Saturday, July 28, 2012

Karma Chameleons

I wanted to call this post 'My argument against anarchy', but that would have given away the point of this post. Oops. Anyway, this one is fancier.

 You know why I like to read The Times of India? It is a tabloid. It does not carry real news. It tells me that the celebrities made big mistakes with their life and services my insecurities. Actually, I wish I did that. I read the real news instead and everyday it is about rape, abuse and families destroyed for seemingly silly reasons. Major scale human rights violations. A lot of rage is brought forth and fatwa-equivalents are issued against all the evil-doers. So really what is in the mind of the offenders?

It is accepted that they are clinically sick. It is a disorder but it is not the victim's fault to bear! They are not just deranged, they are deranged masterminds. They know exactly what they are doing, but they are deranged just enough to not let a conscience bother them, while not too much so you can spot them with bright green hair when you see them. While a very impotent public psyche and judicial system deals with them (a future post will have more on this), there is still so sort of social/legal damage done to the offender, however inadequate.

This post will focus on some of the more not-illegal, social, psychological crimes that are just morality issues. I saw a tamil movie recently called Poraali that deals with this population. I just call them crazy people. Doctors tend to diagnose some of them with personality disorders. The rest of them, we just have to live with.

A big problem is that the only time we discover the mad side of crazy people too close to us is when it is too late and the damage has been done. Crazy people are not crazy all the time; in fact there is a crazy in all of us that we suppress to fit in with decent society.

We had a clogged sewage pipe in our house one day and we had to get some workers to manually climb into the sewage gutter to clear out the blockage. It was a hot summer day in Chennai and it took quite some work from the two men. I stayed with them to look at what they were doing and supervise if needed. After the problem was resolved, one of the men asked me for some drinking water. I quickly fetched him a glass of water from the kitchen. He drank it quick and requested for some more water, chilled this time. I grabbed a bottle of water out of the refrigerator and handed it to him. He and his colleague drank all the contents of the bottle and returned it to me with a thanks and a tired smile. As I re-entered the house, a cousin walked to me and asked me if I was stupid.
'Excuse me?' 
'Why would you give them water from a cup that we use to drink? And why the cold water?'
I frowned for a moment to allow the meaning of what she said to sink in. When it did, I looked at her for a couple of seconds and then walked away. I had understood her; I was not going to explain myself. She immediately realized what she had done.
' I didn't mean it like that! It is just that I did not want you to put the empty bottle back in the refrigerator!' Her face was flushed.

This is a very harmless example but the ideal response to these things is call bullshit. What she said was exactly what she meant. If she didn't mean it, she never would have said it. They know exactly what they are doing; they just don't have the fiber to keep down the crazy moment or accept the repercussions. They are real worried about the rest of the world identifying that part of them and judging them. 'Please do not judge me for my selfishness. It is because of work and stress!'

It is easy to fall for the excuse made. 'It was daddy issues'. 'It was the way I was brought up'. 'It was the loneliness.' 'It was the moment.' That is their trump card. But like Chris Rock says it 'Whatever happened to just plain Crazy?' There may be a story to it but it is their story! It is their behavior and even if it is a clinical condition, if they do not fix it no one else can. It is not for others to just deal with it so they can be selfish. All their effort is spent on trying to justify it with an unrelated past issue or get you to sympathize with their condition but they need to be putting effort on getting over themselves. These are people that can deal with or even cure their crazy, they just choose not to, and instead make you deal with it.

Bipolar disorder can actually be a systemic genetic disorder and bipolar patients who are attempting to deal with it will tell you, it is hard. But they want to not be like that and they are working on it. They do not need your sympathy if they are really working it.

The ones that do not want to face it, it is just plain selfishness. But unfortunately selfishness is not wrong, in fact it is synonymous with the pursuit of happiness which the Smiths will tell you, is not wrong. All morals are relative. No one can be judged because there are no rules with convenient and convoluted philosophies existing on both sides of the argument. They will make you swim and drown in their complicated justification for crazy behavior, so watch your back! We all have to live in this society. They cannot just take the rules when they work in their favor and take recess in the chaotic nature of the world when it suits them. If the universe is meant to embrace their craziness in the name of accepting randomness, why don't they embrace their own craziness too and put a knife to their cheeks? You could at least tell them out in a crowd and stay away, you don't want to get their disease!

For sane people, if you are right or wrong, you accept situations and live with it. If you think you need to justify anger, selfishness or conventional harm with a convoluted story - you are crazy, period. Normal people feel sorry and make up even if they did mean to harm.

As for the victims, the golden question is where is the karma? I do not believe in the concept. If the wife beater lives a wonderful life and never feels any regret, karma advocates would probably come up with some fantastic theory that serves to keep the concept running rather than getting the douchebag castrated. Or say something like a wife beater's life is bad anyway. He must have been abused as a child. I'll just say save yourself and stay away, it is not something you can fix or deal with. Run. Fly you fools.

There is another technique. Do you know why a lot of crazy people look like they are doing perfectly well? It is because they view the world in black and white. While that looks like a bad thing, a binary view of the world can really help you call out bullshit when you see it, so the other crazies cannot ruin their course of action. I do not advocate that you become crazy and oversimplify things but don't let anyone over-complicate it for you either and mask will fall on its own. Keep it simple.

Related song on loop

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Brain on the rain

A collection of demotivators made over the years.

What has been on loop:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A simpleton's guide to empathy

Not sympathy. That is not a good word to use.

Sympathy is when you pity someone. You feel sorry for them. You want them to feel better, to be better. Depending on how much you care, you give them a portion of your attention and emotion. The world is not short of sympathizers. But do you do something about it? Does it help them? Do they really need it?

What the world needs is empathy and we are embarrassingly low on empathizers. A normal individual does not want you to feel sorry for him. He does not want your pity. 'You are not better than me', he argues. What use is your sympathy to the rape victim you read about in the papers? Or the relatives of the dead from the newest earthquake in Indonesia? Or your friend who lost his job? Sympathy only serves to help us connect to our emotional side. It helps us feel better about ourselves because we 'care'.  It helps us stay in denial. It serves us more than anyone else.

Of course there are some unfortunate souls that do seek sympathy. Like a drug addict crawling on the streets. 'It hurts so bad. The world has an agenda against me. I have been wronged by everyone at every level', they cry to you. They want your attention. Do they feel better if you offer a solution? Does your counsel get used to solve the problem and avoid it the next time around? They don't have any self-respect. Chances are they don't even want to think about how to deal with it. It is not about healing the hurt. It is not about losing the pain. It is about the attention that your sympathy gives them. They will live off it as long as you give it and if you refuse, they will simply find it elsewhere. It is a drug; you can get it from any dealer.

Empathy requires more effort. You actually need to think about what the person is going through. Put yourself in their shoes. Think like them. What is it that they really are feeling? What is it that they really need? Do they deserve it? Can you solve the problem?

Most of the world complains about not being understood and they are right. We are short on empathy. When you listen to someone, you are not really understanding their situation. You have already jumped to what would be the most soul-satisfying thing for you to do. I used to volunteer for an organization called Aid India in college. When a tsunami hit Tamil Nadu in late 2004, an immediate operation started - to collect, pack and send sackloads of used clothes to some of the relief sites in southern Tamil Nadu. We spent many hours on it. A week later we received a letter from one camp saying this:

 'We thank you for your concern. However, we are independent and hard-working people. It is true that we have lost everything we own in the floods but we have not lost our self-respect. Please do not take that away from us with your alms.'

They needed our care and support to regain their self-sufficiency and no amount of used clothes provided was going to give them that. It was a slap in the face and I responded with guilt and humility. More growing up and objective thought followed. I am not a fan of Vivek Oberoi but I appreciate his move in response to the calamity. He gathered a bunch of friends and flew over to the site with some supplies to start a mess there. The mess was quickly set up and within a day, he was able to hand over the mess with some food supplies to the relief victims. That may not have solved all their problems but it was an empathetic move that they needed. 

Global Giving is an organization that can actually do the empathy part for you, if that is not your thing. My brother-in-law got me introduced to this one some years ago. One of their projects is the micro-loans for rural women in Africa (link on causes page), where your money provided is a $50 loan to a rural woman in Africa so she may start and run an independent small business. It is an interest and collateral-free loan, not a donation. Your effort and money spent is not much but it is better than handing out money to beggars on the street.

Empathy is not about help and charity though. It needs to be there in everything that you do. Are you firing your employee? Are you bargaining on price? Are you demanding what you need? Do it with empathy. It is about getting out of your comfortable vantage point and thinking in the place of the one you are dealing with. Like an equal. It has to exist in every move you make that involves people. What would you want if you were in his place? How would you like to be treated? Empathy may involve doing what they don't ask you to do and sometimes it involves not doing what they ask you to do. People want respect. They want to know that they matter to someone. They want to be reminded that they are one of us too. Telling them that they will be fine may sometimes just not cut it, you will have to demonstrate it. You have keep thinking and working to keep yourself empathetic.

Based on my personal lessons, here is how:

1. Don't just tell them that they will be fine and ok later. Never dismiss their issues, even if it may really not be that big in your eyes. Their problem could be that they are oversizing what they think is bothering them. Help them understand that. Treat it as important; you may disagree but it is important to them.

2. Put yourself in their place. It is the only way to empathize. Think of what you would need if you were in their place; how you would wish to be treated. Think of how you would view the world if you were in their place. It is not the easiest thing to do but practice long enough and it will become second nature.

3. Hug. Be warm. It is first aid. A hug may not solve things but it can break the dam. Give a person a hug, ask questions later. It can help people feel more secure and open them up to further matters. Show raw affection. They are somebody's son or daughter. Treat them like they are somebody's joy.

4. Be humble about it. You are not doing a favor to anyone. Back off and work on yourself if you think you are better than them. They may be in a bad situation now but in time the opposite situation may exist. You empathize because it the decent human thing to do. It is what you would want done to yourself.

5. Understand. You may not agree but you have to hear them out and understand what really is running in their mind. Hear them out, listen well and keep the strength and stability to make your own decisions after. With empathy.

6. It is not about you. You have to take care of yourself but empathy does not involve a showcase of your inner celebrity social activist. Accept that things cannot be about you all the time.


On a side note, I've been listening to this song all day. Pammi sent it me earlier this week. I think it is more gambheera nattai than chala nattai.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Some assembly required

Some graphjams I've made over the years


At the beach
Girl 1: I got this new sexy bikini that will make the guys go wild!
Girl 2: Cool! You should have worn it today.
Girl 1: I am! I am wearing it inside my robe.
Girl 2: Why don't you take off your robe and show it then?
Girl 1: What are you saying?!! I'd die of embarrassment!
- Random strip found years ago in some edition of Mad Magazine

A friend recently accused me of confusing my people pleasing tendencies with feminism. Maybe I was just trying to score some points with the opposite sex by coming out with it. While I welcome any points scored, I have to defend my stance as a little less selfish. But to address his point, this post is about the things that make the idea of feminism look bad.

Lets be clear, feminism, like affirmative action is very important. There could be a day in the future when differences in gender and race are treated like straight versus curly hair, but to get there, the unevenness that exists today needs to be balanced and therefore feminism has to exist right now. To say that biases in gender and race do not exist in the work place and in society currently is to be in complete denial and ignorance of the large number of violating crimes that happen everyday. It is true that we are better off now than the 1950s but it is still not where it needs to be, so we can boast of an equalized social environment. 

Now that that is out of the way, the real purpose of this post is to address the nutty things that people say and do to impede the feminist movement in the name of feminism. The same analogs exist with issues of racial and economic equality but I will leave you to draw those parallels. 

"...because women can make the possible impossible... impossible possible"
Feminist stereotype from Rang De Basanti

While it is true that women have to be the torch bearers in the feminist movement, they can end up being its bane too. I love it that women exercise the liberty to score better in examinations, drink harder, stay out longer and dress to fit their imagination. But many find it hard to let go of some old school values that favor them, and mostly that is just selfish. An appropriate gentleman still needs to exist to pick up the bill, drive her around, open the door, lift the weights and assemble the Ikea furniture. Even if those are given up, it still needs to be a male knee that goes down in a marriage proposal. 

The romance battlefield has been the biggest area of failure for true feminism. A female friend recently told me how she really wanted to get married but preferred to find someone on her own rather than her parents involve themselves in the matter. 'I want to be in love. I want someone to kneel and ask me to marry him after which I will say yes. I want someone to chase me first', she said. I asked her what she would do in return. 'I will treat him like a king', she responded. I was a little puzzled with why a king would ever have to do a begging-dog routine but i let the matter die down. If we need our women to truly equalize, we need to get rid of women-imposed social rituals of self-flattery. Everyone loves to be treated like a princess, don't get me wrong, on my first visit to Magic Kingdom even I wanted my nails and hair done. But if we expect to be treated equally, then we need to return the same; it is not fair to expect equality where it is needed and ignore it where inequality works in our favor. While we bring our daughters up with the brain-washing idea of them being the Snow-Whites whose lives will be forever secured by some Prince Charming, that creates serious supply and maintenance issues in his highness' department. You can still chose to be a princess but make sure that your fairy tale is not someone else's responsibility; they have their own Shrek stories to look after. 

Ranjani often uses the term modern dress Mahalaxmi to describe women that are dressed to celebrate what a liberalized world allows them but still carry kitchen-bound minds on the inside. The Mad mag joke on top describes a classic case. While it is really hard to break the mold of eons of social suppression, nobody else but you have to do it. Chivalry still remains a predominantly male trait that is more expected and enforced rather than rejected as an embarrassment to female independence. 

Gender bias is a serious issue. It has to be countered in attitude and that reflects not in the club meetings or the pink ribbons but in the finer aspects; in day to day choices to be independent. Step up. Ask a guy out, there is not a bigger turn on - trust me. Split bills. Be neutral at work. Stay calm, the world has enough crazy people. Plan together. Love independently. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


I took a Meyer-Briggs Type Indicator test recently and scored positive for ESFJ. I had no idea of what it meant outside of the zodiac sign-like wikipedia descriptions of all the wonderful positive blooming things that stroked my ego. Once I took to online message boards though, I quickly found out that ESFJs are mostly female. In fact, there were discussions about how all ESFJ males could probably be gay; that the ESFJ tag could help identify if your children are gay so you could counsel them. I received this with mixed feelings. I was happy that I finally knew why I had such feminist tendencies. It was almost like an expression of the inner feminineness or something. But I was pretty sure that my orientation was strongly heterosexual even at my drunk best. I am not special enough to be a woman in a man's body. I plunged into an unexpected doubt trip of whether I did not give it a fair chance when I told myself the first time that I liked girls. But truly, I did not make that choice; it really is not a choice at all. But some sort of unsettledness lingered. The Meyer-Briggs test is used in a lot of offices even for clinical purposes. Why did I have to be in the kitty party? 


Two weeks later, I got the family to take the test. Dad scored INTJ and the sibling scored ESFP. Mom scored ESFJ. And all was well with the world again. The Meyer-Briggs tests are based on preference and I preferred to call mom my role model of all the people in the world. To score the same stroked that ego again. Some things may not be a choice and your preferences may stay the same all your life but I make the choice to embrace what I am for what it is.


To hold on to the choice of embracing who you are is under threat however, thanks to a web 2.0 like social attitude. My brother-in-law is an analyst for web-based social media and told me once that your future personality is not what you pick for yourself but what social media would assign to you. You would have a star rating, like netflix. You would have reviews and testimonials, like amazon. You will be measured by your citation rating and list of followers. Sounds familiar? These already exist! This can and will get taken to the next level though, where what you should study, what your occupation should be, who your friends should be, where should you live will be strongly impressed by the society through its in silico social presence. Welcome to neo-feudalism, where your life is run for you like an assembly line. 

The biggest problem with this new attitude is that it is supremely dehumanizing. We all need the space to make our choices, the time to repent and regret the wrong ones and the tolerance that allows us to make new better choices. Not from everyone but definitely from the ones that call us their friends. It is hard enough to deal with the confusion of who you are and what you are doing. To throw in a quantitative system would just take the brakes off the roller coaster. Making people a ratable commodity is already an extant social evil that is snowballing into a stone-cold juggernaut. The next time you laugh and dismiss the starlet singer who has been labeled to have feminine features, ask yourself if your brains are meant to be made of a meme site.

The solution? Stay old-fashioned. It does not mean that you should not use social media. But follow the same route your dad did to stay in touch with the school mates that you call your uncles. First embrace who you are. You may not know everything; you may know nothing but you will accept and deal with the consequence of being yourself. Second, embrace what others are. Very few of them will exist in your fairy world so their cracks will show better. But unless their freckles draw swords and wage war on you, let them be what they are without interfering with your scorn. Finally, share your life with them and allow the magic to happen. Social media emphasizes the share aspect first and therefore we end up distorting the first two steps. 

You are not a mac or a pc. You are not an android or an iphone. Those are things. You are a person. Things. Persons. They are different. Things get treated like things. You should be treated like you. Without the job. Without the education. Without the clothes. Without the color of your skin. Without the disabilities. Without the gender. Without the history. We are clear.