30 Sep 2015

Why Hypocrisy is Hurting Us Indians

By the time you read this, the dust must have settled on yet another outrage (I’m bored of them now). Mark Zuckerberg changed his profile photo on Facebook to include the Indian flag, a gesture to support the Digital India Campaign. It made us feel good - after all, Facebook doesn’t do something for a country every day. So many of us joined in. And then some jealous Congees or AAPTards probably saw the mention of internet.org in the code, and declared that Facebook was using it to show our support towards their cause. Immediately, our sense of righteousness kicked in, and as Rachna Parmar said, everyone became a coder. We saw as many people posting status updates about the ‘perils’ of the display photos as the people who updated their photos. Facebook had to come out with a clarification stating that there was absolutely no correlation between internet.org and the Digital India Campaign. Of course, none of the ‘righteous’ people will listen - after all, they know better than everyone else, isn’t it? The fact that they haven’t achieved anything in life except a new level of complaining and cribbing is a different story.

So where does hypocrisy feature here? After all, these adarshis are standing for something they believe in, however stupid, right? Not quite. I’m willing to wager a bet that if Facebook does launch internet.org, or Airtel launches Airtel Zero, these righteous folks will flock to use it just like everyone else. Their justification? “See, I said it was wrong. But if everyone is using it, why shouldn’t I?” Flimsy, isn’t it? You see, people who portray themselves as righteous and moralistic on public platforms like social media and mainstream media, don’t really have a spine. The honest ones don’t need to make a show of it. They quietly go around doing their work, making small invisible changes which contribute to something big. And then every critic joins in to take the credit.

Imagine the laugh that Facebook’s employees (and the world) had at our IQs. Then again, this is not the first time that hypocrisy has hurt us Indians, has it?

Hypocrites be like....

Let’s start with our desire to eradicate poverty from our country. We have been solid supporters of socialism and despised capitalism since the days of Nehru. Socialism implies that production, distribution and exchange should be regulated by the community (or country) as a whole. You know people who proudly strut around calling themselves Marxists? They’re socialists. On the other hand, capitalism is a system where trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Nehru taught his whole generation that ‘profit’ was a dirty word, that people who make money are greedy and should be looked down on. Think about the disdain you feel when you say the word ‘marwari’. After becoming Prime Minister, Nehru declared that everything would be under the government’s control, and placed uneducated people in bureaucratic bodies to ‘grow' of our economy. While Nehru was busy having a gala time, his bureaucrats who knew nothing about business were taking decisions to approve (or reject - mostly reject) proposals from businessmen. Those years bled our coffers dry repeatedly. And Nehru staunchly defended the losses stating that a government should not be accountable to anyone, and that it is not in power to make profit. We were so enamored by his ideologies that we fell for the hook, line and sinker. Not only that, we passed those thoughts down to all generations believing that socialism was the way forward, and that businessmen were greedy. What we failed to comprehend was that greed is an innate tendency of man. So when we should have encouraged businesses to flourish, which would create countless jobs and independent cities like Jamshedpur, we let greedy illiterate bureaucrats ruin our country and fill their own pockets under the pretext of socialism.

Staying on Nehru, let’s talk about another case. While Nehru was PM, we frequently encountered famines. To the extent that we would import about 12 million metric tons of food grains from other countries, primarily from the US, to feed our people. However, when the US urged us to try becoming self sufficient in regards to food, we looked at them suspiciously and said that they wanted to stop us from advancing technologically. Yeah, right! Any Indian citizen who called the government’s attention to the need for improving conditions for agriculture was called an ‘American agent’ (ring any bells?). Nehru kept saying that it was shame how we, a country whose primary occupation was agriculture, could not feed our own people. He was all talk, no action. Just like the majority of us today. Nehru and his ‘trusted’ bureaucrats also chastised the US for the latter’s concepts of capitalism. Despite importing food grain from the US, we cozied with Russia. Guess whose wide-open arms that pushed the US into? Pakistan’s. Till date we’re ruing that mess.

I want to delve more into our hypocrisy. We say that we are supporters of art, and that we want up-and-coming artists to flourish. But in reality, we only like what is ‘big’ and ‘glamorous’. That’s why the senseless Khan movies rake up hundreds of crores in the first weekend, while true art movies get accolades from a few but lie unnoticed by the rest. The same holds true with sports (yes, here I am guilty too. I only watch cricket in Indian sports). This hypocrisy took its toll during the very formative years of our economy. Nehru’s bureaucrats (you can roll your eyes now) believed that steel and heavy machinery “had the highest correlation with national income in different countries.” So, with the help of loans from foreign governments (we were socialists remember? So no FDI), they set up three massive plants. But we still imported steel at a yearly cost of $200 million in the early ‘60s. It didn’t matter. The project was big, and glamorous. There was an alternate unglamorous view too. That we employ surplus labor to produce ‘wage goods’ like toys, clothes, shoes, snacks, etc. These low-capital, low-risk businesses would attract entrepreneurs for their quick return on investment, and laborers would consume the wages in buying these goods that they produced. Something on the lines of Henry Ford’s model. But this suggestion was scoffed at, and it stymied small innovation in our country which could lead to big changes, something that USA has done very well. Now you know why millions of Indians abandoned us for other countries. Now you know why the ‘brain drain’ occurs. “A little more realism and a lot more humility among our leaders might have helped in those days”, wrote Gurcharan Das in India Unbound.

One last point. I wrote about the famines we experienced regularly. When Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister, he decided to address this problem. His trusted bureaucrats negotiated for months with other states and launched an ambitious (and risky) agricultural policy. They imported fertilizers and 16,000 metric tons of Lerma Rojo, a miracle wheat which kept soil fertile for longer, needed less attention and grew faster. The result? From being seen as a basket case of food, India became, as quoted by the official US hunger document in 1980, “the only developing country in the world which has built a solid system of food security.” We no longer encounter famines and sit on a surplus pile of food each year. The world applauded us while our own countrymen cried foul.

But do you know where the biggest opposition to these policies, which only did good for India, came from? The media, and the Congress itself. The media wrote vehemently against these initiatives, calling them the ‘biggest sellout to America’. Academicians wrote extensively decrying these moves, and the Congressmen secretly kept hoping for a peasants' revolt, which never came. What came instead, much to the chagrin of critics, was the green revolution. So you see, everything that has ever done good for our country has been chastised by the media and us common folk since we are so heavily dependent on it. We are comfortable with complaining about things that don’t work, but are pushed out of our comfort zone when something unconventional is tried, and oppose it with everything we have.

I’m not saying Indians are bad people - okay, some of us are. This hypocrisy, which is deeply embedded in us, is not out of intent; it’s out of ignorance. We’re too ignorant (and lazy) to peel the layers and look for the real truth. For instance, the 'meat ban'. If someone does something which doesn’t auger well with our immature minds, we run to oppose it. When someone else does something else, we run like donkeys in that direction. And another. And another. We cannot wait before we judge, let alone considering alternate avenues for more information. We know the media is shitting us, but we will play along nonetheless. Look what we did to Maggi. And when it comes back, we will still eat it, won’t we? And don't even get me started on the 'secularism' rhetoric.

Are you looking for something to take away from this post? Well, there is none. Or wait, maybe there is. I’m asking (no, imploring) you to be driven by common sense and rationale for the sake of this country and yourself. Understand that there are more than 2 sides to every story. When we start looking at things objectively, maybe… just maybe… we will stop making fools of ourselves and this country will get onto the path of genuine inclusive progress.

20 Sep 2015

6 Ways to Bring More Power to Yourself

I remember the incident vividly - as if it occurred yesterday, though it occurred more than 7 years ago.

I was put in charge of a team as an ‘acting team leader’. Then came the announcement that I was made ‘acting floor supervisor’, and my team was handed over to someone else. It was not a promotion really; just a move to accommodate a team leader from another process.

My (ex) team was shuffled. Some good people had been moved to other teams and some not-so-good ones had been added. I was enraged! This wasn’t fair! I walked up to Chandan, the person responsible, intent on giving him a piece of my mind. Thankfully, I started off by questioning his intentions rather than plunging into allegations right away.

“Why do you worry, my friend?”, he asked. “It isn’t your team anymore.”

“Yes, but I have managed it for over three months now. So it is effectively my team, right?”

“No. It WAS your team. And you did a commendable job. For that, we will move you to a better process. What happens with this team now will reflect on the new team leader. He is known to be the reason many good employees have quit. Can we afford that?”

I hated Chandan, not for what he had done, but because he was right. Again. He had the ability to look at the bigger picture better than me. Often, his insights proved not just that he was right but how stubborn and pig-headed I was. What made me feel even worse was that he never rubbed it in. Chandan had the ability to look at events from a distance while I involved myself in them. He could analyze something dispassionately while I almost always let emotions get in the way.

Chandan gave me my first ever lesson in detachment.

Because of the hype surrounding spirituality today, detachment is often misunderstood as giving up what we possess and living like paupers. In reality, it is the state of distancing ourselves from an event or action and looking at it from a dispassionate perspective.

Becoming detached is tough. It takes practice, conditioning and will power. But the results are remarkable. Some of them are:

  1. It empowers you to pursue what you want
  2. It strengthens you to persevere for longer and pay less attention to haters
  3. It stops negative emotions from clouding your understanding of things
  4. It reduces your dependence on others and makes you respect yourself
  5. It calms you down. As a result, others feel calm in your presence.

Image source

Being detached is an art. And like all arts, it takes time to master. Below are some ways that you can start developing this ability in you:

  1. “Does it tie in with my goal?”
    Before asking yourself whether an action syncs with you goal, ask yourself - “Do I have a goal?” If the answer is “No”, you almost certainly will fail to develop the ability to detach. Why? Because you will chase everything, not knowing what is important and what isn’t. If you are working towards a goal however, then analyze every situation and action from it’s perspective. Does it fit in with what you eventually want to achieve? If yes, dive deeper. If no, cut away. This, my friend, frees up time to do what you should, rather than multitasking and being unproductive.

    Not everything we want comes packaged the way we want it. Sometimes the best results come from some pretty sour experiences. Looking at these experiences objectively will help you peel the layers and find the good in them.

  2. Accept change
    “Constantly observe all that comes through change, and habituate yourself to the thought that the nature of the Whole loves nothing so much as to change one form of existence into another, similar but new. All that exists is in a sense the seed of its successor.” - Marcus Aurelius.

    Marcus Aurelius wrote this rule in around AD 175, but two centuries, later it still holds true. It also is most difficult for us to digest. We try to hold on to what we have through the skin of our teeth. We kick and scream helplessly like toddlers when it is taken away. No matter what you do, you cannot control the forces of Nature.

    Rather than desperately holding on to what you have, develop the mental strength to accept change, and control how you respond to it. This will enhance your ability to detach from emotions which cause unhappiness.

  3. You cannot control anything
    Persistence and the ability to handle uncertainty are two traits which dictate how successful a person is. As mentioned in point #2, change is inherent in the functioning of Nature. And change brings uncertainty in droves.

    Life is ten percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it. So if you think about it, nothing that you are trying to control is actually in your control. And what you feel is not in your control - your behavior, your reactions - actually is. We justify our negative reactions by saying “He started it”, or “How could they do this to me!” We want to control how life treats us, and not how we respond. But it actually works in the exact opposite way.

  4. Remove judgement
    Marcus Aurelius also wrote, “Remove the judgement and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt”: remove the thought ‘I am hurt’ and the hurt itself is removed.”

    Is this difficult to practice? You bet. Judgement comes easily to us, whether something impacts us or not. This is why we live from outrage to outrage today. Combat this judgement by looking at everything as it is - the plain truth, and subtract your interpretation of it.

    MS Dhoni rarely, if ever, lets judgement or emotion cloud his understanding of the situation. “He goes into a match very blank, and then operates on instinct”, says R. Ashwin. Dhoni has mastered detachment primarily because of his subtraction of judgement from a situation. He doesn’t rue over a bad umpiring decision or a spilled catch. Instead, he focuses on what to do at that moment to turn the tide in his favor. His ‘gambles’ pay off because he can see the plain truth in situations. And the results are there for us to see.

  5. Fight to reduce
    “What gets freedom? Decluttering. Not just your house. But your body: make sure you’re healthy every day. Your emotions: spend time with people you love and who inspire you. Your mind: attempt to be creative every day. Creativity takes the mind away from anxieties. And spirituality: leave room each day for thoughts about the people you are grateful for, and thank whoever or whatever you hold dear, for the luck and fortune that you have”, writes renowned author and investor James Altucher.

    FOMO (fear of missing out) makes us do things that add to the clutter in life. Being online 24/7, trying to please everyone, buying things that you will not use… if you want mental peace, you need to throw these out of the window of your life.

    Until a few years ago, I was the same. I did more than I could to please people, worked tirelessly to gain approval from those who were never happy, and just wanted more of everything. And you know what? I failed. Every single time. Then I got rid of the inessential - negative people, extra gadgets, an elaborate wardrobe, checking email every hour, and doing things to please others. Life is better now. I experience the FOMO lesser. It’s easier to go into switch-off mode and ignore things that would have impacted me deeply a few years ago.

    “It’s not the daily increase but the daily decrease. Hack away at the inessential.” - Bruce Lee

  6. Live in the present
    Many people want to forget the past. And many worry about the future. Will I forever be alone? Will I get the promotion or pay increment? Will I bag that lucrative client? Will I be welcome where I am going? Will others find out about an embarrassing incident that occurred in my life twenty years ago?

    The fleeting second that just passed you by? It’s gone. And the future does not exist yet. You can do nothing about either. All you can do to stop worrying about them is to live in the present. This not only helps you give your current task your best, but also frees your mind from doubt and worry, leaving you happier.

    “Perform each action as if it were the last of your life, with unaffected dignity and precise analysis” - Marcus Aurelius.

    Meditation is an effective way to train your mind to live in the present. Meditation is not about chanting or taking God’s name a thousand times. It’s about getting in touch with yourself and learning to focus on the moment. Try apps like Calm and Omvana and witness the difference in yourself after 21 days. Whatever ability I have developed to live in the moment, I’ve attained through mediation, and incessantly observing MS Dhoni.
Detachment is an ongoing process. No matter how strong we are emotionally, our minds get sucked into the trap of negativity. We must keep training to look at the bright side and focus on what is important. I would like to believe that I have learned this art, but negativity drowns the voices of reason and common sense in my head many times even now. The secret is to not get discouraged, not give up, but pull yourself back to the present. Train yourself to master your mind rather than be mastered by it, and detachment becomes easier.

Why is detachment important according to you? And how do you try to imbibe this quality in yourself? I would love to hear from you.

29 Aug 2015

Why We Loved Jasleen Kaur

By the time you read this, the dust will almost have settled on the Jasleen Kaur-Sarvajeet Singh incident. Mainstream media has already torn the guy to pieces, and social media has torn into the girl. People are bored now, and must be busy oiling their ‘outrage’ guns to point and shoot at someone else.

When Jasleen posted about Sarvajeet Singh on Facebook, it didn't take long for the post to go viral. Yes, we supported Jasleen because she was (is) a girl. Apparently reality was exactly the opposite of what she posted. But this gender bias is not exclusive to India. I remember reading about an outrage caused by a woman who tweeted about a guy. Apparently he cracked a sexist joke while sitting behind her at a tech conference. The joke was not aimed at any gender. It was something innocent and typical that guys would laugh over. But her tweet led to an outrage and cost the guy his job. He was married and had three children at that time.

Let’s look beyond this gender bias. There is a deeper layer. We stood in support of Jasleen for the same reason that we loved Rahul Dravid and Manmohan Singh. The same reason why, even now, there are many supporters of Arvind Kejriwal.

They play the victim card.

Image courtesy: MensXP

See I think mediocrity and internal dissatisfaction are deeply rooted in us because of the way we are treated. Whether while travelling to work, or at our workplaces, we are constantly exposed to situations and people we don’t like, and feel disrespected. Somewhere, everyone of us has felt, or still feels, victimized. And when someone appears to be victimized, when we feel like the person is helpless, our protective instincts go into overdrive.

We believed Dravid was a victim when Ganguly was dropped from the Indian squad after altercations with Greg Chappell. We believed Manmohan Singh was a victim when politicians around him indulged in scams that bled our country dry. We still believe Kejriwal is a victim because of his relentless rants of not having control of Delhi - who cares about the fact that he is busy plotting against the government rather than taking care of his own constituency! We believed Jasleen was a victim because she said that she was harassed by the boy. Arnab Goswami went insane (went?), India outraged (#FightBackIndia), and a police case was lodged against the boy. Well done outragers. And this is precisely why leaders like Narendra Modi and MS Dhoni have countless haters… because they stand for what they believe in, and refuse to answer for their actions to idiots. They refuse to be victims, and that makes us uncomfortable.

Do we know the real story before we outrage? Do we think about the possible repercussions on people before slinging mud on them? Haven’t we shamelessly forwarded WhatsApp jokes like ‘God Bless Sunny Leone’ when Abdul Kalam died, or during the bomb blast in Bangkok, or the crash of MH370? What gives us the right to point fingers at someone else and demand that they be punished? What gives us the right demand that people get scarred for life? 

The media simply sensationalizes these cases for ratings. And we, who have nothing better to do than peek into others’ lives, play along, living our days one outrage after another. All this while the media laughs its way to the bank, politicians quietly indulge in hopelessly immoral acts, and real issues lie suppressed and unaddressed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we must ignore issues. But there is a difference between an outrage and a protest. In the former, we simply say slanderous things and call for punishment of those whom WE consider guilty. In the latter, we step out of our houses, leave our phones behind, and do something that makes the relevant people sit up and take notice.

If you want to place your faith in people, place it in those who work quietly, rather than those who keep complaining, or leading outrages, or Cinderellas waiting to be rescued. Remember the proverb you learnt in school: ‘Empty vessels make the most noise’? Maybe our teachers were preparing us for today so that we could behave like mature individuals rather than play ball with people who whip out the victim card more than Arnab Goswami says “The nation wants to know.” Start by looking at your own life and improving it. Reduce looking at the lives of others. Stop whining. Do things that make you happy. You will find that you don’t have the time or patience to participate in outrages. Gradually, you will prefer keeping whiners at a fair distance. And yes, choose your role models carefully. Make a poor choice and you never know when you will wind up at the wrong end of the outrage trend.

I was deeply disturbed when people started sharing the video where a TimesNow journo misbehaved with Sarvajeet Singh. But I was heartened by his courage when he didn’t back down and stayed calm throughout. And gradually, I was also heartened by the fact that websites and people were critical of the appalling behavior of the journalist. Just like the tech conference incident mentioned above, where the woman got a fair bit of flak too, people fought back here, showing that good sense does prevail sometimes.

Jasleen, if you are reading this post, I want to ask you one question: Are you a bully? And you, dear reader, I want to know what you are going to do to stop siding with those who demand sympathy and choose to look at both sides of a story.

25 Aug 2015

Thank You Indigo Airlines

It’s appalling how businesses treat their customers these days. Ponzi sites, hate-selling, shoddy after-sales service - we see and read about them every day. Social media is rife with so many complaints that it appears businesses look at customers simply as tools to make money.

Often however, employees or brands take amazing care of their customers and try to bring smiles on their faces. But we rarely hear about those instances. Negativity has been so deeply ingrained in us by the media that everything positive is seen as ‘expected’ and trifling matters often get perceived as negative and are blown out of proportion. The positive experiences are forgotten. Well, not always. Rachna wrote about an awesome initiative, and I am writing about another. This post is to thank Indigo Airlines for the exceptional care that they took of my 92-year-old grandmother.

Granny was staying with us since the past 6 months, and wanted to go back home to Varanasi. She had never travelled by plane, and it was one of her wishes. So mom and I booked tickets on Indigo Airlines. Granny and I would fly on 19th August on flight 6E 578. I didn't book a wheelchair or airplane seats online; I always do that at the airport. But the sound pasting I got from mom left me somewhat unnerved. Until we entered the airport, I thought that it would have been better if I had sorted everything while booking tickets itself. 

How wrong I was! As soon as we entered the airport, someone from the Indigo team - Gaurav - rushed to me and asked if granny required a wheelchair. “Okay, this should sort things somewhat”, I thought as I said she did. Little did I know that he and his team were just about to make this a stroll in the park for us. I asked him to help her onto the wheelchair while I waited in line to check in. No need, he said, and took me to an empty counter. I asked the lady who was checking our luggage in for seats in the 12th row so that granny would get more leg room. But wheelchair-bound people aren’t allotted those seats since that’s where the emergency exit is. Instead, the lady suggested that she would allot us seats in the second row, and if the flight was empty, granny and I could sit in the first row, which offers ample leg space too. I am sad that I forgot her name. In fact, I interacted with so many people that I’m feeling pretty sucky about not having noted their names so that I could include them in this post.

Right before getting onto the plane

Gaurav wheeled granny right to gate number 9 and informed the ground staff about her. They kept a watch on her while I brought tea. A crew member took her to the bathroom right before our flight arrived. Another ensured that she got on to the bus headed for our flight before everyone else. He wheeled her up the ramp right till the entrance of the plane. And even before I could take a good look at the faces of the pretty air hostesses, they had offered the first row seats to granny and me. Even melted butter cannot slide as smoothly as things were here.

Selfie clicked on granny's request

The flight was comfortable. It’s unbelievable how fearless my granny is. Not once did she flinch when the plane took off. And she was totally at home when we were airborne. Looking outside the window, studying the air hostesses… time flew by for her.

Granny is quite a fit woman for her age and often complains that we don’t let her walk enough. So when we were alighting, I thought we could walk to the taxi stand. But the air hostess said that she had radioed for a wheelchair, and it arrived before she completed her sentence. Again, granny was wheeled right out till the taxi stand, and the Indigo staff member stood with us in the sweltering 2:00 pm heat of Varanasi until a taxi came along. I loaded our luggage in it and helped granny sit. The man quietly folded the chair, shook my outstretched hand and walked back to the airport to do his duty.

Not once did even one person grimace, let alone complain. Not once did anyone ask for money (although I tipped everyone who helped). What appeared extraordinary to me because of the ease with which it was done, was regular for them. How many businesses take such good care of their customers?

I don't need to harp on concepts of customer service here, do I? Neither do I need to analyze what they did right and what they could have done etc. I just want to leave you with the feelings of warmth and genuineness that the crew of the airline displayed.

Dear Indigo Airlines, you have made a loyalist out of me. I don’t fly often, but whenever I do, I’ll fly with you. You guys may be setting high standards for yourself in customer satisfaction, but what you do is far more than that. It is service to mankind. Each member who was part of the team of flight 6E 578 on which PNR O7VYZ7 flew made the first flight of a 92-year-old woman a delight. You treated her like a queen. Here is a heartfelt thank you from my entire family.

23 Aug 2015

Will Indiblogger's BNLF Prove Disruptive?

I started blogging early in 2011, way later than most. Just like you, it was on a whim. I started writing, but didn’t know how to make more people read it? A friend suggested that like most bloggers, I should go to others’ blog posts, leave comments and interact with bloggers. “Okay”, I said. “But how am I going to find good blogs to begin with.” “Simple”, said the friend. “Register on Indiblogger.”

“What’s that?”

“Register first. You will figure the rest out yourself.”

What lovely advice it turned out to be! Within a few weeks of registering, I was addicted. I spent hours interacting on the chat forum, reading people’s blog posts, leaving comments on the ones I liked and promoting them. As a result, my traffic saw a spike, and I got in touch with amazing bloggers. The IB (Indiblogger, not Imperial Blue) platform provided me with the foundation to get more visibility on my blog. But it also taught me the most important lesson - to get meaningful interactions, I had to build relations with the right bloggers.

image Source

Which is why I am excited about the Blog Now, Live Forever event being organized by IB. One doesn’t often get to hear (or read) about blogging conferences being held in this part of the world (let alone international speakers coming over). Often we read about such events with high profile speakers held in US, and are left thinking “when will something like that come here?” Indian blogging is still in its adolescence, where most bloggers still do not understand the significance of creating content for users, and promoting it effectively. I interact with many bloggers, and one thing noticeable is the lacking understanding of building relations and an outreach. “I write for myself, not others. Whoever is interested will come and read”, is a popular belief. And then they complain about barely getting traffic (let alone shares or comments) on their blog. Guest posting, content distribution, relationship building etc. are terms that we bloggers despise as much as we despise corruption.

This is where the BNLF event will prove disruptive. With speakers like Bruce Dickinson (Up the Irons!), Jeff Bullas, Christoph Trappe and Arnab Ray (astute viewers of the content creation and sharing scenes globally) sharing their experiences and insights, it will stimulate many bloggers to evolve. I also look forward to hearing Kanan Gill, whose insights on adding humor and story telling to one’s content can improve its quality in leaps and bounds, will prove invaluable. Mind you, keeping audience in peels of laughter for 8-12 minutes when our attention span is less than 8 seconds today is no mean feat.

Of course, apart from listening to globally renowned bloggers, the highlight will be seeing Bruce Dickinson live again, this time on a different platform. The last (and only) time I got the chance was when Iron Maiden came to Mumbai, and I had stood in the second row from 3 (they hit the stage at 8:30 that night). I had to hold myself from weeping when Bruce ran on stage and started singing ‘Aces High’. I hope I can contain my emotions this time around too. “Your time will come”, sang Bruce in The Wickerman. I hope that my time to see him again has come. IB holds the key to this hope.

But let’s leave my personal fandom of Bruce behind and get back to the blogosphere. If you are a blogger, or are even looking to pursue a career in social media, the BNLF event sounds like a wonderful event to not only hear renowned speakers, but also meet popular bloggers and pick their brains (worth its weight in gold). I will be going. Hope to see you there.

16 Aug 2015

Where You Lost the Plot of Life

“Oh, he always had my hairdryer in his hand”, my friend’s mother said. “As a child, he was always singing. My hairdryer was his mic, his dad’s expensive goggles and my scarf were his costume, and he was a rockstar. Jumping around to his father’s rock music collection,” she beamed, as we flipped through the family album (yes, some of us still have them).

Today, he spends 14 hours a day working in a software firm. No weekends, no family time, dismal pay hikes…

“What happened”, I asked. “Life”, she sighed.

Forget what we wanted to be as children. We all still want to be someone. And I have used the word ‘all’ here because every person, regardless of who she is or what she does, aspires to be someone or something. We want to live on our own terms, recognition from the world for having done something amazing, and the adulation of people around us. What stops us? Guilt.

Guilt of not being able to give our family the comfort they deserve if we dive into something new. Guilt of not being able to make enough money for our family to roam in malls on weekends and buy things that they don’t need. No more fancy phones for our children and partners for a while. No more feeding them junk food every week. Today, this is as good as poverty… no - starving.

What we love doing is certainly not worth the risk, is it? Now we have a family to take care of, which depends on us to bring home the bread (and smartphones, and iPads). Our duty is to take care of our family, and ensure that our children fulfill the dreams that we couldn’t.

Where did this guilt come from? Surely we were not taught to think about family and money from childhood! This guilt came from social pressure, from the status quo. We had dreams to pilot airplanes or land on the moon some day. Then society mellowed us down. It said that we were fools to think of something that was ‘impossible’ (we learnt this word when we integrated ourselves with society). It instilled the fear of being ostracized if we didn’t toe in line. Our job was to study hard, get a job, earn money and feed our families. We had to fit the frame that society made for us. If we stuck out by even a few inches, we were looked down on, and brought shame onto our families. This is what brought about the guilt.

Gradually, we lost our mojo. We believed the liars, the insecure ‘leaders’, the people who made the rules so we would toe in line. And boy, did we toe in quickly! We looked around for acknowledgement, which we never received. Because no matter what we did, society always demanded more. We gave our families all that we could, but we never really gave them true freedom, because we never had it ourselves. Life sucked, and then we died.

"Whatcha lookin at, hater?"

And then there were the other kind. The kind whom we considered arrogant and stubborn. The kind whom we found too weird to play with us, to be a part of this well-knit society. The kind who were probably pulled up by their teachers in front of the classroom, and whom we (and our parents) sniggered about. The kind who couldn’t stay put at a job long enough.

They went on to do something remarkable. No. I’m not talking about scoring good marks in academics or being model students. They went on to become someone we always wanted (but never deserved) to be. Envy made us turn greener than a chilly. Surely they must have done something wrong… surely they just got lucky or found someone who did everything for them.

No. They believed in what they wanted to do. Despite the world telling them that it wouldn’t work, that they were fools, that it has been tried before and all others had failed. They soaked up whatever the world had to say and continued working. In the process, they became masters at handling pressure and criticism. They stopped watching the news and reading newspapers. They could weed out the sense from truckloads of bullshit and learnt to back themselves even when the whole world counted them out. They believed in the outcome, and that they would eventually prevail. Life eventually gave up trying to pin them down and hoisted them on its broad shoulders. They achieved true freedom - from the shackles of society, from stereotypes, and monotony. They never truly succeeded in being free of fear - every person still faces fear in her life. But they mastered the art of facing it head-on and destroying it before it caused damage.

I had attended a 'Go-Diamond' event organized for the people of Amway (I worked for a company which organized these events). There, a Diamond (someone at the top of the Amway chain) shared an experience. When his wife and he moved to USA, they had little money. They had to choose between 2 apartments: one without a balcony, and the other with a balcony which had a rent of just $5 more each month. The Diamond convinced his wife to choose the one without the balcony, because that meant they had $60 each year to spare for Amway products. She agreed. They worked hard together. Today they own a palatial house, never think about budgets, and serve as role models to hundred thousands of people the world over.

You can take flak from society and family in the initial years while you work towards doing what you love. Or you can remain unhappy the rest of your life sucking up to people that you despise. In the first case, you can use the four magical words: At least I tried. In the second, you still will use four words, but they will sound like: If I had tried.

Which life do you want to live? The choice is yours.

I have resolved to pursue real personal freedom. Freedom from what people say, from being conned by the media, from being a slave to my mind. And I intend on making the most of this journey from fear to freedom. Care to join me?

4 Aug 2015

How a Butterfly's Wings Caused a Hurricane in My Life

I was 18. I had fared poorly in Std. XII and somehow got admission into an Engineering college because my parents wanted me to. I understood nothing - maths, BEE, mechanical engineering, engineering drawing… even computer science. I flunked miserably (13 out of 16 subjects in the first 2 sems). If this was how I would fare in the first year (which is the easiest), what was I going to do in the coming years. More importantly, how would I complete the first year? Something unfortunate had happened in my personal life that compounded my bad mood. Each day I woke up hating the world, hating myself, and feeling invisible.

That’s when, one afternoon, in our college library, Huzefa introduced me to Metallica. The album in his walkman (yup, it was a cassette) was ‘Symphony and Metallica I’. I liked what I heard. And then Master of Puppets blew my mind. In the days when Enrique and Britney dominated the charts, here was some music that I liked. I bought some cassettes. My friends started sharing their MP3 collections, through which I got all of Metallica’s albums. And I loved them! I was also introduced to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and Guns N’ Roses. And then, I wanted to play guitar.

Huzefa had a guitar, and he didn’t play it. So he lent it to me. I kept playing the guitar for about 8-10 hours a day (when I should have been studying for my KT papers). Then I met some pro musicians trying to put together a rock band. They offered me the role of a bassist. I was ecstatic. My mom wasn’t. She said “If you want a bass guitar, either clear your papers or buy it yourself.” I wasn't going to clear even 1 paper, let alone 13. So I did something that horrified everyone in my family. At the age of 19, I quit engineering and started working at a call centre. With my first pay, I bought a bass guitar and amp. Huzefa was there with me again. Unfortunately the band disbanded even before they could play a show.

Until I was 18, people said that I behaved like a 10-year-old. Within a few months of turning 19, people said that I sounded like a 25-year-old. I will never know how it happened, but am glad it did. I kept achieving at work, which started repairing my damaged self-image. I got promoted, changed jobs, got rejected by girls I really liked, made stupid decisions, failed, succeeded, laughed, cried, rose, sank... I really lived. Life tested me, and each time I came out stronger. Whenever it punched me off my feet, I got up before the count of 10. Sometimes at 9 1/2, but always before 10. Today I look forward to life more than I have in the last 31 years. I hope the only time I won't get up before the count of 10 is when I am dead.

All this time, I never stopped listening to Metallica and watching their videos (I’d watch them on CD initially because we still had dial up internet and YouTube didn’t exist). I was captivated by James Hetfield’s (Metallica’s frontman) stage presence. He stood at 6’2”, broad shouldered, blue eyed, blond hair and a trademark mullet, holding a black guitar, the first button of his black shirt always open. He ruled the stage like a Alexander ruled the world. Undisputed dominance. I wanted to play guitar like him, to have a stage presence like him, I wanted to be like him. My pseudo name (we have to use them in call centers) was James - spelt ‘Jaymz’ because that’s how Hetfield spelt his. Hetfield was my hero during the most troublesome years. He kept me going long after I felt like I didn’t have any strength left.

Today is James Hetfield’s birthday. Happy birthday rockstar! God knows how many lives you have touched and made a difference in. I don't know why but the last 14 years of my life are flashing in front of me today. If it wasn't for you, who knows where the f**k I would be rotting.

Huzefa is no more. It’s been over 4 years now. Every year, on his birthday, I post a message on Facebook and hope that wherever he is, he is happy. He introduced me to Hetfield. He was the only person who encouraged me to stay true to my dreams when all others thought I was crazy. Maybe I was, and Huzefa was too. It takes one crazy man to recognize another. Heard of the Butterfly Effect, a principle in the Chaos Theory? The effect states that a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico can lead to a hurricane in China. A small change in one state of a deterministic non-linear system can result in large differences in a later state. Huzefa, with his walkman, that afternoon in the library, was a butterfly who flapped his wings. He unknowingly helped me evolve as person, helped me find my true calling. He set the wheels in motion in my life. R.I.P. Hufu. Return If Possible.

image courtesy: Metallica
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