I wonder what’s their story?

Tax has always been my least favourite subject in the world. I never could get anything better than a C in University and it was the only exam I failed twice while doing my CPA.

When I moved from a Tax Haven country to Canada I realised I couldn’t run from Tax anymore. So I took my father’s advice and decided to master the subject that I once truly dreaded and joined a volunteer programme to help out with filing tax returns for people less fortunate than me. After all, majority of the CPA’s file tax returns for a living. So last year for the tax year 2012 I volunteered at a clinic and filed over 15 returns for senior citizens and yesterday I did over 25 returns at the same tax clinic for 2013.

Last night, as I walked into the retirement home, I felt like I had entered into a secret society of old people who were laughing about their arthritis and betting on whether they would make it to their next birthday. The topics seemed depressing but they seemed as happy as ever. After all, today they were getting their taxes done for free! As I hurried past the 40 seniors already waiting in line for the tax clinic to start, I could hear cheered whispers “yes another volunteer has arrived and this one looks so pretty”. I smiled, not because of the compliment and the fact that my other volunteers were older men with moustache’s but because there were 40 people actually awaiting my arrival! In a way, they made me feel important.

There was a brutal snow storm last night and our clinic was down from the usual 6 volunteers to just 3 including myself who managed to make it in. This meant longer hours and double the returns to do. I couldn’t complain, I was being offered tea and coffee, being thanked to no end and was made to feel like I had saved the day. I wonder who was doing who the favour here?

There were all kinds of people there for the clinic– the old, the disabled and even the super active one’s who looked like they could run a marathon. One of my first clients was Egyptian and born in 1923, she told me her story. She has been a widow since 62’ and never remarried, she had two boys and they had two son’s each and now she has 8 great granddaughters. ‘All of my Great Grandchildren are daughters!’ she exclaimed, she had a twinkle in her eye and pride in her voice when she said that. “With two sons of my own, I always always wanted daughters and now look God made me wait 3 generations to get my wish”. She was so appreciative after I did her taxes, thanked me and left.

One of my other clients was born in 1919 ! holy crap. I kept joking about how she would live up to a 100. She was Polish and she was having a tough time sitting down on the chair next to me. I helped her and she gave me a piece of chocolate (yum) and thanked me; But before she left she said “I doubt I”ll be seeing you next year”, to which I replied, “of course you are ! remember you have to hit 100?”.
But even though I may have sounded convincing, I didn’t feel so sure. After all only about 3/4th of the people who were my clients at the clinic last year did return this year…

This made me think about the stories and lives of the people who have retired –

That random old lady we might have brushed past the grocery store – Do her children respect and appreciate her?,

That old man who couldn’t cross the road – Did he lose his wife his sole companion at a young age?,

That elderly lady in front of the line who seems to be taking forever – did she just recently have a life threatening surgery?

or the Polish woman born in 1919 – will she be back for my tax clinic in 2015?

Then I think about our parents. Someday they will be old and grey too and I ask myself –

Will someone someday look at them and wonder about their story?

My Chetan Bhagat Realization

– To Happy New Readings

I was transiting through the Hyderabad airport to catch my flight to Mumbai when I stopped to flutter around at a book store and involuntarily found my hand reaching out to grab the new Chetan Bhagat novel, Revolution 20-20. It was in that moment when it dawned on me.

Like many readers out there, I tend to pick up books written by the same authors I have read before, so for example since I had recently finished reading Amartya Sen’s book the Argumentative Indian, I immediately went and got his other book the Idea of Justice because I just had to read more essays written by him. But truth be told, I don’t like Chetan Bhagat’s writing at all. I do admire him for writing books for the mass Indian audience who probably would never have picked up a book in their lives if it wasn’t for him but apart from that I don’t fancy him being a good writer. His books are like movies made by Farah Khan – slightly entertaining, super predictable and soulless. But then why was it that I had read all of his books? And here I was reaching out to buy his latest release too? It hit me then that reading all of his books religiously throughout the timeline he had released/written them was due to a sincere inkling and wishful thinking to watch him as he grew in writing but I can sadly say that I have been sorely disappointed. CB has a clear-cut commercial formula in writing books that manages to make a good sale so why not just stick to the same theory every time? In one way one can’t blame him.

In another way though, reading a book by the same author is like going through the same life cycle every single day with the same job with the same people and in the same place. We find comfort in them and we find comfort in already knowing an author’s style of writing so it’s natural to make those same choices because it’s been proclaimed safe, but the question then arises; how does one ever grow? How will we ever know if making that drastic decision to move countries or taking that leap of faith by making a lifetime commitment or making a decision to change jobs could be well worth it or not? What if we never did grow out of our comfort zone and were well into our adulthood still reading books written by Enid Blyton? I am clandestinely terrified that someday I might outgrow my Harry Potter books but I know that that will be a sign of growth too (although I solemnly swear to cling on to Pottermania as long as I possibly can)

I read books for the same reason I make a life changing decision –

  • To learn something from, like when constantly reaching out for the dictionary reading  those million fancy words used by Amartya Sen of which I had no idea what they quintessentially (I hope that got you reaching out for the definition too) meant.
  • To admire or inspire from, like the concept of Yann Martel’s book Beatrice and Virgil and the ending to a Life of Pi which I thought was so unimaginably unique.
  • To feel strongly and powerful about something, like when reading the Saudi Arabian Princess trilogy by Jean Seasson and screaming silently in outrage for the unfair treatment of Middle Eastern women.
  • To laugh aloud with or cry like a baby on, like when giggling nonstop at  Rebecca Bloomwood mostly unsuccessful endeavors in the Sophie Kinsella Shopaholic series or when bawling after reading Anne Frank’s Diary.
  • But my most favorite one is to sink in that moment and clasp that page before it slips right through my forefingers and read a sentence written by an author that simply takes my breath away even for a split second like when ‘Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant’ – Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking or when you realize that ‘the question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me’ – Ayn Rand, The Fountain Head.

O happy pen. This is thy sheet. There ink, and let me begin – Anne Frontier
Quote from a book titled Juliet I had randomly picked up and was pleasantly surprised by, I singled it out because I had never read Shakespeare before and I have to appallingly admit that I didn’t know what thy, thee and thou really did mean (In case thou wondering, It means yours, you and you’re).

So thee should make it a point to not just read books whose names of authors thou hast heard from someone or based on a movie thee just saw the trailer of, but thee should pick up a book that belongs to a genre that thou hast not attempted to read before and/or written by a new author thee hast not heard of before (Phew!)

As for me, I changed my mind at that book store at the Hyderabad airport and set aside Revolution 20-20 and instead picked up a book known as the Emperors of the Peacock Throne by Abraham Eraly. Why did I pick it up? It was different since I hadn’t read historical books on India, I hadn’t heard of Eraly, the cover looked pretty and heck it was time for me to move on.

I am now going to read this book on the first six Mughal Emperors of India and give it a fair shot and if it makes me uncomfortable in the first few chapters that’s okay because I am going to push right through till the very end and like the many major decisions we have to make in life to move on ahead, a tiny choice in picking this book up might just be well worth it too.

It’s not to Brand Beginnings I cheer,
Let me End this by saying
Happy New Readings are here!

The Science behind Pseudo Sciences.

You recently started dating a guy, you have butterflies in your tummy after your first two dates and you just can’t stop thinking about him and Voila! Whenever you happen to think of him (which is once every 10 seconds btw), he happens to sms a smiley to you or pokes you on facebook. Ah, you sigh *blissfully*, this is a sign I know it. And then you think those not so supposedly formidable words; He is the one.

Your day progresses as you bring your own smiling face to work, you are distracted and busy swooning over the thoughts of having your babies with him when you start wondering if he will even call for your next date or not but you can’t wait for that anxiety to end and since the answer to that question is not in your hands, you play a silly little mind trick with yourself and think if he is going to call for the next date, God is somehow going to drop in a sign on you. The next second, your colleagues phone rings which has a ringtone that you think sounds familiar to “ I just called to say I love you…” <Blech>! That’s your sign from the Lord O Mighty that he is going to call you today for your third date.

But he didn’t call that day and another heartbreak day later; you realize that signs are utter rubbish. He was never the one and those were always just unlucky co incidences and no your colleague’s ringtone did not sound like the Stevie Wonder’s most successful commercially hit song but it was indeed all in your head conjuring up what you wanted to hear at that point in time.

Pseudoscience’s form a part of our lives; admit it or not. I don’t care if you are from the East or the West. I don’t care if you pick up the daily magazine to read your horoscope for the day for fun or to make a life changing decision or if you’re struggling going through a day with a mom who calls your astrologer home to find out when you’re getting married. Even if you just happen to pick your new apartment because you think it’s your lucky number or if you are the one who believes that the last petal standing on that rose means you should definitely marry this guy. Whether we like it or not; whether we believe it or not, its in those weak moments when things are not in our control or when we just don’t want to make that choice we turn to an unexplained theory for a clue to the path of our destiny, something we can’t prove but yet try and identify with. Pseudo sciences give us false hope’s, false reassurances but sometimes may just be in sync with reality and give us the answers we are desperately searching for.

My mother called home an astrologer last week and of course she had only one question for him on her mind. No guesses here. The astrologer asked for my time and date of birth He then pondered, drew up some charts and finally concluded, “yes your daughter has entered the shaadi (marriage) yog (phase)” Oh dear Lord I think to myself, not the shaadi yog again. Apparently I had entered it thrice before with no avail. But my poor clueless mother gets all excited yet again and her heart started thumping. Trust you me because I could hear it at a distance. She probed him further, “When did she enter the shaadi yog?” Oh he said, 2nd November 2011! Ah she is pleased, finally my daughter will get married now she thinks, it just has to be this year. She asked the astrologer, “How soon will she get married?” he responded, “The shaadi yog will last for 16 months”. 16 MONTHS! I could hear myself screaming with joy in my heart with relief while my mother had already collapsed with the thought that her daughter might just remain unmarried until April 2013.

Later that day I swung by my friend, Paige’s house who opened the door with a huge grin on her face. “He called today!” she screamed “and we are going out this Friday Night.” “Oh” I said, “that’s splendid right?” “Hmm I guess so” she replied, “why what’s wrong?” I asked. “No nothing it’s just that you know Aries and Taurus are apparently a doomed relationship, so I am wondering should I bother going through with this in the first place”? Oh God Paige, seriously not her too! Here I was hoping to tell her about my day’s events and laugh about it at my poor mom’s expense and other such pseudo taken in people in the world out there but instead she was just another pseudo bitten victim of horoscopes. She started to frantically wave her Ipad at me getting me to pay attention to her Paid Horoscope App. “Anyhow” she finally said, “I am still going to go out with him because you know all this horoscope stuff can be a bunch of horse shit sometimes”. I agreed and smiled at her.

The truth is, pseudo sciences attack you at your worst possible stage. When you are your most vulnerable and when you don’t know where to turn for answers. When you don’t know if he is the one or when you don’t know whether he will call again. You start googling and land up at name matching software’s and astrology compatibility websites only to get you confused even further.

But more often that not, you already have an answer; even if it isn’t the answer to the question you have been looking for. Pseudo sciences may not have any scientific explanations but they can at least provide you with the comfort and reassurance you need at that fantasy point in time. You start believing that everything will churn out the way it is supposed to be and you don’t have to live with the burden of making such difficult choices in life. You can just sit back and relax. Or you can realize that the reason why your mother calls an astrologer home every 2 weeks is because she really desperately wants you settled and you can realize that you certainly are not ready for that commitment and even if you are you definitely don’t want a stranger coming home and telling you when and if you are ready or not. You can realize that your best friend does really like this boy and that’s why it didn’t matter if her sun sign was compatible with his or not she had already made up her mind about that third date. You can also realize that sometimes you do pick up that newspaper to read the horoscope for fun because you actually don’t believe in all this ‘horse shit’ but sometimes you do it because you are feeling lost and need someone or something out there in the cosmic universe to help you find your way.

So although you know that the word pseudo means false and that false sciences don’t provide you with any definite answers, they do ironically bring you face to face with that single element of your question in the first place

The Truth.

The Catch-22 of life

About the Author

It’s late at night and you are driving on a long seemingly never-ending road. You stop when you notice a bill board at a distance and you squint your eyes as you approach the border of a town where the signboard faintly says “It’s against the law to be able to read”. You think that the person who wrote this is totally crazy because how would I know it’s against the law if I wasn’t able to read in the first place? Welcome to catch-22. You’ve hit the town coined by Joseph Heller himself.

Born back in 1923, Heller is the American author of the comical satire historical book known as catch-22, regarded as one of the most highly accurate books based on American Servicemen during that time. He joined the US Army Air corps and flew 60 combat missions during the World War 2. His book, catch 22 is listed among the top 100 books of the century. He initially chose the number 18 but his publisher recommended 22 because it felt like a ‘funny number’. Heller died of heart attack in 1999.

Book Plot & Review (spoiler alert)

Sparked in the back drop of the second half of the World War 2, a military soldier named Yossarian wants to escape flying combat missions for the vain safety of his own life but the only way to be excused from it he learned was to be declared insane.

However, in Heller’s own words:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.
“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” Yossarian observed.

The book is split into various segments and is told through the eyes of Yossarian whose desire to live makes him seem like a complete coward faking illnesses to spend most of his time at hospitals trying endlessly to not get cured as opposed to marching out there to fight the war. He does his best to try to understand the glory and splendor it is to die at war but why bother when death is the end of it all anyway? As the story progresses, the secondary characters are unfolded around him and stories for the other major characters are developed in no particular chronological order; and although Yossarian is determined to stay alive through the war at all costs, he still cares deeply for the members of his squadron and their deaths leave him traumatized and deeply affected.

The book is well written and brilliantly structured but distracting at a few places. I didn’t find it absolutely hilarious but some parts did make me laugh. I think the book could most relate to someone who actually lived through the war and you can sense while reading that Heller has taken a lot of examples from his real life experience during combat. By the end of the book, Yossarian manages to lose all the members of his squad and he eventually wiggles free from this catch-22 situation and runs off to Sweden. The tone of the book turns from grey to black especially during the last few chapters of the book where the description is more detailed by the author and you start to feel a little empathy for the characters that you had only just started to take lightly a few chapters ago. An author once said a work of true fiction is when the book is able to provide comfort to the disturbed and disturb the comforted. But by the end of the book, I felt neither comforted nor disturbed. I only have respect for the author’s ability to comprehend an undefined situation and actually manage to define it.

Analysis

1- Catch- 22 situation does apply in our real lives; in 2007 I was giving an interview for a position in the accounting department of a Canadian Company. The Finance Manager asked me, “Why should I hire you? You have absolutely no experience”. I said, “Well no one wants to hire me precisely because I have no prior experience but how am I supposed to get experience if you don’t hire me in the first place?” Needless to say, I got the job. It was my first job ever fresh out of university and he was honestly the best boss I ever had. I never realized then I was caught in a catch 22 situation but I do now.

2- The main protagonist of the book, Yossarian is not your typical hero. You would think he is because he is the main character of the book and he is fighting the Germans through the World War 2 but his main concern is not to win the war for the Americans but to actually just manage to survive through it. He isn’t the conventional war hero because during that time lives were worthless and lost uselessly; so perhaps the best way to be a hero in those days was to manage to survive through it, something we are all trying to do with life today, aren’t we?

3- As the book unfolds, Yossarian realizes that Catch – 22 doesn’t exist, it’s merely a term made up by the American Bureaucracy to be allowed to do all the crazy shit such as kidnapping, rapes and murders of people because they have the power too. But in reality, they don’t.  Yossarian starts to fear the American Bureaucracy that he was fighting for more than the Germans he was fighting against. It signifies the rut we are all stuck in when it comes to the free market capitalistic philosophy of life. The parallel chord was struck between the secondary character Milo, brilliant but an insane man who manages to make a few bucks and profits through the war (something you first begin to admire then start to hate him for it) to the modern-day investment bankers or so-called corporate heroes whose pleas for public bailouts go unheard over the noise made by their private jets.

At the end of it, we are all very much in the same situation like Yossarain in the novel.  We go through life wondering what the meaning of life is but the only way to figure out the meaning of life is to keep going through it. Doesn’t that make it the ultimate catch – 22 of our lives?

PS – To All Americans, Happy Independence Day!

Just Be Average.

I know what you are thinking. Who the hell tells you to just be average? Don’t people always talk about being great? Achieve your potential to the fullest and at whatever you do, excel.

But aren’t there disadvantages to being someone great too? Great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela also had major tribulations at home. They may have achieved greatness but their personal lives were nothing but a turmoil heading for a recipe of disaster. Now you are thinking two things. First, not all great men have failed in their personal lives. Next, you would rather achieve greatness such as freeing a country or winning a Nobel peace prize and accept being a horrible father or a husband compared to being just any common man who is a letdown for everyone in his life anyway. Win Lose compared to Lose Lose.

Although, let’s not forget that everything comes with a price. You cannot possibly achieve greatness without passion and you cannot possibly be passionate without focusing on something hard enough and you cannot possibly focus on something hard enough without neglecting your other duties. The man coined Father of the Nation couldn’t manage to be a Father to his own son. While Mahatma Gandhi was focusing on fighting to bring down the British Empire leading his nation towards independence, his own son slithered into debauchery, transformed into various religions and finally met with a tragic end. Harilal Mohandas Gandhi was once quoted “He (Mahatma Gandhi) is the greatest father you can have… but he is the one father I wish I did not have.” Nelson Mandela on the other hand was married three times with his first two marriages leading to a divorce due to his political commitments and his inability in playing a decent role of a husband and a father.  In between lobbying as an anti-apartheid activist and spending majority of his time in jail, he proved to be a disappointment to his family life. After serving as President of South Africa, he then chose to marry a third time at the age of 80. And although, these two men had found their greatest cause of existence, it unfortunately turned out to be the sole reason for their personal failures. So whether your greatness verses your failures is a Win Lose situation or whether the heartbreaking fact that it is the only reason behind it is a Lose Lose situation depends on what side of the not so green grass you are standing on.

I was chatting with my client the other day, he was a senior consultant working for a software company who was serving an unusually long notice period and was desperate to quit his job because he had plainly gotten bored of it. When asked him why is his company asking him for a 6 month notice period? He said “coz I am great at my job and they are too dependent on me so I have to train someone else before I go. How I now wish I was just an average employee”. Somehow, that just stuck with me. He said it so matter of fact like, as if it was the greatest achievement someone could make, be just an average employee, nothing great. Who cares right? When asking my girl friends “Would you marry a great man? “Uh what do you mean?” they would ask. “You know someone great whose name could go down in history, someone who has probably invented something or someone who just thinks out of the box perhaps a leader or a politician of the nation?” “NO!” they would strongly reply because they just want someone ‘normal’ to live their lives with. No outliers, just someone who manages to stay in between the lines.

Interesting I thought, while we circulate videos on facebook and read thoughts for the day reminding us to strive to achieve the impossible, dare to dream and become someone great in our life; deep down we endeavor for nothing but normalcy. Perhaps to be someone great is to just lead an average lifestyle successfully? Could it be that simple?

Eventually, all you have to achieve is being true to yourself. Be who you are because if you are born for greatness or achieving to be great then be sure you’ll eventually get there and pay the price if at all and if you are not, then there is nothing to worry about because you’ll just be average and maybe that isn’t so bad after all.

The Social Media Objection.

I read The Fountain Head by Ayn Rand more than a month ago; it is a 600 page book that explores the philosophy of objectivism. People had initially told me this book really messes with your head; unsurprisingly I got influenced by what people said to me before I read the book and when someone asked me after “How did you find the book?” I said, “It really messed with my head”.

I have always noticed that my first reaction to a question is not my reaction, it’s someone else’s. Maybe that’s why when that person asked me, “How did it mess with your head exactly?” I had nothing to say.

Now, I do.

As defined by Ayn Rand, ‘Objectivism is derived from the principal that human knowledge and values are not created by the thoughts one has but is created by the reality that exists independent of consciousnesses’.

The book revolved around two core characters at extreme ends of the line– Howard Roark and Peter Keating, both these men are architects by profession but with extremely different ways of doing things. Howard Roark is a kind of person who knows what he wants to do; he has a mind of his own, an embodiment of objectivity not influenced by anyone or anything. He wants to design buildings with his own independent artistic vision and no client can convince him otherwise. Peter Keating on the other hand wants to achieve success defined by power, money and fame; no matter how, whether it’s by sucking up to his clients or back stabbing his colleagues or fiercely stomping on his senior partners to climb that success ladder. He is a kind of person who gets easily influenced by anything that moves and goes with the flow with no real thoughts of his own. He does get to the top of his ladder.

But he doesn’t stay there too long. The book does have a happy ending with the fame fall of Keating and with the triumph of Roark who gets the opportunity to design a monumental skyscraper in the heart of the city and who also gets to win the girl of his dreams in the process. But as someone said, things that are worth having don’t come easy and victory didn’t come easy for Roark either; I can safely say that, having read through the pain and suffering he had to endure for 600 pages.

The Fountain head was written in 1943, well it was published then, Ayn started writing it in 1929. But that was what I loved about the book, it was written back then, when the concept of objectivism had just started getting its due attention; although this book is popular now more than ever. Why it is more popular now is because objectivism is a concept that just cannot possibly exist in this day. It is merely an idea that everyone knows exists out there but no one can develop it further on their own.

I recently met a guy at a house party and we had a very stimulating conversation, it felt enlivening, the ability to connect with that one particular someone and having long uninterrupted intimate tête-à-tête about things that actually make sense as opposed to talking to a bunch of ‘friends’ about your summer vacation plans.

Before we parted ways, I asked him, “hey are u on face book?” and he replied “Nope, I don’t believe in social media”.

I thought “Weirdo!!” and ran.

With the social media up and rising, people just cannot be objective today. It is absolutely impossible to not get influenced by what someone writes or what someone says, whether you read the Economic times daily or you follow someone on twitter or you read a link posted by someone on face book. People have lost the ability to think for themselves; no you cannot come up with a grand idea in a matter of seconds and definitely not with being interrupted by constant bbm’s and status updates and continuous tweets because you do tend to read people’s status updates, their tweets and formulate your ‘own’ opinion based on it. How can you then develop your own independent style of thinking? Sit in a locked room? Immerse yourself into your work? Concentrate. Don’t let distractions get to you? We are out there exposed; exposed to 500+ people, 500+ random people that we talk to about, actually about absolutely nothing. All of these people are doing nothing but providing you with distraction. How can you become an independent thinker without listening to your one inner voice? And how can you hear yourself when you are multi tasking and listening to the voices of 500 different others?  

But the worst part is not that we can’t think for ourselves, but rather that people can’t make out the difference anyway. They don’t know if their thoughts are actually their own or that of that one random person they bumped across in the mall the other day. In today’s society, our minds are in fact nothing but a blend of everyone else’s thoughts.

One or two of you are probably reading this and thinking how absolutely true all of this is. Now you are going to go off and deactivate your face book account, shut down your twitter account and are going to start thinking deeply and profoundly concentrating on work (yea right). Most of you, will deep down know this makes complete sense but will do absolutely nothing about it.

Bottom line being, what you just read now influenced you and I don’t blame you, because the book influenced me to write this in the first place. The only independent & objective part I added to it was the comparison of the fictional world Ayn Rand created post the great depression era to the reality era we live in now, subject to the depression created by our social media.

The India Illusion

As a friend once quoted “It’s easier to support the Indian Cricket team in the world cup but it’s a whole other ball game to actually love living in India”

“Uh what rubbish” I thought! I love India! Oh the smell when I hit Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai when I finally breathe in that air and realize yes I am home! Mere Bharat Mahan! Jai Hind! And something along those lines…

Yes well, with a 3 hour flight delay (why Air India of course), no sign of our pre booked taxi at the arrivals anywhere and the disgusting smell in the washroom, you have to believe you have arrived at an Indian Airport.

I wrinkle up my nose and muster up the courage to enter the ladies room, storming out with a brilliant idea, I looked at my mom and said, “They should honestly start charging to use public washroom! Like they do in London? Then they can use the funds to keep it clean!” Nope. My mom didn’t look at me like I had stumbled upon a million dollar idea and merely said “Well I already paid for you after you ran in” Uh oh I thought glancing at the two strangers collecting money in front of the washroom, I guess India has bigger problems than I thought.

We finally caught an overpriced cab for a 6 hour ride from Mumbai to Surat, Gujarat and well with so much time to kill I decided to Google some current year statistics on India –

  • The Indian economy is the world’s tenth largest economy by nominal GDP
  •  The Indian economy is the fourth largest economy by purchasing power parity.
  • Current economic trends indicate India is a leader to a large emerging affluent middle class society.

Nmmm boring, I yawned and went back to listening to my Bollywood songs on my iPod; I look outside my window, sigh* picturesque serene mountains with clouds melting from the sky, for a moment there I thought I was in a whole other country…nmmm…maybe Spain…no maybe…Canada…no maybe…and then a loud horn! Screeeech! and I stumbled across the backseat to look up in the front and see a bull staring wildly at me through the windshield crossing the road at its own leisure. Yup I am in India alright.

In case you are not an economics student but probably know that GDP stands for Gross domestic product but are still wondering what the hell does that even mean? GDP is the market value of goods and services produced within the country, in other words, the ranking by the nominal GDP is the position of that country’s standard of living (not taking into account the cost of living in the country) which is exactly what PPP does (to put it in simpler words).

But I am not here to lecture on economics, I am sure you did already know that 300 out of the Fortune 500 companies outsource their IT work to India making them the 2nd largest employer in the IT and services sector but what you didn’t know is how much corruption and bribery is out there in that same work force. You are presumably already aware that India has the third largest education system in the world (after USA &China), but what you didn’t notice is that even the best universities are probably overlooking the slums. I bet you heard about the $9 billion programme invested to improve India’s infrastructure but what you can’t look past is the unhygienic and dirty public restroom conditions in that same infrastructure. Sure! You are already confident with the way things are going that the average income per person could easily double within the next decade but what you are really worried about is the viciousness of the poverty circle and the many beggars out there ready to pounce on you at a red light.

Three days later, I landed safely back in my foreign land realizing who cares about things such as dirty roads, pollution, poverty and population in face of the statistics of India’s uprising super power and the brilliant facts that were laid out in front of me over the past weekend. I was feeling rejuvenated and confident about the future of my mother land now more than ever and nothing could bring me down.

A few hours later, I was rushed to the hospital for severe stomach pains. My doc put me on a drip and before the meds started to kick in, I could hear a faint conversation in the background.

Doc – “How did she get food poisoning?”

Mom – “Well, we just landed from India”

Doc – “Oh ok”

I passed out.

Illusion? That is my India.

The Loop Counter of Open mindedness

It was a dull Monday Morning and I was off to work when my manager informed me I had a new recruit in my team. He had just arrived from Tunisia yesterday and my boss was wondering if I would be kind enough to introduce him and give him a ride to our client? I said yes of course, why not? I know how it feels being lost in a country that you don’t call home. So I gave him a call and introduced myself, he at first seemed clueless, very quiet and soft-spoken. When I met him to give him a ride to our client, his appearance worried me a bit; he seemed to look like a staunch Muslim with his long kept beard and his glasses and grim like exterior. Since I figured he would never strike a conversation with me, I decided to not do the same. So I asked him, do you like music? He replied no. I said, oh well do you watch movies? He said no. I said, well how do you pass your time? and he said, I read books. I said oh that’s great, I read a lot too. What type of books do you read? He looked at me as if I had asked him the dumbest question in the world and said, I read only religious books. Oh I said, now I got more worried. I mean don’t get me wrong, I don’t consider myself religious at all. My ABC in religion is along the lines of Honest Abe’s saying,” I do good, I feel good, I do bad, I feel bad, that is my religion”. But nevertheless, trying to push the extremist view I had immediately formed of his nature, I decided to probe further.  I asked him, why don’t you watch movies or listen to music? He said because it isn’t permitted in Islam and because we are not supposed to look at strange women in television. Strange I thought, for him to make that comment to me, a woman he met for the first time 20 minutes ago which should satisfy the definition of a stranger. After a few minutes, he asked me something unimaginable, to please turn off the music because he wasn’t permitted to listen to it; I knew deep down I should have objected. I mean, excuse me this is my car! (I call her Zoey btw) and I am giving you a ride in Zoey and doing YOU a favor? And now I have to bear the intolerable silence for an hour with you without a so much so as a do re me in the background? Uh uh not Happening! But funnily enough, I just agreed and turned the music off.

After we parked Zo and got off, I started getting strange looks everywhere; we got stopped at the gates and then again at the security guard in the building. Unfortunately, my Tunisian stranger didn’t have his ID and that made things all the more difficult. With all the delays happening, my manager wasn’t pleased and to be honest neither was I. In my head, I started to blame him for all the inconveniences caused; I called up my friend Kathy and bitched to the core. I started ranting and raving about how late I was and about how inconvenient it was to pick him up and how he wouldn’t let me listen to music in my car and how I felt he was constantly judging me and how could our firm even hire such people, I mean don’t they do background checks?! Kathy was teasingly concerned and as usual managed to heighten my fears by making all sorts of jokes such as omg Dee, I hope he doesn’t bomb the building or pull out a trigger on you. Haha I said, very funny, although in my head I had already started picturing my mother weeping at my funeral filled with lilies.

As I watched him remove his laptop and start to work, I started to wonder why is it that people always assume the worst when they meet someone who they find is very different from themselves? I guess it’s a natural feeling; you automatically get defensive when you don’t know what or who you are dealing with. Feelings are subjective because for yourself you are the benchmark and the centre point of how a normal person should be and anyone considered an outlier is immediately frowned upon or looked admirably at. Ironically, I always considered myself open-minded but here I am picturing the flower decorations at my funeral at the first sight of someone who I perceive of as highly narrow-minded. But am I not narrow-minded myself if I meet someone who fits a certain stereotype and then instantly pounce on to assumptions made about him? That perhaps this man is connected to Al Qaeda and is probably related to Osama Bin Laden somehow? Maybe he just generally is someone who isn’t brought up to watch movies, maybe he doesn’t own a TV or a radio, maybe he can’t afford one? Who knows right?

He was constantly working, he barely talked except when he informed me he was going down for his namaz (daily prayers); he didn’t even take his lunch break. I felt terrible and went and got him two cookies, he seemed pleased but didn’t offer to pay. I didn’t bother asking. After we left, I dropped him off at a bus station where he could catch a bus and go home. When I reached home, I got a sms from him and it said “Thank you for dropping me at the right place. I am on my way home” I was relieved he was able to find his way home and when I started to look back, I remembered how politely he thanked me when I did turn off the radio for him and how he was kind enough to apologize for the delays he was causing in the morning and how he without a fuss and without any complaints got through the day just working without even taking a lunch break. I wondered about his lifestyle and perhaps admired it. I cannot imagine a life without my iPod or without my usual you tube breaks. I cannot imagine a life without my precious possessions of fictions books and I cannot imagine a life walking to places and having constantly being badgered and checked at security points. But people do live like that, that doesn’t make them terrorists or bad people, it just makes them misunderstood people. Being open-minded means not to judge people, yet we judge certain people because they aren’t open-minded like us! Can we then by definition be called open-minded at all? Or are we all just completely oblivious and trapped in the hypocritical infinite loop along with other open-minded people?