Saturday, December 22, 2012

Power of the Mob

Disclaimer: The intention of the author is not to target any particular group or community. In fact, the intention is to bring to surface the underlying currents that draw us into constant conflict situations with one another. The ideas expressed would hold true if you lay the same context with any two different groups.

It's always easy to rationalize behavious patterns in isolation. And, even easier to blame it on the other person/group/community. We absolutely love to believe that if it were us, we would never do it. That we would not differentiate.

I would say that the fact that we are conscious of the existence of different groups implies implicitly that we differentiate. Actually, I think it's foolish to say that one treats everyone equally. We unnecessarily strive to eliminate differentiation. What's different from differentiation is discrimination. In other milder forms, it gets manifested as preferential treatments, superiority-inferiority complexes, better-worse debates. We are conditioned to partition the sample population into constant Us vs Them constructs. Men vs Women, Rich vs Poor, Master vs Slave, White vs Black, Hindus vs Muslims, Winners vs Losers, I vs the Neighbour, and so on and so forth. And then, we get really competitive against 'Them'.

Our social environment forces us to unite under a common cause and against a common enemy. The driver for that is the want of inclusiveness in a group and the fear of being left out of the group. You are either with a group or against it. And, when in the group, you lose your individuality. You become part of the mob. You would not protest against the notions or norms of the mob you are a part of. Because if you do, you become an outcast. The ideas and notions of the mob is decided not by majority, nor by rational deliberation, but by the select few who speak first and speak the loudest - the self-proclaimed leaders of the group.

So if you really believe that it would be different if it were you, then what we need to do is to speak up instead of getting carried away when you think that the others in your group don't make sense. Defy authority of these self-proclaimed leaders and break out of the mob mentality. You would be surprised at the amount of support you will get. Your speaking out will create a new group - hopefully a more sensible, positive one - which will act as a shelter for those who wish to breakout. So, the next time you find yourself a part of the mob, instead of quietly believing that you are not like the rest, stand up for your opinion and oust the mob.

Ofcourse, this new group formed is also exposed to the risk of a negative mob mentality and then another group needs to breakout and re-form. What's also important to note is that these mobs are formed in the first place because those who are a part of the mob saw something in it for them. Or they felt a common ground. What that means is that you probably already had a bias against the other group - whether conscious or not. Sometimes these groupings are forced upon by us by the people around by the virtue of our existence. I think then the first thing to do is to accept for yourself that you have that bias. While it can be really hard to accept that, I think it is really important. Let's shed the myth and let's see through the truth for ourselves.

I will narrate a recent personal experience here (at the risk of making this post too long).

Last Sunday I was heading towards the CST station hoping to board a train to Vashi as I quite often do. That evening, some religious congregation had just gotten over and swarms of people were also heading towards CST. Afghani Pathans, Sufis - basically Muslims in various shapes and sizes. Being a Hindu by birth, I got really cautious. There were several reasons for my insecurity in that train station. First, there was this group of easily over 20,000 people potentially united (all coming from a particular event and of the same religion). Most of this group might be conditioned to a sense of minority in our largely Hindu nation. Today, they were in clear majority. Also, I think trains and train stations are a big trap for a victim - the exits are limited, the security not enough and no one to hear your cry for help. But I think more importantly it was my conditioning of Muslims as more hard-hearted & aggresive because of my historical, cultural and social influences. Ofcourse rationally I know that the conditioning is a big generalization and means nothing. I have a few Muslim friends and aquaintances who are really nice and friendly actually, and I would never associate any violence with them.

In the midst of my active consciousness of the existence of a majority of the Them group, another scary thought creeped in my head. If more people were similarly insecure got united even for want of security, another mob could have formed. If you turn the tables around, a majority population also makes for an easy target on the community at large. A Sabarmati Express of Muslims, if you will.

And, I think that experience taught me first hand, what can conditioning do to you, what being a minority felt like and what is the power of the mob!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Within or Without

I finished watching the movie OMG: Oh My God! just now. And, am quite pleasantly surprised at the maturity with which the subject was dealt with. No wonder it is based on a play. Because apart from the likes of Aamir Khan or Rajkumar Hirani, Bollywood has rarely produced such cinema. What is a little dissappointing is that the movie received only a lukewarm response from the public. What is surprising is that it did not draw critics from religious fanatic groups (atleast as far as I know), because I think the message was loud and clear in this one.

If you summarize the message, it is really old wine in new bottle. However, I think in our age where the public imagination of the modern-day God wears a suit and rides a Harley, the way the message is communicated is critical. Today, conventional wisdom is considered rudimentary and even irrational at times. So, the wisdom needed to be out in a more contemporary fashion and presented such that the rational-minded and 'aware' people buy the idea. What adds a little to the freshness in the approach is that the first intense conversation about God and Religion happens quite early in the movie instead of saving it for the climax. The climax is in fact underplayed, in my opinion. The audience has evolved and has little taste and belief for stories with all the action packed in the end.

However simple and powerful the idea of a formless omniscient God might (or might not) be, there aren't and probably won't ever be a lot of buyers for that. The movie itself (forgive me, I have not watched the original play) gives you the reasons. Religion, along with all it's fanfare, has become the way of life. We idolize people who appear Good and Benevolent. And, then we seek solace in the demi-God's Greatness. Believe gives us Hope. And, we are suckers for that. Big Time. Bal Thackeray was one such man in whom Maharastrians believed. And so, people either protest when you take their God/Hero away from them, or find themselves a replacement quickly.

I don't believe I am an expert in any of this. But I was recently having a discussion with my mother on if the concept of a God was born to 'embody' Spirituality. The rational in me was arguing that God is actually just an Idea, a Divine Message, the Truth. Somewhere we gave it a Form, an Entity so that we could relate to it more than we can relate to abstract notions. I think that we have come to perceive God as a physical entity external to our being. With this external entity gets born the need for a symbolic representation. The human form was perhaps the easiest to perceive. We added the extra limbs and gave some special powers to portray God as greater than other beings. As people move up the 'spiritual ladder', God becomes a very Bright White Source of Light. Further up, God is said to be akin to a Force/Energy field. As you are considered more and more awakened, the physical form becomes more and more hazy and the scope widens. In the end, it is said that the one's search for God ends with oneself, that is God is within and not without. At this point probably the entity of God merges with one's own identity and the two become One. I see this as Awakening/Enlightenment/Knowledge of the Truth. And, I bet the Truth would be something simple and elegant, something very obvious in hindsight. And then you will probably realize it was really about reaching there than about what lay there.

It would fit all the pieces of what I have heard about Spirituality/God. It would also make for a more believable story in the end. A magnificient journey almost always ends in the most uneventful way. Remember how Robert Langdon felt after discovering the Holy Grail?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Point of it all

I have noticed a marked decrease in frequency of my posts. It's not that things don't cross my mind so much these days. But I think I have started becoming a little comfortable with myself and the world around. Thinking about ideas, issues, events, they all seems to finally boil down to some bare essentials. And, then these essentials (for they are 'essentials' for good reason), seem to be old and overused thoughts. It seems like stating the obvious. And then I don't feel like blogging about it. At the same time, I see so many people stating the obvious all the time, or atleast alluding to it without stating it directly in their opinions, statements, viewpoints, etc. It's possible that they don't think it is about the same set of fundamentals. Now, this implies that either I oversimplify things, for the sake of trying to see the bigger picture and to identify the undercurrent as a compulsive habit, or that some people just miss the point. On second thoughts, it is possibly a combination of the two with a really large part of the first alternative.

And, I say this because I have had instances where my interpretations have been different from some other people's. In fact, each of us understand things in our own way. When we read something that might be offering a different perspective, our tendency is to look at it from our viewpoint. A recent study showed opinionated articles only reinforce fascist opinions both for and against the argument. Interesting, isn't it?

The point of my post? Perhaps, different for different people? Or perhaps, nothing at all?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ki joote kahaan utare the..

Chhoti-chhoti chhitrayi yaadein
Bichhi hui hain lamhon ki lawn par
Nange pair unpar chalte-chalte
Itni door chale aaye
Ki ab bhool gaye hain ki
Joote kahan utaare the.
Aedi komal thi, jab aaye the.
Thodi si naazuk hai abhi bhi.
Aur nazuk hi rahegi
In khatti-meethi yaadon ki shararat
Jab tak inhe gudgudati rahe.
Sach, bhool gaye hain
Ki joote kahan utaare the.
Par lagta hai,
Ab unki zaroorat nahin.

I can't believe it's been only 4 months since our share of time with YIF got over. In May on this date, we had all come back from our convocation. It was one of the proudest moments of my life till then. I was foolish enough to not realize it earlier. I remember having quietly shed some tears sitting in my seat there because my parents could not be there to share the moment with me. In the night that followed, we were all overwhelmed with the feeling of departure. I was among the first to leave - with an early morning flight to Mumbai. In the last few days, we had really gotten close together like a close family. Someone had mounted a white board with the names of each fellow written on it. As someone would leave, we would strike that name off. On the top of the board was written, "We part, to meet again."
Well, part we did and meet, we do - in bits and parts, in small groups. But oh what would I give for a couple of days in our hostel rooms in Katwaria Sarai - the village in the heart of South Delhi. And, to attend classes sitting in that cozy auditorium in the Aurobindo Society. It was one year, but it seemed like so much longer! And, like all good things in the world, it came to an end. We had to move on, to let another bunch of people to come in and step into our shoes and experience the magic. Today, when I see pics of those who came in after us, going on a picnic together and having breakfast at a place where we had breakfast once as a collective, it seems that the magic has begun to work on them already.
While these memories come back to me, a question subtly pops up in the corner of my head. What do I owe more to. The institution that I grew up with, or the one I matured with. I feel so distant from my teenage home today that memories from those days seem almost forgotten. It's a wonderful feeling when a new experience is so powerful that it washes away the previous ones and you move on. Perhaps, that's what living is about. One set of experiences after another?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Kicked out of the Oblivion

In the movie Inception (if you haven't seen it, you are missing out my friend), Nolan uses a kick to wake people from their dreams. Your first job can be the kick for you. Right through high school and college, we dream. The world seems to be our kitty. There is someone to take care of us. Some of us have the independence of hostel life where you can do what you want without being told off. Every month, you get a pocket allowance enough to take care of your pizzas and your phone bills. If your parents are generous, you don't need to worry how much you are spending. You never sit back to feel the weight of the penny in your pocket. At the same time, you look forward to start working, being financially independent. Towards the end of your college, you start dreaming about the kind of house you will rent (if you have to stay away from your hometown ofcourse). You might even have planned your first vehicle. And, you imagined a world where money would not hold you back from pursuing your middle-class aspirations.

And then, when you start working, you get the kick. You are invariably thrust in a hostile environment on your own, totally out of the comfort zone. You look out for familiar faces and suddenly start realizing the importance of family and friends. You begin to realize that you have responsibilities. You actually start planning your budgets and investments. You realize you need to change your food habits, your sleep cycle. Night outs start looking risky. You can't be late anymore. You can't miss work without good reason.

And then, at some point, when the whole deal becomes monotonous, you start thinking seriously about what is that you live for. This is probably the time you start thinking about your priorities in life. College life has an expiry date and with that there was always an anticipation of what next. Here, the privilege of an expiry date is taken away. You probably don't have anything to look forward to. Which is when you realize, you need to have a life beyond work, an identity of your own, independent of your job title. What matters to you the most?

Maybe you have your answers, maybe you don't. Maybe you haven't felt the kick yet and are still oblivious to the real world. But in case you have never thought about it, I pose a question to you -

What is that you live for?

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Messy Cupbaord

The world has a natural tendency to disorganize itself. Entropy seeks to maximize itself. Disorder is, in fact, the order of the day.

Look around you and you will find numerous examples. Look inside your cupboard. Perhaps, you had arranged things in order only a week ago and it already is a mess again. Traffic goes haphazard, queues break into clusters, systems tend to fail, telephone lines disrupt.

There is a natural propensity towards disorder, anarchy, rubble, chaos. This is because regulation is difficult. Maintaining order requires precision, patience and discipline with continuous, thankless and ungrateful effort.

Does that mean we crib and give up? Hardly. I guess, life is in continuously fighting this rebellious streak towards disorder and aspiring for harmony. So, let's promise ourselves to keep arranging our cupboards, if only to allow them to get messy again.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Take a bow, SRT

A flick off the sqaure leg, a humble single and history was made!

After the historic run, Sachin took off his helmet, took a deep breath as if trying to let it sink in. He was in no hurry. Then he looked up, then to the stands and pointed his bat handle towards his helmet front on the BCCI and India logo, telling people that he did it for the game and for the country! I remember Sachin was happier when India won the World Cup last year.

And, then business went on as usual. Subdued celebrations? Well, I guess it is exactly that, which makes people respect him.

What grace! Take a bow, SRT!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Words of Wisdom

Two quotes I came across recently that I liked:

"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious." - Albert Einstein

"Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response." - Mildred Barthel