02 October, 2016

the more things change...

so, the other day, i was reading "Ascent of Money" and came across the word "peculation" in reference to how the management of empires changed when professional bureaucracy took over, and were expected to make a living through regular and fixed salaries instead of peculation.

interested, i looked it up, and here's how it went:

The wrongful appropriation or embezzlement of shared or public property, usually by a person entrusted with the guardianship of that property.
Etymology: From Latin peculatus ‎(“embezzlement”), from past participle stem of peculor ‎(“to defraud the public”), related to peculium ‎(“property in cattle", "private property”), from pecu ‎(“cattle", "money”).

One's own; belonging solely or especially to an individual; not shared or possessed by others.
Etymology: From Latin peculiaris ‎(“one's own”), from Latin peculium ‎(“private property”), from Latin pecus ‎(“cattle”).

The act or practice of buying land, goods, shares, etc., in expectation of selling at a higher price, or of selling with the expectation of repurchasing at a lower price; a trading on anticipated fluctuations in price, as distinguished from trading in which the profit expected is the difference between the retail and wholesale prices, or the difference of price in different markets.
Etymology: From Old French speculation (French: spéculation), from Late Latin speculātiōnem, from Latin speculātiō.

1. The savings of a son or a slave, with the father's or master's consent; a little property or stock of one's own.
2. A special fund for private and personal uses.
Etymology: From a Proto-Indo-European root peḱu- ‎(“livestock, domestic animals”), whence also pecus ‎(“sheep, cattle”).

1. Sheep
2. Cattle
3. Livestock
Etymology: Derived from pecū, from Proto-Indo-European peḱu- ‎(“livestock, domestic animals”). Cognates include Sanskrit पशु ‎(páśu, “cattle”), Old Armenian ասր ‎(asr, “fleece”), Old Saxon fehu, Old English feoh, Gothic 𐍆𐌰𐌹𐌷𐌿 ‎(faihu), Old Norse fé, Swedish fä and Lithuanian pēkus ‎(“cattle”).

Embezzlement of public money or property.

so, this seems to have happened:
peḱu (पशु) >> savings/wealth >> property >> gambling >> embezzlement >> theft

"property is theft" seems to have roots older than karl marx, it would turn out...and public servants have been at it since time immemorial!

ah, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose :-)

28 August, 2016

to kymaia: be unreasonable


you stood on the chair in our balcony and shouted to me, "look baba, no hands", and it suddenly dawned on me that one day, you are going to grow up and leave...suddenly, you felt a lot more grown up than your 23 months

that was a month ago

today, on 28 august 2016, you turn 2. the multiplication table for children popularly goes like this: whimsical ones, terrible twos, terrifying threes, fearsome fours, fierce fives...you get the idea. i am told it gets even worse during the teenage years, when you rebel, make mistakes, take unnecessary risks with your mind and body, trust the wrong people, and antagonise those who love you. this is all supposed to end by the time you are out of your teenage years, which is quite some time away for you, though knowing how quickly time passes when you are having fun, it is quite possible that before we know it, you'd be an adult and i'd be left wondering where all those years went!

the funny part is, most successful people (and i am talking about really successful ones, not just the more popular financially or professionally successful bunch) never really grow out of this: they rebel, make mistakes, trust the wrong people, take (what seem like) unnecessary risks, antagonise and frustrate people who love them, and more or less look as if they have a death-wish. and as may be expected, many do not make it and fail to leave a mark. but the ones who do, change the world, and it is their lives that we must hold up as worthy of emulation

if this is the terrible 2s, i never want you to grow up
talking of which, you are probably the first generation of humans who may live forever. so, don't put too much into age-based labels. you may study till you are 40, start your first career and end it by 60, study again till 70, then start a new career, and then go back to pursuing some other passion, and so on forever. it is awe-inspiring where medical, nutritional, and genetic science could take us as it is being married to computing, networking, and communications technologies. you may even be able to choose your body or any body part and have it made bespoke! this isn't some far away future i speak of, but possible in your lifetime, making your life much much longer than any human till date

when i was born, in 1972, diseases like polio (eradicated in 2011), and smallpox (eradicated in 1980) were still a reality, vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella were just being tried out, cancer was thought to be a death sentence, HIV AIDS was virtually unknown, and hepatitis vaccines were at least decade away.

an englishman, he wasn't given to hyperbole normally
you are born in a different world. that you will live longer is undisputed. but this post isn't about that. this is about how you choose to live that long life

a longer life can have several advantages. it would allow you to make even more mistakes and recover from them, learn, and try even riskier endeavours that make you even happier and the world even better, in one long virtuous cycle of life

to do so, though, you need to remember some basic lessons i intend to teach you, the first of which i shall impart today. so, here goes:

13 August, 2016

selling a luxury realty product? read these

a post on +LinkedIn from sangeeta debnath about "What could be the ”Marketing Strategy” for luxury residential projects?" prompted this answer from me (this is a bit more elaborate than the exact comment i put up, due to the nature of the medium):

i would say that the way to sell luxury of any kind, and specifically of the real estate variety, one needs to create it first. very rarely can you create a hype around a luxury real estate product that does not justify it. as i say below, the super-rich didn't become super-rich without being smart. add to this above average intelligence, their wide-ranging travels and exposure to luxury globally, and you have a unique customer that cannot really be fooled in the real sense. so, unless you are indeed offering real luxury realty to the super-rich, they will not buy. i feel the following aspects are important when it comes to selling such a product/service:

the british real estate tycoon lord harold samuel is credited with this quote, but it probably predates his utterance
lord harold samuel is credited with this quote, but it probably predates him
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: if you are not located in the most premium of the areas, you have lost the battle before the first shot is fired. the difficulty in selling to this specific end-user (you would rarely find a super-luxury apartment complex being gobbled up by "investors" since the value they seek is in quick appreciation and on-demand liquidity, both of which are absent in such projects) increases disproportionately with distance from the most premium of locations. remember that the quote, "the three most important factors in buying real estate are: location, location, and location" isn't just pithy and witty, it is also true. get the location right, and you are halfway there

what's with luxury and brand names?

2. BRAND NAME: this is a bit difficult to generate without already having a brand associated with luxury. but there are hacks if you aren't already a well-known brand. you could rent one through collaboration, co-branding, creation-from-scratch, or straight up lying (though i wouldn't suggest the last one, especially when it comes to selling to the super-rich, as i explained right at the beginning). in india or the arabian peninsula (even in japan, to a degree), for example, a european brand name (even if a completely made-up one...but be careful there. as i said, lying will be caught, every time) will score over an indian one. you may add a collaboration with a foreign company (german, french, english are best, though american or australian add a bit of value too). one could also co-brand with someone (say, a renowned designer or an actor or sportsperson or even a flamboyant business celebrity), or some other luxury brand (like a swiss watch or an italian car for example), or even with a foreign realty development company. or you could create your own by something that is very personal in nature...like each house having a single artist bricklayer who comes from a long line of bricklayers and who signs his work (this is maybe stretching it too far, but it should convey the meaning of what i mean by "personal"). each of these has its pros and cons, and it depends on what target segment you are aiming for. what is important is to create a mythology (a larger-than-life story) around your brand and what it is offering

this is literally the first quote that pops up on google. not very innovative of me!
3. INNOVATION: are you really offering something unique? something creative? something no one else is or very few are offering? it could be as basic (in marketing terms) as a golf course, international spa, award-winning foreign architect, exclusive elevators, one house per floor, etc) or as niche as a technology that only (say) NASA uses or that which apple has not yet released or something similar. if not, it makes your task as a marketer that much more difficult, mostly because your targets are the super-rich, and these people didn't become rich without being pretty smart with money. they are mostly very well-travelled, and well-connected, and hence have seen quite a few things in the world. if you are either offering the same old ideas that others do too, or are offering something they have seen as too common, or too "below their station" somewhere else in the world, chances are they are not only going to reject your offering, but actually call you out for it. so, don't try and make up stuff (like coining new names for common features or locations) and don't try to pass off an old idea for a new one. it won't work...and in fact, it will work against you since super-rich people are also super-connected to each other (simply because there are so few of them)

globally certified as "well-travelled"

4. GLOBAL STANDARDS: whether it is your construction techniques, or your marketing strategy, whether it is the raw material you use in the actual building or the accessories fitted inside, whether it is your sales office or the venue for the event you decide to throw at launch, it must be top of the line. the super-rich, to repeat, have seen it all...and if you aren't doing something seriously innovative every time (which itself is virtually impossible to do all of the time), you better make sure that the least you do is adhere to the international standards in your offering. they are comfortable with these standards. here's the thing: if you actually do everything by international standards, there is quite some chance they won't notice it...but if you don't, they'll notice it. 100%. every.single.time

it's a tightrope walk, and there are no second chances

5. ENTICE, PAMPER, BUT DO NOT CHASE: you need to find the golden mean between the extremes of attracting your target segment to your product and not seem needy to sell the same product to them! yes, it is a razor-thin line to ensure that your target market is attracted to your shop/site/product (and feels pampered and important) while not becoming so aggressive as to become an irritant to their normal lives (how do you know you have crossed that line? they'll stop taking your calls or simply ask you to not call them..."we'll call you if we are interested" means "we are not interested and you just crossed the line, buster"). send them gifts, call them on their important dates, invite them to events, but there is no objective way of telling when you are being extra nice and when you are interfering and irritating. you just need to play it by the ear. ideally, the thumb rule should be that for every two calls/texts/mails/communications, you should receive one from them. for this, you need to design your communication to elicit response as a call for action rather than just be seen as a passive reach-out. the way to do this is to imagine if you were forwarding your communication to the concerned person and answer this question: would you say "FYI" or "FYI&A". if it is just "FYI", you aren't doing it right

inner peace....innnnnnnner peaaaaaaaace!

6. BE PATIENT: this applies not just to the closure of sales, but also to the building of your relationship with the target segment. whether it is the price point you intend to charge, or the volume of traffic of inquiries you envisage, or the time between the first and second visits, or absolutely anything in the sales cycle. if you have the depth of pockets to be patient, you must. the market needs to understand what you are making and what you are selling, and why you are selling at the rate you are selling it at. give it time to catch up. don't rush, don't panic, don't be desperate, and don't stop work (either your marketing work or the actual construction work). i know that means one has to have pretty deep pockets, but then making and selling luxury real estate is not a game for poor people. the market needs time to catch up with the product in that location with that price point with that quality with those features and so on...give it time to run towards you. by running backwards to catch up with where you think the market is standing, you will be undercutting your own price, value, and interests. also, really rich (and in all probability, successful) people can smell fear, and (to repeat) they move in very small social circles. one whiff of desperation or panic, and you can kiss your investment good-bye. stay strong. be patient 

"ek goli, ek dushman"

7. BE A SNIPER, NOT A MACHINE-GUNNER: needless to say, mass marketing using television, hoardings, newspaper front pages etc are wasted on the super-rich. in fact, if you give them any indication that such a product/service is accessible to all and sundry, you'll probably make your own task that much more difficult. use targeted advertising...my own opinion is use none. high-end luxury is difficult to sell using traditional ATL advertising. you will need BTL activities like events (a costume party in collaboration with some liquor brand, a golf tournament with a luxury car maker, a comedy night co-branded with a high-end credit card etc.), previews, invitation only meetings, and even specifically targeted experiences (ballooning, paragliding, etc.) to open up the relationship with your targets. in this, other brands catering to the same market are your allies, be them car makers, jewellery or watch sellers, chartered jet companies, high-end travel firms, or even big 5 consultancies and wealth management companies. as long as your marketing plan is clear on what you want and what you are willing to give your partner, it shouldn't be very difficult finding these allies. it is worth the effort

you wanna sell something to uncle scrooge? think like him

8. THINK LIKE THE SUPER-RICH: steve jobs was neither a great designer nor a great programmer. he was not even a great engineer. his superpower was that he was the greatest power user of his own products. he looked at an apple product and thought the way a customer/user would. he used it just like them...and invariably, he found faults, drawbacks, problems, bugs, and so on...which, combined with his brilliantly creative intellect, allowed him to say such simple things to the designers and engineers that seemed like amazing insights to them, but came as completely obvious and natural to steve, the product user. the first and foremost item on your to-do list is to put yourself in their place...how do they think? what would they buy? why would they buy? at what prices would they buy? and so on...this isn't anything new. any marketing activity must begin from the target customer and their thinking process. however, in mass marketing, due to limitations of budget and time, one does not have the luxury of spending too much of either on this exercise...in the luxury market, with a small inventory, focussed target segment, and clear definition of customer requirements and price points, one can actually spend a lot of time and money on this...and one should. it will be well worth it

well then, what are you waiting for?
there are other rules too...but as in any marketing, none that are golden, not even the ones i have set above...they are all meant to be broken, given the right idea, the right team, the right product, and the right circumstance...i just thought i'd put down the ones i could think of...at the end of the day, the test (taste?) of the pudding is in the eating, right? so, go right ahead and use your instinct, your flair, your style, and your personalised approach...and go get 'em, tiger!

the growing obsession with pakistan

our obsession with pakistan will be our undoing, just like theirs with india has been theirs. the indian democracy evolved, the economy grew, and the arts flourished for the last 70-odd years because we stopped thinking of pakistan all the time and didn't allow it to dictate our internal or external policies, even while fighting its proxy soldiers using a mix of symptomatic cures and holistic treatments, none of which guided our democratic, economic, educational, scientific, or policy decisions...the only places pakistan had where it's influence was acknowledged were perhaps a third or our defence policy and maybe a fifth of our external affairs

in the recent past, pakistan, and its official religion, seems to be dominant in every sphere of our lives, and it isn't a good sign for our, and our next generations' future

more than the world (mainly the usa) decoupling/dehyphenating india and pakistan, it is us who need to consciously do so, for the fear that it may soon take over our collective consciousness is real

remember, pakistan will not need an army to see india's demise if we continue on this path. we'll do it ourselves

as for modi's request for suggestions for his speech the day after tomorrow, i'd say he'd do quite well to talk of our future and how he and his government has a (realistic, workable) plan to get there...and hopefully without the crutches of an external bogey, least of all, pakistan

01 August, 2016

a family that cooks together stays together...

what classifies as "cooking"?

is it only when one cuts, chops, cleans, mixes, tastes, serves, and cleans up? what about shopping? what about raw material selection? or can it just be defined as writing a recipe? or following one? or can it be defined as any one of these? or is there a minimum "you have to do" list?

some great commercial chefs neither prep nor clean up. but great home cooks do all of these...and more. so, how much does one HAVE to do to claim one has cooked?

here is what the gadgil family did yesterday: on a glorious, drizzly sunday morning in pune, my wife natasha (tashuji), my 2-year-old kymaia, and i trooped to the fish market in camp and bought half a kg of bombay duck and about the same amount of prawns. the fish were cleaned and cut by the vendor, and we were home by 7:30, just when the traffic was beginning to stir in this sleepy but beautiful town

parvati, the cook, came on time at 8:00, and we started to wash the fish and prepare the masala. it was decided to make mildly spiced bombil curry (so kymaia could enjoy it too) and a spicy kolambi bhaat (for us). a bottle of good shiraz was handy as accompaniment, and the table was laid (with little kyamaia helping her mum with the cutlery). the kitchen was abuzz with onions and tomatoes being cut, fresh spices (mostly coriander, cumin, black peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, coconut, green chillies, ginger, and garlic) being ground, tomato paste being prepared, and coconuts being grated the old-fashioned way, while the stubby bottle of fresh imli paste (made by me a day earlier) was taken out of the fridge to be brought to room temperature

with the oil sizzling in the large pot, the onions were cooked till golden brown, the spices added, and the cauldron bubbled with the green rassa for the bombil, while elsewhere, basmati rice (with a bit of salt) cooked and looked white as snow. in another pot, the tomato paste and masala was added before the prawns (marinating in turmeric and salt, with a dash of lime juice) were chucked in to cook with a lid for 10-15 minutes

the rice, now cooked to a fluffy white perfection, was put in a wide plate (paraat) and the spicy-red kolambi rassa was poured on it, while being folded gently to save the grains from breaking. parallely, the extremely delicate bombil were lowered very very carefully into the boiling green rassa, the heat was switched off, the pot covered with a lid, and the bombil (fresh and juicy as they were) cooked gently in the mix, without any additional heat

a bit of white rice was removed separately and garnished with coconut and fresh green coriander. the serving bowls came out, and were duly filled. the bottle of wine was popped and poured with reverence...it was only 10:30 on the clock!

of course, we didn't care about the time, or whether wine at this time was really appropriate...we just sat and devoured the meal with our hands (nopes, no cutlery was really used...as it would have been an insult to the original konkani people who would have taken great offence at it, if it had been...just like they'd take offence at the imli replacing the kokam!)

so, back to the question: did i really cook the meal? someone went to the sea and caught the fish, someone else sold them, someone else cleaned them, someone chopped the veggies up, someone ground the spices, someone's recipe was used, someone stirred the pot, and someone laid the table, while someone else cleaned up after.

the answer is actually very simple: who cares? :-)

here's the prayer we said before eating, though:

वदनि कवळ घेता, नाम घ्या शेतकऱ्याचे
सहज हवन होते, नाम घेता मुखने
जीवन करी जीवित्वा, अन्न हे पूर्ण ब्रह्म
उदर भरण नोहे, जाणिजे यज्ञ कर्म

अन्नदात्या, अन्नकर्त्याचा विजय असो
बुद्धि व परिश्रमाचा विजय असो

bon apetit!

26 April, 2016

to kymaia: getting to know abhijit chacha

when you were born, it was already 11 years since abhijit chacha died. it is twice as unfortunate that neither you got to know this loving man, nor did he get to know the bundle of joy that is you. i wish you had met; i wish you had felt his firm handshake and his soft hugs; i wish you had known his life, and his loves; i wish you had had the opportunity to go stay with him in his squadron and see him take off into the blue skies; i wish you had seen him fly...and i wish he was alive to see you do the same; i wish...

but never mind...he is gone, but his memory remains, as do the lessons he would have taught you. of course, since he isn't here, it falls upon me to teach you those..and the best way to do that is to narrate some incidents of his life to you, hoping you will take something away from them...something precious, something valuable, something that will help you grow wings and find your way to the blue skies yourself. so, without further ado, here goes:

the first thing i want to teach you is about his love for adventure and his unique vision that allowed him to see things differently...that allowed him to see adventure and opportunity for adventure where "normal" people like me did not. he would never want to do the same old, boring things in the same old, boring ways. i remember us coming home from school one day and finding the gate closed. for me, it was a simple issue of opening it by reaching over and flipping the latch. but that day was different. he had a model airplane in his hands and was playing with it the whole way from school. he refused to let me unlock the gate and insisted that we climb over...because, "when we have a plane, we can fly, can't we, bade bhaiyya?" yes indeed. when you have a plane, why walk? who'd be so stupid as to choose to walk when they have wings? it is so unfortunate that so many of us have either refused to grow wings, or for those that have them, have chosen to let them rot. my little kym: grow wings, and fly...like your abhijit chacha

the next incident i remember was about his loyalty. when we were in school, i was quite a weak and timid boy, interested only in academics, not because i was any good at it (i was) but because i was scared of people...scared of socialising, fearful of physical confrontation, and wary of disagreements, even of the slightest kind. that meant i was picked on and bullied by the "hip" boys...until abhijit found out. he was two years younger than my classmates (and when you are in school, that's a lot of age difference, you will know). he was shorter than them, and he was alone (you don't know yet how kids gang up in school, since you are still a good 5 years away, but trust me on this...they do). but the moment he found out that someone is harrassing "bade bhaiyya", he jumped on this gang of teenage boys (i think there were 3 or 4 of them) and fought like a tiger. you see kym, mark twain (a great american writer...you will read him when you are older) quipped, "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog"...and your abhijit chacha proved it in action to me that day. he took them all on, and he took them all down...all because they touched his brother. he was like my protector in school throughout...looking out for me in any physical fights i got into (or he imagined i got into!), making me virtually untouchable by the bullies in all the schools we went to (and we went to a LOT!). in return, of course, he got his homework done, his clothes ironed, shoes polished, schoolbag packed, and of course, protection from the wrath of his parents for bad grades! but here is what you can take away: loyalty is a deeply emotional sentiment. it has no rationale except for your conviction that someone or something is worth protecting, worth fighting for, and worth dying for. his career in the indian air force later in his life was a manifestation of his intense sense of loyalty: to his family, his unit, his mates, his aircraft, and his country. this is something you seem to have in your genes already, passed from your great-grandfather (nana) to your grandfather (ajoba) to your chacha...it is upto you to nurture it, water it, and protect it...let me warn you: it is an expensive emotion to have, but as anyone in the gadgil family will vouch for, worth every drop of blood

lastly, let me tell you about something you will not hear in civilian life: officer like qualities (or OLQs). these are big in the uniformed forces, for they expect their officers to be gentlemen too (by the time you grow up, women would be fully integrated in the armed forces, and if you so choose, you could be part of them...but in his times, it was just men, and hence "gentlemen"). your abhijit chacha had OLQs since as long as i can remember. the forces only polished them, but he was born with these. a small, but significant, incident that comes to mind was how he got his pet-name "आमटी " in fergusson college. this story is recounted by his friends, for i wasn't on the scene. it happened that while sitting in a restaurant (i was told it was the venerable "Vaishali" opposite the college main gate), a waiter tripped behind where he sat, and spilled a large bowl of steaming hot sambhar on him. as his friends watched in horror (for they knew his temper and physicality), he turned around and smiled at the waiter while asking him gently for some paper napkins to clean himself. he then excused himself and went to the basin, where he washed the stain off as best as he could, and rejoined the table. remember that this isn't about a minor accident, but about how he handled it. his treatment of people, regardless of their perceived station in life, was even-handed and full of grace...that word there: grace...you will find that if you are graceful in your thoughts and actions, you will automatically find people being graceful in return. your abhijit chacha knew this, practiced it, but unlike me (perhaps not half as graceful at my best as he was on his bad day), he never preached it...he just did his thing and carried on. if there is one lesson you can learn from your abhijit chacha, make it this: be graceful. all else follows. 'nuff said

when you grow up listening to these stories, you may wonder why he had to leave so early. truth is that i do not know...but here's a hypothesis: he was always in a hurry. i think he wanted to do everything yesterday, and do more today! perhaps he just used up all his life in the first 27 years...doing things that people like your baba may take 60, if he's lucky...you see, kym, he was one of those who filled his years with so much life that he lived a hundred years in his 27. that's the way to live, isn't it?

by the way, the three incidents above aren't all i remember...there are so many other, equally interesting, stories about him that i would like to tell you when you are a bit older, but i think these three should suffice for now...today is 26 april 2016...your abhijit chacha would have turned 42. i just thought we can both wish him a happy birthday...so, what say partner? shall we? here we go:

happy birthday to you
happy birthday to you
happy birthday to dear abhijit chacha
happy birthday to you!!!

11 February, 2016

how do societies regress so quickly? liberal>conservative>religious>theocratic>tyranny>failed

this is the former egyptian president gammal abdel nasser (one of the five, alongwith jawaharlal nehru, sukarno,  kwame nkrumah, and josip broz tito, who founded the non-aligned movement) speaking sometime in 1958, where he recounts an incident when the muslim brotherhood leader came to him asking him to make the hijab mandatory. the audience laughs as someone shouts, "let him wear it!"

in 2012, the muslim brotherhood came to power via its candidate mohammed morsi, who was ousted in a coup by the current president general sisi, who has been slowly turning benign towards the brotherhood recently, while ISIS is at its door. similarly, in turkey, the current president recep tayyip erdogan is a head-scarf enthusiast, as he is of more religion in public life (we should remember that the founder of modern turkey, mustafa kemal ataturk, was vehemently opposed to the idea...and perhaps that is why turkey is (or at least was, till recent times) one of the most vibrant, most liberal, most economically advanced, and most progressive muslim-majority states. similarly, the stories of afghanistan, pakistan, nigeria, and many more societies can be taken up as examples of how, from mostly liberal, mostly educated, mostly economically well-off, mostly forward-thinking nations can reach such depths of regressive, narrow, obscurantist thinking, policies, and public life so quickly

how did we come this far? well, the answers are quite simple, but it is tragic that we have slipped so quickly so much…indian rightists, hindus, muslims, christians, sikhs, jains, buddhists (including the “neo” variety), communists (yes, they are not strictly “rightists”, but are as dogmatic)…please take note…this is what happens when the people allow folks like you to dictate terms

as for why this has happened, here’s the simple answer (i am not the first person to say this. this has been well-studied and documented by many people far smarter and well-informed than i):

  • good and bad economic times happen, typically cyclically, in the world

  • the cycles sometimes last really long in a particular region, and are further exacerbated by good/bad leadership or simply good/bad luck

  • where bad cycles prolong, people start getting desperate and the desire to pin blame (and find a quick solution) is very strong

  • usually, in times of adversity, an appeal to the past (usually some good times in history..with “good” being relative, and usually in very niche areas, mostly concerning happiness through frugality) is very tempting. let me put it this way: in boom times, companies that focus on the topline (increasing sales and revenues) grow and the stakeholders (employees, investors, customers, etc.) are “happier”, while during a recession, the companies that focus on the bottomline (reduction of costs) are where the “happiness quotient” seems to be higher. it is the same with society. during a down cycle, frugality, giving up of desire, focusing inwards, spirituality, doing with less, keeping things simple, etc. are very appealing

  • such appeals come from people who have steadfastly clung on to the past despite changing times, and would have done so regardless of the economic climate. but in an adverse economy, they seem to be happier than the majority

  • such people are, by definition, dogmatic, and hold on to their “faith” inspite of evidence (and the world’s moral zeitgeist moving ahead and beyond their ideas) to the contrary

  • soon, the ranks of their followers swell with the disillusioned, dispirited majority looking for quick answers, which the establishment has not been able to provide

  • the answers these folks (the faith leaders) have are simple: go back to the good old times…in words, action, and thought. regress to the time when things were simpler, and people (apparently) happier. look inwards. condemn modernity. reject liberal thought. be as your ancestors used to be, who were indeed “happier”….not because they were happy despite their ignorance, but because they were happy because of their deep and profound knowledge, a knowledge that has been lost to today’s generation…because of some external factor totally beyond the present society’s control (colonialism, aggressive “others”, "foreign" invasion, modern science, “western” philosophy, “incorrect” faith etc.)

  • when people practice this regression, initially it does indeed bring them the happiness that was promised. it is but obvious. bottomline focus surely works in the short-term. “going back to the basics” is advised in almost every situation where things have gotten very complicated, be it a relationship or a sport or a business…because it does work immediately

  • however, soon, the tragedy of real life is back. the economic situation has not changed. only the mind was fooled into being “happy” temporarily. people are back looking for solutions…and they usually go to the same kind of people who gave them the initial euphoric feeling

  • the answer this time is: you aren’t doing enough. go further back. it is like a drug high. soon, the body becomes accustomed to it, and the mind seeks a newer, sharper, higher high…and the drug peddler offers a more potent version of the drug…in effect, telling you that the answer to a mind-body no longer happy with a drug is not less, but more drugs!

  • soon, it is a vicious cycle: the regression does nothing to lighten the burden of the recession, nor anything positive to bring back the boom. if the cycle has lasted this long, it becomes worse, since no one is doing anything to hasten its end

  • and then, the answer to that is: even more regression…and people start blaming other people for not regressing enough, or not regressing rightly, and there is a sense of fear for being seen as not regressed enough…and people start trying to outdo the others…and leaders who claim to outdo the earlier leaders in regressing start rising to the fore…result: even more regression, and the economic cycle prolongs the bad times already aggravated by the lack of collective action

  • this becomes even worse (if it can) when this regressed (and regressing) society sees other societies that are doing well, either because of better leaders, or better luck, or just because they did not regress far enough to slip into a prolonged cycle…and you have the birth of the enemy, the satan, the evil people…we all know what happens then

you see where this is going? whether it is egypt or the USA, india or pakistan, iran or saudi arabia, israel or france…we are all caught up in this cycle of regression…essentially a race to the bottom

now, combine this with modern technology in communications, weapons, and travel…and you have a mix potent enough, and toxic enough, to poison the world for a long, long time

can the world be saved? of course…can our generation do it? you tell me

29 November, 2015

claims of belief v/s those of knowledge

"you cannot be an atheist, because you can never prove god does not exist. at most, you are an agnostic."
"you may not believe in the god of a particular religion, but you don't know my god, so you cannot disbelieve him."
"your definition of god is flawed. our philosophy has a different definition."
the problem is that these people do not understand the difference between “i do not believe in gods” and “i believe there to be no gods”. after having explained this numerous times in numerous forums, i wanted to create a more permanent record so i can simply direct people here and save me the trouble. so, here it is:

there are two types of claims about god(s)

claims of knowledge:

gnosticism: i KNOW (there is a god)…more correctly: god is knowable
agnosticism: i DO NOT KNOW (there is a god)

claims of belief:

theism: i BELIEVE (there is a god)
atheism: i DO NOT BELIEVE (there is a god)

now, most of us are one of the four:
1. gnostic theist: i KNOW there is a god, and i BELIEVE in him/her
2. agnostic theist: i DO NOT KNOW there is a god, but i BELIEVE in a god
3. gnostic atheist: i KNOW there is no god, and i DO NOT BELIEVE in one
4. agnostic atheist: i DO NOT KNOW there is god, and i DO NOT BELIEVE there is one

as you can see, even within atheism, one can be number 3 or 4. in fact, most sane people are number 4, since the most infinitesimal probability of god cannot be denied, even if tending to zero. if you want, you may read more about the spectrum of belief here

knowledge and belief are indeed differentiable

in a very profound philosophical way, perhaps in the extremes of solipsism, there is little or no difference between knowledge and belief. however, in most practical cases, knowledge requires at least some evidence, and a rationale or reasoning (however right or wrong) from certain principles (however correct or otherwise) to justify it; it may require experience, observations, testimony, calculation, references, unconnected people using different methods to reach the same or similar conclusions, and other supporting proofs (including, for some people, even divine) and data. in other words, knowledge requires a third party validation. belief requires nothing except belief

for me to believe there is a flying unicorn, i need no further data. but for me to make a claim of knowledge of a flying unicorn, i need something that is external to myself: in fact, it could even be my insistence that the flying unicorn itself appeared to me one dark night and told me about its existence. please note the difference between "knowledge" and "truth"

for example: i could BELIEVE my height is 180cm, but for me to truly KNOW it, i would need to measure it using universally accepted tools. of course, this does NOT automatically make my height 180cm. i could very well be wrong. believing something or even claiming that one knows the same thing do not necessarily make it correct. but then, that is out of the scope of this discussion. suffice to say, knowledge and belief are not interchangeable

as for this blogpost, it explains the difference between various types of claims, specifically those of knowledge and of belief, and how god(s) are seen from these various viewpoints by people labelling themselves based on their perceptions of the same

of course, the supplementary argument is that how one defines "god" decides one's beliefs and knowledge about this entity, which brings me to...

the courtier's reply and the emperor's nakedness

the whole “god hypothesis” is ill-defined. it fails the most basic requirements of “testability” and “falsifiability”. no one agrees what the word “god” means, and that trips up anyone trying to talk rationally about this hypothesis to anyone who keeps talking of this entity. if you really want to have a sane conversation about the probability of existence of “god”, you theists need to define this thing first. why you? because you are introducing this hypothesis, not me. so, as long as you clearly define what you are saying, we can talk. else, you might as well be speaking in a language no one but you understand, and then claiming that what you are saying makes perfect sense and everyone who disagrees is merely not comprehending this unique language in your head

and yes, i have also read your books, and your philosopher’s deep thoughts, and no, i have not read them all, and i do not remember every stanza and word as you expect me to before i am allowed to speak about your particular brand of fantasy, but here's the point: i do not need to...just like i do not need to master the entire superman canon to be able to come to the conclusion that he remains a myth, a story, a fantasy, and is not real

in fact, instead of explaining this whole argument, why don’t i let wikipedia’s gentle touch help? this is how your argument about me not understanding “your god” or “your philosophy” or “your religion” sound. +PZ Myers has said it so succinctly and so well that i cannot possibly better him

14 November, 2015

does terror really have no religion?

terror has NO RELIGION

...right. but terrorists do. there is no terror without terrorists

and there’d be no terrorists without a very strong justification for killing a fellow human unconnected with whatever wrong one perceives to have been perpetrated on them

...that justification is, more often than not, RELIGION

until the time there is belief in an afterlife, there will be people willing to die, and to kill in this life, expecting rewards in the next

...this belief is, in every case i have heard of, the cornerstone of RELIGION

the stronger this belief in a post-life future, the less value one accords to the present, and the more willingness to commit terrorist acts in this life

...ergo, the MORE religious you are, the more likely you are to commit reprehensible acts towards other humans and living beings

until we understand, accept, and openly call out religion as the root of such terrorism, we would never be able to even begin to start to commence to eradicate the smallest part of the suffering it causes. to absolve religion, and god, and beliefs in the supernatural of all guilt, and to blame a handful of “misguided cowards” for actions inspired directly from the purest of religious texts and teachings, is to fool only ourselves, and prepare the ground for more killings, more terror, more suffering in the future…in THIS life

the quicker we agree that religion is directly liable and responsible for such acts, the faster we would be on our way to a more peaceful world

and moderates….no, you are not true to your religion. the fundamentalists are. that is the reason they are called fundamentalists. they adhere to the “fundamentals" of your religion. THEY are the purest followers, not you. you moderates are adulterated in your beliefs. if you think YOUR beliefs are better than those of the fundamentalists, you need to re-examine your religious fundamentals. so, please do NOT defend your religion. by doing that, you are defending the terrorists…not just these, but also future terrorists. so, stop right there. i do not want to hear your apologist excuses about religions of peace and tolerance. spare me the lecture on your religion. as an atheist, perhaps i know it better than you. in fact, that is the reason i am atheist. if you want to know why i hate religion so much, you need to read your texts yourself. all the reasons are in there

about those who talk of the “real” issues being that of haves and have-nots, and young, energetic, passionate people (mostly men) becoming disillusioned enough to rebel and take the path of violence, i am not disputing any of that. all i am saying is that the REASON for disillusionment may be economic, social, or political. but the EXCUSE for justifying the killing of innocents is ALWAYS RELIGION

think about it. and once again, for those of you “praying” for paris, fuck you, fuck your prayers, and fuck your gods

29 August, 2014

to kymaia: welcome

a bundle of freshly minted hope
to begin with...welcome to this world!

you were born on the same day of the year as i was...42 years earlier. in that way, you are without doubt, the best ever birthday gift i have received from anyone, and perhaps will remain so forever

before you were born, we did not know whether you are a boy or a girl, and so your mamatashu and papa bear had a bet: if you were a boy, i'd get to name you, and if you were a girl, she would. i chose "alexander". in the event, it is probably a good thing you were born a girl, kymaia, as you will surely testify when you finally read this post!

note: don't worry too much about your name. the person maketh the name, not the other way around

it is still some years before you can actually read this. but i am assuming that when you are ready, willing, and able, you will do so, and you will know what your papa bear, your uffybaba, your father, your full-time fan, your whole-life supporter, and (hopefully) your first friend felt at the time when you were born

right off the bat, i must confess that i have always wanted to be your father, for the longest time that i can remember, even when i did not know about you, or what being a father meant. hopefully, i will learn how to be one as you learn how to be you. we are both, in that sense, babies. so, pardner, we'll just need to be patient with each other, what?

most fathers talk of the amazement, the wonderment, and the joy they felt when they held their babies for the first time. i won't deny that i felt those too. but the one overwhelming sensation was that of hope

hope is an overarching feeling that can perhaps (in a vague, but definitive, way) answer the age-old question posed by every philosopher, thinker, and curious human: why do i want to live? in fact, according to some, this is the only question worth answering. human life can survive on nothing more than hope. everything derives from it

the 12th and the last shloka in the bhaja-govindam stotra composed by adi shankara, a renowned 8th century hindu philosopher says:

दिनयामिन्यौ सायं प्रात:
शिशिरवसन्तौ पुनरायात: ।
काल: क्रीडति गच्छत्यायु:
तदपि न मुञ्चति आशावायु: ।१२।

meaning that: despite time moving on, and life progressing in a cyclical fashion...despite every evidence to the contrary, man lives on hope (there are other, more cynical interpretations of this, but they do not give enough credit to the genius of adi shankara, and so, i prefer to believe that this is what he meant). what i want you to notice is the use of the word "aashavayu", the "oxygen of hope", for that is what it truly is

for me, you, as a fragment of me, as my baby, as my genetic expression and extension, and my shot at immortality, signify hope...

...in a large way, hope for me, for your mamatashu, for your grandparents and your family, friends, and loved ones...

...and in a smaller, albeit important, way, hope for humankind, and for this earth. every infant born, crying from the mother's warm, comfortable womb, into this harsh world, looking curiously at the new universe...learning, absorbing, questioning, acting, and influencing every other being, living or non-living, around it...denotes a small fragment of a new hope that this earth, and humankind on this earth, has

so...welcome, hope! here is what i wish for you:

i hope that you be all you can be, and want to be
i hope you touch as many lives as positively as you can
i hope you find love, and give love, which is (as you will realise later) one and the same thing
i hope you create fresh, new, sparkling ideas, and things...in that order
i hope you dream, and you do, and that your dreams are always slightly larger than your doings
i hope you win, and let win...lose, and let loose (and no, that is not a typo)
i hope you give naturally and without expectation or making the taker feel inferior, but also learn how to take gracefully and without feeling inferior
i hope you are always happy, cheerful, and more importantly, hopeful for yourself, and this universe
i hope you learn when to speak, and when to keep your silence (and when you do, maybe you can teach papa bear too!)
i hope you find the right people, and the right books, and the right ideas at the right times and in the right places
i hope you keep your word, and hold others to theirs
i hope you trust others as a default setting, regardless of the hurt this may cause infrequently...and that others feel right in trusting you
i hope you grow up to be a good human, and never doubt if that was a good thing
...and i hope i can be the father you hoped for, and deserve!

welcome again, pardner...let's make this happen!