The Flip Side of Social Media – A First hand experience

I had the first taste of the cost of social media during my recent trip to Singapore. I reached my hotel around 8pm on one evening and wanted to have a quick dinner as I was hungry. I didn’t have the patience to pick and choose a restaurant  nor did I have the time to travel to go to a place where Indian food is available. The hotel I stayed was in a place called Clark Quay Riverside, obviously a place meant for upwardly mobile Singaporeans. Nevertheless I decided to explore the place in search of an eating place. I walked around the Riverside which was great and refreshing but I had to cut it short as hunger pangs hit me hard. I looked around for an Italian restaurant and soon found one. I settled down in a cozy corner and waited for the waiter. The waiter came and gave me a menu card. I scanned through the card but needed some advice from the waiter.  ‘Firstly’, I told the waiter, ‘please understand I’m a vegetarian’ and added by way of abundant caution that I don’t even take eggs’. Strangely in many foreign countries egg is not considered as a non-vegetarian. The waiter nodded his head in appreciation and offered to bring pizza as his first option. But then I came to know  pizza size was too big for one person. I was, therefore, advised to take Pasta instead since the portions were small enough for one person. I settled for Pasta and started relaxing. Just then I heard a ping from my smart phone and I was curious to know who it could be from among my whats up groups. In retrospect, this was the beginning of my problem. Here’s how it unfolded.

I opened my What’s up chat groups and found that my family group was indeed active. I joined the group instantly to announce my arrival in Singapore. Just then the waiter came and asked me for my suggestions for toppings to Pasta. I said: put green vegetables liberally. I asked him to give me a list of vegetables available in the menu card. He said: Onions, sir. I said: fine and went back to my chat group. I texted a message to my daughter and son-in-law proudly announcing that my dinner had been ordered and it’s pasta in an Italian restaurant. The waiter in the meanwhile asked: Any other vegetable, sir?. I responded saying ‘Tomatoes’. As he noted down, I went back to my chat to reply to two comments already made – a wow from my daughter and one from my son-in-law with a hint of sarcasm. He said: yes, deep-fried pasta with a creamy cheese on top is indeed yummy! Defending myself feebly, I said: No, I’m told they only use virgin Olive Oil and returned to attend to my waiter’s next question on vegetables – do you want brocoli, Olives, cabbage and Brussels Sprouts too, sir?. I said: Yes, of course and went back to Whatsup chat.This time my daughter came to my rescue saying : Appa, don’t you worry. The vegetables and pasta are normally boiled in water for making pasta – not deep fried. My sister joined the chat and reprimanded my son-in-law saying: why don’t you allow him to have his dinner without feeling guilty about fat content or creamy layer and to encourage me added (more…)

Published in: on March 12, 2017 at 1:13 am  Leave a Comment  

Chasing Reality

This is the story of my 3-year old granddaughter. She moved to our place along with her mother who was expecting her second child. She was super excited to be with her pampering grand parents. But soon she realised her father could not be with her. However, she  settled down with her new routine and was thoroughly enjoying her preschool where she was being taught singing and dancing. Then one fine day her father came over to visit us and she was on top of the world. This didn’t last long as he had to leave with in a few days. Her world plunged into darkness as she couldn’t understand why he had to go back. Flexible as kids are, she got over her sorrow within a couple of days. She was back again on her feet enjoying every moment. Her next moment of excitement came when her mother went to hospital for delivery and gave birth to a baby boy to play with. Her excitement did not last long, though. She saw a rival in the new arrival as she found her mother’s attention was more towards the new baby. With jealousy comes anger and we could see her throwing up tantrums over trivial things. She overcame this as well over a period of time. But she could never reconcile to her father appearing and disappearing time and again. Although she could not express, she sure must have faced several unanswered questions such as: What is real – Me living with my parents or with grandparents? The school is the reality or home with pampering grandparents. If parental love is real, how come my mother doesn’t show the same love after the arrival of the new baby. Does reality which is constantly changing has any meaning.

Her young mind would have found some convincing answers when she finally moved to her father’s place along with her mother and the newborn. Having finally found the warmth of love from both parents, she may finally conclude: Yes, this is the ultimate reality – not my grand parents, not my friends, not my school.

Did the elders fare any better in the emotional drama? Far from it. The parents and grandparents were equally or more affected than the kid herself. Their heart sank along with the kid’s and their spirits got elevated as the kid got excited. Not just that. When both the grand kids finally left them, they could not take it in their stride. The silence in the house was overpowering. The house felt desolate and lifeless without the usual noises.

Look at the contrasting experience after the kids left. During their stay, time was in short supply. Now there is plenty of time on hand. There was plenty of noise then. Now there is deafening silence. There was plenty of fun, then. We all would laugh, make faces, whistle, sing & dance to no particular tune. Now that is replaced by meaningless monotonous work, matter-of-fact conversations, gentlemanly behaviour and plain boredom. Every piece of work had a purpose then, while now whatever work we do seems meaningless.

What is reality? They living with us or they living away from us? If the elders understand the realities, why do they find the separation unbearable?

The fact of the matter is that none of the things that we see as reality are real. All that we see in the human drama are mere emotions. Emotions come and go. They are not real. Whatever is changing with time is not real. And we are chasing the so-called reality which is constantly changing. What then is the reality that does not undergo any change? Awareness or Consciousness which lights up all the seemingly real things is the only reality. It’s that without which the relative world of experiences and emotions cannot exist. One may call it God, or Eswara or Brahman ( as in the Vedic terminology).

Published in: on February 11, 2017 at 5:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sweet Sixty!

A few weeks back, we had a business meeting with a US based Indian. It was a day-long meeting involving technical and commercial issues. As the meeting progressed, our guest from the US kept gulping several cups of black coffee to keep himself active. All the while I was firmly saying No to all caffeinated drinks. Instead, I preferred to keep myself hydrated with plenty of water. Surprised, my guest asked me: How come you do not drink any coffee or tea? I replied that I consciously avoid all caffeinated drinks. He was persistent: What do you do for fun, if you do not drink coffee or tea? I said: Look, I’m over sixty years of age and at sweet sixties, whatever I do is fun. Today’s meeting is fun. The fact that we are meeting today although we were strangers to each other only a few weeks back is fun. At the end of it all, if we close a business deal, that would be fun too.

Girls may hit their sweet spot at sixteen but men in my opinion have to wait till the age sixty to attain that status. Yes, my personal experience speaks! Reaching sixties is great for men indeed. First and foremost, you are recognized as a senior citizen and become eligible for several privileges. There are a number of other fringe benefits too. When you board a bus, for instance, youngsters treat you royally offering their seats. It works even better if you do not dye your hair.

Once I got into a long distance train without my photo ID. I was wondering how to handle the situation with the TTE. As the TTE approached me, I took out my ticket from my wallet and handed it over to the TTE with trepidation. To my great relief, it was my grey hair that saved the day. The TTE had just one good look at me (or rather my hair!) and all his doubts about my age vanished instantly!
Even in professional life,  one gets an undue advantage as grey has that unique association with wisdom. I suppose grey hair is often mistaken for grey matter! White may stand for peace and purity, black may be beautiful but grey is decidedly wisdom. Don’t ask me the logic.

I must share another secret of the sweet sixties. If you are a technical guy and in research, sixty is a great time to work. For one thing, you are through with your family responsibilities and therefore  not in a desperate need of a job. This allows you to dictate your terms with your employer. You can opt for flexible working hours and can even choose the number of days to work in a year. Not only that. The years of experience and expertise begin to pay off and one is able to deliver without much effort. Smart employers realize this and are more than happy to exploit your years of expertise. In that sense the sweetest spot in one’s career is perhaps when one touches sixty years of age.

Published in: on October 18, 2015 at 1:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Civilization is Converting Luxuries into Necessities!

Consider the sequence of events in a story pertaining to our housing colony:
-Our housing society decided to evict Vodafone along with their roof-top tower suspecting they were violating all radiation norms
-All Vodafone users faced communication black-out overnight
-The affected users in our society(they are in the majority)were up in arms against the management committee demanding that eviction notice be revoked immediately
– Management committee stood their ground and refused to oblige
– Nearly a year has passed since then and nobody even talks about it now

How did this happen? Has everyone got used to not having cell phone connectivity at home? Or have they switched over to other service providers? It’s a combination of both. In fact some guys did tell me they are happier without a cell phone connectivity at home.

The point of this story is that this is also the story of all our addictions.
We get addicted to facebook and especially its ‘likes’, to TV, and junk foods like Pizza,Burger, French Fries,Paani Puri etc till we reach a stage where we cannot live without them. This is civilization! It invents luxuries, do everything possible to get people addicted and then successfully converts them to necessities. Multinational companies thrive on this strategy.
Can anything be done about it? Can this be reversed? Very difficult. I started an experiment recently to see how one can do this at a personal level. The question I put to myself was – is it feasible to completely avoid the super-market culture as an individual? Let me share some results of my ongoing experiments:
1. I have completely stopped eating Chocolates, Biscuits, Pizzas,bread (and along with it butter/jam), and Indian junk foods like vada paav, Bhel Puri etc. This started as a drive toward health foods.
Before you conclude that I’m losing out on a number of simple pleasures, I must add that there are lots of interesting healthy substitutes even for one’s sweet tooth.
2. I started making my detergent powder and hand-wash liquid soap solution. These products from FMCG companies, especially the hand-wash liquid, contain harsh chemicals which can remove natural oil from our skin and make it dry if used repeatedly. My liquid soap formulations are based on good old soap plus a few safe natural ingredients. It’s easy to make at home. It’s also a very effective germicidal formulation.
3.Home-made shampoos and dish washing products are next on my hit list of FMCG products.

Of course, there is always a resistance at home to change over from commercial products. One has to carry along with these changes. The idea is to see if we can develop new healthy addictions to nature-friendly products in place of the dirty FMCG products.
I find that even with these limited changes, my dependence on super market will come down significantly. Apart from saving money, these are healthy options.

Are there any takers for these ideas? If anyone is serious, I’m ready to share my recipes.

Published in: on December 28, 2014 at 3:46 pm  Comments (6)  
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Are Human Beings Rational?

Aristotle once said Man is a rational animal. Is it a correct assessment of man? Not if you consider a few real life stories. Look at the following incidents of train-rage that took place in Mumbai recently:

A 19 year old student was abused and pushed in a suburban train. Why? Just because he was standing in a convenient spot which historically ‘belonged’ to the bullies! apparently, those men were travelling for the past 20 years standing at the same spot! (It seems to be case of spot fixing!!). So, when the student rightly refused to move, the bullies manhandled him.

There was yet another case of train-rage reported wherein a woman journalist was harassed by a group of women for occupying a window seat which was theirs!

In August, a commuter was beaten up by a gang for occupying ‘their’ seat. At this rate, we may have to introduce a new fundamental right in our constitution !

Consider the following Road-rage cases.

A youth from Manipur was beaten up by a mob in Bangalore on the road. The reason? He wasn’t able to speak in Kannada! A few days back a lynch mob was seen beating up 3 Nigerian women with sticks for an alleged act of crime.

A few months back, I nearly escaped being beaten up by a Shiv Sena mobster on a minor parking issue. The guy got abusive and even managed to land a blow on my face before I made good my escape from the scene. Later I complained to the local Shiv Sena party unit head who looked like a perfect gentleman. He reprimanded the miscreant and requested me not to escalate the issue by taking it to the police.

I’m sure such stories are endless. A recent Calvin & Hobbes cartoon in Hindustan Times tells it all!:

Hobbes: You look down in the dumps. What’s the matter?

Calvin: yes, of late the bully in our school keeps knocking me down for no reason – just for kicks! Sometimes animals make more sense than humans!

Hobbes: yes, they are cuter too!

Well, Calvin is right. Animals don’t do anything for kicks. They do it for a purpose whereas humans do things just for the fun of it. We bulldoze, insult, crack jokes, generally have fun at somebody’s expense just for the sake of some excitement. Sorry, they don’t do it just for kicks. Sometimes they combine cheap excitement with greed. Here is an interesting example of this from a TV show:

Female tortoises dig nesting burrows on the beach, where they lay eggs. Egg-laying typically occurs at night, after which the mother tortoise covers the eggs with sand and organic material. The eggs are left unattended and they take a couple of months to incubate.Upon completion of the incubation period, a fully formed turtle breaks out of its shell. It digs to the surface of the nest and begins a life of survival on its own. As soon as they venture out, you can see them all running for life into the sea. Some can never make it to the sea thanks to equally quick action by too many predators. A dog would come and pick one and go away while birds pick one each as they see their prey. However, when a human being comes along, he would pick not one but several till his bag gets full! Would you call it greed or being rational?

I have seen bosses bullying subordinates just for kicks. A boss I worked with early in my career used to derive pleasure out of putting down people whenever a bright or innovative idea was put up for a discussion. I was always thankful to this boss because early in my career, I got a free lesson on what NOT to do as a boss. I made it a point to back ideas that a youngster came up with. Even when I found an idea highly impractical or unviable, I would point it out and add politely: I’m not discouraging you, if you feel strongly about it, you may try it out.

Well, then, what did Aristotle mean when he said that man is a rational animal. He was perhaps referring to our ability to make rational choices of  actions – just the potential which is not translated to behaviour!

An intriguing Episode

It was close to 11pm in the night and I was getting ready to sleep. Just then my cell phone rang. I looked up and found it was my driver calling. Driver at this hour? What could it be for? Any issue with his family or something  else important? Or is it for informing me that he wouldn’t turn up the following day? I picked up the phone with anticipation. He said: hello sir – bada galti ho gaya mere se. Eh my nahin karna chahiye tha.  ( i committed a big blunder/crime. I shouldn’t have done this). He sounded highly repentent. I asked what was the matter and what did he do. He said: I picked up an expensive mobile phone lying  on the road near our car parked at Sapan nagar in the evening. He added further: is ki vajah my so nahi pa raha hum. isliye aap se bol raha hum. (I’m not able to sleep since this despicable act of mine is haunting me).

He confessed further: sir, phone baj raha tha sham ko, leking mai ne pick up nahin kiya (the phone was ringing all evening but I did not pick it up).

Obviously the owner of the phone was calling desperately hoping that some one would pick it up. I told him not to worry and go to sleep and undo the damage at the earliest on the following morning. I asked him to call up the owner if possible and inform so that he or she could sleep peacefully.

The following day he called up the owner duly and returned the phone. The owner was a lady who told him that the phone cost her Rs45000(obviously an iphone with all hi-fi features). She also told him she was more worried about the data stored in the phone than the phone itself. Anyway she thanked him profusely and gave him 500Rs plus a big box of chocolates. Later my driver narrated how happy the lady was to get back the phone and proudly showed me what he received from the lady as a gift in recognition of his honesty.

The episode highlights two things: By a simple switch of mental attitude from one of greed to fair play, one can transform a situation from being extremely restless to a mood of  celebration.  Don’t you think it’s entirely in our hands to make a hell or a heaven out of a given situation?

Secondly, what do I make of the episode? Should I condemn him for having shown initial greed which must have cost the lady a lot of mental agony and a sleepless night? or should I compliment him for his change of heart and confession? And more importantly should I keep trusting him the way I am used to for the past 7 years? I think I should.


Published in: on June 27, 2014 at 10:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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Amoral Familism

This is an expression coined by an American Social Scientist, Edward Banfield,whose e-book (published back in 1955) was forwarded to me recently by a friend of mine. This phrase describes a social behaviour entirely conditioned by economic interests of the nuclear family. The book makes certain interesting points about the times we live in. It exposes a stunning truth about people who abandon and abdicate their responsibilities towards the society purely due to self-centric and family centric attitudes. The book is based on the author’s research about a society in a remote Italian village. It’s a place where no one is interested in anything beyond their families. They won’t lend any help to anyone unless they(or their family) have something to gain from it. They don’t take interest in any activity which is meant for the common good of the village. In fact they would be suspicious of guys who show such interests.   The author attributes their backwardness to this attitude. Apparently,  even today this deep-rooted culture is hampering industrial growth in Italy.

This book provoked me into examining my immediate environment and people, which I will share in this post.

Our housing society is a perfect example of  the ethos of amoral familism. The present team of management committee is 4 years old and I’m one of the members. Every year I try my best to bring in new faces to the committee and believe me I never succeeded. Here are a few typical creative excuses given by people when pressed to work in the committee:

– Oh, you guys are doing a great job. Why bring in new people? Rest assured that whatever you guys decide, we will support.(one cannot be more diplomatic than this in evading responsibility!)

-I have problems of my own to look after. Please don’t bother me ( you cannot argue with such guys!)

-I travel a lot. please look for someone else.( A very clever ploy to put an end to the discussion)

– No chance; don’t think I’m idle. I’m a busy man ( as if everybody in the committee is idling otherwise!)

As is to be expected, no one bothered to take any interest in any of  the committee’s decisions as long as the issues were of general nature and not of any consequence to individuals.  But then one fine day all hell broke loose as everyone was up in arms against a decision taken by the management committee to get rid of cell phone towers from our building terrace. They could not be pacified even after we explained that the service providers violated all radiation norms. Why did it become an emotional issue? Because it affected people’s personal convenience. (Several Vodafone clients had to go without cell phone service). Amazingly, the same set of people who didn’t care about the common issues of  the housing colony got worked up the moment their personal convenience was affected!

An even more disgusting example was narrated by a journalist recently. Bombay has experienced high tides in the past one week flooding the adjacent roads. Several passers-by along the Marine Drive area thronged to the sea-side to experience the thrill of  witnessing the rough sea and the big waves in action. And … it turned out to be a misadventure! No, they were not complaining about the fact that they got drenched, which was to be expected anyway. They had their shock of their lives when tons of rubbish, plastic bottles, bottle caps, condoms, chappals,clothes and what have you splashed on the roads and the thronging crowds! Obviously the sea is throwing back with vengence whatever rubbish was thrown into it by the irresponsible citizens! Newspapers reported that 56 tons of debris was collected in just a few days along the Mumbai coast! This speaks volumes(or is it tons!)about the Indian mentality to keep their homes clean at the expense of our surroundings. I guess this is yet another instance of amoral familism.

I’m sure the readers will have their own tales to tell.

From the Sublime To the Ridiculous!

I wonder what life would be like without visits to the country side from time to time. Urban life is monotonous and energy sapping. It is for this reason that I love my frequent getaways to a place called Mahad on the Goa road, where one of our factories is located. These are essentially business trips but to me they are worth much more than that – it’s completely rejuvenating. Mahad is a small town about 180 km away from Mumbai on the picturesque Goa Road. Our factory and guest house are surrounded by hills all around and there is a river flowing close by. I love my early morning walks and drives along this road. Typically, I would finish my job on the day of arrival, stay overnight in our guest house and drive back to Mumbai on the following day morning. Last week I did one such trip which was indeed exhilarating. It was slightly foggy at 6 am as we started our journey. There was a bit of drizzle and so the roads were slightly wet. The winding roads ran parallel to a river for a few kilometers and then we drove through green fields on either side, thick jungles and the ghats in succession. The spectacular cascading water falls far and near further contributed to the mystical experience. The drive before sun rise was an out-of-the-world experience with the misty mountains appearing now and vanishing the next moment under heavy fog!
To add to the great experience, I put on music by Hariprasad Chourasia on the flute. His divine Drupad nicely blended with the natural scenes outside.The flute was followed by soulful violin from Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu. His famous Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi simply transported me to a spiritual high. I have uploaded this piece here for you to enjoy!
The 3-hour road journey was more like an exciting spiritual journey. That is the power of Nature and Music together at their best!
As they say – All things good or bad have to come to an end after all! So, I finally landed in Mumbai. What a contrast – from the raw beauty of nature to the man-made ugliness called a city, from the captivating and natural jungle to the repelling concrete jungle.People and cars multiplied in numbers as we approached the city. Wading through the city traffic, I reached my office and soon settled down at my desk. Inevitably, I turned my attention to mundane activities – reviewing targets, number crunching, customer complaints, strategies to counter competitors, managing customers, managing people etc. What a fall! The corruption of the mind from its pure and serene state was complete – the fall from the sublime to the mundane and the ridiculous!

Yadha Drishti Tadha Srishti!

There are times when our knowledge itself becomes our source of ignorance. Let me illustrate this with a recent experience of mine:

During the last week I went to Goa on an official tour. I made a prior hotel booking through internet after duly searching for a suitable place close to my place of work. My meeting was in the Verna Industrial estate and I selected a hotel which is about 4 Km away. It’s a resort called Woodbourne in the midst of what looked like a jungle to me. Being the off-season, I also got a good deal on the room tariff. I finished my meeting with my client and drove to the hotel in the evening. It was almost dark by the time I reached the Hotel.The place looked great in its natural surroundings with lots of opportunities for trekking on the nearby hills. I figured out that the rooms (or the villas as they called them) were located on small hillocks at different levels. There were 28 of them well separated from each other for the sake of privacy. The place had all the modern amenities like a swimming pool, Gym etc. I was well received at the reception and offered a welcome drink. I filled in the papers with my details and took the keys. The receptionist gave me details of the facilities and added: If you face any problems, give me a ring, sir. I nodded my head in appreciation of his concern. He called a boy and asked him to escort me to my room. As I was about to leave the reception area, the receptionist repeated: In case of any difficulty or problem, please call me, sir. I nodded my head and proceeded to the room. The boy led me to my villa. It was huge by any standards. There was a big varanda in front leading to a huge bed room with a balcony at the back. Adjacent to the bed room was a big dressing room with a huge mirror and an attached bath room. Everything looked fine. The boy was very courteous and once again took care to explain the minor details of the facilities & the restaurant. Before leaving, the boy said in Hindi: Aap ko koi bhi problem hoga tho turant call kigiye, saab. (Inform me if you face any problem). A little surprised at the mention of problems repeatedly, I asked him what problems should I anticipate. Should I expect any snakes or any intrusion. He replied: No, sir, aap ghabariye math(Do not worry, nothing of that kind, sir). I inquired more about the hotel and occupancy of rooms. I was told there were 28 villas and none of them were occupied on that day. He cautioned me again and left. I walked around the place. My Villa was at a good height and the view was gorgeous with hills all around. However, I was not feeling comfortable with the repeated warnings about a possible problem. These warnings brought me images of  Alfred Hitchcock movies where some innocent victim would check in to a hotel under similar circumstances. The victim would be received with warmth and a friendly conversation would follow leading up to a predictable gruesome act of murder. This horrible image came to my mind as I surveyed the deserted hotel with no other guests except me. Instantly, I decided to shift out of the place and moved to a more secure hotel in downtown, Goa, which was bustling with people and activity.

This episode is a perfect example of how Fear is experienced in Human beings. Fear has two parts – one real and the other imaginary. The real part is obviously genuine danger based on our evolutionary intelligence for survival such as an attack by an animal. The genuine fear often gets magnified several fold because of the imaginary part. The imaginary part arises from our past knowledge (or experiences) embedded over years, which projects itself to a present situation. If we can separate the two parts from this clutter in our Minds, our response will be rational and in the right proportion to the situation. If we fail to do that, our response will turn out to be an over-reaction resulting in panic. This is when our knowledge becomes our source of ignorance.

The title of the post is a famous Sanskrit quotation used in spiritual discourses –  YADHA DRISHTI, TADHA SRISHTI. It is perfectly applicable to the episode I just described. The translation of this is: ” As the Vision, so the World”. If you see disaster, you will create disaster. Seeing Reality as it is without adulterating it with your own thoughts accumulated over the years, is the key to intelligent living.

P.S: So, did I do the right thing in shifting out? Difficult to answer. In this particular instance, I guess the situation warranted this action even without my imagination running wild, considering the fact that the place was isolated with no other guest around and open to intrusion by anti-social elements.

Published in: on September 15, 2013 at 4:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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