Saturday, May 30, 2009

Prospective Adults

My past few weeks have been happily spent with my nephew who has a world of his own and a logic to match. Here are some of his conversation snippets:

Nephew: That is why I love you?
Sis: Why?
N: Because you stick things for me (she was fixing the broken trunk of his elephant)
S: And if I didn't?
N: Even then.

(I have to be technically correct and saying "small" to a little boy is technically invalid)
Me: When you were smaller I used to sing this song for you and put you to sleep.
(He listens for a while)
N: But I am not feeling sleepy
Me: If you were to lie down and close your eyes and let me pat you, then you would fall asleep.
N: I would sleep anyway then. Is that Krishna's flute? (noting the flute played in the background score of the song)

N: Paati, I am going to see black Ganapati (that's his favourite temple near our house). I will be sitting there. You come whenever you want to.
(All of us simply shake our head while he walks out. In a while he returns)
N: I will leave my crocs here.
Sis: Why?
N: What if I leave it there and when I am talking to black Ganapati, someone steals it? (seriously? your size?)

And I could go on listing the funny things he says throughout the day. We play this game where there is an imaginary TV and he has the remote. He says "click" (more like "chuck") and I am supposed to act like as if I am watching the TV (enacted by my giving running commentary about the Tom & Jerry cartoon that is supposedly playing) and he says "click" again and I am supposed to cry and whine that I do not get time to watch TV etc. The irony is that this game started when I was mocking the way he would cry every time my mother changed channels to her serials (I am glad he hasn't taken a fascination for them) and he found it more funny than mocking! Since then, the game stuck.

A few weeks ago and on several earlier instances, I had had a chance to discuss the approach we take with children and their behaviour and how it compares with our response to adult behaviour. A common comment one hears is "Children are so innocent and pure and selfless". It might seem funny that I would object to all of that (to varying degrees) especially after taking no pains to hide the extent to which I love children.

Children are innocent in as far as their intentions go but they are not innocent in achieving their ends. Observe a child and how s/he knows exactly whom to ask for that extra piece of chocolate or how to ask (big eyes, cute cuddles, maybe a tear or two). When one carefully observes children (and I have enjoyed doing that) one finds it difficult to deny that children are the prototypes of what adults become. Let me present my arguments (if you are still around reading this blasphemous piece by someone who calls himself a child lover). Towards the end, you might also find reasons as to why we still stick to them and allow ourselves to be blinded.

Children (let us restrict ourselves to ages 0-10) are considered to be innocent, selfless, loving and creative. They are also considered to be noisy, pesky, cantankerous and always the first one to pick (and drop) your most precious China. Children are never selfless. Frankly, they are the most selfish forms of human beings. They do not care for the situation and/or circumstance: they want their meal now, they want their sleep now, they want you to pick them up now! That is not being selfish? What is? I thought selfish meant the following:
devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
Doesn't that sound just like that 1 year old you met? No doubt, they are without defense and hence, need to be looked after and protected and nurtured. But does it make them more considerate? Understanding? And I would request all moms reading this to not start out with "My little boy is surely not selfish! How rude!" If there is any mother out there who has never lost her cool or corrected her child's behaviour even once during the first 7 years of her child, then I would wonder how she defines "selfish".

Children cannot be reasoned with beyond a point. Rationality doesn't work with them - stories do, exaggerated expressions do, lies do. All that we present even to adults only to have other adults call us schemers or liars. We say "come on, a child cannot be expected to understand". Well, my manager also said "come on, you cannot expect all men to be objective and understand everything without an ego". That is one thing children do not have very much, because they are vulnerable and have pure needs. Since they need food (and cannot procure it themselves let alone prepare it) they will dissolve their feuds with you. Since they are not comfortable with themselves and cannot even imagine being in a room all by themselves for more than 10 sec (without Cartoon Network), they will drop all grievances. Adults do that too when they stand in a long queue in a government office. They too request the officer "to forgive them and let bygones be bygones" but we hold on to our cribs; kids usually do not since their memory is not entirely that sharp. I have observed that children who are fed and surrounded by people will not hesitate to throw a tantrum or act insolent. They can get away with it till the next meal and as long as someone else is willing to pamper them. Hence, the common theory that children in houses where the grandparents reside tend to be a little more bratty (but the best thing about children is that they throw all generalisations into the dustbin).

Children are creative perhaps after a certain age. They are open to being wrong and hence, are without the inhibitions that prevent creativity from surfacing. That doesn't make all of them creative. I have known and seen kids simply doing nothing more than what was required to get them what they wanted. Kids sitting at home because it was extremely hot outside don't create new games - they watch Cartoon Network or Nick or (nowadays) get on the Internet. Even when we open our gates wider and be more tolerant, we can only observe creativity in children in matters where they associate two thing which we would never have. This come more out of ignorance and the comfort in being wrong (as mentioned earlier). A child will tap his spoons on upturned buckets because kids like noise and not because he is a rudimentary Mozart. Kids love noise and mess and bear hugs. They love attention, too. If a kid goes about smearing the wall with a lot of crayons that's because they love the mess that comes with it. They don't care about colour synchrony or shapes and sizes or even meaning. They love the opportunity to smear red over a clean wall and then blue and then throw some water on all of it and then shoe polish (and maybe even taste it a bit). Give a child a sheet of paper and lots of crayons, and the child is mostly likely going to "draw" a lot of circles, then dashes and then dizzying circles till the paper tears or the crayons break or both.

Perhaps when they are 5 and above they do manage to be creative. What is wrong in calling children creative? Nothing. So are adults. No, no, no, adults might be creative but they are also very destructive, hence their creativity is balanced by the destructive nature (because of insecurity, want for power, etc.) unlike kids who are purely creative and hence, score more points. Well, not really. You probably should meet kids!

Kids are instinctively destructive. A lot of their destructive nature is borne on clumsiness and also on their inclination to not care (which to me is the single greatest cause for destruction: Nazis didn't care about the Jews, the Americans didn't care about the civilians in Japan, no soldier cares about the enemy, no religious fanatic cares about the spiritual and/or philosophical inclinations of another). They don't care how much you value your crystal. They do not know or care that water in the Bose speaker system is not funny (though the sounds thereafter might seem so). You can tell them a hundred times not to bounce the ball off the glass of the shelves but they still might. They might sit on your spectacles because they were lost in ninja Hatori's jump across buildings.
I would urge readers to read the book Lord of the Flies (I finally discovered my lost copy of the book: now I have two copies). Golding weaves a remarkable tale about a band of boys stranded on an island and the dynamics between them. There is this scene where Jack tries to establish his supremacy because he can hunt and kill pigs. Their chant repulsed me the first time I read it. Perhaps they fall outside the age range of years stated at the outset.

I have observed children grab another kid's toy or break toys or bang anything they can hold in their hands, to the ground. Children like noise though grabbing another kid's toys is more than just noise. I do not wish to psychoanalyse kids but their acquisitive nature is obvious in nearly all of their interactions and actions. My friend's daughter demands to be the first one to be fed and will not accept anyone receiving their order (at a restaurant) without giving her one spoon of the dish. This might sound like an exception, but most children demonstrate similar traits in different contexts. It might be with toys, attention, food or the TV!

No one teaches them to break and children do not learn after having cracked their first bowl. They will still go ahead and break something else. Perhaps not intentionally but sometimes just because the thing can break. Children love to take things apart. My colleague has had his laptop keyboard replaced several times. Keys simply go missing! So, in their own way, children are destructive. They do not know of a city beyond their house and if they do, they do not think in terms of conquering that city (because their parents give them whatever they want). My nephew once invited another kid to play with him and hugged him. That boy freaked out and ran away. My nephew, being the element he is, began chasing him. The other kid lost his balance and fell so my nephew went over to help him. That kid not knowing what to do to get rid of this boy, bit him really hard on his stomach. My nephew came back crying with red teeth marks around his navel (calamine lotion helps). Both of them were probably 3 years old.

Children are vulnerable and hence, they cling on to adults (usually parents). They cannot dream of a day without them. The sudden absence of the mother or father creates in them a panic attack and they cry inconsolably. If children had their parents around, they do not bother about others. It doesn't matter whether someone is around or not. Love, doesn't exist in such an environment. It sounds harsh to say that children perhaps don't love, but love is a very different state which is not a need based or fear based response. My nephew doesn't love me. He enjoys his time with me and loves it when I animate his book reading sessions. He loves it when I crush him and cover him with kisses. He loves it when I play Kwala and Boowa with him. I don't think he loves anyone other than his mother and in some instances, his father. He does love black Ganpati, though! I don't blame him nor do I feel disappointed. I simply cannot expect a child to be capable of love. A child is capable of being simple and loves to be cuddled (or any other physical contact which, sadly, adults grow to dishonour). But love is too strong a state for them. In order to love, they would need to be conscious and that they are not capable of. The really sharp ones manage to be aware but their awareness is most often focused on signals and indicators for their purpose.

Which brings us to the last post to topple - innocence. That they are. They will trust you and say things as they happened only till they realise that such a family of "things" seem to get dad angry. So they start hiding their occurrences or lie about them. Innocence definitely was there at the outset, but then there are a lot of adults who are innocent till they learn action-reward-punishment patterns. A young researcher might feel that it is ok to discuss his findings with anyone till he learns that plagiarism is rife in the academic circles. A fledgling lawyer (and you could read Sidney Sheldon's Rage of Angels) might believe that everyone will argue only based on facts till he meets his first opponent who "creates" facts. Why! I too believed what people said until I realised that people have every right to go back on their word. Few friends thought I was innocent, but most people thought I was plain stupid.

Since a child has more "new events" and lesser "experience" s/he appears innocent. It would be like subjecting an uneducated man to a crossword puzzle and then calling his attempts as "innocent". Once a child learns that mommy doesn't like spilt milk, he will wipe all the spilt milk and claim that he drank it all. A child who knows that daddy will not like it if he found out who tore his office papers will rush into bed and act like he is sleeping, or stand in a corner scared till mommy comes and scolds daddy for being so harsh on the kid "all for a piece of useless office paper". The kid then knows that going to mommy will save him. Adults do that too. Tarzan, brought up as an animal, would appear innocent to most people in the city (because he doesn't care what he wears and willingly hands over the gold watch to someone who promised him to get it polished) but if he knows an action will get him his Jane, he will do it. Innocence vanishes where there is knowledge and the ability to extrapolate. Children are gaining knowledge and hence, appear innocent. A new programmer or a janitor faced with the task of getting this new cleaning contraption to work, might also appear innocent.

Innocence is the trait of all individuals who do not possess knowledge. Children start out without any knowledge just like villagers who enter the big city. How many movies were made on that theme! Raj Kapoor in India lived off the character of the village bumpkin in nearly all his movies. So yes, children are by default innocent but that trait is not unique to them and they don't cling to it if it causes them any trouble. When people say that "innocence dies as children grow up" it would be equally valid to say "a freshman's innocence vanishes as he becomes a senior".

So what keeps us going on and wanting kids? Hope. That is all that we have and so powerful is its promise that we are willing to go through all the hell (and beauty) that a child can create simply to realise the hope that we would nurture and rear a decent human being, someone who will make us proud, someone who will be our support when we need one, someone who will someday love us the way we did, not looking at any of our (mis)deeds as selfish, destructive, hopeless or pointless. It is merely hope and occasionally the opportunity to love someone without their realising how vulnerable we let ourselves be (for true love will strip you mercilessly) that let's us view these prospective adults as children, a different sub-specie of human beings with the wonderful qualities of selflessness, creativity, love and innocence. Or maybe, as the lady says in the movie Ghost in the Shell, it is our obsessions with creating androids/dolls that leads us to procreation!

Does this mean I am guilty?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Zen Koan - Fame

The sun glowed gently, tip-toeing over leaves sleeping alongside the dew on them. A ladybird whirled in confusion as every dew drop yawned a golden sun of its own. One of the suns joined another, stretching lazily towards yet another, little suns merging into bigger ones before they all dragged them to the tip of a leaf and threatened to drop the sun to the earth where it would be lost forever in a puddle of slush. The leaf arched its spine to let these ephemeral playmates negotiate deals.
A little more, and Shushu would be happy. Shushu watches the drop buoy in mid-air before raising her well-licked paw to catch it. She runs her tongue over her paw and flutters her neck to warm herself. Her erect tail strikes a branch and the tree punishes her with a torrent of cold wetness. Shushu meows sharply and runs into the kitchen.
The students had already risen before the first rays touched the peak of Mount Sukai. They rushed to prepare the water for the teachers. They threw twigs at Shushu to drive her away from their path of early morning scurry.
Yasuhiro-san watched the sun scrape himself against the back of Mount Sukai and emerge well-polished. He smiled and had his tea when he heard someone's geta click lightly on the lowest step to his house. Such are the virtues of being the lowest that music is created only there, thought the great master to himself. The footsteps brought no threat to his doorstep so he continued sipping his tea.
Young Takayuki wasn't certain whether his intrusion would be entertained. After all, he had graduated from the school several years ago and one only returned to donate, teach or admit one's son for studies. He had made enough money, but a donation wouldn't help him now. He was not willing to teach as to become a teacher was to accept that one couldn't be successful in the vast world outside. He had no offspring to nudge along the path to any school.
The master turned around slowly and watched Takayuki-san hesitate at the threshold.
"Takayuki-san? It has been years now! Please do come in."
"Good morning, Yasuhiro-sensei! I am extremely sorry for arriving unannounced and as little benefit to the school."
"Can a rose ever lend its red to the plant?"
"And thus a plant lives on, while roses are crushed in vain love!"
"Bravo! You haven't lost your touch. Such delight is sufficient wealth for this school's coffers. Come in and have tea with me. It is still warm and the chamomile has still not become translucent."
Takayuki-san bowed low and neatly folded his hakama under his knees before sitting in seiza. Yasuhiro-san noticed that the hakama extended the prescribed "exact two-fingers' length" from the knee. He smiled through unmoving lips at the effortlessness with which Takayuki-san achieved that position. They slowly sipped their tea allowing it to slide along the roof while the vapours hit the heavens of their head. Tea was not merely a beverage - it was the blood of refined souls. Yasuhiro-san was known throughout Gunma prefecture as "a man so fine, you could cut him to find silver-tip tea flowing through him".
"What ails you, Takayuki-san?"
The suddenness of the question forced him to gulp more tea than allowed.
"Nothing trivial could have brought you here and nothing mundane could force you to forget that one doesn't gulp tea! What is it?"
Takayuki-san carefully replaced the cup. He extracted a book from within his kimono.
"Yasuhiro-sensei, perhaps this is not worth your esteemed taste, but..."
"Your book? Aah! I have read it. I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommended it to some of my friends too."
"Then you might like to keep this as a small gift from my side."
"You are very kind. Thank you!"
Yasuhiro-san opened it to the first page, read a little and then paginated randomly, reading a little more before shutting the book and placing it by his side.
"Last week, I had performed at the Kyoto concert. I had played the koto."
"You did? Wonderful! Many congratulations."
"As you know, I am working with Jurou-san in his textile mill. Here, I thought this fabric might suit your needs for an elegant kimono. Please do accept it."
Yasuhiro-san smiled and accepted the gift. He ran a finger through the layers and liked what he felt.
"Thank you. You are very generous."
"Sensei, please don't mistake me, but these were few things I genuinely wished to give you."
"I do not doubt your sincerity. Please go on."
"I am not sure what is wrong with my life!"
"You are rather strict, Takayuki-san. Another man, might consider himself gifted. Is your health not keeping you happy?"
"No, no. My health is fine and so is my digestion."
"You sleep well?"
"Fairly well, with dreams."
"Aah! You can make most of Japan envious. Why would you cast your life as wretched? Is there something you would like to do, which you aren't able to?"
"That is the source of all my pains! There is nothing that I am called upon to do, and that I have failed at."
"But you want something more?"
"No. I mean, yes. Why am I not famous?"
"Yes, why am I not famous? Children in my lane look at me with awe, but children here haven't even heard of me. My aunt wants to name her new born Takayuki but no guild names me as their president. I dance, I sing, I write, I paint, I have a vast garden, I make enough money, I am young, I can play 3 instruments, I am strong and can ride a horse, I can hold my sword well and for long in a duel, what more does one need to be famous?"
"And you still debate well, but to answer your question, I don't know, Takayuki-san. I haven't been famous and now I am too old to plan on becoming that."
"But you are famous, Yasuhiro-sensei. Everyone loves you and respects you."
"But I do nothing of what you do, how could I be famous?"
"You are wise and you teach in a manner which is unique. Hence, you are famous."
"Aah! If I remember that, I can never teach! Tell me, my boy, what really is the form of thorn that twists in your heart?"
"All that I create, sensei, seems to go waste."
"And when would it not?"
"When people recognise it, appreciate it, reward it, lift it up and place it on tall golden pedestals. When I become famous and I am known throughout lands far and wide and emperors invite me to their courts."
"Oh my! You are a creator. The only thing I create is tea, though I would give it up any day only if Kumiko-san would graciously move her house into the school. But jokes apart, your pains are less familiar to me. Perhaps we should meet Teruo-san and seek his help."
"Teruo-san? But he is mere myth."
"He is myth to those who'd rather wear myths as armours. Please have lunch with us. We shall leave thereafter."
Takayuki-san spent the rest of the morning worrying over whether he had done the right thing by coming to the school. He decided that he would be polite and live through his teacher's plan before consulting someone more experienced and successful than his teacher. Yasuhiro-san instructed a student on preparing luggage for two travellers with a light trek to be anticipated.
"And do not forget to pack 2 bundles of fine paper."
"And a brush and ink?"
"No, just paper."
After a filling lunch, they walked in the direction of the forests that covered Mount Sukai. They spoke about various matters and soon Takayuki-san forgot about his pressing concerns and spoke deeply and widely about nearly everything that lent itself to a conversation. The master didn't spare him a wicked minute which might return him to his earlier melancholy and introduced various topics and thoughts, goading Takayuki-san to continue his well-educated discussions. By the time they reached the wall of the mountain, Takayuki-san realised that his master probably knew all that he was speaking about and perhaps more. He suddenly became silent.
"Let us sleep here, by this wall, Takayuki-san. Tomorrow is another day."
"But do you know where Teruo-san lives?"
"Yes, I do. Very few know the way to his place."
They spread their rudimentary bed and stretched themselves on it.
"Isn't the night sky beautiful?"
"Yes, it is, sensei."
"A star wherever I look or a star's closed window."
"Ha ha ha. You could be poet, sensei. A quiet summer night - A star.. no... not like that,

A quiet summer night
Blowing on smouldering stars -
Some glow white, some black."

"It is, isn't it? Oh! I have to write it down. Do you have a sheet of paper, sensei?"
"I have two bundles of paper."
"And brush?"
"Nevermind, I can use the sap of a twig. Please allow me to borrow a sheet."
Takayuki-san was taken aback.
"I am sorry, sensei. Did I offend you? Perhaps I have spoiled your sleep with my incessant talk."
"Not at all. I loved it and your haiku."
"The paper is not for you. It is for Teruo-san. He needs it more than you."
"The ritual offering of paper to Teruo-san?"
"No, that is what people do. I give him sheets of paper occasionally so that he can create beauty."
"How come if he is the greatest writer in the world, no one has ever read anything of him?"
"Because he is the greatest creator amongst men."
"I don't understand."
"You might, later. For now, enjoy the stars and cool breeze."
Takayuki-san kept chanting his haiku. He simply had to remember it. He was sure this would win the Emperor's summer haiku competition. Yasuhiro-san smiled at the neighbouring drone of haiku and fell asleep.
Takayuki-san dreamt of white gazelles leaping through the bushes. Each one of them was a poem and fell on a harp which played them differently. He was seated in a swing and rose with the notes into the air to kiss clouds shying away from him. When he woke up, he remembered that he had called out to the birds and said "Come to me, for this is life. Let us all sing a rainbow and be happy."
"Slept well, Takayuki-san?"
Takayuki-san noticed that his teacher was already ready. He rose quickly and greeted his master. He went about his ablutions and returned to the spot where they slept. The wall of the mountain was no longer there, but now before him was a sinuous path.
"Master, what happened? Where is the wall of the mountain against which we slept?"
"This is the path to Teruo-san."
"But... how?"
"Well, if your soul feels that it should sing a rainbow and be happy, then the path to Teruo-san must emerge. After all, Teruo-san is only available when the soul seeks him."
Takayuki-san stared at his master and quietly collected his belongings. They trudged on silently before arriving at a cave. The cave glowed a sanguine warmth and Takayuki-san could hear someone recite poems inside. They stepped in to find an old man sitting behind a fire, reading from sheets of paper.
How you burn
"Welcome, welcome, Yasuhiro-san. What a pleasure it is to have you here! I see you bring your student along."
"How are you, Teruo-san? You look more alive every time I meet you. And how did you guess he was my student?"
"You jest, don't you? Has anyone to think why it is always a rose that emerges from a rose bush? Please sit down. Please have some water."
He pointed to the stream flowing beside him and out of the cave. He returned to reading from his sheets of paper and when he was done, he tossed the papers into the fire.
"My name is Takayuki."
"Hello, I am Teruo."
"It is an honour to meet the greatest artist in person."
"How do you know I am the greatest when you haven't read a word of what I have created?"
Takayuki-san stared at his toes. Somehow he thought all of this to be a trick and the man in front of him to be some friend of his master. But, how did he know about his earlier comment about Teruo-san?
Teruo-san read another page and tossed it into the fire.
"That was a beautiful poem, don't you think so?" asked Takayuki-san.
"You tell me."
"I think it was very well structured and its form was just right. You don't approve of the author's works?"
Teruo-san and Yasuhiro-san smiled at each other.
"What is there to approve or disapprove of the author? I am interested in the poem. I like it, if you must know."
"But you threw it into the fire."
"Oh! That was because I have to keep the fire alive. There is no wood here and if I descend to collect wood, it would take so much time that I will return to a pile of cold ash. So I toss the papers in."
"But the author might complain."
"He doesn't."
It was then that it dawned on Takayuki-san.
"They are your poems!"
"Yes, indeed. Would you like to listen to another?"
"Most certainly."
Teruo-san spread a sheet between his fingers and proceeded to recite:

"The nightingale sings
To the gently dropping beats
Of falling flowers."

"Splendid! Splendid!"
"You like it?"
"This is most amazing. I love it."
"Thank you", said Teruo-san and dropped the sheet of paper into the fire.
"What!? Why did you throw it away?"
"Because the fire was dying. Without it, I will most certainly die. I have to keep feeding the fire else it will kill me. Which fire is more important? The one in front of me or the one that I imagine?"
"But the poem!?"
"Oh! I finished reciting it."
Yasuhiro-san stepped forward and said, "Teruo-san, we bring you a small gift."
The master handed over one bundle to Takayuki-san who was still staring aghast as the flames ate up the poem. It was then that he noticed the burning paper was blank. He slowly looked up at Teruo-san and bowed down before offering the bundle of paper.
"Please accept this gift, oh greatest of creators."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dear Abhishek

I had written (for the 1st issue of Alvibest) this little piece of fiction as a letter from a father to a son. One comment that I loved in response to this piece was "No way could a 26 year old have written this!". Another dear friend thought this was a real exchange although the 1st page clearly says "Fiction".

Monday, May 18, 2009

Wherefore art thou!?

Doing nothing interesting to anyone who reads this blog. I am basically turning myself into a student as I once was (I believe that it will retard my receding hairline!). I am back in the classroom studying programming and going over my "Yes, yes, yes, I recall now" state of knowledge in functional programming.
I believe this will culminate in a manner that I find useful. I am notorious with my commitments once announced (and when not, my brain tricks me into thinking that it was all a dream). I intend to complete my study of functional programming (leaving the intricacies of lambda calculus for later) with a mastery of Erlang while simultaneously learning (and it is truly from scratch in this domain) HTML and AJAX to marry then with Adobe AIR. Eventually, with AIR giving me the front end and Erlang giving me the back-end, I should finally have the RSS reader that I dreamed of using.
This RSS reader will be tuned to run on multi-core systems (but is someone really reading at that pace!?) with a lot of background computation and analysis being performed to present a reader front unlike what is seen today (mere lists or thumbnails). Let's see if I can do something worthwhile.
What it means, in English, is that I would be less active on this blog if I become deeply involved in this project. But you never know! :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A Nice Thought

Let me fly

"To fly we must dance with our longest shadows in the brightest sunlight."

—Louise Rader

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Sad Game Called Democracy

Let's be honest
Isn't it funny that for all the fervid calls to adopting democracy, most nations (or their fragments) were never democratically led out of the Stone Age or through the colonial ages? We would be quick to cite how horrible it was to have a single king or Czar ruling an entire nation, but for every such example, we have more than one of a democracy going to the dogs and another king who brought great peace and justice to his kingdom. I don't believe that there is any one solution that will work everywhere for everyone (and no, I am not attempting a shabby escape) though I believe it is vital to understand how one can be true to any style of governance. Chanakya wrote well about the traits of a king and administration. One can refer to that or Machiavelli (though I won't stand by his produce) to arrive at a novel scheme for monarchy.

I am immensely entertained by the notion of democracy and the plaintive cry of romantics to worship this style over and above others. The greatest drama in this entire plot is that of the elections. India is facing this sham right now and best wishes. Democracy as it is practiced in India is a falsehood at various levels. I shall broadly categorise them into two parts: the common man's stupidity and the vulgarity of the system (and both of them have human beings as a common element! Hmmm).

Ponder over this statement (supposedly) made by a great celebrity: "Like every common man, I too want better economy, security, education, health, infrastructure, law and order and infrastructure (twice?). I vote every year and this time too won’t be an exception." I wonder which country has elections every year! We have people who make such romantic statements and the fanatics who go by some credo of "My party, whether Nazi or not". Then come all the celebrity campaigns which initially stirred in me a sense of responsibility but quickly fizzled into another drama. A tea company capitalised on this election season well with its advertisements. I did like one of them where a rather smart young man starts interviewing a candidate for the important job of "running the country". Point is, if we did that we wouldn't have candidates. We'll go into the system shortly. Before that, please find time to also read P. Sainath's article in The Hindu. He is a very good writer (of substance and not literary merit).

As long as people continue to be stupid and uneducated, any system to govern them decided by them is bound to fail and falter. One cannot leave the task of assembling a ship in a bottle to bunch of monkeys, or buffaloes (their hooves are too big). To accept the decision of an uneducated mass (which is different from the illiterate mass) is a sham. We could just as well have blind men judging Miss India (oh! that's how it already is?). If the population cannot make an informed decision, is incapable of analysing the behaviour and promise of a party, is unwilling to understand what it takes to achieve progress at various levels and cannot look beyond the TV set or bundles of clothes that they receive, they should not be allowed to vote. Similarly, the urban fools who think that they must vote because that is what modern people do should also not be allowed to vote. At least that is how I would like to see the whole system realised. I do not want the preference of a fool. I do not want to act on the judgement of the mentally deranged on matters which requires a properly functioning brain. I do not want the vote of an emotionally charged lunatic who believes that Ram Janma Bhumi is more important than poverty or unemployment or environmental degradation, or who drools over the sexy accompaniment of the party leader and drops his finger on the said symbol. Intelligence and wisdom are mandatory for casting a vote. If a person cannot be confident of that, then I don't think s/he should accept the huge responsibility of affecting the decision of who should govern the country for 5 years (or 5 minutes). So the issue is not about everyone voting but of everyone getting educated and studying one's options. So all the campaigns to coerce or embarrass the person into voting are pointless as long as they do not insist on each person studying each and every candidate with diligence.

If we turn our attention to the system, we notice that there isn't any. A sequence of stages doesn't make a system. Picture this: I vote for Keeley Hazell for several structural reasons. I don't know who she will align with (I mean politically). Once the election results are out, she hooks her wagon (figuratively) to a horrible thief whom I would never vote for. What can I do? In India, nothing. You can just be happy that you voted for KH and build a temple for her (which people can do in any country). The biggest problem in Indian politics is this: Keeley Hazell is not standing in any state!
Jokes apart, Indian politics is totally nonsensical because the mechanism is just this. I could vote for some popular leader (we'll come to the stupidity of that shortly) but have no clue as to whom s/he will align with at the centre. If s/he aligns with someone I don't approve of, I cannot recall my vote. This two tier system is rather vague as my vote is used for a purpose I am not interested in. Why must I commit a vote without knowing who it goes to eventually? It is like having a bundle of thieves behind a screen and I am asked to pick a colour that I like. I choose blue. The screen drops (after a drum-roll and trumpets) and blue is associated with thief #5. I didn't know that before I chose the colour. Does this make any sense? Not to me.
If I vote, I want my vote to only count for that person/party at the centre in whom I have some faith (based on credentials). Currently, everyone contests in their individual states (because that is the only place where they are even recognised). Whatever they win, they offer it as carrots to the donkeys further up in the chain and thus coalitions are formed. Several people believe that coalitions are the only way to be. Perhaps. So the person who votes for A has voted only for A who might never form the ruling party. What A does with those number of seats is not within the tell of this person. I don't think that is how a vote should be treated.

Here is how I feel true democracy (not because it is the solution to all our administrative problems) should function. I have, what I call, a 3-tier system.

Tier 1 (pronounced, tee-ar): Parties and individuals who have a representation in 50% or more number of states will produce a manifesto which will contain the following details:
  • Plan for the next 5 years, addressing each of the following (at least):
(a) Alleviating poverty
(b) Agricultural issues and issues of the farmers
(c) Import and Export issues
(d) Issues of internal and border security
(e) Education for all
(f) Generating true employment
(g) Medical and sanitation requirements
(h) Environment protection
(i) Technological advances
(j) Transport, communication and infrastructure

  • A complete report of the accomplishments of this party in whichever area it had the clout. In case the party/individual is a new entrant, s/t/he/y must provide evidence for having demonstrated active involvement in various initiatives of relevance (having acted in 100 movies doesn't count). New entrants can also pick up failed or poorly executed projects of the contesting parties and provide well-researched solutions and alternatives to the same. I agree that this sounds nice though after a point "will employ higher grade cement" or "will lay PVC pipes throughout the village" is not enough to make one party better than the other. Nevertheless, the thought that an individual/party brings to such issues is basis to hold them up against. Without doubt and I have personal experience in this matter, a liar's words, however sweet and sincere, cannot be relied upon and sometimes you will recognise a liar only after they demonstrate their baseness and not when they utter the words! Hence, this manifesto will function as a written record of what the party/individual claim to. A report will function as a checklist against which a person can be measured as well as provide (where applicable) an assessment of accomplishments.
  • Any party member who has a criminal case (theft, murder, deception, accrual of wealth beyond discernible means, etc.) cannot be allowed a seat. No compromises there! The manifesto will contain the complete past details (educational qualifications, criminal records, association with all businesses and organisations, etc.) of each member.
  • The policies with which this party/individual will never align. The 123 agreement, GM crops, etc.
  • Cabinet plan (who would most likely hold which position and why that person is the best person suited for the job). It makes little sense to have someone who barely passed his 12th (no matter how good he is) to handle the matters of the economy!
  • Pick any issue of national relevance and provide a solution to it in detail with complete analysis.
I know, that suddenly makes it seem like an entrance exam, but I wouldn't mind going that far. In this phase, parties can discuss with regional parties and come up with a commonly agreed upon manifesto (as outlined above). Once they have aligned themselves to a manifesto, they cannot change course. Whatever needs to be settled between the party members and various parties/individuals must be sealed by the end of this phase.

Tier 2: Educating the population. Accepted manifestos will be distributed to all those who wish to vote. Only those who collect these manifestos from an authorised centre, after producing their voter's ID, can vote. These can be entirely automated vending kiosks. Those who are illiterate can state that and their voters ID will be noted. They will be given audio-video presentations of the manifestos which are standardized and produced in the local language. These would actually be cheaper than producing the manuals as an entire village can be presented the same content without duplication. Responsible citizens can offer (and they will be well taken care of) to visit these villages and discuss issues with the villagers and help them give a more interactive discussion and perspective. A team of independent citizens will simultaneously investigate the claims in each of the manifestos to unearth issues that were not mentioned as well as misrepresentation of facts. Their observations will be periodically published in the daily newspapers. Several other means can be employed to better educate the population.

Tier 3: Campaigning and voting. The usual rigmarole can be staged in this phase with the standard restrictions and checks. Once, the campaigning ends, the people can proceed to vote. I would personally like to test the understanding of each voter to ensure that he knows what s/he is doing, but in a country as populated as this, I don't think the voting phase will ever end if we adopted that. We can only hope that the interested few are aware of what they are doing. I feel the urban population, esp. the youngsters and Net-savvy few will at least have an opportunity to discuss various manifestos and provoke thought. One thing that everyone is assured, is that their vote has a definite recipient. None of the present vagueness will exist.

If democracy is realised through the system above or through a more intelligent system (though collective intelligence is often lower than the average individual mind out there), then we have a fairly Right system and then asking everyone to vote has some point to it.

The need for clear accountability pervades all relationships and to assume that such benchmarks, strategy, agenda and checklists only work in a corporate world, is stupid. Those who shun from being accountable will always use such excuses of making life too "business-like". I have already stated my views on the trader relationship, so I will not waste time on this.

I am reading (about) Isabel Paterson (who is the one who inspired Ayn Rand to create her entire philosophy and her tomes) and she told readers she was “tired of being told that ‘credit depends on confidence.’ Fudge. Credit depends on real assets, sound money and a clean record. … When any one asks us to have confidence we are glad to inform him that the request of itself would shatter any remaining confidence in our mind.” Very true. Similarly, credibility depends on sound values, sound plans and a clean past record. If a politician asks you to vote because you should have faith in him to run the country/state well or that you believe that s/he is the best and the other politicians must be treated as scoundrels, I would be glad to inform him that his expectations of themselves shatter all faith or belief I might have had in his enterprise. Ms. Paterson is quite remarkable in her thoughts (it is funny that most of the women in my know, hate me for following a philosophy espoused by two women!!) and I would urge readers to read her God of the Machine.

There are bound to be problems with the scheme above. What if there is no clear majority? What happens if no one in my state represents a manifesto that I love? What if I want more information? What if corruption enters this agenda too? These are problems arising from details and I have solutions for each of these. What is most important now, are not these solutions but the realisation that we are encouraging a corrupt system and have no intention to realise a democracy in the true sense of the word. If we see that and are willing to change it, and see the Rightness of the scheme above (and I am sure there are better schemes which I might think up later on or borrow from a great mind) then we have things moving and in the sheer goodness of that movement, there will be enough substance and understanding to solve issues with nitty-gritty details. Till something like this is encorporated, I will never vote.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I am tired...

I've gathered Spring blooms,
White heat, petrichor and frost.
I think I'll sleep... yes.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

A Very Hot Trip

Trip to Auroville

Click on the picture above to view the entire slideshow (embedding it increases the load)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Cherry Blossoms

Aah! To love like this

Hunt for the perfect
Bloom, ends on my lover's neck -
A bite, not too hard.