Sunday, February 19, 2006

Gandhi – A Miserable Failure

Some of the things Mahatma Gandhi (MK Gandhi) did are quite complicated to many people. They seem to be contradictory or conflicting in nature. According to me, Gandhi is a miserable failure. He set out to achieve one of the biggest tasks in the history of mankind and failed miserably. According to me, it was the biggest challenge any human has ever undertaken – he actually believed that he could convince people (humans) to live amicably, respecting each other’s differences and tolerating diversity, forever. In some respects, his goal was far greater than any other prophets who came before in time. Mohammed united a bunch of war-mongering, women-grabbing tribes under a single banner called Islam. He taught them to love, respect and treat each other equally; and to ensure that they keep doing this after he is gone he laid out many rules. He was a bit of authoritarian in his style- he wanted no debates on certain rules; may be, he saw some flaws in previous systems (read, religions) and hence he want to make a foolproof system. He realized that as long as people are alike, they will love each other and would not make war, nor kill each other, nor insult each other, and therefore wanted to make sure all people are turned (or converted) to be alike. This, he thought, would solve all problems. His algorithm went this way-

Rule 1. People love other people only if they are of same kind

Rule 2. Make all people alike.

Rule 3. If some resist, use all means necessary to make them alike.

Rule 4. If someone questions any of the above, he is not alike (apply Rule 2 & 3).

This he thought would ensure that there is only one system in the world and hence would solve all the problems. He wasn’t that magnanimous when it comes to people of other kind. He just did not want to deal with the issue of diversity. He wanted to make it simple. For his algorithm to work, he knew clearly that Rule 2 has to be achieved in totality, no matter what. He realized that it could be trouble if there exists another strong and big group who are not alike. This would upset the whole algorithm because Rule 3 may not be applied with success all the time. So, he took strong care to mention in strong words different aspects of Rule 3 and felt that that was good enough to make system work. Unfortunately, other systems also developed similar kind of rules, became big groups of different kind and posed a challenge to this algorithm. Rest, as they say, is history!

Lets take another prophet- Jesus Christ. He was not as clever. He did not devise an elaborate algorithm. He didn’t want to set rules. He just wanted to love, be loved, and teach everyone else to love each other. I guess he was quite a romantic guy. I don’t think he ever wanted to create a system (read, religion). He was just a happy-go-lucky, lets-be-merry kind of guy but was deeply troubled when he realized that there was lot of hatred and animosity amongst people. He saw how certain kind of people treated other kind of people badly. He was against this discrimination. In some way, he believed in the modern day kind of constitutions that like to, or at least pretend to, treat every one equal irrespective of sex, religion, race, language, etc. When he saw too many problems around him, he came up with a simple and elegant solution. He thought – ‘Let love prevail!’ He went about preaching the same. He was hoping that everyone would love each other and would not care about their differences and hence would live happily ever after. But for some reason, people did not care much for his message after he was gone. But there were some who realized that it was in their interest if people were alike – it was much easier to rule them, much easier to influence them, etc. Therefore they devised a system built upon his message and enforced it onto others so that they all learn to love. In my opinion, though his message was clear, and he went about practicing it, he had not quite understood the inherent diversity in the people, and didn’t address it properly– other than the message of love. But he had lot of success to his credit. In few hundred years, his message got translated into a system with rules called Christianity. He had few things going easy for him though- he was focusing on a small geographical area that was not as diverse as the modern India and there were not many big systems (religions) that could pose challenges.

One could talk about other prophets, but the story runs similar.

Gandhi had a huge and daunting task for himself. He had to face much more diverse set of people compared to any of the prophets above. His method was different - he did not want to eliminate those diversities. He inherently believed that people are always different. He didn’t want to change others. His message was clear- change yourself to learn to love and respect the other although he is quite different from you. He was hoping that different groups who have strong systems and algorithms would modify some of their steps/rules to be accommodating to others. He wanted people to co-exist peacefully. In fact, he had the biggest, most diverse and most complicated experiment grounds to work on compared to any of the prophets above. He hoped that the only way to go about is to create some principles which when practiced by different people would achieve the above loftier goal. Instead of introducing new systems, he worked with the existing systems and algorithms, and hoped to bring out similarities in each of them. This was a complex problem of gigantic proportions. Many people, who were used to their systems, felt theirs was superior from others and hence would not budge to see his message. All in all, he went on conducting his experiments throughout his life, laid out guiding principles, practiced them and preached them. However, his message was soon lost on different groups who wanted to be the way they were- and didn’t want a half-naked fakir teaching them how to be tolerant of others. They thought- ‘If someone has to exist with us, let them change, we are fine the way we were’. Soon his system crumbled, and the world was as before- different warring groups constantly fighting as ever. He set out to achieve highest of the goals, and failed, miserably.

Once we realize what he was striving for, I am hoping that most of his actions could be easily explained. When he started Non-cooperation movement, he knew that he was asking a bunch of young doctors to perform a crucial surgery. He was hoping they would be disciplined enough to actually pull this off, but when he entered the operation theater, he saw bunch of unruly youngsters bickering about and throwing scissors into the air. He had to call it off that day so that they can all come back to this surgery later. He knew that if he went ahead with it there was a danger that patient may actually die. He called off the Non-cooperation movement because he saw that India would be broken into pieces if it became independent right away. The people, administrators, the future rulers were just not ready yet. Ruling India was a far complicated problem than anyone imagined.

All the while, during the Independence movement, the biggest challenge for him was not the Independence itself. Actually it was ranking #17 in his list (I am just making up this list to drive my point). He had 16 other things of higher priority. First was to ensure that India remains one. If it breaks up, his goal (see above – to achieve unity amongst diverse people) is not realized. He wanted different religions to live together. He wanted different castes to treat each other with respect. A great deal of time was spent to bring untouchables, lower castes into the mainstream. He wanted women to be treated properly. He wanted us to practice good hygiene, good sanitary conditions. He wanted us to depend less on other kind of people because that created the difference in social structure, and hence asked us to clean our toilets, make our own clothes, etc.

Many a times, he called off some of his movements because half way through the operation, he started to realize that the operation (cutting of the tumor) might be successful, but the patient may eventually die. Therefore, he called it off, much to the dismay, disappointment, disillusionment that led into resentment amongst those young doctors. It created many disgruntled doctors- Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad, Subhash Chandra Bose, etc.

His concern was not ‘when’ but ‘how’ would India get its independence? What would happen right after achieving complete freedom? Would we fight amongst ourselves? Would Hindus fight the Muslims? What kind of bloodshed would it be? He roughly calculated on a piece of paper that it would be more than 100 Million in deaths (I am making this up to drive my point). Would the untouchable still remain untouchable? Would women be freer? Would our youngsters be unruly mob demanding things or would they discipline themselves to work towards better administration? Would every king in every corner make a country of his own or would they join India?

When Bhagat Singh was convicted of a murder Gandhi had to deal with a complicated problem. Should he pardon Singh’s means and methods? By condoning Singh’s acts is he not setting a wrong example to the other youth? Is it the kind of India he envisions? When British leave, would there be law and order, or would it be chaos? Would we be assassinating others, or would we be working with the system?

The answers are easy to come – if you go see his ultimate goal above.

When India got its independence, his goal was not realized, because many of his top 16 priorities were not achieved. He was sad for various failures. India was partitioned – this meant that two religions would not wish to live together – his ultimate goal not achieved. Its leaders were chanting venomous slogans against other groups, they were not treating its citizen equal and they were bickering and fighting. He knew he failed and hence he was disappointed. Moreover, they were not listening to him any more- neither the leaders nor the people. He was no longer a Mahatma to them. He died, knowing that his message was not heard, that he failed in the grandest experiment ever designed in the history of mankind!

Rang De Basanti!

I watched the movie (Rang De Basanti) last night with some of my friends. It was a good movie. I would like to watch it once again. Aamir Khan and other actors were good and it was nice to see a movie where a single protagonist doesn’t take complete credit.

An interesting debate ensued after the movie when we were having tea late night on MG Road (Bangalore). I thought it was a good movie but not a great example. (Imagine every disgruntled youth taking up a gun and shooting down people) I went a step ahead to equate Bhagat Singh, Chandrasekhar Azad, et al, to modern day freedom fighters/militants who blow up things or kill a figurehead to make a point. You can now imagine the kind of onslaught I got from rest of my friends – who of course have great respect and reverence for these ‘revolutionaries’. Not that I don’t respect those revolutionaries. I just do not agree with their methods. I believe they set a wrong example in the larger context. In my opinion, a revolutionary who believes in an ideal has to see it through- test with time, and change the methods if needed, and sail through rough weathers to get the required support from people to bring the change.

On this score, I do not have a great opinion on the martyrs who do just one thing in their life- like, kill a president or a leader, following which their contribution stops (because they are dead or convicted). Most of the time they are too young or suddenly get emotional to act in haste. In some cases (like many terrorist and militant outfits out there), they are just bums who have no direction and suddenly realize this is the only way to make a mark in their otherwise ordinary lives. They just don’t know how to go about convincing people or taking the message across – because that’s goddamn hard, and therefore employ the only effective way that they have at their disposal- kill someone or blow up something, cause sensation, and hope their message is delivered. (Most of the terrorist outfits have whole lot of guys who think on this line).

I definitely do not approve of the methods employed by the carefree-but-suddenly-became-committed youth in this movie. I cannot imagine where every death or assassination is being justified over All India Radio. How do you actually know if the Defense Minister is responsible for MIG-21 crash (causing death of Madhavan, the pilot)? It’s a subjective argument. One has to resort to legal or journalistic investigation to prove such things. This is no different from terrorists sending out a video/audio tape to justify why they kidnapped or a slit throat of a captured journalist. The whole argument is subjective and very farcical. One has to fight the system employing right methods and it is usually a long and arduous task- there are no quick fixes for bringing in a revolution. An act of assassination because one of your good friends got killed is more an act of revenge that an act of a cause. Such actions don’t set great example. If ever they do, they encourage the youth to continue to be carefree hoping that one assassination will make up for their lack of seriousness and commitment. The youth in this movie are not driven by a cause. And their means employing a slapdash solution without knowing the long-term effects reflect plain immaturity.

When we are at crossroads in our lives, most often we do know what is the right path, but it is goddamn hard to take it, and most of us just take the easy path, and pretend that it was the best path available.

The path taken up by Mother Theresa, or the guys who hugged the trees to stop deforestation in India, or the guys who went to Rajasthan and dug canals to bring water to villages, etc, are hard paths and the right paths. It takes immense strength and energy to be part of the system and fight the system. Instead, just blowing up the whole parliament doesn’t get us new dams, new railroads, protect our forests, or bring people out of poverty. In many societies it’s called terrorism.

A good example would have been where one fights his/her way through the system to change the system- ‘become a politician, or join IAS, or become a police officer’ as the pilot says in the movie. I would have loved that example, but then I guess it would not have made a ‘sensational’ movie. Death of a Defense Minister is ‘sensational’ enough! We may have to live with that for the sake of sensationalism.

The debate that followed this discussion was even more interesting where in we touched on various topics including Gandhi vs. Bhagat Singh, etc. I shall write my thoughts on this subject in my next session!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Foreign-born as my PM

This is what I wrote in 2003-2004 when Sonia Gandhi was about to become Prime Minister of India. Fortunately, it was Manmohan Singh who became the PM. Whew!
I wrote the following on my white board in my cube. I was working at an Indian company in Bangalore back then.
CELEBRATION (Reason: India to be ruled by an Indian-born – for now)
This is purely apolitical (non-political) reason- its do with matters of sovereignty, of self-esteem & self-dignity, and of national security.

Some agreed with this message, some did not. Some said that I was a 'true patriot and a true Indian'. I am not sure what means. Such words are quite confusing sometimes. Are you a patriot if you support India and all its policies? If so, does a patriot speak up when some fellow Indians (like in Kashmir and North-east) are being ruled at gunpoint? I would rather not be labeled with any of those adulations. Most of those whom I met in my cube admitted plainly that they haven't given this issue much thought- they did not dwell on it mostly because they thought it was a ‘political’ issue.
Indian media refers to it as foreign-born ‘issue’- giving it a political flavor. I think something is an issue when there are different versions to a story- like 'Bofors issue', 'Ayodhya issue', etc. where in people have a different take on it- some believe in it, some are opposed to it. I don’t understand why Sonia Gandhi being 'foreign-born' is an issue? Everybody knows where she is born. There is no contention on that. It’s not an issue, rather it’s a fact we have to deal with. 

Indian media quotes phrases from different constitutions of the world and says- '35 countries allow foreign-borns to be their country's leader'. Now, what about the rest-of-180 or odd countries? The news item should have read- '180 countries DO NOT allow a foreign born as their leader'. Lets look at some of these countries that do allow. Take for example, Belgium & Netherlands. While their constitution do not disallow any foreign born, will the people and political parties allow it? How many of Belgium's Prime Ministers were non-European, non-Belgian, non-white, non-Christian, non-Catholic? NONE! So, their constitution might not disallow, but people would not even dream or hallucinate of having a foreign-born individual as their Prime Minister. No constitution explicitly states that a person should not be mentally ill. It’s up to the people to make that judgment. Right here, right now, we are NOT judging. We are just accepting things as they come. US does not allow a foreign-born to become its President. Germany allows any German- he/she could be born anywhere. But to become a German, one of your parents has to be a German. No exceptions on that. Even the third-generation Turkish immigrants are not given German citizenship. They are born and then they die in Germany- but they are still Turkish.

Indians are all welcoming. That's a good trait. Anyone who is married to an Indian is eligible to become an Indian- any one living here for certain period of time is eligible to become an Indian. That’s good. Let Mother Teresa come to India, let Annie Besant come to India, let Katrina Kaif come to India, Let Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan come to India, Let Palestine study in India, let Nepalis work in India. Let Europeans set up Industry in India, let an American become a CEO in India. BUT PLEASE, make some one who is Indian-born our Prime Minister. Is that a lot to ask from our liberal-secular-multilingual Indian media and Congressmen? [Just for the kicks- here is a hypothetical question- would we have a accepted a black Nigerian as our Prime Minister if Rajiv Gandhi was married to one, or a Vietnamese? Think about it].

My opposition to foreign-born as our Prime Minister is simple.
Prime Minister is the supreme leader of India (whether we like to say it that way or not). She is the one who will represent India in all international forums. She will be the one who will be our messenger, our ambassador and our icon. She is the one who will have access to all vital secrets. She is the one who may have to vote against NATO countries (read Italy) in UN. She will be the one who will have to oppose a war led by NATO country. She is the one who will decide the fates of millions in case of a war.
She is raised in a different cultural setting with different value systems, different ethos and pathos. She can't be the one who doesn't know what it means to grow up as an Indian kid. She can't be the one who does not know what it is to be under colonial rule. She can't be the one who doesn't know what it means to be brown.

Some intellectuals reason that 'Sonia is more Indian than many other Indians'. Isn't she the one who ran for cover during Emergency? If I am more European than a European, will Europe allow me as one of their Prime Ministers? Does she know how an Indian mind reacts to an alien war, or a calamity, or an emotional issue?

Its gross ignominy that we had our independence just 50 years ago, and we are already clobbering on the floor to make another European-born as our head. Winston Churchill was opposed to Indian Independence. He said that we would not be able to rule ourselves. He thought that it was European responsibility to rule us. We may prove that he is right. Instead, why can't we celebrate our plurality and liberal attitude now because we have a Muslim President and Sikh PM? That's a great leap for a 50-year old democracy! That’s good enough for us in 50 years. We will have enough time to remove the boundaries of nations, mix all the races in a coffee cup, and throw caste system in to Indian Ocean. For now, I want an Indian-born to be my PM. Is that too much to ask?

PS: I can think of one country that made a foreign born their President. Peru made a Japanese-born their President. When things got tough, he took a plane with all cash, etc, went to Japan, and settled down as Japan's citizen :) So much for being more Peruvian than a Peruvian!

Thursday, February 02, 2006



Man is inherently curious. He might have developed this curiosity through evolution. There are observations which indicate that other animals also possess certain level of curiosity & inquisitiveness, but may not be to the same degree as man. Curiosity has to go hand in hand with intelligence to be able to answer questions, and most of the animals do not have the intelligence to allow them to answer their queries the way our minds do. 

Science is a tool developed by man that attempts to answer the queries of an inquisitive man. Though it does not necessarily answer all the questions a man can think of, it tries its best to come up with a logical explanation for some of the questions. ‘What is logical?’ one may ask. It is usually a method of reasoning that is agreed by many people to be a valid reasoning which when applied to a problem by almost anyone will lead to almost similar conclusion. 

Science’s answers to the queries of this curious man have been thoroughly checked and corrected through time; mainly because all observations, hypothesis and theories, corrections, flaws, and reasoning were recorded for progeny. To a great extent this ‘ability to record’ has helped mankind reach this level of science. And the rapid progress in technology in the last century can be attributed to this mass transfer of acquired knowledge to every curious mind. No more people have to wait for another Newton to explain Gravitation or another Einstein to explain Relativity. It’s all recorded. So all one has to do is take up a book or manual and read through it and accept it if his reasoning agrees with the contents. 

Somehow we are at a much better stage compared to any of our ancestors in answering the mysteries of Universe just because we came late and have access to wealth of information and associated theories that explain the observations. Now, we can explain the phenomenon of celestial objects, their orbits, the birth and death of stars, the mechanics of atoms, the attractive forces between bodies, the propagation of waves through space, and so many more in the areas of biology, geology, mathematics, etc. 

It does not however mean that we know everything. This tends to a discussion wherein one would like to know whether we can ever know 'Everything'. Somehow, the same science cannot answer that question with confidence.