Again.

Disclaimer: Long Post. Don’t bother reading if you have the attention span of a meme creating troll, or even worse, if you have any political affiliations that you wish to strengthen using this as bait. This might make sense to you and boy, will that be a disaster?! Also, if you are a self-proclaimed moral ‘guru’, do let me know, so I can promptly remove you from my circle.

Call me cynical, but over the past few years of my transition from a teenager to a young adult, I’ve become increasingly convinced of a hopelessness with regards to the future of the Indian society. I do not expect much to change, even less to improve. The past week, events in and around my alma-mater have unfolded in a more or less expected fashion; much of it has cause my blood to boil, but then simmer and calm down. My cynical self, smiles at me with a snide, “I told you so.” I recall then, this post that I published four years back, (when notes were still a thing on Facebook) as I reflected on the horrific Nirbhaya case. (You may wish to read that and get some perspective here.) Still haunts me, and a substantial section of the female populous, I’m sure. While the memory of it still remains, the incident has now become lore and a scary story that I presume parents tell their daughters in the NCR and I know males use to instill fear in their female counterparts. It was sad and humiliating then, it is more so today years later when nothing seems to have changed. Sad and humiliating, for men and boys across our country. But, I digress.

I’m sure that what I have gathered from hearsay, about the events in BHU, may not be completely accurate and hence I refrain from mentioning any specific facts that may be in question. I do not stress on the mechanics of the situation specifically, for the simple reason that I wish to ponder more on the fundamental problem that stands the risk of being buried. I am sure some people will be taken to task, and people will pause to wonder about it all, even if only for the brief moment when the advertisement plays during a debate between political representatives, or some official from the university. It is in this pause that I ask you to think for a moment.
I believe this entire episode is a reflection of the sickness that ails the whole country and the society. There is an incident of abuse that is not dealt with in the strictest possible manner. Callousness is shown by the people responsible, and when the situation worsens, we end up resorting to name-calling and politicization. Meanwhile, the real issue is forgotten.

The Indian society continues to be plagued by a huge gender bias and nothing seems to be able to fix this. An entire half of the population continues to be downtrodden simply because they are of a different sex, and it goes unnoticed by the other half. It hurts my self-esteem as a male that we let our counterparts engage in a patriarchal thought process, that is already too deeply embedded in our psyche, and which results time and again in acts of such heinous nature, like this and several others, every hour across the country.

In the interest of being blunt, I personally believe that the flaw lies in the intentional ignorance of the ideas of sexual freedom and individual personal boundaries. Sex continues to be a topic we shy away from, and continue to view not just as a commodity, but also a luxury. The idea that you are in a position to exert power over another individual because you possess a reproductive organ of a certain kind, is simply absurd. That the biological design of the human body makes distinctions between the capabilities of the two sexes is clear, but to associate this difference with social ability is the basic flaw in the patriarchal mindset. And that this mindset continues to flourish in spite of humongous proof to the contrary is disappointing. The continued harping on about sexual objectification seems to have absolutely no effect on the actual target audience. We have come to the point where a significant section of the male populous now attaches no sanctity to the sexual act and simply views it either as means to demean the virtue of a female counterpart or as an achievement to enhance one’s own self esteem or reputation among other male counterparts. Is it any wonder then that sexual abuse is viewed as a means to exert ‘life-destroying’ power over a female?

I would have thought at a time that the understanding of sexual boundaries of a person, is simply non-existent in a very very large section of the society, but I have come to realize that this is not the case. In fact it is the opposite. It is the fact that violating these boundaries is associated with such consequences, that emboldens males to act upon their tendencies. This is fueled by the stigma attached with the act itself, more often than not being perpetrated by the elder generation. The idea that sex impinges upon the honor or virtue of a female but not on the male is again, absurd, for lack of an adjective. What is even more pathetic is that even females of the elder (not older) generation show absolutely no concern for a survivor of abuse or harassment.

I do still stand by the belief that until a discussion on the sexual act becomes a regular part of our upbringing (with the right perspective, of course), the sexual act itself becomes more commonplace and is integrated into our culture in a more respectable fashion, and the word ‘sex’ is not shied away from in our vernacular, there can be very little hope for substantial meaningful change. I am often cited as being irreverent of a glorious ‘Indian’ culture. And I repeatedly refer such people to Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’, who in a pre-independence India had recognized that what remained of the culture was a mere skeleton and that we risk extinction if we do not evolve. What is the point of education and civilization when we are unable to recognize the flaws in our belief systems and work actively to remedy them? We are a culture of hypocrisy, a culture which worships the female form of the almighty in so many different forms, has absurd notions about the ideal female form, and even objectifies imagery associated with the Goddesses. A culture which has claims to have the utmost respect for the mother and has made the use of the most common expletive abusing the mother and the sister, mainstream in movies and songs.

As the social media explosion has penetrated the masses our ideas have been so conspicuously distorted in almost every sphere of life. Sitting behind a screen, people attach their religious identity to their names and then go on rants about sexuality that are not only misinformed and uneducated but irreverent to the very culture that they claim to be defending. But all this is an entirely different debate. As is the role of media outlets in cashing in on the female outrage and playing the sentiment to their own benefit.

I do recognize though, that in several respects I, myself am guilty of propagating patriarchal ideas. I apologize openly for that whenever I realize this. While that may not be enough, I do understand that there is an urgent need for us, Indian patriarchal males, to recognize that the solution lies in us, accepting that things are wrong, developing an understanding of how sexual equality is supposed to work, and making a conscious effort to change from our very fundamental ideas to our day to day actions. Feminism is a movement of the males, not the females. The onus is on our generation, for we are the future. I firmly believe that dialogue on these very fundamental issues is the best way to proceed, and I call for an educated unbiased discussion on the various aspects. If we can change the views of even a single person, that is a success. (My cynical self, smirks at me from afar.)

I’m sure the media will soon move on to bigger better more TRP-rich issues. But it is our social responsibility to keep this in the back of our minds and work diligently for a better future.

PS: If you had the patience to even gloss through the most of this, I’m eager to hear your views.

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Inevitability

Occasionally when things seem too out of control, I wonder if the idea of control itself is an illusion. I am not a very religious man, and yet, when things spin out of my circle of understanding, I can’t help but wonder if there is some higher power driving it all.

In spite of all my belief in logic and the possibility of a scientific explanation for all things unexplained, there continues to be a part of me that believes (hopes) that there is something out there that defies human understanding, that there is an entity that oversees, if not manipulates, all that happens throughout existence. While this belief itself speaks volumes about my confidence in the human race, the notions of God and the Supreme Power that humans have deliberately invented to suit, more often than not, their geo-political interests, are even more ridiculous.

And yet, the idea that we are mere puppets in someone else’s hands, too is a bit difficult to digest. Seven billion puppets. That is, only counting the human beings. And then what would be the point? If it turns out that this is a mere game for some higher being, akin to us playing with our pets, I wonder how many giant egos would be hurt. Rationality dictates that there must be some purpose to our being given free will. Question is, if it is free will at all?

Haven’t we often ended up in situations we have been desperately trying to avoid, in spite of all our efforts? Is it possible that the ends we are going to reach in life are all predetermined, and all we get do is choose our path to that end? Or walk the path that has been chosen for us? While it is a little bleak to think about our lives in such a fashion, and many might call all this the talk of people not willing to take initiative in their lives, is it not possible?

And anyway, we are backbenchers. All we have are possibilities.

Guilt.
One of the worst emotions a human being can feel.
Guilt, about things you have done years back, or more recently, can drive anyone mad. It is difficult to understand the nature of this rather queer feeling, for you are not as worried about your self and your own well being, more often than not, it is someone else’s suffering on account of your actions that triggers it.
This is what bothers me about the nature of wrongdoing. If, in that moment, you do not feel the need to stop yourself from committing an action, then why does the mind think about the same action years later, and feel the need to analyse its consequences, and repent.
I guess this is what growing up is about. The wealth of experiences that you acquire, make you rethink your own actions, how you could have taken better decisions, made better choices, done and not done some things.
And hence, Guilt.
Or maybe it’s just the time of the night that makes you think of things that you’d rather not.
It is 3:00 a.m. after all.

On Scientific Reporting

As the scientific community, makes progress by leaps and bounds to achieve a utopia of technological prowess, the importance of knowledge exchange cannot be ignored. A time tested tradition, continues to be the publishing of scientific progress in well known scientific journals. While this does provide credibility to the work being published, as more times than not, the results are cross-verified and tested for accuracy and reproducibility; a recent spurt in the number of journals themselves, and the myriad of non-scientific attributes attached to scientific publishing, has led to an overall decrease in the level of scientific discourse in today’s journals.

While this is my personal opinion, I am sure, many of my colleagues in the community will agree, that while journals with very high impact factors, still remain accountable and continue to publish only good quality, verifiable research, there has been a massive decline in the quality of scientific publishing in the less impactful journals.

Part of the reason for this is the recent trend where the overall quality of one’s research acumen is gauged by indices that rely heavily on scientific publishing parameters. This has increased the pressure on the scientists themselves to prove their mettle by publishing more and more. As the quantity increases, the quality is bound to decrease. Tampering with experimental data to make the experiment more likeable for publishing is no longer just heard of in the movies. A majority of the younger researchers are forced into this rat race of ‘publishing papers’, because that seems to be the only way to climb the ladder to the top of academia. Students as young as sophomore undergraduates are now focussed more on getting a ‘Publications‘ section under their CV, rather than pursuing the actual art of science, and exploring this ever expanding frontier. What gives fuel to this fire among younger students at the very least is that these publications are becoming a criteria for higher education admissions to top colleges and universities.

What we fail to understand is that good research takes time, and involves months, if not years of painstaking perseverance. Add to that the pressure of regularly publishing work, is an added burden that does more bad than good. Research work is like banging your head against the wall, and hoping that the wall breaks first. While there is no denying the importance of publishing papers, publishing good papers is even more important.

Both publishing houses and administrative bodies across the research arena need to realise the effect that uncontrolled publishing mania can have on the progress of science, and ensure that this is curbed. Only then can science in its raw magical form, be truly understood and appreciated.

On Religion

God has always been a concept, much debated and fought over, yet little understood. Religion has always been a means for us humans to explain the inexplicable. But as more of these mysteries are unraveled by one means or the other, I can’t help but notice that religion has had more elaborate purpose all this while.

Is it not easy to see, how religion has molded our societies, and our entire belief systems? And doesn’t this at times, if not always, seem to be for the benefit of some specific political entity/idea? That is not to say, that I do not appreciate that aspect as well, for that too has played a very crucial role in shaping the world today as we know it. Today, I happened to come across a definition of an ‘Agnostic’ as a person who believes that the existence of a supreme entity, God, can neither be proven nor disproved. And that made me question, yet again, my own religious beliefs.

I happen to remember some excerpts from my (very) preliminary reading of ‘A Brief History of Time’ (which is an excellent book, albeit a little difficult to comprehend) by Stephen Hawking; where he talks about the unification of all scientific theories into a single Unified Theory. I can’t help but notice the similarity this idea possesses, to the idea of there being one supreme God. Hawking further goes on to say that the search for the latter might be analogous to the search for the former. While this idea is a beautiful one, a coming together of science and religion, it is not an easily acceptable one, for science, always, needs hard evidence, and while the search continues, answers are still very much shrouded, or at least are way too incomprehensible for the human kind. Hawking goes on to argue that if there is a Supreme Power, then why at all would it be interested in revealing itself to the people, how can one be sure that the results from our search are perfectly accurate. Doesn’t this Supreme hold the reins to our efforts and results as well? That is intriguing, to say the least.

Being born to Hindu parents, I have had a huge number of beliefs, rituals, superstitions, and even Gods thrust upon me. Personally, I do believe in the existence of a Supreme power. We, puny humans, can’t be the most intelligent creatures in this mighty, mighty universe (or multiverses, if we are to believe Hawking). I do not see stronger beings being very benevolent to the weaker ones here on earth, and that makes me a little fearful of this Greatness. That, it has let us survive for so long, makes me reverent. But the interpretations that humans have developed of its powers, and miracles, and elaborate mythologies in scriptures, I find appalling. While in terms of building a society, they have been very helpful, their staunchness has also resulted in disintegration of communities, something that I can not stand.

While, even today, questioning religions, and the values they propagate remains a rather uncomfortable occupation, it is good to see that people are developing a more objective approach to their lives and beliefs, notwithstanding the spiritual comfort that is found in the idea of a benevolent GOD.

As has been iterated all over the world of ideas, religion must be confined to a part of a person’s identity and not the whole of it. Only then is peaceful cohabitation, even a possibility.

 

Ignorance

Sometimes, like in this moment, I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of my ignorance. There is so much knowledge in the world, so much to learn, so much to know, so much to think about. And I know so little, so very little.
And accompanied by this emotion, is an urge to acquire as much from this vast ocean, as I can. While this would seem to be a very positive outcome, believe me when I say this, it is not.
There is only so much that an ordinary human being can understand and assimilate. And what is left out, leaves a searing hole in my expectations with myself.
As a future engineer, I take it as a responsibility to come up with solutions to the problems that mankind faces on a daily basis. As I move closer to becoming a professional, I feel myself growing more and more detached from society. Education should have been about connecting the various spheres of my life, and giving me the tools to understand their interactions and interdependencies. So, I took it upon myself to learn history, economics and literature. I ended up learning very little.
Isn’t trying to do too much at once, the key to ending up not doing anything at all?
Is it not alright, to not know some of the things about this vast world around us?

For Absolution – #01

I sat there for a long time. Or for what seemed like a long time to me. Just sat there and stared. At everything. The trees, the weeds, the green leaves, the dead leaves. Hundreds of them scattered all around me. People walked past me, busy, stressed, and unheeding. And I just sat there.

I could feel the blood flowing down my wrist, slowly, and then dripping down into the grass below. It must have rained here, because the soil seemed soft and I could see the red fluid being soaked in. The soil seemed almost thirsty for my blood. As if I was late for some pre-destined meeting and now that I was here, it would take in its share; and more.

I really didn’t feel any pain. Of course the first cut had hurt, the blade hadn’t been that sharp after all. And I did feel weak, but that was to be expected. After all my healthy heart had been pumping so much of my blood out into the open. It was all so ironic. The very pumping that keeps everyone alive was pumping the life out of me.

Stupid heart. As always.

I could feel the dizziness spreading over me. I shifted my hand slightly, glanced at my watch and slid back into my repose. Six thirty and the sun had almost gone down. My blood soaked sleeve felt sticky and cold. For the first time I felt a shred of doubt about what I was doing. Nothing happened.

Just all of a sudden I asked myself, was it my time already? Was this how all was supposed to end?

For me, anyway? But then I realised the answers didn’t matter. I was leaving anyway. Leaving for a place where I hoped the mundane occurrences in the life of an eighteen year old didn’t matter. I remembered a movie, the protagonist dreaming of a place far beyond this realm where the concepts of ‘right and wrong’ and ‘now and then’ didn’t matter.

I knew I was dying, and it was not at all horrific, not in the sense it is always portrayed. For one, I had planned it. It did seem a bit sad; a tad disappointing, but that was all. In that moment I was overwhelmed by the insignificance of my existence. And why not. There are simply so many of us.

By now I had been observing a small sparrow for quite a while. Chirping, hopping and feeding in all the glory of freedom it possessed. Then came the meow of a pet cat, a streak of black fur, panicked fluttering, a strangled squak and then the appreciative chuckle of the cat’s owner. I almost stood up for the bird.

And then I blacked out.