Monday, November 21, 2016

Our National Sport

India is a land of oddities and we may not have a national language, but we do have a national sport. So the last couple of weeks and months have been filled with people complaining about everything.

The 'Demonetization' has ruffled all our feathers. We have been extremely vocal with our praises and vitriol. 
The head of our government, our PM has told us this was to curb 'black money' and money laundering. Sure, both had to be done. 
When he announced this, he spoke with the bravado of a weightlifter who just broke the world record. Overnight, over 80% of all currency that circulated in the economy were
worth less than the paper they were printed on. 

He also said about the measures that his government put in place, which were ;

  • Older currencies could be exchanged for the new currencies in banks, ATMS (and now nationalized fuel stations when you swipe your debit/credit card) until December 30th and at RBI branches until March 31st, 2017.
  • Utility bills & fuel stations could still be paid with the older currencies.
  • Bank employees would work on weekends to ensure people could exchange their notes faster.

While these measures appeared sufficient, making an announcement like this made our Prime Minister a sitting duck for target practice. 
The truth is:

  • ATMs were not calibrated or stocked with enough of the currencies. 
  • Banks ran out of their currency stockpiles midway through the queues and when people did get their new notes, they couldn't use it anywhere because no one had enough small change. Banks haven't released the new ₹1000 and ₹500 notes and there isn't enough ₹100 notes in the economy. 
  • ATMs at malls and other locations remained ill-equipped to handle the deluge.
  • Hundreds of privately -owned fuel stations (like Shell and Reliance) stopped accepting the denotified currencies.
  • Hospitals and other places refused to accept (and thereby rejected treatment) patients who couldn't exchange their money in time. 
  • Dozens of people have died in completely avoidable circumstances. 

Modi wanted to make this appear like Operation Neptune Spear. His fans spoke eloquently about how no one else knew of this move. The only glitch here is, people knew. Far too many people knew. 

In a country where only about 50% of the population have bank accounts or access to internet banking and barely a few weeks after most of the country's banks suffered its most widespread hack happened, this move was poorly timed.  

  • Surely, Modi announced this only because he knew 6 Indian States were going to the polls and how politicians would bankroll their constituencies during campaigns. 
  • Surely, Modi hoped that we would understand how he did this only with all the goodness of a tender mother to correct the wayward ways of her children. Surely, Modi didn't anticipate the surge of vitriol he would face.
  • Surely, Modi thought we would hail him as a hero who had the balls to do something like this.
  • Surely, Modi is going to demonetize the new (shoddily designed) ₹2000 note, in an attempt to catch those hoarding/laundering black money. 
  • Surely, private citizens and businesses that own fuel stations and utility companies are laughing their way to the bank with the amount of business that is coming their way.
  • Surely, Modi is going to get all those real-estate deals you did to launder your money invalidated too. 
  • Surely, Modi has more tricks up his sleeve. 

But, as days rolled on, his confidence waned.  A barrage of less than expected applause has cornered our PM and the shell has been revealed. The man who once described what he did as brave resorted to behaving like a threatened schoolyard bully. He began to talk about how enemies are trying to kill him. He might have won the war, but this will forever be the start of his slide. 

As ingenious as we are, we adapted and found other convenient loopholes to launder money. 

I am no fan of the PM. I've never been one and probably never will. But I am not in the other camp either. I would rather trust facts and instincts than PR. Hence, I have a few questions to ask. 

Dear Mr PM, 
Thank you for working for us. 
You can keep telling yourself how the common man is happy, but you need to wake up and see the snaking lines at ATMs and banks.
If you had planned this operation months ago, like you claim...
  • Why didn't you release more of the lower denominations into the economy in the months before?
  • Why does the new ₹2000 note have the signature of Urjit Patel (who was only appointed in September 2016)? Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with this.
  • Why haven't you released the ₹1000 and ₹500 notes yet?
  • Did you honestly believe black-marketers would park their ill-gotten gains in INR? 
  • What did you think the other half who didn't have access to formalized banking systems would do?
  • How did you think small traders and 'footpath vendors' would transact when there is a shortage of smaller denominations in the economy?
  • Have you thought about the cost of lost productivity?

But then this post isn't about demonetization. These are valuable lessons to learn. 
We love complaining so much that if it were an Olympic sport, we'd finish gold. 

Many years ago, I nearly gave up after cycling for a grueling 70 kms in the middle of nowhere in the Tour Of Nilgiris. I was with a cycling partner who kept complaining about his life. After hearing him rant about the choices he made in life in detail, I decided to let him go ahead so that I could finish the rest of the ride without the constant negativity. 

Social media and an over-enthusiastic mainstream media has given birth to a prevalence of armchair activists and crabby complain nannies. 
I see my FB feed filled with people complaining about the taxes, local infrastructure woes and now the demonetization. 
While I respect your opinion, I don't want to hear about how inconvenient this is. I don't want you to hear your expert rhetoric about how Modi should have done this.
Do you have an opinion? Say it, don't rant about it. Give a solution. Don't keep pointing to the obvious. 

When our roads are unsafe because of speeding traffic, instead of educating and ensuring (future) citizens are aware of safety, we build unscientific speed-breakers to slow our motorists down. 
Even when we are told to wear a helmet or buckle up for safety, we will choose to not follow the rules, because it is inconvenient for us. Because it is cheaper to pay a fine than to buy a helmet.
We love complaining about how we are polluting the environment even when we make the decision to buy a car only for the mileage. 
We have foot-over-bridges, but how many times have you seen pedestrians jaywalking?
How many times have you seen motorists breaking the law? 
How often do you segregate trash? Recycle? Reuse? Refuse?
How many times have you cut the line when standing in a Q?
How many times have you supported the LGBT community?
How many times have you been honest and compliant to the laws of the land in the past week?
How many times have you paid your taxes honestly? 
I could go on, but you get the drift, right? 

We love to complain about corrupt our politicians are, but come elections, we will accept bribes and cash in exchange for our votes.

As a country, we love to complain because that makes us look sophisticated and literate.
It makes us look liberal and nouveau riche and is an excellent conversation starter at any gathering.

Ofcourse I am guilty too, and like all old habits, this one will die hard. 
But like a determined ox, I will muzzle my mouth, stay calm, keep my head down and plow on. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

We, The Hypocrites!

These are interesting times we live in. 
Two things happened. Yes, three things I will never understand. 

First, the oldest democracy in the world allowed 2 of the worst people to campaign for their most powerful political position. 

Hillary Clinton, probably the most corrupt woman politician in the Western hemisphere, campaigned and lost against a first-time politician Donald J Trump. The Trump wasn't even taken seriously in an election that had candidates like Ben Carson (surely, they jest) and Bernie Sanders (who is still feeling the bern).

Midway through the elections, around the time, the rest dropped out, I realized that America was doomed. I kept predicting how Trump would win partly because I knew of the power of 'memory-recall' with all the free media attention (bashing) he was getting. He also had the money to bankroll his victory in swing States, much like Bush Jr. The Donald said things most people were itching to hear but didn't have the balls to say. He wasn't a typical
politician programmed to be politically correct. He was raw, uninhibited and didn't have much to lose. He was already using his donor's money to settle his legal disputes and anything else he got was going to stay with him. Trump is a powerful orator, not in the same polished league as Obama, but effective nonetheless. The upcoming First Lady not so much, but who gives a dump?

Trump never lied about his misadventures and rarely apologized for what he was. If you've watched the Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump, you'll realize how the man is actually capable of taking much and giving it back in the same way.

Hillary, on the other hand, was at best a deceptive politician. Like her husband a couple of years ago, she flip-flopped. Period. If you take away the gender card that she (and her supporters) was playing, you'll realize she tried every dirty trick in the book to trip Trump. 
She kept giving excuses for the email server booboo. How can a Secretary of State of the most technologically-advanced nation not know how to use the official email system. How could she use the same server her husband would have used? If you know what I mean. 
She got people who Trump slighted to fire salvos from her shoulder. He is guilty, but trying to play the 'holier than thou' trick was dirty. 

The US Presidential Elections 2016 was perhaps that event in political history that will be remembered for many many decades to come. It's that point in history where 'The Superpower' that was famous for bringing democracy to the rest of the world slipped, tripped and came landing on its crown. They'll never know how bad it is until it's too late. It's that time when we all asked 'So you could only get these 2 guys out of a few 100 million to replace Obama?!!! WOW'. It's that political event that made the greatest nation on earth the laughing stock of the universe. 

No matter who was finally voted, it was going to be downhill from here. And now that you have rocked the vote, you better shut the eff up and learn to either live with it or figure the best way out. You can't pretend to not know this was how it was going to happen. I am pretty sure, we would've seen similar outrage and indignation if Mrs Clinton was voted to power. 
It's the End of the World, as we know it. 
********************************************************************************** Talking about the end of something, back in India, Prime Minister Modi declared 2 of the highest paper currency denominations invalid and all hell broke lose. What followed revealed the people that we are. There were mile-long queues at each (functioning) ATM and bank branch. Tempers flared as cash stockpiles vanished and anarchists took over spreading disinformation, and rumors. There are thousands of people (including the PM) saying how we should just grin and bear it for the sake of the greater good and this is but a temporary setback and then there are thousands who say this was a terribly timed, ill-planned move. The arguments from both the camps are quite compelling and that's the beauty of the freedom of speech. 
What I can't understand is why the panic? 
It wasn't like we didn't have debit and credit cards that we couldn't use. 
It isn't like we don't use the internet to buy things anyway. 
It isn't like we didn't pay bills online anyway. 
It isn't like we didn't have time until the 31 of March 2017. We did.

But like it is typical for us, 'we rushed with the rope and water as soon as we heard the bull was giving birth', the nation panicked and ran to our banks and then when things didn't go to the best of our satisfaction, we complained. When we did manage to get our hands on those new currency notes, we took a selfie and posted it online to gloat and dissect the design. Which reminds me, the way we love to scribble stuff on our currency, no matter how beautiful our bank notes are, the designs are a moo point.

Now, I am from neither camp. I am no fan of Modi because I have had the privilege of having seen a lot more world politics in societies that are better coordinated and motivated than ours. I know what Modi is doing right with his many travels abroad, is what our elected and business leaders should have done 60 years ago. When we have a nation of people who know how to debate endlessly on national television without knowing how important international trade (free trade agreement) is to a country's growth, then we know we have a nation of dumb-fu@ks. But I digress.

I do believe we need to delete corruption from our society. The sooner, the better.  But to achieve that, we need a radical improvement of how we think and perform at the grassroots. 

If this is so much of a speck in your eye, why don't you just transact online? Why can't we have a law which mandates every transaction over ₹25,000 to be done online? Why are we so militantly resistant about going cashless? 
Here's why - 

  • Because none of us will ever abide by all the laws and rules, if we know we can get away with it. Honesty and integrity is best defined as doing the right thing when you know no one's watching. 
  • Because none of us will ever refuse to bribe when a need and the opportunity arrives. And when we do earn our money in ways other than legal, we aren't going to keep them in INR. We stash them away as luxury apartments, Mercs, Beemers, gold, diamonds, and US$. Doh! 

We will continue to see posts of Modi-haters complaining about how this 'demonetization' is 'Modi's demonization of India' while the rival camp will gloat about how much this helped our economy. 
Most people, however, will say this should have been done with minimal discomfort. Sure, this attitude is exactly why generations of politicians and businessmen have managed to siphon off trillions of dollars right underneath our noses and out of the economy. We'd prefer that our lives are as pain-free as possible. This is exactly why we are still a developing nation almost 20 years behind countries like Singapore and Japan. 

It wasn't like he didn't say he was going to go tough on black-marketers. Modi promises more such changes to mop up every illegal rupee you earned, and seeing as he has delivered so far, it will bode well that you follow instructions and surrender because unlike in the US, he is here for the long haul. Ain't no term-limit here, Sahib.

Circa 2016
United States of America : Split wide open at the center because their citizens got fed up with politicians who thought they could get away with anything. Decades of white supremacy rhetoric has finally yielded its rich crop of hate. Fu@k 'Em!

India: A Hindu nation with a visionary head of government who wants to single-handedly gallop, hoping to change the way the rest of us behave and think. The only problem is  - He is trying to do in 5 years what Gandhi took decades to do. It will take us a few generations to change but we will get here. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Yes, with some exceptions we are possibly the only species who can think intelligently, speak rationally and still manage to bastardize the system.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

I can't remember too many important dates, but November 14th is always important to me.
Today is his 74th birthday.

Like a seasoned veteran, he had his routines. 
He would wake up at the crack of dawn, wait for mom to make him a cup of coffee and then get ready for the day ahead. 
I still remember how he would talk to me, sit at the table reading his bible or the newspaper, sit on his stool at the verandah in the evenings, or watch the telly with mum. I still remember how petrified I would be if I stayed up late when he would get up and stand at the door with the look that can melt cheese or the joy on his face when I come in and how he would come and wake me up at 9 am. He always wanted me to wake up late since I was 'on vacation'. I still remember the endless jokes he used to crack and the fun and sober times we had together. 
He was the life of every wedding party in the family and never let his circumstances cow him down. I also remember how upset I would be when he scolded me and how I used to never want to return. Yet, I would. I couldn't stay away from him for too long. We loved each other more than just as a father and son.
He would take me out to the beach and we would just sit there and speak in silence. Nothing had to be spoken. He already knew everything in my life. 
He had his regrets but never voiced them out once.

He passed on, 10 years ago. 
But if he was here, he would've still followed his ritualized routine and celebrated his birthday fielding calls from all his friends and family. 
He always wanted to live a complete life with his wife, traveling and exploring. Cyprus and Israel were at the top of his wishlist.
He would have taught me fishing and we would've gone on lots of fun road trips together. He was an incredible driver and was very proud of my driving. But more importantly, he would've wanted all of us by his side on this day. 

He wasn't the stereotypical man. He only spoke as much as he should. He only promised what he could keep. 

My fondest memory of him was when I was leaving Kuwait for the last time. 
He was seeing me off at the airport and I saw him weep, across the terminal. For the first time. 

Today, I want to remember his life and not the fact that he died. 
I want to remember the fact that he was an amazing husband, the gentlest father, and a doting grandfather.
He taught me every life lesson in love and fatherhood, without speaking a single word. 
He was smart and worked hard to get where he was. Everything the rest of us have is because of how hard he worked. He hadn't missed a day at work until he was diagnosed. 

I remember how he gave, freely. I remember how he loved, without expectations. 
I remember how he never stopped loving his wife. My parents loved each other with a devotion that defies logic. He was a Christian and she a Hindu. They married at a time when
it was taboo to marry someone outside their religion. But we were given the best of both worlds. She would participate in the holy communion and he would pray at temples. He touched the lives of many people with his life. 

If he were here today, I would travel to be with him. 
I would wake up early just so that I can spend an extra hour with him. I would stay up late just so that I hold him.  
But he isn't.

Every other day is passable and birthdays are not supposed to make you cry but you can never stop grieving. The tears will flow. The pain is still raw. 
Not having a parent (or partner) you love is perhaps the most debilitating experience in life. A part of you that was, is never the same again. 

Like any other child, I wouldn't accept the fact that our parents will die in our lifetimes. 
I guess I still can't accept the fact that he did. 
It's the reality but not being able to see him and hug him and hold him and hear from him is excruciating. Yet, I know he is up there. Immune from all disappointment, agony, distress and pain.

Today, as I celebrate his birthday, I know I'll be happy if I am half the man, husband and the father that he was. 

Happy Birthday, Daddy! It will always ache that you aren't physically here, but you are always within me. Until the day I see you again.

Friday, November 04, 2016

My Ears! My Ears!

Have you ever fallen in love with a song where the cringe-worthy lyrics are utter nonsense but you can't stop chewing it in your head like vanilla bubble gum that lost its flavor 2 moons ago?

Well, I have. 
I've fallen in love with Closer, which is #1 (!) in many countries worldwide.

And what kind of a monster would you be to tell your girlfriend that you don't want to meet her friends over a song? But, I digress.

A song with a peppy beat but lyrics that make you want to pluck your ears off just so that you have something to throw. 
And the rest of the song doesn't stray too far from the 'Holy Cow, what were they drinking!' theme. 
Surely, the beats are familiarly comforting and the tempo just right to hum along. 

Talking about the Billboard, here's a toast to yet another song with lyrics that will make you weep with deep anguish for humanity.
Just when you thought Gangnam Style would be the last Asian song that made any sense, enter Pen Pineapple Apple Pen. 
I just hope Apple doesn't use it as a ringtone for iPhone 8.

But then, let's face it. PPAP is unassuming. He won't steal mattresses from roommates in Boulder or play the crap out of a Blink 182 in Tucson, ok?

Piko Taro is me. After a couple of shots of tequila. Move over, Sheila Ki Jawani, PPAP is my anthem. Piko Taro inspires. He makes leopard prints and snakeskin look sexy as hell on a guy with a mustache that looks like an eyebrow.

So, with another month to go, there's still time for some more ridiculous music to be made. 

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Two Things

'Men say they love independence in a woman, but they don't waste a second demolishing it brick by brick.'

Male Ego (the belief that you are much better or more important than other people, or behavior that shows thisand Hypocrisy (the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case).

These two things define our times today.
On the road, at meetings, in the bed, we will use these like a double-edged sword everyday and when we aren't actively practicing it, we are experiencing it in our lives. 

A year ago, at a bloggers conference, a 'prominent' female blogger presented a keynote (read deck of slides of random pictures with the watermark still on, and memes) that labeled men as lecherous, sexually-repressed bipeds who salivated at women. Her speech was peppered with feminist quotes and cheesy jokes (that no one laughed to either). Maybe someone needs to educate her that women can be socially and sexually repressed too (at 7:48)?!.

Until a few years ago, Michael Jackson was mocked beyond what was reasonable for his physical transformation. He was the butt of dozens of memes and a few movies. Allegations flew thick and it didn't help when his actions (or the lack of it) made him look guilty until he died in tragic circumstances. 
Today, former Olympian Bruce Jenner has made the very public transformation into the very attractive Caitlyn Jenner successfully. There won't be any allegations. There won't be movies lampooning Bruce Jenner. EVER.

Until a few years ago, Indian politician Narendra Modi was an unwelcome pest in the West. Today, they fist-bump with him. Millions drool over him. 
Years ago, Trump was America's favorite reality TV star. Today, he is the most endorsed (or hated, depending on who you ask) human on his way to holding the most powerful political seat in the West, allegations of sexual abuse and alarming threats notwithstanding, he will be welcomed with open arms and candied smiles once he is elected to office. 

The lessons are clear: You will be judged by our yardsticks if you show the slightest sign of weakness. Try to run and we will hunt you down. Begin to explain and we will tear you apart. But do ignore us and prod on, because the froth will become a drool when we see how successful you've become. Hell! We will even give you an award for being who you are.

I've realized it isn't caffeine that fuels us. It isn't love. We have this insatiable urge to be seen as successful. We are too hypocritical to admit it's just the irrepressible need to stroke the male ego within.

We hate it when people are pragmatic yet successful. But that doesn't mean you have to stop being so.
Persevere, even when it feels like you are paddling furiously underwater. It frustrates your detractors that you appear to effortlessly glide through water like a swan. 
Be there for yourself, always. The world may not like it but then, they don't have to.
Be quick to kill hypocrisy and be thankful that you didn't have to taste the challenges of that person you've just judged.

And finally, bury that male ego.
We weren't born with our egos. But we were raised by mothers and fathers who made us believe we need it to survive. 
What really matters are those dark moments of personal struggle that define you. Period.

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