Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

The Trivialisation of Communication – Part 1

December 8, 2009 1 comment

Few would disagree that one of the most decisive moments in human history was the appearance of languages. In my opinion, it stands right besides the evolution of the bipodal homo erectus, the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel. It changed the very essence of human existence from being about survival, to being about something beyond that: the birth of languages changed how a human society is formed. The transition from the hunter gatherer groups of the Neanderthal man to the farming groups of homo sapiens could not have happened if even one of these key ingredients was missing.

I have spent a long time wondering about the magical evolution of languages and cultures and societies. The alchemy produced by the interactions of these elements of the human world is breathtaking to say the very least. Words are the building blocks of languages. A society is built by the interaction of it’s constituents and this interaction in turn defines the society. Each of these elements thus defines the other. For someone who respects languages, a respect for words develops naturally. One understands that the communication has a purpose and that every word must justify itself. Their significance can be gauged by looking at the fact that ‘vachan’, hindi for ‘word’, is also the word for promise. In the Sanatan epic, Ramayana, wise words spoke of the ‘reeti’ or norm of Raghukul (Lord Ram’s lineage): ‘Raghukul reet Sada chali aayi, praan jaayi par vachan na jaayi’; translated, those from Raghukul can lay their lives to stand by their words. It is one of the few guiding principles of my life.

But this is no Satyug or Tretayug or Dwaparyug (Eras acording to Sanatan theology), this here is the Kalyug. Over the ages, not only did men lose such principles but also the understanding of the implications that words have. Words that may hurt people, words that may distance people, words that may kill people. What is important is the end result, the process of the communication itself is ignored, as is the connections implied or the impacts it has on the other elements of the societal construct.
There would be those amongst my readers who remember sending Telegrams. Kids like me were taught how to write telegrams in school. We’d learnt that each word must be weighed for it’s importance because each word was worth money. That was the only incentive that people understand in Kalyug is money so that worked for a while.

Claude Elwood Shannon and his elaborate and erudite works on the theory of communication have volumes on the lines that every bit takes up bandwidth and therefore must be justified. For the longest time it did hold true. Enter Web 2.0 and the generation spawning out of the cross interference of popcorn microwaves and cellular signals. Every idiot now has unlimited 140 characters to propound his personal philosophy. Speech became a freedom with no sense of any duty let alone balls to own up to it or stand by ones words. Aisi baani boliye, man ka aapa khoye, auran ko seetal kare, aapahun seetal hoye. Sant Kabir would be appalled to find what men are doing with their speech these days.

But it is neither the frivolity nor the acerbic nature of what is being written that worries me. Trivialization of communication worries me because it is the focus has shifted from the predicate to the subject. In a society where speech is trivialized the vociferous and the verbose often pass by as the thinkers. And when a society loses it’s thinkers it marks the beginning of it’s end. When the subject assumes significance over the predicate, the progression of thoughts into actions changes as well. What implications does it have for the human society?

(to be continued)


Pitches, Balls and a Full Circle

May 20, 2008 3 comments

The Indian National Fetish of a Sport – Cricket; has come a full circle, not just metaphorically but in actuality.

It makes a very interesting case to put under the viewing glass so to speak. Pun intended. A sport that originated as an entertainment format, mostly popular amongst our Imperial Masters; infact one of the chief contributions of ‘The Raj’ to the nation, has returned to its roots – entertainment.

In the olden days of The Raj, we would have Gora Sahibs – settled, visiting, delegating; their days through the warmth (both social and climatic) of the subcontinent. They would have the Bhooras and the Kacharas and the Bhuwans all around them spend their time working deriliously through the heat while they would play a little, chit chat a little, screw a little (probably a lot), drink lemonade and repeat. Bliss. Entertainment at the very core.

As colonials however, the British did great good by first setting a legacy, then leting it permeate so deep into the society that inherently all their colonies became second Homes of the Queen. Soon we had nations playing it… and Not a couple of thousand square miles of land but a Full subcontinent, and just as many more – captured by frenzy of what their Gora Sahib’s did, we all picked up a Bat and a Ball and there we were! Now it just so happens that as a race, we’ve always been decidedly dedicated and serious about our stuff… If it be entertainment, then so be it! Nothing wrong with it… just what we are; a bunch of very serious people.

Of course, no master could tolerate their slaves bettering them! I mean, how sad does Captain Russell Look when Bhuwan Beats Him! Bhuwan – you did bad, you agitated the Brits. Come on Man! He had a potential girlfriend watching and you made him look bad… Not Good Manners. But more on that later.;

Enter Cricket as a sport.

So, all the cricket playing nations got into it – this time as a sport. With zest. With Vengeance. And Cricket became not just a sport but a passion so unparalleled that it belittled every other sport. Before we knew it, we were doing it all over the place. In gullies, in little rooms, on roads, in schools… every where you could have space to swing two arms. Naturally, this does to Cricket what Brazil does to Football! Everyone makes the sport sportier, more passionate, more involved. Streets would run empty when there was a big sporting rivalry! Nothing above Pride in this country after all.

Enter Me. And I inherited all of it. Before i knew how to tie my shoes, i knew how to swing a Bat. Maybe not well, but thats the entire Brain thing inside my head, which is oh so obvious and needs no mention… it had to be balanced by little less skill for playing Cricket. So then I did what 98% of India, that plays mediocrely does – Watch cricket. Live Cricket. Worship Cricket.

Down the line, actually before this entire scheme of me coming in and spoiling the fun; there were people who were born with such prowess that they knew they were special at the sport. That’s when it became a game. A Game where there were a few Good Men. And wherever there are Good Men, there is bound to be some stakes… In a fast commercializing world, all games were HUGE pots of Moolah! That was when some people realised, the wise ones ofcourse that people are so emotionally involved with it that they would invest moolah! And thus started Betting in the game, on the players, over the teams, fighting for the winner!

Now, i was a kid then but i wasn’t actually Naive to the entire scheme, but then I wasn’t averse to the idea of people making moolah over some thing that i actually worshipped; Pujaaris do that anyways! But then there was the prospect of More Money – by controlling the Betting. eh? Fix it, man!

And fine men, men i respected, those I devoted 9 hours just to watch play came on this route. I was 15, I guess. Some retired, some died mysteriously, the others just stumbled to appear clean. But the facade of naivete was broken. I gave up this religion.

Then there was a time of dismal interest in the game, general dishevelment I guess, there are bound to have been more like me who turned from staunchly religious to agnostic as regarded their stand on cricket – after all, why spend 9 hours on something that someone already knows all about! Naah…

Then there was Mandira Bedi. And Her… lets just say Sarees. For those who realised, that was Glam, entering Cricket. Cricket became more than a game, it became a TRP war… and all is fair in love and war.

Circa 2008. Enter IPL. Cricket goes back to where it came from. A form of entertainment; unparalleled as a moolah generating factory; unequivocally strong as a TRP Hoarder; Dazzlingly glamourous to the ever-willing-for-titilation audience.

Entertainment – Sport – Passion – Religion – Game – War – Entertainment. Everything that has a Beginning… Has an end. (Thank you Wachowsi Brothers)

Brewing Lifestyles

November 8, 2007 3 comments

There’s Big money to be made in the Indian Coffee Market and the Amalgamated Bean Company is the first to realise this. While ABC always had a variety of beans and an interesting concoction of brews to offer both from their own plantations and from other imports, the indian consumer wasn’t so coffee wise. Put simply, coffee drinking isn’t a culture that is intrinsic to us like the Israelis or French and there are few connosieurs; much like America not too far ago. But Cafe Coffee Day or CCD, is changing things fast. And the way they are doing it is reminiscent of the manner in which Starbucks did it – by creating a lifestyle.
So lets start with Starbucks and US in those days when people were growing Sleepless in Seattle because of Meg Ryan and well, caffeine. Starbucks realised that there is big money to be made and it was the first to respond with lifestyle chains. Of course, with Americans and Indians, Movie Stars define Life Style Benchmarks & with a little help from Meg, this is where they’ve come.
Though i respect what Starbucks created, I must also confess that they aren’t the best of coffee makers and this point is subtly put to rest by the poor performance of the chain in places which have cafe’s as pre-established businesses. Consider Israel, they don’t have a single store in the bustiling metropolis of Tel Aviv that boasts of 600+ Cafes! Or Take France where the average Starbucks drink costs you lesser than what it would in any of the old cafes; the exact opposite of the US. Back to my first premise, therefore, Starbucks success is more lifestyle than coffee.
CCD, started a few years back, being the second one to realise the potential moolah in this business. Although the first one was Barista, a chain now owned by the Italian Super-chain – Lavazza, which it bought over from Sterling Infotech (wtf? yeah, me too) for about 480 Cr (about 120 Mil USD); all they could come up with was mugs. Now, You wanna make a lifestyle, you gotta do better than Mugs!
Long story short, Barista spoilt its huge advantage of being the first one to start to CCD; a competitor who didn’t miss the opportunity. Perhaps a catalyst to their phenomenal growth was the fact that they have a good coffee to back up with it. Given Lavazza’s takeover, I guessed that Barista would begin serving better coffee, and it had when I last visited them but I still didn’t see the makings of a lifestyle.
Contrast this to CCD, which has mimicked Starbucks so Well: All that has changed is who they partner with, which too has been largely governed by who is the best bet in the Indian Market as a partner. Snapple (drink if you don’t want coffee), UniBic (cookies), Airtel (WiFi)… they’ve structured it all, and they haven’t forgotten Coffee. And with the chain opening up a cafe almost every working day of the year around the country, Starbucks better make that move fast or it may be too late.

Pride and Sensibility

November 4, 2007 1 comment

As one grows old; time accelerates for him so this may be a disconnect for many but i can’t remember when was it last that I saw people with a sense of pride in someone/thing or a sense of self-respect… hmm… can’t remember… query returns zero records. It used to do at some point of time when I was younger… probably in college.
When did people stop understanding that one should have self-respect and take pride in what ever one thinks is worth and not the other way round, which is the way it is these days – be proud of yourself and respect what you think is worth? The subject of the two issues have completely changed somewhere and this happened like Global warming! I was alive and have seen it happen! Maybe time has really accelerated; for i wasn’t around for the other events which changed us as a society, as a culture, as a race…
The issue is Since people these days have have no self-respect, it makes them forget that others do and they need to respect others even if not themselves! Likewise, if the subject of your pride is yourself, all you are concerned about is yourself! This is the source of all objectification.
Drive on any of our urban roads and you can easily notice this change. You are too proud to stop at a red light, too proud to let a guy on a bike overtake your Santro (and you add that disrespectful scorn too), too proud to respectfully allow that old gentleman to cross the road before you… And you cuss at all of them: “Hey Oaf! You could’ve crossed the crossroad by jumping the signal! Now because of you, my and my santro are gonna have to wait another signal! Damn You!”.
There was a time when i used to think that it’s consumerism that is responsible for this… for commoditising the nation and the world in general… having seen people from several other cultures, specially the commercial ones, I am rested that consumerism (Capitalism, in general too) is no where to blame for this. Everyone of the individuals from the capitalistic society (we are still capitalizing… with a burden of Democracy to drag around, the great Indian bird is usually too slow to respond to phenomenon, unless it’s a matter of life or death… heck, skip that too, we are the slowest with those.) that i’ve met has immense self respect and the same shows to others around them. The same applies to their sense of pride as well.
A question comes to my mind, and please do note that this is just a thought, no offence intended or implied… What history does America have to boast of? and yet they are all proud of their heritage, even if it be a 200 year old building. A stark contrast is posed by our country – a HUGE heritage to boast of and yet no one takes pride in it!
Have we really lost things worthy of being proud of? Has life for the average urban citizen become so unfair that he considers nothing worth his respect? What marked this change and what caused us to degenerate to such garbage?
I’m sure, we have them all around us, things that we can all deem need respect and things that we all must be proud of, both in the collective sense and at the individual level; how, is what befuddles me.
I don’t need to expidite either now and I’m sure you’ve understood exactly what I mean. The question i am searching for an answer is; Before we get anywhere, are we sure we are going the right way?

Somalian Families

September 30, 2007 4 comments

On a cab i took recently; from Lambert, STL to Chesterfield, i met a real interesting fella, Mo. Now though i don’t look American, there are too many Indians in US (even in the Midwest!), so people don’t assume nationalities by the way that they look. For some reason there was an air of discomfort around, to break which I got talking to him about St. Louis Rams and in a while realised that he isn’t a national either. In a while i learnt that he was from Somalia and he gathered that I’m from India. Bang! There was the Ice breaker – Bollywood! It didn’t take me much time to realise that he’d pretty much seen the entire spectrum of movies that I had. Movies as old as Awaara and as idiotic as Mela. He knew almost every actor of the indian cinema that was worth his two cents. “I can’t understand individual words in Hindi but after so much exposure; i can put two and two together and pretty much understand everything.” is what he told me and it almost seemed true.
But the most interesting part is yet to come… Apparently, everyone watches Indian movies because they tend to be much more fun (not quite as intense as Hollywood); have great songs and can be watched ‘with the family’. Wait, it gets better, he continued “But now even Bollywood is catching up… I saw a movie the other day, ‘The Train'”… (I’m thinking Good Lord! Hail Emraan Hashmi!) …”and i saw some real Kiss action man! No kidding… In a couple of years I bet we see titties.”… (yeah, too bad Raj kapoor died in 90s or we’d have by now)…”But i hope they don’t we’ve got american cinema for that; If Hindi movies go that way, what will people watch with their families?”
I was stupefied the rest of the ride…

Categories: Bollywood, Culture, Movies, Society

Cafe Ve Beitzeim?

January 7, 2007 Leave a comment

Tel Aviv is known to have a deeply rooted coffee cultures in the world and I have to admit, it really is amazing. And it’s not just the sheer numbers, it is the environment that they give you. The city, in what I have seen so far of it, offers a very unique mix of the fast life and the rustic one; and the cafes are a brilliant example of that, and how. Most of them are open round the clock and have complementary WiFi access, but people don’t really come in to run off. They take their time, relax, and then some more, and then chat, leave only if they must! Since there is a greater supply than demand, their prices are very resonable and there never is a rush for anything. That they serve great coffee, is just one of the reasons I Love them.