Sunday, November 30, 2008

India Under Siege – Importance of Emotional Support

We have just come out of a mind numbing and terrifying experience. Our senses have been pounded by the relentless media coverage of an audacious attack on Mumbai.

We had a ring side view to the brutality of the attack and the swiftness and decisive ruthlessness of the response.

Our immediate reaction has been of shock and disbelief. This slowly gave way to anger at the system, anger at our own helplessness and inability to do anything, frustration that we have to put up with this sense of insecurity time and again.

The next stage that we are in, presently, is trying to find out who is responsible for this mess. In India, the natural reaction is to shift our sights and blame the politician. We also observe that many find refuge in being highly cynical.

If you observe closely, it is clear that we Mumbaikars are, at the current moment, on the edge and highly strung. We are all ready to blow-up at the slightest provocation. We are inclined to believe any rumour and all that is worst.

The Mumbaikar is traumatized and emotionally devastated.

There is an urgent need to re-orient ourselves. We have absorbed too much negativity and are jumping around like a cat on a hot tin roof.

We, in Mumbai, can be broadly divided into following categories:

- Who were trapped during these attacks and survived,

- Those of us who lost a friend or relative,

- All residents in the vicinity of the affected areas,

- The rest of us spread out – not directly affected.

There is an urgent need for a cathartic experience which will help every one relieve their pent-up emotions.

We rarely talk about the need for a healthy emotional balance. It is very important and more so in the present context. After all, we do no want to be a brutalized and de-sensitised city, presuming we have not already reached that stage.

I invite fellow bloggers to share their views and it would be nice to discuss some concrete suggestions.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Feminism - The Unchanging Core Essence

IHM tagged me on the topic "Feminism".

I wondered whether I was competent to comment on such a topic. After all as an adult Indian male, brought up in an indulgent atmosphere, my comments could be predictable and traditional or probably cliched.

I then realised that I am reasonably well qualified to comment on this. In our household, I am outnumbered by females four : one... The female brigade comprises my mother, wife and two daughters. This ratio was five : one till my grandmother passed away last year.

The dominant side at home is the feminine element and feminism (not in any derogatory sense and for want of a better word) is definitely present, all-pervading but under stated. There is no place for the bra burning type here, not because it is a cause of insecurity to the male but because of a calm sense of self-esteem and respect prevailing.

I have had the privilege of seeing the feminine element across four generations. The core essence never changes. The only change is in the outward manifestation and that is a function of the time we live in. It is comforting to sense and feel that the core essence is constant. This facilitates change, as it should, and, at the same time retain a strong connection to our roots.

As far as I remember, there has been no deliberate attempt to drill in the concept of "female" as something separate. Every one was same and worthy of respect. As one grew up in this atmosphere, it was not unusual to accept "female" as an equal. There was no attempt to demean the "female" nor any attempt to place the "female" on a pedestal.

Respect was natural and it was shown effortlessly. It was neither solicited nor offered grudgingly. It still is....without any dilution. I am happy to see my daughters growing up to be confident and noble souls with a mind of their own. They grow up to believe in certain values that will be their protective shield in a world which could get biased.

I may sound alien with what I have had to say, as I am painfully aware that this may not always be the case. Whilst in some societies, women may be seen as a disadvantaged lot facing discrimination and lack of freedom. We also hear of physical and mental abuse that they are subjected to.

Rightfully, there is sense of outrage at this and stop it must.

Feminism, as is understood or potrayed today, is more activist in nature, more reactive and perhaps driven with a sense of achieving equality and undoing real and perceived discrimination. However, unless the change is brought about by inner conviction and genuine feeling, the whole effort remains superficial and end result is status quo-esque.

All process of evolution begins with compulsion, education, inculcation of "Human Values" and adhering to these values till it becomes a habit. We have a joint responsibility to initiate this process of evolution and see it through to its logical conclusion. It is immaterial that this task may not be complete in one's lifetime.

Thanks IHM for the tag. I understand that it is a tradition to pass this tag on. Let me pass this on to Gopinath. I am sure he has a tongue-in-cheek comment to make and give a humourous twist to this subject.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Why Obama? – We get what we deserve.

The election of Barrack Obama is now part of history.

The din has died down and the dust is just settling down. The victors are now busy trying to comprehend the magnitude of the task ahead and the losers in disarray. This post hopes to rationally see this phenomenon and hence a respectable interval from the actual event.

Whilst Obama’s ascendancy to the throne means many things to many people, what has struck me is the exuberance with which Indian bloggers have reacted to this. Further, and quite inexplicably, many have bemoaned our political leadership and the absence of an Obama-esque figure on the Indian horizon. We have a term in financial markets parlance, “Irrational Exuberance” and “Irrational Pessimism”

Our positive response to Obama has been mainly on account of following factors

  • His colour. There is always that fantasy of an underdog making it against all odds and an Afro-American in a White dominated USA is a “bang-on” fairy tale script.
  • Brilliant packaging, positioning and superb marketing.
  • Flawless execution of a very detailed strategy.
  • Unfailing magnetic power of rhetoric and oratory.
  • Our own ability to be led down the garden path. An Indian disillusioned with our politics is ready to lap up this fairy tale.

Let me not be cussed and ignore what is worth applauding. It speaks volumes that the American society in five short decades has evolved from a society with deep divisions to a stage where a man of mixed parentage is elected to be President of that country.

Let me now turn to our lament on the absence of a Obama like figure in Indian politics and a detailed analysis on how our political leadership falls woefully short of these high standards. My response

First – We are different

We are still evolving from our clan-caste-village-region-state identity to a pan-Indian identity. We are trying to get rid of the shackles of extreme prejudice. We stick to leaders from our clan, caste or region.

We are also an emotional people and very quickly queer the pitch. Our response to anything tends to be irrational and emotional. You only have to watch any debate in Parliament or media to realize what I am saying.

Second – We get the leaders we deserve

Our leaders come from the same pool as we are in.

We conveniently like to believe that we are educated, sophisticated, dignified, cultured, well mannered, fair minded, broad minded, honest, democratic, secular, unifying, well informed and so on. This list of virtues is endless.

With equal convenience we paint all politicians as the exact opposite of what we believe we are and lament at our misfortune. To us a politician is uneducated, boorish, rough, aggressive, loud, ill mannered, narrow minded, dishonest, corrupt, feudal, communal, divisive, biased, ignorant, criminal and anything else that we can think of.

Is this possible???? It is ridiculous to believe this is possible. We get leaders we elect and more importantly deserve.

The fact is when we hold a mirror to ourselves and are honest, we will see shades of what we believe the politician is. The political class is a microcosm of our society at large and is only representative of the values that we stand for.

Now let us for a moment presume that we have found our Obama – who has captured our imagination and can lead us to glory.

If he talks about Hindus – we will label him communal,

If he talks about others – we will accuse him of appeasement and playing vote bank politics

If he talks of rationalizing fuel prices – we will label him anti-poor

If he wants to lower fuel prices – we will accuse him of poor economic sense and fiscal indiscipline.

If he talks of developing Bihar and UP – we will accuse him of favouritism

If he talks of reviving Mumbai – we will criticize him for ignoring the backward areas and their genuine needs.

If he wants to solve the Kashmir issue – we will accuse him of a sell-out and dividing the country

If he wants to act tough in Kashmir – we will accuse him of human rights violations and suppressing the people’s aspirations

If he wants a tough law on terrorism – we will incite the Muslims that this law will be misused against them

If he does not go in for a tough law on terrorism – we will say that we have a weak leader who has no will to take on terrorism.

If he wants to introduce Uniform Civil Code – He is anti-minorities and will divide the nation.

If he is against Uniform Civil Code – He is pro-minorities and not helping a State where law is same for every one.

This leader will be perpetually caught between the Devil and the Deep Sea.

So, Why crib with our present political leadership??...we are not supportive citizens either.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The First Step towards Financial Literacy

My attempt is not to study “managing one’s finances” in isolation as a very narrow topic. I believe our financial health card, so to say is a by product of how we live our life itself. Once we understand the basics, the build-up is very logical and simple – completely de-mystified.

Our times are changing fast and bringing in its wake unheard of opportunities. This has meant widening employment and entrepreneurial opportunities and higher incomes. Often, high incomes come at a young age when responsibilities are not many.

As I had mentioned in an earlier post that having money is empowering, it presumes that flow of income is constant and abundant enough to leave a surplus after needs are taken care of. Further, our attitudes, our background and our upbringing plays a major role in shaping our approach to handling money.

Whilst every body would like to be a “crorepati” (a “lakhpati” has no value today) today or at some date in future, it is possible that many may not reach their target, while a few may achieve it many times over. It is also entirely possible that with inflation, a sum of Rs. one crore then may be very ordinary and bar has moved higher.

Let me try and put things in a simpler perspective.

This whole game has three sides to it

- Incomes earned or capacity to earn,

- Expenses – both living and discretionary,

- Resultant Surpluses and its subsequent investment and management.

Under each of these heads lie all the complex variables that interplay with each other and make each person’s financial situation as unique as it can be. This is a very important basic principle that we must keep in mind but do not.

Each one of us is unique and this impacts our financial condition. It follows logically that each requirement is unique and therefore has a separate solution. What works for one, need not (Please note my emphasis) work for the other. We will see at a later stage, especially, in the context of stock market investments, how this has played havoc with people.

I would like to examine all variables that fall under these three heads mentioned above and the impact it has on one’s financial health card. This will help us understand the basics better and, hopefully, stop being awed by a lot of jargon and smart marketing.