... in short, comprehension need not lead to concurrence. and we need to give people the space to disagree.

this sort of fits in with the teaching/not teaching thingy i spoke about last .
when i say that i need not agree with you just because i understand you, it probably appears to be obvious. however, in our daily lives, we sometimes forget. and in having put it in words, and having reminded myself of it, i have now created the space wherein I can allow you to disagree!

agreements disagreements understanding and misunderstandings aside, the other day a friend of mine gave an extremely beautiful example of how we need to understand another person before we can help them ....

it is similar to that proverb that says that in order to learn, one needs to be like a bucket ... and relate to the teacher as if he were a tap ... as in, to learn, you always need to place yourself below your teacher ...

what my friend had to say, was that if you want to bring somebody up to a common platform (assuming that your evaluation of their current status vis-a-vis yours is right and they have any desire of accepting this benevolence on your part) think of it as helping a child to watch the parade ... to raise him to your shoulders, you need to kneel down to his level first ... please don't argue that you can pick him up and toss him on to your shoulders :)

so finally, what does all this mean? that any relation, binary or otherwise, needs to be based on respect and understanding. while the student needs to have humility and patience in order to be able to learn best, the teacher needs the same attributes in order to teach best.

humility is not about debasing oneself infront of another but about recognizing the strengths of the other and giving them the proper respect for that.

darn mosquito!!!!
this post shall be served half baked so i can take care of other contingencies!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Not teaching anymore!

Like Morpheous tells Neo in Matrix, there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

A problem that I had identified earlier with knowing the path and walking the path is the desire for teaching the path. This phenomenon is different from knowing or walking and is the root cause of most problems that we find in the world.

Having known a path, and perhaps even having walked it, people usually want to share the experience with others so that they may experience the same feelings that they have had. What begins as a mission of doing good for others oftens gets lost as the teacher starts believing at some point that there is only one path and that all other paths are wrong. This holds true about all things ... from religion ... to designing a piece of software to what you eat, whether you exercise, where you invest your money, how you comb your hair, the party you vote for, or whether you vote .... the list is endless.

There is a fundamental difference between the way western and eastern cultures look at these paths. We all know "where there is a will there is a way". Here in India, we say (at least I have heard a bong saying) "Joto mot toto poth" ... a rough translation of this would be "as there are opinions there are ways".

The western version seems to imply that "will" is required to create a path ... somewhere implicit in the statement is the fact that a path has to be created, and that it requires will/determination ... force ... the creation of a path requires energy ...

The easter version assumes that there are an infinite number of paths ... and taking a path does not really have to be willful and forceful. It comes as easily as having an opinion. The path exists independent of the traveller.

If you have spent a long time hacking through the undergrowth, fighting faitigue, moaquito bites, snakes and god only knows what else, the attachment to the path that you have created increases ... this is my path ... I created it ... and from this perhaps is born the missionary zeal to herd other prople along it, irrespective of where it leads to or whether it is even complete ... ofcourse, herding people along the path (in continuation of the allegory) prevents the path from getting over grown again and leaves it open.

Now, if the path is something that you take for granted, like a six lane highway that is open all the time, and which will stay irrespective of whether other people use it or not, the choices are more. At every intersection, you are more open to the idea of turning right or left, changing lanes or stopping for a coffee. Creation of the path ceases to become the journey. The journey becomes distinct and separate from the process of path creation and at times even oblivious of it. Someone keen on travelling rather than creating a path does not really worry about how many people he has along with him ... except for company perhaps ... and many are quite fine with the solitude that gives them the time to think what they will, eat what they will, listen to whatever song they wish to, and have the ac turned on or off. If whatever path thy have taken is used so little that it closes behind them they don't need to worry about that either for it shall open again when the next traveller comes along.

Our perception of reality is the only reality we know. It would perhaps be wrong for me to say that most people are grappling with the western paradigm as opposed to the eastern one in their everyday lives. However, for me personally, this shift has taken place. It has dawned on me (slowly) that I have shifted ... I don't know when or how or why ... but somewhere in the last 8 years, I have shifted from the eastern to the western paradigm ... and because most of my other fundamental believes are still based in eastern ethos, it has createdan imbalance ... for this is akin to a portion of the foundation having shifted, leaving a lot of the superstructure in thin air!

Awareness is only the first step ... though it is vital. Once you are aware of what is happening, you can decide what to do about it. For me, the thing to do is to go back to the eastern way.

It means a lot to me to get back there, the primary of which is peace of mind. For then, you may decide not to litter the streets and reach every appointment on time but you stop expecting other people to do so. You may follow traffic rules, but you do not hold it against others when they don't. You may believe in what you think is basic human decency, but you are ok with what others perceive it to be.

To me, this paradigm shift means that I do not need to go through the pain of having to hold on to my beliefs in a world where other numerous contradictory beliefs exist, it also saves from the pain of changing my own beliefs to be in sync with that of the majority. Escapist? Not really. All that the paradigm shift removes is the pain and the inflexibility. I shall still hold on to my beliefs but not with pain, and I shall still change when required but sans pain.

I can never get over what Carl Segan penned ... "we are butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is eternity ..." though the context was entirely different, it never fails to put life into proper perspective.

Life is a journey, it is about taking whatever path you choose ... it may mean walking a path, knowing a path, being oblivious to the concept that there are paths, or not choosing ... very open ended ... it may also be about teaching ... however, I shall not teach. I do not want any converts to my path, and to my definitions of right living and right thinking.

Freedom at midnight? Naaaahhh .... freedom at midday actually :)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Saturday morning

Woke up early to a beautiful day. I opened the door to the terrace, pulled back the curtains a little and thought of sleeping for another hour or so. However, the blue of the sky and the gentle early morning breeze was too tantalizing to let me just lie around in bed.

Got up. Made myself breakfast.

Have almost perfected the poha:
pour out the beaten rice in a bowl, soak it
let it soak while you chop and dice the chillies, tomatoes and onions (in that order)
pour out some of haldiram's "aloo lachcha" (similar to bengali aloo bhaja) and some fried ground nuts in a bowl
put the frying pan on the stove, and pour out some oil
wait for the oil to heat and put in one dried red chilly torn in two
pour in a mix of 5 spices ... just a lil (panch phuron)
next add the onions ... and once they are fried crisp, the tomotoes and chillies
stir the stuff till everything is well done
The beaten rice will be soft by now... add that to the pan
Add turmeric powder, salt and a hint of chilli powder
Add just a little more water and mix everything in properly.
Put it aside .... and make yourself a glass of delicious chocolate milk shake to have with that ... just chilled milk works as well :)

Post poha and chilled chocolate milk, decided to soak in a little more of the silence ... logged on and read a couple of blogs and decided to add a few bytes myself .... hence the recipe.

This isn't really what I have been intending to write about. It is just that the morning is way too tranquil. The other stuff will just have to wait!

Monday, August 14, 2006

Hope (or the lack thereof)

"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth."

-Abraham Lincoln

Take it out of context, and this may very well be the definition of communism as well ... if I understand the two systems that is.

Frankly, I think that for all our iron curtains and Berlin walls, as Billy Joel so aptly put it:

"shades of gray wherever I go
the more I find out the less that I know
black and white is how it should be
but shades of gray are the colors I see"

-Billy Joel

Though we like to think of different ideologies as being well ... different? Some fundamental things remain the same. Perhaps the biggest difference between these two approaches to governance is the right of the individual ... which, theoretically is better protected in a democracy:
The right to be heard. No! Make that the right to talk ... a listener is not guranteed under this right really.
The right to have your opinion or vote counted ... though at the end, it is the sum of the votes that decides ... which means that on the whole, the collective will is the only will that shall be heard.

I often wonder whether deciding on the winner based on a count of votes is akin to saying that if the two parties were to fight it out, one on one, the one with numerical superiorty would be the more likely winner so why get into the gory stuff ... but then that leaves out factors like the physical strength of the members of the parties involved, their intelligence, their ability to plan, the weapons and other resources available and so on ... which perhaps one may argue is exactly what a vote rules out ... opinions are the only deciding factor and everything else gets ruled out in an election ... but doesn't that make it a very flawed version of might is right ... which in this case is just abstracted to a numerical might?

What pains me is that somehow, with democracy, we as a race appear to have decided that we have reached the pinnacle of thought as far as systems of governance are concerned. That bothers me .. for unlike science and even commerce for that matter, where we strive to improve things every day, from a social perspective, we appear to have reached a sense of complacency, and a sort of status quo has resulted because of that.

If you were to judge political and social systems based only on their ability to provide stability, in modern times, democracy has outlived everything else. But one should keep in mind that democracy takes into account some of the flaws in the other systems and compensates for them. Hence, by having an election every 5 years, it ensures that the ruling party may change every 5 years, while the overall political system remains unchanged. By ensuring that the same person cannot be re-elected more than twice, it ensures that we do not end up in a monarchy ... though it leaves space for the same party to remain in office under a different leader to ensure the consistency of governance and ideology.

So, democracy works because it allows certain things to change frequently (as fast as people get dissatisfied and disillusioned) while allowing certain fundamental aspects to remain unchanged. Certainly beautiful, but hard to believe that it is perfect.

Another important reason for the success of democracy is that it gives people the illusion (and to an extent the actual power) to contribute to their own governance ... though with so many levels of delegation, it is really an abstraction of an abstraction ...

The right to be heard ... or to talk is another huge reason for its success. A system that allows dissent and brings it into the perview of the system is nothing short of pure genius. It is like failsafe software ... it builds in a self correcting mechanism that allows the system to change from within. In the short term, it also allows people to vent their feelings verbally without resorting to more violent means.

Brilliant ... effective and all that ... but still not perfect. Whenever I look around I see too much violence and other things to believe that it is. Perhaps, that brings us to JFKs addendum to Abraham Lincoln's quotation:

"And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

This statement is what really brings it home ... the term "people" is really talking of numbers .. large numbers ... large, unpredictable numbers. JFK takes that term, turns it around and puts it on its head! What the people? Who the #$%#@ people?

You dammit! ... and I!! ... the individual!!!

Perhaps we should re-read the first quote as .. a government of the individual, for the individual, by the individual ...

But if it is an individual that we are talking about than what governance? Isn't this like a catch 22?

so here we are ... version 3 of the first quotation:
... a government/governance of me, for me, by me ...

(please dont mind the grammar. I request you to remember that a language is only meant to convey ideas and once the idea is understood, the words can be forgotten... and if you haven't got the idea yet ... well :) its a free world so who am I to tell you what to do?)

and so we were passing the buck all along till the buck came rolling and sat splat on your doorstep (check if no one is wathing and roll it off again! what!!)

On the eve of our independence day, conversations at the canteen revolved around themes like democracy and corruption and where our country is headed. We realized that we are all willing to fight for it ... and at the same time, there is .. at least for me personally and for many others I am sure, a feeling of utter hopelessness and helplessness.

Here we are in a country with a million and one critical issues that are crying out to be resolved at the earliest ... but all we have is a set of politicians who can look no further than themselves ... and so the most critical and important of bills are the ones that ensure that the politicians can retain offices of profit, and a reservations bill to ensure that the current party remains in office for all eternity by playing the divide and rule card that we have so well adopted that we can call it our own ... not to mention the bill for the amendment of the right to information act ...

This when the same set of people cannot decide on something as fundamental as to whether helmets should be made compulsory for two-wheeler riders ... though they are dying by the dozens each day around the country ... not to mention what the future of public transport should look like ... and then there are the airports that are always getting built ...

I wouldn't even go so far as to hope for running tap water everyday, electricity on weekends, roads with fewer potholes, fewer stray dogs to chase me home at night, fewer cases of mugging and violence on the streets ...

And what can the govenment do anyway when each of us is well ... a shade of gray .. lighter or darker depending on the day and time when we take the rain check ...

I do wish some things would stop though ...
like my neighbors would ensure that their dog does not doo at my gate (or anyone elses for that matter)
that when people clean their houses, they ensure that the garbage is collected and thrown into a garbage bin instead of the next porch ...
that when the person repairing my sump says it shall be done in 4 days, it takes a little less than a month
that when a person is overtaking from the wrong side, even if they happen to have the bigger car, they do not frown, and honk and shout as well ...

:) not very nice .. coming up with lists ... especially when people have already complained about the length of my blogs ... yeah and this is one would be one hell of a long list. (Not listing out!!!)

Perhaps, it would help if we all took a little more pride in being human first and then perhaps being an Indian ... and then whatever else ... but pride yes. and perhaps if we are not asking for too much here ... some thoughtfulness?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

writer's block?

Nah ... just a little short on time ... I don't think you get such blocks unless you write for money ... when you have deadlines to meet and stuff to churn out ... but within a fixed time ... whether you like it or not. Today I think I'll say it with pictures :) Found some of my digital art lying around in a folder that I was about to delete!

Maybe I'll write a lil on each pic :)

This one is called "The well". What is not apparent in this is that in the actual drawing, the canvas is actually about twice the size of the drawing. The drawing is truncated on the right, and a space equal to that of the drawing is left blank. I don't think I want to explain why. The viewer is left to think about it.

This one is called "sunset". It is what it claims to be. A sunset. The silhouette of a hill against the backdrop of a bright sky ...

An experiment with 3D representation and effect of lights and shadows ... the light source is assumed to be on the top-left portion of the image.

And the last one ... my all time favorite .... this one is called "choices". I have a few other versions of this drawing. Consider at any point in life, when we are taking a major decision. It is like standing on one side or the other. We do not know what is on the other side till we get there. Now, what do we weigh the risk of falling into the chasm against ...

It's actually pretty convoluted ... I'll leave it at that. Go figure!