Aman Ki Asha: an Indo-pak peace initiative

Whenever something as grand and as controversial as Indo-Pak peace initiative and reconciliation is being talked of, there are bound to be sparks in the air (some would say of the hopeless romantic kind, while some would say fireworks that are a bad omen of things to come) . While some may dismiss the Aman Ki Asha advertisements, initiative and programs as romantic eye-gloss/eye-wash , I believe these are steps in the right direction and that more, rather than less, such initiatives are required in today’s time .

Left Brain thinking : a checkered history since nation state formation

Everyone knows the checkered history of Indo-pak relations since the nation states were formed in 1947, so no need to repeat that here. Suffice it to say, that there is sufficient grounds for both countries to be suspicious of each other (If India helped Bangladesh liberation to some extent, India has more current grievances like Kargil/Mumbai 26/11). But a new factor that has emerged recently in geo-politics is Pakistan struggling (some would say apparently) against its former allies, the Taliban.  With the US pressure, alongside the Talibani backlash, it seems an opportune ground to make the Pakistan state realize that supporting terrorism is not a viable alternative in today’s realpolitik and there is no recourse better than to have healthy and peaceful relations with the Indian state.

Right Brain doodling: A romantic sufiana view of assimilation before the divide-and-rule

And yet, before the Britishers sowed the seeds of divide and rule and communal disharmony things were more or less hunky-dory in India and Mughals were accepted to a large extent as native kings (following the efforts of Akbar, the great) and a new language and culture of Urdu assimilated in the Indian stronghold. If one is to believe the sufiana poetry or poetry of poets like Kabir,  one comes to the realization that there was a lot of assimilation and mutual respect and admiration between the communities/ the different states.  Even the 1857 revolution was fought by all communities alongside each other, perhaps shaking the Britishers from their slumber and forcing them to sow seeds of divide and rule.

Whole brain fusings: War between nations versus Love between people

And yet, even when one focuses on post-independence history of Indians and Pakistanis, one has to contend that there are two histories- one that between the two nation-states which have always been at loggerheads and suspisious of each other and one between the people who despite reservations, suspicions and occasional overt ill-will, also paradoxically are so  much embedded and enthralled by each others culture as to be indistinguishable. Be it ‘bakra kishton par’ and other pak dramas that enthralled India even as babari-masjid episode was at its peak, or the firm grip of Bollywood under which the Pakistanis live; be it  Nusrut Fateh Ali khan saying that my beloved has returned home:-) to Hasan Jahangir enticing the winds to spread fragrance between the two nations (Hawa-Hawa) – the cultural ties have always been there and have fascinated us and kept us tethered to the fact that the person sitting cross-border is very much an Indian -sans nationality. Perhaps it is more politically correct to say that we are all pan-Indians/pan-Pakistanis.

Out-of-the-brain musings: Kashmir/Terrorism and Truth and Reconciliation

And yet, we  will continue to live under the legacy of hatred, suspicion and ill-will till we finally sort out the underlying issues of Kashmir and Terrorism. I propose to go the way of Truth and Reconciliation of South Africa- Truth regarding Terrorism -its stark origins, effects and repercussions and reconciliation and re assimilation of  those who might have been way laid by financial, religious or ideological factors; also Truth about accepting Kashmir’s present situation and reconciliation between India and Pakistan over the issue. Of course this is easier said than done. But when the people of both nations would show solidarity, would show that the states of India and Pakistan cannot play against what the people of India and Pakistan yearn deep in their heart- then their would be no looking back. Peace would no longer be a hope- it would be a real possibility.

Parting thoughts: Partition and Raksha Bandhan

While partition of 1947 was tragic on account of the lives lost,  another partition springs to mind- the partition of Bengal in 1905. That had led people to celebrate Raksha Bandhan on a wide scale , by encouragements from Tagore and to this day has led to a tradition of celebration of Rakhi in Bengal. Perhaps we need another Raksha bandhan celebration- this time across the Indo-pak border- with citizens pledging to defend each other cross border, the nations states would soon follow suit. There is a strong need of the hour to incorporate raksha bandhan in the Aman ki Asha and similar cross-border campaigns. When we view each others as friends who can be counted on for security, all the historic ill-will and malice will vaporize and the aman ki asha will not just remain asha or mere hope , it will become a vishwas or faith grounded in reality. Lets all pledge to Aman Ka Vishwas and with our faith it will soon become a reality!  Insha-allah!

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Carreer track: how early to lay the ‘foundation’

There was recent news report that FIITJEE was planning to launch ‘foundation’ courses for IIT-JEE starting from VIth standard as the students need to hone their analyticl skills early for the IIT-JEE and also as the course will help them secure NTSE scolorships the exam for which is now held in class VIIIth. Being an NTSE scholar (at our times (back in 1992) the NTSE used to be held in class Xth), an IIT top 100  AIR holder and hailing from the city of Kota (famed for the coaching factories), I am bound to have some strong opinions on the matter.

Left brain thinking: Coaching and guidance necessary to learn and to compete?

Having gone through the grilling of the IIT-JEE first hand , I cannot but be grateful to the coaching institute or the distance caching services like the famed Agrawal classes during our times. wihtout them it is difficult ot imagine, how I could have succeeded in the exams. It doesn’t mean that others who do not take coaching are not successful at the JEE- but I would not have been one of them.  I had tried resisting the ‘coaching business’ by not joining any classroom coaching in class XIth (at our times caching happened only for class XIth, XIIth and for repeaters) , only to see myself slipping afr behid my other peers when it came to competing with them in test series etc ; and then joining in class XIIth and working doubly hard to overcome my disadvantage. that said, I have always had reservations about excessive coaching  and that too starting at an early age.  On teh other hand , I  myself became aware of and started using Brilliant Tutorials Target IIT courses when I was in IXth and perhaps that gave me a better advantage  when it came to beating my classmates in exams like NTSE and NSTSE (national science talent search exam). But that precisely is the point, these courses may give you an early advantage, but that is at the cost of exploring other domains.

Right brain doodling:  peer pressure, parental expectations and space for aptitude?

Perhaps being born in Kota, I was doomed to end up in IITs (not that I mind:-).  Till class VIIIth I used to fare pretty badly in class; and had no awareness of JEE . But slowly with target IIT and other exposures like looming NTSE and other exams, I became competitively focussed, slowly being shaped by peer pressure and parental expectations to ultimately become a software engineer form the prestigious IITs. It was not as if I hadn’t internalized the  ambitions myself- I had ; but in retrospect I might have paid more attention to an aptitude test I took in class Xth in which writing came out to be the most suitable professional inclination followed by Science and research; while engineering was not that high on the aptitude list. Today I feel like a trapped psychologist soul in an engineer’s body:-).  Perhaps, while it is important to come out on top, it is also importnat to know what heap you are standing on; if you would rather be on a different hill; so n=be it. My advice to young minds reading this- take time to explore your aptitudes- it will pay in the long run!

Whole brain fusings:  how early is early-balance between unstructured play and focused study.

Yet, in today’s world , if you want to be successful in any field you have to start early- you have to put your 10,000 hours of practice to gain domain expertise. But is childhood (and by VIth  standard to me at least images of childhood crop up)  the right age to start our 10,00 hours? are we even wise enough to know what we want to be in the future? Even if one is a child prodigy like Mozart, does it behoove to sacrifice exploring other domains via unstructured play and curiosity and instead focus early on very narrowly on a particular domain.  From what we know of psychology and critical developmental periods, by not exposing ourselves to some alternate realities (psychics and math are not the only realities) we may be severely limiting the full-round development of our children. Focus is important, but that should come with growing maturity and comfort with the role one has chosen to play in the world. We all know the confusion of teen years- it is due to exploration in terms of self-identity- if we fix the roles a priori- we are loosing on much of the good that comes out of that self-explorations and drifting with the wind.

Out-of-the-brain musings: Is the destination as much fun as the journey?

What about the actual IIT experience? Does it deliver on its hype?  Does it really equip you to deal with the real world out there and be a winner (supposing for a moment that being a winner is everything that counts) ? Is being in IIT as much fun as it was to learn about problem-solving and experience the beauty and mystery of laws of physics while preparing for it? There are no easy answers! From my own experience , IITs do provide you with a stimulating environment with fabulous peers and professors, apart from an enduring brand that you can cash on later in life. But paradoxically, they also broaden your minds and my interest in psychology and the turning point in my life happened while I read a popular book prescribed as a course book in a linguistics course to some other fellow wing mate (the book in question Anatomy of human Destructiveness by Eric Fromm). Thus, my turning to psychology highlights all that is good about IITs – stimulating colleagues and professors and inter-disciplinary focus and exposure.  there are many things bad about the IIT including its famed JEE that leads to immense pressure on students who are competing, but I am at my wits end and do not know how the quality of incoming students can be maintained, if not by restricting via tough competition.

Parting thoughts: Will lekhu ki alla belli ho?


Doordarshan Logo
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I remember seeing a serial called “Lekhu” (played by Mohan Gokhale) on DoorDarshan  which documented the problems and exploitations faced by a high talented child from a tribal/rural background. We normally delude ourselves that exams like IIT JEE are meritocratic and give equal opportunities for talent to be discovered. That unfortunately is not the case. An average person born in Kota (or a place that can afford sending their child to Kota for 3-4 years of study) stands a better chance of cracking the JEE, than a person born in tribal regions of Assam or poor house holds in Bihar.  Ultimately , unless we can ensure that talented Lekhus are allowed to explore their options and hone their talents, we will be just tuning our educational systems with the demands of the market and not necessarily allowing people to become socially productive and actualized in the true sense of the word.   But then perhaps, like the aim of therapy is not self-actualization, but ‘reduction of uncommon hysteria to common unhappiness'; similarly the aim of education is no longer to prepare the mind for the future societies and for more informed decision-making by the masses- it is just to keep the grease of the existing social order running and oiled and serve as a different kind of opium to the masses.

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Voting Reforms: the future beckons

Electronic voting machine used in Brazilian el...
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I recently attended a bar camp Pune and had the good fortune to attend a session by Anuapam Saraph, the CIO of Pune city and an activist trying to come up with innovative ways to reform the voting system. The below post is heavily inspired by his ideas, but tries to go beyond and build upon what he  presented there. The reforms and the technology that enables democratic voting as well as the technology that presents challenges and opportunities to it are relevant to all people and nations who are interested in and experimenting with democracy.

Left brain thinking : voting anywhere

Envisage a future in which the voters card is a smart card just like a credit card and can be used at general purpose ATM machines, online authorized websites, IVRs hooked to voting phone lines, Electronic Voting Machines or used as a proof of identity if someone wants to physically visit an  EVM/traditional ballot station. The voters card will have magnetic data that would authorize and authenticate the cardholder and along with a password/PIN that is only known to the user, allow him to  vote in a given running election in a constituency of which he is a part,irrespective of the pshyscila location of the ATM. He may be traveling and may be in a different constituency, but he could still vote as the vote is recorded online   and just like we can use and transact from any banks ATM our accounts of any other bank, there are no theoretical challenges in how this can be administered.  Further, the card has a Unversal ID (UID) akin to credit card number,a CVV number and a 3D secure password/PIN  and this data can be used to authenticate user when he votes using an IVR (through his land-line/ mobile phone) or an online web portal via the Internet. Thus, even when the voter is outside the country, he can vote for his constituency candidates. and in case one does want to indure the pain of visiting a physical voting booth and standing in line , then that same smart voter card serves as a offline identity and authentication proof and can be swiped in a machine like credit card readers to register the fact that vote has been cast and there is no need to apply the outdated ink on the finger to denote the fact.

Right brain doodling: voting anytime

However, also envisage a future where you don’t have to vote once on one particular day, but there is a window of voting duration, during which the person can cast his vote as many times as he wishes. Of course only his last vote is counted and it nullifies all his other earlier votes. the advantages of this are ease of voting. change in mind of voter than he can register the change, if someone hacks his account and proxy votes for him, he can revert the vote to his candidate.  Voting in a time window, possibly multiple times may seem counter-intuitive, but it is a very important concept. Each time one votes , a notification is sent to ones registered phone no. (via SMS)/email account of the fact that the person has voted.  Think of it like the notification banks can send to you if a particularly heavy transaction (deposit/withdrawals over a limit) happens in your account. It alerts you to the fact that some important transaction has happened and you can cross-verify and alert bank if it is suspected to be fraudulent.  Similarly getting the notification that you have voted, when in fact your account was hacked and someone else voted, alerts you to the fact that some fraud is happening and you can either re-vote or alert concerned authorities about the fraudulent transaction.   Also, the notifications, serves as a sort of receipt that you voted, which can be used for independent audit purposes (finding out how many actually voted and how many the EC reports as having voted). also one can extend the window indefinitely so that there is perpetual voting- you can vote in and vote out the candidate anytime. Of course on e would need a quorum to initiate a no-confidence referendum, and this has its own challenges, but at least this will keep the elected candidates accountable and on tenterhooks. With easy and cheap anytime,anyplace voting technologies,all these voting reforms are not only conceivable and desirable, but also inevitable.

Whole brain fusing: voting anyone

Why vote for one candidate, why not split your one vote into fractions for multiple candidates , ensuirng that the total is still one. I may like Manmohan more , but my second choice may be Vajpayee and I may want to vote for both in 60:40 proportion. Or I may want to vote for 5 candidates in proportion to their deservability. With most voting happening electronically (either using ATMs, online or IVRs)  or using EVMs , there is no reason to suppose that fractional voting cannot be built in. One could have very visual ways to set the proportions that even a layman/ illiterate can easily use. Also, with counting and voting costs going down, perhaps the pool of people who one can choose form can increase drastically. Perhaps, one could vote for any independent candidate belonging to that constituency (or himself) from a separate drop-down aside form listed candidates from national/regional parties.  this sounds a little hard to digest, but by ensuring that one could vote for anyone, what one will at least ensure  is more participation, perhaps close to100% with many people voting at least favor themselves or their relatives. With anytime, any place convenience if we add anyone option, the participatory democracy will start speeding on rocket fuel with everyone feeling that not only their vote counts, but that they themselves count.

Out-of-the-brain-musing: voting anything

However, one considerable challenge with this voter smart card scheme is the ease of selling ones vote. In India, at least many of the people from lower classes readily sell their vote in exchange of liquor/money. For now they have to vist the booth and it is not clear if they will indeed vote for the candidate; with this new password and online voting scheme, it becomes easy and foolproof to sell your vote. Just give your password and online credentials and someone else can use the web/IVR to vote for you. That someone else will ensure that the vote is cast for the party who paid money. A perfect arrangement for both parties.  For seller there is lot less inertia, one doesn’t even need to go to the voting booth, and for buyer the vote is guaranteed. One way to introduce ambiguity is to allow multiple voting, with multiple voes the buyer is never sure that the seller will not change his mind and vote for some other candidate on a later date, nullifying the earlier vote. another option is to make the password/PIN sharing difficult and economically unviable. For example, one could ensure that the same voters card (UID) is used at ration shops  (Public distribution system (PDS)) for giving rationed food/kerosene /other materials  to people below poverty line. Its usually the case that people below the poverty line (BPL) are most susceptible to selling their votes and with the risk of loosing their rations etc, they may be reluctant to share that sensitive password information. For the upper classes,one can link the usage of the Voter card info and password with income tax returns/refunds etc -all sensitive financial information- that one would not like to disclose to irresponsible and unethical politicians or political parties who indulge in buying of votes.  Thus with the voting password information linked to physical tangible goods/things in the physical world, one can ensure that less exchange of material goods will happen in lieu of selling ones vote.

Parting thoughts: voting anyhow

All said and done, no matter of voting reforms can induce someone to vote and overcome the apathy one feels when witnessing the unethical behavior of politicians and the candidates one has to choose from.  to overcome this a draconian voting anyhow or compulsory voting may be added.  One could have a default vote saying that they have no faith in any candidate and if there are more than 50 5 of such votes than the poll stands nullified. (a provision to vote for no one and yet register a vote is there in constitution of India at least) . Of course this default vote should be cats , say a day before the window of voting expires, so that an alert notification is sent to the voter and if doesn’t want to register his vote of confidence in all candidates, he can go and change his vote to desired candidate. The alert serves as both a wake-up call and a reminder to vote before the deadline. Also if notifications/receipts are issued when you vote, then they can also be later used for claiming refunds/ increasing tax bracket in income tax returns. Just like donations to charity are eligible for tax exemption, one can have a provisin whereby voting receipts can make you eligible to some tax incentives like lowered brackets , more exemptions etc. . That itself, may convince many t0 vote anyhow. Until and unless we vote anyhow, the participatory democracy is more in name than in spirit.

Of course all this is just my 2 brains on what Anupam had initially proposed. Let me know yours!

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Published in: on November 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm  Comments (5)  
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The whys and wherefores of regionalism

Seal of Maharashtra
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Regionalism as depicted by the rise of parties like MNS, is becoming a strong factor in Indian or at least Maharashtrian politics. As witnessed by the recent ruckus in Maharashtra state assembly, this has reached a sorry state and it is high time one understands and appreciates the complex political, economical and psychological factors on which parties like MNS play and leverage them to harbor and nurture xenophobic tendencies.

Left Brain thinking: the politics of migration
It is a given fact in any state that there would be some immigrants from neighboring states and nations – the so-called non-natives or ‘foreigners’, who are there by ancestry or recent immigration. Whenever the residents are classified in two or more groups like natives and non-natives, and whenever there is a tendency to bolster regional identities by emphasizing the nativeness and distinctiveness of a group (by emphasizing the language, culture, festivals etc associated with a particular regional group at the cost of the universal shared human identity or even national identity- take the example of marathi manoos over an Indian or a human identify by emphasizing to a pathological extent the marathi culture- be it festivals like Ganesh Visarjan or literature like marathi theater, or as another example the identification with chhath of the bihari population) , then the juxtaposition of two or more groups living together with strong regional identities is a fermenting ground for political parties to play the ‘Us’ vs ‘them ‘ card based on well-known psychological phenomenon of in-group loyalty versus out-group hostility. I am not saying that regional identities are bad- they become a liability when politicians use them to fracture the people based on those regional identities and nurture xenophobia by playing the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ card. This of course they do because of the well known vote-bank factor. by associating with one group on the cost of another they can claim a vote bank and s long as group sin Indian politics keep mass-voting as a herd as per regional, religious or castiest identities, things are not going to change for the better. In the particular context of immigrant population vis a vis native people, associating with the native people gives rise to the ‘son of the soil’ image and owing to its obvious political advantages not many politicians are able to shy away from playing this ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ card.

Right Brian doodling: the economics of migration
Of course, one also has to see migration and xenophobic tendencies in the larger economic context. It is a given that there are push factors like extreme poverty that push people to seek employment and residence elsewhere. There are also pull factors like better job/educational facilities that pull immigrants to a particular state. Also the lack of jobs and meaningful employment in the native state of immigrant plays a crucial role in the sense that it lowers the opportunity cost that one is foregoing my migrating to a new land. All these factors which basically reflect the unequal economic macro conditions in the two states lead to net flux of reasons from one state to the other. To take an example of bihar and maharashtra, if there was not extreme poverty in some pockets of bihar, if there were job opportunities in bihar itself and if there were not better job opportunities in maharashtra, then the immigrant ‘problem’ of biharis in mahartshtra would not be there. It also makes sense to pause here and grasp the fact , that the economics involved clearly indicates which group will be economically disadvantaged (the biharis in mahrasthra) and thus more prone to abuse by the system and the politicians. Being economically disadvantaged, the immigrant group stands good chance of being bullied and manhandled with the better-off politicians aligning with the native group getting away because of their relative well-off-ness and ability to manipulate the truth. While the fact is that the immigrant group is poor and disadvantaged, it is all too easy to portray them as aggressors who are taking away employments from the son of the soils. And the supporters who validate this thesis, are the ones who would unlikely be doing the low-wage chores that these migrant laborers are doing, but who are actually exploiting thee workers by paying them lower wages as compared to the native laborers based on their regional identities and thus actually gaining in economic terms from this immigration. Yet, the crafty politicians are able to psin a version of the truth that is largely couched in economic terms , but is actually playing on the ‘us’ vs ‘them’ xenophobic tendencies built in all of us.

Whole brain fusings: the psychology of migration
Let us also look at whether the migrants enjoy being a migrant and have the conqueror mentality plundering the wealth of the state that is hosting them or whether they have a parasitic tendency of living as a leech on the labors of the natives and not giving back or contributing to the state’s development, but only benefiting from it. Some statistics does indicate that the migrants remit a large portion of their earnings to their families living back in their native land, but it should not be doubted that they do add to the development and enrichment of the state in which they live. Also, one has to be sensitive to the costs that they have to pay when they migrate- culture shock when trying to gel in a culture that may be a tad different from theirs. And one has hard figures to back these claims; for eg. the incidence of schizophrenia in migrant population is much higher- this may be because of the fact that most migration happens from villages to cities, but there are other immigration factors like culture shock , xenophobia etc that account for the large increase in incidence in immigrant population that cannot be explained by increasing urbanization only. Thus, if anything, the migrant population deserves our sympathies, social support and nurturance so that they do not become deranged or unproductive, yet all that the politicians offer to the migrant population is a faster road to hell/psychosis. Consider also the fact that many of the migrants learn a new language when they are adults – and when it is very difficult to pick a language-it should surprise no one if the new migrants are not able to pick the new language fast enough- it would be an atrocity to assume that within 1-2 months they be able to use the new language and shun their earlier languages. Also given the fact of the sapir-whorf linguistic determinism, and how the language we use is not simply a linguistic tool, but also shapes our perceptions of space , time etc, it is not surprising if learning a new language and culture and worldview should take some time and effort. La this would take a toll on the immigrant population and it is best not to submit them to unnecessary xenophobia, hatred or manhandling. They already pay a heavy psychological price when they decide to immigrate and we should not make it any worse for them.

Out-of-the-brain musings: the philosophy of migration
Is migration justified? or not just justified, but even desirable? Consider the fact that many US universities actively seek diversity in the profile of students admitted to their courses. Why would they do so if diversity in the students did not lead to a better academic environment and more overall productivity? Given the sapir -whorf hypothesis, it is a given that most of us are steeped in one way of viewing things as determined by our language and culture; and time and again it has been shown that viewing a problem from different angles and perspectives is better for coming up with creative solutions. Of course if we are content with run-of-the-mill traditional status quo solutions, we can live with one language, one culture, one perspective- but if we value creativity and dynamism, if we value insight and flow, we have no option but to take recourse of diversity that enables multiple perspectives to be present and complimenting each other. After all, the rainbow is beautiful precisely because it is made up of so many hues. Also some latest research has indicated that being an immigrant/ short term visitor in a new land, also leads to some advantages -namely the ability to be more creative, , more observant and more insightful. Expatriates have been shown to have these traits precisely because they are being exposed to new forms of culture and this culture shock, sort of ‘opens’ them up to many other possibilities.

Parting thoughts: the art of migration
The art of migration is in living like sugar dissolving in the milk- without the sugar the milk is not sweet and once mixed, though milk is milk and sugar is sugar, together they give rise to something better-sweet milk. It is surprising that this art of migration needs to be retaught in a country like India which has historically assimilated all attackers, conquerors, guests, foreigners,migrants under its fold and internalized their religion, language etc to give rise to new and hybrid Indian identities. The uniqueness of the individual identities are still there, but they get merged and subsumed under something greater – the pan-Indian identity. It is indeed saddening that in India itself, regionalism should raise its ugly head- in the end analysis, perhaps both the migrant and the native states and people are at fault- perhaps it is as important to live in a foreign state as if it is their own native homeland, as it is important for the natives to welcome with open hearts the immigrants. If immigrants lived by the dictum ‘vasudhaiv kutumbakam’ – this land is also my family- and the natives lived with the dictum ‘athithi devo bhav’- the guests are like gods -and perhaps if one started to play down the distinguishing factors between the natives and the guests and considers all as as one,only then can we proudly claim that if there is heaven on earth it is here, it is here, it is here. Till then one can only hope that we will keep fighting regionalism and the political parties that support it! Amen!

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Published in: on November 11, 2009 at 6:41 pm  Comments (4)  
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Remembering 26/11: replying on a Thursday!

Number of Terrorist Incidents 2000–2008
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I know this post is a little early - 26/11 is still 26 days away. But then I don’t want to commit the mistake of last time this time too. Last time we were caught unprepared. This year is our chance to reply on a Wednesday (the eve of 26/11) or on a Thursday (the day 26/11 falls this year).  We have no excuses , we have ample time to plan and prepare. And don’t get me wrong, I, by no stretch of imagination want the reply to be violent; but what we cannot live with is no reply at all. We have to reply to their hatred, with solidarity and Love. We have to find new and innovative ways of replying in a non-violent manner.  More about that later.

Left brain thinking: Remembering what?

Our feelings of insignificance. Our resolve to do something. Our determination to reply back. Our disgust at the politicians. I remember in the immediate aftermath of 26/11 I felt so insignificant, so detached in my daily chores from the work of nation-building. I was so disgusted with the politicians who were at the helm- I decided to become one myself! I contacted political parties I thought were different (their founders were IITians) and was ready to quit my well-paying job for this spur-of-the-moment emotional decision.  For the first time I wrote something not directly related to psychology on my blog and I was like thinking what is the whole point of blogging about psychology etc. when such terrorists operate uninhibitedly. Slowly after some time, the emotions faded and worse sense prevailed and I kept my job and did not jump into politics or give up on blogging. I still feel emotional decisions are the best and I want you and me to remember the raw emotions we felt in that immediate aftermath of 26/11.

Right brain doodling: remembering why?

Because we forget. Psychological studies time and again show that we forget  even the events that we in the heat of the moment feel that we will never get over- this ranges from an unrequited or jilted love to a death of a loved one.  Within 6 to 12 months we get over the worst of our personal crisis. Similar time frames should exist for national crises like the 26/11 or 9/11. And I do not mean that we should harbor any ill-feelings or not forgive; but it is one thing to forgive and another to forget. As Thomas Szasz has famously put “The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” I want to be wise. I want you to be wise. Let us forgive, as it heals us, but let us not forget . And most importantly let us not make them forget. Let us keep replying on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Whole brain fusings: remembering how?

When I talk of replying on a Wednesday , I don’t intend the reply to be violent–but it has to be dramatic- it has to be such that it installs fear and terror in the mind of the terrorists. And what better way than to show them our solidarity and our courage- effectively giving rise in them a sinking feeling of despair- that their tactics and strategy of terror is not going to work.  Also when people do not get divided on religious grounds, when people do not mistake the terrorists  hatred and activities for justified revolutionary /rebellious stance and when they themselves do not get divided on regionalism etc , when people realize that despite being a commoner they can reply – then the terrorists will have no other option than to change their course. In one psychological experiment and finding , when people are tortured, if one begs and whines, the torturer feels that the torture is justified and continues to torture assuming righteousness and the belief that the person being tortured is indeed a victim.  While if one faces it stoically and courageously , then the torturer does not attribute that much guilt to the person being tortured. Terrorists torture the common man and the state and want the state and the commoner to feel guilty for crimes uncommitted ( the thinking that ya the terrorists have a point, they are just fighting for their rights, and by denying them their land, we are guilty) and thus they feel justified in their hateful quest.  If the commoner on the other side does feel  guilty that they have committed crimes against the breed (a region/ a religion) that the terrorist belongs to , it is that much easier for a terrorists to justify in his mind that the commoner was indeed guilty and needs to be punished / tortured.  It is only by showing that we would never admit guilt which was never there in the first place (like the Kashmir issue) can we force the terrorists/torturer and the others who watch this drama (US/UN)  and make them realize that their terror/torture tactics re not going to work. We will not give them any leeway and let them get away with justified revolutionary terrorism. By being brave and standing up to them, we diminish their inclination to continue the torture and diminish their self-justifications. By cowering and whining or by being ‘reasonable/ politically correct’ and trying to see their point-of-view too, we will only make matters worse. So the best form of remembering, is by replying in a dramatic manner that shows that 1)we do not admit to their thesis that they have a slice of truth or justification for their actions 2) we are not cowed down by their torture and terror. We stand up and are brave enough to reply back (peacefully) 3) we stand united as humanity and as a civilization  and not as a mere nation in the fight against terrorism.

Out-of-the-brain musings: remembering when?

Typically one remembers such events when it is already too late and the event is almost there. Then there is no time to plan or celebrate (ya we should celebrate the triumph of Mumbai spirit  over the hatred and terror that the terrorist wanted to sow) . The aha moment was realizing that we should remember such event a bit early and perhaps celebrate(?) with full  planning and organization.  Replying on a Wednesday requires elaborate planning – and its our duty we cannot shy away from. So remember 26/11 now and decide what you are going to do that day now!

Parting thoughts: remembering whom?

Whom should we remember though? Is it Kasab and his fellow terrorists and their hateful and misled lives? Is it Osama bin laden , Dawood or Lashkara who’s who, who continue posing the threat to India? These are people who are alive and operational and we should remember about them -not for their ability to plan and execute- but just like we remember Rawan more than Ram on a Dusshehra -as a threat and reminder of what a misguided man can become and how the most important thing in the world is to burn the Rawans  within.  We should also remember those who are no longer there -some died in the course of their duty- others were misfortune victims and died unnecessary and meaningless deaths.  and of course we should remember the common man who did stand up to the terrorist and didn’t cower. That reminds me to tag Senha Gore – one of the organizers of candle-light vigils in the immediate aftermath of 26/11 and request her to organize one more such event this time around. Last time I was not aware and couldn’t participate; but this time I want to reply on a Thursday? What about you? Any creative thoughts on how we can reply on a Thursday?

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Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 7:33 am  Comments (2)  
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The emerging real-time stream

Twitter has fascinated and enamored us all , but I believe twitter in its current incarnation is only the tip of the real-time iceberg. There is a new form of communication , collaboration and identity that in is emerging and that in itself merits a full feature length article. There is google wave for collaboration and a plethora of real-time search and analytic solutions to keep up with and track the zeitgeist. However in the below analysis I will be using twitter as an example of a tool facilitating the real-time stream laid over the internet and the web.

Left brain thinking: Twitter as real-time interaction and living in the moment.
Web pundits talk about the internet of things, but I am more fascinated by the evolving internet of people/persons. Every twitter stream is either an individual or a corporation and one can conceive of interactions as well as self-disclosures by the tweeples. Currently the stream is mostly either an information stream or a conversational stream. Titter or micro-blogging is mainly used for sharing links, thoughts, musings, funny one-liners or for life-streaming and coversations. Twitter also gives rise to an emerging virtual persona- where you are partly your stream- your tweet at the moment defines who you are for that moment. There is an immediacy designed into twitter use and whether one updates statuses or reads others statuses , one is only bothered about the most recent statuses. One doesn’t care or have time/ attention span for anything posted more than a hour in the past. Thus to live in a twitter world is to live in the herre and now.

Right brain doodling:twitter as a narrative center of gravity: story we present to the world
However, there is another angle to all this real-time streaming- that of presenting our best or desired face to the world. Firstly there are short bios or profiles (and on facebook loooong profiles and bios) on twitter pages where one writes the most pithy statements that will seduce someone in following you. thna one carefully curates ones followers , ones lists and ones statuses to present the wannabe follower with the best possible face. that is one psychological aspect . The other is that we ourselves are deceived and confined by what we project. If my bio allows only 2 or 3 hobbies perhaps my tweets will get restricted to those domains to appear consistent. Of course some have found a way out of this dilemma and tweet form more than one account (a case of split virtual personality? ) to be self-consistent at the cost of losing a unified sense of self. Tweets are being used to gauze everything from sentiments to personality and this means that we are nudging in the direction of viewing a stream as a temporally existent and continuing entity that has a personality , emotions etc and is not restricted to the here and now.

Whole brain fusing: twitter as an extended self
That brings us to my recent post on Mouse trap that differentiated between the ‘me’ and ‘I’ aspects of self. The ‘me’ of twitter is the narrative we want to project/ the narrative someone can discern by taking a historical look at our tweets; the ‘I’ of twitterverse is the agentic feeling and thrill of posting, sharing and discovering content in real-time i.e in the here-and-now. However, if we take the analogy too far, we also see the many places where the twitterverse can be modified to make it feel more real and self-like. For example, for real sense of extended self to emerge there has to be the facility of memory so that we can both remember who we are and envisage what we will be in distal future- twitter provides different types of memory and future envisages- the twitter clients and home page provide a very limited working-memory view of recent tweets and conversations and possibilities of being re tweeted, mentioned in new tweets. Then there is the short term-memory database (hippocampal structure) – the search-able universe that twitter provides. Tweets are not search-able or indexed at twitter for infinite time. But then kicks in long-term (neo-cortical) memory systems- the web archive and tweet backup services that let you archive your tweets for eternity. The accurate storage of memory problem of twitter stream has been solved, but nobody is working on how to retrieve and use that memory to enhance the tweeting experience in the here-and-now or to weave a better narrative about a person. What I would like to see is a contextual, semantic tool that highlights my past tweets and conversations as I tweet / read tweets related to a particular topic, so that just like remembrances of things past I can have spontaneously triggered recall of my earlier tweets relating to a subject. That would be a killer feature and I look forward to it. Another feature I would kill for , is to automatically (or if not possible let me manually do ) tag/ classify my tweets into life-streaming, thoughts, conversations, beliefs, intentions, links and information dumps, self-disclosures, emotions etc and then have tools to look up the streams of any person/myself broken by these tags. thus it should be possible for me to be able to monitor and look back on tweets that were pure life-streaming versus tweets that were thoughts etc – so that I can readily relate the past tweets and make sense of them and also get a better idea of my/others evolving narrative and extended self. This may run into the face of my earlier claim that self should be united and not solit into multiple streams- the important thing to note is that the stream is one, but it has been tagged in different ways for easier later recall.

Out-of-the-brain musings: what we can learn about consciousness from the stream metaphor of twitter
Turning the stream idea on its head and looking at the other direction of the analogy, an important question is what, if any, can we learn about the self and the stream of consciousness by this emerging stream of real-time interactions and tweeting and collaboration. I believe the important take home message is that the stream is not made of purely or solely ‘my’ tweets/experiences- to make any meaningful meaning of the stream of tweets one has to see it in context of who tweeted in response to whom and who conversed with whom. Thus, by analogy a large part of who we are (our narrative and agentic self) is not solely defined in terms of our individual traits and experiences- the self and consciousness is embeeded and weved in our interactions with others. Those we connect to in real life and interact with are a part and parcel of us and our stream.

Parting thoughts: would the ‘real-time’ evolve to ‘reel-time’?
There are two ways in which this question can be approached- the first is focusing on the 15 minutes of fame that everyone will/hopes to achieve using their real-time streams; the other more profound way this question resonates with me is whether we will allow others (or ourselves) to edit and present our streams to be a better reflector of who we are. everyone know that reel-time is precious and Reality TV sucks and cannot compete with edited versions of reality that are well presented and make more sense . Today the twitter stream is a Reality stream- the raw tweets and unedited footage. What if allowed ourselves/ others to favor/highlight our tweets selectively so that by looking at the selected/curated list of our past tweets one can get a better idea of who we are. Remember that memory too is selective and reconstructive…we just need to forget some details and add/smudge some together to make a coherent narrative. I already do this in the form of best-of-tweets feature on my mouse trap blog, but I see a vast untapped potential for these type of tools and services . I am ready-for the’ reel-time’ stream/web, are you? Let me know via comments and remember these are just my 2 brains! You are entitled to yours!

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Published in: on October 31, 2009 at 7:31 am  Comments (6)  
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Hello world!

First article coming soon! Meanwhile check the about page.

Published in: on October 30, 2009 at 3:55 am  Comments (1)  
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