Sunday, April 5, 2015

Her Choice: What exactly is women empowerment?

For anyone coasting across the interwebz this past week, the baffling video titled 'My Choice' from Vogue India featuring Deepika Padukone and 98 other women in grey-scale reciting an ode to women empowerment must be nothing new. And neither would be the mixed (that would be an understatement: let's try backlash) feedback that has and is still being poured out from all corners of the country.

Baffling, I said? Well, it is in a way because while I do agree with some of the points raised, the video on the whole simply fails. It casts women empowerment as a rebellion against all norms. If, women empowerment, indeed had been the intention in the first place. Well I'm an optimist so let me give them the benefit of the doubt here. But even so, some of the lines do seem to incite aggressive feminism which is never going to go down well in a patriarchal system like ours.

The proof is in the pudding they say. The video has got about 25K dislikes on Youtube as of now- a really significant number considering the allegedly powerful message this video was supposed to purport.

Which got me thinking! What exactly went wrong here?

A couple of things come to mind. The one with "having sex outside of marriage, my choice", "coming home at 4 AM in the morning, my choice", these lines have the utmost potential to be misconstrued, and rightly so. These are the things that could have been elucidated a bit more responsibly. As it stands, they come across as being borderline reckless. I get it, women's choices are important. I get it, it's time we as a society started to give them a voice. I get it, women need to have the freedom to do things their way. And that is why I cannot bring myself to completely dislike this video. Because, choice, is a very powerful thing. Something we all have to agree most women in our society don't readily get.

 It had been Aishwarya Rai's choice to do an on-screen kiss with HritikRoshan in Dhoom but look how that turned out for her. This is what I have the biggest problem with. That we inadvertently create boundaries in our minds on how a woman is supposed to live out her life and are quick to rattle when if it is even crossed a little.

BUT, and that's a very big but, women empowerment or feminism is also about acting responsibly. It's about equality. It's about having equal laws, opportunities and code of conduct for both the genders. It should never be about one outweighing the other. If the same video had been made with men, there would have been an outcry of "Male Chauvinism!" And yet, somehow, we are expected to sit down and get enlightened when women say all the stuff that they need freedom from. Which in some ways, actually seems appalling, what with the kind of disregard shown towards men. If this is what they want to preach the young female population, soon we would see debates for "Masculism" cropping up.

 And thus, the ambivalence continues....

All those fans underneath to keep her hair afloat. 
Something Deepika would regret in the days to come. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What 'exactly' is introversion?

Time has arrived I think finally, when I have to try to explain to the wide world what introversion is actually made of. Because I realize that we are the most misunderstood species on the planet. But I totally get it, because if I were an extrovert, it'd have been difficult to figure out an introvert friend of mine too. Still, explaining ourselves is not something that's high on the list, but I'm still gonna try to do it. In fact, we are the last to usually complain or raise a concern, we sigh into darkness instead.

This is going to be a spoiler-free rant (of course I can't let you in on our trade-secrets! :P ). But this article will probably help you in deciphering that introverted friend of yours a bit better. Not that they expect you do so, in fact they'd rather you didn't but it's good for you both if you do.

First off, let me go outright and say what we're not. Because this is where most misunderstandings arise.

  • Shy
  • Anti-social
  • Very Serious
  • Diffident
  • Rude
Even before I begin, stop treating 'introvert' as a negative word already please! It's extremely frustrating to hear people talk about extroversion like it's the best thing since sliced bread. It isn't. Not by any measure. 

Definition 1: Introverts are people who just don't have the need to constantly interact with others to keep them going. People who are extremely comfortable being themselves, being with themselves, just soaking in their thoughts, and wondering why isn't everyone around doing the same!! (The last part is not entirely true. A world full of introverts would be a very boring place indeed :)

Definition 2: Introverts gain energy by being with themselves. Extroverts gain energy by interacting with other people. In fact, after having too much social interaction, introverts need to lay low for a while to recharge. And it is extremely critical that they do so! 

The above definitions are perhaps all you need to get a rudimentary idea of things. But now you probably need to know what we do differently from you. 

#1 We don't talk as much
Yes, we do not talk as much as you'd like us to. But it's not because we have anything against you. We only like to talk when we feel like we have something important to say. 

We genuinely like having conversations, believe me, but probably not the kind of conversations you might wanna have. So pardon us if you sense a slight disregard the next time you tell us how fun it was to pull a prank on your colleague at work that day. 

#2 We are terrified of small talk
We just find it utterly pointless. So when you put us with a stranger, we'd look down, try to avoid eye contact just so we don't have to say anything, especially when we know that small talk is all that we are ever gonna do. We don't start a conversation when we know it's not going to lead to anything. 

#3 We become wallflowers when in crowds
The noise, the din, and the totally futile conversations - this is enough to sap our energy levels down low. There's even a chance for us to feel more isolated when we're surrounded by people than when we are alone.  

#4 We love being 'alone'
And no, that's not depressing at all. We can be alone without ever feeling lonely. Not that we don't enjoy company. We absolutely love having a friend/companion around to share and talk to, especially someone who stimulates our brain positively but also respects our privacy. But again, the more the merrier is very untrue in introvertville. 

#5 We think a lot
If only you knew all that gets processed in our heads. 

#6 We think before talking
Probably something that makes us not very effective at meetings. While extroverts think by talking, introverts like to carefully measure everything out in their minds before saying anything. This is what makes us undoubtedly good at public speaking as our points are just better thought-out. This is also what makes us good listeners. 

#7 We rarely ever get bored
This is one of those divine gifts you receive on the side by being an introvert. There is just so much happening in our brains at ALL times, that we can feel very occupied even when all we are doing is sitting on the window sill and staring into the void. 

Ergo, we might not have the urge to 'do' stuff all the time to keep ourselves entertained. And anyway, even when we actually want to do something, there's a smorgasbord of stuff to do that we never ever run out of ideas on how to pass time. In fact we feel that there is not enough time in the world to do all that we wanna do.

#8 We shut down when we have to recharge
Like I said before, refueling our brain is something that we need to do on a constant basis because in real life, social interaction is not something that you can forgo. But when we are completely drained, we literally shut down. And this is something no over ever understands. 

Is it possible to "fix" introversion and become an extrovert? Not unless you have a very misguided understanding of what introversion is. At best, you can try to become an ambivert if you feel it helps in your professional life. Because introversion, in the end, is an orientation. It's not a phase. Just brood on that for a while. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Do you still take print receipts of your ATM transactions?

If your answered no -  Cheers!!

The rationale behind taking a printout of the ATM transaction still eludes me. Especially when all you were going to do is throw it in the bin. That makes zero sense. Like, zero. Really.

This is a curious little habit, once again, that exists for no particular reason whatsoever. It's again your brain making you do things just because you are used to doing them. Just one of those things you do without contemplating. Basically, one of those moments where you fail the universe.

I apologize for the condescending tone, but every time I see a person print a receipt, give it a quick glance and then nimbly crumple and throw it in the bin - my mind just goes - Why?

So let's break this one down -

1) You print because you want to save all of your transaction receipts. I know people who do this are extremely rare. And this might not really be needed these days. The chances of an ATM transaction failing aside, the banking systems today are robust enough to detect any mishap and auto-correct an incomplete transaction. You would never have need to produce the receipt in your life. Still, you can be forgiven if you are doing this because you at least are doing something with it. Unlike...

2) You print because you want to check your account balance. If you are grinning and thinking that this is valid reason, think again! Do you really have to print to find that out? Every ATM machine now has an option to check your balance on-screen. How much productivity are you going to achieve in that one minute it takes to make that one more transaction?

And anyway, are you really so out of track that you would not know how much your balance would be.

Is it really that gratifying to see the amount on paper?

And of course, why can't you just wait and check it on your Netbanking portal?

You cannot win this.

3) You print don't know why. Hmmm.

Why am I making such a fuss out of this? I wonder if people who do this ever stop and think of all the paper that's going in the trash. The ATM does warn you to print the receipt only if you absolutely need it and also displays that 'GO GREEN' icon. (Well mine does, anyway. Too bad if your bank doesn't.)

What fueled this article today is my visit to the ATM that had a bin full of crumpled receipts. If your mind is going - hey wait a minute, won't they be recycled? - well I surely hope so. But if you think that gives you license to waste paper as much as you want, please think again. Why should we even spend resources on recycling a lot of paper. Why can't we just reduce the usage of paper in the first place?

Here's a funny story. I once went to an ATM that did not have a trash can. You know what I found there? I found the floor strewn with crumpled receipts. Like there was no place you can step on without stamping on a piece of paper.

Yes, we humans are perfectly capable of being so enormously thoughtless sometimes.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

What happens when you press the elevator button twice?

Ok, be honest. Have you ever pressed an elevator button in succession within a short span of time or have ever pressed it even if it had already been pressed by somebody else? Well, welcome to the club.

To reiterate my question, what exactly happens when you press an elevator button twice or thrice?

Absolutely nothing!

The elevator does not come twice as fast if you press it two times. It's oblivious to your impatience. It comes when it comes. Like a boss.

Interestingly, we all knows this. Most of us at least, I'm hoping. I'm saying this because I once did see a great soul in our office punching the button non-stop. So much so I was worried he might even break it. I lost a little bit of faith in humanity right there.

Just kidding, of course. But really, why is your brain making you do something that it knows is irrational. What mystical power is at play here?

Turns out it's a mix of restlessness and our natural tendency to believe that more effort=better results!! Lets break it down -

1) You press it because it feels good to do something other than waiting. Psychologically, it works because your brain is more satisfied to know that something is being done to bring about an effect. The elevator doesn't come any faster but you are deluded you into thinking that's the case anyway. And inaction is something that your mind is averse to, especially when you are in a hurry.

2) You press the button and are waiting, then somebody comes along and presses it once more. How many times have you seen this happen? Countless? As astounding as it might sound, your brain doesn't want to accept the fact that the elevator will come without your intervention.

The best response you can give when somebody does this is, "Thanks! You pressed it a lot better than what I did." :)

3) You like the feel of buttons on your fingers. Seriously?

And yea, the next time your internet connection is slow and web pages do not seem to load, don't open more tabs!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why are we always racing in our lives?

Picture this.

If you've ever traveled in an Indian airplane, you would have seen this already. The plane arrives at your destination, and as soon as you're given clearance to rise from your seats, that's exactly what you do! Or to be more precise, what everyone does at the exact same time. Why is this weird? Because in the grand scheme of things, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

You are not gaining anything by rising along with all the others. The airplane would only have one or two exits and people usually go out in a single file. So you just stand there in the aisle holding your luggage waiting for the people to move; you probably would even curse them for being such insufferable tortoises. The smart ones on the other hand would just stay in their seats, smirking at the fact even if you were to go out first, you would still be hauled in a bus to take you to the main terminal. Or that you would still have to wait at the baggage claim with everybody else. Your baggage will not pop out first just because you've exited the plane first! Ergo, unless you've got an escaped convict on the run or are reuniting with a long lost lover/family member -  irrespective of what your instincts might tell you to do, it's best to wait till the people closer to the exit have left first.

In fact, this predilection to be ever on the run has been so ingrained in our consciousness that it's unwittingly become part of our DNA now. You see this every where - buses, trains, movie theatres (we have got to walk out of the theater as soon as you see the credits rolling), and of course while driving on the road, which for Indians is a perpetual race. It's almost as if there's someone waiting with a waving flag at an imaginary finish line to crown you the Grand Prix champion! 

I guess the sole reason for this behavior is that we're brainwashed from the beginning to be ahead of everyone. This gets ingrained, in subtle ways, little by little - and by the end, eclipses our thought process so much that we race even without knowing what exactly we're racing for! So just lay back, relax, and know that it pays to hold your horses once in a while!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why is the freedom of speech a delusion? - Perumal Murugan Edition

Recently I had the chance to attend the literature fest Lit For Life conducted here in Chennai. I'm glad I did, as some insightful conversations aside, one of my biggest takeaways was the issue surrounding the Tamil author Perumal Murugan.

I hadn't heard of him before, understandably, nor the seemingly brutal way that he'd been silenced. And I know this isn't the first time something like this happened. The First Amendment to the Indian Constitution basically paved the way for fanatics of all kinds to deter any material that has the slightest hint of offence to their beliefs. It's interesting when you see that the USA did the exact opposite of this on their first amendment. Here's the full text of it -
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances
The above in my opinion is the ideal stance unless you want to be an extremist. In India, you could add caste, community in addition to religion. These are the primary areas where most of the "offence" seems to be targeted at. Needless to say, that one loophole in our constitution is archaic, doesn't really fit in a secular country like ours and makes exploiting the same very easy.

So what's Perumal's story? His Tamil book (now translated into English as One Part Woman) that came way back dealt with the predicament of a childless couple who's woes may well come to an end in the local temple's festival surrounding the God Ardhanareeshwara. The rules are relaxed for one night where consensual union between any man and woman is allowed. I don't know how it ends as I haven't read the book yet but I could tell from the synopsis that it's going to deal with the battle between social convention and intimate personal anxiety. It has all the makings of a riveting book that's totally unprecedented in Indian fiction. Where does all this outburst stem from then? Apparently it's the authors utter disregard for caste system in his book. Possibly the remarks over a fact that a woman during the ritual may well sleep with a man of lower caste. It's utterly disgusting that caste is a crux of debates even in the 21st century. Without pointing any fingers, the government for the most part seems to only pour more oil in the lamp. But I'm digressing.

What I really wanted to underline is that a person's freedom to put his mind on paper is something that should never be challenged. If the intent has really been to offend, it still doesn't give anyone the authority to mentally and physically cause hurt to that person. You have the freedom of speech if you want to retaliate, but not a freedom of violence. It's sad that a voice has now been silenced. I fear this will cut off some more radical voices. And India needs every single one of them it could muster. Now more than ever.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Why are we so insecure about religion?

I'm sure at least some of us believe that India is the greatest country in the world. And if someone were to ask why, we do seem to have a set of standard responses  - cultural and spiritual birthplace, tradition, ancient science…and the list would go on.

But there's nothing wrong in believing in this, right? Rrrright. Until it spews out wrong behaviour from the society. So basically my question boils down to -  Should you really be a chauvinist?

Numerous incidents and public speeches come to mind. But none more radical than the ones propagated by the Hindutva parties. It almost feels like they want us to believe that if not for India, the world wouldn't be what it is today! Mr. Modi once called every one in India a Hindu as they are born in Hindustan. The logic seems fine but a looming problem of Hinduism being an established religion in the country meant that many were put off by this statement. He was quick to justify the statement in a later interview by saying he considers Hinduism as a way of life and not religion as such.

But -  what about people who do not want to be labelled? People who do not want to belong to any 'way of life'? People who just prefer to go by the moniker of 'Indians'. Secularism is already feeling like a fast departing train.

Probably what came as a wake up call to many (at least me) was the incident that took place in a Mumbai church a couple of years back. Guess it needs no introduction, but basically, there had been water dripping from the feet of one of Jesus's statues. People called it a miracle! The water was deemed holy as it was God's message! And more often than not with situations like this, word gets out and before you know it - it's a public spectacle. In the midst of this came a man to try to debunk the phenomenon. What he found was just plain drain water that climbed the wooden statue through capillary action. Anyone with a basic knowledge in physics would be able to see this. And so you would think this would abate the foolish beliefs! Maybe it did for some people (I'm hoping), but it also paved way for a lot of backlash from the Church. He was cast as a heretic for "trying to hurt the religious sentiments" and a criminal case was bashed on him for the same. And I finally had a tangible grasp of how religion can dominate pure common sense, if needed be. The question we need to ask is this - is your faith not strong enough if it can be threatened by just a simple man? Why do you have to guard your faith so rigorously?

The list is just endless. And then you have some dogmatic outbreaks like the one for the movie PK. Why so much of "taking offence"?

One of the best things in the world (maybe not really  :P) is having the ability to laugh at yourself. It removes those pesky blinds on your eyes and makes you see your own vices. The above are just my views on this topic. Sound-off below in the comments section if you feel otherwise!