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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)

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Paradise Lost: An Obituary and a Birth Certificate

November 29, 2008 4 comments

“We are going to Bombay!” responded Dad one summer to the biannual question “Where are we going?” that I posed every time I saw Mom and him Pack. As a child, the prospect of travel always excites one, but the prospect of travel to Bombay was overwhelmingly exciting and I still remember it, for that when I classified India; into Bombay and every place else. I still do.

Events, Places and People in our memory are all subject to the impact that they leave on us. The mind, being a super efficient machine, skims out those whose impacts have waned over time to make way for the new. The impact that Bombay had on me when I first met her as a kid, may perhaps be recounted with the fact that a decade and a half later, the love affair that started back then is still as passionate as ever. I still call her Bombay and she fill me with a love so strong that when I am not with her I yearn to be with her. A love so strong that every event that registered in my memory a painful moan of that beloved city, makes me wince. The latest of these however, made me cry.

Bombay isn’t a stranger to violence, neither are those millions who have a relation with her. There have been acts of violence perpetrated throughout her past, tearing apart at least as much if not more. Why then was this the most disturbing? There are three main reasons.

The first among the reasons for this is the intent behind the attack. Terrorism, as I have noted in my writings, is not based upon the idea of violence but on the idea of threats of violence. Terrorist attacks are generally directed to create a sense of panic; the understanding behind it that out of fear of violence, their demands shall be met. Sometimes, a terrorist attack is directed to inflict pain upon those whom they believe to be perpetrator of pain to their people. But this, is a proclamation of their fearlessness, conviction and power. These attacks weren’t designed to kill more people or cause more direct damage, they were designed to get the maximum attention to them. And to one fact: We are determined to kill all who do not ascribe to our philosophy and we have the capacity to do so. It is this bold statement of aggression that fills us with much deeper distress than ever before.

The second is the fact that it exposes major flaws in our administrative and security infrastructures. Placing makeshift home bombs on cycles in crowded markets or in tiffins in trains is an act that can be carried out by people who are untrained and driven by hate and propaganda; brainwashed into these acts. Cheap local goons can be used to carry out these acts of cowardice who may have been hired for a very short duration in a tiered fashion making traceability more difficult. Stabbing the jugular vein of an economy by holding its premium stakeholders at ransom, using militants who have the backing of a money chain that allows them access to good equipment and training, is something that takes much much deeper planning. This coupled with the fact that they didn’t seek anonymity, hints that traceability was pretty much present; *we* failed to note and act to prevent it.

And the third fact is that these attacks signal a much greater link and co-operation between the global terror vendors. The arms, the training and the plan all point to a much greater collaboration. It would seem as though the groups who now target the developed nations who have waged their war on terror are not too far from those who seek to break down my country at the grass root level; destabilize its society and damage the collective economy. It connects the dots from Dawood and the Dubai Underworld to the Kashmiri militants and Al Qaeda. The writing on the wall is: We really have a united agenda: The business of death. The same people want to see Madrid, London, New York and Bombay Burn. Because they are inherently not seeking anything reasonable, they just ‘want to watch the world burn’.

Terrorism, gentlemen, now has a face, money, conviction, connections and capability to strike anywhere.

It is here that a united stand on this threat is the call of the hour. The nations of the world need to address this problem together. Our houses, are all so close together, a fire breaking out in one, can burn the whole town down.

What then do we need to address this call, the open challenge that now faces all of us? The answer to this is two fold:

  1. We need to develop strong leaders. World over, the common man is a follower. And this is due to circumstances. The ice-cream peddler on the road is not incapable of thought. He is simply not at the luxury. He has issues from income to family to health. He is preoccupied with his life and understandably so; there is no other motive for him to function as he does except for his own life. This common man needs a leader. A leader who he can look up to because he leads by way of example. A leader who can take care of everything indirectly related to his life so he can focus on his immediate ones. At no point of time in our life times, has the call for a leader been so desperate. Our representatives have failed us time and time again.
  2. We need responsible citizens. Every thing else is function of who and how we are. It is us who has places these representatives who aren’t even capable of thinking in decision making positions. We are the ones who have given birth to and consume this irresponsible sensationalist media. We are the ones who have made our systems corrupt, rusty and inefficient. OUR inaction is to blame for everything: from dirty politics to non responsive systems. All our social structures are a reflection of who we are.

In simple words, we need to address the situation by two means. A top down approach, finding the leaders for the world. A bottom up approach, changing who we are.

Making memories is hardwired to animals with developed brains, notably Mammals. Forgetting is an acquired trait, a conscious choice. Learning to forget is a process initiated by the choice of indifference. As with all animals, it is in our nature to survive. We, therefore, do what we believe to be the best to survive. Sometimes, it means remembering and sometimes, it means forgetting.

To survive this madness, we need to forget our differences and remember these painful events, for “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) We also need to remember and resound the faith that Love can survive, but it needs help from us.

As I resound this faith, I can’t help but remember words from great Hasya Kavi (satirical poet) Surendra Sharma:

कोई फर्क नही पड़ता, इस देश में राजा रावण हो या राम,

जनता तो बेचारी सीता है, राजा रावण हुआ तो हरण कर ली जायेगी

और राजा राम हुआ तो अग्नि परीक्षा के बाद भी ठुकरा दी जायेगी

I write this as an obituary to two:

A Broken, shattered, beguiled, betrayed behemoth of a city and those who died in their honour.

But Bombay is an eternally regenerating strand of life; a Phoenix, that just like always will rise from its ashes. It changes bodies, forms, names but the spirit remains the same. It is capable of recycling itself, its dreams, its aspirations, its realities to create life once again. I therefore write this also as a Birth Certificate to two:

The Great Urban Metropolis, Bombay to me and several others, Mumbai to the generations after me. That Loving, Dazzlingly Beautiful, Eternally Enchanting, Magnanimous Land of Gold, that everyone can call home. And to those who realize the responsibilities upon them and are ready to take upon the duties, the dreams and the hopes of both Bombay and its Martyrs; ensuring their sacrifices do not go vain. Let this be the day we reinvent ourselves and be worthy of Bombay and all she has to offer.

I know that I shall be one such soul, I hope you will join me and someday we shall know Surendra Sharma as only a great poet, not a satirical one.

Bombay is Dead, Long Live Bombay!

The Social Web is Narcissistic

August 28, 2008 2 comments

…and at its heart is an Egotist – You.

Disclaimer: The thoughts about this article are still extremely hazy and maybe I’ll refine it in some time but I think this deserves some thought. This is an Old Draft but I still decided to publish it.

Ajay, a friend and a mentor @ work and I were having our regular cup of coffee this afternoon when it all started. For long have I been asking him to get onto the Social Web and he has been reluctant about it for no declared reason. The guy has a Twitter Id which he barely uses citing excuses of wanting to avoid an addictive distraction – something I can’t refute; and uses no other networking service. Well today, I got him talking, nudging him to point what he sees wrong with the Web as it has become. To set some context, We’ve both long wondered that there is something seriously wrong with the way the world is headed; I have been optimistic about the Web, thus far.

“Well”, Ajay said, “it promotes unjust Narcissism.” And then i realized the direction his reluctance was coming from… Both Ajay and I are severely Narcissistic guys – We Still believe we are the centers of universe and the Sun revolves around us. Not the world, just a few of us… But it isn’t Narcissism at a personal level, it is narcissism at a mass level that should raise a concerning eyebrow – Because it promotes Amateurism at a mass level. And Narcissistic Noobs is something most of us can’t put up with and shouldn’t, to be true.

The Social Web, is built around the construct of ‘Me’. It is an immediate instance of the act of Consumption of the Self. There is this need for this ‘Me’ to be consumed – in all forms. (More in this direction later). An old observation of mine on similar lines came when I was wondering about the Testimonials on the social sites. No matter who this ‘Me’ is, there are people to promote ‘Me’, to vouch for ‘Me’, who think ‘Me’ is good, great, fantabulous. ‘Me’ is happy, and ‘Me’ genuinely believes he is great and this continues. Eventually this leads to a degeneration of the Web – let alone Information, most content isn’t even Data for me, just Noise.

Despite all of this, I still believe Web 2.0 promises me a great way of information discovery. In potential, I can control exactly what I let seep through to me, what I allow myself to expose myself to. It will all start with amateurism, but I feel Amateurs at some point of time will evolve, those who don’t will perish. Eventually, the fittest will survive. Ajay doesn’t quite agree with me; Natural Selection scares him – Amateurs will promote Amateurs and the circle of the thoughtful will be left tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of things. I’m hoping I get to see him wrong on this.

Do you feel the Web 2.0 Shall evolve to a sea of information or do you think Noise will inundate the information by far?

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)

Apocalypse

December 21, 2007 2 comments

Watched the recent science fiction movie I am Legend.Some how, our predictions about the future are always gloomy. It’s like no one looks forward to a better tomorrow. We are collectively certain of our doom at our own summon; like we would rub a lamp hoping for a Genie and in all probability we wouldn’t get a genie but would end up with a demon at our behest.It’s interesting how the collective cognition of the species can be looking down so mockingly at its own capabilities.Anyways, back to Science Fiction; which anyways has been the flavour of the cinema, atleast in the recent past. Fantasy, is the genre that i would rather call it; saves us the trouble of having to think of a word for Harry Potter, Narnia… what have you Mumbo Jumbo. And the favourite cause of apocalypse are Viruses that we will ourselves mutate & then be rendered completely helpless against them. Focus has shifted away from computers & Artificial intelligence. This implies either of two: we now gauge our own incapabilities better & see that as too far off; or we undermine the potential of a self evolving schema.The funny part is, if its the latter, what does that comment on us? 

Categories: Movies, Society, Technology

Games People Play

December 9, 2007 1 comment

Have seriously changed. I remember spending my childhood playing Monopoly (& it’s Indian Version – Business/Vyapaar); Scotland Yard; Scrabble… The first time I played a game on a computer was probably when I was in my mid teens – Wolf 3D. In my late teens I did graduate to a compulsive ‘digital’ gamer and remained that through out my college life. Even after life became busy with work & shit; I still try to go back & play me some good games whenever I can.But this thread of thought started last weekend when Patel, Dey, Makka (Read three weirdoes) & I (read four weirdoes) went out in an act of desperation to find an intriguing, relaxing yet stimulating way to spend time; and ended up playing Monopoly for 12 hours. We introduced our own quirky ‘mods’ to the game, the details of which I shall conveniently reserve for another post sometime after i’ve had more thought.What bothers me is that these immensely fun Board Games (along with several others) are no longer of any kids interest. These games were structured along the idea of Family Entertainment & did they do the job! Today the only paradigm of gaming that I see is the digital one; age no bar, sex no bar. The wierd games of the early childhood that the elderly used to concoct to keep children busy; The Board games of yesteryears; The idea of bringing in a group of people & letting them be in control of the game while having fun: Gone.More on this when I have structured my thoughts. 

Incredible India & The Butterfly Effect

November 6, 2007 Leave a comment

Advice from the most unusual of people can sometimes be the most interesting. I was at my optician, seeking a new pair of spectacles. Now he is way too senior for me to strike up a casual conversation so i was sticking to the normal stuff when my Mom bustled into the store, visibly distraught – a traffic cop had booked her for parking in a no-parking zone. Now the parking situation in India is so tough in our prime cities because of the huge number of vehicles. (It is, across the globe in all major cities, atleast downtown, but the scene in Indian cities gets complicated by the non-existence of Driving, let alone parking, Etiquettes.)
To this, Khanna Uncle (my optician) said, it’s all because of the Banks. And i couldn’t resist but prod further.
“Banks, uncle?”.
“Yeah, you got that right; Banks.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that because of the banks, we have a huge credit scene today. The indian market is growing at such pace that they give out loans to anybody and everybody for a dime, nickle, cent each! If you give out a loan to people who don’t know shit about driving, and they all end up buying a vehicle each; how many are supposed to be educated enough to understand these etiquettes. Besides this is making the number of vehicles multiply at a level greater than at which the other infrastructure can expand.”
WoW! I was spellbound by the depth of his argument. He should be in the later part of the third quarter of life and am sure isn’t very well researched on the topic per say. But i daresay that the point made sense.