The bang & the buck

A decade ago, while working with a newspaper group where our small team managed three brands, we had an interesting situation. One of the brands, a vernacular broadsheet, was at an advanced stage in its lifecycle where it had to be made relevant and exciting for a newer set of readers who were native to the region. Another brand, an English compact daily (we didn’t like to be called a tabloid!), was an absolute newbie aimed at what could broadly be called an ‘immigrant’ audience. This was made interesting because research showed that the ‘triggers’ for the two sets of readers were quite at odds with each other. To elaborate, but without nuances, the positioning of the vernacular brand would be around showcasing pride in local language and culture, laced with jingoism, and that of the English brand would be around a cosmopolitan outlook. Holding both these diametrically different ideologies and doing justice to both was quite an exciting experience.

That nostalgia bout was triggered because I’m increasingly seeing this friction between different parts of the population escalate. A certain angst that seems to flare up on various seemingly unconnected issues. So here’s a thought. I am not really a Javed Akhtar fan, and a lot of people dissed him when he connected the Bangalore New Year molestation incident to social segregation and economic divide, but I strongly believe that many of the horrors we witness today – from terrorism to road rage – have economic disparity at its heart. I had written about this in the context of our convenience attitude towards injustice during the Nirbhaya incident. To note, this is not a right-wrong commentary, because I also strongly believe that moral objectivity is an oxymoron. More

A measure of helplessness

A while back, I’d seen a Malayalam movie titled Pigman. Not really a typical movie by any standards, and that explains the poor performance at the box office. It is the story of a young man whose life pretty much becomes an abyss. (spoiler) The movie starts with him pursuing a doctorate in linguistics but failing to get it because of his research guide, who is miffed at him rejecting her advances. He sees no point in continuing and thanks to his family’s dire financial circumstances, is forced to take a job. He gets a clerical job at a pig farm courtesy a friend. A series of altercations with the corrupt management gets him demoted to the lowest job in the system – that of a pigman. He continues his protestations and the movie ends with him losing his mental faculties after being given electric shocks.

It is a depressing story, and one can really feel his helplessness as his life spirals downwards degree by degree. In fact, the entire theme of the movie is failures in life, and it is as though, the intent is to drive home the point that some lives are meant to be lived in a continued state of helplessness.

I think we have all felt helpless at some points in time, in varying degrees. Helpless in traffic (probably tactical helplessness, for the lack of a better word) at one end to probably the other extreme of watching a loved one die and not being able to do anything to prevent it or alleviate the suffering. I couldn’t help but compare it against what I’d call (again for the lack of a better word) chronic helplessness -a life consistently going down in quality (defined in this context as standard of living) – like the life of Pigman’s protagonist. In turn, I also couldn’t help but compare this to someone who has never had a decent standard of life. I wondered whether, among the last two, the last was better – if one hadn’t really experienced a higher standard of living, one wouldn’t know what one was missing, and therefore the suffering would be lesser than someone who had experienced it earlier, but could no longer do so because of circumstances.

And that is the really enigmatic thing about this business of living – there is no objective measure of mental anguish. If there were, probably we’d be better at helping those less fortunate than us. That would at least be a step up from feeling helpless at the injustice of it all. Help more, to feel less helpless. Sounds like a plan?

until next time,


Sight, Insight

One Saturday, when we were getting out of Forum Mall, we noticed a trio fumbling around the entrance barrier ropes. Turned out they were blind and had no idea how to get out. With two loud events happening there, I guess their requests for help might not have been heard. We managed to get them out and in less than a minute, I learned how hard it must be for them to navigate- from steps to people in a rush, everything was a potential obstruction/hazard.

When we left them, I felt guilty, wondering how they’d reach their home/next destinations, and how I’d let my plans for the evening take precedence over the help I could’ve done them. I was also quite frustrated at the seeming injustice of it all. It didn’t help that I like perfect systems, which have a reason for being the way they are. D said that in the volunteering work she does, they are advised not to bond beyond a certain point with the people they work with. Apparently, when they get attached, it becomes difficult for both parties.

The next week, for the third time, this book “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” resisted my advances. It’s not the first one, nor is it going to be the last that just stayed on the shelf and mocked my attempts to establish some contact. But it definitely had been around the longest so far.

The signature says we bought it on a Gandhi Jayanti day in 2004. This time I got to about a third of it before I was completely fatigued. Perhaps it’s do with my inability to read multiple books simultaneously or the lure of the unread ones staring at me from the bookshelf, but I just couldn’t go on. It did give me a few interesting insights on life, death, transience etc, before we parted ways. In case it isn’t obvious, I quite hate not finishing books.

Letting go of things is never easy, though the difficulty varies as per the ‘thing’ under consideration. And yet, we do manage to let go. Sometimes by choice and sometimes slowly moving on without even realising (like the death of someone dear). But it doesn’t come easy as a practice – it either takes an iron will or is an unconscious act. The middle path slips from the grasp easily, such is the wiring of the mind. Perhaps, when I finish the book, I will understand how, and will be able to let go of books, blind people and a fancy dinner with the same ease and understanding.

until next time, in the dark..

Just about fair

A few days back, on Twitter, Vijay Sankaran shared an article, that led to a brief but heated debate. By the time I joined in, fun time was over and people had moved on, but i still manage to butt heads with Surekha for a while. Since the 140 character format was a constraint, we left the argument in a safe place and I said that I’d share a post soon with my consolidated view on the matter.

The matter was of course “SRK: Now playing at an airport near you”. No, don’t yawn yet. After evading ‘gyarah mulkon ki police’, this is exciting stuff – the discovery of a continent where the words “Rahul/Raj, naam to suna hoga” don’t mean a damn, and an ordeal which lasted (depending on who you speak to) 2 hours/ just over an hour. That makes me wonder whether SRK started off with ” Sattar minute hain tumhare paas, shayad tumhare zindagi ke khaas sattar minute”. In any case, by the time it ended he must’ve been saying “Babuji ne kaha gaon chhod do, sab ne kaha paro ko chhod do, paro ne kaha sharaab chhod do, please aap mujhe chhod do”. Ok, ok, sorry. I am not really an SRK fan, but I have to admit, I admire the journey from Fauji back in 1988 – a hard fought climb to the very top. An amazing trip. And when the ego was forced to land at Newark, even if it was for a brief period, it must’ve been painful.

Fingers have been pointed (including mine, initially) about how it was a good promotion for the upcoming movie ‘My Name is Khan‘. But from online sources, the release date for MNIK is 2010. This would be way too premature, and despite his faults, I can’t remember SRK doing publicity stunts like this. (correct me if i have forgotten something) He himself brushed off the incident later and said that they were doing their job, and when compared to an ex-president, (Kalam getting frisked) he was a nobody. I’m inclined to say that maybe he wasn’t guilty of making it a great deal, but the media and us consumers of media were. (Yes, even this post is a case in point, eh? :) )

But all this was just an introduction. The article i mentioned earlier (and which you didn’t bother to click) is by Govindraj Ethiraj and is titled ‘The Idea of Injustice”. It centers upon whether the detention of SRK was unfair, unjust, both or neither. The writer gives various examples of injustice that we experience/see around us in our daily lives – from the politician’s convoy that disrupts our commute to the people sleeping on the roadside outside Hard Rock Cafe. He goes on to say that “Young India actually lives on with the most amazing amalgam of principals and values. Where justice and injustice have little or no co-relation to our real lives or that of others. Where denial of a right to education, livelihood or food has no bearing on our notion of justice.” The title of the article relates to Prof. Amartya’s Sen’s “The Idea of Justice”, and the article also cites some of his views.

Surekha felt that the comparison was harsh and unfair and fans are entitled to their expression, and countering every protest with questions on outrage against poverty, corruption etc won’t get us anywhere. While I agreed that fans could express themselves anyway they wanted, I felt the comparison was valid and the sense of injustice that some felt when SRK was detained was connected to the injustice that the child living in poverty faced. (What he makes out of it later/destiny etc is a different debate) To me, it is not a comparison, but a connection nevertheless. Saying that it is not connected reflects our contextual sense of justice that I kept mentioning. We are affected when the things we hold dear (from family to property to film stars) are affected, the rest is someone else’s problem. We relate to our immediate context, and would like justice in that bubble. We are totally unaffected by the rest of the world’s misery. Yes, we do like the candle marches, and protest groups on Facebook, they are easy ways to placate our conscience. But ‘our’ experience of injustice is more pertinent than anyone else’s, and we turn a blind eye to things that will not affect our bubble.

Forget the rest of the world, when we have an argument with someone close, how many times do we try to be genuinely conscious of the other person’s point of view/perspective? Aren’t we always right in the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves? Aren’t our actions always warranted, just, fair? Can’t we always justify? Heh, to ask the same us to reflect a bit on the world’s inequities when we aren’t even conscious of our own motivations and sense of right and wrong would be asking for too much, huh? Right, wrong, justice, injustice, fairness, unfairness are all subjective, basis our perspectives. Think about it, shouldn’t unfairness and injustice be absolutes, and not relative to any individual’s perceptions and perspectives? But we’ve built an entire society and its accompanying systems and laws based precisely on this. From communities to joint families to nuclear families to the individual, our concern ‘circle’ has been becoming smaller all the while. And everything from world wars to strife in personal relationships is because of our narrowing concern. But this is not a commentary on society, for after all, if change has to happen, it has to be at the individual level.

Bura Jo Dekhan Main Chala, Bura Naa Milya Koye
Jo Munn Khoja Apnaa, To Mujhse Bura Naa Koye

~ Kabir

Objectivity. To see things unhindered and uninfluenced by the baggage we carry around. To go beyond our conditioning – self imposed and otherwise and look at ourselves first, and then the world around us as absolutes. Why? Selfishly- because it can un-complicate us, selflessly- because it makes us more humane. When we can do that, perhaps we’ll understand  the connection and what justice and fairness is all about.

until next time, ego messages

PS. The thought continues….