Thursday, June 19, 2008

Autocratic ancestors and defiant descendants

M:"Dad can you ask the music teacher not to come tomorrow?"

Me:"Why? I thought you liked learning how to play the piano and it is a holiday tomorrow, so if he can find the time to teach you, why can't you find the time to learn?"

M:"No, I don't like it, I am doing it just for you."

She is too young to make informed choices and I will just have to deny her the right to do so for the time being. But the germs of defiance are already evident.

That is how it works nowadays. My kids consult with me or at least inform me of their choices, likes and dislikes. When it is necessary, they show defiance and get their way.

My father was an autocrat. He decided after I passed S.S.C., that I should be in Science, not Commerce, and I obeyed him without asking a single question. Because, of course, he knew best and it was unthinkable for me to argue with him.

So here I am, stuck between autocratic ancestors and defiant descendants. Shouldn't I have the right to make decisions for my kids, like my father did for me? In turn, they can make the choices for their kids when their time comes.

And what if THEIR kids deny them those same rights? I guess better I be the loser here than them. I will let them make their own decisions and choices, and when the time comes, expect them to happily extend those same privileges to their offspring.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Morality, contextual or absolute.......

I commented on the above post by Ammar but it lead me to serious thinking about the ramifications of his question. The first thing that springs to mind is that in Eastern philosophy, if you ask a serious question, the first response would be who wants to know, i.e. who is asking. The point is that the answer is framed according to the context or perhaps the identity or intellectual capacity of the inquirer. Does this mean that our morality is flexible enough to accommodate the needs of the moment and that we do not have any absolute morality?

Was Shree Ram morally right when he abandoned his wife Sita, to appease a minority section of his society?

Is it morally correct for a secular state to provide Haj subsidies to its minorities?

What would you call someone who leaves his wife and infant son in the dark of night and shirks from his responsibilities in order to pursue his own agenda? Imagine that this person lived and died as a common mendicant after taking this path. You would perhaps consider his act irresponsible and immoral. Now imagine what your response would be if that person was named Siddhartha and this happened at Kapilvastu a couple of millenia ago?

Is YOUR morality flexible enough to change according to the context? Do you believe in absolutes when it comes to morality? Are we as a culture, so focused on survival that we would compromise on moral issues when it becomes necessary? A lot to think about and raises more questions than it answers.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

The pursuit of excellence or mediocrity?

There is a couplet in our folklore which goes like this: "Janani jan to bhakt jan, ka data ka shur; nahitar raheje vanzani, mat gumavish nur". At first reading, it might seem like the author is asking the mother to produce a specific type of child. But if you think about it, what the author is trying to tell the mother, is to make sure that her children achieve their full potential. That means working towards achieving the right type of circumstances and providing the correct influences. The second line basically denounces mediocrity.

Your parents or teachers can try to teach you to strive for excellence, but ultimately it depends on the individual. One has to be exposed to excellence to really appreciate it. What generally happens is that kids strive to be better than their peer groups, either academically or in terms of income generated, or perhaps perceived social status. This is what is usually defined as ambition. But once they achieve that goal, people tend to sit on their laurels and enjoy the warm sunshine.

The pursuit of excellence is a lifelong process. One strives to do the best one can in every endeavor one undertakes. You try not just to do a good or acceptable job, but the best you can and try to better it the next time. Turning out work you can be proud of, is the foundation of the pursuit for excellence.

But the pursuit does not end in the workplace. This is a way of life. You keep on upgrading your education and your skill-sets and have a long term view of what you would like to do in terms of realizing your full potential. This will affect those around you as well, providing them with a better alternative or perhaps an example to follow.

Remember that your generation has a multitude of choices and is not bound by the constraints our generation faced while growing up, whether financial or social. As a young adult, you have the right to choose a mediocre existence for yourself and no one can fault you for doing that. But by doing that, you will be denying your progeny the opportunity to fully realize their potential.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Where would you rather live?

A society is judged by the way it treats its weakest, its most vulnerable members. That is worth spending some time thinking about. There is a distinct image etched in my memory which I have never been able to erase. It is of a local gentleman dragging his shrieking housemaid by her hair, out of a police station and she crying out for help in her own language, to no avail. I have always felt ashamed to have silently witnessed this incident and I feel that the denial and erosion of her rights as a human being will ultimately be reflected in the erosion of my and everyone else's human rights in this society.

If you had a choice, where would you rather live? In a country which provides you with a good standard of living, but does not allow you to put down any roots, since your living there is considered temporary in nature by the authorities, and which has blatant and rampant discrimination according to your origin or the color of your skin? If you can not see the discrimination in your daily lives, perhaps you should take off your rose-tinted glasses. I agree that discrimination exists even among the most enlightened societies, but at least there you are protected by law and have recourse.

You are still young and have the choice to carve out your own niche in a better place than the Gulf. I agree that it is going to be a tough journey and in the end you might not end up making a lot of money in the west. But should money be the only consideration when you are faced with such a choice? What other option do you have? To spend all your working life on a contract to contract basis and then in old age be kicked out to live out your sunset years in a land that will be unknown and strange for you?

People who have been born and brought up in this part of the world, sooner or later become desensitized to the discrimination happening around them on a daily basis. It becomes the norm for them to hand it out either in comments or as deeds and do not even realize it. They tend to notice it only when they are at the receiving end. I have to reiterate that the denial or erosion of any single person's human rights ultimately leads to the erosion and denial of the human rights of each and every person who is a part of that society. Every laborer sweating it out in the sun and every housemaid working from dawn till midnight for a pittance are as much human as you and me. It is just that fate has dealt us a better hand.

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