To Be or Not To Be

A little kingdom I possess,
Where thoughts and feelings dwell;
And very hard the task I find
Of governing it well.
-- Louisa May Alcott.
...........hmmm....that more or less describes my situation !!

~A Wise Man Said~

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
-- Aristotle

~My Photo Blog~

  ...Worth a Thousand Words

Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Call me PiPi

Birthdays come and go. They are a fairly good indicator of the people who come and go in one’s life. One would assume the people who have any sort of presence in one’s life would want to wish one on one’s birthday. But I think that logic may be a bit skewed today in the social media context. It’s become so easy to wish people without really having any bond with them. In comparison, calling was a lot more personal and took some emotional labour, both on the part of the caller and the receiver. People like me who are not exactly the most social of beings may have felt awkward at being in either position…but I now find myself wishing people on Facebook or Whatsapp without a moment’s hesitation. I don’t mind being wished the same way too but I do wonder what it means for personal relationships if even the most important of occasions can now be dealt with so brusquely… but then most things are brusque these days…

I don’t how many of my non-existent readers know that my nickname is Preeti. All my near and dear ones know me as Preeti (which means ‘love’ in Kannada). I myself prefer being called Preeti but with a formal name so very different could never really get people to call me Preeti. Not that I tried very hard except in my head. I would imagine, when I was a lot younger, of how I would ask this friend or that friend or anyone I got to know a little better to call me Preeti instead of Sylvia. I never really managed to get the words out except on very rare occasions.
My first cute little niece was born 3 years ago and when she first started forming words, she happened to call me “PiPi”. I lovvvveed the sound of this word. There’s something so loveable and huggable about this word… I had some thoughts then of getting her to call me Mou which is what a friend of mine is called by her niece… but when I heard PiPi I knew it was perfect. It was me. Now that the niece is 3 and has a better ear for what people around are calling me, she is starting to call me Piti or Preeti (though people around me have been instructed to call me PiPi too). I don’t respond to her calls till she calls me PiPi. Luckily for me my brand new second niece is all of 1.5 years old, and knowing my fondness for PiPi, my bro and sis-in-law trained her to call me PiPi. I find this cute little thing blabbing PiPi at me. It’s a joy, what can I say. I am just hoping my younger niece doesn’t get influenced by the older one. I am trying to get the older one to learn from the younger one. It’s a muddle I don’t mind being in the middle of J
My birthday cake had a PiPi on it… the truth is no matter how many birthdays come and go, all I want is for some things to remain the same… and I am glad to have two more little people in my life who will be there to make it special… whether they call me PiPi or not… I will always be their PiPi at heart…

Sunday, December 24, 2017

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

(Old Irish Blessing)

At this time of the year, I somehow feel more nostalgic than other times (if that’s possible!). To all the people who have touched my life so far, some barely scraping the surface and some leaving a huge dent and some not knowing if it’s one or the other… wish you all a very merry Christmas and a joyous New Year… thank you for coming into my life and being here awhile…

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

I guess it’s been a looo…oooong time. When I was living alone here, my emotional outlet was writing. Now that my mom is with me for a few months, can you blame me if I want to spend precious moments with her? J Of course, work keeps me quite busy and I don’t have as much time to just sit and moon around as I would like to. Hmm… I think sitting and mooning around is what I have spent the most time in my life on. Wasn’t it Aristotle who said “The unexamined life is not worth living”? Sometimes I do wonder, why is it not? The liver clearly doesn’t know or care and is as happy and maybe a lot more than someone examining it, I dare say.
Anyway… now that I have warmed up to the blog again… sharing a post I wrote a little while ago but for some reason did not put out.

I have always avoided talking shop on this blog. Or talking work stuff. But I guess I am in that happy position now where my work and personal thoughts are all in the same zone… that is, philosophical J Out of habit though I tend not to talk about things that are closely related to what I am thinking about from a work (now research) perspective, but I guess it’s much harder and probably a bit pointless to maintain that distinction any more.
Out of a number of ideas that have occupied my mind in the past many months, an important one is objectivity vs. subjectivity. As a lay person, I thought of objectivity almost as a virtue. It meant justice, fairness, rationality, detachedness… and not allowing my personal feeling to cloud my judgement. But, now I realise, objectivity could have another meaning. It could mean defining an absolute view. It could mean establishing your version of the truth as ‘the truth’. It could mean not allowing that there could be various ways to look at the same problem and all of them equally admissible. It could mean being intolerant of non-mainstream positions.

To give an example, is history as we are told an objective account? The account serves the interest of some or the other side, usually those on the dominant side …could it be objective? What would objective mean? Objective from whose perspective? If one has to ask that question, it ceases to be objective. Take for example any religion. The religious members within the faction have no doubt that what is written in the Bible or the Koran is objective knowledge or that it is the truth. If one were to contest this fact, the objective would become intolerant because the whole notion of objectivity is founded on the fact that there cannot be another way of looking at the matter. And this needn’t be said only of religion. I personally feel that science fanatics are probably as culpable as the religious ones because just as religion does a bad job of establishing if the earth is round or square, science may be unable to tell why humans behave as they do…because human behaviour is derived as much from culture (which is variable) as from nature (which is fixed). Yet, science fanatics, at least the dogmatic ones, will cry heresy as much as the religious folks simply because they are so wedded to objectivity; they do not realise that sometimes it is more objective to be subjective. Because one supposedly objective view may drown many subjective views but many subjective views may represent a diverse universe better. And in my opinion, may also be a more tolerant universe.  

Friday, June 30, 2017
Why would or why should anyone do what I request them to do or would like them to do? Many do it if they can get them something in return be it immediately or potentially. If they don’t see any return in the transaction, chances are they won’t do it. Also, some people get some sort of ego boost out of doing things for other people… the reason I call it an ego boost and not that they are good people who love to do things for others is because in making others feel good, they feel good, and it is this feeling of ‘good’ that they are after (not that that’s a bad thing at all). But not everyone gets a kick out of helping others. So how do you get people who need to see some tangible or material return to do things for other people? The obvious answer is by giving them these returns but doing that would only reinforce their attitude and behaviour and encourage a society where everyone does things only because they get something in return for it. I feel that we are probably already living in such an economically driven society that is based on the logic of economic exchange rather than community values. Where I don’t do things for you because I trust you will also do things for others including me and we all live cooperatively and in harmony… in the long term. What we have now is a transactional society where you get what you pay for so there’s limited need for trust. I believe that this transactional way of doing things has so spread into society that it pervades even our private lives. Familial relationships also show a market orientation rather than a trust orientation because it is uncomfortable for us to accept things on ‘trust’ now… the logic of relationships in general is shifting to an economic base. 

Of course I don’t mean to say that trust is always returned. That is part of the problem with trust that you don’t have to face in pure economic exchanges—that trust may not be returned. And if there wasn’t the chance that trust may not be returned it would not be called trust. The element of uncertainty is what imbues trust with its moral power. I know that you did not have to return this sum of money that I loaned to you but you still did which means that both the person who loaned the money and the person who returned it are bound by a moral contract rather than an economic one. If one did not believe in moral values or obligations and such, nothing stops them from not returning it. In some ways a real contract frees both people from the uncertainties and tensions that a symbolic contract may bring and that is why we prefer those. But what about when the exchange is not financial? Isn’t a person who cannot be trusted to fulfil monetary obligations on trust as incapable of fulfilling any other moral obligation? By creating a society where people are freed from the burden of taking moral responsibility by resorting to economic contracts, aren’t we in some way dulling the sense of moral obligations… or responsibilities in exchanges based on pure trust… for example, have prenuptial agreements made marriages more successful or have they only made divorces simpler?

Isn’t a well-functioning community at the end of the day one that is founded on principles of trust (or intrinsic values) rather than economics…?

Saturday, June 24, 2017
Among the many competencies I lack, there is one that bothers me the most. It is the ability to school my face to not reflect my true emotions. Some people have told me that my face is like an open book: I wouldn’t have trusted it to be true if many others hadn’t mentioned to me at quite emotional moments that they could tell that I was upset or that something was wrong or that it was clear that I didn’t really like what was said to me. I think it is a grave disadvantage especially in a world where honesty is equated with naïve stupidity and diplomacy is rewarded generously.

As they say, awareness of a problem is half the solution. But in this case I am not sure it is. It is not as if I deliberately let on my emotions. I don’t even realise I am so transparent. And emotional triggers are such that even before you realise you have betrayed an expression you may already have done the damage. Another thing to do may be to practise some sort of neutral smile or arrangement of features that never really drops. I could be too old to try this. I wonder if people who do manage to do this have been doing it successfully for years. If masking my real feelings is too difficult then another option could be to change how I actually feel about things within me. If I feel something is not quite right, maybe I should try not to feel bad about it but to say hang on, park the thought, this doesn’t seem right, but maybe there’s a better explanation, let’s not jump to a conclusion here, or maybe this is a learning situation, let me reflect on what I can learn from this later, nothing to feel down about, or maybe I can say, okay, we live in the real world and there are all sorts of people in the real world, I can’t control their actions, but I can control my reaction to their actions and not transfer power to them, or maybe I can say relax, take a deep breath, you know you have the right intentions and values, not everyone will understand you, and that is okay, let it pass. I guess what I am saying is that positive interior dialogue could help bring my emotions to a better place and not give away what I am feeling. Not because I don’t want to be honest but because honest emotion is seen as a sign of weakness rather than authenticity.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A lot of people do things in their everyday lives without asking whether it’s the right thing to do but if you were to ask them outright about whether they are ethical or moral people they would have no problem saying a yes. To me people who will stop to think about it or will be doubtful about the answer are likely to be actually more ethical and moral. Reason being, they think deeply about what ethical or moral even means and to say you are either of these means you know exactly what they mean but because these are relative terms you never really can know. So you never really can have a positive answer to this question. And if you do, it means you haven’t even engaged with these terms enough, so if you don’t even care to know what it means to be ethical or moral, chances are you aren’t. I think it is also about how much you think or reflect in general about your own actions. If you do, chances are you will be digging into your own assumptions and not feeling quite comfortable about many of the things you do or why you did them. Exhibit B may not reflect a lot about their actions so it clearly won’t bother them. It’s funny that if you do have a conscience you will not engage in immoral behaviour but because of this very conscience you will probably find even minor transgressions a source of discomfort. On the other hand, if you have a rather dull conscience your major transgressions won’t really prick you much. So what does that mean? That being an ethical and moral person may not give a good night’s sleep after all, it may not make you feel good about yourself after all, but that is a good sign. It means you take that much more responsibility for your own actions and are not afraid to question yourself. It means you care about your fellow humans which is the most you can do on this earth without a guarantee of a next life.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Among the many reasons why people believe we have been dropped here on earth, one reason continues to present itself to me with frightening regularity: it is to teach us lessons. I am not quite sure of the end goal of learning those lessons; whether they are skills that would come in handy in heaven or whether we are given a chance to conduct ourselves better in our next lives, or whatever else it might be, the fact remains that you can’t mistake the lessons that keep punching you in the face. There’s no ignoring them even if one tried, and I do try, to put it mildly. And I do get punched in the face often, and hard.

In the present case, I am still reeling a bit. I have this habit of letting my love of arguing get the better of me. By get the better of me I don’t mean that I become quarrelsome or nasty or try to win at all costs, but I try to push the argument as far as it will go without considering who my opponent is. By ‘who’ I mean it doesn’t matter to me if the opponent is a friend, an enemy, a senior, a junior, a peer, a president, a cobbler, a king, an expert or a novice. This also means that in the context of an argument I meet the opponent as an equal and the validity of an argument to me rests purely on the weight and logic of the arguments themselves and not on who the respective parties are; if who they are, for example an expert, is relevant it would get reflected in the strength of argument itself and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter because knowledge or truth unfortunately does not bow to age or status or qualifications. Well as all this sounds in theory I have learnt that there are some categories of people who are more than happy to call you out for a bout of argument but are not comfortable when you argue with them as if who they are doesn’t matter! It is almost as if they are offended that you are not taking into account their very many years of experience, expert status, accomplishments, official accolades and all of the rest, and the little chit of a person that you are with none of all this grandiosity attached, dare to argue with them as if you are their equal! They are shocked at your presumptuousness! They have come to believe that the argument is only as good as the arguer and the arguer having made it in the world should at least now be able to put up their feet and not keep having to prove their position with troublesome arguments. Why, then, do you ask, do they invite you or provoke you to have a debate because everything they have to say is proven and nothing you have to say can match it? Indeed, why. Well, that’s where my lessons come in. I have time and again been misled into situations where I have had the horror of realising that the person who appeared to love a dialogue for the pleasure of knowledge or truth was actually not expecting someone to have an equal say at all… Most people quickly get a sense of this and play by the rules… but I have yet to learn.  
A thing that most struck me is that a person who reaches a certain position in life through long years of study in a subject may indeed claim to be an expert in it but just because someone else has not reached the same position cannot simply assume that that person lacks the intellect to grapple with or the understanding to grasp the subject. The fact that a person was able to achieve an exalted position may reflect on their abilities but it is not pure abilities and talent that take a person where they are (it would be extremely naïve to think so)…and by the same logic, if a person isn’t in the same league as you it may say less about their natural abilities and more about their opportunities and circumstances. We don’t know. But, the arguments stripped away from all those externalities and entrapments should be able to stand on their own if they come from a position of real strength. The desire to gag the supposedly weak would suggest the opposite.

Sunday, April 09, 2017
There is something about food. You take it for granted most of the time. I am not talking about the availability or lack of food which is a separate issue altogether. But the emotional side of food. The emotional connections that are built through food. Growing up, the breakfast rush to get to school. The food you have in the recesses with friends or alone if you are a loner. The times you don’t bring lunch because your mother couldn’t make something or something happened. The dinners that are had with the TV rather than the family. Lunches on weekends when something special maybe Chicken and Pulao is made because everyone is at home and it’s so noisy but still… the TV is switched on since morning and nobody can do anything about it because your brother is lording over the remote. You sort of notice what’s on your plate and sort of don’t. You notice because it’s your favourite Puri, Bhaji and Shrikhand and Shrikhand because you love it. You notice the Dosa and Sambar and know it’s coming because of the commotion of the grinder and all the smells coming out of the kitchen.

It’s obvious when it’s Easter because people haven’t had any meat for many weeks and we make pork only twice a year mostly, on Christmas and on Easter, so how can you not look forward to it. You know the ritual by now, the pork or Dukra Maas as we call it in Konkani is on the stove in the afternoon and then you who are supposed to be an expert in the house in telling the taste are invited to check if everything is alright with the gravy. Maybe a little more salt and a little more vinegar, you say. You don’t want it too spicy of course. And your brother who knows you will always downplay the spice butts in and asks to add more chilli. It’s not hot at all. Your mom tries to make you both happy telling you she won’t put any more chilli but I know she does because it does taste a bit hotter later. The Sannas that look like Idlis but aren't are a perfect foil to the Dukra Maas. Steamed cakes of rice they make the Dukra Maas taste perfect. Some of us have a go at it before the mass and some have a small go before and a big go after the mass which is around one in the night but who minds. We aren’t exactly a health-conscious family but we certainly are taste-conscious. I usually keep a big bottle of Fanta or Mirinda around because it goes marvellously well with the spicy pork.

Easter’s coming this weekend and I am thinking of food… and I am thinking of all the memories associated with food which is more than food… it’s like if I could have the exact same Pork and Sannas now I would be transported home without leaving my room…but that’s not possible because the food is as much a product of my home as my home is a product of that food in my mind… if you know what I mean… I went to an Indian shop the day before and one of the things I was very keen to find is a coconut scraper. If I could get my hands on it I would buy coconuts and I would make some home style dishes, I said to myself. So I did buy a coconut, a scraper, lots of Indian veggies, even a Dosa making powder! And today morning I had Dosa and Sambar for breakfast J. It wasn’t perfect, the Dosas looked all countries on the map and some unidentifiable ones… but you know what, they took me home. They took me to all those times in my home when mom made those Dosas and I like a queen just kept having them with the Sambar and the Chutney oblivious to all the sweet labour behind it. The grating of the coconut to the pouring of Dosa batter. Having done all of it myself and tasted the fruit of all that effort, I was happy. I was happy to be taken home and I was happy to relish a lot of things about the food I had taken for granted and that was brought home to me…

End of nostalgia… J

Wish you all a very Happy Easter and very special Easter meals… enjoy them, make the most of them and those who make them!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Why I Don’t Buy into Positivity

There is a pervasive sentiment that positivity is the cure for all ills. Even if you’re on your deathbed, there will be some who will tell you that if you are positive enough, you might come out of it alive. The more depressed you feel inwardly, at the state of world affairs or personal affairs, the more pressure you feel to put on an outward mask of fake positivity. And there is enough pseudo-science out there that will tell you that if you smile for 21 days, you will actually start feeling happy on the 22nd. I have no idea where they dig these numbers from.
I personally find positivity or rather the cult of positivity positively negative. Negative in that it seems to impose inauthenticity or tells me in a rather roundabout way that my feelings if they are not all peachy are not ‘valid’ or ‘good’ and must be ‘fixed’. I thought I was rather alone in my animosity toward positivity until I read this academic article which nicely puts it as ‘the tyranny of positive thinking’. It says that if positivity is overly encouraged, say in an organisational setting, people may start keeping their misgivings to themselves or stop voicing any contrary opinions for fear of appearing ‘negative’. Positivity in other words could be a threat to critical thinking as critical thinking in a sense demands evaluating the ‘negatives’. Leaders’ emphasis on positivity may actually be a means of keeping out dissenting voices and propagating their own ‘positive’ narratives as true (the article gives examples of positivity mantras such as “bring me answers, not problems” or “you worry too much”)—for some reason positivity gets more easy acceptance as truth and anyone showing a negative spot is taken for the villain (he isn’t). Positivity also encourages a ‘blame the victim’ attitude. If the path to success is strewn with positivity, failure is just a direct result of not following that path! Organisations seem to think that positivity is good for productivity which it could be if positivity is all about being cheerful no matter what the situation; again, acknowledging that there is less to be positive about may actually create a more positive situation for the worker and ironically even for the organisation than to enforce the self-belief that all is well and good. The article also brings up an example of a US President who didn’t like “pessimism, hand-wringing or doubt” actually diminishing the administration’s ability to deal with disasters! (clearly, wishing them away didn’t work!)
I value authenticity and critical thinking over positivity. I see no harm in optimism and hope, in fact, they certainly help you move on from a place of despair, but I’d rather look at despair in the eye and then move on than pretend that it doesn’t exist or clamp down on people who see it for what it is. I’d rather listen to a practical assessment of problems and try to fix them than pretend that things will get better if I just keep feeling positive that they will. In my opinion, excessive positivity is as bad as excessive negativity—both distort the situation and move the focus away from a solution.

Monday, February 13, 2017

With so much nonsense going on in the world (I mean TRUMP of course), I am worried about something. The more idiocy I see around me, the more the rise of the stupid, the more I start wondering, not so much whether God exists, which I wonder all the time, but an option not infinitely better: Is God rational? Even the manner in which we humans define ‘good’ today, thanks to the trouble philosophers have gone to over the ages to ferret out various definitions of the word, more or less tends to be rational. But, we have no means of knowing today as we didn’t back then whether God himself/herself/itself is rational.
And suppose for a moment that God’s definition of ‘good’ is not a rational one. What happens then? Truth, honesty, justice, integrity, loyalty, equality… all this good stuff… all these values… what happens to them? What if all this doesn’t exactly lead you to God or to heaven? We don’t know what else does except that some extremely religious folks seem to think you could go to church as a sort of backdoor entry to heaven without all the other inconvenient claptrap.
I guess life would cease to have any meaning if it weren’t founded on a rational system of ideas, not just rationality on earth but equally important as seen from above. If someone committed a crime and did not get caught, one could still say that he will one day meet his maker and have to answer for his crimes. One could say that because one believes that one’s idea of crime and justice are the same as that in heaven. But what about the complex modern day crimes or onslaughts against ‘good’? They are not as simple as a murder where a life is clearly lost. How would God judge those crimes? There is no way to know.
I for one believe that rationality is the best means we have with us for apprehending a ‘good’ world. Rationality not disconnected from empathy, of course. What I fear are ironically people who make an appearance of religiosity at the expense of rationality. I’d rather have the philosopher’s version of ‘good’ than the priest’s—no offence to the priest but his followers don’t give one confidence.

Friday, January 27, 2017

All these years I have attempted to write a blog on my birthday. If nothing else, at least a saying or a poem or anything to mark the day. This time, well, I guess I was too overwhelmed. It was the last day I had with family before I flew back here. I had extended my holiday for a week more to spend my birthday at home… didn’t want to break my record of never spending a single birthday away from family. I guess I have mentioned before how addicted to consistency I am… sometimes even meaningless consistencies like which exact seat at the dining table I will always occupy, usually one of the corners that allows me to lean against a wall or some surface and never in the middle.
The funny thing I noticed this time is that though I had always lived with family and had been away only 2.5 months, there were so many tiny little things that I never noticed before. So many things that made me realise how very delicious it was to be with family. So many things that kept tugging at my heart making me think about how I was going to miss them. How my mom made tea and my favourite things for me before I woke up, how the little niece smiled and gurgled at me, how everyone wanted to do some or the other special thing for me… it seemed to me that it was not only I who was appreciating all these gestures more but even they were hanging on to my presence more because they knew my time with them was short.  
Makes me think about how we take our time with loved ones for granted. Assuming it would be forever. If we thought it was going to be only a short while, we’d probably be as loving and caring and nurturing as we really wanted to be if we didn’t have other what we think more important things on the mind. I think about how every day I used to come back from work only to sit in my room and read or take a nap or how I spent weekends curled up in bed rather than watching TV with my brother. Now, I suddenly wanted to watch TV if only to be around everyone… (it helped that we have Netflix now ;))
Sitting here and missing home deeply I can’t but think to myself that I had the most wonderful Christmas this time… and I can’t wait for it to be Christmas again...

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dear lovely Christmas tree

Why do you seem to smile at me

A sad, melancholy smile

Why do you remind me

Ever so subtly

Of all the Christmases gone by

When loved faces

Weren’t so old,

or jagged, or wrinkly,

or worn

Why do you remind me of those Christmases

When needs were little and things were simple

When you, dear Christmas tree,

Looked less glorious

Why do you remind me of all those Christmases

That came and went by

So hurriedly as it now seems

So many moons ago

Soft shiny tears prick me

To think they’re no more

And yet a tiny ray of gladness

I force myself to see

That life no matter how it used to be

Has been not unkind to me

All those small little childhood hands

Are still mine to hold

And some, though old and aged

Are still so dear to behold

And you dear Christmas tree

Though sparkly new and strange to my past

Are a bright witness to many more Christmases

To new memories that I may remember at long last!

(~some musings on Christmas night…)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016
I used to wonder why Indians visiting from abroad would be extra polite in their mannerisms such as saying Thank You or Brilliant or Sorry at every possible and not possible opportunity. I could have put it down to showing off one’s new self or something of the kind. Now that I have lived here for 2.5 months I realise that people tend to say these words a lot and you have no choice but to imitate them if you do not want to be seen as impolite or rude, and over time it could well become a habit that you can’t shake off wherever you go. So if you are in a mall and have barely brushed against someone or maybe just about not collided with them while moving to get some item of dress, you would still say sorry and they would say sorry, though exactly what we’re sorry for is difficult to pin down because we only crossed paths, didn’t even touch each other much less caused any grievous harm.

Now if you are from India and you have had experience in a public bus or in a market, you know what happens. Random people push you, pinch you, grab you, grope you, fall all over you…and apologies in such situations are the last thing one looks for. We do say our Thank Yous and Sorrys but mostly in elevated company or occasions. Say you received a birthday present from a friend or were congratulated or appreciated by your boss. Such situations come to mind. How many of us thank the communal area cleaner who collects our garbage or the maid who washes our vessels or the waiter who brings over our food? I know that I didn’t, and I never thought about it. But being here, and noticing how people thank people for small acts, not going into whether they genuinely mean the sentiments or not, the very act of thanking someone who does something that you take for granted makes you see things in a different light. Makes you wonder about the cultural difference. Maybe because here people do their own chores be it washing vessels or cooking food they tend to value the labour or effort going into these manual activities more and appreciate it when others do it for them even for a price? Maybe they see the people who do these activities as people and individuals unlike in India where we are used to unseeing them? Where if we were to see misery and poverty in the eye we would not be able to be at peace and carry on with our lives? Where saying a Thank You or a Sorry may also seem fake in the context of how those people are treated overall. I don’t know.

A funny incident happened that showed to me that old habits die hard and when you are least aware they can make you act in ways that expose your conditioning. I was invited to a student social which is nothing but snacks and chit chat with other students and as I moved to get some soft drink, possibly I had something on my mind, someone was pouring a drink for the girl ahead of me in the queue, and I extended my glass after her. They started laughing and I suddenly sprung into consciousness realising that this wasn’t India! The guy wasn’t a server and I wasn’t in a queue where there were waiters to pour tea or juice! It was an embarrassing moment indeed!

In other news, I am going to India for a Christmas holiday! Can’t contain my excitement is all I can say! Wish you all a very Merry Christmas! J

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Academic papers are supposed to be dull affairs, one would think. And they are for the most part. But, what I have observed is that the papers that make you sit up and think are the ones that are most ‘literary’ in character, if you know what I mean. I could read pages and pages of such almost like I would read fiction, and believe it or not, some of the wit makes me even giggle. When I was a child, my mom or bro or sis would sometimes get startled by a laugh or a titter from whichever solitary corner of the house I was reading in (in Mumbai we don’t have the luxury of a room to ourselves, or at least we didn’t what with three kids in the house!) and after checking a few times if something was wrong, they grew used to it. Thankfully, there are no other persons in my current accommodation to ask me what’s wrong with me because if they saw I was reading an academic paper, they wouldn’t need any convincing proof of the fact.

Now judge for yourself. Take this paper, “On the Folly of Rewarding A, While Hoping for B” (I absolutely recommend that you download from here and read it. The opening statement cannot but draw you in:
“Whether dealing with monkeys, rats, or human beings, it is hardly controversial to state that most organisms seek information concerning what activities are rewarded, and then seek to do (or at least pretend to do) those things, often to the virtual exclusion of activities not rewarded.”
Kerr then talks about how rewards are sometimes designed such that they attract A behaviour when actually one wants to encourage B behaviour. An example he gives is that of orphanages and here is what he says:
“The orphanage therefore theoretically is interested in placing as many children as possible in good homes. However, often orphanages surround themselves with so many rules concerning adoption that it is nearly impossible to pry a child out of the place. Orphanages may deny adoption unless the applicants are a married couple, both of the same religion as the child, without history of emotional or vocational instability, with a specified minimum income and a private room for the child, etc.”
I couldn’t stifle a giggle at the ‘pry a child out of the place’! I mean, isn’t that a delicious way of putting it in the given context! JJ
What he is getting at of course is that while one wants to encourage orphanages to put maximum children into good homes, they are actually rewarded for something else, for example, the allocated budget or size of staff may depend on number of children ‘in’ the orphanage. Here is how he concludes the point:
“…to the extent that staff size, total budget, and personal prestige are valued by the orphanage's executive personnel, it becomes rational for them to make it difficult for children to be adopted. After all, who wants to be the director of the smallest orphanage in the state?”
Is not that last statement funny? ;)
And yet on the whole so convincing!

Sunday, October 23, 2016
I have got a lot boiling in my head right now and lest it pour over, I thought I should make a quick dish with it! ;) It’s been close to three weeks since I landed in the UK, Lancaster to be precise (read earlier blog for context :)), and there are times when I feel like in another life I had sort of prayed for or wished for to be a part of just such a setting… and I have somehow been transported there! There are moments when I am hit with a “Is this a dream?” Like yesterday in a class when we were discussing “philosophers” and “objectivity vs. subjectivity” and “world views” and “what is reality” and “how do we interpret reality” and “how does our philosophical view influence research”. It felt like suddenly it was okay to eat chocolates for breakfast or something ;)

What do I say about Lancaster itself? If you’re from Mumbai like me you might find it quiet and modest but if you are like me you would find it just the kind of place where you are in communion with yourself. There is plenty of nature and fresh air, of course, and there is a “city centre” where you can go off for shopping or eating or whatever else you want to do. But, the best part is, you don’t have to if you’re living in the humungous and gorgeous campus, like I am, at least this year. It is, what shall I say? made to feel like a haven for the intelligent, culture-loving university goer and by extension anyone who is those things (I hate sounding conceited but to say anything else would be inaccurate). Ever since I stepped into this campus, I feel surrounded by communication about learning spaces or study spaces, and actual spaces that are designed to make me feel comfortable to read and think in my own space! As if there aren’t dozens and more spaces for one to choose from within the campus, they also have a space in the city centre that you can go off to, to read or work on your research! It is a novel thing for me because back home in India I feel there isn’t enough emphasis on the concept of “space” and how the very availability or non-availability of “comfort space” could contribute or be detrimental to your output. And the icing on the cake is perhaps that study is not the only area where choices are galore… my first week here which was called “welcome week” for all arriving students, was actually nothing short of a carnival week! One could choose to go to live music sessions or society fairs (university students pitching to join their respective societies which ranged from the usual “music” to the rather quaint “Lego playing” to the bizarre even!) or ghost story readings in the library over cocoa and cookies (I went for that, no prizes for guessing!) or take a free bus ride for shopping to the city centre or a barbecue party or poster art exhibitions in the square…. Yes, Lancaster is rather quiet as my city-loving flat mate from Egypt insists (and that’s another delicious character of this place that you could hit at least 5-6 nationalities with a stone’s throw…more about that next!) but I disagree with her that “It is not alive”… to me life is at its most throbbing intensity when the mind is continuously stimulated by books and ideas and illuminating conversations and art!

The cultural diversity is another interesting aspect of life here. I live with people from Ghana, London, Egypt, Bahrain. I was part of a group activity in class today where my group mates were from Russia, Greece, UK, China. I was part of another group activity yesterday with folks from Pakistan and Iran. See what I mean? Crossing with so many cultures adds new horizons to one’s thinking, and to me being in a cultural hot-pot is stimulating too. Add to that trying to learn the ways of the host culture. Back in India, we are used to things being “done” for us be it the cook who comes home to cook, or the maid who does sweeping and swabbing or the communal cleaner who takes away trash. I was of course completely prepared to do my own cooking, which in a way I enjoy too if it doesn’t get in the way of other priorities, but what surprised me was that here flat mates need to carry all the trash to the bins around the campus, appropriately divided for recycling—at first it jolted me a bit because I had never “personally” bothered so much with the entire journey of the trash in my house, but come to think of it, after the event, I felt a certain satisfaction. I felt like the whole recycling theory made so much sense when I actually practised it. And on the subject of sustainability, another thing that took some time for me to wrap my head around, was how “paper” is made to seem as a precious as real money. One gets a certain “amount of credit” in one’s university card and one can print off any machine on the campus, be it the library or in any building whatsoever, by simply swiping one’s card. But whenever you print something, the appropriate amount for that quantity of print (say 5 pennies for a page) gets deducted from your credit. You could of course personally “top up” your card with money if you exhaust the amount you’re allocated… but I noticed that the very act of seeing the money vanish from my card after printing or knowing that the credit would get reduced made me so much more conscious of my printing habits! I am, unfortunately, someone who loves to read on paper and maybe so used to it with so many years of habituated reading off paper, that I just cannot read as effectively on the screen nor can I make as effective notes as I tend to make on the sides of the paper copy. So I guess I will be printing more than most… but the good part is… not as much as I would have earlier. I think this also made me realise what embedding sustainability into business practice meant. I could be conscious of how paper reduction helps the environment but if the systems also embed that thinking or institutionalise it in some way, it could probably have a deeper effect? And yes, thinking of another cultural thing and how can it not be about food! Back home, formal lunches tended to be multi-course affairs; here, they tend to be light sandwiches, chips, and queerly “whole fruits”! I am used to seeing chopped fruits on the dessert stalls but seeing whole fruits like bananas, apples, pears, oranges in a bowl together was quite new to me. I haven’t ventured to take a go at the fruits yet being a bit diffident about exposing my way of monstrous munching, but again I think I like the idea of whole fruits. You don’t end up wasting as much fruit I guess. I also notice not feeling quite so heavy and drowsy after lunchtime so those “wakeup” tactics aren’t quite necessary. Oh, another thing (I mean to finish this para but new things keep popping into the head), the arrangement of tables and chairs in each class aren’t what I am used to seeing in India in a typical class setting, that is, straight lines or long semi circles (unless things have changed). Here, usually, a class includes no more than 20 people and you have say 4-5 circular or rectangular tables with 4-5 chairs around each in a class, almost like a restaurant or wedding reception seating in India. The arrangement is not just a design feature though; it actually follows the teaching principle of getting groups to work amongst themselves. Personally, I am not a fan of group work so guess the Indian method worked for me ;) but the fact is I find myself participating a lot more.
And talking about England, weather can be last but not in the slightest the least! I was under the impression we were well into winter when I arrived here and almost laughed that it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. A 10 degree didn’t feel so cold and most of the time one is indoors one way or the other. I am a bit worried about the circular that we received yesterday about the change of time on October 30 and associated winter related injunctions. “Keep yourself warm by having a warm shower or hot drink before going to bed”, it said in the end. Not trying to sound grim, are we? :(
I’ll keep bombarding this space as I go along because I am told I need to keep practising my writing every day even if I am writing rubbish ;) And who else but you, dear reader, could I impose upon? :)