It’s a crazy world we live in. This week, What Ho! unveils a brand new ranking of the world’s craziest countries, an exercise not dissimilar to that of Business Week’s famed MBA rankings.

The What Ho! top five world’s craziest countries this month are:

  1. Iraq
  2. Pakistan
  3. Nigeria
  4. Syria
  5. Russia

Top honors in our first ever ranking go to Iraq which won handily with an unanticipated but strong surge. According to reports, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda breakaway group, has seized the towns of Mosul and Tikrit with swift and stunning assaults, and is imminently poised to take Baghdad. Furious Republicans criticized President Obama for being caught off guard. “The President has been caught sleeping,” railed Sen. John McCain when asked if he thought that the President had been caught sleeping.

President Obama maintained his trademark detached-professorial demeanor by insisting that he hadn’t ruled anything out including leaving office peacefully in 2016. “Was I sleeping when this happened? Yes, but you’ve got to understand that this thing is happening in a different time zone, dude. Look, I’ve seen a lot of shit. I just can’t deal with any more shit. First Iraq. Then Arab Spring. Afghanistan. Somalian pirates. Benghazi. Taliban prisoner swap. Syria. Boko Haram. Republican Congress. Fox News. John McCain. And now, we’re back to Iraq. I don’t think any other President has dealt with as much insanity as I have. I’m quite happy to let the world go to hell. Screw everybody,” said the Prez as he nonchalantly chewed gum and shot hoops on the White House lawn.

While top honors went to Iraq, Pakistan finished a strong second by staving off stiff challenges from Nigeria and Syria with a timely, impressive attack by the Taliban on the Karachi airport. “When we first heard about What Ho!’s rankings, we were pretty excited. We knew that there was finally a list on which we had a shot at coming in on top. I must admit that I was worried for a while wondering how we could even begin to upstage Boko Haram and the Syrian civil war. Thankfully, the Boko Haram dudes eased off on kidnappings and for some weird reason, the Syrians stopped fighting among themselves and held elections. That was the break we needed. Pakistani Taliban then stepped up to the plate with a solid dose of randomness and we were able to clinch the second spot easily. I’ll admit that it’s going to be hard to top Iraq and Fox News in the months to come but I’ll be damned if we don’t give it a good go,” said an anonymous Pakistani person after repeated assurances that he would not be described as anonymous.

A Syrian spokesman read out a terse statement from President Bashar Assad to What Ho! which said, “We’re disappointed. The President took in a solid 88.7% in a sham election. We’ve released hardened criminals only because they voted for him. Of the 11.3 percent who didn’t vote for him, half are already on death row and the rest are headed there. If that’s not crazy, then you tell us what crazy is.” Our sources in Syria tell us that Assad may have “blundered by giving up his chemical weapons too early in the game. Frankly, the war was getting boring. The elections were a nice touch but only brought comic relief. It’s hard to see Syria coming closer to the top anytime soon.”

Philosophical resignation is setting in among the backers of the Troika of Evil – Iran, Venezuela and North Korea, countries once considered doyens of insanity. “The exit of Ahmadinejad is a blow from which Iran is unlikely to recover. I’d speculate that they are in a ‘reinventing themselves’ phase,” said an analyst whose inexplicable desire to monitor Iran’s nefarious activities consumes him on a daily basis. “Kim Jong Un is no Kim Jong Il. But he’s still a Kim I wouldn’t rule him out. He’s new and learning the ropes. Let’s give him some time and see,” said Dennis Rodman, a long-time, die hard North Korea backer. The entire country of Venezuela expressed disappointment at failing to make the top 5. “After Chavez, it’s like we don’t even exist anymore. It’s a sad day when the world thinks that Thailand is crazier than you. I miss dear Hugo,” sighed a middle-aged Venezuelan as she ducked to dodge gunfire from an adjoining street.

When asked for a reaction to Russia’s respectable fifth place finish, Vladimir Putin of Russia smiled enigmatically and said, “Amateurs make news. Pros make history. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet from me. The USSR is coming back, baby. One Crimea at a time.”

In a related development, What Ho! is keenly monitoring events in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India. “With daily rapes and murders and now gory hangings of teeenage girls, Uttar Pradesh ranks up there with the craziest of them. If only UP was a country by itself, this ranking could have been more exciting. It would be cool if they could add the occasional bombing to their repertoire,” said Wolf Blitzkrieg, a veteran journalist who has pursued a lifelong passion of living for extended periods in crazy countries and writing about them.

June 8, 2014

On Being a Hindu.

What is the Hindu Way of Life? Who is a Hindu? Here’s my take. Instead of writing, I’ve made a short video.

You can watch it at “On Being a Hindu”

Or here below.

I wrote the first edition of “Indian English phrases” a while back.  Check it out in case you haven’t read it. Here are two more which cry out for attention.

11.  “Baseless allegations”

This is usually the first, reflex response from any politician to anything that comes out of Arvind Kejriwal’s mouth. Its usage cuts across ideological, caste, creed and religious divides in India. So much so, this stock phrase stakes a pretty good claim to be India’s national phrase. Let’s dissect this one.

Allegation in itself means an assertion or a statement made without proof or basis in fact. “Baseless allegations” takes things to a whole new level ’cause it implies that things like “basefull” allegations and “baseless facts” exist.

Example:

Parent: Is it true that you didn’t turn in the homework at school yesterday? 
8th grader: I refuse to neither confirm nor deny what could be a basefull allegation.
 
One more.
 Scientist: Sir, what do you think of Darwin’s theory of evolution?
 Redneck Robbie: Garbage! Stop spreading such baseless facts.
 
And finally.
 Judge: How do you plead to charges of murder in the 2rd degree of the English language?
 AAP’s Ashutosh : Your Honor, these are baseless allegations. I had nothing to do with its untimely demise. By the way, I’d like to plead permanent insanity.

 

12. “Untimely Demise” [ And its first cousin, “Tragic demise.”]

I think this is a uniquely Indian thing. Often used to describe the sudden, unexpected or at times even widely anticipated death of anyone below the age of 80. Makes you wonder. Is there such a thing then as a “timely, delightful demise”? Aren’t all demises untimely and tragic? Especially if you view said demises through the lens of those undergoing demises?

No one ever goes, “Whatay awesome dude! His demise was perfectly timed. It isn’t all that tragic as you might think, In fact, we’re besides ourselves with joy.”

Purpose is a human concept. By that, I mean purpose exists only in the human realm. The existential “purpose of my life” question is a man-made construct. An oxygen atom doesn’t wake up in the morning and wonder “what the future holds for it” or “how it can be a good atom today.” The earth bears its burdens unquestioningly. The sun shines without fear or favor. Lions hunt neither because they have to meet their quarterly goals nor to become “well adjusted” lions. We, insignificant carbon life forms on a beautiful but largely anonymous planet, have come to believe in this thing called purpose. Is the flow of a river its purpose? Flowing is not the purpose of a river. Standing majestically tall is not the purpose of a great mountain. They are the things that define them. What is the thing that defines us? Is there one thing that defines all of us? Or are there many definitions for each one of us? The answers can only be personal.

Yet, all the “purposeless” things in the universe appear to be bound by a common spirit. By a common spirit, I mean a unifying thread. A medium which carries vibrations from one end of the universe all the way to the other. A spirit, once you sense it, can lift you to the stars and galaxies and all those wonderful places without even having to transcend space. The Vedas refer to it as the Parabrahman. Some like to call it God.

It is perhaps this religiosity that Einstein spoke about when replying to a child who asked him, “Do scientists pray?” It’s a wonderful exchange between the master and a child and I’d like to share it here. [Source: Brain Pickings ]

Letter from Phyllis, a sixth grader from New York.

The Riverside Church

January 19, 1936

My dear Dr. Einstein,

We have brought up the question: Do scientists pray? in our Sunday school class. It began by asking whether we could believe in both science and religion. We are writing to scientists and other important men, to try and have our own question answered. We will feel greatly honored if you will answer our question: Do scientists pray, and what do they pray for? We are in the sixth grade, Miss Ellis’s class.

Respectfully yours, Phyllis

einsteinAlbert Einstein replied in just 5 days.

January 24, 1936

Dear Phyllis,

I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer: Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.

However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.

But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

With cordial greetings, your A. Einstein

The raging debate over Smriti Irani’s “qualifications” to head the ministry for human resources and development misses a few critical points. The arguments have centered on Irani’s qualifications (charges of elitism, ignorance, etc.) but have not addressed the complexities of the job itself.

Here’s my attempt to separate and capture the issues.

First, about Irani and qualifications: Is she qualified to be a minister of anything in the first place? Corollary questions: What qualifies anyone for that matter to be a minister? How important is it to have college educated ministers?

Objectively speaking, Irani’s academic achievements are not exemplary. Depending on which version you pick, she’s either passed 12th standard or she’s completed a BA via correspondence. If it’s the latter, it does make me feel better (read more, I’ve explained why). If she is a 12th pass, does that rule her out automatically? Let’s park this question and evaluate her experience. Perhaps she has something exemplary in her experience.

Her work experience comprises modeling and acting in soap operas. She has held positions within BJP around women empowerment. She’s been a Rajya Sabha MP for a few years. She lost a well fought battle against the scion of the Dynasty. Her experience is not too shabby but there’s not much there to write home about either.

So do we rule her out? How about the intangibles?

While she hasn’t pursued a traditional career path, she’s displayed spunk and tenacity to get where she is today. She comes across as feisty and energetic and communicates well. She’s not corrupt (or largely clean, depending on which phrase you want to use). In a country that’s used to having lazy, corrupt, uncommunicative ministers thrust on it, her dogged persistence counts for a lot. It also speaks to the paucity of educated and energetic personalities in public service.

Dogged persistence. Is that enough to take a chance on an unproven performer? Is that enough to become a minister? The adventurous side of me says, “why not?” And to temper my enthusiasm, I look to see who’s recommending her to us. That happens to be Narendra Modi, who has displayed solid judgment in the past and has picked high performers out of obscurity during his tenure in Gujarat. That makes me feel better. These two add up to a yes in my book for Irani.

What qualifies anyone to be a minister? How important is it to have college educated ministers?

Conventional wisdom dictates that the “best” qualifications for a minister are: well educated (which implies a scientific temperament, rational decision making and long range planning skills), well rounded (ability to collaborate and build teams and consensus) and importantly, possess a strong desire to serve others. The last two traits are intangible and can only be demonstrated over time. The first qualification is typically measured in terms of level of education attained. One could establish a baseline requirement of a ‘college degree’ as minimum educational qualification for a ministerial role. The college degree requirement is not an arbitrary line in the sand. There are mountains of data which show (in developed economies) that college grads are more likely to make better decisions and be more productive compared to those who don’t go beyond high school. Data also shows that performance rises with educational levels significantly (ie MS/PhDs do better than Undergraduates) only in specific jobs like research and development, and academia, to name a couple. So, an undergraduate degree appears to be a reasonable line in the sand.

What complicates things here is that an Indian undergraduate degree is perceived to be, frankly, useless. Colleges in India do not foster independent thinking, decision making, scientific temperaments, etc. So the questions then become: Should we take the college degree requirement out for ministers? Or should we recognize that we need to do a lot more work to make an Indian college degree stand for something?

My position on this: I would as far as humanly possible pick only college educated MPs for ministerial roles. For one, it signals to the youth of this country that college education is important. Two, it is a “hygiene” issue. It brings additional capability to the table. Some lines have to be drawn in the sand. I don’t think it’s elitist to promote the cause of higher education in India. I’d like every Indian to aspire to completing college and not have that message diluted by appointing non-college grads to the Cabinet.

Second, about the job she’s been picked for: The Ministry for HRD in India handles K-12 (primary through high school) education and Higher Education (colleges, univs, vocational, etc.). If we agree that we have a broken system, as evidenced by how little respect an Indian college degree commands today, the fact that 30% of public school teachers don’t even turn up for work and many other sordid details that can be reeled off here, then we’d also agree that the job of fixing this is a gigantically complex task. Solutions range from operational aspects (eg how do I find/recruit/train great teachers and get them to show up?) to strategic, long term aspects (eg what do we do about millions who would probably benefit more from vocational hands-on training than going to college? How do I foster world class research in universities? ). Increasingly, technology is playing a critical role in education by enabling virtual classrooms, online self-paced learning, simulators for vocational training (check out @skillveri as an example), etc. The Minister’s job now requires being able to bring together policy and technology in a meaningful manner. It’s not an easy job if we want to get this right for future generations of Indians.

It’s going to take a foundational mindset and willingness to persist over a couple of decades to bear fruit. It’s hard to find the right person for this job. It’s even harder to make him/her successful given the way our politics works. It’s extremely unlikely that a young, inexperienced MP will make the kind of impact in this role that we need her to. More experienced candidates in more affluent countries with bigger budgets have struggled in such roles.

I wish the following had happened:

  1. Modi had taken a chance on Smriti Irani not in HRD, but another ministry,
  2. Modi had taken his time to figure out the right person for the HRD role.

My guess is that Irani will do well on the operational aspects thanks to her sheer energy and desire to be a star performer. ie lighting fires under babus, getting more accountability among truant teachers, making sure schools have toilets, electricity and other infra, etc. These are no doubt critical activities. What we will miss in Irani is the ability to look out a decade and make the long term investments required to take our system up a significant notch. Perhaps she should form a team of technocrats who will help her with that. It’s a competitive world. The sooner we make these long term investments, the better we will be off.

I feel that an opportunity has been lost. With the mandate that Modi has, he could have taken his time to pick a leader with administrative maturity and deep knowledge of the issues in education who can drive transformational change in Indian education. I don’t know who that person is. But that’s the reason we’ve voted for Modi – to find such people and make the right choices for our future. For far too long, HRD has been run by clowns who have done nothing more than tinker with textbooks and disrupt exam formats. I was hoping that this time, things would be different.

Manmohan Singh will soon exit after a decade as Prime Minister, the latter half of which many of us are unlikely to look back with fondness. There’s something about Manmohan Singh I’ve failed to grasp. A piece of the puzzle that continues to elude. WHY was he subservient to the dynasty? How does he justify (in his own mind) his extraordinarily passive approval of the worst pillage of the country seen since the East India company?

Those who possess his credentials (educational pedigree, experience and career success) are typically not pushovers. They tend to be opinionated. They tend to stand their ground. If not given an opportunity to express or implement their ideas freely, they will leave and seek to work with those who share a common vision. Singh is an anomaly. I find it incredible that a man of his capability and intellect allowed himself to be used practically as a door mat by the dynasty, which comprises a former waitress, a man whose intellect continues to be impeccably hidden and a woman whose most notable achievement has been to marry a sleazy businessman.

There aren’t many plausible theories that explain this anomaly. I can’t get myself to buy the ones which explain him as equally corrupt. I have one. I think it’s a weak one though.

Singh somehow convinced himself (undoubtedly aided by the dynasty) to put aside his dignity in (what he must have viewed as) the mother of all battles against “evil, communal” forces. So convinced he was about his role in preserving the Nehruvian legacy that he lent not just his name and time to this cause but surrendered his dignity and own mind in the process. Corruption, he convinced himself, either didn’t happen or they were perpetrated by coalition partners. And the benefits of looking the other way outweighed the costs of confrontation and potential opening of the doors to those evil forces which represented the ultimate anti-thesis of Nehruvian secularism to be allowed back into power.

Manmohan Singh was no accidental Prime Minister. I think that he made very deliberate choices. I will speculate that he saw himself as a tragic hero of Greek proportions, a Prometheus tolerating misfortune for the overall good of many. It is unfortunate that he allowed his decency and stature to be used as a shield by the corrupt and the incompetent. So much so that that Jawaharlal Nehru, I will wager, would have severely disapproved of his lopsided trade-off. I hope Singh feels at least a smidgeon of the disappointment felt by his fellow citizens about the lost decade, as he walks off into the sunset. Because he, in spite of being the good man that I’d like to think he was, failed spectacularly to achieve the overall good of many. God bless you, Manmohan Singh. But I, for one, am relieved that you will be gone.

This is premature. Narendra Modi is not the Prime Minister yet. The results are not out. Given their past track record, exit polls in India have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Yet, it is safe to say that the chaiwallah from Gujarat has more than even odds of becoming the nation’s next Prime Minister.

What if Narendra Modi became Prime Minister? Are we in for a bout of rabid, saffron flag waving, chest thumping five years of Hindutva with mandirs coming up at the drop of a hat? Will there be riots every Tuesday? Are we in for a fascist governmental style which favors big business at the detriment of the rest and eventually leads to a totalitarian, military regime? Are we win for a Nazi style Hindu supremacy thing? Or are we merely in for a period in which we attempt to get back on our feet economically after the enormous damage caused by UPA2?

First, let me get the ugly stuff out of the way. There hangs a huge question mark over Modi when it comes to minority protection and rights. In my opinion, he simply hasn’t done or said enough or worked hard enough on it to assuage the nervousness of many, not just minorities, in this regard. The hope is that, as a Prime Minister, he will do precisely that. Not appeasement. Not mere reconciliation. But display a genuine understanding of the minority psyche and ensure that they fully participate in the economic success of the country. In short, I expect him to reach out first, not capitulate to political considerations and instead quell them, and thus demonstrate the qualities of a statesman.

Second, Modi’s approach to inclusive growth in a country filled with hundreds of millions of citizens who live below the poverty line will be interesting to observe. I’m no economic expert but I expect that Modi will find it tricky to find that middle path that allows the economy to grow without saddling it with socioeconomic burdens and yet simultaneously invest in the youth of the country so it yields a return over the decades to come.

My sense is that Modi’s narcissism will get the better of any other potential negative traits. I’m nearly sure that he is the kind of man who eyes his place in history books. That he wishes to be acclaimed as the man who arose from humble origins to become the greatest Prime Minister that the world’s largest democracy has ever seen. I will confidently predict that Modi will focus on making his mark in the history books. And so he will elevate himself to statesmanship if not for anything but to achieve this goal. I think he has a great opportunity to succeed. Let’s hope that he gets that opportunity.

March 10, 2014

God and Happiness

Does God exist? Is God a man or a woman or even human for that matter? Does he keep tabs and protect the good and punish the bad? What is good? What is bad? Should I believe the words of self-appointed spokespeople who claim to have conversed with God? Does it make sense that God would speak to a few and not to the rest? Is God logical? Or is He fickle and arbitrary and opinionated like his spokespeople make Him out to be? If He is really fickle and arbitrary and opinionated like He’s made out to be, shouldn’t such a God be deposed and not worshipped? Or perhaps, is he the non-judgmental, all observing One? Or perhaps he’s the Spirit? The Spirit who resides in everything and connects everything and yet detached from everything? The One you can hear when you listen closely to the heart beat of this universe? The One whose presence you sense in the mighty distant stars and the frail ant alike? Is He the One who hugs us when we are happy? The one whose hand we feel on our shoulders in grief? Is He just a comforting notion and nothing more?

I don’t know.

Does it matter what the answers are? What do we really want? We want to be happy. So let’s pursue happiness.

Happiness is the sun. It’s right there in front of our eyes. God’s the distant galaxy, nebulous and fading in and out of sight. Maybe we should get to the sun first. If we tried, maybe we will learn something about ourselves. Maybe we will learn humility. Maybe it will make us light and strong. So light and so strong that… perhaps … perhaps someday we will make an effortless leap to the distant elusive galaxy called God. Perhaps we will not feel the need to make that leap when that moment arrives because we’re already there.

From the diary of Arvind Kejriwal.

Jan 13, 2014

Bharat mata ki jai.

Yesterday I met Chetan Bhagat. He’s an IIT Delhi boy. I tried to dodge him but he showed up at the doorstep and started ringing the bell like a vacuum cleaner salesman. He also ended up eating my lunch from my dabba. Smug fellow. He gave me advice on how to start a party, win elections and launch a revolution. I asked him if he had any experience in doing any of this. He told me that he once advised the Thai government on something. He has also written a book called Revolution 2020. Good boy but I’m afraid that he does not appear very bright. Got very low GPA in IIT. Five-point something apparently. He doesn’t get it. He’s writing books and doing online polls. I’m doing the real thing.

Cleaned my office today. Found Sheila Dikshit’s conscience hidden in the lowest drawer of my table under a lot of dusty files. God only knows how long it’s been there.

More and more people are joining the movement. Many of them are Naxals, according to Yogendra and Prashant. They say it like it’s a good thing. Did I mention that these two are beginning to worry me? Like a lot? I remember seeing a movie called the Truman Show. It’s about a guy whose life is a constructed reality show made for TV. I think I might be Truman. Is this all a media constructed reality show? Or is something real going on? Will these people abandon me when they find the next big story? I’m worried. Justice Katju called me. I was shocked to hear him say that 90% of aam aadmis are idiots. I hope to God that’s not true. Else I’m in deep trouble.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing the right things. But I felt pretty good about giving away  free water. YOLO baby. Carpe diem. BTW, we got got 4822 queries in the janta darbar yesterday. 4792 were queries asking ‘Muffler ke peeche kya hai?’. No more janta darbars. Katju is right.

I really want to make a difference. God, please give me the strength to change that which can be changed, to accept that which cannot be changed and the wisdom to tell the difference by asking the opinion of random aam aadmis via SMS.

God bless India. Bharat mata ki jai. Jai Hind. Good night.

*********

‘The Secret Life of Arvind Kejriwal’ is an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the life of Mr. Arvind Kejriwal brought to you by What Ho! in partnership with nothing more than a vivid imagination and a sense of humor. 4 out of 5 Jal Board Officials recommend reading this. You can follow The Secret Life of Arvind Kejriwal on Twitter @fakeriwal

You might also enjoy ‘The Secret Life of Arvind Kejriwal: OMG, the revolution is happening.’

From the diary of Arvind Kejriwal.

Jan 12, 2014.

Dear diary,

I can’t believe I’ve come this far. It’s scary. I’m feeling a lot of pressure. I don’t want to make bad decisions. I don’t want to let the people down. Please help me God. I love India. I want to do good things for her. I truly do.

I would love to nail the Congress blokes in the CWG scam. But I have taken their support to become CM. If I go after them, they will kick me out of the CM office. I don’t want to get kicked out of the CM office. Think about it. We just packed our stuff and moved homes. Oh God, I really don’t want to move again. Not for another 6 months at least. Family will be very unhappy with me if that happens. I hope people will understand my situation. Work-life balance is important, no?

Yogendra worries me. It’s like he’s in love with me. The other day, he called me ‘the tallest leader’ in AAP. And I’m just 5ft 8in. Scary, scary Brokeback Mountain bromance stuff. I wonder about Shazia too. Let’s hope that she’s not some crazy psycho like Sonam in Raanjhana who ends up taking revenge on Kumar Vishwas in some gory finale. Speaking of Kumar, he scares me the most. I never make eye contact with him. If I do, I feel like he’ll make me read his poetry.

By the way, I discovered the original Abhishek Singhvi DVD in the CM office. It seems to have been shot in 3D and Blu-Ray. Wow. It was right under a folder marked “CWG SCAM AND COVER UP. CONFIDENTIAL. EXPLOSIVE. DO NOT OPEN UNLESS YOU WANT TO SEND CONGRESS PEOPLE TO JAIL.” All appointments and janta darbars for Monday cancelled. This ought to be interesting.

The movement is gaining momentum. The revolution is spreading. All kinds of people are quitting their jobs and joining me. I hope to God that they know what they are doing ’cause I am not sure if I do. The way things are going, I think we have a fair shot at installing Prashant Bhushan as Prime Minister of Pakistan.

BTW, what’s all the fuss about Devyani? If I had been the PM, I’d have simply given 1000L of water free every day to the Delhi US Consulate and defused the situation long back.

God, please help me. I promise to do my best. Bharat mata ki jai. I love you, India. Jai Hind. Good night.

*********

‘The Secret Life of Arvind Kejriwal’ is an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the life of Mr. Arvind Kejriwal brought to you by What Ho! in partnership with nothing more than a vivid imagination and a sense of humor. 4 out of 5 Jal Board Officials recommend reading this. You can follow The Secret Life of Arvind Kejriwal on Twitter@fakeriwal

Also read “Free stuff is good. YOLO baby.

January 10, 2014

Age is just a number.

swing2

I’m coming up on a birthday soon. It’s hard to not connect birthdays to aging once you reach the mid-forties. 46. Is that really how old I am?

Let’s take a closer look.

The youngest atom in the body is more than a billion years old. Hydrogen, the most abundantly found element, is nearly 14 billion years old and was produced during the Big Bang. Carbon and oxygen atoms are between 7 and 10 billion years old. In other words, we are really really ancient. What’s another 20 or 46 or 72 years in this cosmic scheme of things?

So how old did you say I was?

Cells in our body die every second and new ones replace them. In a sense, we are re-created with each passing moment. A liver refreshes itself in 3 months. Taste buds in 2 weeks. The lung’s surface in 3 weeks. The heart refreshes 2-3 times over a lifetime. Cells in the intestine in 2 days. In fact, only our eyes are as old are we are, not undergoing transformation over time.

So we are made of ancient cosmic dust but renew ourselves in some cases as often as every 2 days and sometimes never?

So, tell me again. How old did you say I was?

Each of us, like a chicken, started off as an egg. From the egg that came from our mothers, that is. The thing about a human egg is that it is formed when the mother herself is an embryo. And we could argue that the formation of the egg, half of which contributed to each of us, is technically our first moment of existence. So, if your mother had you at 25 years of age, and you are 30 years old, technically you are ( 30 + 25 = ) 55 years old.

46 years. 2 days. 14 billion years. Add your mom’s age to yours. Take your pick.  I told you that age is just a number.

And happy birthday to you too (for whenever the day comes). Remember that you are this newborn baby that has existed since the beginning of time and will last till the end of it. Many happy returns of infinity to you.

January 7, 2014

The Rule of Three

There is an old thumb rule in the tech industry which says that you can get at most only two out of performance, quality and price in any given product. For example, if you get low price and high performance, chances are that the product is sold by an inferior brand. If the product is sold by a great brand for a low price, then it’s likely that its features are limited. And so on. I call this the rule of three.

There may be a similar rule that applies to leaders, especially the political ones. I think you can get at most only two out of charisma, integrity and performance in a leader. By charisma, I mean an intrinsically trustworthy and likable person who has the ability to inspire large numbers of people. Manmohan Singh, for example, is not a charismatic leader. Ronald Reagan was a charismatic leader. By integrity, I mean things like not being corrupt, honesty, truthfulness and similar traits. Bill Clinton, for example, would not rank high on the integrity scale. By performance, I refer to an ability to govern and execute. Vajpayee’s stewardship of the national highways project, for example, is quoted often as an example of excellence in execution.

If we applied this model to Indian leaders, it seems to work well. Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were not the best of administrators. Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Narasimha Rao lacked charisma. Indira Gandhi lacked integrity. Atal Behari Vajpayee is the only one who comes somewhat close to having all three, which probably is why some consider him the greatest prime minister till date. Manmohan Singh displayed governance and integrity early in his career, as RBI governor and then Finance Minister. His last five years as Prime Minister are notable for their deficiency in all three areas of charisma, integrity and governance.

In 2014, we will likely evaluate three prime ministerial candidates: Arvind Kejriwal, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.  Kejriwal appears to possess charisma and of course, has built a campaign around his personal integrity. Inexperience in governance is his weakness. Narendra Modi scores on integrity and governance fronts, but comes across more as a polarizing force than a unifying one. Rahul Gandhi appears to be the straggler in this mix, possessing at best personal integrity and at worst, none of the three. That doesn’t bode well for Congress. If his party were to somehow win, it wouldn’t then bode well for the country. We can’t afford yet another leader who scores zero on three.

Can you think of any leader, either in politics or business, living or dead with all three? Please use the comments section to nominate.

January 5, 2014

Most Right Or Least Wrong?

One of the things we are told, nay coerced, to do well early in life is to be right. Being right is a big part of our education system. If you don’t get the right answer, you will lose points. Winners are those who get the most right answers and thus the maximum marks on tests. This approach works in the context of schools and colleges especially in science and maths where there is little or no ambiguity about the rightness of answers. And then we step out of these cocoons into the real world to discover that there is no such thing as an unambiguously right answer.

It’s little wonder that we are dissatisfied with how education prepares us for life. In fact, it does not prepare us for anything in particular. Not even work. In the real world, it’s not about locating the right answers. It’s about working with others towards finding the least wrong answers. It’s about asking the right questions. I’m not saying that we do away with math and sciences and the current methods of testing our skills in them. I’m saying that we ought to perhaps place more emphasis on the indiscernible. Perhaps we ought to help our children gain better appreciation of such concepts as ambiguity, uncertainty, context and perspective earlier in their lives. Perhaps we ought to have a system which rewards them for asking the right questions instead of finding the right answers.

Einstein described genius as the ability to hold conflicting thoughts in one’s head. He described genius as a state of mind which appreciates the relativity of truth, which is to say that there is a context intrinsic to truth. If we emphasized the absoluteness of truth less, perhaps we will create a society in which genius flourishes and is found to be in abundance. More importantly, we will perhaps create an environment in which people are kinder and gentler towards and less judgmental of their fellow citizens.

Thoughts?

December 24, 2013

Imagine living to be 200 years

As recently as 100 years back, human life expectancy at birth was a mere 31 years. Today the world average is around 67, and the average in many developed countries is above 75. But for most of history, life expectancy has been 30 years or less. Historically, a large number of humans have died before the age of 10. It is only as recently as 30,000 years back that “grandparents” first came about, which is to say that humans began living long enough to have three generations co-exist.

For most of our time on the planet, humans have not lived long enough to experience the problems of aging. We’ve just begun getting familiar with the social, psychological and economic consequences of aging in the last 30 to 40 years. And we have begun focusing our energies on finding cures for these new age ailments. We’re likely to find a cure for cancer within the next 20 years. When that happens, life expectancy will quickly surpass 100 years. Once life expectancy jumps to 100+, it is likely that humans will live long enough to intercept new breakthroughs in medical science (including prosthetics and artificial limbs) and it won’t be long before life expectancy touches 200 years. In fact, those who are younger than 40 years of age today are likely to live to be 100+ years and their children are likely to live to 200 years of age.

200 years! That is a long, long time. Imagine the consequences of being alive for 200 years. Presumably, people would work for at least 150+ years out of 200. This implies that people would potentially have 3 or 4 different careers in one lifetime. What would relationships look like? Would marriages last? Would friendships last? It’s likely that 6 – 8 generations will co-exist which would make it easier to transfer wisdom and experience across time. Conversely it would also mean that biases and prejudices of past generations would be carried forward interminably longer in time. What would be the impact of a longer life on our religious and philosophical moorings? Would living longer make us somehow less interested in the notion of God? Would it make us more stoic and less spontaneous, because we will have more time on our hands? Would they be more depressed or would they be happier? Would a longer life be a curse or a boon? Interesting questions.

December 21, 2013

Dhoom 3

dhoomthree

Yash Raj Films didn’t set out to win an Oscar when they started the Dhoom franchise. After viewing Dhoom 3, I can attest that they remain firmly committed to that non-objective. I believe it was Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist, who once postulated as part of his Uncertainty Principle that one can have either Katrina Kaif or a script in a Bollywood film but never both. I’m happy to inform you that Dhoom 3 has Ms. Kaif in it.

A Tale of Revenge, a Circus which is really a Magic Show, Hindi Stuff Written on Walls, etc.

Dhoom 3 is a tale of revenge. Iqbal Khan (a bleary eyed Jackie Shroff) applies for a loan to an evil Darth-Vader-meets-Ku-Klux-Klan style banker with a cowboy accent. What makes this loan application interesting are 2 things: 1. Iqbal claims to run a circus, but in fact it’s really a magic show with one massive treasure chest like thingy.  2. Iqbal has not repaid loans to this banker in the past. Hence Evil Banker connects dots between 1 & 2 and refuses loan. A distraught Iqbal embraces the dark arms of Hades (via single bullet to the temple) and thus triggers a cataclysmic series of events which include aforesaid bank being robbed in broad daylight 25 years later by a mysterious thief who writes some stuff in Hindi on the walls WHICH LEADS TO (sit down, you’re not going to believe this) Mumbai police being summoned to help Chicago Police solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO mysterious thief offering to help Mumbai Police to solve crimes WHICH IN TURN LEADS TO Mumbai Police inadvertently helping mysterious thief rob more banks and getting fired. Wait, there’s good news. At some point, the bank shares take a beating in the stock market and aforesaid EVIL BANKER is forced to resign his job. Take that, you evil Voldemort banker, you! Hope you learnt your lesson to never mess with Indian circus people.

Dhoom 3 is Aamir Khan’s gig and everyone else just happens to be it. Mr. Khan is said to be a perfectionist when it comes to film making. Well, he seems to have put aside such ideals for this movie. Mr. Khan is first introduced to viewers as he climbs out of bed in a sparsely furnished apartment in a Chicago skyscraper and walks towards the window to gaze down ominously upon the windy city. The apartment is never seen again. Perhaps the apartment is a metaphor for the script. One can only wonder.

Let’s talk about Uday, Katrina and Junior B.

Uday Chopra apparently announced his retirement from acting in the weeks leading up to the release of this film. Didn’t that train leave the station in Dhoom 1? The announcement was quite unnecessary as most people were unable to recall Mr. Chopra being in possession of acting skills in the first place. Mr. Chopra is a laboratory based, experimental version of Salman Khan in which things have just gone horribly, horribly wrong. His comic interludes are neither comic nor are they interludes.

It is said that Robert De Niro prepared for a role as Jake LaMotta in The Raging Bull by gaining sixty pounds to his frame and learning to box. Likewise Ms. Katrina Kaif appears to have prepared for her role in Dhoom 3 by taking pole dancing lessons. She enters the movie half way through it. And her first full line of dialogue makes its appearance 30 minutes after that. There’s none better than Ms. Kaif when it comes to portraying the multi-layered complexities of a modern Indian woman. She deftly demonstrates how although Indian lasses might dress in overalls and appear to be demure at first, they are in fact simmering cauldrons of sexuality and willing to shed all clothing and perform complex calisthenics, all for a mere job in the circus.

Someone, please send prune juice to Abhishek B urgently.  The lad seems to be backed up.

The Whole Bank Robbery Situation Sucks

We’re not talking Shakespearean drama here. That’s hardly the expectation. In fact, it’s not fair to judge D3 by such standards. Having said that, I feel like I ought to talk at length about the whole bank robbery situation in this movie which sucks. We live in a world filled with James Bonds and Jason Bournes and Spy Kids and Incredibles and Danny Ocean’s 13. So, we the people know a thing or two when it comes to pulling off heists or robbing banks or retrieving USB drives from ruthless saboteurs. And as anyone will attest, what makes a bank robbery interesting is how you pull it off – getting past the multi-factor authentication systems by faking finger prints and  performing yoga and tai chi to avoid coming in contact with red laser beams and then gaining access to vaults with 2-feet thick steel walls. I mean, people go through a lot of trouble to rob banks and casinos. We the people have never before seen movies before in which banks have robbed upon mere access to blue prints of building which we presume have already been posted on Facebook by bank employees anyway. We the people have never seen movies in which police hand over blue prints of bank building to complete strangers within 24 hours of meeting them. We the people ought to be surprised that more banks are not getting robbed in Mumbai, given this is how Mumbai Police seems to operate.

The Verdict

Anyway, things thankfully get sorted out by the end. I got the feeling that the actual movie was only about an hour long but was stretched to three hours thanks to slow motion technology. There’s a twist somewhere in the middle. The songs are downright spectacular. In true Indian spirit, I’d recommend watching the movie for “Malang..” alone. Dhoom 3 is paisa vasool. So go see it. And if you live in Mumbai, I’d recommend taking your money out of your bank and stashing it in your pillow.

I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area now doing some stuff. Since I’m here, I figured that I’d get my driver’s license renewed. As per the California Department of Motor Vehicles website, in order to renew the driver’s license you must –

  1. Provide an acceptable date of birth and legal presence document (e.g. passport)
  2. Provide your true and full name.
  3. Pay an application fee of $32.

In addition, the DMV website also casually mentions that you “may be” required to take a written test. On seeing this, I went into a minor tizzy. The last time I took the test (which was many moons ago), I remembered that I had walked in without any prep and nearly flunked. This time I decided in favor of prudence over valor and went through the DMV booklet the night before. Inspired, I’ve crafted the What Ho! Global Drivers License Test for you so you can see where you stand in the cosmic scheme of all driving related things.

Q1: Under what circumstances is a driver’s license required?

  1. Required to operate a motor vehicle under all circumstances.
  2. Required wherever possible.
  3. What’s a license?

Q2: If a traffic signal is not working, you must –

  1. Stop, and then proceed when safe.
  2. Accelerate as fast you can through the junction, keeping a ear out for honking that might signal a potential collision
  3. Park the car in the intersection and post a picture of the non-working signal on Facebook.

Q3: A blind pedestrian is crossing the road at an unmarked crossing. You should:

  1. Stop and let the pedestrian cross the street.
  2. Maintain your original speed, honk as loudly as you can, drive carefully around the pedestrian and try not to knock him down.
  3. Use this opportunity to slow down and check how many people liked your post on the non working signal on Facebook.

Q4: Collisions are more likely to happen when:

  1. One vehicle is travelling faster or slower than the flow of traffic.
  2. Drivers do not use their horns liberally.
  3. Two cars come into contact with each other.

Q5: When overtaking a vehicle, it is safer to return to your lane when:

  1. You see the vehicle’s headlights in your rear view mirror.
  2. There are vehicles rapidly approaching you from the opposite side of the road.
  3. You’re wondering what a lane is, at a time when people sitting in the back are yelling loudly for their lives.

Q6: When driving at night on a dimly lit road, you should:

  1. Drive slowly so you can stop within the area lighted by the headlight of your car.
  2. Switch off the lights so you blend into the background.
  3. Turn on the lights of the instrument panel so you can be visible to other drivers.

Q7: What’s the difference between a red light and a green light?

  1. Red means ‘to stop’ and Green means ‘to go’
  2. Green means ‘to accelerate instantaneously’. I’ve never really thought about what ‘Red’ means.
  3. They are just different colours in the visible spectrum.

Q8: When a policeman asks to see your driver’s license, you should:

  1. Provide the driver’s license.
  2. Open your wallet wide so you can give him a good idea of the possibilities that exist.
  3. Offer him a ride.

If you answered ‘1’ to the questions above, congratulations. You’ve passed the California DMV test. If you answered ‘2’, congratulations. You have a high likelihood of getting a license from the Koramangala RTO in Bangalore. If you answered ‘3’, I’m afraid I don’t see a drivers license anytime in your near future.

August 31, 2013

A Tale of Two Fiddlers

The resemblance between Nero, the last of the Julio-Claudian Roman emperors, and Manmohan Singh is more than a passing one. Nero, of course, is infamous for ‘fiddling’ while Rome burned, an act which when compared to Manmohan Singh’s dithering over last few years, may well end up as a lesser historical transgression. Note: In all likelihood, Nero probably played the lyre. The fiddle wasn’t invented by 64 AD

Nero the Reformer

Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus was Emperor of Rome from 54 AD to 68 AD. Over the course of his reign, Nero went out of his way to pander to the poorer classes with populist measures, which led to ancient historians criticizing him for being obsessed with personal popularity. Nero is known for progressive acts such as granting the Senate increased autonomy, distributing authority to lower tax commissioners and an attempt to repeal indirect taxes. When the Senate convinced him that repealing taxes would bankrupt the treasury, he compromised. Nero also championed an RTI like reform in which previously secret government tax records were ordered to become public.

How To Ruin An Empire

In 64 AD, Rome burned. In response, Nero initiated vigorous public relief effort and reconstruction. But, the cost to rebuild Rome was immense, requiring funds which the treasury did not have. However, he persisted leading to the first devaluation of the Roman currency in the Empire’s history.

Of his many controversial acts which included persecution of Christians, Nero’s economic policies are the most fiercely debated over time by scholars. According to ancient historians, Nero’s projects were extravagant and left the empire “thoroughly exhausted by contributions of money” with “the provinces ruined.” However, modern historians note that the period was likely riddled with deflation and that it was likely that Nero initiated governmental projects and charity to spend his way out of the economic crisis.

Starting in 68 AD, a series of mutinous rebellions broke out throughout the empire. Although he initially retained control, Nero was considerably weakened when the prefect of the Praetorian Guard abandoned his allegiance to the Emperor and came out in support of the rebels.

“What An Artist Dies Within Me”

In response, Nero sought a place where he could hide and collect his thoughts. A loyal former-slave offered his villa outside the city. Travelling in disguise, Nero reached the villa, where he ordered his men to dig a grave for him. By this time, the Senate had declared Nero a public enemy and had ordered his execution by being beaten to death. At this news, Nero prepared himself for suicide. His famous dying words were “Qualis artifex pereo,” which translates into “What an artist dies in me.” With Nero’s death, the Julio-Claudian dynasty ended and chaos ensued in the years that followed.

It will be interesting to see how history will judge Manmohan Singh’s tenure which has been marked by crippling welfare schemes which have drained the nation’s exchequer and derailed economic growth. Will Manmohan Singh’s dithering spark a similar dismantling of the Roman Empire in India? One can only hope.

Reference: Nero on Wikipedia

Let’s face it. We humans are an argumentative lot. We argue on social media. We argue on television. We argue in the YouTube comments section.  In fact, studies show that in every passing second, 412,335 people are “wrong” about something, and that for each person who is considered wrong, there are 14 others who will feel inexorably compelled to point it out.

For all the arguing we do, we just don’t seem to be good at it. Arguing has been misunderstood over the centuries as something anyone with lots of time and a Twitter account can do. What’s not appreciated is that it’s an art form, the sort which requires great passion and lots of practice to excel.

Here are a few tips to help you excel.

Draw upon your deep well of emotions.

A common fallacy is to assume that logic works. Another is to assume that an argument is about issues. Winners are those who understand the power of uncontrolled emotions and that the sole purpose of an argument is to stray as far as humanly possible from issues and to stay laser focused on belittling your rival with the choicest of pejoratives.

This leads me to the merits of alcohol.

Drink.

To win an argument, it is important to create the perception of knowing things. But how do you create such a perception when, in fact, you know nothing? Rest easy, I have a solution for you.

Imagine you’re at the company party, watching a whiz kid intellectual with a fancy MBA spouting forth with nauseating fluency on the complex linkages between temperature fluctuations on the mountains of Kenya and coffee prices in India.

Ask yourself this: What is more likely to help in this situation? Tomato juice or vodka on the rocks?

I’m sure that it will come as no surprise to hear that tomato juice drinkers tend to go weak-kneed and fade silently away into the dark of the night when confronted with a troll. On the other hand, downing several shots of Old Monk or Director’s Special will not only magically endow you with unparalleled knowledge of the Kenyan economy but also cause you to eloquently hold forth your hitherto latent opinions of Kenyan culture and dazzle everyone with your keen observations on the Kenyan way of life.

Winners drink often. And they drink early.

Lie.

Truth is overrated by losers, which is why losers tend to lose. Let’s say that the argument has strayed towards the vexing issue of malnutrition among Kenyan children. And let us pretend that you have been mindlessly and passionately arguing in favour of the position that Kenyan children are surprisingly well-fed and well nourished. Instead of stating, “Kenyan children are well fed and well nourished” which is likely to be met with scorn and laughter, you must say “According to the 2004-05 UNESCO report published on Aug 12, 2012, Kenyan children were found to have consumed on average of 432.5 calories per day in summer and 453.2 calories per day in winter, both of which are considered well above national averages of all but 13 countries in the world which do not follow the British constitutional model of government.

For lying to work, precision and accuracy are paramount. Numbers with decimal points are excellent. Statistically complex sounding terms such as ’30 day moving average’ or ’24 year longitudinal median’ are genius. Always quote your false sources proactively. If you’re smart, you will quote your own widely unread blog post.

Use Latin.

Following are examples of terms you must find and commit to memory before venturing into an argument.

Ad hominem

QED

In so far as to say

Holistic

Hoi Polloi

A priori

Ceteris paribus

Latin and Greek phrases are pure gold. They indicate that you’re not to be trifled with. Random use of these languages will bludgeon all but the fiercest into submission. Use them as you would a stun gun with as little advance warning as possible for maximum effect.

Instead of “Kenyans have always had problems with democracy” you must say “Ceteris paribus, it has been shown in various studies that any a priori assumptions about holistic governance systems involving free will of hoi polloi have proven, in so far as to say, to be unjustified ad hominem attacks on the aforesaid systems themselves. QED.

No sane person can possibly withstand such an assault on the senses.

Evade.

It is possible, due to some unfortunate quirk of Fate, that you may find yourself to be the spokesperson for the Congress party. You will likely encounter questions for which you are absolutely certain that no truthful answers can be given. As winners are aware, it has been well established as a historical fact that honesty is the best policy for losers. Evasion, on the other hand, is the way of winners.

Rule no. 1 of evasion is to create the convincing illusion that you are not evading.  Start your responses with “I am glad you asked me that question..” and proceed to confidently make any unconnected statement that pops into your cranium at that point in time. A large majority of the public does not listen beyond the first 8 words. Use “I’m glad that we’re talking about this..” with no obligation to shed any further light on the topic at hand.

renuka c

Keep mum.

The highest form of evasion is to manmohan your way through slippery slopes by maintaining what must appear externally to be a thoughtful and intellectual silence. Silence accompanied by an air of carefully cultivated superiority evokes images of a zen master who has graciously descended into the petty world of humans and who shall not be subject to such petty questions as “Dude, what do you mean you misplaced the Coalgate files?

Deflect.

During the course of an argument, it’s possible that you may find your position weakening. You may find your back in close proximity to the proverbial wall. It is important to train in the dark arts of deflection so you can wriggle out unscathed from the trickiest of situations.

The following phrases were modelled after deflection techniques used by Shaolin monks and designed to blunt the most cogent of arguments. It is important that you master them in your quest for world domination.

That’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Everything is relative.

Why are you being defensive?

That’s such a typical fascist view of the world.

What are the core assumptions in your model?

For example, you might insist “Gandhiji died on Feb 10, 2010 at 430am” and your opponent might respond “No, you fool, he died on Jan 30, 1948.” You must immediately counter with “That is such a typical fascist view of the world.” If you say, “the economy grew by 8.5% according to the NCERT-AICTE study” and your opponent counters “No you fool, it grew by just 2.3% according to the RBI governor,” you must counter with “Duh, that’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Abuse.

As unlikely as it sounds, there will come a time when all has failed and you find yourself on the mat, hopelessly pinned and in dire need of copious amounts of oxygen. This is when you must pull out the big guns, and resort to sick, vile and tasteless name calling.

Comparisons with odious historical characters, innuendos about your opponent’s paternity, crassness about your rival’s gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, height and weight are perfectly acceptable. A time tested phrase is “You remind me of Hitler. You make me sick, you fascist dwarf!” Since no one likes Hitler or fascists and very few actually have seen or care about dwarves, you will pull victory out from the jaws of defeat.

Well, that’s all there is to it. What are you waiting for? Go confidently forth and win that do-or-die battle, upon which may hinge the fate of this universe itself.

Comment away and share your winning practices too!

August 11, 2013

Falling In Love With India

I recall reading Plato’s Republic in 1996. At that time, I was living and working in the US. In the book, Socrates asks what Justice is and Polemarchus responds by defining it as “helping your friends and harming your enemies.” Indeed, it was the accepted opinion among the ancient Greeks (and many societies which followed them) that the morally right thing to do was to favor the “insiders.” And Socrates responds to Polemarchus by questioning the exclusivism of his moral position. Thus was launched a debate over the morality of patriotism and nationalism that reverberated through Europe over centuries. Nearly two thousand years later, Kant and others concluded that morality could not be confined to narrow dimensions of ‘me, mine, my family, my city or my nation’ and extended it to include humankind as a whole.

IS PATRIOTISM MORALLY JUST?

I recall pondering, as an immigrant in a foreign land, the notion of patriotism. What logic lay in blind loyalty to a nation, whose citizenship you hold only because of a random act of nature? Or did it make sense to be patriotic to a nation which welcomes you as a citizen after having examined what you had to offer? Have nations done enough to deserve our loyalty? Wasn’t cosmopolitanism, a notion first espoused by Diogenes who declared himself a citizen of the world, more morally acceptable than patriotism? Wasn’t patriotism at odds with a just, moral view of the world?

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF MORALITY

Should one country succeed at the expense of another? What makes anyone believe that they are “the chosen ones”? There are no easy answers. Suppose, for example, the Prime Minister of India when faced with the choice of securing Indian access to oil in Iran versus the choice of withdrawing to allow Chinese access to those reserves, decides (rather disinterestedly and morally) on the latter because it would lead to greater overall good of mankind. While morally laudable, it may, by no stretch of imagination, be construed as rightful discharge of his duties as a leader of a nation. Morality can be a slippery slope.

FALLING IN LOVE WITH INDIA

To this day, I haven’t yet resolved the conflict which Plato created in my mind. I am rather enamored by a universal humanism in which I choose not to belong to just one nation or people. I believe in John Lennon’s secular humanism that believes that all humans are equal and share the same aspirations, fears and hopes regardless of our histories and geographies. At the same time, I have a hard time holding back tears when the words “Hey Ram” stream into my consciousness and evoke my pride in having come from a society which brought about a man who Einstein described as “generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.

I have interrogated myself often and at length on why I fell in love with India. And I have come to believe that I love India not because I was born on her soil but because there’s something touching and deeply inspiring about the way she’s tolerant and merciful of the human condition with all its frailties and foibles. It is a country that that will lift you from a low to a high that will amaze you. Never mind that it pushed you into the low in the first place. After all, you need to truly understand pain before you can enjoy pleasure. There is no question that she will provide you with an adequate supply of both. If there’s one place on earth which has willingly embraced everything, it is India. If there is a place on earth that will teach you humility and awaken your soul, it is India. May she prosper and shine and provide comfort to all other nations and peoples.

Take your time to examine your beliefs. Find yourself before you fall in love with India. And when you do so, I will guarantee you that it will be a love of a lifetime.

Happy Independence Day (in advance)! God bless India. God bless us all.

August 7, 2013

The Good Life

The Good Life

Is there a formula for a good life? Are there secret ingredients like some sort of a magical mix of love, work and social connections?

THE GRANT STUDY

A Harvard study set out to find answers to this question in 1937. Called the Grant Study (named after its patron), it is one of the most comprehensive research efforts put into studying the human condition. It was a complex, longitudinal study that examined two vastly different cohorts.

The first cohort had 237 Harvard college sophomores from the classes of 1939-44 and the second cohort had 332 socially disadvantaged, inner city youths who grew up in Boston between 1940 and 1945. The subjects were all male, white and of American nationality. The men were followed until they reached the ages of 70 years for the inner-city group and 80 years for the Harvard cohort.

The men were evaluated every two years by questionnaires, information from their physicians and in many cases through detailed personal interviews. Information was gathered about their mental and physical health, career enjoyment, retirement experience and marital quality.

The goal of the study was to identify predictors of healthy aging. Healthy aging was defined to include both physical and mental health.

GEORGE VAILLANT AND THE STUDY’S CONCLUSIONS

Its results have been compiled in two books by George Vaillant, who led the study from 1966. Vaillant identified major factors that predict healthy aging as education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, some exercise and reasonably healthy weight.

What factors didn’t matter? Cholesterol levels at age 50 had nothing to do with healthy aging. “There is an age to worry about cholesterol and there is an age to not worry about it,” he said. The predictive importance of childhood temperament diminished over time. Shy and anxious kids tended to do poorly in young adulthood. But by age 70, they turned out just as likely as the outgoing kids to be “happy-well.” There were a few subtle surprises as well. For example, regular exercise in college years ended up being a bigger predictor of late-life mental health than physical health.

IT COMES DOWN TO TWO THINGS.

After four decades of painstaking and meticulous research, Vaillant put his finger on two factors which predicted a good life.

A LOVING CHILDHOOD.

The study said, “We found that contentment in the late seventies was not even suggestively associated with parental social class or even the man’s own income. What it was significantly associated with was warmth of childhood environment, and it was very significantly associated with a man’s closeness to his father.

Hug your children often. It will make a difference long after you’ve ceased to exist.

RELATIONSHIPS.

Interestingly, the study revealed that it was not about the size of the social network. The benefit of relationships came from helping others. Those who cared for others tended to live longer. Good sibling relationships seemed to play a powerful role. 93 percent of the men thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.

The study asked, “Is there someone in your life whom you would feel comfortable phoning at four in the morning to tell your troubles to?” Those who answered ‘Yes’ lived longer than those whose said ‘No’. The master strength, according to Vaillant, was the capacity to be loved.

It concluded, “It is social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, which leads to successful aging.”

In a 2008 interview, Vaillant was asked what he had learned from the Grant Study men. And he said, “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships with other people.”

Hope you enjoyed this food for thought. Happy journeys! Stay blessed.


Here are a few links if you want to read more.

About George Vaillant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Eman_Vaillant

About the Grant Study: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grant_Study

A comprehensive article from The Atlantic about The Grant Study: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/06/what-makes-us-happy/307439/