To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child , a garden patch, or a redeemed condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Bust Fake News

How to fight the fake news epidemic? I simply do a Google search (and have been doing so since pre-WhatsApp/Facebook days, when 'fake news' consisted of email forwards of five-headed snakes and baby-shaped vegetables, ironically from people who rant against fake news now, not realising that they helped the fake news juggernaut along by letting creators test the limits of gulibility of recipients!) - some sites like and (besides some news-focused sites like are reliable fake news busters.

Apparently, some (most?!) 'well meaning' people who receive fake news forwards are too lazy to check, and harm their own credibility (besides unintentionally causing real harm, even deaths!) by forwarding fake news to their own contacts/groups.😠

Guys, if you can't do a double check, at least be responsible enough NOT to forward what you haven't verified, instead of acting like children given possibly dangerous toys and opting to use these without a care. (And I'm talking only of 'well meaning' but gullible people who spread fake news unintentionally, not the really culpable ones who create and/or forward such trash willingly, in support of a certain ideology or thought - such acts are doubtless criminal and need to be acted against severely.)

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Rewards of multiple-book reading...

While reading through the Pullitzer Prize-winning 'The Sixth Extinction' (TSE), on the ravages wrought by the human race on our natural environment (almost on the same scale as those caused by natural disasters millions of years back, which resulted in the five known extinctions of life) like dwindling biodiversity due to ocean acidification caused by carbon emissions, it struck me that the scales of time the book talks about are akin to those described in Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos'. Of course, both the timelines and the physical span covered by 'Cosmos' are much larger/longer in scale (billions of years instead of bare millions), and Sagan covers an eclectic mix of human knowledge (Chapter X for instance, which I just finished, closes with Sagan's musings on the mythical 'fourth dimension'!).

Actually, the book closer to TSE in its sweep is perhaps the renowned 'Sapiens', Harari's groundbreaking tome on the human race (which I finished a few months back). With the same theme of human race having caused extinction of so many of the ancient species of flora and fauna. However, while TSE sticks to a central theme of environmental degradation, 'Sapiens' takes into its fold a much larger swathe of human history, archeology, economics and so many other domains. In its span, as such, 'Sapiens' is closer to 'Cosmos'.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Viet Nam redux

A Facebook post by a respected ex-Army man sharing a memoir of a US veteran who had served in Viet Nam started a chain of thought...

There are of course legends still floating around of US veterans recounting their tales of valour (and, in many cases, of hardships) which had led to perhaps a whole generation of US servicemen suffering from psychological difficulties, in some cases leading to cases like the one depicted in Stallone's 'Rambo'/'First Blood' movies, of people almsot 'looking for' troubled places to put their hands in.

Which takes one back to the country itself putting ones hands in places it may've been better advised not to.  Many of those talking of the US servicemen in Viet Nam fighting for 'freedom' seem to be disconnected with reality.  The fact is: the US was fighting a war not remotely affecting its core interests, much less its own freedom.  It was virtually fighting to support one faction of Viet Nam polity against another, unfairly putting US servicemen at risk of life and limb in a war not of their own.  Which of course later on resulted in a public backlash when the body bags started coming home, eventually resulting in the US withdrawing from the theatre.  More importantly, what did it achieve, beyond the abiding hatred of a large section of Viet Nam people, with memories of napalm bombs and worse!  Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) eventually became a part of unified Viet Nam under communist rule (and, in the first place, there may've been nothing patently wrong with communist rule - at least not of the same measure as with the Pol Pot regime in neighbouring Cambodia - except on spurious ideological grounds).  So it was all in vain, it'd seem, even from the blinkered standpoint of US politicians of that time.

And coming to Pol Pot, if ideology was supposedly the trigger for US's Viet Nam war, why didn't it spur the country to intervene in Cambodia, where millions of people were being massacred - amply demonstrated by the famous 'skull tower' and former prisons where photos of those shot were kept meticulously!  Also, North Korea was perhaps nearer to US shores than Viet Nam, but it was 'allowed' to go the communist way (still acting as a thorn in its side).

Which brings one to the fulcrum of the whole argument: interventions of US (and indeed most of the Western countries) post World War II have been mostly clumsy, reeking of bullying and selfish interests, and have led to unintended results in most cases, affecting the interests and stability surrounding countries (and interests of US in certain cases).  In Africa, a host of dictatorial regimes were allowed to continue for very long, suppressing indigenous peoples and their aspirations, with liberal supply of arms and much more by US and Western countries like France (which holds itself up as the epitome of liberty and equality but revels in bombing host countries like Chad, besides indulging in rampant economic imperialism in Western Africa, esp. in so called 'Francophone countries'!).

But the ill effects of US intervention have been most palpable in Asia.  Take the propping up of Gulf dictatorships (and concomitant obscurantism) just to ensure a steady supply of crude oil.  Take the over the top invasion of an already weakened Iraq on the basis of spurious, manufactured 'evidence' of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) presented to UN, which led to perhaps the only secular regime in the region being toppled.  Which it probably deserved to, in the light of its misadventures, but with no substitute political alternative in place, the country has seemingly just fragmented into multiple power centres and led to the rise of the IS monster to fill the gap.  And less said about Afghanistan the better, what with the US establishment tending to look at the hyphenated 'Af-Pak' relationship as a whole rather than analyzing each on its own merits.

Which, inevitably for India, throws up the Pakistan question.  What is it, one wonders, which mesmerizes US polity and blinds it to the dangers of a renegade regime armed to the teeth, including with nuclear weapons.  All hopes of keeping the Pakis humoured with financial aid (historically started as a measure to fight Russians in Afghanistan) and away from trouble have well nigh evaporated, with Pak meddling repeatedly in Afghanistan, directly and indirectly, and continuing its shadow war with India, in Kashmir and elsewhere (like Bombay 26/11).  But US still persists in 'engaging with' (read: appeasing) Pak instead of sending it a strong message to cease and desist from its nefarious activities.

Just like in case of 9/11, where at least one of the bombers came from Pak, the more recent San Bernadino shooting also involved a woman indoctrinated in a Madarsa (religious school) in Pakistan. It seems the chicken are coming home to roost, and innocent American residents are beginning to pay a heavy price for the misadventures concocted by self-serving politicians.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Educated unemployed of India - the looming multitude

A recent article by CNBC's Neerja Jetley ('India's lost generation: A systemic risk?') laments that "Nearly 47 percent of Indian graduates are unemployable in any sector, irrespective of their academic degrees".  It goes on to lay the blame on the fact that "As little as 10- 12 percent of the 15-29 year-old age group in India receives any formal or informal training compared with to 28 percent in Mexico or 96 percent in South Korea".

I think the piece misses a couple of aspects.  First off, the problem doesn't start with lack of training in later-school years.  It starts with elementary education itself.  A World Bank report says that "44 percent of students in grades 2–5 in government schools cannot read short paragraphs with short ...language... Many ninth graders tested in two states using mathematics questions from an international survey had problems with basic arithmetic skills".  And this is no surprise.  With teacher skills & training (and qualifications! - talk of political interference there...) being what they are, that's the kind of student literacy rates which can be exptected.

Secondly, the article says "Theoretically, a nation with young demographic has lower dependency ratio..." and then goes on to describe how 'demographic dividend' doesn't work in India.  However, one additional aspect is that the premise itself may not hold.  Even if it's true that "In 2020, the average Indian will be only 29 years old, compared to 37 in China and the U.S., 45 in West Europe and 48 in Japan, according to India's Ministry of Labor and Employment", many such 29-year-olds do have a full family to support, with both ageing/aged parents and (courtesy early marriages, especially in rural areas) spouses & children.

The article concludes by saying that "The poor education standards are recipes for social problems as incidents of crime escalate".  But the escalating crime is not only caused by the poor educational standards.  It's also a symptom of the haves-have nots divide, caused by the same unemployability that plauges the system.

Unless urgent steps are taken to stem the rot in an integrated fashion, by attacking each and every factor in the entire chain of causes and effects, social tensions are only slated to increase, with predictable consequences for both law & order and institutionalized corruption, notwithstanding efforts to address one or the other symptom in an isolated manner.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Life and death...

The ideas in the recent blog post (Dealing with Terminal Illness) by Om Swami are quite in line with Tagore's Gitanjali Verse '...because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well...':

'I was not aware of the moment when I first crossed the threshold of this life. 
What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery 
like a bud in the forest at midnight? 
When in the morning I looked upon the light 
I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world, 
that the inscrutable without name and form had taken me 
in its arms in the form of my own mother. 
Even so, in death the same unknown will appear 
as ever known to me. 
And because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well. 
The child cries out when from the right breast the mother takes it away 
to find in the very next moment its consolation in the left one.'

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


There is a cliched statement from the movies which goes something like this: "जब दो इंसानो  को मिलना होता है तो पूरी कायनात उनको मिलाने के लिए काम करने लगती है" (loosely translated as 'when two people have to get together, the whole universe works towards that').  The power of coincidence, that is...

One take on this thought is that whatever you believe in strongly (and send out 'signals' for) happens - see Making your dreams come true.  This is also the tack taken by Rhonda Byrne in her books 'The Secret' and 'The Power' which, however, are too materialistically inclined to be of taste to everybody.

I've felt this 'coincidence' sometimes while reading multiple books during a day (a quirk of mine).  I may come across the same, ummm..., 'theme' across (a) Bhagwadgita (Hindi interpretation by Swami Ramsukhdas), and (b) Bhagwadgita (different chapter/verse - English interpretation by Paramhansa Yogananda), and (c) Rubaiyat of Omar Khaiyam (interpretation by Paramhansa Yogananda).

Today again I felt the same thing happen.  I was sitting with a colleague (and a good friend) and listening, for the umpteenth time, to his grumblings about the workplace, bosses, et al.  (To give him credit, he also sometimes acknowledges that it's no good to grumble, and one should 'either shape up or ship out' - but then he reverts to the same mode of grumbling.)  Well, I've been thinking for quite some time to share some feedback with this colleague on his negative mode of thinking (not the least because some of the negativity seems to rub off on me too sometimes!).  It so happened that today, on the verge of starting to provide such feedback, I refrained from doing so, remembering an old adage that feedback (even if constructive) is best given when sought, in most situations.  And this is regardless of how much one thinks it'd benefit the receiver of such feedback, since the very act of sharing feedback may arouse certain negative feelings/resistance in the receiver if s/he is not receptive in the first place.

Well, after the colleague went off, I started reading my emails.  One of the regular emails I receive is a series of 'suggestions', based on thoughts of well-known thinkers of their time.  And what do I see, as the thought for the day, but this: 'Absence of criticism' - "...resist the urge to speculate about... neighbours unless with a view to their benefit" (see If I can).  (This was shown to be based on Jain Tirthankara Mahavira's thought "May no one speak harsh, bitter or unpleasant words.")

Regardless of what alternative interpretation/s I (or anyone else) can put on the above thought, the fact remains that it was relevant to my prevailing thought process of sharing feedback.  For me, incidents like these seem to indicate that (a) the teachings of thinkers and epics, Bhagwadgita among them, are not based on dry philosophizing or 'speaking from the pulpit' but are based on, and meant to guide, the living of life itself, and (b) we're all perhaps part of the same 'macrocosm' (for want of a better word), while existing as (within?) our own 'microcosm'...

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Thoughts across language and much else...

What a coincidence!  I was going through verse 57 of the 2nd chapter of Srimadbhagwadgita (the 'Gita') last night - the Hindi interpretation with detailed notes by swami Ramsukhdas ji.  The shloka talks about the characteristics of a 'sthitapragya' (a person of equanimity), saying such a person should withdraw his indriyas (senses) within himself like a turtle.

Right after that, I started reading the Gita interpretation (in English) by Paramhansa Yogananda - verse 26 of chapter 6.  Eerily, this verse also turned out to be saying almost the same thing - how an aspirant Yogi should strive to keep his indriyas under control!

What a transmission of thoughts, across language, target audience (an ordinary devotee vs. an aspiring Yogi) and author (someone who spent his whole life in India vs. someone who spent the major part of his life in US).  But the underlying thought remains the same!

Were they both trying to say something (the same thing), communicating from beyond the boundaries of time and space?...