Sunday, July 24, 2011

One dark night at Rwanda

I might be moving to three Asian nations, but my heart is still in Africa. I frequently get this thought of a dark night somewhere in Rwanda, with minimal development and a faint source of light weakly illuminating the road. There's no single picture that can explain the thought, but all of the photos below can together give an idea.

Regent Road

A hawker in Togo.

A shop at night in Kenya.

Kalahari Desert, Northern Cape, South Africa.

On the lack of self-confidence in many Indians

I've frequently seen a lack of self-confidence in Indians, both during my college days and during my professional stint. Most Indians know this ugly truth already - all around us, we have already seen Indians trying hard to ape the West, in language and in style, and that increasingly, us Indians are starting to feel ashamed of our culture, languages and styles.

A few examples:
  1. The samosa has gotten devalued so much it's now looked as a "poor man's snack". Pizza anyone?
  2. Western outfits. They're so "cool".
  3. Language. I recollect an episode of MTV Roadies in which girls had difficulty speaking Hindi.
The other day, I was watching the official Miss Universe channel on YouTube, and I found the interviews of contestants especially funny and interesting. I watched the interviews of Miss Colombia, Miss Poland, Miss Romania, Miss Russia, and Miss Venezuela. I thoroughly enjoyed the candid answers the girls gave, and enjoyed their diverse (and sometimes funny) accents as well.

Then I saw a link to the interview of Miss India, and naturally curious, I started watching it. So disappointed I was with her interview, that I felt that this interview by her can be used as a poster child to demonstrate a lack of self-confidence in Indians. She felt like a typical Indian, under pressure to perform, trying to look natural but clearly disgustingly fake (with an irritating smile). The girls of other countries, in contrast, were so comfortable in their skins - they spoke their hearts and used their native accents without trying to ape Western English.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Why I no longer feel bad wasting food at parties

This post is directly related to my recently-posted thoughts on the value of the life of an animal.

When I was small, and I had never thought about non-vegetarianism, I used to believe that at social gatherings like parties and otherwise, us humans shouldn't waste food. I was taught that there are hundreds of millions of undernourished humans in this world, and every gram of food that we don't waste can potentially go into the stomach of a poor man. Then as I grew up, I developed a keen interest in the related concepts of animal rights and non-vegetarianism. At a tender age, I developed a love for animals (especially birds, cats, and dogs), but I saw immense cruelty being inflicted by humans to animals, both around me and on TV.

I began to try to help animals in whatever small ways I could, but the blatant abuse of animals that I saw on TV and on the Web (especially via and YouTube) disturbed me quite a lot.

A few years ago, I was watching a video on the Discovery Channel (or maybe it was on Nat Geo) in which the narrator was describing a confrontation between a crocodile and a python. At the end of the video, just as the crocodile shattered the python to pieces and consumed it, the narrator concluded the scene saying, "In nature, nothing goes waste.".

I thought about this. How true, I wondered! Nothing goes waste. Even if I throw some food while at a wedding function, it'll ultimately end up being eaten by birds and cats and dogs and insects and microorganisms. It won't be wasted. It might not go into a hungry human's stomach, but it'll go into a hungry dog's. Coupled with my strong opinion about animal rights, I decided to never worry again about throwing food. Just because some food doesn't go into a human's stomach doesn't mean that it has got wasted. This arrogant thought is yet another example of the selfishness of the human species. I'm happy I've gotten rid of it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Questioning the huge disparity between the value of a human life and of an animal life

This title stems from my thoughts about humans and non-vegetarianism. I sometimes wonder:
  1. Why do we humans value a human life more than the life of any other species?
  2. Why do we pronounce the death punishment for someone who murders another human, but not for a human who kills a horse or a tiger. Why is an animal that attacks humans killed without a second thought, but not vice versa?
  3. Have non-vegetarians seen how the meat they enjoy is prepared? Its entire lifecycle? Do they know that the animal suffers so much pain that even its soul cries? Have they seen a chicken or a goat howl relentlessly when its throat is being cut? Do they ever compare this pain to the pain they feel when a thorn pricks into their finger?
  4. Which celestial entity has given us humans the right to treat animals as property?
  5. Why are we, as a species, so protective of humans but so disregarding of animals?
  6. Are the non-vegetarians weak people? Do they want to hide away from the ugly truth about how the meat they find so delicious is prepared? The story of death behind it?
  7. Why do we kill billions of creatures of non-human species each year, but frown upon cannibalism? Does this disparity stem from some self-protecting genetic code in our DNA? What logic, what reasoning do we have to believe that it's alright (and in most cultures a symbol of celebration and joy) to kill and eat an animal, but not a human?
  8. What meaning do the daily prayers and religious activities of non-vegetarians have? Are they trying to cleanse their sins? Do they never realize that whenever they eat an animal, there's an ugly story of death behind it?
  9. Is it okay to to call a kind human kind, if he or she is a non-vegetarian? What relevance does the kindness (to humans or even to animals) of non-vegetarians have?
  10. When humans celebrate at mortuaries like KFC, do they ever think about those yellow chicks, those babies, who got slaughtered (long before they could grow up and live their lives) only to satiate the tongues of humans who chose to not care?
  11. Doesn't the meaning of the word humane smack of an arrogant self-righteousness of us humans? Shouldn't this word instead signify a negative connotation?
A few pictures to accompany the above questions:
A pig suffers excruciatingly during its slaughter as humans rejoice.

A pin can make us cry. How much pain did this tied animal feel?

Her smile shocks me. Will we ever stop farming of animals?

If nothing else, perhaps we can do some justice to the animals by acknowledging that we're the most selfish species on planet Earth...

Sunday, May 1, 2011

In Anna Hazare, a rare glimpse of pre-freedom India (and on nonviolents vs. a revolutionaries)

I wasn't aware of Anna Hazare's efforts until many days had passed since his movement began. I wasn't reading newspapers and I wasn't watching the news much, so I was practically unaware that there's a nationwide movement going on against corruption, spearheaded by Hazare. But after an uncle gave me a summary of what Lokpal Bill is who Anna Hazare is and what he's doing, I got interested [I'm so tired of bribing Municipal Corporation clerks and officers just so that they quickly sign property documents that I desperately wish this disease leaves this country].

I returned to home that day, launched YouTube, and watched a couple of videos of Anna Hazare [as opposed to about Anna Hazare] put up by Aaj Tak, NDTV, Star News and others.


I felt, observed and realized two important things:
  1. Non-violence vs. revolution: Since my school days, I've criticized freedom fighters who used non-violence [Gandhi, Nehru, et al.]. I've praised revolutionaries who resorted to violent means to scare and oust foreign bodies [Azad, et al.], and I've mocked at Indians who accepted the suffering of lathi-charge at the hands of the sadistic British men. However, when I watched Anna Hazare spew sharp words at the corrupt ministers and politicians of this nation, I felt the impact of those words right in my head. I, someone who had long believed that only bombs and swords could've contributed meaningfully to India's independence, felt the power of an old man's fearless tongue. The videos of Anna Hazare that I watched have fundamentally altered my views about the efficacy of non-violent methods of opposition. I don't see myself criticizing non-violence anymore. Which brings me to the second point.
  2. A (rare) glimpse of pre-independence India: I keenly watch those low-resolution photos and videos depicting lectures by Gandhi or Subhas Chandra Bose in pre-independent India [the 30s and 40s]. It's such a good feeling watching India's freedom struggle [as opposed to reading about it in textbooks]. Of course, those freedom fighters don't exist anymore, and the small repository of photos and videos that exist is the only way to experience India's struggle for independence. However, when I watched Anna Hazare roar and spit at the corrupt top of this country, I saw in him a rare glimpse of pre-independent India. I likened his feelings to those of Senapati in the legendary 1996 movie Hindustani. Hazare, a former soldier, also sees the present day India as a nation that might have got freedom from the British, but is being gagged by its own people. I saw in him that same unadulterated altruism and patriotism that we're told existed in our freedom fighters. And in this context, I think he's one of those rare people still alive who genuinely love Bharat [as opposed to the iPod and McDonald's generation], and are ready to fearlessly sacrifice even their own life for the sake of their motherland.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A quick thought on respecting people who're old

I once asked myself if old people really deserve respect. Most of us have at least some respect for the men and women who're old (I have a lot), but I asked myself the reason why we do so and if it's justified.

John Forbes Nash and his wife Alicia, young.

I've concluded that yes, all old people, whether or not they've achieved something in life, deserve respect from people who're young. The fact that all old people have seen and sailed through the many facets of life, the highs and the lows, the pretty and the ugly, makes them worthy of respect. They might not be able to burn bright, but they hold much sense and wisdom. They might not have earned as much money as you, but they've surely earned more wisdom. They were all young once, and you will all be old one day.

John Forbes Nash, old.

P.S. Once again, I just queried this thought on Google and found that it has been discussed a lot!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

British : Indians :: Punjabis : Non-Punjabis

I've often heard stories from others that individuals from the Indian subcontinent are mistreated in the UK (I've never been to the UK, so I've to assume that this is true). Since I'm an avid reader of Western publications (BBC, CNN, FT, NYT, TIME, WSJ, etc.), I've sometimes read comments such as "Indians have infested the entire universe!" on some articles about outsourcing.

What I've heard and read makes me feel that many British people (and by British, I'm referring to the broader West) hate the presence of people from the Indian subcontinent in their country. They hate that we've infested their country and are flouting their culture and norms. They don't like our skin color, our smell and our accent. They see us everywhere, they curse us, give us angry looks, sometimes even beat us up, and want us out.

Are their feelings unjustified?

At first I thought so, but over the last few months, I noticed something strikingly similar right in my own state, Punjab. Now, Punjabis are quite patriotic and proud people. We believe that we're superior to other people in India, and that no non-Punjabi can ever match the grandeur of a Punjabi. And like the UK has a large and growing population of people from the Indian subcontinent, Punjab has a large and growing population of individuals from other states (most notably, from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh).

And what's happening to Indians in the UK is similar to what happens to people from Bihar and UP in Punjab - those from Bihar or UP are cursed, beaten, mistreated, looked down upon, and generally given little respect by native Punjabis. I've heard fellow Punjabis exclaim that "These 'bhaiyas' have infested the whole of Ludhiana!".

And so, I've finally understood why the British feel the way they feel. How they feel isn't surprising anymore.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sexism and gearless scooters

It was late morning of today, and I was driving, on the way to work. I stopped at the traffic signal and had a fairly young girl - she was probably 22 or something - stop to the right of my car. She was on a gearless scooter (one of Honda Activa, TVS Scooty, etc.). Waiting as we all were, my ever-wandering attention wandered to the fact that nearly every girl and woman who drives a two-wheeler in India drives one of the gearless scooters. Advertisements promoting such scooters virtually always pitch them to female drivers. The selling points? They're light, they're hep, they're colorful, they're peppy, they're feminine, and most importantly, they're gearless.

Does the preference for, and use of gearless scooters by girls and ladies symbolize that the weaker sex is indeed weak? Why are boys and men reluctant to drive gearless scooters? Does it make them less manly? Is there some kind of pride in driving a geared two-wheeler? Why don't girls drive geared scooters? Are gearless scooters meant for the girls?

I pondered over these questions, and at last I concluded - even though it might not be apparent to even the girls themselves - that girls have actually made a smart choice by opting for gearless scooters. I've driven a Kinetic Honda and a Honda Activa for many years, and they're hands down easier to drive than geared bikes/scooters. It takes less effort to drive these gearless scooters, which - if you analyze scientifically - puts less stress on your brain and keeps you more relaxed, mentally. In this case, keeps the ladies more relaxed.

So while the guys are busy rejecting gearless scooters in favor of the more complex geared vehicles, the girls have quietly and happily endorsed a simpler - but hardly less capable - technology. Scooter companies seem to love this uptake, as they're introducing many new models in India.

Just to be sure, as the traffic light turned green, the girl on the gearless scooter swiftly zipped ahead of my geared Swift.