Stop bitching. Start acting.

Exhibit A

Have you seen posts like these on FB lately?

What are they about?
A person witnesses some ‘wrong’ act. He/ She promptly takes a picture of the wrong act. He/she hurries to upload it to social media in an effort to shame the person in question.
Earlier, a photograph of a car’s number plate did the rounds online. apparently, the guy driving the car had spit on the road. and so on… all misdemeanors that should ideally be sorted in ‘real world’ of flesh and bones through polite conversations.

Exhibit A-
Here, a grey haired gentleman opened a door to a cafe for two other gentlemen. The other two gentlemen supposedly did not say ‘thank you’. Were they too busy? Were they in a serious discussion, the sort where you forget the world altogether? Do we know anything about them at all? No. We don’t.
All we have is this one photo that the indignant-FB-guy (IFG) took without asking the two people in question.

and look at the reaction – It ranges from ridiculing these two strangers to turning this non-incident into a symbol of all that is wrong with India.

“whn ppl do that to me I say ‘You’re Welcome’ loudly.
.OMG ##### the man has the biggest HORNS on his head……..what did you expect…..Cattle class !!”

As an Indian, I always wondered if its the sheer number of bodies perpetually jostling around us, which make us immune to so many civil and civic sensibilities… but then I think of Japan, which is even more congested than us, bowing their butts off..”

Lovrd this. The so called educated forget basic courtesy and need to be publicly shamed

I know them. They share the same name: “Most Indians” “

What does it tell you about how these online people see themselves? 
They are ridiculing strangers for a misdemeanour that they did not know for certain if it happened or not. But one serious breach of manners and ethics went unnoticed.
No one is asking IFG, if it was right of him to take a picture of stranger without their permission. Is it good manners? Is it ethical to invade privacy like this?

Secondly, see how quick we distance ourselves.
me who knows better v/s most Indians, the cattle class. 

On social media, even I am a theorist and intellectual. So obviously, there are a few ones who dissect the incident, albeit in a congratulatory tone. 

Its like an online group of bullies, trying to bully someone who is smaller than them, not present at all!

Everybody relishes in this online distance – I can safely be a voyeur and a judge! I am omnipotent and always right!

What do you think should be a pre-digital, pre-cowardice reaction to the incident? Wouldn’t it be easier to go over and ask for that ‘thank you’ that you think was a right response?
It’s quite certain that IFG wanted to ‘teach a lesson’. Everybody online feels that way, so I don’t blame him. But why not teach a lesson there and then. Wouldn’t it be more effective?
Or was IFG too scared of a possible altercation afterward? Or did he think that he would receive more satisfaction if he posts it online.

Why am I bothering to write about this at all?
I don’t mean to disrespect IFG or commentators. But I am worried about a growing trend of voyeurism and cowardice. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we would rather take their picture from safe distance and post it publicly, than go and talk with them and try to understand them. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we are becoming less and less human-like.

Why is it a worrisome trend?
Do you remember reactions of people who were passing by naked limp bodies on the street that fateful morning in Delhi’s winter?
Do you remember the incident in UK where a person was busy taking picture while he could have saved a man’s life?
and there are so many other such stories.. it just fills me with hopelessness. and it feels even worse when I resort to blogging about it.
And there is really only one thing we need to do to change things. To react at all time. question the wrong. Talk. Help. Prod. Call someone. tap on the shoulder and say thank you/sorry. whatever.
But we must REACT as and when a reaction is due. A delayed online reaction for self-gratification will be the doom of our civilization. I am not exaggerating here.

In real life, often we have immediate costs and uncertain gain. We chose online because it gives you immediate satisfaction with seemingly no cost.
If we converse with a stranger in real life, there is a risk of having to waste hours if the stranger turns out to be a bore/ danger of a psychopath… versus the possibility of pleasure in conversation and learning new things. We are increasingly choosing to converse online since you can shut out anytime online, but if the conversation is pleasant, one can take it forward.
Similarly, even about social consciousness – India is starved of volunteers who do actual work, but there is no dearth of online campaigners.

and worse of all, in times of distress. Honestly ask yourself: The last time you saw someone in distress, what did you do? Did you help the person? or did you walk away after telling yourself some comforting fiction? (‘There might be someone else who is helping her/him’, ‘there are already people there, what is the need for me?’, ‘I really shouldn’t get involved in things like these. It might be dangerous’)

Long term scenario
Imagine our dependence on law and authority that this kind of behavior will necessitate. Imagine the sheer terror as people relinquish reactions and stop even acting in self preservation. We are becoming so fragile and wary of danger. We are increasingly less alive.

Answer to all current questions
Questions like – increasing safety concerns for women, increasing feeling of purposelessness, increasing distances in relationships and even the prevalence of bad manners…
Answer to all these question is in a shift of our behavior.
We have to consciously make an effort to react with action, thought and empathy right when it is due. 
If you see someone throwing trash where he shouldn’t. Help him be better.
If you see someone trying to harm someone else. raise an alarm/ call police/ use your brain.
If you see someone in distress. You better help him/her. If you don’t, you are just as responsible for his/her plight.
If you see someone who doesn’t appreciate your good manners, tell him what you think of it. Don’t worry, no one’s going to bite you. most of us are quite decent folks. (scared and with different world view, but decent nevertheless).

If your action is to only post about it online, it really is an exercise in narcissism. It is not a benevolent act. It is a selfish act where a person could have been helped, instead you chose to victimize him and derive pleasure out of this public shaming.

Here’s a little chant that you could memorise and tell yourself at all times – ‘React! React! React! React! React!… 108/42/786 times (depending on your religious inclination) and repeat.
If we all react when it is due, the world would surely be a much more safer, kinder, confident place.

___
Originally published here.

The N-generation

Just read a post from the crowd-sourced diary of narcissists – thoughtcatalog.com

The post is called ‘Why I’m Trading A House And Salary For A Motorcycle And Map
Please read it, because this blog post is a reaction to it.

Let me quickly summarise here the intent of the post anyways. Its a self congratulatory essay that crowd sources validation for a seemingly ‘crazy’ idea of the author. And apparently there is a moral to the story. Curious thing to note – the gratification is pre-action – the author has not actually done anything of note yet. He plans to. Maybe. and that is why this post is such an important artifact defining the current times.

The author is an adult. (atleast 30 years old. Also the fact that he owns a house that he can sell. and in his words “I’ve officially notified everyone who works in my office“.) But not quite. (the entire article. Also, he mentions the word ‘motorcycle’ gushingly 6 times.)

Some of his gems.
1. “People are legitimately awesome!”
This realization came to the author when he saw people encouraging him.
yes sayers = awesome.

2. He has a plan where he will

“try to be a coffee farmer in Jamaica with a man named Thunder, attempt to build houses in El Salvador, and try to work at a Sky Diving school in Utah”

He plans to try. these awesome hipster things in third world countries/ state.
He is planning his facebook feed, not his life. 

3. “They said they wanted to follow my blog.”
He is building viewership for a reality show that has not even started yet. The objective of the project is not traveling. It is the spectacle, it is the image. That is why he already has an idea about what he will do in his travels – farming in Jamica with Thunder! planned!
Where is the uncertainty? The author has already read ‘the alchemist’, ‘Siddhartha’ and such. He already ‘knows’ what he will learn.

He is already far into the future where he will write his illuminating experience. In the future, he will be looking back at social media mentions and pop philosophy books to inform his eyes about what to see, ears about what to hear and mind to what to experience.

4. “sharing dreams that they had and plans they wanted to make”

The N-generation wants to make plans. Not necessarily execute it.The thrill is in the plan and in the acknowledgement that others know of your plan. If there were no others, there would be no plan, no thrill.
The joy is crowd-sourced. The plan is cowd-approved.

5. “off the cuff speech about following dreams”
a. Appearance of spontaneity is important. (off the cuff) For a generation that is neck deep in images, the biggest concern is about authenticity. Hence ‘get real’ black music. Hence clinging to brands for identity. Hence organic. Hence ready outrage.
b. Author mentions casually about his ‘speech’ (college kids?) where he exhorted them to follow their dreams. Obviously, the author places himself firmly at the center of the universe. Has he achieved anything? Has he created anything? No. He is merely planning to try to build houses in El Salvador. may be.
Why is he going all TED on poor college kids? Isn’t ‘following dreams’ a tried old message that everyone hears about 1548435024 times a month at least?
Has his ‘following dream’ served him any good? why should he talk on the subject?
Its not about the students or the institution. Its about his image of him sharing his wisdom in an institution.

6. The prof. who coordinated his little talk “emailed me and shared so many awesome things that she was doing and things she wanted to accomplish.”

a. He finds needs validation. from his coworkers (“come into my office with tears in their eyes”) and more importantly, a professor – an authority figure. Obviously, he subscribes to the educational authority. That is why he is maybe planning for a PhD. For quite a few confused souls, PhD is an excellent break (atleast in their heads before they enroll for the course) to postpone their life – to push confrontation with life’s issues even further. To evade adulthood.
(Maybe planning – that deserves a separate post altogther. Something that I am guilty of too.)
b.  In author’s narrative, the prof. rushed to share her accomplishments and wishes with him. Because in his narrative, the authority has been subverted. In his world, now he is the authority in whom the prof. wants validation.

8. Then the author meanders through old lame complaints before getting here –When a person bottoms out they start from zero. They get to recreate the rules.”

Our generation is in desperate need of ‘bottoming out’. We want an antihero who would bring down the ‘system’. But as TLC says, the problem is not the system, the problem is you. (Read the blog cautiously. Very insightful stuff, though cloaked under a high amount of sarcasm, smarty aggression and American references that we might not always be aware of.)

We don’t want to build incrementally or bring in a revolution. We want to ‘recreate the rules’.

9. “So to everyone who is just now inheriting the world…”
Inherited the world. INHERITED.

10. “We’re going to create something. We’re not hippies. We’re something new that has yet to be determined.”

We are desperate to build an identity. But we just can’t choose. So we start with exclusion. ‘we are not hippies.’ We are afraid of concrete realities. Hence we are ‘something’s. We are ‘new’ and ‘creators’. Everyone is an artist.

30 and still a man-child. that’s the N-generation.
Narcissistic

_____
Originally published here.

Don’t screw Holi!/ Tradition v/s ecology

Its Holi time. 🙂 The best time (for some) to be in India. It is a global party to prepare ourselves of the terrible weather that will soon turn us into homebodies – scared of stepping out in the day time 45 degree dust bowls. One last day of being out and enjoying it – beat the heat with style.

Social media, the zeitgeist barometer, though indicates a different Holi to me this year. On the one hand, there are people talking about the HoliCow party – stripping holi to its most basic ritual, and turning it into a modern dance banality. And on the other, there’s concerned city folks who are advocating abstention from the whole thing – save water/ “Think of the poor” – droughts across India/ natural herbal colors as replacement for the more energetic color+water combination.

(Should we blame this on ACs? I have a hypothesis – Holi will be played more vigorously in towns where there is low penetration of Air-Condition machines. There is a correlation between ‘forever weather’ (AC) and demise of ‘weather/ time rituals’ (festivals such as Holi.). (note to self – death of time.))

Both attitudes indicate a basic degeneration of the festival. I would concern myself with the later for this post.

Old tradition – the sacrificial lamb on the altar of new gods
The Hindu society has no crucifixion equivalent central narrative of a knowing and willful sacrifice (not that I know of). But with the western media consumption, there is an appreciation for such a sacrifice and an implicit sense of sin, though it might manifest differently.
“Ecology is the new opium of the masses, replacing religion” says Slavoy Zizek.

So what that means in this context is – the original sin now, is towards nature – we feel that we are creating an ‘imbalance’ with our acts of excess and dereliction of our effects. While, this sense of original sin towards nature is now almost universal, the implication in India is new.
We (urban Indians) are ‘sacrificing’ our festivals and rituals at the altar of our new religion – ecology. 

The feud: modernity V/s tradition  

Yes. we must be more conscious of our consumption, but how is it that this dialogue surfaces only in the context of our traditions and rituals? It never occurs to people to switch from shower to bucket bath, or from car ride to bike ride (or even better, bicycle ride), or from wasteful quick service restaurant food to traditional foods. (served in plastic v/s metal plates. excess tissue papers/ no tissue paper.)

It seems that the modern ecological consciousness activates itself only in offense against the traditional practices. It seems that urban India can only see modernity and traditions as  dual opposites, (even as they lamely try to negotiate between two)

Sacrifice of the other
The urban thought culture sees traditions in context of the other India – poorer, backward, the one that needs to learn from the urban.
(cracker less diwali, colorless holi – Project deIndianisation. Q: ‘what did you do in Diwali?’ A: ‘saw TV’). 
(Either objectify – holi in vrindavan with firangs. or strip it of its meaning – holi in HoliCow in Delhi with EDM playing)

The operative assumptions (wrongfully) are
Traditions = non urban India, aspirations = urban India
the sacrifice must come from this other India that doesn’t know better. (would you dig a mine under marine drive if you find oil underneath?) (power outages – 0 hours in Mumbai, 15-18 hours in many villages)

 A possibility
How about exercising moderation always? don’t kill our festivities, kill the wastage.
Being able to waste is a sign of wealth, so people have incentive to waste.
Brand wasters as idiots. go ahead, next time you see someone wasting food/ water/ electricity – call him/her an ‘idiot’.
Shift the object of our offensive from our traditions to our excesses.
Stop being a spoil sport. Go play Holi.

On why it took a firang to start FabIndia/ OR Why India still can’t chart its own modernity

Exhibit 1a. Girl wearing a chuda, off for clubbing late at night

This is one of those simplistic visual tropes one might expect in any ‘tradition meets modernity’ narrative.
In one of the automobile brand ads, I believe there is one such shot too.
(the brand champions the insight about modernity being tempered by the Indian youth in Indian terms. What this assumes is – to be Indian is to be ritualistic. and to be urban/modern is to reject the rituals. Brands come to rescue us here and provides an in between truce. ‘Adjust kar lo‘.)

Usually the narrative is set in the premise of ‘victory of the young’, as ‘smart strategist’.

Smart strategy – yes – to the extent that traditions and modernity, both are reduced to mere symbols that are entertained for maintaining the status quo. That’s the strategy- to strip our acts off their meanings.

Why wear a chuda? ‘I am supposed to. must be the right thing. I am confident now of being Indian. This is ethnic cool.’
Why go dance to yo yo Honey Singh in crowded clubs? ‘that is what i am supposed to do to have fun.’

Both acts – wearing chuda, clubbing regularly – seem to be acts whose will is outside of the person doing it.
A part of the society wants you to wear Chuda, so you do that. Another part of the the society tells you that you cannot really be ‘free’ and have ‘fun’, unless you spend a quarter of your income in expensive clubs.  and you do it too.
There is no ‘victory of the young’. The young are supplicating to whatever forces they are subjected to.

They are supplicating to not just one god, but many gods! and that is being a true Indian.
Second misreading – its not the confidence of being Indian that is allowing people to continue practicing old rituals. Its the permission from the western image that ‘allows’ us to feel confident about our own rituals. We look to west for what is acceptable and what is not, for we deem ourselves incapable of charting our own modernity.
(why is the image of a man wearing a mundu,woman wearing a salwar kameez in corporate offices, sacrilegious? why wear coat and tie in the hot tropical climate? if modernity is about rationality, what is the rationality behind the uniform of coat and tie for corporate image?)
When the western image accommodates an Indian images (that it cannot understand) as ethnic/ exotic, we in return also see our own traditions and rituals as ethnic/ exotic.
See how us city folks pronounce the words ‘Mahabharata’ or ‘Ramayana’,
or how we tend to act as outsiders at traditional events, we literally keep ourselves at the periphery.
Or how there is still an audience for ‘America returned do-gooder’.
It took a firang to start FabIndia and such. The cultural industry of Indian identity is almost entirely run by Firang, for firang.
The visa to ethnic pride still gets stamped in the western image. 
Another observation by Saba Dewan – 

“Why are the new jingles based on a reworking of old Hindi film songs sung in this fake, ‘firang’ accented Hindustani? Regular desi speak not good enough uhnn? We need to sing even good old Hindi filmy songs in some phony nowhere accent to match our ‘global’ aspirations?”

What does it mean to not being able to see ourselves with our own eyes? that we need a western eye to recognize our own  self?
We Indians can accept ourselves, only ironically. Its as if we do not exist outside the conscience of the white man. If we are not recognized/interpreted by the west, we probably do not (should not) exist. (Imagine Dongria Kondh’s fight without Survival international’s image building. Imagine the futility.)

P.S. – Again.. wearing chuda/ going to club – both acts by a woman. Tradition and modernity, both hold women responsible for transacting with symbols of meaning. A man’s act is invisible to the civilizational meaning, but a women’s is not. heavy unfair imbalance.

‘Adjust kar lo’

The Indian auto rickshaw is made for at max carrying 3 reasonably weighing people. But often I see families haggling with the driver to let one or two more people crowd in the small backseat. The fact is that just the shopping of an average Indian family will require an auto rickshaw, let alone the big fussy family. They don’t want to go separately. Its not that they can’t afford to get 2 autos. But they would not even want to travel apart. Family that shops together, eats together, laughs together also travels together. A vehicle is an enabler. It could have identity connotation, but its not as personal as .. say a cell phone is. (A recent research we did found out that for people, cell phone is the most personal thing. The man shared everything with his wife, but not his cell phone.)
As against say US, where a car that can carry 4 people, is used by an individual. It’s perhaps the strongest personal identity statement there. (correct me if I am wrong.)
So while for Indians, a tool of connectivity and communication is a personal identity statement, western world has more things that would need to be personal.perhaps its a function of opulence.(In rural heartland perhaps the concept of personal space does not even exist and along with urbanity, the ‘need’ for personal space is born and increases thereby.)
Anyway, i am digressing here..
I was wondering if you could see such an happening (where family is haggling with Taxi driver to take more people in) in developed world. Would they trade the convenience of lesser people and driving in convoys with the uncomfortable experience of sharing a cab ride with so many people and so much inconvenience, just so that the family can travel together? This has many implications.. safety, comfort, efficacy, time..
Would you want to be uncomfortably stuffed in a vehicle which will be unsafe and probable entail slow travel to reduce risk?
I guess an Indian family assumes that they must travel together and later variables are adjusted accordingly. So they will drive slower, someone will be on the lookout and assistance. there would be some ‘accommodations’.
Would it be right to assume that perhaps out of this subcontinent, convenience and safety would get higher weightage in consideration? perhaps, they are not as fatalistic and would want to show concern for the family and break it up in multiple vehicles. Perhaps, Time is of consequence.. and the systems are built with convenience and efficacy in mind, people are bound to take up those assumptions.
The efficiency assumption and safety paranoia defines the first world’s considerations. (Among Indians, a paranoiac want of bottled water is a sign of  upward mobility; an attempt at first world citizenry.) However, Indians don’t have ‘faster, higher, stronger’ in their ethos really. So while an Indian would say ‘adjust kar lo’.. the first world counterpart, in his bewilderment, would perhaps not know what is happening 😛