Yes, I know it’s been ages since I blogged on anything meaningful. A death in the family creates circumstances that are not exactly conducive to serious blogging. But this article caught my attention on Christmas day. Coupled with another article stating that a man had been mauled to death trying to photograph a tiger in the Guwahati Zoo, it brought home the role of fate and destiny in a man’s life. One came to the zoo to see tigers and other assorted animals. By a bizarre twist of fate, and by deliberately ignoring the guards’ warnings, he lost his life. I wonder if he knew, when he left home that he would never return. The other came with the intention of dying, not for the first time, but the third. His equally bizarre fate ensured that he did not die. Instead he survived, albeit with a heavily-scarred face.

Much as we vigorously debate that Man is the maker of his own destiny, the fact remains that there are things that are beyond our control. Like life. And death. It is a humbling thought, when we realise that life is transient…as transient as a bubble…

Some philosophy, some questions…but no answers…

I am back, after a rather long hiatus. The problem is that my grandfather was sick for a week, and passed away on Thursday last. A death in the family normally means a lot of guests, a lot of confusion and a lot of work. So, that was it. It was the first time in 25 years that I visited a crematorium. And quite frankly, the place is not as scary as I was led to believe. It is clean, with paved roads and a cemented place to sit. That brings me to all the philosophical musings of the past week. A visit to a graveyard is quite humbling. For one, you realise how lucky you are to still be alive. And then, you wonder why we chase money when all we are left with ultimately is a pot of ash (or six feet of land as the case may be.) Dad says it’s normal for first-time visitors to get philosophical. This week was my turn.

Once the funeral was over, there began a series of negotiations over the post-death ceremonies (or whatever you call it). First, the shaastrigal claimed that the soul of the deceased had to travel a billion miles, during the course of a year to attain Vaikuntham. In order to facilitate the travel, we, as relatives of the deceased, are expected to provide the soul with slippers, bed, food, clothing, gold (I wonder why!), silver, a piece of land, a cow and some other assorted worldly items. How can the poor soul carry so much? Since we are not millionaires, but simple middle class people, the shaastrigal allowed us to pay a mere 15,000 rupees, instead of a portion of land, and a couple of kilogrammes of gold for the above-mentioned daanam. Very generous, I must admit!

Then comes this business about the soul suffering from sun-burns, hunger, thirst, calloused feet, tired legs and the like as justification for all the donations we are supposed to make. How the soul can suffer so much is beyond me. After all, the Bhagavad Gita, the most widely accepted Hindu religious text describes the soul thus:

“Nainam chhindanti shastraani, nainam dahati paavakaha, na chainam kledha yantyapo, ne shoshayathi maaruthaha.” (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 23)

Translated, it means,

“Weapons cannot harm the soul, fire cannot burn the soul, water cannot wet and air cannot dry the soul.”

If that is true, then how can the soul suffer hunger, thirst, sunburns or injury. The learned men have no response. Is this then, just a way of guilting people into paying for wholly unnecessary rituals. I only have questions for the moment. Nobody is forthcoming with answers. And asking too many questions makes me a heretic. What has the world come to?

The other drama is one that is related more to social practice than religion and philosophy. Mum tells me that the Brahmins won’t eat food prepared by Tamil Iyer women. Whether it is because the women are Iyer or because they are simply women is beyond me. Apparently, we, as Kannada Maadhwa Brahmins practise a philosophy incompatible with Iyer philosophy and any meeting of the two will have potentially disastrous consequences. So, the choice of caterers is rather limited. To men, who belong to the appropriate Kannada Brahmin subsect. I then asked if we can get someone we know to cook that day. There, we face yet another problem. Apparently widowhood is highly contagious and the said Brahmins will not touch food prepared by a widowed woman.

Makes me wonder if women should not boycott food prepared by, served by, or eaten by any widowed man, just to give them a taste of their own medicine. Refusing to cook for widowed men would do the job equally well. After all, men who believe that seeing a widow is inauspicious belong to a generation that did not know how to cook. That way the problem would be solved. In the absence of anyone to cook for them, they all would die an early death and the world would be relieved of a great burden. But seriously, will this attitude ever change? The one person who is most affected by a death is the spouse of the deceased. How is it fair to treat widowed women as a scourge? How is it fair to blame them for something they have no control over? Why are we still living in the Middle Ages? Can we ever drag ourselves into the 21st Century?

In defence of IT

Before anyone wonders, yes, this title is inspired by the book, “In Defence of Globalisation” by Jagdish Bhagwati. And no, this is not a book review. I remembered the book because it defends a phenomenon that has widely been criticised and maligned for all the ills that plague the world today. From International Organisations to NGOs to individuals, everyone blames globalisation for global warming, income disparities, conflict, human rights abuse and the like. The December 17 issue of Outlook Magazine carries much the same tirade against the IT industry and blames it for polluting Bangalore (known as India’s answer to Silicon Valley). Not just that, IT is also held responsible for the escalating land prices, changing moral values, and entry of “western decadence” into a city that was once a pensioner’s paradise. Of the many articles, two deserve comment, not so much because they represent two ends of the spectrum, but because they manifest an almost irrational resentment towards the IT industry.

The first article is by Dr. C.N.R. Rao, currently Scientific Advisor to the Government of India. Dr. Rao is a respected and learned man. But, that does not give him the right to pass a moral judgement on what people in the IT industry do. And that, is precisely what he does in this article when he laments that,

“Bright people at a very young age, before they are even 20, think of IT as an option because they can make quick money. Lots of intelligent people are doing jobs that are much below their intellectual capabilities. They are like coolies who are working for wages and not producing great intellectual material.”

Does this mean that all IT professionals are idiots? Or is he trying to say they don’t use the brains they have? Both claims are false and imply that the work Dr. Rao is doing is intellectually superior to that of the IT professionals. Most importantly, can we do without IT? Secondly, in the introductory lines of this article, he calls himself a real Bangalorean. And goes on to say he was born in Basavangudi. Does that mean that all others are outsiders who have invaded what is rightfully his? If that is truly what he thinks, then he is being extremely intolerant and territorial. As Confused says on her blog, Indians have a problem against outsiders in general. And this problem seems to be particularly pronounced in Bangalore. Dr. Rao also seems to be upset that IT professionals are making a lot of money. What else could prompt him to say that “people have lost respect for scholarship. Money and commerce has taken over?” That claim is far from true. If he, or anyone else thinks that IT is a field where one does not need to use brains, they are gravely mistaken.

Moving on, the second article by Subroto Bagchi, COO of MindTree Consulting, is equally critical of the IT industry. This, despite the fact that Mr. Bagchi is very much a part of the industry he criticises. Before I start about why I disagree with Mr. Bagchi, I must observe that he uses many words to convey absolutely nothing. His sentences seem grammatically correct, but make no sense to the reader. There are many things wrong with his article. First, he claims that the IT industry was built by a few anonymous people. I assume he means, unknown or lesser known individuals. He then goes on to examine the antecedents of our IT czars, like Narayanamurthy of Infosys and Azim Premji of Wipro. He comes to the conclusion that “all of them went on to build global organisations for India, without having to work the system. A few forward-looking bureaucrats and politicians helped from behind the curtains.” I wonder how much truth there is to that claim. My dad says they all had to go through the same hassles that all other budding industrialists do when they start a company. And he has been in the IT industry for over 30 years now. We must not forget that the first tax sops given to the IT industry are less than 10 years old. In fact, the government started taking IT seriously only in the late 90s. And the industry existed for at least 10 years before that.

Why is IT suddenly the bad boy of Indian industry? Is it because, as Bagchi says, “the IT industry started choking cities, upsetting local culture, creating wage disparities. And in the process of wowing the world, it was creating social isolation?” Is it even fair to blame IT and IT alone for all that is wrong with the world today? Is the IT professional’s job not fundamentally different from that of the car mechanic, the doctor, the actor, the politician or the civil engineer? When that is the case, how can we compare salaries in IT with salaries in other industries? Is it not like comparing apples and oranges? Secondly, does a higher salary level for the IT professional mean that his job is qualitatively different from mine, or yours? Can we please stop this IT-bashing and respect them for what they are? Like every other industry, IT has its share of positives and negatives. It is time we stopped treating the industry like an outsider who has taken away jobs from the locals. If anything, IT has contributed to employment generation in a way that not many other industries have. We must remember that IT is here to stay, whether we like it or not.

The United States, women and the right to choose

I have been meaning to blog for the past three days at least. Somehow, the end of the month seems to be a bad time for blogging. So, all I did was to bookmark several links for further reference. All the three things I was planning to address have something to do with the United States. One, is simply political; the second is social; and the third, a mix of the social, the personal and the political.

To begin with the political. I just came across this article in the Times, stating that the United States has the legal right to kidnap foreign citizens if they are wanted for a crime in the United States. That’s right. The legal right to kidnap someone. When I first read the headline on the India Uncut blog, I thought it was a spoof of some kind. Even when I read the whole article on the Times site, I had trouble believing it was actually true. What if another country claimed the same right? What if Afghanistan were to kidnap Mr. Bush Jr. for war crimes? (Hmm…not a bad idea!) Would the US not be screaming bloody murder? Anyway, food for thought, that.

Now, the social. Ms. Clinton, as we all know, is running for President. But, the way her opponents are criticising her role as First Lady, some implying she was too nosy, others insisting that bedtime talk with husband Bill was hardly a qualification, makes me wonder if the US will ever get out of the 17th Century and into the 21st. I don’t claim to be the most liberated of women. I do have my restrictions. I come from a country where the sex ratio is a pathetic 927 for 1000 men, where women must struggle to be properly fed and fight to be educated. But, I also come from a country that elected a woman to the highest office of the land a couple of months ago, and to the post of Prime Minister almost four decades ago. Last year’s local body elections in Tamil Nadu witnessed an unprecedented number of women filing nomination papers. Three Indian states are ruled by women and a number of women hold or have held prominent positions at the centre. Whatever is the US doing? Why is it still acceptable to slander Ms. Clinton because she was First Lady, and belittle her achievements because she is a woman? I do not contend that Ms. Clinton is the best possible candidate for president, but all this criticism about husband Bill telling her about White House business annoys me to no end. Does anyone ever criticise a man and tell him that all that he knows is thanks to his wife’s bedtime discussions with him? This just proves that, economic progress notwithstanding, we are still living in a man’s world.

Finally, the long-standing US debate on abortion got my attention, once again thanks to this India Uncut blogpost. Those who campaign passionately for foetal rights are forgetting something very basic. The foetus cannot survive outside of the mother’s body. And as Amit Varma points out, a woman’s body is her own. She has the right to decide whether she wants the baby or not. Anti-abortion campaigners make it sound as though the woman gets rid of the baby for her convenience with no qualms. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Abortion is an extremely sensitive issue. A woman is confronted with a hard choice when she discovers an unwanted, and unexpected pregnancy. She does not enjoy abortion. Nobody does. But we must remember that she is an individual in her own right. Carrying the baby (or aborting) is her choice. The state has no business interfering. By refusing to legalise abortion, the government (both American and others) puts the woman’s life in immeasurable danger. If the option was accessible to all, there would be no reason to go to fake doctors, undergo dangerous procedures for termination of pregnancy and suffer irreversible harm. Human rights (of full-grown individuals) is, in this case more important than foetal rights. At least, that is what I think.