Why Indians Need Real Idols, not pretentious ones

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Why Indians Need Real Idols, not pretentious ones

The pretentiousness and shallowness of many Indians can be really overwhelming.

sultan may have been a great movie, but I won’t know because I won’t be watching it. Not in theatres, or on TV subsequently, for obvious reasons. It’s not the movie I’m against, but the encouragement of wrong. But should that bother fellow Indians?

What should bother us, is that we are the same people who were furious when vijay mallya fled the country.

And we are the same people who, despite salman khan’s wrongdoings and ego, continue to encourage him by supporting him, by watching his movies and making him even more full of himself than he already is.

Now, there is a marble plaque installed by him on a traffic island outside Mehboob Studio. In memory of, (beat this!), his two dogs that died about 7 years ago. And what’s so important about those dogs? Nothing, apart from the fact that they were his pets. The plaque itself, approved by a local BMC ward, was installed about 2 weeks ago. Less than 700 metres from the spot of his infamous hit-and-run. [link]

I love dogs. And out of admiration for ‘man’s best friends’, I have read a fair amount about memorials for dogs all over the world. But those memorials were for exceptional and distinguished ones; those who either served in a war or with the police, in narcotics or anti-terror divisions of the forces, or saved multiple lives, or bravely sacrificed themselves saving or protecting children, etc.

Yet, in a country where even our human war heroes, police martyrs and civilians who have lived for social causes fight for remembrance and recognition of their exceptional sacrifices, we choose to make heroes of smaller people, and their pets.

It is not that our heroes don’t deserve our country. After all, we have been blessed to have been born in one of the greatest countries in the world, and our heroes undeniably loved it more than we can imagine.

It is, shamefully, that we Indians don’t deserve our heroes, for our respect and loyalty are invested in petty mortals.

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Let’s Go Back to the Future

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Let’s Go Back to the Future

Last night, on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi‘s birth anniversary, I came across an article titled ‘Where was Gandhiji born? Only 4 out of 10 gave the correct answer.’ [link]

What was the big deal anyway? While my outlook is not even half as non-violent as the Mahatma’s,  I have utmost respect for him.

But for questions like when was someone born, or where? History? I always seemed to have had a problem with History. Beyond doubt, History has a lot to offer us. After all, we cannot afford to figure out, experiment, and make all the mistakes ourselves. Things that have worked, or that haven’t; how lives have evolved, etc. all help us with decisions of today. History also inspires us. It tells us about something that has probably never been done before. Or, that people have tried but have all failed. It indirectly challenges people like you and me to prove History wrong. By knowing what is impossible, we can strive to make it possible.

History #1

On the flip side, I guess we humans also saw in History, that the problem of global warming did not exist till the late 19th century; and unfortunately, we seem to have taken it upon ourselves to change that too.

While growing up, what we were often taught in the name of History, was little short of nothing. I remember being scared before history tests. Struggling to remember dates and events. That is what was most focused upon. Who was someone’s husband or wife; or third wife or fourth husband of the second son or daughter? More confusing than my own family tree, which I still have a lot of trouble figuring out. Or when was this battle fought? Would you care, if you have trouble remembering your own spouse’s birthday. If not for family and friends, I’d probably have forgotten my birthday a long time ago.

History #2

Instead, History is actually a brilliant opportunity to teach children about life, the evolution of life, and so on. Teach them more about various cultures and religions; so that we come to respect cultures and religions better. To cultivate better understanding in them by asking them what they would have done in a similar situations from history. To encourage ideas and challenge children about things that were considered impossible up until now. 

And all the energy and brain-space we would save by not having to remember the ‘whats’ and ‘whens’ of history, can then be focused to understand the ‘why’ and ‘why not’ instead. Isn’t that what the Mahatma did? Change History?

History #3 - lego-gandhi

Image: Link

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Question the Question

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Question the Question

Here’s a thought.. And I welcome your thoughts in return..

Back when I was in the ninth standard/grade in school, while I wasn’t too bright in studies. With the exception of Math and Physics. In those two, I was competing for between the 6th and 9th position in class. They weren’t subjects I had to study or know. It just somehow came logically.

Feeling comfortably confident while preparing for a Physics exam, I got thinking about the kind of questions I would have asked, had I got a chance to set the paper. I did manage to frame quite a few interesting and not-so-direct questions. I was glad that I also managed to answer my tricky questions.

Then something struck.

It dawned on me that it isn’t very easy to frame intelligent questions. And that I wouldn’t have been able to do so had I not known the subject well. Considering I hadn’t had similar luck with a lot of other subjects at the time or even later.

Voltaire knew what he was saying when he urged us all to “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”

book question mark

image: wizrocklopedia

The way I see it, all of us are trying to be experts at one or more things. Which is a good thing. But we aren’t experts when we think we know the answers. We become experts whenever we frame the right questions. It is because questions set us on the right course. Answers, on the other hand are abundant and commonplace. Most importantly, answers frequently change too. Hence the importance on questions.

Don’t believe me, ask someone for their views on a topic or question close to your heart. With the limited information you give them, you’d be amazed at all the confident advice you receive. But if they’re not initially replying to your question with some intelligent questions of their own, you can safely assume one of two things: either they’re experts and have done some thinking around that space recently; or they haven’t a clue.

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Two Sides of The Same…Country

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Two Sides of The Same…Country

Little over a decade ago, I had just learnt how to drive a car, and, sorry; I must learn to be specific. I had learnt to drive a car in India. Yes, here, it takes more effort, selfless commitment, definitely more skill, and sheer bravery to even just want to learn to drive a vehicle here, let alone actually drive.

24122010054

Not even attempting to give you an idea of what it takes, here’s a picture I took on a holiday in Rajasthan a few years ago.

That said, every once in a while, random scenarios would pop up in my head. About what if I was driving and ‘this’ happened, or, how would I react if someone on the street did ‘something like that’. It was probably a natural part of getting accustomed to the newly acquired skill and to getting used to how perspective changes when you are behind the wheel.

I remember one of the ‘possible scenarios’ was about who would be to blame. Say, if a vehicle was driving within the speed limit, and if it were to inadvertently hit someone who decided to dart across the street at the last second. It would give the driver almost no time to react. So could the driver be blamed for the fault of a reckless pedestrian? One who, well knowing the risks, still decided to test their luck? The answer came back a resonating, ‘no‘. The driver could not be blamed. I then reassured myself with the example of trains. Trains travel at specific speeds, and have considerably large stopping distances. So if someone decided to cross the track when a train was close, and got run over, it couldn’t possibly be the engine driver’s fault? Knowing well that crossing tracks is unsafe, and that crossing streets recklessly, equally so.

It all seemed fine. Till yesterday. Yesterday, a speeding train in the state of Bihar in North India, ran over 37 [yes, you read correctly; thirty-seven] pilgrims who were crossing the track at the time. It was tragic. And it was the fault of the pilgrims. But for those who of you who don’t know what followed, angry crowds nearby went on a rampage, setting the train on fire, and attacking and killing one of the engine drivers, leaving the other one in a critical condition. [the news article]

So my theories on ‘who’s to blame’ went out the window. India. A superpower. Among the most promising economies, is still incapable of identifying who’s at fault in something as obvious as this unfortunate incident. It also gives one a glimpse into who we are. Not who we are capable of being, but instead, of who we have stooped to become. Hopefully not for long though. Knowing risks, we’ll still expect the other person to take preventive measures, while we try to kiss a runaway train, while we try to break Border Collies speed records while crossing before speeding cars. Yes, that’s who we have somehow become.

However, and incidentally yesterday itself, there was a story that ended the day on a note of optimism. Bombay’s public bus transport service, the BEST, has been infamous for menacing drivers who break signals, who have run over pedestrians, and damaged vehicles as well. In my family itself, we have two to three horrifying incidents to narrate. Of how BEST’s impatient drivers have damaged our cars just because they were in a blind frenzy to zip through bus stops and go home.

best-bus
BEST_Bus_Mumbai

But last night was different. I was driving mom to the market to pick up some groceries. The road I was on, required me to take a right turn to get into the market lane. However, before I could take the turn, there were vehicles coming from the opposite side, and passing my car on my right side. I had to wait with the indicator on, as 5-6 cars whizzed past. A BEST bus was approaching too. While I could have quickly made the turn, knowing them well, I decided to wait for him and the few cars behind him to pass. However, to my complete surprise, he stopped the bus, and signaled for me to take the turn, while cars patiently waited behind him. Still confused, I made the turn, mom still wondering if that had actually happened. Thank you, Mr. BEST driver, for the pleasant surprise.!

Well, we all have it in us to change. We all have it in us to make a positive difference. It all comes down to us deciding to make that choice.

I’ll leave you to think about this, with a quote immortalized by Rocky Balboa in Rocky IV.

“If I can change, and you can change, everybody can change.”

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Time For Us To Bhaag

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Time For Us To Bhaag

In continuation to my previous post on Milkha Singh and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag [BMB], here is another small piece in connection with an article doing the rounds about how Milkha Singh never held the 400m World title [link], as portrayed in BMB. [Again, ‘Bhaag’ is Hindi for ‘run’]

In humble defense, all I’d like to say without getting into specifics, is that maybe he never broke a world record, or maybe he broke some record where there were three runners ahead of him who also broke the same record, which of course still doesn’t give him claim to something he didn’t win. Maybe the record was at an altitude, or the 400 m then wasn’t exactly 400 m (it was sometimes measured it in yards). And, Milkha Singh himself has said that only about 80% of the movie is factual. And given his humble background and sincerity, I doubt he would have allowed or given wrong facts. So, hoping that now we’re all agreed on that, allow me a few minutes to share my view of the movie, about why I feel Milkha Singh is so important, and about an important underlying concept.

For a long time now, I have believed that we Indians are quite a pretentious lot.

Take Ratan Tata for example; an outstanding businessman and gentleman who is admired by most, if not all of us. But, the hurdles we as a country have placed before him don’t quite add up. Be it with setting up of an auto plant for the Nano in W. Bengal, or problems with their repeated desire to re-enter the airline business. Can you think of any similar hurdles faced by corrupt businessmen? I can’t. And yet, other influential groups even pull-off successful IPOs with no actual business to show.

Some entrepreneur circles have some often repeated (and increasingly boring!) questions. They include ‘when will India give the likes of a Google, Apple or Facebook to the world?’ Or ‘will India be able to build one of the greatest businesses of the world’? The problem is that these questions, just like the pretentious outlook, are superficial.

Indians have helped build some of the greatest global companies. Some stats for the uninitiated: 12% scientists and 38% doctors in the US are Indians. 36% of NASA employees, 34% at Microsoft, 28% at IBM, 17% at Intel and 13% at Xerox are Indians. And these stats are from way back in 2008.

So, again, it isn’t that Indians are not capable. But perhaps many Indians in India seem to have a crab-like mentality rather than one of encouragement and support. And reality continues to be quite distorted for a lot of us.

We spend considerable time trying to lay a claim to fame in every world event imaginable. Don’t believe me, try these:

  • Britain’s royal baby will have a karmic connection with India, an astro-numerologist predicts
  • There was an Indian connection in the delivery of Britain’s new prince – One of the doctors present at the birth of Prince William and wife Kate’s first child was Sunit Godambe, who grew up in Mumbai (India)
  • Last financial year, Red Hat became the first Linux vendor to breach the $1-billion revenue mark, recording $1.3 billion. This growth story has a strong India connect
  • Scientists testing saliva samples from Prince William’s relatives discovered a direct link between the future king and a woman who was part-Indian
  • Nobel laureate, Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer has an India connection – he came to Bhopal immediately after the gas tragedy to express solidarity with the victims, noted Malayalam poet K Satchidanandan
  • God particle: ‘India is like a historic father of the project’
  • There’s an Indian connection in 4 films with 36 Oscar nominations

We claim from a distance. And yet, we often fail to see or acknowledge legends walking amongst us. We give our lives, money and time for cricket, and yet curse and scorn when the hockey team doesn’t qualify for an event. We seem to have taken ‘freedom of speech’ the wrong way around. It does not mean we sit pretty on our couches and ridicule and brush aside the important, and hang out our drooling tongues for an international spotlight. It is about knowing what is right, what is important, what is fair, and what is inconsequential.

BMB is not about a claimed shot at breaking a world record. It is about how a ‘nobody’ with an unimaginably horrific childhood, overcomes, pursues and persists to win. And makes India a little bit more well-known, the world over. A tale of inspiration, introspection and encouragement.

It is ironic, that a Pakistani general conferred the title of ‘The Flying Sikh’ to Milkha Singh soon after a race in which he defeated Pakistan’s own Asia champion; yet here we, not so proud but quite cynical and underplaying. We are arguing over facts in a movie, albeit important ones. But in the process, we are losing sight of greater lessons that can be learnt from a glimpse into his life.

So for starters, let’s just stop simply laying claim to events, people or successes, however remote. Let us change. Let us create, and work together, in such a manner, that when we have something wonderful and new to offer, the world will take notice and itself shout out about the Indian source or contribution.

Running

Spread A Message

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The Delhi gang rape incident is still fresh in the minds of many. An intolerable mix of anger and helplessness is how I remember the incident.

A few days after that angel from the Delhi gang rape succumbed to her injuries, a friend informed me about a peace protest that was taking place here in Bombay. I was caught up with some work and was unable to make it. Regretting not being able to participate, I then thought I’d try something else to protest, to convey the message that a lot of Delhiites were trying to convey in the mind-numbing winter cold, and for days on end. Here’s what I came up with. These are posters that I made that night, and that were on my car for almost a month since, before my family asked me to take them off because they didn’t like the attention the car got when they were traveling with me.

Make India safe for women

Teach your sons to behave
Respect women

Sure it was initially very, very awkward, with people staring at my car. But the cause and the purpose of it overshadowed the uncomfortable feeling quickly. And while I was doing what anyone at the peace-protest was, this way I could  protest for longer, and I got to cover more geographical area while driving around town.

Now, this brings me to another thought. Most of the heinous crimes are usually committed by illiterate men, but instances of household violence, eve-teasing and harassment at work, etc. tend to come from the literate, well-read and even the rich and famous. And if just posters could reform anyone, the world would have already been a lot better than it is. So, what I hoped to achieve by keeping the posters on long enough, was to have connected with like-minded people whom I could work with to find a workable solution to make India safe for women.

Now, with the posters gone, I’m essentially back at the drawing board with regard to figuring out a solution, but here are a few of the encouraging responses I got while the posters were still on:

  • I was at a company’s office on invitation, to address their team on strategy. While driving out of their office building, the security guard there asked me what the posters conveyed; he then appreciated the messages and said I was doing a good thing
  • An employee at a very popular cafe, who was helping me park outside the cafe into a tight parking spot, was thrilled on reading the messages. He shook my hand vigorously while praising the messages with a ‘you’re doing the right thing’ look. I gulped at the unexpected but encouraging reaction, as I thanked him
  • A girl sitting in an adjoining taxi while I was waiting at a signal light looked pleased. She instantly sat up in her seat, almost magically pulled out a camera and took a snap
  • This one took the cake. I was stuck in peak traffic at a place where 7 roads merged at a circle  (with no signals functioning). I noticed a car zip from behind me to my right, dodge a car or two and manage to line up on my side. The driver pulled down the window, honked to draw my attention, pointed to the posters and gave me an encouraging ‘thumbs up’, before vanishing into the sea of traffic

People still care. We all care a lot about such a cause. Everyone cares about their wives, sisters, daughters and mothers. All we need, is to take some time, work together, to find a solution, and to implement it. We have to do it. No one else will.

If you feel you have workable ideas or suggestions to make our country (and other countries) safer, I’d love to hear from you. It’ll be even better if we could discuss (over coffee, via email or any which way that works for you) and see if we can come up with a workable & easily replicable solution. You can reach me at shrutinshetty@gmail.com, or on Twitter @shrutinshetty.

I’ll leave you with this beautiful and touching sand art by Hari Krishna in memory of the Angel who was the victim of the Delhi gang rape.