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Saturday, September 16

We the choicemakers !

The comments on last post deserve more than a reply. The deserve a post :).

Yes, the question is dreaded because we ask it to ourselves. Akshaya thinks that we have to take a stand, we have to pick a side and I wonder how? How do we pick a side? Can we pick it by tossing a coin as I did? What's wrong in that? Is it possible to reason out your way to one of the choices? Isn't there always that last but, that last if and that last maybe? Is there a final decisive purpose that would tilt the scales without doubt?

But may be we have to depend on our gut feeling after a level. I think gut feeling is a over hyped concept, nothing but your biases which you are too ashamed to accept that you have. And what if your gut feeling was wrong? Doesn't matter right? So why does it matter if I toss a coin? If I refuse to entertain any biases I may have? Please note what works for me, may not work for you because it ultimately reduces down to what you value most, what puts your heart at ease. It varies from person to person and this is what makes the world such an interesting place !

Somehow for me, it never makes sense to choose a position too firmly. I will give two examples here. One is of a colleague in my last company. We were having some problems with the product. And it was not immediately clear how to resolve the issues. This guy thought of a new way of doing things which would require radically changing everything. I knew that he is strong technically and that his hunch may be right. But I was a little hesitant in taking the leap. And then one day in a heated discussion, came out the golden words that he was not able to see any problems with his new approach and we should take it asap. I lost my trust in him on the spot. Anybody who is not able to see any problems, any issues with his stand, with his approach, I think doesn't understand his stand. And it applies to both technical and other issues. And while in technical issues, it might be possible to estimate and choose one thing over another, the situation is much more difficult in real life.

Another example is of the famous linguist Noam Chomskey. He has been one of the most influential thinkers of last century and his contributions to many fields are really innovative, fundamental and good. However one thing that I really find frustrating about him is that in his hay-days, he not only furthered his theories, he virtually destroyed others'. There are fields of enquiries that literally got shut after he attacked them with one paper or one review. No aid, no jobs, whole bunch of people changed loyalties. For 50 years, Chomskey's theories in linguistics have eclipsed everything else. It is only now that people are beginning to realize that his may not be the last word. There are problems with his approaches and slowly the things which were completely neglected, are making a comeback. I am not sure how he feels about it but if I would have been at his place, I would have surely asked myself, was it all worth it?

And anyway I think it a man's ego that makes him believe that he can actually make a choice and it is his ego that makes him suffer later when the choices come out to be wrong or makes him proud when the choices turn out to be right. I want to let go of both, of joy and of sorrow. I live without the burden of having made choices. Yes, I realize that this may precisely be the route of escapist but then again, it may not be ! And I don't think I know.

And Ragini, I really liked how you put it: "Sometimes it is not about why? It is about how."

Friday, September 15

Why am I here?

Quite unknowingly on her part, one of my friends happened to ask me the dreaded question few days ago - "Why have I come to USA?". There are some easy answers to the question, answers that I can pretend to be enough and behind which I can conveniently hide. "Easy ! Of course I have come to get my PhD. It would help me in realizing my potential... blah blah blah". But a man can deceive the world but not himself and I ask myself why? Why am I sitting thousands of mile away from home among these strangers? Do I care so much about getting a Phd that I should agree to forego so much so essential in my life? Do I care so much about the money that I should trade my most youthful years for it? What is it that brings me here?

Honestly speaking, I don't have an idea ! Just like I had no idea when I entered IIT ! Just like I had no idea when I stayed back in IIT for one more year ! Answers I always had for everyone but inside me, somewhere I knew, it all came down to a coin toss ! Too afraid to make a choice, to take a decision, what better way was there but to leave it to a coin?

But whenever I tossed the coin, I was fully aware what would lie on either side, what would it mean to make one choice or the other and a determination to make the best of it. That is how I think life is or should be. You don't choose your role. Remember the old bard? "Life is an stage and we are the actors"? We don't control the roles we get and we will never be judged by the roles that we play. What we will be judged by is how well we play them, what freshness we bring to them and how devotedly we get into them.

And so if you ask me today why have I come to US, I have no answers. But what I know is that now that I am here, what am I going to do. And believe me, it has little to do with getting a Phd or making money. The opportunity is too big and costs paid too high to waste it on such minor issues of life.

Here are some of my favorite lines. They come from the title song of a serial called Junnon.

ना जाने ये कैसी है दीवानगी, कि कान्धे पे लादे हुए ज़िन्दगी,
भटकता हूं मैं बेसबब बेनिशां , मेरे साथ है मेरी आवारगी।
कहां दिल जले को सुकूं चाहिये,
जुनूं के लिये बस जुनूं चाहिये,
जुनूं के लिये बस जुनूं चाहिये।

(I really set out to write something else, something more concrete about what I wish to do here. May be in a later post.)

Monday, September 4

While I am thinking !

One reason for almost no activity on this blog is a dilemma I am facing. There are lots of things that I would like to write about but somehow they do not seem to fit in this blog. Sometimes they are quite technical, sometimes quite out of context for many.

Anyway while I resolve the dilemma, here are some tidbits.

1. Saga of the intelligent kids and languages

In the beginning, whenever I used to come across kids here, somehow they always felt quite mature and, for lack of better word, "intelligent" to me and I wondered why. The hypothesis that they are actually in some ways different from our kids back home was too dumb to entertain. Then why? The way they would talk, the kind of things they would say all seemed too good for their ages. Then one day, it occurred to me. A major reason for that feeling was that they were speaking in English ! I was really amazed at the kind of prejudices we have and how they come into play even when we are not really aware of them ! In India, English speaking is considered such a prestigious skill to have, specially by the parents of small children. They would be so proud when their little one learns his/her first English rhyme or learns to answer basic questions in English. Now, I think that learning a new language is one of the best things that one can do but the kind of value that we have come to assign to English in particular and the way it is projected back on the capabilities of a child is not very healthy. I hope as parents, we would be more careful in this regard.

This also reminds of a sad story that I came to know some months back. Apparently one of my nephews goes to a school where they start teaching English from the beginning and Hindi, only from standard one ! I was shocked to hear that and guess what ! The school is situated in the heart of Hindi belt, in the capital of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow ! I really hope something can be done to bring those idiots back on track.

And while we are at it, one of my niece, actually used to speak in 4 different languages around a year back. She could speak Hindi, English, Kannada and Tamil. Of course the abilities were pretty basic. This was the effect of coming in contact with a Kannada cook and a Tamil aaya in day creche. Now in the absence of any constant input, she has started to loose that ability slowly. The best thing was that she could keep all the 4 separate.

2. Why do we discriminate?

This observation came from Eakta while talking about racial discrimination in US and caste discrimination in India. She noted that in US, the African-Americans look so different from others, they are dark skinned and so one can see why somebody would think about discriminating against them. Not that the discrimination would be justified in any way but one can see why it might have originated. On the contrary, in India we discriminate even when all of us look so much like each other and there are hardly any differences in skin colors. Something to think about ! One hint is that while race discrimination started as discrimination, caste discrimination didn't.

One thing to know about this is that some idiots in India who claim to be dalit activists have tried to project the Indian caste problem in the terms of skin color and races. Their claim is that higher castes are of Aryan origin and lower castes are the natives of India. Caste system was the invading Aryans' way of oppressing the natives. Now I wonder if they know that it is scientifically proven fact that most of the Indians belong to same race and that the Aryan invasion theory is highly debunked now. But they go on nonetheless ! I am not giving any links to them since I don't want to give them any more exposure through my blog atleast !