The cost of Fair skin!

Beauty is one of the remarkable gifts endowed to humans by nature. Women are gifted with beautiful looks, while men are bestowed with handsome features. Even though the definition of beauty might change from people to people, or even region to region like in western countries, women might love to be like Marilyn Monroe or Julia Roberts, while in India, women would like to have looks like Aishwarya Rai or Katrina Kaif. Same goes for men. It would be difficult to find any man who would not like Brad Pitt or even Arnold Schwarzenegger. Because after all, they are considered epitomes of feminine and masculine beauty, isn’t it?

Yet there is something which plays a very very big role in defining the standards of beauty. And that is color. As we all are aware that humans come in all varieties of color. Be it white, brown or black, there are endless similarities and differences amongst us. Yet, for some unknown reason, our society has somehow elevated the fair white skin color as being the highest form of beauty. I do not know how this happened, but the world considered as being fair skinned is the most acceptable form of beauty standard. And due to which, there came generations after generations in movies industry, advertising, fashion, modeling, and even in marriages, where being fair became the most preferred parameter for achieving success and fame. Women and men having blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin became the poster symbol of pure beauty to such an extent that even Nazis tried to define their race based on these attributes. All this led to the rise of racism and as we had seen few months before, how the racism took an ugly route in one of the most advanced countries in the world. Books have been written, movies have been made and endless debates and discussions have been done on this topic, and yet our society continues with this myopic attitude of judging people and giving undue advantage by the color of the skin. I don’t want to write about racism and its atrocious effects on the society, as the world has seen enough of it for the last several centuries. But I want to write about this fascination for fair skin in India and even other parts of the world as I have observed so far.

India is land of diversity. Yet with all the diversity, there are many similarities as well which makes Indians recognizable easily when they travel in other parts of the world, or as observed by foreigners who visit India. Some of those include our culture, strong accent, quintessential sari or even kurta-pyjama/salwar-kameez worn by most Indians. But along with that, we are easily recognized by our skin color, which is brown skinned. Very very few Indians are fair skinned, and even they don’t match the light skin tone of Europeans. But having a fair skin has always been a top priority for Indians. Women cherish the dream of having light skin and hence rely heavily on makeup and beauty products. Infact, so much is this desire of fair skin inoculated in the minds of Indians, that the skin lightening cosmetic product ‘Fair and Lovely‘ is one of the most popular beauty product in India with a market cap of 80% of the lightening cream market in India. The company even started marketing ‘Fair and Handsome’ for males and it has also been a success. This shows how much craving we Indians have to possess a fair skin tone. (However, recently the company changed its name ‘Glow and Lovely’ in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter #BLM protests. I appreciate this company’s stand which have won many accolades).

But still, the majority Indians continue to remain bias towards fair skin. I am sure this happens in other parts of the world as well. But from an Indian perspective, I find this very depressing. Because in a relatively conservative society in India, the marriages are arranged by family. And the worst form of prejudice against women is done in this process. The expectation of grooms for a bride is to be fair, and slim and beautiful. While on the other side, groom are often dark skinned, but the bride’s family does not mind it. There are so many cases when the girl who is highly educated, and earning well, is simply rejected because of her dark complexion. All men, fair and dark skinned, educated and illiterates, earning and not earning, all want a fair skinned girl as their wife or girlfriend. This is one of the biggest problem in India. So no wonder, the products like ‘Fair and Lovely’ will always remain in demand as long as this unjust expectation remains in Indian society.

Even Bollywood is no exception to this. If we just ponder upon some of the famous songs in Bollywood, like

‘These black black eyes, these fair fair cheeks….’
Don’t be arrogant over your fair skin, it will go away in two days..’ ( assuming she had put on a skin lightening product)
Black Black goggles on fair skinned face.

and even this latest remake of a famous old song,

Image result for goriya churana mera jiya
Oh fair skinned beauty, take away my heart

And many other songs and movies often promote heroine with fair skin. And nowadays, Bollywood has even started importing dancers from western countries ( Eastern Europe and other parts of western world having blonde hair and light skin) who are often seen in songs dancing behind the comparatively brown skinned Indian hero and heroine as seen below.

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This is even being copied in events like Cricket matches (Indian Premier League or just IPL) which used to be known as a Gentlemen’s Game not long ago. Now, just to satiate this fair-ish or rather feverish desire of Indians, IPL started bringing cheer leaders ( again fair skinned to attract attention and ofcourse money) from Indian audience.

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Source

And even worse is that this mentality of Indians doesnt stop in India, but continues to be carried abroad as well. When I was in the USA, I remember my friends back in India gossiping about me having a white girlfriend. Even Indians who go to the USA or Europe, will try to have a white girlfriend only. I didn’t find many Indians who were willing to accept any African-American or Latino American, even though however successful or nice they might be. Even worst experience is in Strip clubs, where my friends who used to frequently visit, always had a white stripper. I find this all to be utterly preposterous!

Hence, I find this over obsession with fair skin as extremely annoying. Because I wonder what does difference does skin color make? I mean really, if we think it from a practical perspective, it really doesn’t matter. The skin color doesn’t make any life better. It might give those people some unfair advantage in jobs or professions like modeling or fashion, but life remains same irrespective of skin color. We all have to eat, and sleep, and do all the chores. Skin color does not help there. A dark or brown skinned girl can be an expert in any profession just like a fair skinned girl. Our confidence, our nature , our habits, our likes, our dislikes, our attitude, our achievements are never dependent on the skin color.

Lets imagine if a brown skinned Indian guy likes a good natured, well educated, well earning but a decent looking dark skinned Indian girl ( she likes him as well), but he rejects her and rather marries a not so educated, not well earning and very arrogant but fair skinned good looking girl, due to buckling under family pressure as per arrange marriage norms. But then after few days, he realizes that his wife is very arrogant, very selfish and also very narcissist. And they had frequent fights and soon they had to file for a divorce. So, what was gained and lost in this process. Did anyone win? No right. Did anyone lose? Yes, all of them. Wouldn’t it be better if he had chosen his love, by ignoring the stupid skin color part, and rather would have focused on her good nature and true love for him, they both would have made a good and happy family, isn’t it?

I find the above story being repeated countless time in many families in India. When will we Indians realize this basic concept of acceptance to all forms of color. Actually, this is ironic because we, Indians had been ruled by fair skinned British colonizers for a long time. Our forefathers have suffered immensely the atrocities committed by British rulers. How can we forget the hatred from the colonizers with respect to our skin and even comparing us to animals. Has our memory been so volatile that we have forgotten all this? We threw out the British from our land but we are still having the narrow racist approach in our minds and actions just like the British rulers did back then.

So, we really need to erase this skin color biase from our mind. Because in today’s world, the paths to success are not dependent on color or race. It just depends on our attitude and hard work. Else, it wouldn’t have been impossible for Barack Obama to be the President, or Kamala Harris to be the vice president. I don’t have any examples here in India and this is the sad part of the story. We haven’t yet accepted this, and as long as we keep praising racist Bollywood songs which eulogizes the fair skin, as long as a fair skinned woman is chosen as bride, things are not going to improve. But the day when we become unbiased to skin color, and accept this diversity, from that day women won’t need to spend loads of money on beauty products to make their skin lighter. Women won’t need to use filter on Instagram or Facebook to post pictures with lighter skin. Men will be respecting and accepting women as they are, and there won’t be sexual harrassment as rampant in India today. I don’t have any much hopes from my generation ( having closely seen and being a part of it), but I hope the coming generations become more acceptable and kind. But as of now, this is the cost of obsession for fair skin, we have to pay.

© Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Book Review: Dongri to Dubai: Six Decades of Mumbai Mafia

Once Upon a time in Mumbai…

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I recently read this interesting book, whose title itself gives the reader an overview that this book is based on the mafia or as we call ‘The Underworld’ of Mumbai. This book is written by an Indian investigative journalist S.Hussain Zaidi. Previously, I had seen the Netflix series ‘The Bard of Blood’ and the recently released movie ‘The class of 83’, which is based on his book about some of the encounter specialists in Mumbai police force who eventually end up killing some of the most notorious gangsters in the Underworld.Though Bard of Blood (which is spy thriller showing the espionage war between RA&W and ISI agent in Balochistan) is written by Bilal Siddiqui, but he has been mentored by Mr.Zaidi himself.

So, after seeing class of 83, I became curious to read about this mafia story of Mumbai. And while I had visited a book store, I suddenly pounced upon this book written by Mr.Zaidi, and immediately purchased it. I initially wanted to finish this book in one sitting, but due to my job responsibility and some other emergencies, I couldnt finish it for sometime. Finally, I completed reading this book and it has been a wonderful read. The book thoroughly covers the life of the most notorious gangster/terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, his D-company, and how they changed the face of Mumbai at the height of gang wars and terrorist acts. No doubt, still today, Dawood is the most wanted and most loathed person in India. And in a remarkable contrast, the Pakistani ISI and even their government likes and supports him. Indians hate Dawood not only because he killed innocent people in the 1993 Bombay blasts, but also committed the most heinous of the crimes by fleeing to Karachi via Dubai, and becoming a vassal of our arch enemy, Pakistan. That’s why, Dawood’s betrayal of his own motherland, and being close to Pakistan is something Indians will never forget ever for generations to come….

The story of Dawood’s journey from a street ruffian born in one of the lower middle class neighbourhoods of Dongri to becoming the world’s most famous and richest gangster aka mastermind in Dubai ( later Karachi) is almost like a rags to riches story. The author very eloquently has penned down this incredible journey of this man, and his gang. But at the same time, the book also highlights the role played by various famous gangs, or dons in Mumbai from 1960’s till 1990’s. The book is a must read for those who want to know about the Mumbai mafia, and how it all began and ended as well. Many stories and incidents from gang wars, shootouts, kidnappings, murders, terrorist attacks and encounters are covered in this book, which gives the reader a bird’s eye view of the underworld. The book however focuses on the main villain, Dawood and his company, and has covered all the important facets of his life in Mumbai until 1986 when he left this city of dreams for the last time.

I like reading about investigative stories and books, and so I enjoyed reading this book. As I complete reading the book, I often like to pen down my own observations and comparisons with history and the world. That period in Bombay, which later became Mumbai was indeed a dark one. Many conditions existed in those days which led to a huge influx of young boys to become street ruffian and get involved in bad company. After all, poverty was rampant, job opportunities were scarce and favored the elites only, education was costly, and due to which, it was almost impossible for a person without education or being a school dropout to secure a respectable job and gain some respect from society. Coupled with all this, was the consistent uncertainity and large family to support due to high birth rates. Moreever, the then permit Raj/licensing policies was a perfect system for corruption to breed. The common people saw how few politicians, government babus(employees), merchants and businessman formed a close nexus and completely ruled the country without any scope for the common man to get out of poverty. And that’s why, in 1982, there was a great Bombay Mill strike which badly went wrong with millions losing job or thrown at the brink of poverty. That incident led to more influx of young, high school dropouts or sometimes even college educated youths who couldn’t find a job to take the paths of crime and join gangs like D company. All this led to the birth of Mumbai mafia in 1970’s and 80’s which terrorized Mumbai for the next 2 decades or so.

This can even be compared to the America’s crime and mafia terror in 1930’s and which lasted until late 1970’s, mainly because of Great Depression and influx of Sicilian and Jewish people from Europe, which formed their own mafia groups. New York city and Mumbai has often been compared on a similar note for being cosmopolitan cities. Both are financial hubs, and crown as the most populous city in the USA and India respectively. The former has the Statue of Liberty which welcomes everyone to the American Dream, while the latter has the Gateway of India which also welcomes everyone to this City of Dreams. The resemblance is striking!

But unfortunately, for both the cities, it even became darker when both the cities became the capitals of Mafia. If New York had its Five Families, then Mumbai had its own set of five crime families/gangs like Haji Mastan, Karim Lala and its Pathan Gang, Varadrajan Mudaliar, Dawood and his D company, and Chota Rajan, Arun Gawli and the so called ‘Aamchi Muley/Hindu dons’ as per Shivsena supremo. Later, just like NYPD, the Mumbai police force also took strict actions under its various chiefs like Julio Ribeiro, D S Soman and Ronald Hycinth Mendonca. The special task team inspired from SWAT team, was created with elite cops who later became known as encounter specialists. Julio Ribeiro is credited to have started tackling with the brutal mafia with the policy of ‘Bullet for Bullet’ and was continued by all the later police chiefs, and finally ended with police chief Mendonca, until then all the major gangsters were killed and eliminated. Those elite cops included some famous top cops like Vijay Salaskar ( who died in the 2008 terrorist attacks by Ajmal Kasab and his pakistani cowards), Daya Nayak, Pradeep Sharma, Isaque Bagwan, Prafull Bhosle, Ravindra Angre, Aftab Ahmed Khan and Sachin Vaze. Indeed, it is because of these brave heroes that Mumbai is a safe place again.

Finally, I find some sad moments in this book as well. One of the most intriguing character in this book is about the father of Dawood, who was the former police cop, Ibrahim Kaskar. I find it as the biggest irony that the son of a former cop became the most wanted criminal in India. The book shows how honest and upright cop Ibrahim Kaskar was, and with his impeccable honesty and integrity, he was not only respected in the police force, but also equally revered by other gangsters like Haji Mastan and Karim Lala. Ibrahim knew all the gangsters, yet never crossed the lines to join them. Rather, he remained loyal to his salt. But his son bite the hands that fed him. Dawood betrayed his father and his country. No real life example can rival this irony.

Also, I felt immensely angry when a team led by Ajit Doval was planning to arrest or kill Dawood, but the plan was botched by some officials of Mumbai police. They had acted by the instructions of some politician. So the fact that Dawood successfully escaped Mumbai after receiving tipoff from a politician and the plan to arrest or kill him was also interrupted by some political affiliations. This shows why India has been unable to arrest or assassinate him since 1986. Its a shame that India has such few politicians who have sold their soul for money. Else, our police force and intelligence is more than competent to catch and kill Dawood much much before the 1993 blasts itself. Due to some selfish politicians having lack of love for the motherland, India and its innocent people had to pay the price.

Thus, this book has been an interesting and knowledgeable read. I would like to refer this book as a must read to know what happened …Once Upon a Time in Mumbai……

© Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The 90’s Bollywood affair (Part 1)

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Credits

I am a 90’s guy. Not only because I am born during 1990’s era, but also because that phase itself was so special, so different when it came to the movies, songs and culture in India. I am sure many readers who have lived that era would reminisce those times, when life was simple, predictable and beautiful. My parents generation were fortunate enough to have lived that era. This is because of some of the most incredible romantic movies being made during that time. It was as if the breeze of love flowed freely in the 90’s air…..

Usually, Bollywood movies have had predictable love stories, or even the girl or guy next door type love stories ( yes, even 90’s era had quite similar movies, but still they seemed different than all the previous ones) which had some famous actor and he will try to win the heart of his love by performing all sorts of stunts and daredevil acts. I am sure Hollywood have had its own time of such movies too. But before 90’s, people used to flock to see the movies just to see the hero, heroine or even the villain( like Gabbar Singh in Sholay). The 50’s movies had a trio of actors like Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar who dominated the bollywood industry with their exceptional acting skills. The late 60’s had the evergreen romantic movies which showcased that era with Rajesh Khanna as the first superstar. Soon, people got tired of those chocolate hero typed movies, and syncing with the world events, which included the swinging 60’s and 70’s filled with protests against the establishment, the bollywood also welcomed its first Angry-Young Man, the legendary Amitabh Bacchhan, who broke all the typical hero image of just chasing his love. He revolted against the system, fought against injustice, and resonated with then trend of acting to change the system. The bollywood became a serious place for movies, and soon it was followed by a trend of parallel cinema during late 70’s and 80’s which highlighted the reality of the world behind the 35 mm film.

The 80’s were tough times indeed. As I have always written about how the world got changed during the 1980’s decade, when suddenly the forces of capitalism, free market, democracy and liberalism found themselves on the winning side, when not long before, they had thrown down the baton in front of socialism and communism. And by the end of 80’s, it seemed that the world had suddenly become a new place. The old rules were broken down along with the Berlin Wall, nations collapsed and formed overnight, the markets which had been closed for decades opened suddenly, and new rules were laid out.

Just like the world, India saw its own set of vicissitudes. The 1980’s were some of the toughest times, and unfortunately for India, the 1990’s were even worser when it came to national politics, economics and unity of India. As I have written a article on this journey of India, I wont go deeper much. But the fact that India suffered from a series of weak governments during 90’s, and its economy which had been a terrible permit Raj system had suddenly been opened and it later turned out to be the best decision taken during that decade. But this good aspect was soon over-shadowed by 1992 Babri masjid massacre, subsequent riots and Bombay blasts in 1993, ethnic genocide of Kashmiri Pandits and heinous terrorist acts in Kashmir valley by Pakistan and its ISI. That decade ended with the Kargil war in 1999, which India won gloriously and thus began the emergence of a new India in the 21st century.

But amidst all this chaos, the bollywood affair became intense. That era saw a sudden influx of romantic theme based movies and melodious songs. And people not only praised them, but also accepted them as a part of their lives. This might be because after all, people were tired of dirty politics and communal hatred outside, and so they cherished the love and happy ending stories with the intention of having such a good life someday. They preferred to make love, and not war by flocking into the theatres and music concerts, instead of participating in any protests or revolution, which the earlier generation did.

Stay tuned for the Part 2…

© Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Remembering Gandhi!

Today, Jan 30th was the day when the father of India, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a communal fanatic. Since, then India remembers our beloved Gandhi, who was fondly called as ‘Mahatma’ or great soul. A lot has been written and filmed with several movies and documentaries on Gandhi. But it is sad to see that India and even the world has failed to learn from his life. And even worse, the current generation has even forgotten much about him, except that fact that his picture is on the Indian currency note ‘Rupee’. I have always been fascinated by the life and teachings of Gandhi, and hence, I would like to pen down few words on this day of remembrance.

The life and teachings of Gandhi have always been easy and complicated, both at the same time. This is because they seem to be simple from theory, but only when put to action, can we realize how intricate they are to follow. Many of his teachings have even been colluded by political affiliations by us, and this really pains the heart of those who are avid followers of Gandhi. I am not a Gandhian ( atleast not as of now) as I am still learning about him, and haven’t inculcated his teachings in my life entirely yet. But the important aspect is that as more the years are passing by, more I am realizing how much important they are in this world.

For example, Gandhi once said ,

An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind

Mahatma Gandhi

when we look at how the world has been tormented by violence, be it domestic or at the international level with the constant threat of another world war, arms race, possibility of nuclear weapons falling in the hands of dictators or terrorists, and even biological warfare, I cannot emphasize the relevance of Gandhi’s message in these turbulent times. Unfortunately, many people misinterpret this quote as to stay devoid of weapons or just be nice and weak. They question and criticize Gandhi for being naive when it comes to how the world works in reality. Even India after Gandhi’s death did not stop its piling of weapons, and even becoming a nuclear power, however for peaceful purposes. So, Why is Gandhi’s quote relevant then?

This is because Gandhi was not only a pious but also a very pragmatic man. He was once asked by a journalist regarding the relevance of his teaching – “non-violence ” to fight against someone like Hitler. He had answered that even though it initially seems impractical to fight using non-violence as our weapon, against a dictator who is in a pursuit of world domination with sheer force. But if we look it as a big picture, we will realize that it is possible to fight against even the worst dictator with our weapons of non-violence and peace. Because even though the allies defeated Nazis with much bigger force and violence, but what happened at the end. Both sides lost several men and entire countries were destroyed. Germany, Japan, Italy, Soviet Union, England and France were almost destroyed with few exceptions of cities, universities and religious places. Only USA survived this devastation because of being separated by distance, which could not be targeted by then weapon technology. But today, if another world war happens, USA or any other country, however distant would not be that fortunate.

Violence has never helped to bring peace. Just like hate breeds hate, so does violence. If violence and weapon power would have been the game changer, then USA would not have suffered defeat in Vietnam and Afghanistan. Similarly, Soviet Union also could neither control Afghanistan nor East Germany, however strong the Berlin Wall was built. Even Israelis have not been able to crush Palestinians and Arab resentment inspite of all the suppression done by them in the last 6 decades. Force and repression always gets defeated by non-violence and peace at the end. I can give several examples to prove this. Take India in this scenario. India had been a colony of British for almost 2 centuries. India tried to resist British control over India by all means possible, including wars, killing of British officers, bombing public places and many more. But the British with only a few thousand officers and who were advanced in weapons technology and even more united than Indians were at that time, always over-powered and controlled 400 million Indians!

But Gandhi was the visionary who realized the importance of non-violence during those times, when wars were played like games, and games were played like wars. He united the Indians and preached them to fight against British with non-violence.When all the freedom fighters started using non-violent means like protests, satyagraha, ban of using foreign goods, promoting of swadeshi or local goods etc, the British were surprised. They tried to suppress the protests by sheer force, but they were stunned to see innocent, harmless Indians who were ready to die for the cause of freedom. Many died, but their death hurt the pride of British rulers. They simply could not believe that their rule had descended to become barbaric, against the so called civilized pride they used to exhibit. They did not know how to respond to someone who is harmless and at the same time willing to suffer all the physical pains. This was unprecedented! The British had fought in so many wars, and won most of them. But this war was something the British could never win. Because the actions of non-violent protesters and freedom fighters, pricked the little leftover humanity in the hearts and minds of British rulers. Many realized how can they become so cruel against fellow humans, who just happened to be brown or black skinned. After all, there was no difference between Hitler and Churchill, or Nazis and British colonizers. Both used violence to achieve their aims. And this realization is the ultimate goal of non-violence which only Gandhi envisioned. And he proved it to the whole world, when India became the first country in the world to free itself from centuries old British rule in 1947 completely through non-violent means.

Later, we see many revolutions and protests took inspiration from Gandhi. Be it Martin Luther King’s protest for Civil Rights movement in America, or Nelson Mandela in South Africa. We cannot imagine Obama becoming US President, had Martin Luther King used violent means to obtain equal rights for his people. The white men would have simply crushed it with all the brute force and advanced technology. But Dr.King was prudent enough to know this, and that’s why we see the African-American community has been accepted and assimilated by most of the white Americans, barring few racist minded people.

But it is important to note that Gandhi said that non-violence is something only the strong person can act on. The word ‘strong’ here means who is morally strong. He/she who can face the outcomes with a strong heart. He/she who never fears, who never gives in and who never gives up. He/she who has infinite patience, and who is not carried away by short term gains. That person is capable to fight against injustice and violence using non-violence. But unfortunately, not all of us are that strong, and hence we end up discarding the importance of non-violence. A weak or coward cannot follow this brave path. That’s why when asked, Gandhi wrote, as follows

Modern India, Bipin Chandra

So, the important part is even Gandhi advised that “when there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.” Hence, his message is to become strong morally, and physically as well. A weak cannot survive in this world. This aligns with the Darwin’s law “survival of the fittest”. But violence should not be practiced by the strong. True strength is attained when one is responsible for the consequences of his/her actions. That’s why even Spiderman said ” With true power comes true responsibility”, isnt’ it? A strong country or person is one who has all the capability of displaying strength, but does not use it against the weak. Rather that power is used to enable the weak to empower them and strengthen the bond of humanity. This action is considered non-violent, and even the most cruel opponent’s heart should melt down after seeing this true strength.

This is my understanding of Gandhi’s message, and that’s why I love Gandhi. I wish all the world leaders follow Gandhi, and then hopefully we won’t have to fear the risk of another world war or nuclear holocaust which might wipe out humanity. Then Elon Musk won’t have to work so hard to go to Mars! I would love to write more on Gandhi, and hence, would pen down my admiration for Gandhi in the upcoming posts. Till then, lets remember him today, and try to inculcate his message in our life and actions.

Mahatma Gandhi : My Life is My Message – Press Information Bureau

https://pibindia.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/mahatma-gandhi-my-life-is-my-message/

© Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Abhishek Karadkar and abhiknotes.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Happy Republic Day, India!

Happy Republic Day 2021 Wishes: इन देशभक्ति भरे मैसेज से दें गणतंत्र दिवस  की शुभकामनाएं - 72nd republic day 2021 whatsapp wishes images cards quotes Republic  Day wishes status in hindi lbs - AajTak

Every year on 26th January, Indians celebrate the Republic Day to commemorate the day the Constitution of India came into effect. In addition to it, Jan 26th is also the day when the Indian National Congress revealed ‘Purna Swaraj’ (Total Independence), the declaration of India’s independence from the British colonial rule on Jan 26th, 1930. Hence, this day signifies the right spirit of Independent India.

I remember, when I was a kid, I used to wake up early in the morning to go to school and hoist out beloved tricolor with school friends. We used to carry the tricolor flag in our hands, and run across the streets together, singing ‘Vande Mataram’ just like A R Rehman’s historic composition. Even today, when I listen this song, goosebumps rise and tears often roll down through my eyes. I bet this song touches that one nerve in the 1.35 billion people which unites us as ‘Indians’

A R Rehman, ‘Vande Mataram’

So, much pride and love for my country was displayed through those actions. Ofcourse, I and we all of us still love and will keep loving our beloved motherland. But those days were innocent as a kid, as the love or country was simply pure. There was no politics, no political or religious affiliation, all we knew that we are born in this great land, and we are so much fortunate for this honor. I do miss that innocence!

Anyways, then I used to come home, and watch the national parade in Delhi which was live telecasted all over India. The marvelous stunts performed by our jawans, the heart throbbing aviation performance by Indian AirForce, the display of culture, tradition and diversity of different states with posters and presentations, the different forms of dance, the parade of military personnel with their laser sharp accuracy in every move they make is so enthralling! Then, the programme used to end with the nostalgic yet pride tune of the following song dedicated for the great Indian leader and freedom fighter, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose.

‘Qadam qadam baṛhāye jā Keep stepping forward
khushī ke gīt gāye jā singing songs of happiness
ye zindagī hai qaum kī this life belongs to our nation
tū qaum pe lutāye jā keep laying it down for her

Republic Day parade, 2020

A lot can be written about India, its republic day, how it got independence from British, and what makes India so unique inspite of all the diversity and chaos as well. As I later went to United States for my higher studies, and having proudly returned back to India, I got to see both sides of the world. But as said in the movie Pardes,

London dekha, Paris dekha
London dekha, Paris dekha, aur dekha Japan
Michael dekha, Elvis dekha, sab dekha meri jaan
Saare jag mein kahin nahin hai dusra Hindustan
Dusra Hindustan, dusra Hindustan

There is no country like India on this planet. And I say this with complete humility without any fake pride. Because, I know India is not like America, or Japan. All countries have their own culture, and history. But if we take a look at the world history, most of the countries are either a part of culture, or block. The world has been grouped into those blocks, like Western, Asian, African, Eurasia etc. America has always been a part of western nations, while China, Japan form the Eastern part. But India has always been unique with its location, its culture, its way of living. Though it had British influence, which is still felt today, even including this blog which is written in English! But rest all has been born and bred in this soil. The diversity, the unity being subtly imbibed into it. all is sweetly intertwined with each other. This makes India so different, so incredible!

On this occasion of Republic day, here are some of the previous republic day parades, especially for the non-Indian readers.

Happy Republic Day 2021! May India and the world be at peace, and heal from the havoc caused by Coronavirus,

Republic Day 2021: Images, wishes and quotes to share with loved ones |  Hindustan Times
Ref

Reagan’s America and Modi’s India: Part 2

Continuing ahead with this article from part 1, the current Modi government came to power in 2014. But many of the readers in India can recollect how the events before 2014 were at that time. When I recollect that time, I cannot neglect to compare it with the pre-Reagan times. Even though the local situation in both the countries is entirely different, but the underlying conditions were on a similar tone.

India just like USA before Reagan suffered its own set of debacles. If we trace back long before, it all started with 1984. The assassination of the prime minister of India, Mrs.Indira Gandhi sent a shockwave to the entire nation. Actually, it even changed the political scenario of the country. Because from 1947 till 1984, with few years of exception ( 1977-79) in between, India had been governed by the Congress party, under Pandit Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and then Indira Gandhi, single-handedly. Those years were the golden period of the Congress party. But after 1984, things changed overnight. Rajiv Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi, reluctantly had to accept the position of prime minister. His term even though ushered in a new era of governance, but it also led to split of the party and nation in a deep way. Because it was during that era (1984-1989), that the conflicts of Punjab,Tamil and Sri lankans, Kashmir issue and polarization between Hindus and Muslims widened after Rajiv sided with conservative maulavis regarding Shah-Bano case. After 1989, India saw several governments, some of which were highly unstable and short-term. Unfortunately, Rajiv Gandhi’s unpopular term led him becoming a victim of terrorism in 1991.

The condition of India continued to worsen during 1990’s decade, both politically and economically. With the sole exception of Manmohan Singh and Narsimha Rao’s economic liberlization policies in 1991, nothing much good happened during 1990’s. Even though India tested its nuclear weapons in 1998, but it was soon followed by sanctions from USA, and also within 15 days, Pakistan also tested in response to India’s nuclear test. The Kashmir situation went out of hand, and in 1990, the Kashmiri Pandits had to flee the valley after the fatwah was released by the local conservatives accusing them of being kafirs. On the foreign policy front, India suffered a lot because of the fall of Soviet Union. The USSR had been India’s friend and supporter in international arena, and this sudden loss of support made India foreign policy adrifted. Further, the Kargil war in 1999 brought India and Pakistan almost near to the nuclear attack. India won the war bravely, but later had to suffer from Pakistan sponsored terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of the India for the next 2000’s decade.

Even in the domestic side, the situation had worsened. Already the economy had staggered during 1980’s and even though the economic liberalization policy launched the Indian IT industry on a global stage, but other industries suffered. The politics reached the highest forms of decadence, with communal politics actively promoted in many parts of the country. Dictators came to power in states like Maharashtra, while Bihar became known for Jungle-Raaj due to the notorious Lalu Prasad Yadav’s rule. The Babri masjid incident led to riots and Bombay blasts in 1993. Later, this led to Godhra riots and Akshardham terrorist attack in 2002. Even our sacred parliament was not spared from terrorism by Pakistan and its ISI.

Later, even though the government became stable after 1999 for the next 14 years ( 1999, 2004 and 2009), but India still had to face terrorist attacks in places like Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Bangalore etc. The train attacks in 2006, and 26/11 in 2008 rocked the city of dreams (Mumbai) to its core. Later, the news of corruption flashed everyday in the media, be it 2G scam, or Commonwealth Games corruption, Indian politicians were breaking their own record of committing higher level of corruption. All this made the public angry and just like the anti-Vietnam war, or anti-bomb movement in USA, India started its movement against corruption led by Team Anna . Even the horrific incidence of Nirbhaya rape in 2012 disreputed Delhi as being the rape capital of India. Those times were indeed full of uncertainity. Inspite of all the difficulties, India continued to move ahead. That India did not break up in parts like Pakistan in 1971 or Soviet Union in 1991. India had become weak but remained united.

And so, people yearned for a change, for a strong man to arrive on the stage. As said by Barack Obama regarding Reagan .”..because the country was ready for it…….”. Same happened for India as well. That year was 2014, and after 30 years of long and arduous struggle, the strong man India awaited desperately arrived on the stage. Narendra Damodardas Modi.

Modi’s arrival as a leader of India in many ways resembles the way Reagan changed America. Since 2014, he has ushered in a way of reforms and movements,some of which include Digital India, Demonetization, GST, removal of Article 370, Article 35 and Triple Talaq, Banking reforms, CAA, Farm laws, Swachh Bharat, International Yoga Day, Make in India, Ayushman Bharat, Jan-Dhan-Yojana etc. And in the foreign policy arena, his performance has been spectacular. Because not only has India successfully guarded itself from any terrorist attacks in its major cities ( except Kashmir), but also has retaliated back with a swift response to Pakistan with not one, but two surgical strikes, in 2016 and 2019 respectively. His astute diplomacy has led to elevation in the stature of India amongst western countries. Because of which, USA, Japan, Taiwan, France has become close to India, and at the same time, India has bonded strong relations with Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE as well.

More than his reforms or foreign policy, it is the positive atmosphere that he has created is what makes him so popular. When I was a kid, I used to hear from my parents and grandparents, about the freedom fighters who fought selflessly against the British for making India independent. The leaders like Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Bose spent their entire life for attaining freedom for the motherland. But then few years after independence, the politics got polluted with cynicism and selfishness. Especially in the last 30-40 years, we can hardly find any politician who is not crooked. But Narendra Modi is an exception. Though he is still an politician, and quite adept at playing all the political games. But when it comes to selfish gains, he is simply not a part of it. Most parties including the opposition parties agree on one thing that Modi has not worked for any personal, or family gains. He never showed greediness for power or money. His family lives very simply in the same old ancestral village. This quality of Modi makes him popular and respected. He has spent his entire life for the betterment of nation. His patriotism, his hard work and his down to earth nature made him won the highest power in the country, inspite of not coming from a well off family or even without an elite education.

Thats why, since 2014, a new wave of patriotism, opportunity and pride has been running in the country. Just like the 1980’s when Americans started gaining back the confidence to stand up to the Soviet threat, similarly India is rising up to beat Pakistan at its own game, and to keep China from becoming a dominant power in Asia. India has witnessed a spark of digital revolution, be it financial apps like BHIM, or make in India, or startup India revolution. Not long ago, we could name only a handful of startups in India. But today, many startups have become unicorns and places like Bangalore and Hyderabad are becoming known as India’s silicon valley and genome valley respectively. Indian movies have also come a long way from those old ‘maar-dhad, masala or romantic movies’, and the recent movies have become more nationalistic, social oriented and with a positive message to the viewers. Movies like Dangal, Uri, Haidar, Masaan, Neerja, Shahid, Madras Cafe, Queen, Raazi, Article 15, Pad Man, Udaan, Andhadhun, Udta Punjab and many more highlight the mature side of Indian cinema.

Also, it is worth noting that just as Reagan’s government was known to be a conservative government, with a christian dominance. Similarly, the current Modi government is also known for being right wing conservative with a Hindu pride. Even though it does not mean that they want to make India a Hindu nation, but the fact that Hinduism is being revived is beyond question. The sensitive topics which were ignored for the last 60-70 years such as cow slaughter ban, Ram Mandir, giving citizenships to migrant hindus from neighbouring countries, yoga, ayurveda, ancient Indian history and River Ganga rejuvenation are some of the top priorities of the Modi government. Even though the opposition, Pakistan or even some western countries accuse Modi of being anti-muslims, but this is not at all true. The fact that there has not been a single major riot in any part of the country shows the tolerant nature of both the religions. The only major thing that has happened in the last 7 years is that the leftist forces under the disguise of being secular ( which according to them means anti-hinduism) are being isolated. The left in India had its golden time during the Nehruvian socialism, and even had enjoyed considerable leverage over Indian politics even after the fall of Soviet Union, apparently due to China’s blessings. But since, last 7 years, they have lost the patronage and support of the people. However, few fringe elements of Lutyen’s media ( the self-proclaimed dynastic elite which owns major media networks in India, and has been historically close to Congress party, institutions like JNU and playing the minority card for decades) has still not accepted Modi, as for them he is not like them, who comes from elite background or some dynasty. But Modi and his team have steadfastly tried to form their own media network base using TV channels like Republic TV, and several youtube channels and talk shows. Even the big businesses like Ambani, Adani, Mahindra’s have sided with the government due its pro-business leader and policies. Also, the Bollywood which once upon a time used to be a breeding ground of nepotism, is now being seriously challenged by the newcomers, and even the public are tired of its eliteness, especially after SSR’s suicide. Educational institutions like JNU, Jadavpur university, AMU etc have been in news for either instigating protests against the government. It cannot be denied that there has been polarization in the university campuses, because for many decades since India became independent, these institutions have always carried a leftist or moderate stand. But due to the current government policies, there has been an emergence of right wing influence and the social media like twitter have become a new medium for right vs left fight.

But apart from all the ups and downs, it is quite proven that Modi government has been exceptionally stable, strong and aggressive when it comes to nationalistic policies, military, foreign policy, technology and social issues. And this is going to stay for a while. As said by one of the eminent Indian political scientist said during his talk, that from 1947 till 1989, was the golden period of Congress party with its flagship Nehruvian socialism with a secular pacifist touch. It resembled like the FDR period in America which started in 1933 and lasted until the early 1960’s. The middle period from 1989 to 2014 was a period of uncertainity. It witnessed the gradual decline of the congress party, but at the same time, the slow rise of the current ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP. And finally, since 2014, the golden period of BJP with its flagship right wing, pro-Hinduism, pro-military with a conservative capitalist touch. That’s why, I see so many similarities between Reagan’s USA and Modi’s India. Looking at the way Modi government is taking its giant leap forward, the financialization of the economy ( but through Indian way -Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and Make in India) has begun. Also, has begun the revival of Indian pride along with ancient value system which had been lost during the British Raj, and could not flourish under the Nehruvian ideology as well. Thus, the chapter of ‘Indian’ization of India has commenced.

Review: A Suitable Boy

I watched the Netflix series, ‘A Suitable Boy’ yesterday. This BBC directed series, having 6 episodes, is based on the Vikram Seth’s novel, with the same title. I have not read the book, and so I cannot comment on the originality and comparison between the book and the TV show. But I would like to express my opinion on the miniseries.

The story is based on a newly independent India from the clutches of British rule. Those were the years around 1950-52, when India embarked on its journey to build a nation which had been dominated by mass poverty, communal hatred between Hindus and Muslims, and an immediate need to strengthen the unity of India. The story revolves around four families in Brahmpur town, which are the Kapoors( key family in local politics), Mehras( in-laws of Kapoors), Khans ( who are the Nawabs) and Chatterjis( rich, liberal family in Calcutta). along with Saeeda bai (the singer-prostitute), Kabir Durrani and Haresh Khanna.

Lata, is the protagonist of the story, whose mother wants to find a suitable boy for her to marry. Lata falls in love with Kabir Durrani, a handsome guy in Brahmpur university. But she finds out that he is a Muslim, and hence she decides not to marry him as her conservative family would never accept it. Her brother’s family is married to Chatterji’s in Calcutta, and her sister-in-law introduces Lata to Namit Chatterji, who belongs to a rich Bengali family, immersed deeply in literature and music. Lata finds Namit exceedingly liberal, poetic and dreamer, and she still goes out with him a few times. But later, she realizes that she would never be his dream woman, as she is too pragmatic and conservative. Even Lata’s mother did not like Namit.

Then, Lata’s mother introduces Lata to Haresh, who is a self-made man, working as a foreman in shoe factory. Haresh had ran away from his family, toiled hard to make his way up in the factory, and even went to England for higher studies. Lata’s mother likes Haresh and finds him to be suitable boy for Lata. Initially, Lata is not very appreciative of Haresh’s humble nature, and down to earth attitude. Finally, at the end, when Haresh after not receiving any positive response from Lata, he decides to move on, she does realize how much she loved him. So, she ran away to the railway station, and then proposed Haresh in front of everyone. Thus, Lata ( and her mother) are successful in finding ‘A Suitable Boy’ as per the storyline! End of the story.

This might sound to be a boring story, but this is the crux of the TV series. Yes, you read it right. Even though there are many other characters and supporting sub-stories to extend this to a 6 episode series, but the main storyline sticks to the suitable boy hunt for Lata. As I have not read the original book, hence, I am not sure how the book conveyed this story. But this BBC produced and Mira Nair directed miniseries lacks originality. It seems that the series has been hastingly concluded without even making the purpose of characters relevant. For example, Kabir’s role is very brief and non-relevant. Initially, it does seem that Lata has fallen for Kabir,and this might become another Hindu-Muslim romance story, but Lata simply rejects him ( even after performing in Shakespeare’s play along with him).

Maan Kapoor’s dalliance with Saeedabai and Meenakshi Chatterji’s sexual scenes with some random guy named Billy( while trying to hide this from Mehra’s and Kapoor’s) are utterly non-relevant for this story theme. It seems that being western directed, they want to insert some sex scenes just to make it look romantic and gather audience to watch this series. But such tactics work in Hollywood, but not in Indian diaspora. Indians often do not want sex scenes in the movie/TV series just for the sake of making it romantic. Rather, we Indians often appreciate the subtle emotions of love between the lovers, and few romantic songs. Due to the multiple western motivated coitus scenes, makes it even more banal.

However, the background of local village politics, which is often influenced by religion and caste equations is superbly portrayed in this series. The scenes of communal violence between Hindus and Muslims is something of a stigma on the Indian society. Yes, it is true that India have had many riots after independence, and both sides are to be blamed equally. I am in no denial of this. But the problem I find is the primary focus these so called western (BBC and Hollywood) directors and writers put on this topic, especially the British. They find solace in adding fuel to fire by showing the riots and hatred between these two religions, very often in their movies and TV series. I don’t understand why? Infact the irony is the British themselves played the divide and rule politics before India became independent, and led to the partition of India. And since then, they have been propagandizing to the world through such shows and movies, that how the two religions still fight and hate each other. BBC and western movie directors should realize that India has come up much ahead and has proudly stood as an example of ‘Unity in Diversity‘ amidst all its problems.

Infact, this is one of the biggest flaws in this story. They should have shown Lata marrying Kabir, defying the religious divide. This would have ideally been in congruence with the secular idea of India. If they can show a scene of Kabir kissing Lata in the temple premises ( which led to a huge controversy of ‘Love-Jihad’ in the India conservative media), why can’t they take it ahead of showing them being married? But as per the story, Lata marries Haresh, who is more of an arranged guy deemed suitable in the conservative Indian mindset. This is where the miniseries disappoints most of the audience, including me.

But the series does have some positive remarks as well. It courageously portrays the bond between Maan and Firoz, and Mahesh Kapoor and the Nawab, as a Hindu-Muslim unity,which does earn accolades from the viewers like me. The background of a 1950’s India in Calcutta, and villages is very excellently displayed. The elite clubs of Calcutta, the land reform bill and its effect on the zamindaars/landlords, the 1952 elections, and even the prejudice faced by hard working Indians ( as in case of Haresh Khanna while trying to secure a job in Praha, a Czech shoe factory for the managerial position) from the British/European firms in India are shown with intricacy. This gives the viewers a panorama of the early years of India after independence.

Concluding this review, I would give a rating of 3 out of 5. The series could have fared much better had they removed the sexual scenes, which were non-relevant for the story. But the series fares well in depicting the Indian mindset behind marrying women, the deep involvement of family in selecting the right guy for the girl, and the historic background shown in the post-independence India.

Financial literacy and Digitization!

It was December 2016. I had been visiting my family here in India for a short trip from USA. The shock of the year, ‘Demonetization’ had just happened back in November 2016. We had planned to go to Andaman islands, and so I was quite excited as we had never been to those beautiful islands. Few days before our planned trip, I had to visit the local bank in my locality for some banking transactions. While I was writing a check, suddenly a middle aged woman, who was wearing a traditional sari and a ‘kumkum’ on her forehead, came and asked me if I could help her in filling out the deposit slip. I was surprised, as why would some unknown person ask me for filling their payment deposits. I looked at her, and she seemed to be from a family with limited means. So, I said yes to her, and took the deposit slip and passbook from her, to fill her details. While filling the details, she told me that she did not understand how to fill the deposit slip, and that’s why she asked me. I said okay to her, and gave her the filled deposit slip for her to sign.

As per the old saying, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” I thought it would be better if I can teach her how to fill the form, so that she can do it herself. As I started telling her about the details, she suddenly replied, that she would not be able to learn, and she went away. I was stunned! I felt bad as she was not even ready to uplift herself, and rather was willing to depend on others.

Anyways, fast forward to December 2020….

I recently moved back to India, and had to visit the same bank on multiple occasions. One afternoon, a man who might be in his late 40’s approached me, and asked me if I could fill the details for him to write a check! I looked at him, and he seemed to be from a rural background. I could not say no, and started writing his check. Suddenly, I could recollect the similar experience with that middle aged woman in 2016. I thought to lets give a try to teach him how to write a check. So, while writing the check, I started explaining him the details to be filled. After listening patiently, he told me that if he could know how to read and write, he would have never asked me to write for him. I was stunned, again!

I got the same experience, in the same bank, just 4 years after.

After coming home, I could not stop the train of thoughts which had started coming in my mind. Since 2016, there had been some of the biggest changes in the financial and political landscape in India. Be it demonetization, or digitization using UPI, apps like BHIM, PhonePe, PayTm etc. Quite a few banking corruptions were exposed, and the culprits like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya even fled the country. The ruling party won another election in 2019, and finally, Covid-19 happened this year.

But it seems the financial literacy of quite a few people, more so especially in the rural regions seems to be the same. Its very perplexing to comprehend the fact that if many people are not comfortable with depositing money, or writing physical checks, how are they going to adapt to the emerging and fast moving digitization in the financial sector? How will these people learn about internet banking, cashless wallet, or UPI?

The need for digitization has never been so high before as seen today, mostly due to covid-19. India has rapidly deployed its fintech industry with a wave of online payment apps and digital wallets. The urban areas have seen a massive usage of online and digital payments, and this is a good news for India to become a cashless economy. Our PM Narendra Modi has been a strong proponent of digital economy, as per his motto ‘Say, Yes to digital payment, no to cash!’

But I am afraid that as long as there are people like I met in the above two incidences, who are not only financially literate, but also their mindset to adopt to new technologies is negative, it is going to take a while for India to become a truely cashless economy. The need to teach the rural people about financial awareness, and make them comfortable for adapting digitization seems to be the need of the hour. I observed that even senior citizens are not yet comfortable in adapting to these new technologies, and hence the transition from a cash economy to cashless digital economy will happen only when awareness and education about these technologies is widely spread. Especially, I feel youngsters of my generation should come forward and try to guide senior citizens, and rural people in order to make them a part of this new economy.

The test of love!

Why diversity in love matters!

Many poets, writers and philosophers ( even those who are madly submerged in love) have written that love is not a give and take relationship, it is not a business transaction, but it is something that just happens. But today, we see our society has institutionalized love, just like marriage. While I agree that marriage is a necessary practice or custom for a civilized society to organize and live in harmony together, but unfortunately, love is something which has been defined by this society in a certain way. For ex: we see the enormous influence of religion on marriages and love. A guy belonging to a certain religion cannot marry a girl belonging to a certain religion, and vice versa. This is a perfect example of institutionalizing love. Love is something which just happens, and cannot be explained logically ( no scientist has been able to decipher why a certain guy loves a specific girl more than others).

Now, if such barriers of religion, caste, color, social status are applied to this beautiful relationship, there is no way that love will endure between them. I always felt that such an institutionalization of love is nothing but an uncomfortable adjustment, which never makes couples/partners happy and satisfied in their married lives. I find it impossible to comprehend the fact that people fall in love with only a specific group of people, who are just like them, who eat the same food, have the same social status, education, job, wear similar clothes, speak the same language etc. Of Course, there is nothing wrong for someone to stay and be comfortable around like minded people, culture,or religion. But this barrier is something which does not work in today’s life.

Because decades before, the world was separated physically, and people lived independently without even coming into much contact with each other. Today, on the contrary, the world is flat, connected, inter-dependent and a global hub. Someone in India has to collaborate with an American, who then has to work with a German or a Japanese on the same project/work. And so, as the world is coming into daily contact with different people of different color, race, gender, religion, caste, it is simply unavoidable to like or fall in love with someone who is not like us. An African guy would like an Italian girl, or an Indian girl might fall in love with a Filipino guy, etc… If we apply the centuries old rules of institutionalizing love and relationships, that ain’t gonna work now. It will be an absurd adjustment which has no justification.

Rather, the society should become open to accept that people are going to like what they want, and no longer society can impose its rules on it. In India, where I currently live, things have become so institutionalized, that new rules are popping up to stop these inter-marriages, and due to which, people are fearing to even talk or respond to someone, who is of different religion or community. Even in high profile elite circles, we see people marrying amongst their own elite group. The richest Indian businesses are family owned, and they are zealous enough to keep their elite lineage and wealth within their own group, to preserve the control and wealth. Even Bollywood and cricket ( another two careers to become rich and enter the elite status in India) are no exception. The bollywood families are not only notoriously famous for nepotism, but also for inter-marriages among themselves. And now, with the fame and wealth attained by cricketers, bollywood personalities are marrying cricketers ( Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma, Yuvraj Singh and Hazel Keech, Hardik Pandya and Natasa Stankovic are some famous examples)

So, with the ever growing trend of arranged marriages, groupism, elite marriages as a way to keep power and wealth within the family etc, slowly people are forgetting how to love or even what is actually love! Gone are the days, when a Hindu girl from a conservative Brahmin family ( Gauri Chibber) dared to fall in love with a Muslim guy, who was an orphan, and struggling actor ( Shahrukh Khan). On the other side, we see a Muslim woman ( Fatima Ghadially) married a Hindu Brahmin cricketer (Ajit Agarkar). Both of them have been successful marriages. Gone are the days when a girl from a rich family, and who is studying medicine ( Anjali Mehta) could fall in love with a shy, simple cricketer ( Sachin Tendulkar) after seeing him at the airport, and in spite of being five years senior to Sachin. Gone are the days when a Muslim actor ( Naseeruddin Shah) can dare to marry a Hindu actress ( Ratna Pathak Shah) and not be charged under any law. Both happily continued to practice their respective religions. Gone are the days when an urban princess can fall for a guy who lived in a poor chawl (house). She married him and moved out of her palace to live with her husband in that poor chawl. Later, that guy became known as Jackie Shroff, and that brave woman is Ayesha Shroff. Can this happen in today’s world? I don’t see this happening anywhere. It is worth noting that even the legendary singer Asha Bhosle ( from the elite family of Lata Mangeshkar) had eloped with a rickshaw driver (Ganpatrao Bhosle), when she was barely 16!

I can give countless brave examples of such open-minded and inter-faith, inter-social status relationships which have happened in the past. But this rarely happens today. This has nothing to do with any particular government in power, but it is the mentality of our society which has changed to a large extent. So, the real problem I find is we have become immune to accepting diversity. It is as if we all are been consciously vaccinated by society and its rules to never break the rules, to never accept diversity, to stay within our own community, caste, religion etc. This institutionalization has led to deprivation of love and harmony among us. We live in fear with each other. We talk with other people like having a business transaction. We think before falling in love. We fear what people will say if we like someone who is not like us. This suppression of our freedom is like a virus which inhibits us to love whomever we want, to become whatever we like, or even to come out with our own identity ( be it straight, gay, lesbian or trans). We need to accept diversity of thoughts, identities, and even diversity in loving. Because as it is said, love has no barriers, it just happens. So, we should let it happen freely, this is the test of love…..

The Banal lives of Bollywood Wives

Recently, I watched the Netflix series ‘Fabulous lives of Bollywood Wives‘. After watching this show, I simply find no words to rate or assess this show. The show lacks complete originality and so I decided to name it as ‘banal’ instead of the so called given name ‘fabulous’.

To begin with the review, the show portrays the life of 4 bollywood families, which are the Kapoors ( there are many kapoors in bollywood, and the least famous is shown in this series), Khans, Pandey and Soni. The former two (Sanjay and Maheep Kapoor, Seema and Sohail Khan) are known to be a part of the bollywood elite, but I have no idea why Pandey ( Chunky and Bhavna) and Soni (Samir and Neelam) are a part of this show, even though they have acted in quite a few movies, but certainly they are not very famous.

The 8 episode series shows the life of four wives, Maheep, Seema, Bhavna and Neelam. I find all four of them obsessed with fake accents, speaking bad words including the F*** word, self obsession over looks, boasting of wealth, and desperate attempt to launch their kids in this industry. All four of them are seen to be demanding, money and fame driven, unrespectful of each other or even the common people. Their abroad trips to Paris or Doha, performing facelift for anti-aging, petty fights, drinking, clandestine attempt to seduce other men is not at all fabulous. All this does not make them fabulous or respected either. Hence, I was disappointed to see the pitiful life of bollywood wives shown in this series. I find this series to be a waste of time and utterly banal.

But, at the same time, after watching this series, we also understand what bollywood is in reality. Most Indians, and even abroad watch bollywood movies, and many of us are die hard fans of the actors and actresses. Starting from the golden age of bollywood in 1950’s and 60’s ( with Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar), to the angry young man era of Amitabh Bachchan in 1970’s and 80’s, from the romantic 90’s ( with Shahrukh, Salman and Amir Khan) to the modern age cinema of 2000’s and 2010’s, bollywood has always been the defacto entertainment for the Indian audience ( apart from Cricket). We all love and follow the way these superstars act, talk, walk, dance and sing. We even emulate their way of life and dream to become rich and famous like them.

But the reality shown in the movies, is not always the reality of life. Even though I have tremendous respect for bollywood stars like Amitabh, Shahrukh, Amir and many more ( especially the golden age era or even the parallel cinema of 1970’s and 80’s). But still bollywood life has always been mired with obsession for looks, wealth, fame, cut throat competition and jealousy. The actors and actresses are never happy in their life. The uncertainity of career and fear of being surpassed by talented new comers is always there. They often resort to drinking, smoking, recreational drugs, extra marital affairs to get rid of excess stress and fear of losing the fame. Ofcourse, not everyone does this, but bollywood is certainly not a very comforting or accomodating place.

Even worse than these vices, is the nepotism. Just like politics in India, bollywood is stained with nepotism. Everyone knows that nepotism runs in the blood of bollywood. If we look at the top families of bollywood, be it Kapoors, Khans, Bachchans, Bhatt’s, Deol’s, Chopra’s or Mukherjee-Samarth family, all have been in this industry for decades, generations after generations. Even though, nepotism does not demote their acting skills, as I agree as most Indians would, that these families inspite of their nepotism have been skilled and very professional in the show business. Along with their good photogenic looks, they carry the sophistication of being a brand and have glorified the Indian cinema for years at the global stage with their sheer hard work and dedication.

The famous Kapoor family and family tree
Bachchan family
Anil Kapoor family and tree
Salman Khan family and tree

But still the biggest disadvantage of neoptism is unleveling of the ground for new comers. The kids of famous bollywood families get the leverage and attention to rise up fairly easy, and this makes the life of newcomers difficult who inspite of their talent, may not always succeed in bollywood.

Even though there are exceptions like Shah Rukh Khan, Jackie Shroff, Ayushmann Khurana, Madhuri Dixit, Kanagana Ranaut, Sushant Singh Rajput etc. Many of the outsiders have succeeded, even though less than the number who fail or get thrown away due to nepotism. The case of Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide is the most famous example of the struggle and hardships an outsider has to endure to earn a name in this unforgiving industry. But finally, beyond nepotism, it is said that ‘work begets work’ and this has been even agreed upon by Sanjay Kapoor in this Netflix series, that finally work brings more work.

I think this is the only good part of this series, that finally, the bollywood is coming to an understanding that its not nepotism or connections but work brings more work, fame and recognition. That’s why Shah Rukh Khan (SRK), an outsider became the ‘King Khan of Bollywood’, while Abhishek Bachchan, who is the son of ‘Big B’ Amitabh Bachchan ( an outsider himself) could not earn that reputation like his father earned.

Finally, in the series, I find the most disgusting part is the shallow, fake and banal lives of the bollywood wives shown by the king of nepotism Karan Johar . Actually, they are not even part of bollywood who are successful. They are just missing that success and fame, which SRK, or Big B families have garnered. That’s why they are jealous of others, and desperate to launch their kids to earn that fame and wealth, which they could not earn. So, its worth noting that the life shown in this series is not always the typical bollywood wives life.

Infact, there are many actually talented, real bollywood wives like Kajol ( wife of Ajay Devgn, who stays away from bollywood limelight), Madhuri Dixit( married to a surgeon), Shabana Azmi ( wife of famed poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar), Hema Malini ( wife of Dharmendra), Jaya Bachchan ( wife of Amitabh Bachchan), Ratna Pathak Shah( wife of Naseeruddin Shah), Zeenat Aman, Gracy Singh and many more. They are the real gems and queens of bollywood. These wives/actresses do not behave or live a so called ‘fabulous’ life as shown in the Karan Johar ‘KJo’ produced netflix series. They often live a simple life, away from limelight after their acting career is over. Many of them are excellent housewives, and even some of them are in politics or social service. They are the real bollywood wives, and not the four wives shown in the series.

Thus, I end this review with the understanding that even though there are some fringe elements in bollywood as shown in this netflix series,& even though there is nepotism, family dynasties, cut throat competition, jealousy breeding grounds etc, but at the end, its always the work and talent which stays forever at the end.

The world in 2021..

Summary of the conversation regarding the world in 2021.

Yesterday, I attended an interesting conversation about the topic “The World in 2021” which was organized by Founding Fuel. The panel consisted of eminent thinkers and intellectuals such as Frank Richter from Zurich, who is the chairman of Horasis, Sundeep Waslekar, President of Strategic Foresight Group, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, Research Director and Senior Fellow at IDFC Institute,and Prof.G Venkat Raman, IIM Indore. The talk was hosted by the business journalist and editor, Indrajit Gupta. Here is the YouTube video link:

The world in 2021

The conversation highlighted the discussion on the issues which dominated in this year, 2020, and based on the current world scenario, the panel shared their insights about how the world will be shaped in 2021. Frank started the conversation with the impact of Covid-19, and how this pandemic has changed the world, especially considering the ever growing importance of digitization and automation. He also shared his concern about the rise in racial inequality seen in this year. But also the fact that President-elect Biden will soon be in the White House, this will certainly lead to the comeback of multilateralism.

Sundeep Waslekar, however, surprised the viewers by expressing that during 2020, there were three major impacts which dominated this year, and which will impact the coming years as well. In his list, the least severe is Covid-19! Yes, I heard right. The least disastrous is Covid-19 even though it has impacted millions of people and crumbled the economy into recession. According to Sundeep, the second most dangerous event which happened during 2020 was that 2020 was the hottest year in the history of the world. The readers can refer for more info: https://www.carbonbrief.org/state-of-the-climate-2020-on-course-to-be-warmest-year-on-record

So, this has led to an unprecedented rise in global warming. But the good thing is as Trump has lost the election, and President-elect Biden has affirmed to bring back the USA into the Paris Climate Agreement. And Sundeep also stressed the fact that Mr.Biden wants to align the economy to a more energy efficient, renewable source based, and sustainable model. Even Europe and China have decided to make their economies carbon free by 2050 and 2060 respectively. So, in a nutshell, thanks to the defeat of Trump, our Mother Earth is going to be saved from a catastrophic disaster.

According to Sundeep Waslekar, the third and most disastrous event which happened in 2020 is not Covid or global warming, but the race for development and testing of hypersonic missiles. So far, Russia, USA, China and India have successfully tested the hypersonic missiles in this year.

  1. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/01/national-pride-stake-russia-china-united-states-race-build-hypersonic-weapons
  2. https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/news/india-among-nations-hypersonic-missile-tech

Hence, the race for hypersonic missiles which can carry nuclear payloads coupled with the ongoing cold war between USA-China, and USA-Russia ( which is the new cold war continued after the disintegration of Soviet Union) and rising tensions between India-China has created a perfect breeding ground for germinating this into a burning hot war. The panel raised their concerns about the growing escalation of weapons manufacturing, including nuclear warheads, which the new President would have to give due attention to calm down the rising tensions between countries.

The panel answered questions from the audience, and one of the most asked questions was regarding the role of China in 2021. As per Niranjan and Prof. Venkat, China has risen in Asia as an economic and technological power, and who wants to challenge the position of the USA as the world’s only remaining superpower. China has dug its feet too deep into the global supply chains, that it will be impossible for the world to isolate China. The panel illustrated a few examples such as the dominance of China in rare earth elements which are used in smartphones, wind turbines etc. https://qz.com/1924282/how-china-became-dominant-in-rare-earths/ In short, the world may like or hate China, but cannot avoid China.

The panel discussed the upcoming challenges President-elect Biden will have to face as soon as he enters the White House. It will be interesting to see how he leads America in this multi-polar world, where America has retreated from the world leadership during the Trump Presidency. As Sundeep rightly said, that “Donald Trump looked at the world as a place of risk, and not a place of opportunities” That America’s interests were at risk was the psychology behind Trump’s actions to ban immigrants, sell arms, retreat from world organizations etc. “Even though Biden has favored multilateralism, still it is not clear how his worldview is going to be. Is he going to look at the world, especially at China and Russia from cold war’s perspective, or would have a completely new view?” Hence, Sundeep assured the Indian audience who are particularly concerned that Biden will bring up the kashmir issue again, that Biden will certainly look at India from America’s strategic interest, and simply kashmir, H1-B immigration or any human rights issue would not drive his administration’s agenda.

Another topic which was talked about was regarding the RCEP – Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which has been formed among the Asian nations including Australia and N.Z, but dominated by China. For India, this is another organization in the lines of One Belt One Road, CPEC, or AIIB. Prof.Venkat and Niranjan shared their views that even though India looks at China led organizations from the prism of threat to its economic and national concern, but considering the need to revive the economy, India should either think of joining or have a Plan B with US or Europe market collaboration.

Finally, the panel discussed the world economy which lies in doldrums. Even though the world economy will bounce back in 2021, but still it will reach only to the pre-covid level. But the important concern is how the economy will be shaped after this pandemic. Though it is clear that the emphasis on automation and digitization will be preferred, the basic problem lies with the way the economy was functioning. The working class struggled with the low wages, and which led to protests from many parts of the world to increase wages. While on the other side, the CEO’s and BOD’s earned huge profits due to increase in productivity, driven by automation and the internet. But they spent the major chunk of profits in share buyback or giving hefty bonuses to themselves. Hence, profits vs wages will be the main concern in front of many world leaders.

The conversation ended with Frank’s comment that there is hope to rebuild the world based on multilateralism, that nationalistic movements have started to retreat especially with the exit of Trump from the White House, and people can live together again in harmony. While Sundeep concluded his thoughts with a question for the viewers to wonder that the world could not predict about Covid in 2019. So, what will be the next thing/event that might happen in 2021, which will change the world? Let’s hope that whatever happens is positive!

#Worldin2021 #FFMasterclass

Please do watch this conversation on YouTube as the ideas and worldview from eminent intellectuals and scholars are the perfect food for our thoughts!

Book review: The Accidental Prime Minister

This book review briefly explains why Dr.Manmohan Singh became the known as the Accidental Prime Minister.

I recently read the book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh‘ written by Mr.Sanjaya Baru, who was Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Manmohan Singh’s media advisor from May 2004 to Aug 2008. This blog post is only about my personal opinion after reading this book, and to make it clear, I have not seen the movie being released based on this book. It’s been more than 6 years since this book was published back in 2014, and this book had been on my ‘To Read’ list for a while. Finally, I got the time to read this recently and I completed it in a few days.

Due to my interest in history and world politics, I found this book very interesting. It covers the political happenings during UPA 1 from 2004 to 2008, when the author, Mr.Sanjaya Baru worked for Dr.Manmohan Singh ( and not for UPA government or certainly not for Sonia Gandhi as he clarifies in the book) as his media advisor. Well, the book highlights how Dr.Singh was chosen accidentally to be India’s PM during UPA 1 ( United Progressive Alliance) tenure, when Sonia Gandhi could not find anyone else deserving enough to serve as PM in her cabinet. Dr.Singh himself never thought of becoming PM, but destiny showered on him the blessings for his past hard work, his patriotism and dedication for serving the nation.

During UPA 1, even though Dr.Singh was the head of the government, everything was not however in total control of the PM. The portfolio allocations for ministers were done by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, but finance and foreign ministry remained in the hands of Dr.Singh, and hence, the UPA 1 became a success due to the exceptional performance of Indian economy with a 9% GDP growth for continuous 5 years, and achieving India’s victory in foreign affairs by signing the India-US Civil Nuclear Agreement. Thanks to Dr.Singh, India could achieve this feat.

But during the UPA 2 tenure, the government was maligned due to its involvement in a number of corruption scandals especially the 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scandal, Coal scam etc. But the author clarifies that Dr.Singh was not involved in any of this, because of the fact that Dr.Singh was not at all in control of the UPA 2 government. Not only were all the cabinet portfolios including finance and foreign ministries decided by Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, but also Dr.Singh was not consulted for any decisions taken during that tenure. As per Dr.Singh words as quoted by Mr.Baru in the book, “You see, you must understand one thing. I have come to terms with this. There cannot be two centres of power. That creates confusion. I have to accept that the party president is the centre of power. The government is answerable to the party,” This complacency became the main problem for Dr.Singh during UPA 2.

As the author explains in the book, Dr.Singh yielded his space during his second term against his own advice given to the author before. Dr.Singh always considered himself being a teacher, or economist first, and hardly saw himself as a politician. That’s why he was the accidental prime minister. His shy, introverted nature, his humble background, his studious and excellent academic accomplishments all made him an ideal reformer or expert in economics. And this was proved right in 1991 when the world saw how this gentleman along with the then PM Narsimha Rao bravely ushered in new reforms to liberalize the economy and pull India out of bankruptcy!

But when it came to politics, it was quite a challenge. His naiveness towards playing politics within the party, his lack of oratorical skills and his lack of intention to command power over his ministers all turned out to be detrimental to the position of Prime Minister. But his qualities turned out to be useful for the Congress high command who came to dominate and consolidate power behind the curtains, especially during UPA 2 tenure. Similar to the author, I too feel that Dr.Singh should have taken a strong stand against any ministers who did not respect him, or who rather just followed the orders of Congress high command over him. He should have contested Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and should have avoided running for the Rajya Sabha seat similar to the one he did back in 2004. Dr.Singh should have taken the credit for UPA’s victory in 2009 as he truly deserved it because after all, it was due to his economic and foreign affairs policies that had led to rise in India’s stature on the world platform.

Unfortunately, as the author has illustrated in the book, the opposition and the common public misunderstood his silence, or his shyness as submission to the Congress high command. His cardinal mistake of accepting Congress party high command as the leader of the country against his own position of PM, led to a series of events including corruption scandals, India Against Corruption rallies, and finally, set the stage for Narendra Modi, who was seen to be strong, decisive, articulate orator, all of these qualities being exact opposite of Dr.Singh’s personality.

I quite agree with the author’s views that Dr.Singh should have avoided becoming PM during UPA 2. It would have been terribly strenuous for the Congress high command to find someone like Dr.Singh, who is equally competent and compliant. As legendary cricketer Sunil Gavaskar rightly quoted “You must retire when people ask ‘why’ and not ‘why not”. I think Dr.Singh should have followed Gavaskar’s advice in 2009. But looking at the past 6 years of Modi government, it can be said that destiny wanted to lay the groundwork for the emergence of a new leader on stage, in the form of Narendra Modi, and hence, the chaos, and corruption became the face of UPA 2 government which resulted in the collapse of Congress dynasty in 2014.

But the book does shed light on the fact that it was not entirely the mistake of Dr.Singh. He did an excellent job in UPA 1 when he was given the freedom to work. But in UPA 2 he simply did not have any freedom nor support of his own party. The Congress mistook the victory after UPA 1 as eternal, and foolishly assumed to continue the ‘business as usual’ policy. They even handed over the credit of Dr.Singh to Rahul Gandhi in 2009. But as we know, karma hits back, and this abrasive and denigrating behavior of Congress party ( especially Sonia & Rahul Gandhi) towards Dr.Singh led to their reversal of their fortune in 2014, and it even plummeted further in 2019 elections. After all, Nature is never unfair!

After seeing all this, in spite of serving 10 years diligently, Dr.Singh had to express his legacy as “history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media, or for that matter, the Opposition parties in Parliament.” This is indeed true. India will always be indebted to Dr.Singh for making India liberal and globalized because of his 1991 economic reform, and later during UPA 1 tenure in making India a strong nation by signing the historic nuclear deal with USA. Dr.Singh will always be known as one of the finest prime minister India had after PM Nehru, who like Pandit Nehru was educated in England, close to Lutyens media, liberal in nature, and being respected globally. However, the only difference between both of them is that the former was the PM by destiny, while latter was by an accident!

Creativity and education system..part 2

I remember my school days when rote memory was valued in high esteem. The teachers and tuition/coaching class teachers used to tell us to memorize all the answers, and to write in the exam as it is. I am sure everyone must have experienced this in their school days. To such a high extent was this system promoting to memorize and rote memory at the expense of creativity and original thinking, that if we wrote answers in our own words in the exam, we were scared that we might get failed or get less marks. In short, this scene from the movie “3 Idiots” well explains the over emphasis on rote memory in schools and college.

Movie – 3 Idiots

All this results in utter destruction of creativity. In fact not just creativity, but the student even loses interest in studying or passing exams. The over dependence on theoretical contents without any discussion, debate, or application of those concepts, over -reliance on marks and passing the exam, studying from a particular author’s book or reference notes, displaying of marks or grades on the public display board, outdated syllabus, competition between students to come first( which makes no sense) are some of the inherent flaws in today’s education system.

In India, the students are forced to study for clearing IIT entrance, since a young age ( from 5th or 6th std). It scary how would a 10 year boy or girl stay motivated or even interested to study for IIT entrance which happens at the age of 18. The age 10-16 are the age group when creativity blossoms at the peak level due to more understanding of the world along with physical changes in them. They normally become curious to know the world, how things work, why people behave in such a way etc. And in that delicate age, if they are burdened with preparation for entrance exams, or to do programming to become future Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerburg, then that is not only destroying the creativity in them but also is an injustice against them.

In an age when the students should be allowed to play, make new friends, read books or paint, they are taught to compete with their fellow classmates. They are told to look down upon failures, and even a sense of fear is instilled in them to avoid failing in any exams. They are given false promises of a bright future ahead, if they study now. I had even heard some teachers saying to students that if they study till age 22, then the next 40 years after that will be full of comforts and luxury. And the kids are so innocent and obedient in that age, that with the only hope that life will be easy after 22, they decide to compromise their playing time, or health during teen and early adult years. Later do they realize, how were they tricked into this game and after having lost the teen years in just work and study, they regret later in life, which results in loss of faith in hard work and in teachers/elders as well.

A lot can be said about the flaws in today’s education system, and we simply cannot ignore that its a need of the hour to reform the education system. Finally, I just want to add Pink Floyd’s classic song with lyrics

Pink Floyd
We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone
All in all it's just another brick in the wall
All in all you're just another brick in the wall
We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave those kids alone
Hey teachers, leave those kids alone
All in all you're just another brick in the wall
All in all you're just another brick in…

Creativity and education system?

Has the time arrived to think why education system should be allowed to continue, if it doesn’t produce creative minds?

Recently watched this TED Talk and thought to share my views about this.

Do schools kill creativity? | Sir Ken Robinson

First of all, this talk is incredibly humorous. The speaker is exceptionally adept at making people laugh, and at the same time, conveyed his views about schooling and creativity quite eloquently. While watching TED talks, I suffer from lack of patience, and if I find speaker or the topic boring, I have the habit to stop watching the talk within 2-3 minutes. But this talk made me glued to the speaker, and I simply admire the way he cracked jokes and expressed his views.

After listening the talk, I agree that the schooling or even the entire education system seems to have lost its real purpose with time. The education system which is still being implemented all over the world was started with the purpose to provide skilled workforce during the industrial revolution. During first industrial revolution, it was the need of civil, mechanical engineers who would build ships, railways, bridges, canals etc. Especially for the European and later American colonialism it was the need of the hour. They need to build ships to go to India, Africa and East Asia, and bring the looted resources back to their country. The requirement of not just engineers but also managers grew during second industrial revolution with the introduction of assembly line in manufacturing, to increase productivity by managing workers, and thereby reaping profits. All this needed the right kind of people who had a habit to listen, to obey, to fear failure in real life because that’s what is needed in factories, and companies.

Later, during the third industrial revolution, the same pattern followed except the techno savvy minds needed to be created, and hence, we see kids being taught to learn programming. Going to B School became a fashion, as it not only paid well, but it also allowed only those people to excel who were obedient, hard working, servile to the company and boss, and did not think out of box. Ironic it may be, but the third industrial revolution which introduced computers, telecom, social media, Iphone to the world, was started by those guys who either did not graduate from grad school or college. The list consists of giants like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and many more. They all were creative and yet dropped out. Why? May be because they did not feel that going to school or college will enhance their knowledge or boost their creativity. That’s why, Peter Thiel has started the “The Thiel Fellowship” which grants $100000 to those young people who would not go to a 4 year college, and instead build something innovative!

In India, we see creativity and schooling are in mutually exclusive zone. The system seldom encourages students to think out of the box, or work on some innovative projects, though there are always few exceptions. More than building something, its the mindset of students which needs to be worked on. We see students are compelled to follow the standard routes of education, which is primarily engineering or medical. Only in rare cases, where the family owns a business, are the kids allowed to study commerce/business. The subject “Arts” doesn’t exist in the dictionary of parents. And that’s why only those students who get less grades( or those who graduate at the bottom of the class) are sent to study Arts. How would a creative artist be born if he/she is convinced that the only reason to study arts was because of their failure to get good grades in high school. Why wouldn’t they consider studying arts as a punishment which in J K Rowling words “that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension”. That’s why India hasn’t produced any excellent painters, writers( not many still), poets and philosophers, and neither has India won any Nobel prize for literature after Tagore won last time in 1913.

To be continued…

Moving back to India..

Since moving back to India, it has been quite a different experience. After all, I had stayed in India for more than 20 years, and it was only 5 years back, that I had moved to the United States. That was a big cultural and financial shock for me, and few months back, when I decided to move back to my country, I was expecting another shock ( not cultural or financial, but habitual).

Yes, by habitual I mean I had become quite used to certain things which developed nations like United States have. They include amenities like clean and pollution free air, zero blackouts or incessant supply of electricity and water, exceedingly high speed internet, corruption free bureaucracy, less traffic, less people or crowd on the roads ( sometimes even deserted roads as I had seen only homeless people walk on the roads in USA), automated and fast self-checkout process in banks, stores, or gas stations, display of courteous speech along with good manners with greeting “Good Morning”, or “How’s it going” to everyone we met, and almost every conversation ending with either “Nice to meet you” or “Have a good day”. Even holding the doors for the next person, carefully following the traffic rules, and taking super extra care in the parking lot. I had become used to these basic rules in America( which are not so basic in other parts of the world yet). I was amazed by how fast I had become “Americanized” in just 5 years, even to the extent of becoming comfortable using toilet paper, as we Indians prefer using water ( which is more hygenic, medically proven, cost-saving and environmental friendly)

But after returning to India, I feared how am I going to manage in a country which was known for polluted air, huge crowds, frequent blackouts and shortage of running water, traffic jams, almost reckless display of ingratitude, or lack of manners or greeting in public places, red-tapism in bureaucracy and internet speed which had not passed beyond 2G yet. But after coming to India, its been a wonderful and pleasant surprise on many occasions. First of all, India is still a developing country, and a lot of developments are still in progres. But when compared to the 2010’s India to the current 2020 India, I see a lot of positive changes in India, thanks for the Narendra Modi government.

Apart from politics, as we all know how the current ruling party has sweeped in reforms and changed the way the world looked towards India. But to gauge the real change, we need to see how things are going in public life, by traveling, visiting places, govt offices etc. Hence, after moving back to India, first thing I had to do was reach home safely amidst the burgeoning Covid crisis, just like United States has. Hence, I quarantined myself for 15 days, and it was a good experience to stay in hotel for 7 days for which I had paid quite a hefty amount. The reader might refer my post to know about this travel experience during corona times.

Then, after coming back to my house, I had to make arrangements of some basic things which are needed in a civilized world. So, first I had to take a local simcard, and currently in the Indian market, Jio is the most preferred provider. Hence, I went to Jio shop,within few minutes, I got the Jio simcard, which offers 4G internet speed with 2GB/day bandwidth at the lowest cost in the world ( Rs.600 for 84 days, which comes around $2.8 per month). Even a Starbucks coffee is more expensive than that!

Then I started searching for WiFi connection at home so that I can connect all the smart devices in the house such as Smart TV, Alexa Assistant etc. Based on my past experience few years back, I did not expect great service, speed or even was worried about how much time it might take to start the service. And after reading some reviews in Pune region, I decided to select You Broadband. I contacted them to start a new connection, and within few hours, their representative reached out to me regarding my request. Then he asked to submit the specified docs through Whatsapp, and after sending them, my account was activated. Next day morning, the technician visited my house to setup the fiber connection. I purchased a router and was assisted through video calling for router setup. By the end of the day, my WiFi connection was started. I was surprised with the fast installation, video calling assistance and Whatsapp based docs verification system they are using to assist the customers. And against my presumption, the speed is very good ( I had selected the 50 Mbps unlimited package) and at a very low cost of just Rs.1024/month ( $14/month). In USA, I used to pay around $50-60. Hence, I was satisfied with this experience.

Then, I had to take care of groceries, and I visited the local Indian Walmart in my region, which is the More retail store, owned by Aditya Birla group. Though it isn’t as big as Walmart stores are in USA, but it had all the groceries and food available. I compared the price of food items and found out to be way cheaper than what I used to pay in the States. But some items like toilet paper rolls, kellogg cereals were more expensive, maybe due to the fact that in India, we have more options for breakfast, and not many eat cereals during breakfast. And I was not surprised why toilet paper rolls are expensive in India.

The most surprising thing was use of paper bags instead of plastic bags which are commonly used in Walmart and other stores in the States.

Then, I had heard of ‘twitter diplomacy’, and about it’s use in India for reporting social issues etc. So, I decided to give a try. I updated my twitter profile, and started sending tweets about bank account issues, electricity wire being fallen on the road etc. I was amazed by the immediate response from the respective authorities. I had never used twitter for reporting issues and had relied on traditional ways like calling, or emailing. But the transformative use of social media like twitter in India has made easier for the common man to report issues or any hurdles in the process.

Then, I had to open a bank account as my previous Indian bank accounts were no longer operational. With the demonetization, and digitization wave ushered in India since 2016, I found out many banks in India like Kotak Mahindra Bank, DBS India, SBI, Axis Bank etc are providing online bank account opening, with multiple options like zero balance account, instant account opening feature, all online using their apps. All the verification is done online except the finger print verification, for which we have to go to the bank. But in case of DBS bank, they even visit our house, and take fingerprint, which saves our time. Then, India has started the Unified Payments Interface system for bank transactions using mobile apps such as BHIM, PhonePe etc and its a lot easier than credit or debit cards. I don’t need to carry any cash or even cards ( in a nutshell, no physical wallet) and I can do all the purchase at the stores using BHIM UPI app. This is great for a country which heavily relied on cash till few years back.

Then, even in the food industry, just like DoorDash and GrubHub in USA, we have Swiggy and Zomato which are provide door to door food delivery service. I ordered some food to checkout their service, and as promised I got the best service just like I used to get in the States. The delivery person wears a uniform company, and due to covid, they provide contactless delivery as well. Even in transportation arena, India has Ola to compete with Uber. I found the Ola drivers very cordial, helpful and had taken all the necessary provisions to provide a contactless, and safe ride.

I also happened to travel to Baroda to visit my relatives. Though the travel experience using Gujarat Travels was not at the best, but the booking system by RedBus, GPS tracking of the bus, active social media monitoring done by RedBus, and immediate responding to feedback posted conveyed the message that things are improving in this sector as well. I have a separate post written about this experience. Gone are the days when we used to wait for the bus, and the bus used to come delayed hours later, and there was no way our feedback or grievances could be communicated to the authorities. But now the customer has the voice to raise opinions, post feedback on social media etc.

After relocation, I had to take care of some government provided documents, and even though there hasn’t been much improvement here like banking, telecom, or retail services has, but the process has been partially digitized and many payments are done online. This reduces the corruption in bureaucracy which until few years back had plagued Indian system horribly. Thanks for digitization and active social media platforms, its getting better with time.

Though as mentioned above are some of the new changes which I have seen recently after coming to India, but still many things need to be ameliorated. The customer service is not like what I had seen in the United States. Except Apple, I never faced any trouble reaching out to the other customer service in USA for problem resolution. But in India, it still takes considerable effort to get it resolved, which could be attributed to the fact of India having a huge population and due to which the load on the customer service is relatively higher than United States. Then, we do have pollution ( though it has reduced due to lockdown measures), there are blackouts sometimes, traffic rules are violated sometimes, honking is considered a normal practice, the roads are still small, or dirty, with digging work being done in few places. People are too busy and hence no one cares to greet each other with any American manners. Usually, it boils down to get to the point and get the work done when talking with any one in the stores, or banks.

But as compared to my American habit of not walking out at night alone due to the fear of being mugged, or having the fear of being assaulted by some homeless, or sociopath with a gun, I do not have those fears in India. I had traveled to places like St.Louis ( which has one of the highest crimes rates in the country), New York, downtown Atlanta etc which are known for some violent neighbourhood and shady places. Looking at the current riots, protests, and anti-immigration stand, being an Indian, who is brown skinned made me concerned about my safety whenever I traveled alone at night in US. Atleast I feel a sigh of relief that I no longer have to worry about it while in India. I am not saying that it was unsafe in USA everywhere. There are many good places where everyone is welcomed, and I really liked them. But still, a feeling of being alone in a group remained. After coming to India, and being a part of the society, I atleast do not hesitate to go out at night, and come back safe though I cannot say the same to girls as still their safety is always a concern during night time.

Finally, this isn’t to compare the pros and cons of India and America. There are many on both sides. I was fortunate to have stayed in the United States for 5 years, and it was a great learning experience. I saw the good side as well the not so good side of America. But for India, it has been a time of big changes, and more needs to be done in coming years. Many of us want to make India a developed nation like America. I am not sure when this is going to be, but however developed we might become in future, or however we might try to emulate the American habits such as eating in McDonalds, Pizza, Burger King, drinking Coke, using Iphone, Facebook, Instagram, even buying Tesla, etc but there are some Indian traditions and culture which will always inspire the world, especially Americans and Indians who are staying in America for years, to come to visit India or even come back to India as I have done so. Be it Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerburg, Larry Brilliant, Ram Das, Krishna Das who visited India and which inspired them to change the world, or be it the diversity, food, religion, spirituality which is unique for India, however Americanized or Westernized we might become.

I miss America, but I am also glad to be back to my motherland!

Rise of nationalism, once again!

Looking at the past few years, it is becoming quite evident from the events that have occurred worldwide that the trend of nationalism has risen, once again. History repeats itself, and it has done so for the arena of nationalism. The last time when nationalism was rampant in the world were the turbulent years after Great Depression, rise of Hitler and World War 2. Now, what surprises most of the intellectuals more than this trend is how fast the trend of globalization and liberalization have faced severe backlash in a mere span of 25 years or so.

Lets delve back into history to understand why the era of nationalism and separatism based on country, ethnicity and even to certain extent religious extremism have emerged. Not far back, just 29 years before, in 1991, the world saw the collapse of Soviet Union and its political communism. Today, only handful of countries are communist, such as N.Korea, China, Vietnam, and with the exception of N.Korea, all the others have embraced state capitalism, on the economic front by discarding the socialistic state planned economic model. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and it led to the domino effect of the plummeting of the communist satellite countries in East Europe, and Russia at the end. The world saw this rare, bizarre event and the west proclaimed its supremacy in the ideals of free market capitalism, democracy and globalization. Francis Fukuyama even went ahead with its book, “The end of History and the Last man” with a false, short term belief that with this victory, there will not be any war, or crisis in the world, and hence, the whole world will be one planet with one political system (democracy), one economic system (capitalism). What he actually meant was one planet under one superpower (USA)!

Anyways, it didn’t take long enough for the world to see a new crisis in the form of 9/11. Soon, the superpower was at war( as it always has been after every few years or so), and with that event, new conflicts emerged. As early as 2007, it was slowly becoming evident that the world is becoming more and more multi-polar. In fact, in the Munich conference in 2007, Putin famously brought this to the world’s attention. This is because the rise of Putin to the Presidency of Russia, was itself the first blow to the USA led world. Before Putin, during the Yeltsin years, the world saw how Russia suffered immensely under its corrupt government ( which was supported by USA), and billionaire oligarchs. With Putin, who became President in 2000, it all ended, and that was the first rise in nationalism ( in the form of Russian patriotism) in the world.

Then, with the disastrous Iraq war from 2003 to the Great Recession in 2007-08, USA started losing its economic clout, and was soon challenged by China. China since 1979, with its opening up to the world, had been silently making its pockets deeper with the US dollars, and the whole world realized this only in the last decade. The last decade, from 2010, led to the increase in nationalistic fervor all over the world. This is because of many reasons. One of the them is the loss of economic clout, and the moral superiority of USA. The world admired USA for its success and moral responsibility to protect the freedom, and human rights during the two world wars. Then, after WW2, it was its war against communism which made the world choose the former, due to the lack of freedom and democracy in USSR’s Iron curtain. But after the collapse of Soviet Union, there was no enemy left against USA. Suddenly the vacuum which was created made USA arrogant of its supremacy. In political vocabulary, there were no ‘checks’ on its actions. Even the UN, UNSC were dominated by USA and its allies.

But after the 9/11, Afghanistan-Iraq war under the incompetent Bush regime, and the economic recession, the ‘American Dream’ slowly started losing its glory. The world started accepting the fact that USA was not in its best position as it used to be before to protect the other nations. This led to the triggering of the nationalistic sentiments, however small they might be. Even in USA, the people were fed up with the country’s role as defacto ‘world’s policeman’, and they wanted to keep their country away from world affairs. This was a huge shift in the country’s outlook, unlike the years during world wars or cold war, when USA used to take lead in the world affairs, and even frequently interfered in other country’s internal matters.

Then, the Arab springs revolution happened in 2011, which led to overthrow of USA backed dictators in Middle east and North Africa. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 added fuel to fire to the rising nationalism, and the world did nothing about it. Also, worth noting is the fact that during this time, from 2010 to 2013, with the Wikileaks, and whistleblowers like Ed Snowden and Bradley/Chelsea Manning, the world came to know about the spying program USA had been doing on the world for many years. This led to more concern about the sovereignty and integrity of the nations. Even the allies were spied and this led to the further loss of the trust among the nations with United States. Then the next two events turned to be pivotal in the rise of nationalism as we see today. They were the Brexit in 2015 and Donald Trump’s surprising victory in 2016. Infact, such was the effect of these two events over the world, that most of the escalation in nationalism, right wing, alt-right and tensions all over the world can be attributed to these two events.

Since, 2016, we have seen the rise in new Cold aka Trade war between USA and China, USA’s withdrawal from many treaties and organizations, rise in conflicts between countries like India-China, USA-Iran, and even rise in racial and ethnic tensions in USA and some parts of Europe as well. It seems that the liberal order since 1991 is slowly disintegrating all over the world. Today, we see that many countries have either elected right-wing, nationalistic, anti-establishment ( anti liberal and globalization establishment) leaders or the leaders have proclaimed themselves to be the defacto supreme dictators who can rule the country till their last breath. The first group includes countries like India, where Narendra Modi has been elected twice in 2014 and 2019, with huge majority. He is known for his ardent patriotism with ties to the right wing group, RSS. Besides, we see Brazil with the election of Bolsenaro, PM Boris Johnson in UK, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, PM Viktor Orban in Hungary and many more in Europe as well. Even respected liberal German chancellor, Angela Merkel will step down in 2021, and there has been rise in neo-nazism and hatred of immigrants from the middle least, especially Syria and Afghanistan. Only Canada and France remain liberal with their leaders Trudeau and Macron. But even they are challenged by right wing parties in their respective countries.

While the other group includes countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, where Putin, Xi Jinping, MBS and Erdogan have become dictators respectively. On one side even though Russia is criticized by the liberal, left media for Putin’s dictatorship and for its killing of opposition leaders ( the most recent being the poisoning of Alexei Navalny), but on the other side, we see the right wing media praises Russia for reviving the nationalistic trend, and even lauding it to the only country to preserve the good old Christianity values. For the right wing believers who watch Fox news, USA has become dominated by the minorities, immigrants and Jews, and the old USA ( white, Waspy, protestant) establishment has dwindled over the years. No wonder Trump and its followers are in good terms with Putin.

But China with its desire of empire expansion and to become the next superpower, has been facing a great deal of opprobrium, especially since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, which allegedly originated from Wuhan. Further, its border tensions with India, after it purposefully incited violence on the Indian soldiers, led to heightened tensions between the countries. China has aggressively silenced the pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong, and annexed the island. It continues to blockade Hong Kong and Taiwan from foreign support, and has led to forced detention of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province. Further, it has extended economic support to third world countries which usually result in ‘debt trap’ or ‘debt diplomacy’ under the disguise of sophisticated marketing of Belt and Road or The new Silk Road . The world saw how Sri Lanka lost the Hambantota port to China, and the same is happening in other countries in Asia and Africa. Hence, the seeds of future conflicts are being sowed.

Finally, we see the conflict in the middle east as the sands and winds of middle east have always been hot and turbulent. Besides, the age old Israeli-Arab and Iran-Saudi Arabia conflict, now we see its getting more and more complicated with the US vs Iran, Iran-Syria vs Israel, and a new player in the form of Turkey, under the dictatorship of Racep Tayyip Erdogan. Recently, he converted the two museums into mosques and has challenged the Saudi led Muslim world with a new hub of Muslim leadership under Turkish banner. Even MBS have consolidated his richest empire and have become the defacto ruler in the family of Saud. Hence, earlier the middle east was divided into three camps, with Saudi Sunni Arabs, Persian Shia Iran and Zionist Israel. Now, the fourth entry is that of Turkey with its ambitions of a Neo-Ottoman empire.

Thus, it looks like this trend of nationalism is here to stay. The geopolitics has already been covered by the differences and conflicts among the nations, and unless, a peaceful and promising resolution is figured out, there seems to be no end to this trend. We hope that this does not lead us to another catastrophic world war, whose chances have been never been higher before. Many liberals, centrist and left intellectuals have been perplexed by this sudden rise of right wing forces, and many of them are burning the midnight oil to understand what went wrong in their liberal, globalized, world order, which seemed to be omnipotent, just 25 years back. Lets see how the world and its geopolitics unravels before us.

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Need for mindfulness!

History will assess the present as chaotic times. This is because of the ever complex world we are living in. Humans have achieved the highest pinnacle of technological progress in human history, and hence, we are ever surrounded by complex, high-tech machines. On one side it might seem that we are relieved of all the hardwork and sweat, as all the tasks from cooking, transport, calculations, communications, and even intelligence are managed by intelligent machines. We have the best technology at work today.

But on the other side, there has been increase in depression, mental issues, anxiety, unemployment and lack of stable relationships as well. As per WHO, more than 264 million people suffer from depression globally. It is indeed a topic of debate as why are we suffering from high levels of mental and health issues when most of our problems have been solved with the invention of technology. We see that facebook and other social media sites have bridged the gap between the world to easily communicate and share information. But on the other side, we are getting more and more addicted to social media, and even depressed as per Journal of Applied Biobehavioural research.

Adding to this are the incessant bombarding of news reports from mainstream media, news channels, radio, podcasts, youtube channels etc. We live in the information age and its quite in excess. Most of us are unable to get the best relevant data from this ocean of information, and hence, it usually ends up creating confusion and loss of interest. The unceasing tweets from followers, viral videos, and debates have ushered in chaos everywhere.

Adding to this mayhem, is the Covid virus infections. Covid could not have come at a better time when the world is already getting polarized on the grounds of right wing, ultra nationalism vs liberal, pro-globalization order. We see massive BLM rally all over USA due to hightened racial tensions against the Trump supporters rally. Then, we have the Indian-China conflict slowly and steadily rising which might escalate to trigger a full-scale war. The world economy except China has tumbled down, and the fear of long term recession, unemployment and social issues are looming everywhere. I find no perfect word other than “chaotic” to name this!

Hence, when I see this chaos howering everywhere, I find mindfulness or meditation to be a perfect solution to keep our mind calm amidst this pandemonium. Nothing better can make me feel good than meditation nowadays. It is jokingly said during pandemic that if we cannot go outside, then better to go inside ( within us). Yes, indeed. We need to contemplate about our life, our goals, our needs and our future after all this chaos settles down. This pandemic is once in a lifetime event, and hence, it seems that destiny has given an opportunity for us to reflect our life inwards and know the self. The pandemic has already made us aware that our needs are much much less than we usually purchase. As Gandhi used to say, “The world has enough to fulfill everyone’s needs, but not anyone’s greed”. I do agree that this pandemic has proved this right.

When there is no sign of covid vaccine coming in near future, the only way to keep ourselves safe and healthy is by increasing immunity and ofcourse, staying inside and taking all the precautions. Meditation is known to make us strong mentally, and thereby we get the strength to fight against this pandemic. More than health, this pandemic is a test of our mind’s strength. We are more prone to succumb to fear, anxiety, depression, or worst suicide, due to the fear of Covid infections in our family, economic recession and social unrest. So, to keep our mind strong and stress free, we need to spend sometime in mindfulness. We need to meditate everyday for few minutes at least.

I practice Art of Living taught “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga” and it has helped me immensely to keep me mentally strong. Infact, the day I do not do the kriya, I feel nervous, and get angry quickly. Hence, I am glad that I learnt this technique before, and now I can practice it everyday at my home. I will write a separate post about my experience with meditation, and how it works like magic!

I hope this all chaos calms down soon, and let peace delve back into the world.

Stay at home, folks!

Recently, I happened to travel from Pune, Maharashtra to Vadodara/Baroda, Gujarat by bus to look at some urgent family affairs. Though I was afraid to travel out during this corona times, but the urgency of the situation urged me to go out and visit my family. Based on the experience I had during travel to and fro, I decided to write a post to request people to #StayAtHome. Please!

During lockdown, we all were compelled to stay at home. The fear and uncertainity along with enormous escalation of infections and deaths in some of the most advanced countries like USA, Italy and Spain had convinced us to stay safe indoors. But as soon as the lockdown was lifted, and in India, where the unlocking phase began, we started moving out of our homes. Ofcourse, people eventually got bored staying inside home, and for a developing economy like India, where the WFH culture is not yet accepted, and not even feasible, it was inevitable for us to move out for work or daily necessities. Also, looking at the rising number of new Covid infections inspite of the lockdown, it looks like the lockdown did not work, and on the other side, severely hampered the developing economy. Hence, nowadays, when the media or medical experts advise us to stay at home, we somehow ignore them.

So, I decided to travel inspite of the new zenith gained everyday looking at the number of Covid infections and deaths. I booked the bus – Gujarat travels from Pune to Vadodara, with return ticket as well. My journey from Pune to Vadodara was overnight travel, in a sleeper coach. With a naive intention to save some money ( as we all are in that saving mode nowadays due to the possible fear of upcoming recession), I booked the Non-AC bus. This turned out to be a colossal mistake as I would realize later. Luckily, I booked the return from Vadodara to Pune an Air Conditioned one, but it was a day travel, and it had its own version of problems as I would experience soon.

Thus, I packed my bags, and boarded the bus. The booking was done through RedBus, and it was told that the bus operator will allow only the passengers who had worn mask. The thermal checks will be done before boarding, and everyone will be given hand sanitizer. Besides, social distancing (6 ft) will be maintained inside the bus. But when I boarded the bus, neither was I checked for mask, nor was the thermal check conducted. Even hand sanitizer was not provided. But I had worn mask, and carried enough hand sanitizer with me. This was just the beginning of the violation of Covid rules by the bus operators.

Then, I saw that the compartments were just separated by a thin curtain, and the distance between each compartment was surely less than 6 ft. They should have made alternate seating, but they did not. I was still safe because I had booked the single compartment with one bed on the left isle. But on the right isle of the bus, there were a large compartment with two beds near to each other. I assumed this must be reserved only for the family. But it was not. They had allowed anyone to sit near each other. This was really a gross violation of the social distancing rules.

Then, the bus conductor took the Aadhar details from everyone, and worst, was that he had worn mask beneath the nose. Afterall, the mask is meant to be put on the nose and mouth to cover. Why would anyone on the earth wear mask below the nose and mouth? I had no answer for this. He had not worn any hand gloves, and the pen and paper used to write the details, were common. In India, when the government boasts of the “Digital revolution” brought about, but the bus operators were still using the traditional way of pen and paper. Rather, they should have taken the pics of Aadhar card for verification, or the RedBus should have allowed the passengers to provide these details in the app itself. How would the pen and paper which was shared with all the passengers be more safe and better during a pandemic than the app? This showed the lack of seriousness in the bus authorities.

As I mentioned about my mistake to book a non-AC bus, so I suffered from lack of ventilation, and due to small compartments, closed by curtains, I had to open the window during the night to allow some fresh air. But being an overnight journey, coupled with monsoon rains and traffic jam in the Mumbai area, I must have inhaled more pollutants than fresh air. Also, I feared for the sneezing and coughing from any passengers, which would make the closed, non-ventilated environment inside the bus an ideal breeding ground for Covid infection. Due to all this, I could not sleep much and thus, the night journey turned out to be quite a disaster.

Finally, after the hustle and bustle, I reached Vadodara. After visiting my relatives, and spending a good weekend with them, I started my journey back to Pune. I was comforted with the thought that this journey might be a lot better than the previous one due to the availability of AC as well as an upper deck. But barely did I knew at that time what experiences would soon lay before me!

First of all, the bus got excruciatingly delayed by more than 2 hours. I was assuming I will board the bus around 7:45 AM, and reach my home by 8 PM. But with this delay, I boarded the bus at 10:20 AM. I did the math again, and now, I would reach home by atleast 10:30 PM. But I had no option but to bite the bullet. The waiting at the bus stop was an awful experience. It was early morning time, and so I happened to be the only passenger at the stop. Also, the Gujarat travels authorities seemed to lack the most basic sense of civility in every possible way. They not only displayed the behavior potraying of the complete lack of responsibility, but also did not seemed to convey any information about this delay. I remembered my days in U.S, when any delay in flight or bus, would be conveyed immediately with sincere apologies by the responsible authorities. I compared both, and could not deny the fact that however India might have progressed as an IT giant, and risen under the strong leadership of PM Modi, but its gonna take a long way to go as the basic mannerism and civility are yet to be imbibed in the common Indian masses. Ofcourse, it would be ridiculous to extrapolate one experience or incidence to all the Indians, but as we know, every small thing matters, and after all, nations are made by people!

Soon, my bus came, and I immediately boarded the bus with a desperation to leave that bus stop ASAP. Again, I saw the same environment inside the bus as I had seen while traveling from my home. No thermal checks were conducted, and no social distancing. But the bus was more comfortable due to AC, and having secured an upper deck, I felt to be on the top of the world!

After few hours, I witnessed an amazing experience. It was afternoon, and the bus had reached the Gujarat-Maharashtra border. The bus stopped at a local restaurant. We all stepped down for restroom, and to sip some tea. But after sometime, the bus operator told the passengers on the right isle ( which had two seats adjacent to each other) to step down, and get into the car. I was on the left isle with a single seat, so I did not step down. Around 10-12 people from the right isle stepped down. It didn’t take me long to realize what the real matter was. The bus operators had clandestinely allowed 34-36 passengers to board the bus, when only 24 were allowed ( 12 on the left isle and 12 on the right isle). Hence, now at the border to enter Maharashtra, police officials were going to check, and so to hide this, they let go the extra passengers into another car.

Then, we crossed the border, and the police checked that the total number of passengers in the bus. After looking at the excellent observation of social distancing rules (??) inside the bus, they let us go. Ofcourse the police were not naive, and they did know things were staged. But then the bus operators also knew how to handle them, and so, things went smoothly.

Then after entering Maharashtra, the bus stopped after some time, and those 10-12 passengers boarded back again. I was stunned and no wonder why Covid cases are rising in India. When on one side, the govt is unlocking everything, and on the other side, the Covid virus is also getting unlocked. Adding fuel to the fire are incidences like this, when the utter disgusting actions by the bus authorities to earn more money has made things go out of hand. For them it is always business as usual, even amidst the pandemic. The pressure to stay in business, and make money becomes more important than the fear of getting infected, and even death. For them, the losses incurred during lockdown need to be recovered, and hence, no matter how many rules are broken, or how many human lives are put in danger, everything is secondary in front of surviving in the job or business. Period.

So, after reaching home late at night ( I reached at midnight), I contemplated over these thoughts, and decided to write a post about this. And so I urge everyone to Stay at Home, unless something is absolutely necessary to be done. Things are real bad out there, and many people do not care for life anymore. All they care is business or getting the job done. We cannot blame them entirely, as the fear to die from hunger is more than Covid. The fear of losing job or getting bankrupt in business is more than getting ill by infection. Hence, it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves. These are not normal times, and hence, the luxury of travel for leisure are a thing of the past ( atleast for few years!). Today, we need to stay safe and healthy, and then only we will be able to travel for leisure in future when things become more safer.

Next day, I tweeted about this experience to RedBus, and they reached out to me immediately. Then, I was told that they had taken this very seriously, and reprimanded the bus operators with a strong feedback. I do not say that this will stop immediately as old habits seldom die. But I also hope that things will ameliorate as more people share their experiences on social media, and act as aware citizens. We cannot depend on any organization to tackle this pandemic, but its a collective responsibility now. This pandemic is a test of human patience, and unity as well. The more we collaborate and support together, the weaker the virus will become.

As Steve Jobs famously used to say – Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish. Now I think the time has changed, and the more relevant message for us will be – Stay Home, Stay Safe.

Travel during corona times!

Finally, the day came for which I had been contemplating. I started my journey from US to India on Aug 18th, and landed in Mumbai on Aug 19th. Traveling during corona times is indeed dreaded by most of us. And so did I. But I had taken the decision to return back and so I kept my decision firm. It wasn’t an easy move, but some changes are never easy and also, I believe that sometimes, it becomes necessary to bite the bullet.

The travel by Vande Bharat mission was not the best one, but still considering the pandemic situation, I would say the airline authorities did a very good job. I had been quite used to air travels for business in the last 2 years, but this air travel during pandemic was unprecedented in itself. Earlier, the only three things we need to do at the airport were check in, baggage dropoff and security inspection ( with immigration as another for international travels), that’s it. But now the list has few more add-ons such as temperature checking, 6 ft social distancing, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and thermal screening. This is like the new normal for air travels now.

Even inside the flight, the job of cabin attendant has been reduced to just escorting the travelers to their respective seats, and keep the food/water on the seat beforehand. The always cherished hospitality by the cabin attendants and air hostess ( in particular) has become a part of history now. No longer are any drinks served, not even hot tea/coffee. Known for their elegant uniform, hospitality and courtesy, today, the stewardess have to wear the nurse uniform with dress, apron and cap. Ofcourse, this is the need of the hour, and in no way, does this demote the role of flight attendants. But the charm and sophistication which used to associated with air travel has been replaced by seriousness and fear of safeguarding ourselves. I hate to write this but nowadays flight journey feels like a flying ambulance!

The Vande Bharat mission has been doing an incredible job of bringing back Indians who are stranded abroad, or want to return back to their country. After my registration and booking on the website, I was told to sign an undertaking which stated that the decision to fly is my responsibility. When I reached the New York airport ( which was quite empty), I underwent temperature check, and they noted down my temperature on the undertaking document. After the usual formalities, I was again thermal screened at the gate before boarding the flight. Inside the flight, as I mentioned before, we were already provided food, water, masks, hand sanitizer and face shield. Everyone was seated with alternating seating inside the flight. The flight was non-stop due to the restriction to not land in any other country. Hence, the journey was long – 14 hours and hence everyone knew that it was not going to be very comfortable. Moreever, no in-flight entertainment was provided which made the journey somewhat monotonous.

Thus, after 14 hours of arduous journey, I landed in Mumbai. Again, we were thermal screened and then began a long and slow process to reach home. It took me 8 days to reach home after I landed at the airport. Meanwhile, a lot of things had to be taken care of, which included successful exiting of airport after immigration, travel arrangements and quarantine accommodation details to be given to the officials. Even at the airport, all the airport authorities and govt officials were inspecting and watching us so that we do not leave the airport before competing all the required formalities. I had to book a taxi/cab to go to Pune ( my hometown, which is 3 hours drive from Mumbai) after I got an e-pass with the police verification completed. Luckily, my father had already acquired the permit for this travel, and so this saved me some time of hassle at the airport. But at the exit gate of the airport, I was again asked about the taxi details, and the officer requested me not to exit the airport until the taxi driver arrives. Then, he took the taxi driver details from me, and contacted him over the phone. When the taxi arrived, he personally escorted me till the taxi, to ensure I did not meet anyone apart from the designated driver.

It was raining, and the monsoon season had ushered in. While traveling to Pune, I saw some of the most beautiful scenic beauty in the Ghats, especially in the Lonavala-Khandala region. Then after reaching Pune, I had to meet the Govt officials again to check the availability of hotels for my 7 day quarantine stay, which were designated as isolation centers. I selected one of the good hotels in Pune, and stayed there for the next 7 days. I had to carry all the bags with me to the hotel as I was not even allowed to drop my bags at home, which was not faraway from the hotel. The most important thing is that I was not tested for Covid during or after my 7 days stay. When I inquired about the Covid test, I was told that it was optional and I had to pay out of my own pocket. Even the isolation centers were quite expensive, and the bill was charged to my name. I wish they allowed Covid testing at the isolation centers ( as they were supposed to be meant for). No wonder why India is seeing the highest Covid infection rates in the world, and the nexus between govt officials and hotel/isolation center authorities cannot be hidden!

Finally, after this once in a lifetime pandemic overseas evacuation travel experience, I came back home. I was nervous about a lot of things as I had witnessed during and after the travel, but on the other side, I was delighted to be at home, in my country, with my family. Fortunately, I was not showing any symptoms related to Covid and after completing another 7 days home quarantine restriction, I was free. I did learn a lot during this travel. After seeing two countries which are equally affected by this virus, and seeing the troubles people are taking to reach and stay close to their family, or loved ones, I started realizing with mixed emotions, that however this pandemic might have changed our life, but the virus is a lot weaker in front of human strength, determination and courage. Kudos to the brave, hardworking pilots who are working so hard to fly tirelessly day and night to reach us safely to our destinations. Hats off to the flight attendants, airport authorities, taxi/lyft/ola drivers who inspite of the risk of virus infection, are working hard to keep the daily operations running smoothly.

The virus might have locked us down in our homes, but it hasn’t locked down the humanity within us. We will surely overcome this pandemic, and we can hope again, that the travel in future won’t be driven by fear or for evacuation purposes, but with happiness, joy and leisure. Good times are not faraway!

Unity Demystified!

Being an avid reader of history and current affairs, I have often seen few questions being raised on the idea of India as a unified nation. Many so called self-elevated experts from our neighboring country (on the west) hold on to this by saying that India was never a unified nation in its history, and was often a country ruled by kingdoms. Also, they go ahead claiming that it was the British who unified India as a nation. Besides, this also goes along with the question of any similarity between different parts of the India due to their distinct culture, language, tradition, food etc. Hence, I decided to write a post about this to elucidate my opinion on why India is being India? How has it withstand as a united country for the past 73 years after independence? And when we say “Unity in Diversity”, what does it actually mean?

India is a unique nation, and it has been since 5000 years. The epic tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata have happened here, then known as Bharatvarsha. The present boundaries though are limited to the Himalayas in the north, and surrounded by Indian ocean in the south, Arabian sea to the west and Bay of Bengal to the east, but centuries back it was stretched far away from today’s boundaries. The present day Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bali, Thailand, Tibet all were a part of India. The names in this region are synonymous with Indian heritage such as Kandhara from Gandhara, Kashgar from Kashyap, Hindukush meaning the land where the last Hindus lived, which is located in the present day Afghanistan. It isn’t strange that the Maratha-Peshwa empire was stretched till Attock in present day Pakistan.

Even though many invaders from Afghanistan, and later Mughal rulers established their rule in India, with Delhi being the center of power, but there were always regional powers who had firmly established their kingdoms. The Mughal rule lasted for more than 500 years, and hence during this time there were rulers like Maratha empire, Peshwa empire, Rajputana, Vijaynagara empire, Gajpati kingdom etc who continued to influence in their regions. Later when the British came, they had to collaborate along with the regional kingdoms like Rajputs, Nizam, Travancore, Mysore kingdoms to establish their rule in other parts of India. And so it was not the invaders or British who united India, but it was always united before, though ruled by different kings.

The geography of the country makes it unique to stand united. As it is surrounded by sea and oceans on its three sides, hence it is natural for it to stay together as a province. Even the north is surrounded by giant Himalayas which have always restricted the invaders from China, Mongolia to come to India. Only the north-western part of India comprising of Punjab, Rajasthan, Sindh is open and hence, historically, all the invaders except Europeans came via land route. Even the monsoon affects the whole region and so it is natural to consider the whole sub-continent under one umbrella, India!

India has a diverse set of religions. Even though Hinduism is the majority religion but the tenets of Hinduism suggests it to be more so a way of life. There are many gods and goddesses in Hinduism, but the main four practiced are Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Durga Mata and Ganpati. Ram and Krishna are considered to be a avatars of Vishnu. They are called as four denominations in Hinduism such as Vaishnavism, Shaktism, Shaivaism and Smartism. When we see the temples in India for these Gods, they are also located & worshipped uniquely in different parts of India. Ganpati is worshipped largely in the western ghats region of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, while Krishna bhakti is more so in the northern land of Mathura, UP, Rajasthan, Gujarat. We often hear “Jai Shri Krishna”, “Radhe Radhe” from people saying to each other in those parts as a greeting. The famous Ram temple is in Ayodhya, UP and the region of UP, Bihar, MP is known for its Ram bhakti, and “Jai Ram Ji ki” is the common greeting there. The epic “Ramayana” shows the vanvasa for Ram, Sita and Lakshaman started from Ayodhya till southern land of Sri Lanka, all the way through India’s heartland, north to south, passing through Chitrakut parvat in Madhya Pradesh, Panchavati in Maharashtra etc. This shows the continuity of Indian history from north to south, even during those times.

Route followed by Prabhu Ram from Ayodhya to Sri Lanka. Source

Then, the northern most and southern most areas for known for their Shiva temples. The Himalayas have been the most sacred mountains for Shiva temples such as Kailas Manas-sarovar, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Amarnath etc, while the South India is also equally known for Shiva worship with numerous temples such as Rameshvaram, Srisailam, Meenakshi temple etc. Infact it is wonder that all the Shiva temples in the north ad south are located on the 79’E longitude. This again shows the unification of the country on grounds of religion and faith.

Source

Also, it is worth noting that worship of Durgamata is heavily practiced in two provinces in India which are Gujarat and West Bengal, which are located on the two corners of the country. Even other religions have found their places of worship all over India. Sikh Gurudwaras in Amritsar and Nanded are very famous, so are Buddhist temples from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath, Jain temples in Mt Abu and Shravanabelagola, and Islam from Jama Masjid till Haji Ali.

That’s why, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said during his speech in Ayodhya, “Across the length and breadth of India, from Kanyakumari to KsheerBhawani, from Koteshwar to Kamakhya, from Jagannath to Kedarnath, from Somnath to Kashi Vishwanath, SametShikhar to ShrawanBelagola, from Bodhgaya to Sarnath, from Amritsar to PatnaSahib, from Andaman to Ajmer, from Lakshadweep to Leh, the entire country is encompassed by and for Lord Rama!“. This is the length and breadth of India, with a unique mixture of unity and religious diverseness.

Regarding diversity among the different states in India, it is often compared to be like European Union. For ex: Rajasthan is the previous Rajputana kingdom, Gujarat includes the previous Saurashtra, so is Maharashtra state from its erstwhile Maratha kingdom. Though it seems to be like that, but it isn’t. This is because even though the states were a part of some previous kingdom or empire, having their unique culture, tradition, cuisine, clothing style and have been created on linguistic basis, but unlike European union nations, they all have a common historical reference and spiritual identity with each other. Let me throw some light on this.

Historically, Europe has always been a distintegrated union. The various countries such as Germany, France, Holland, Poland, Spain are all part of Europe, and share some common traits such as Christianity( though its again split up into Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox etc), Caucasian ancestry and later colonization over the world ( though England, France, Dutch and Spain dominated the most) but they also differ a lot with each other. They have waged wars against each other, inspite of the commonalities of religion and ancestry. The two world wars have been caused and played mostly in the European territory. The countries in Europe never shared the common historical identity with each other. We see that Napoleon and Hitler tried to dominate Europe through their own empires, but it never got succeeded. They also never exhibited the spiritual tradition, like we see in India. The nations in Europe have always maintained their own identity, and often it over-rides the mutual bonding. Even though historically, there had been Greek and Roman empires which had occupied the entire Europe, but they also had to disintegrate due to attacks from other regions of Europe. The continuation of Monarchy in many parts of Europe(UK, Denmark, Spain, Norway etc) is a prominent example of why Europe is not united as one. Even though they have modernized and accepted democracy, but still the presence of monarchy conveys that nations are propelled to maintain their own identity, however titular it may be.

In India, however, things a somewhat different. India shares a common historical identity. Even though there were many different kingdoms in different parts of India, but they have always maintained the notion of being part of a larger India ( or Bharatvarsha as it was called then). The kingdoms fought with each other but never did they form a nation on its own. Further, India have always had Muslim invaders from North-West frontier, and later Europeans from the sea, and this proved a common thread to bind the different kingdoms together to fight against the invaders to protect India. The invaders came to proselytize with their own religion, and hence this was firmly resisted by most of the local kings. However, due to internal frictions and unable to keep up with the modern weapons, most of the kingdoms in India had to accept defeat under Mughals and later the British. Infact, in 1857, the descendents of Mughal empire and other kingdoms had came together and fought against the British, known as the “Uprising of 1857”. So, this idea of India which had been invaded by external forces have always remained and binded us together.

Further, India shared a common spiritual heritage as well. This is in no way restricted only to Hinduism. Infact all the religions have been accepted and assimilated. Only the forceful proselytization and violent nature of invaders have been fiercely resisted. Hence, we can see all the religion and its adherents have flourished in India. The Muslim invaders eventually got settled and built their mosques and Darghas all over India. They also learnt from the local Indian tradition, and with this fusion, a unique blend of ‘Sufism‘ emerged which is extremely popular and confirms the unity between Hindus and Muslims. The Zoroastrians who had fled from Persia, came to India and later India became their permanent abode. The religion not only survived but also remains as the only religion which has never suffered from any violent conflicts. No wonder the Parsis today are one of the most respected community in India. Even Jews who had to undergo centuries of persecution in Europe and Middle-east, never have suffered any oppression in India. Hence, Jews proudly say that India is the least anti-semitic country in the world.

Adding to this universal acceptance of all religions, is the unique spiritual tradition being passed on with generations. It is common for people in South India to come to north to visit temples. Infact, many of the temples in Northern India have had the religious priests from Southern India. The sadhus and rishis from all parts of India often go to Himalayas for transcendence and enlightenment. The Kumbha mela which is conducted every 12 years/1 tapa invites hermits and pandits from all parts of India. The teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Prabhupada originated in Bengal, but got accepted in all parts of India. We see the Vivekananda Rock memorial in Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of mainland India, and not in West Bengal. Even the modern day spiritual organizations like Art of Living and Isha Foundation which have originated in Bangalore, have spread and acclaimed in all parts of India. This is the spiritual tradition which binds India together, inspite of the different states and territories.

Finally, the modern history tells us that India’s unity had strengthened several folds after the advent of British Raj. However this does not credit that British united us. But the incessant invasion from North-west India did stop after British came, and this led to the end of wars which used to happen between kingdoms and invaders. Hence, what happened after that is the coming together of all Indian diaspora to fight against the British rule. Later, the legends such as Gandhi, Bose, Bhagat Singh, Nehru, Savarkar all united the people. It is as if the unity was already there, but just got bolstered together by a common cause.

Today, this unity still remains intact. We call it by different names like “Unity in Diversity”, but the underlying reasons are not known to all. People from other parts of the world often get confused with this, and believe a false notion that India will become like Europe someday. Sorry folks, but this isn’t gonna happen. If it did not happen in 1984 or 1992-93, when the roots of our foundation were severely shattered by the ongoing riots between different religions, then it certainly is not going to happen now. The Lutyens media and the communists might be adhering to this fallacious theory, but it seems they have never understood India.

Hence, the song which still lives in the hearts of millions of Indians, is a tribute to our unity!

“Mile sur mera tumharaa, to sur bane hamaraa….”

India and Engineering..

This post is about the question which is usually asked by Americans is why are so many Indians into engineering, as compared to the low ratio of Americans in this field? Yes, Indians are largely represented in the field of engineering ( along with Chinese as well) There are many reasons for why and how this happened.

To begin with, I am too an engineering graduate ( and Indian!). After my bachelors in engineering in India, I hoped on to board a flight to America ( just as many Indians do.) to complete my M.S in U.S. As soon as I came in US, I could see hundreds of Indians in my university ( Infact, in some of our classes, Indians comprised of 70-80% of student population, while the rest consisted of Chinese, Bangladeshis or Americans) Indians are famously known to study their MS in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering or Information Technology. Ofcourse, there are other streams of engineering such as Mechanical, Civil or Biomedical, which many Indians do pursue. But a major chunk of the student population usually enrolls in these three field of engineering. Why? The simple answer is the high demand of graduate engineers required in these domains. Silicon valley companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon prefer masters students who are graduate in these fields, and the high salary package, coupled with the elevated status to work and live in Silicon valley comes with a lots of perks such as good prospects to get married to a rich guy/girl, and presence of lots of Indians since the last few decades in the San Francisco Bay area. It isn’t wonder that due to the huge influx of Indians in IT and Tech companies in silicon valley for the last few decades, today we have Indian-American CEO’s of Google, Microsoft and IBM.

Hence, we see that Indians come to pursue their masters in US in large numbers, and most of them end up in silicon valley. But the real question is why do Indians study engineering in huge numbers, for MS in US and for Bachelor’s in India? For US, the reason is related to monetary returns and social status. For an engineer in India, it is quite worth to come to US ( even by taking considerable student loans) and pursue a Masters in engineering, as US provides excellent opportunities to work under the Optional Practical Training (OPT) and work visa (H1-B) programme. Many Indians have taken advantage of this programme and have successfully worked and even become resident ( though it needs nerve wracking patience to get a Green Card!).

Most Indians are very concerned of the currency conversion rate between Dollar(USD) to Indian Rupee(INR). While pursuing MS, it is natural for students to feel the pressure to reduce the costs and payoff the students loans. But once he/she graduates, and starts working in a MNC, the strength of the Dollar makes is easy to payoff the loans quickly and then earn, save and invest as much as they can. Hence, as compared to India, an Engineer in US earns quite a lot for the same work often!

Besides, the status of living in US is an additional bonus for Indians who are in the business of arranged marriage. Isn’t it strange that for a person who is just staying abroad, after having earned his masters, and settled in a MNC job in silicon valley, his value in the game of marriage increases several fold, not to mention about the dowry business…

Anyways, but it is worth noting that all Indians who come to US for masters, and then work in large numbers in IT and tech companies have already gained their Bachelor’s in Engineering in India, itself. Though there are some rich Indians who do pursue their Bachelor’s in engineering in US, but their population is very less as compared to the Americans (including Indian-Americans) pursuing Bachelor’s in engineering. So, the question is why do Indians study Engineering in India so much?

Aamir Khan's 3 Idiots last film played at Japan theatre ...

This question was very humorously touched by the movie “3 Idiots”. I would say all most every Indian ( especially who is an engineer or wants to study engineering) must have watched this movie, several times. This movie reflected the dark reality of an education system where only marks are valued, and the engineer’s quality is assessed by his performance in exams, and how much salary package does he/she acquires at the placement rounds.

Adding to that, there are many social aspects which pressures students to pursue engineering more in India. First, this comes from family. Few decades before, when India had just become independent, there was a large need of Engineers to construct dams, roads, bridges, to electrify cities, power stations etc. The country was poor and needed quality engineers in large numbers for the industrial development of the country. But there were only few engineering institutions ( which the British had started ). Hence, PM Nehru started seven IIT’s (Indian Institute of Technology) to bridge the gap between demand and supply. This turned out to be an excellent and visionary decision for India and also for the world (especially silicon valley and Wall street!) This is because the engineers who were selected in these institutions to study engineering, had to crack one of the world’s toughest entrance exams. And even after having enrolled in the engineering programme, they had to work hard for four years and due to which, the smartest and most hard working engineers were produced by these institutions. Later, most of them came to US to either pursue their MS/Ph.D or MBA, and ended up working in Silicon Valley or Wall Street respectively. They were not only praised for their talent, but also today, as we see most of the famous CEO’s and businessmen in US are IIT graduates. Some of the famous ones are Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google, IIT Kharagpur batch 1989-1993), Raghuram Rajan ( Former RBI Governor & Distinguished Prof of Finance, Chicago Booth school of Business, IIT Delhi batch 1981-1985), Arvind Krishna (CEO of IBM, IIT Kanpur batch 1981-1985) and many more.

The success stories of the above IITian’s ( engineering graduates of IIT) stand as an inspiration for the many Indian parents who also wish their sons/daughters to study engineering and then move to USA to achieve the American dream. Due to this, many Indian students dream of getting into IIT and then USA, and hence decide to become engineer to attain this. But the seats in IIT’s are limited, and hence, everyone could not get into IIT. Also, the demand for engineers did not get fulfilled by IIT’s either, as most of the IIT graduates usually go to USA, and this brain-drain berefts India of good, talented engineers. However, this does not mean that the decision of IIT graduates to settle in USA and not work for India (inspite of gaining their prestigious IIT degree) is wrong or cynical. There are many reasons for IIT graduates to choose to go to USA over work in India such as high salary package, excellent work opportunity, advanced education, good life, lack of corruption & reservation etc.

Hence, to again bridge the requirement gap of engineers, and to cater the increasing needs of the students desire to study engineering who could not secure an admission in IIT, the politicians in India decided to allow private institutions to start engineering colleges on a large scale. Thus, what happened is as the number of engineering colleges increased, so did the number of students who wanted to pursue engineering. Due to which, more and more students started studying engineering, with a hope that they will fulfill their parents wish to become an engineer, and also some day might land in USA, just like the IIT graduates did.

At the same time, the IT wave hit India, along with Indian economy got opened after 1991.This resulted in huge demand of IT and computer engineers in India and abroad as well. Many Indian IT companies like Infosys, Wipro, TCS etc started hiring IT professionals and later sent them onsite (to USA). Thus, began a trend of Indian engineers, who were not IIT graduates, to get a chance to work in USA and pursue their american dream. This motivated even more parents and families all over India to push their sons/daughters to study engineering, and this is how the number of Indians in engineering skyrocketed! Today, we see that in big cities like Mumbai, Pune or Bangalore, every family or home has either their son/daughter or some distant relative settled/working in IT in USA.

Besides, another thing I noticed from Americans is that American students in high school are especially scared of maths and engineering. And this is one of the reasons why they don’t study engineering. Ofcourse, Americans are fortunate to have a lot of freedom and options to choose their desired field of study, besides engineering. Usually, American girls are less motivated to pursue engineering (they prefer writing, arts or nursing more as told to me by several Americans), and even American guys often think of studying business, law or medical more than engineering/STEM. The public school system in US is not at its best, and is often derided by several Americans. Hence, the basics of maths are not taught well enough in school to motivate the students. Also, students are well aware of the other options like business or law, which are not only more lucrative but also relatively easy as compared to Engineering.

Also, the large influx of international students in the STEM/engineering has been reflected in the mindset of Americans in someway. The usual assumption that Asians are good at math or Indians are good at programming makes american kids less interested in engineering. Also, as the international crowd usually does not study law or business or arts in USA (atleast not in large numbers), this makes these fields less competitive and hence, more preferred. Another reason which does affect is the relatively less family/societal pressure among Americans to study engineering. American kids have more freedom, and the parents rarely pressure their kids to pursue any particular field of study. As most of the American families are either well-off and educated, the motivation to pursue American dream of good and luxurious life only after engineering/working in IT does not hold true. Americans can pursue any career, and still maintain their high standard of living as the other fields like business, law, sports or even writing yield rich dividends( depending on the level of education and experience they attain in those fields). But the point is that due to availability of multiple lucrative career options ( apart from engineering), it is natural for many Americans to take the less difficult path.

For Indians, however, this is not the scenario. First of all, even though math is feared by Indians as well, but the fear of being deprived of a good life in America is more dreaded than the fear of maths. In simple words, it is “Do or Die” situation. Indian kids simply have to bite the bullet, under the family/societal pressure to study difficult subjects like maths and engineering, even though they might not like them. Also, unlike Americans, there are not many other career options available which are as lucrative as Engineering ( except few like medicine or cricket or bollywood, but the chances to succeed in them is very very less). Better not to mention about arts or writing or law as a career, which is not only looked down upon, but might also turn out to be a financial disaster, unless the pursuer is wealthy enough.

Hence, due to all these conditions, it is imperative for Indians to go for engineering over other careers. But it is worth noting that, not all Engineers in India end up doing engineering. Many decide to pursue MBA, some aspire to become a civil servant while few brave ones venture out in the field of bollywood, cricket or even writing. Funny as it may sound, but India might be one of those few countries where bachelor’s in engineering is considered as a “basic degree”, and several movie actors/actresses and sportsmen are engineering graduates. To name a few movie stars who are engineers such as R Madhavan, Vicky Kaushal, Kartik Aryan, Ritesh Deshmukh, Kriti Sanon, Tapasee Pannu. There are even few cricketers like Anil Kumble, K Srikanth, R Ashwin, Javagal Srinath who are engineers (All are South Indians, and no wonder, South India has more engineering colleges). This happens only in India!

Finally, on a similar note as conveyed by the movie 3 Idiots, it is of increasing concern that this trend of Indians studying more and more engineering only is no good in the long run. This is because the other fields like arts, design or basic sciences(physics, biology or astronomy) gets deprived of the talent which is instead sucked by the engineering colleges. As everyone does not like engineering, and so it is an injustice to push someone to pursue engineering ( on an assumption that it might reap rich benefits in future) if he/she does not like it or does not have an aptitude for it. If compelled to study engineering against his/her wish, then they would make no good quality engineers, and due to which the skillset level of the entire field would come down. Today, it is unfortunate to see that many engineers are not skilled as expected by the industry. Though this might be accounted for the lack of good colleges or resources provided, but it does relate to the few students lack of interest as well, which definitely should be given a priority. Besides, the brain-drain happening since 1960’s to USA is no good for India, and in order to restore the balance in all the fields of study, it would be beneficial to work for the country, and develop all fields of work lucratively which will motivate the next coming generations to study as per their aptitudes and talents.

Copyright © 2020 AbhikNotes

Diversity matters!

Yes, Diversity matters! Recently this has been a major issue in US and also in other parts of the world. We often hear or read about racial, color, caste, religion, gender, ideology based discrimination. Everyone seems to be wanting to live, and work and surround themselves by like minded people of same color, race, caste or religion. I find this to be so unnatural behavior.

Let me elaborate on this. We find diversity in nature everywhere. Imagine a world where there are only one species of trees, or animals, or birds. How boring it would be to live in such a world. Imagine if we have to wear same clothes everyday, won’t it be boring for us ( especially girls who are so much into buying new clothes, always!) Imagine, if we have to eat the same food everyday. I can go on repeating more and more examples, but the context is how in the world can we dislike diversity among people in our lives? Isn’t that strange?

I know there are many reasons for us to avoid embracing people from any particular affiliation ( like color, race etc). They include mostly societal rules, familial expectations, or any prior experiences about them we might have had. But let’s look at this from the prism of transparency. Do we really care about what other people tell us to do? Do we really listen to any of our family members when they tell us to act in a particular way? No, we do not listen. That’s what majority of us will do. Then why should we hate or avoid other people who are not like us, just under the assumption that our family or friends told us to or they might be doing so. Why should we lose the friendship of anyone just on the grounds that he/she doesn’t look like us, or doesn’t eat the same food?

Let us think what we miss when we stay within the same group of people. Just like a pond of water stinks after sometime when there is no inflow/outflow of fresh stream, similarly we not only get bored in the same group of people, thoughts, ideas, but also start missing out the opportunity to learn, know, share new ideas/opportunities from/with new people. Isn’t that sad that we miss learning a new skill or music or even food, just because the other person is not like us.

In India ( from where I come from), even though the country is diverse, with hundreds of languages, cuisine, cultures etc, but the society is complex enough to propel us to stick with our own people, culture etc. For a south Indian to be friendly or even get married with a north Indian, is very difficult. People have written books and made movies out of this (For ex:Two States) complexity. We Indians, are so much obsessed with our tradition that we simply abhor or ignore that there are other people in this world. Not only in marriages, but people from few communities do not allow people from other communities to live in the same apartment or even locality. This is way absurd!

I won’t get into the realm of caste based discrimination ( especially India) as this is too complex and too political to deal with. Similar can be said of color or race based discrimination in USA, Australia or some European countries. And similar discrimination happens in middle eastern countries on the basis of religion. We all know this is so wrong, yet these things keep on happening even in the 21st century. Just like Black lives matter, we need to widen the horizon to diversity matters!

Recent studies have shown that companies or groups with diversity progress more quickly. This might be attributed to the fact that diversity welcomes new ideas & allows everyone to learn and adopt. As we know, adaptability is one of the key skillset needed to survive in this world. If we try to hide ourselves in our own comfort zones, we might never develop the skill of adaptability. Also, diversity with transparency in leadership is motivational for the team, and that company which embraces this lasts long as well. This is because everyone in the group will have fair chance to climb the ladder of leadership and will stay inspired to work and contribute to the organization. On the contrary, nepotism or discrimination based organizations ( favoring only a particular group to excel) doesn’t last long. We all know what happened to Nazi Germany, who relied on the false notion of Aryan superiority. While, those countries which do not have any familial tradition in politics or business, have prospered and developed more ( Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark fare the best in this respect).

After all, just like a bunch of flowers makes a beautiful bouquet. Just like a delicious “thali” (ask an Indian what a Thali is) is made up of different kind of foods ( sweet, salty, spicy etc), so as the world comes with different colors, body structures and nature. Even a rainbow is made of 7 colors! We are conditioned to assess the beauty by fairness, fitness by six packs or slim figure, status by family, community or religion. We are forced to believe some people from a particular community are good at math or business or acting. All this is false, period! We are all same, unique, equal. Maybe we might not be born with the same financial resources, or in an educated family, or in a developed country, but we all come with the same inner strength, confidence, and motivation to achieve whatever we want in life. Nature does not differentiate us on basis of any external differences. We just need to remember this.

People call America as the melting pot, while some call India as a bowl of salad. Whatever it may be, a pot or a bowl, the key factor which makes a good dish is the proper mixing of ingredients with each other. The different ingredients should nicely mix & blend with each other to make the dish delicious. On a similar note, all of us with our unique diversity should mix and blend for the progress of humanity.

I hope the world becomes more acceptable for diversity& inclusion. #BlackLivesMatter #AllLivesMatter #DiversityMatters #Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam ( The world is one family)

The seven most Iconic legends of modern India

India is blessed with many heroes, martyrs, freedom fighters, spiritual masters, leaders and patriots. To name out only a few of the legends will be very unfair for the whole history of India and the immense contribution of all the men and women. But this list of 7 icons defines India in a true sense, without them India would not have been what it is today. They have not only devoted their whole life to the service of nation but they also stand unique among all by their path followed, their love for the nation, without getting labeled by any political or religious views. They were perfect professionals in their field of contribution and even their opponents admired them for their honesty, sincerity and dedication. I think these 7 icons stand tall in the history and making of modern India.

  1. The Tata’s (Jamshedji, J R D and Ratan)
  2. Rabindranath Tagore (Thakur)
  3. Swami Vivekananda
  4. Mahatma Gandhi
  5. Babasaheb Ambedkar
  6. Sam Manekshaw
  7. A P J Abdul Kalam

The Tata family has been among the finest industrial families in India. Jamshedji, JRD and Ratan Tata, all have been the true architects of modern India. Without their exemplary service and dedication to build some of the finest institutions, India would never have been the one which is today. They not only brought India on the world map in industries and business through Tata & Sons group of companies, but also revolutionized India’s industrial revolution. When Jamshedji Tata got introduced to steel, he immediately decided to setup a steel factory in India to make India self-reliant. Similar story goes regarding Hotels, when after being insulted by British for the lack of world class hotel in India, he setup the Taj hotel in Mumbai. On similar front, JRD ventured into Aviation ( today known as Air India), chemicals, auto-industry and many more. And the legacy of J R D was carried ahead by Ratan Tata, and his vision to empower India, and venturing into new projects such as Tata Nano to make a affordable car for middle class Indians has made Tata a household name. Also, Tata’s have been leaders in philanthropy as well, with most recently, Ratan Tata donated 500 crores of rupees to fight against Covid-19.

India Today: Jamshedji, J R D and Ratan Tata

One interesting fact to note is inspite of being the oldest industrial powerhouse of India, Today, Tata’s are not the richest family, but Ambani’s are. And because of this, it is famously said Ambani’s are true businessmen, while Tata’s are true industrialists. Tata’s never cared about making money, but cared about creating wealth for the nation. Tata’s have mentored so many industrialists and entrepreneurs such as Narayana Murthy, Azim Premji and so on, who are successfully carrying this legacy ahead in the form of Wipro, Infosys etc.

Besides, industries, Tata’s took the noble initiative in establishing world class institutes such as Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Tata institute of Social Sciences(TISS), Indian Institute of Science(IISc), National Center for Performing Arts, Tata Memorial Hospital, The Energy and Research Institute(TERI) etc. These institutions have shaped the minds of millions of Indians, and have progressed India towards self-reliance.

J R D Tata

Swami Vivekananda was a well-known spiritual personality of India. He not only introduced the Indian spirituality to the west for the first time in 1892, but also re-ignited the hidden patriotism and energy within Indians to rise up and build up the country again. The current prime minister, Narendra Modi is a follower of Swami Vivekananda, and with his Ramakrishna mission started a journey of the spread of universal brotherhood, spirituality, Ayurveda, Yoga and meditation to all parts of the world. Some of the famous organizations which followed Vivekananda’s footsteps include Sri Sri’s Art of Living, SadhGuru’s Isha Foundation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Transcendental meditation, Swami Prabhupada’s ISKCON, Yogananada Paramhansa’s “The Autbiography of a Yogi” and spreading the kriya yoga taught by Mahavatar Babaji, S N Goenka’s Vipassanna meditation and Neem Karoli Baba’s influence on Beatles, Steve Jobs, Julia Roberts and Mark Zuckerburg. This image of India being the spiritual holyland emerged after the historic visit of Swami Vivekananda to United States.

Also, it is said that Swami Vivekananda had met Jamshedji Tata on a ship to Japan, and they had discussed about the future of India. It isn’t a surprise that Vivekananda’s presence tremendously influenced Jamshedji’s life and his future contributions to the country.

The Better India: Swami Vivekananda and Jamshedji Tata

Rabindranath Tagore( just like Swami Vivekananda, both came from Bengal) will always be remembered as the poet and writer who envisioned the idea of India. He received the Nobel prize for literature in 1913, and was the first Indian to receive the prize. What makes him one of the seven iconic personality is the love and devotion to the motherland. Rabindra Sangeet has achieved the versatile recognition all over the world, and his poems conveyed the need for sacrifice and dedication to free the country from foreign rule. Even today, it is equally applicable, when we see Indians moving abroad to USA for better opportunities, resulting in brain drain, and on the other side, the huge influx of cheap Chinese goods are destroying the small businesses and livelihood of millions of fellow Indians. I remember this Tagore’s poem after seeing the current situation of India and Indians..

Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee into ever-widening thought and action;
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Mahatma Gandhi is another icon of India, without which the book about India will never get finished. Revered as the “Father of India” and known for his non-violence movement against the British, “Satyagraha”, and his insistence on local goods “Swadeshi” & Hindu-Muslim unity, his contributions led to India becoming independent in 1947. Historians and some self-recognized experts debate on Gandhi’s involvement in India’s independence, and how several problems which India still suffers today such as India-Pakistan conflict, legacy of Nehru and his family rule over India, secularism etc have been linked to Gandhi. We might need another post to elaborate on them, but whatever people might think, Gandhi did create the India we have today, and based on the current world scenario, its the best we have got. The roots of secularism, however might be shaken today, but it still is deep enough and have strengthened the very foundations of modern India.

India achieved freedom by non-violent means, and no country in the world had done this before. Looking at the terror and war stricken world today, Indians were indeed very fortunate to have been led by a spiritual leader, who believed in non-violence and truth. Also, Gandhi and Tagore were very good friends, and often interacted with each other. They both visited each other’s Ashram ( Tagore’s Shantiniketan and Gandhi’s Sabarmati and Wardha ashram), and shared the common idea of the unity and freedom struggle of India. J R D Tata also was tremendously influenced by Gandhi and believed in the self-reliance (Swadeshi) idea for a post-independence India. Gandhi was against communism, and so was J R D Tata ( though the reasons were different, for Gandhi it was the communism’s lack of belief in God, while for Tata was the unsuitability of communism for an Indian economy)

Brain Pickings: Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi

I haven’t included Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel in this list (not to avoid a political debate, but to remain apolitical, and because of the huge influence of Gandhi on Nehru and Patel). Barring few things like military, foreign affairs etc, Nehru truely believed and followed the Gandhian way to build a free India. Insistence on self-reliancy, secularism, education, farming, healthcare etc were somewhat influenced by Gandhian ideals, and Patel united India on grounds of Gandhi’s secularism.

Babasaheb Ambedkar is the next icon of modern day India. Known as the chief architect of the Constitution of India, his ascendency from an untouchable community to become one of the nation’s prominent lawyer, jurist and economist is no less than a miracle. He was the most educated lawyer in India at that time. He inspired millions of Indians ( especially from the backward classes) and his role model has enabled them to destroy the prison of casteism, religious hatred and climb the ladder of success. Though his policy of reservation has raised frequent debates in the society, but his life, message and actions have indeed strengthened the foundations of secularism and unified India. Ambedkar and his team’s vision to embrace democracy has been one of the best decisions ever taken, and even though the democracy is not yet the most perfect form in India today, but it was indeed a visionary decision to accept this for a complex and diverse country like India.I cannot imagine how any other form of government would have impacted the country. Dr.Ambedkar even today, remains a hope and guiding light for many Indians, with his message that hard work and fighting against injustice leads to success. After all, all the Warkari community, Buddha, Basaveshwara, Kabir, and even the French and American revolution have proclaimed the same principles of universal brotherhood, tolerance and equality. This is the best gift India has received from Dr.Ambedkar to destroy the age old archaic theories which promoted casteism and created a rift between communities which had weakened India, and due to which India had become a British colony and a poor nation. Let we stay united together, drop all the caste barriers and accept the “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” principle.

Pinterest: Dr.Babasaheb Ambedkar

Sam Manekshaw is another legend in the Indian history. His military prowess, dedicated service to the nation, discipline and way of life have influenced us enormously. He is well known for leading India to win the 1971 war against Pakistan, and thereby creating the state of Bangladesh. He not only rejuvenated the morale of Indian forces after the 1962 debacle with China, but also proudly raised the Indian flag in the world, by demonstrating an example of how a military should win the war and how to treat an enemy. I am personally greatly enamoured by Sam Manekshaw’s personality and myself being from a defense background, I can certainly say that Indian military has been one of the finest and secular forces in the world. That’s why, he was promoted to the rank of Field Marshal of India. He was the military architect of India, and remains an inspiration for all Indians ( me included)

Defense Lover: Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw

A P J Abdul Kalam is the most recent icon to have served the nation with his love, devotion and dedication. Popularly known as the “Missile Man of India”, he was the chief of DRDO during the successful nuclear tests in Pokhran, 1998. If it was not Dr.Kalam, then we would not have the ISRO and DRDO as we have today. He developed these institutions into one of the finest and best in the world. Later, during his Presidency, he is so far the best President and most liked by all. His success exemplifies the secular power of India. His contribution stands as a testament for a middle class, humble person to rise up and attain the highest position.

Dr.A P J Abdul Kalam

Thus, these seven icons of India are what represents India. Though there are many other legends as well, and they have devoted their life for the service of nation as well, but these 7 icons are the true spirit of India. They were and are not being viewed through the narrow prism of politics, ideology or religion. All of them were born before India became free, and with few exceptions, many lived after India became independent. They knew the essence of India, and understood about the future of India as well. Even during the troubled times when the whole world was lost into World Wars, Great Depression, or got entangled into communism, these leaders did not drift away from their path. They did not support any foreign theory like communism, or capitalism. But thought only what was best for India. All of them had excellent education, many went abroad for higher studies, yet all came back to India to serve the motherland. It would not have been difficult for Gandhi, or Ambedkar or Kalam, to get settled abroad in England or America, for better opportunity or money (In fact, for Dr.Ambedkar , that would have been the best chance to escape the tyranny of the upper caste people in India). But they did not do that. They came back, struggled, fought against the system and finally succeeded. This conveys a strong message for our generations who want to move out of India at the very first chance, just for dollars or because of being fed up by politics or reservations in jobs. Of course its completely fine to go abroad for higher studies and get some experience but I feel the time has come to return back to India and re-build India once again. India needs good people and its become very vital to free India from the clutches of cheap Chinese goods, and internal dirty politics.

As the current situation has entailed many Indians abroad to return back to their country, I thought this post would be helpful to raise the awareness about our country’s past, and to realize the hidden potential within us. May this article guide us to cross the bridge of inequality, to rise the ladder of success, to remove the dust of just serving foreign companies for few dollars or pounds from our mind, and motivate us to start our own venture and adventure to promote this wonderful Indian tradition, knowledge, culture we have endured from our ancestors. Lets say no to Chinese goods, and make and buy in India. Lets #Make locally & Think Globally

As Tagore wrote in his poem, …let my country awake…