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Consulting.Philosophy.Travel

  • There are three types of people in the world, those who don't know what's happening, those who wonder what's happening and those on the streets that make things happen.

Posts Tagged ‘India’

Name and Shame

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 8, 2013

rti

“Name and Shame” has been a much touted policy in India over the last couple of years. Towards the end of 2012 there were calls to “name and shame” sex offenders. Earlier this year, the Election Commission of India proposed using the same treatment for politicians colluding with media houses. And last month, national banks decided to “name and shame” loan defaulters as well as guarantors of those loans by publishing their photographs and other details in newspapers and at notice boards of bank branches and community centers.

Amartya Sen, in his book “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions”, highlights the power of media in not only designing the framework of behavior and social norms but also in manipulating human behavior within that framework.

The activism of the media has a definite role to play both in demanding and encouraging institutional reforms, and in influencing human behavior. Human beings respond to incentives. To want to do well for oneself is not the same as cupidity, and there is no dishonor to humanity in accepting that completely selfless behavior is very rare. Incentives include not only financial gains and profits, but also public admiration and praise as a positive influence, and naming and shaming as a potential deterrent. Adam Smith noted that it is ‘praise worthiness’ that should move us most in our moral thinking, but also recognized that it is actual praise that tends to encourage human beings, just as actual blame restrains them.

Over the last few years, the Indian media has displayed activism that is altering the social and political landscape of the country. Scams are being unearthed, the guilty are being exposed. Even though the weak judicial system allows a lot of the culprits to walk free, the drive to “name and shame” is having its desired effect. It is this activism that has prevented skepticism from turning into a “fatalistic acceptance” of the current corrupt state of affairs. We finally have reasons to believe that things can really change in our country.

Posted in Philosophy, Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Modern day Segregation

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on August 2, 2013

untouchables caste india

The “untouchables” constituted the lowest rung of the caste system in India. Centuries of reform movements have alleviated the sufferings of those condemned to the bottom of this man made social hierarchy. However, segregation is only too evident in many parts of India. My most recent encounter with such social injustice was during my last political marketing campaign that took me to rural heartland of north India.

While campaigning in villages, I came across demographic distribution that fit a pattern. In every village the “untouchables” lived in a cluster around 200 meters away from the rest of the population. Though disturbing, this did not come as a shock to me. I was aware of the fact that we Indians were far from ridding ourselves completely of the ancient evil. However, what I observed next was disturbing. In every village the “untouchable” cluster would be towards the south while others would be in the northern part of the village. This layout was the same in all of the over 150 villages I visited. No exceptions. This pattern had to have a reasoning behind it. Hence, I inquired.

A local “wise” old man told me that since the wind blew from the northern direction, having the “untouchables” live in that part of the village would mean that the wind would be  “unclean” when it reached the other parts of the village. Winds that touched the “untouchables” would be dirty and upper caste people could not risk becoming “corrupt” by coming in contact with the same wind.

In his latest book “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” Nobel laureate and economist Amartya Sen reasons how India, in pursuit of economic growth has neglected expansion of human capabilities and freedom. The neglect of physical and social infrastructure (health, education etc.) has meant that while we have achieved economic growth, real development has not kept pace with it. He couldn’t be more right.

Posted in Political Marketing, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pakistan bashing week?…..nah!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on January 28, 2013

After publishing my last post, I thought of dedicating this week to bashing my neighbors. With the recent beheading of Indian soldiers on our western border, I’m surprised that there hasn’t been an all out military confrontation. In fact I’m surprised that we haven’t attacked them in more than a decade. While my heart goes out to the families of the martyrs, Im glad that our government has exhibited a lot of wisdom by showing restraint.

And in line with my government’s position, I too shall be kind to my ill-guided neighbors. Why waste my thoughts on a country that had no logical reason for being created? Why bother about a country that is an economic disaster? Why wage war with a bunch of provinces adamant on self-destruction? Why engage with an entity that can boast Afghanistan and Iran as its neighbors? Why write anything about a country, when even my laptop crashes when I am writing this post about it?

Not worth it. A patriot has spoken.

Posted in Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

(Political) Joke of the Day

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on January 28, 2013

Enjoy 🙂

A Sardar (A Sikh from the state of Punjab in India), a German and a Pakistani got arrested consuming alcohol which is a severe offense in Saudi Arabia , so for the terrible crime they are all sentenced 20 lashes each of the whip.

As they were preparing for their punishment, the Sheik announced:

“It’s my first wife’s birthday today, and she has asked me to allow each of you one wish before your whipping..”

The German was first in line, he thought for a while and then said: “Please tie a pillow to my back..”

This was done, but the pillow only lasted 10 lashes & the German had to be carried away bleeding and crying with pain.

The Pakistani was next up. After watching the German in horror he said smugly: “Please fix two pillows to my back.”

But even two pillows could only take 15 lashes & the Pakistani was also led away whimpering loudly.

The Sardar was the last one up, but before he could say anything, the Sheikh turned to him and said:
“You are from a most beautiful part of the world and your culture is one of the finest in the world. For this, you may have two wishes!”

“Thank you, your Most Royal and Merciful highness,” Sardar replied.

“In recognition of your kindness, my first wish is that you give me not 20, but 100 lashes.”

“Not only are you an honourable, handsome and powerful man, you are also very brave.” The Sheik said with an admiring look on his face.

“If 100 lashes is what you desire, then so be it.

“And what is your second wish, ?” the Sheik asked.

Sardar smiled and said, “Tie the Pakistani to my back” !!!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 5 Comments »

A Perfect Constitution for Imperfect People

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on January 26, 2013

indian_flag

On this day in 1950, India formally adopted its Constitution and became a Republic. The unthinkable was achieved and an unknown future awaited 350 million people. A population that had been oppressed for over thousand years by hundreds of invading armies, was free. Indians finally had a country to themselves and for the first time in history, the right to vote. We became a democratic republic. Were we prepared for it? I doubt it.

My belief in the righteousness of the Indian Constitution is total and unwavering. A country as diverse as ours has been a stable democracy for over 60 years. We have faced no military coups or major religious conflicts. If that was not miraculous enough, we have grown into a significant economic entity and are headed in the right direction. Slowly, yes, but surely.  Everytime I look at the demographic spread of India, my respect for the founding fathers and their foresight only grows. The fact that we are still a united country is a testament to the greatness of our Constitution.

But what explains the ills that pervade the Indian society today? Why are we ranked so low in almost all human development indices? Why are women still not safe in India and why is there so much poverty and destitution in the country?  Any panelled discussion on the above topics inevitably ends up pointing fingers at our politicians and their corrupt ways. While I do not agree with the attitude of blaming our politicians for all the mess, I am particularly disturbed when the “civil society” raises doubts about our constitutional institutions. And this questioning of our Constitution and our system has become a fashionable trend lately. To all these people my answer is clear, “Ours is a perfect constitution”. We are “Imperfect People”.

In a democracy, the government and politicians are a reflection of the people. In India, I have absolutely no doubt about the verity of this. We have corrupt politicians and bureaucracy because we are corrupt. Women do not feel safe on our cities’ road because we in our houses do not respect our women. The devils that commit heinous crimes like rapes are no strangers to our land. They have come from among us. We do not have good infrastructure, because we refuse to pay our taxes. We have such economic inequality because our caste system has tuned us into accepting an unequal society. We have a population explosion problem because we “f#@ked up”, literally! I could go on and on.

The devil lies within us. Lets not blame the politicians or the constitutional institutions for our own failures. Lets be thankful that our great constitution gives us a chance to become the greatest nation in the history of the world. We can do this. Lets become the greatest human beings in the world, and leave the rest to the constitution.

Thats it. I’m done.

Posted in Philosophy, Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

My mind today

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on January 8, 2013

Its cold here. A lot of you may think that 3 degrees Celsius is nothing to fear, but in India, it is scary. We are just not prepared for it. Our houses aren’t centrally heated nor are our workplaces. I walk into a factory and I see the shopfloor workers shivering while they assemble white goods. The pressure is high because its a shipment for the United States. Minimum wage workers earning less than $5 a day, fighting against all odds to earn a living. North India experiences terrible winters every year. Yet, I have not seen a single factory that is centrally air conditioned. I guess the hardships of the shop floor workers are not important enough for the management. Or maybe low cost production doesn’t allow us to install heating for assembly lines. The Indian economy is booming!

The cold wave in North India has claimed several lives. Ofcourse it will. We have millions of homeless who dare below freezing temperatures every night. Imagine going to sleep not knowing if you will wake up. I have been through that once and it is not pleasant. The cold this year is not unique. Every year we face similar drops in temperature and every year we lose lives. The government cannot provide temporary shelters and blankets to all the homeless. The Indian economy is booming!

I have always heard Indians boast that we are very family oriented people. We couldn’t be farther from the truth. I do not come across anyone leaving office before 7pm. In a city like Delhi, most people leave for office at 8am and return home at 8pm. They spend an average of 2.5 hrs in daily commute. While most companies officially state a 5 day week, I have rarely seen anyone free on Saturdays. And even when I leave my office in the evening, I can expect my boss to call me at any God forsaken time. When do we spend time with our families? Family oriented does not mean getting married to the person our parents pick for us. It means spending more quality time with our families. Sadly, very few Indians are truly family oriented today. The Indian economy is booming.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , | 8 Comments »

A Glimpse of Diwali

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on November 14, 2012

Yesterday was my favorite festival, Diwali. A festival that sees a mass migration across India. It is a time when one returns home to be with relatives. Diwali has shaped one of the most important decisions in my life, the decision to return to India. I loved being abroad. Enjoyed Finland a lot and had a ball in New York. But the fact of being away from my loved ones hit me the most on Diwali. I remember the first Diwali outside India. Everything was eerily silent and somewhere deep in my subconscious mind I decided that I would return to India. So every Diwali now, I look up at the heavens and thank God for letting me be with my family and my loved ones. I left opportunities on Wall Street in exchange for the millions I made in the form of moments I spend with my family. Not every person is as lucky, some out of choice and others out of circumstances.

Here are a few images from last evening. Gone are the days when I used to burst loud and dangerous firecrackers. Nowadays, its more subdued. But the magic still remains. Happy Diwali everyone 🙂

Posted in Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 15 Comments »

Part 2: (Dis)United States of I-N-D-I-A

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on November 9, 2012

Shannon, on one of her comments shared, “The happiest and most successful countries seem to be the smaller ones. Their populations are more homogonous, which allows them to have a national identity while still respecting other cultures who are different. Because they are smaller, policies are more efficient and better able to help rather than hinder.”

I couldn’t agree more with her. Small entities are managed better than larger ones and there is no doubt in my mind that small governments are the best governments. If we gift the government even a bit of our freedom, it will enslave us for the rest of our lives. India is a great example of completely diverses states glued together to form a nation. Truly Diverse! Its a big state with a big government, and I see problems with both. Our founding fathers were aware of this drawback and hence incorporated a system of governance that empowered small administrative groups called Panchayats. The aim was to give governance in the hands of small bodies at village levels. However, vested interests in the State and Federal Governments stripped the small bodies of their powers and relevance. Today we are back to becoming a nation of big states being governed by big governments.

So why not treat India like a Private Company and consider a demerger of the enterprise? Why not look at realigning our borders and boundaries? Why not divide it and yet maintain common interests like the EU? A lot of people argue that being united gives us the economic strentgh that we now enjoy in the world. They couldn’t be farther from the truth. Real economic strength is borne out of innovation, intellect and moral excellence. What India enjoys right now is the result of overpopulation translating into cheap labor. This prosperity is not sustainable and it is only a matter of time before China, East Europe and Phillippines overtake us in the services sector we so brag about. Here’s a post I had published highlighting how being a collection of so many varied states is limiting our social and intellectual growth.

Non-kashmiris cannot buy land in Kashmir.There is 90% probability that you and I will have troubles acquiring 100% ownership of land in many districts of Himachal Pradesh. To visit Mizoram, non residents need to apply a permit from the Mizoram House. A permit of 15 days is given to visit the state. Same is the case for Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh. Infact until 5 years back, a permit was required to visit any of the North-Eastern states. On the flip side, the residents of these states have no restrictions whatsoever when it comes to mobility and ownership in the rest of I-n-d-i-a.

Where are all the ”intellectuals” who ridiculed Raj Thackeray when he proposed a permit like system to be implemented for Mumbai?Either it was a case of sheer unawareness or convenient ignorance for their utter disregard for this suggestion. The argument that cordoning off Mumbai is against the constitutional ethos falls flat because it exists in several parts of India.

Lets imagine a scenario where all the states of I-n-d-i-a develop a non porous border. Which means that a person from state of Orissa will need a permit to enter the state of Maharashtra and vice versa. In order to do so, he will have to prove what value addition he brings to Maharashtra.

The consequence of such a scenario is pretty evident. The system will ensure,that very few residents of sick states of I-n-d-i-a will have an option to leave their state.This will force the local populace to fore go the escapist attitude that they presently harbor. In doing so, they will be compelled to work on their own soil and hold their local government accountable for the poor condition of their state. Bad governance of the local representatives will no longer be forgiven since the populace will be left with no outlet that they currently enjoy in the form of developing states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu etc.

A system as corrupt, infested and hollow as the one in most I-n-d-i-a-n states can be cured by nothing less than a revolution.To instigate a revolution, generation of profound resentment and anger in the people is a must. Putting a cap on the immigration outlet that people have access to, will build a pressure cooker like situation that, with time will explode into a revolution and bring about the change these states need.

In absence of such controls, we will only end up with suffocating and ailing metros/cosmos that will be fed on by parasites because an immunity system was not built in time.

Walled states could hence result in turning India into a collection of individually rich states. A united I-n-d-i-a is a classic example of an organization where de-merger of its 28 departments(states) could yield a better enterprise value than that of a merged entity slowed down by its size and weight.

Disunited States of I-n-d-i-a may not be a bad idea after all.

Posted in Philosophy, Political Marketing | Tagged: , , | 16 Comments »

Twelve Years of Fasting….Story of a Paradise Lost.

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on November 5, 2012

Irom Sharmila personifies greatness. This social activist has been on a fast for the last 12 years, demanding withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from her state of Manipur. She is being fed through nasogastric intubation to keep her alive.

When the nation of India was formed, it was a collection of extremely diverse provinces and states. Attached to India were the seven states of North East that could not be more different from the rest of India; Culturally, Religiously and Ethnically. Naturally the locals resented and out of this opposition arose several militant movements that fought the state demanding freedom from the Union of India. While most of these movements were quelled, either by bribing the rebels into submission or pumping alcohol and drugs into the veins of their residents, one state remains “disturbed” in the records of the Indian Government. This state is the beautiful land of Manipur.

North East India is “Heaven on Earth”. And Manipur is the capital of that Paradise. The most pristine landscapes, the most breathtaking views, a place hand made by Gods as their resting place. But Gods seem to have abandoned the state since the 1950s. Warring factions, militant rebels, vendetta driven Army have colored the land red. Thousands of lives have been lost, several atrocities committed. Yet, more than 60 years later, there is no peace. Or maybe, that is what groups with vested interests would like us to think. Hence, Manipur is still labeled “disturbed” by the government and this categorization is used to justify the implementation of the dark law that is AFSPA.

The colonial law used by the British in 1942 was adopted by the Indian Union and further tweaked to make it even more draconian. The law gives the Army and supporting operations groups unlimited powers. They can apprehend anyone without a warrant, not even an excuse. It gives Army officers legal immunity for their actions. There can be no prosecution, suit or any other legal proceeding against anyone acting under that law. Nor is the government’s judgment on why an area is found to be disturbed subject to judicial review. Needless to say, the law has been misused more than a few times.

While it sounds despicable, the law is required. However, it was always intended to be used for a very short time, for three to six months which would let the Armed Forces clean up the disturbed areas. But when the law is applied for a period beyond that, it takes on an evil character. In Manipur, the law has been in force for decades!

So this post is dedicated to the people of North East, who are my fellow Indians and I feel sad that they are being treated as unequal Indians by our government. Worse, no one seems to be giving two hoots about what is going on in land that we Indians should be grateful for possessing. Its a blot on our democracy.

I salute Irom Sharmila. She is the modern day Gandhi! I do wish she ends her fast and uses her energy to bring together like minded people and create a strong democratic forum to fight the system.Her fast is losing its bite. Because, like one analyst said, people have just gotten used to her fast.

But who cares. India’s GDP is growing at 8%. Some Indians are counting their riches while the rest are being bribed by alcohol, drugs and bullets.

Posted in Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

[Repost] Why I Don’t Want To Believe in Rebirth

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on November 3, 2012

Five years ago I was walking down a road in Helsinki with a German friend of mine. It was a fine summer day and we had just stepped out of the Library. And right then a beautiful Audi whizzed past us. “Wow! I wish I could get my hands on that beauty”, exclaimed my friend. “Relax, what’s the hurry?” I replied. He smiled and said, “Raunak, you are a Hindu. You will be re-born and can have another life to get a car like that. I am a Christian.I have only one life to get one.”

And what he said is etched in my mind for eternity. He had in a simple sentence explained the psyche of the Indian people in general and one that could be responsible for all the ills that pervade our society. e.g. India will never see a Revolution. A Revolution requires people to rise against the injustice meted out by those in authority. But most Indians when faced with a problem blame their past life sins (bad karmas) for their poor condition now. A beggar will blame his own wrong actions for his destitute existence in this life. He will never blame the corrupt and evil authorities in power for his pitiful life. A man who falls into a puddle of water on the road will blame his stars for the fall, not the inept contractor who made that low quality crap from our tax money. And by suffering the pains of this life we believe we will be reborn into a better life.

And this is why I do not agree with the concepts of rebirth and karma. These tenets have been used for centuries to carry out social oppression and the perpetrators have gotten away with it. It breeds self-infliction of pain and a cowardly attitude that many misinterpret as forgiveness. The belief in rebirth also belittles human life. No wonder the value of human life in India is abysmally low.  Also, is this complacency the reason that since days of Alexander, India has always been the conquered land.

If only everyone believed that they have ONLY ONE LIFE, they would go all out to make it better. And in doing so, get rid of the real culprits of their miseries. We all need to live in the present with the realization that this moment is never going to come back nor is my soul ever going to come back to this world. We need to ACT to change our present and not give into apathy towards our sufferings for hope of a better next life. This is the only life that we have and it is time for a Revolution.

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Indian Cultural Diary: Karva Chauth

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on November 2, 2012

Today, millions of women across North India are observing a day long (sunrise to moonrise) for long life of their husbands. My wife has remained without food and water for ove 14 hours and it will be another hour or so before we see the moon. She has become fidgety and is giving me the “I can’t believe I’m doing this for you” look 🙂  But she’s taking it well and I’m glad to see her sense of humor coming to the forefront in this time of distress!

This age old tradition has never failed to impress me. The day is filled with beautiful rituals which are conducted by women dressed in some of the most gorgeous Indian outfits and adorned with sparkling jewels and radiating henna designs on their hands. The communal prayers are a sight to behold and nothing is more exciting than the manner in which women break their fast at moonrise. The wife performs her prayers while looking at the moon. She then looks at the moon through a sieve and then turns and looks at her husband through the same sieve. The process is better described here,

The fera ceremony concluded, the women await the rising of the moon. Once the moon is visible, depending on the region and community, it is customary for a fasting woman, with her husband nearby, to view its reflection in a vessel filled with water, through a sieve, or through the cloth of a dupatta. Water is offered (arka) to the moon (som or chandra, the lunar deity) to secure its blessings. She then turns to her husband and views his face indirectly in the same manner. In some regions, the woman says a brief prayer asking for her husband’s life. It is believed that at this stage, spiritually strengthened by her fast, the fasting woman can successfully confront and defeat death (personified by Yama).

Hats off to all wives who go through such a tough ritual for their husbands. I wish there was a similar way for us husbands to show our affection. Too bad the scriptures didn’t address this 🙂

You can read more about this wonderful festival and its mythological origins here.

Posted in Philosophy, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 20 Comments »

Alternate View: The Great Game behind India’s Partition

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 27, 2012

Partition of India, the biggest migration witnessed by the world, one of the worst ethnic manslaughters on the face of the earth has unfortunately not received the emphasis it deserves in the annals of historic literature. Somewhere between the trauma of the Second World War, the Jewish genocide and the Atomic Bomb, the world forgot the millions who lost their lives thanks to agreements reached by England educated politicians in their cozy rooms.Indians then were not important enough to be noticed. Unlike now, we did not control the software industry then.My father was part of this utterly uncalled for dislocation. While on his way from Pakistan to India, he witnessed uncountable hate crimes and even saw his uncle burnt alive by a mob from the other side.

In classrooms, debate panels and cocktail get-togethers in many a Indian households, ill informed people share their “accurate” views that are as unbiased as Fox News itself! While religion is considered the primary force that drove this division, people also lay a lot of the blame on leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah. Some even believe that Jinnah wanted Pakistan to be created so that he could fulfil his ambition of becoming a Prime Minister. Others blame Nehru for not letting Jinnah become the Prime Minister of United India. One aspect that is rarely cited or discussed or even known is the British role in the partition. Did Britain have anything to gain from it? Lets take it a step further. Did the U.S have a role to play in the partition? Maybe.

The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition is a wonderful book written by Narendra Singh Sarila, who at the time of the partition, served as ADC to Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India. He was also the Maharaja of Sarila, a small kingdom in the heart of India. I was fortunate to have been presented this book by his wife, the Queen of Sarila herself. Narendra Singh bases his reasearch on East India Company communication that in recent years has been declassified by the British government. It is interesting to find evidence that points towards British and American collusion in effecting the partition of India.

To strengthen British and US domination in Asia, the English asked Indian leaders if after independence they would allow the British and the Americans to establish military bases in India. Indian leaders including Mahatma Gandhi flatly refused this proposal. They would not compromise India’s sovereignty and also wanted to set an example of Non Alignment in the world. This snub did not go down too well with the British. They then look toward Jinnah and asked him that if they facilitated the partition of India, would Jinnah allow UK and US to use the newly created Pakistan to position strategic military bases there. Jinnah was only too keen to accept. Not only would this help him gain a new country to rule, but American an British presence would safeguard Pakistan’s interests against India. The British and the Americans couldn’t be happier. The location of the proposed land for the Muslims was strategically perfect to influence the politics of Central Asia and most importantly tackle the new enemy, the USSR. Hence, despite opposition from supporters of United India, the English hastily got the two parties to agree to a partition.

The result: displacement of millions of people, ethnic genocide at a scale unimaginable, creation of two mortal enemy states, one blood, two countries. Not that it mattered to the English or the Americans. They had just won over a new ally in Pakistan and had established an invaluably strategic presence in Asia.

I am a great admirer of English and American political thought and wit. Their well thought out, selfishly motivated execution of the Partition does not seem too implausible to me. Does it to you?

Posted in Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Will the real Indian please stand up!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 21, 2012

No! There is no one real Indian. We put the “D” in Diverse.  In fact, we put the I,V,E,R,S and E as well. But its not easy being us. Every time we travel abroad, we come across stereotypes that have absolutely nothing to do with us. The first time I did, I was left wondering how in the world did they get that impression of us. And then it hit me that there are million types of us. I am an Indian, but only one type. The general characteristics which differentiate the types are region, language, looks and food. In addition to being an Indian, I belong to a particular region, I speak a particular language, I look a particular way and my food habits too categorize me into a certain type. So far so good.

But things get very irritating when a set of Indians belonging to a particular combination of the above characteristics give rise to stereotypes that are extremely embarrassing for the rest of us. For example, I do not put coconut oil in my hair nor do I shake my head when I mean to nod. Yet, I am an Indian. I do not have a heavy accent nor do I walk holding my friend’s hand. Yet, I am in Indian. I am not an IT Programmer nor a help desk executive. Yet, I am an Indian. I can be a Punjabi and not have to wear a turban. I can be a Kashmiri and yet be a Hindu.

Every wave of immigration carried with it a different type of Indian to the world. And we still have many more headed to a neighborhood near you 🙂

 

Posted in Philosophy, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Oh no…not again!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 20, 2012

17:00 The train came to a halt. I picked up my bags and rushed to my compartment. Before boarding, I read the reservation chart and breathe a sigh of relief when I see my name on that list. I knew my ticket was confirmed but my mind has been tuned into being stressed till I see the proof inked on that dreaded chart.  Next, I glance at the passenger names around my seat. I am going to be spending the next 28 hours of my life with them, and I like to be prepared for what is coming. The only column that interests me is the Age/Sex column. 82/M, 52/F, 55/M, 57/M, 46/F ; oh no…not again! None of my co-passengers belong to my age group. Why does this always happen to me! I look at my Kindle and can’t help think “Just the two of us.”

17:30: Train starts moving. I bid an emotional goodbye to my favorite city, not knowing when I will return.

18:00: I assume a quiet posture in my seat, eyes glued to my kindle, ears catching every sound wave from the surroundings. Three of my co-passengers are related. 82 year old father (I will refer to him as grandfather) of the 52 year old aunty who is married to the 55 year old uncle. In India, any lady more than 20 years your age is referred to as “aunty” and any man “uncle”.

18:15: Aunty starts slicing apples and passes them on to uncle and Grandfather. And then what I dread, she offers them to me. I courteously refuse but in India you know its not going to work. I soon had four slices of apple in my hand and one in my mouth. Honestly, these were the most delicious apples I had had in a long time. I knew what this meant, I was now obliged to spend the next 26 hours chit chatting with this family. I looked at my Kindle, “Goodbye, mon ami!”

19:00: Grandfather turns out to be the most interesting man. He was a retired Railways official and his postings across the country endowed him with great wisdom that comes with traveling and age. Fortunately, he loved talking and sharing this worldly wisdom. I was all ears.

20:00: The family unpacks its home made dinner and not surprisingly, I am offered their food. By now I am only too glad to accept the invitation. Fried potatoes in a red curry accompanied by Indian bread…heaven!

21:00: By now we have discussed the state of our nation more than the Cabinet ever has. The latest scandal involving the son-in-law of the country has been analyzed from every possible angle. Quality of railways food has been blasted in every sense possible. The danger Walmart poses to our entrepreneurs has been debated thoroughly. Best ways of investing savings have been pondered upon and almost all religious stereotypes existing in our country mentioned at least once.

22:00: We all wish each other a pleasant sleep and retire to our berths. I pick up my kindle and start reading “Business As Usual” by John Childress.

The next day is a repeat of exchange of gossips, food and jokes. In no time, I reach my destination and bid a grateful farewell to grandfather, uncle and aunty. Grateful for filling 28 hours of my life with such enriching information, wisdom and experience. Grateful for sharing their travels and teaching me a great lesson, “first impressions can be very deceiving indeed.” The next time I look at the reservation chart, I’ll look for an 82/M listing.

P.S: Highly recommend “Business As Usual” by John Childress. 5 stars!

Super  Pants lived up to their expectations yet again 🙂

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Arranged Marriages make Darwin turn in his grave!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 9, 2012

This afternoon I was reading “The Theories of Darwin and their relation to Philosophy, Religion and Morality”. To be honest, this is my first serious attempt at understanding Darwin’s theories more deeply. It is indeed exciting to explore the theories of descent, evolution and selection. There is so much logical reasoning that drives this study. I have not yet formed an opinion on the validity of his arguments, but I certainly know that arranged marriages do not go down too well with the theory of selection.

Arranged marriage is an ancient tradition in India and still account for 90% of unions here. In most cases, the match for the boy and girl is decided by the parents on either side. A lot of parameters influence these decisions, one of which is the economic and social background of the families. With so many criteria to match, the characteristics of the boy and the girl end up being pushed down the measuring scale to quite an extent until in some cases, the boy and the girl do not matter at all.  Religion, Caste, Financial strength and Astrological charts over shadow what the bride and groom to be really want.

Natural selection allows mating among individuals in a species in a way that the characteristics most desirable to survival are passed ahead. In my head, these characteristics can be categorized as Physical, Emotional, Intellectual and Spiritual. Ideally, we would want to see a union of individuals who are strong in at least one of the four areas. The more the better. While families measure each others collective strengths before setting up a marriage, they do not focus completely on the individual strengths of the boy and girl involved in the union. This gives rise to matches where mating selection is not being based on selection of the fittest, and the result can be off-springs that do not possess any significant prowess in either Physical, Emotional, Intellectual or Spiritual domains.  We may not be passing the best characteristics to the next generation.

When a union is based on love, I trust the boy and girl to select their match based on strengths in at least one of the above mentioned four categories. You may love someone for how physically strong they are, or how emotionally balanced they are, or how intellectually or spiritually gifted they are or all of the above. Such unions have a better chance of passing desirable traits to the next inhabitants of Earth. Hence, I am in favor of love marriages over arranged. I do not comment on their influence on the success of the marriage, but I feel they have a better chance of sustaining human evolution.

P.S: I have just come from a 26 hour train journey that has rattled every bone in my body. It may have also had an impact on my thinking and the above post must be read with that in mind. The image above is that of my kindle on my “Super Pants” 🙂

Also, I do not suggest that arranged marriages “always” produce undesirable outputs. I am only suggesting that their probability to do so is higher.

As always, comments are welcomed.

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My Super Pants!

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 8, 2012

I write this post from inside a train in India. So far, I have exchanged my berth with a co-passenger, so that a family, divided by the cruelty of the reservation system can travel together. All my internal organs have undergone three hours of motion sickness test, thanks to the old and faulty suspension system of this wagon. I have not spoken a single word for the last couple of hours; my berth lies at the very end of the compartment and is quite an isolated spot. I have another 24 hours before I reach my destination and I know they are not going to be the most comfortable.

Earlier today, I experienced a moment of delight that I’d like to share here. While I was getting dressed for the journey, I put on my cargo pants and felt a sudden transformation. The day until then had been pretty dull and I was feeling in no mood to undertake this long trip. But suddenly, in a split moment, all that changed. When I had donned those pants, I was ready to go, all charged up to head out on a long trek. I felt this surge of energy and a complete change in my frame of mind. Bewildered, I looked at myself in the mirror. I gazed at my pants and it hit me, they possessed magical powers.

These were the same cargo pants that I had worn on several arduous travels of mine, the 18 day trek across North East India, the 15 day mentally punishing trip to Mt. Kailash in Tibet, the month long grilling political campaign in the badlands of rural India. Since my body had overcome a lot of external stress while dressed in these cargoes, an unexplainable bonding has come into existence between the two. A touch of the pants on my skin, and my body gets triggered into action. Physiological changes kick in, hormonal flows get altered and travel instincts get activated. In short, a pretty cool conditional reflex has developed.

I now call these cargoes my Super Pants! Does your wardrobe have a Super Dress?

P.S: I’ve just been requested to change my berth again so that an old lady can occupy my lower berth and I climb on to the upper berth allotted to her. This happens every time I take a train 🙂

 

 

 

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Remembering Greatness…

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on October 2, 2012

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

2nd October 1869 – forever

Posted in Political Philosophy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Hampi: Of a Great Empire and a Foolish King who really pissed off his enemies…

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 25, 2012

…and pissed them off so much that three kingdoms, that were mortal enemies, joined hands to raze the Vijayanagar Empire to ground.

Hampi, blessed with an out of this world and mesmerizing landscape, is surrounded by the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire. The Empire in the Deccan Plateau spanned over three centuries (14th century AD to 17th century AD) and was ruled by four dynasties. At its peak, the empire was the seat of excellence in administration, governance, commerce,technology, literature and culture. This zenith was reached under the reign of King Krishna Deva Raya who ruled in the first half of the sixteenth century. Excavations around Hampi speak of the power and wealth of the empire. But peaceful existence could never be taken for granted. The first two centuries of the empire saw the Kings adopt an aggressive strategy to keep its enemies at bay. Military excursions against neighbors were frequent, and this ensured an efficient army of hardened warriors.

Towards the middle of the 16th century, the Empire found itself surrounded by three hostile dynasties. The Muslim Sultanates of Ahmednagar (Nizam Shahi), Golconda (Qutb Shahi) and Bijapur ( Adil Shahi) bordered Vijayanagar and were a constant threat. Surrounded by Muslim enemies, the strategy for survival was altered, “Divide and Live” became the new mantra.  In 1542, Aliya Rama Raya ascended to the throne of Vijayanagar. During his rule, the Muslim Sultanates were constantly involved in fighting each other and requested Rama Raya on more than one occasion to act as a mediator. Rama Raya exploited this role to not only aggravate misunderstandings between the Sultanates, but also to expand his own territory. Rama Raya constantly changed sides  between the Sultanates. He was foolishly flirting with danger. And he paid for it.

In 1565 the unthinkable happened. The Muslim Sultanates that were mortal enemies, awakened to the connivance of Rama Raya and joined hands to bring down the Vijayanagar Empire. The Battle of Talikota resulted in a rout of Vijayanagar.

What followed was a victorious army along with dwellers falling upon the great city. With axes, crowbars, fire and sword the victorious armies went about the task of bringing to rubble the city of Vijayanagara which never recovered from the onslaught.”

According to another source,

“After three days, Muslim troops entered the city. There was no one to stop them. They looted, plundered and destroyed the city. Men, women and children were killed without any mercy. Shops, temples and houses were burnt and the sacred Hindu idols were destroyed. This destructive episode continued for six months relentlessly. The havoc was complete. The scenes showed the magnitude of hatred Muslims had for Hindus.”

Alas, one of the greatest Hindu Empires of India was thus reduced to rubble. Hampi, a UN World Heritage site is a must visit for anyone traveling to India. The beauty of its landscape is stunning, and the ruins echo the sounds of a once supreme Empire.

 

 

 

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Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted…Really?That Bad?

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 19, 2012

Here’s a sign board I came across while enjoying Kodaikanal, a beautiful hill station in South India. I am used to seeing notices that say “Beware of Dogs” outside house gates. But this was too extreme for me. And a tad funny too 🙂 Wonder what bad experiences the landlords went through to warrant such a graphic display of a dog attack.

All that blood gushing out of the leg! I ain’t going anywhere near that property 😯

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Travel Diary: Siat Khnam: This is how we gamble in Meghalaya

Posted by Raunak Mahajan on September 16, 2012

Welcome to the beautiful land that is North East India. In the midst of the seven states lies Meghalaya, a natural wonder that boasts of some of the most beautiful sights and people. And speaking of people, there is one sport that they quite seem to enjoy: Siat Khnam. Every evening, a crowd of a few hundred gather in the middle of Shillong, the state’s capital, and surround a ring of archers ready to let fly hundreds of arrows into a single target. The thrill lies in the fact that betting in this sport is legal. Gambling enthusiasts bet on the number of arrows that will hit the target during a defined time period that the archers are at it.

eager archers preparing to let the arrows fly

I was fortunate enough to witness this spectacle. Read the rest of this entry »

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