Category: Reflections

The illusionists of our time

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Data, the center point of Digital Revolution has become an Oil-like commodity which India had got plenty on its own. But are we really equipped to handle the new Data-bloom in the digital space? With the raging Facebook Data Leak debate going on, it is high time we pay attention to the numerous social media platforms and apps in our digital devices which leech data without we even realizing it. It is crucial that we become aware of what happens to our personal information and other details stored on the web by multiple players. Personal data, starting from the crucial biometric to the seeming innocuous internet browsing data, needs to come under scrutiny when privacy is concerned.

While Privacy is a constitutionally protected right of an Individual, there are many places where we give or required to give our personal data consensually. The Government and other State Institutions, Hospitals, Financial institutes they all collect and store our personal information in some form, mostly in digital format. Owing to the structure of the society, they do have some accountability to protect the data. What about the ones which are outside the safety net of accountability? How do we ensure the security of the data we share with the private players or rather How do we ensure the security of the Data that private players collect via apps and social media? Though we give ‘consent’ to many of the data siphoning apps by clicking ‘Agreed’ to legally binding policies, who actually reads the wrapped text policies before clicking ‘Agreed’? The recent Data leak from Facebook reminds us once again that, Data is never going to be safe with private players who use Data monetization to up the dollars in their stash.

What do the small and big corporates do with the data harvested by the social media and other apps? ‘Targetted advertisement’ would be the easy one-word answer. While the small corporates may use data as a commodity to be traded and transacted, big conglomerates seemingly use the large pool of data to feed their self-evolving AI programs and data mining which eventually helps them to identify patterns and user behaviors which in turn help in better marketing. The market of Data is very vast and it reminds you of The Matrix where bioelectricity is harvested from ‘enslaved’ humans. As we unearth more and more dubious facts from Facebook and its dallying with user data, we see how deep is the surveillance web of this private players.

What if Facebook uses its own tools to scan through your messages and photos for flagged contents? How does it affect a law-abiding individual, who has nothing to hide? Now it would be the apt time to recall facebook’s one of the most notorious mood influencing project which was apparently failed and shelved due to mass protest. There is no telling how dangerous this “emotional contagion” can be considering how Facebook has spread across a range of demographics. The ability to create such illusory ideas in a user’s mind makes the big conglomerates a potential threat to the society as a whole thus calls for a high regularization of such illusionists.

We already know how the intricate algorithms can mine the data and tell about our likes, dislikes, routines, preferences, favorite actors, people we follow etc. Maybe they can even figure out our political, religious affiliations as well. But as long as the beneficiaries are the benign targetted advertisement of products only, we may even be good. But as we see, it does not strictly stick to that. Every day reports come out how Major Elections across the globe, Major decisions with larger economic impacts like Brexit, etc might have been influenced by deception of Data in Social Media. If any Organization is powerful enough to influence emotions and opinions, resourceful enough to create illusions of truth as needed, it is only matter of time before they monotonize the same.

Data sharing across multiple platforms, camouflaged as time-saving is prevalent everywhere in the Digital world, it is not limited to Facebook. The mysterious bag you added to Amazon cart which keeps following you wherever you go in the web, the targeted ads appear on every website you visit based on the google search history, we do not even pay heed to this slight invasion of privacies or not even bother to change the settings. When Google search prompts you with tailored texts based on your previous searches, when Google assistant politely reminds you of your doctor’s appointment based on a mail you receive, rather than taking it as a convenience feature, you should be wondering, whether you want billion dollar foreign conglomerates to know literally all your secrets. The way things get evolved, time is not far away when insurance companies combine data from your fitness tracker apps and your grocery list to make a profile of your health and determine your premium accordingly.

“AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many. It could bring great disruption to our economy,” – Stephen Hawking

Coming down to the granular level of Data, Where is the 0s and 1s of the Data that is collected from us saved? Most of the Social Media we use in India belong to foreign Corporates who have cloud servers on foreign lands and comes under their law of the land or maybe there is still some dubiety on that. Authorized Government authorities of that country, unauthorized snipping off by hackers, we never know who has access to data. It is integral to have a legal standing for Data handled by the private players in India. There is a recent directive from Ministry of Electronics and IT, to store Government Data on Cloud servers located in India. While It is true that giving a legal boundary to data reduces the chance of Data abuse and gives some accountability to the private players about the data they harvest, it beats the idea of the borderless web. Maybe that’s why we need technologies like Blockchain with a distributed storage of information. But till those technologies come into effect, we need to have some regulations in place.

Your digital footprint reveals a lot about you. Your personal information, financial information, political and religious affiliation, many things which you may or may not want to share can be derived from your Digital footprints.Shutting off the social media and other digital platforms from our daily lives is not an option, but it is imperative for a user to know the details of what that user has consented to share and the details of Data user has shared so far. Above all, it is high time, India, with its thriving pool of engineers has its own worldly recognizable Social media platform. And as a parting quote, I leave you this.

“Big Brother is Watching You.”
― George Orwell, 1984

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Fish Fry Equalizer

I recently watched Popular Malayalam actress Rima Kallingal’s powerful TEDx talk about gender discrimination prevailing in the Malayalam Film Industry. Rima Kallingal’s speech occurred in the wake of recent cyber attacks on her colleague and acclaimed actress Parvathy, resonated well with the current rising wave of woman empowerment in Malayalam Film Industry. The video is bang on in nailing the main points of unfair treatment of woman both offscreen and onscreen in the industry.

Rima Kallingal starts her speech with an anecdote about how she experienced or rather how she started recognizing gender discrimination in the form of Fish fry. Her mother while serving fish fry choose to divide the only three available fish fries among, her brother, her father and her grandmom(eldest in the family) leaving out the 12-year-old much to her dismay.

While many applauded the actress for courageously giving voice to the silent victims of female discrimination in an industry which is often deafened by the drums of Hero worshipping, for some the entire meaning was lost in translation. Some just didn’t get the apparent symbolization of gender discrimination and took the whole issue quite literally, and thus started trolling the actress for the TEDx talk.

Among those slanted set of feedbacks in FB, one comment got my attention. A person narrates quite ferociously, as we can guess from the language, how he worked in another country as a manual laborer for seven years to marry off his sisters and how getting an extra fish fry is a small thing considering he spent a chunk of his golden years to help his sisters make a home for themselves. Such a thought-provoking comment it is! It proves how gender discrimination adversely affects both the genders equally in the long run. Oh, the irony of that statement!

Let’s think objectively about a woman from a financially backward family who decides(assume she has the power to make this decision) to serve a the symbolic fish fry aka nutritious food to Men in the family, who do manual labor. For her, that’s the most logical thing to do as Men, the assigned breadwinners of a patriarchal society, need to be fed well to ensure further financial prosperity. However pitiable that sounds, many a woman, especially in rural India, might be forfeiting, sometimes even willingly, their share of food, attributing it to the culturally ingrained sacrificial nature.

No wonder more than half of the woman population in India suffers from anemia. This discrimination leads to the much larger issue of undernourishment of pregnant women and in newborn children. While we try to remedy such effects of gender discrimination, the panacea for the root cause is rather evident, Financial Independence of Woman. When we strive to make an equitable society, economic empowerment of Woman should be a cornerstone.

Just like the way we, women fight valiantly to break stereotyping and rigid gender roles, it is essential for a woman to create her own foothold of Financial freedom. For the coming generations, financial Independence should not be a choice given to women. More economic activities by women lead to decreasing means for discrimination. By taking up financial responsibility, women not only ensure her standing in the society but also paves way for a new culture which future generations can be proud of.

Attaining financial freedom is easier said than done. The basic and crucial step to financial freedom is Education. It opens up a wide array of possibilities to women. Moreover, Education helps everyone, regardless of gender, to create an awareness of an inclusive and gender-neutral society which is essential for the development of the country.

So in effect, by getting that extra Fish fry, Men also do not seem to be getting any advantage in the long run. It is to everyone’s benefit to dividing the fish fry equally. Education and the financial independence comes along with it can be the great equalizer while dividing it.

The ones who can see Thestrals

Dealing with the loss of dear ones is a never-ending journey in search of the alluring light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel. The loss, the beginning,  itself is so emotional that mere words can not confine the essence, so private that anyone other than you won’t understand what you are feeling, thus it is inconsequential here. The journey is about survival.The most significant phase of this journey is when you acquire enough courage to look back to that day and see how it changed your life so far. Personally, it took me more than a year to look back and live over the day I lost my father. Facing how an ‘Ordinary day’ changed to an ‘Unusual’ one,  without an emotional breakdown, turned out to be my first step towards a million mile journey, the journey of survival.

An immediate response to such painful loss is denial. Such a facade gives you an unreal peace of mind, a temporary easy way out. But eventually, the ineluctable reality slowly seeps in. The higher the barrier you create, the fiercer the effect of sorrow will be on you. Nevertheless, it helps you to deal with it at your pace and time. There were many moments when I closed my eyes and let myself believe everything is alright in the world. The numerous missed calls I made to my father’s cell, how I stopped talking about him altogether, the way I never told my preschool daughter that she lost her most favorite person in the world, all these anodyne stuff temporarily alleviated the dull ache in the heart. None lasted long and reality eventually took over.

Once the reality sets in, the blame game begins. which makes you question everything and anything around you? ‘Why me’? ‘What did I do wrong to deserve this?’ A million questions which can never be answered pops in your head. My personal spiritual beliefs always pointed towards the ‘karmic cycle’. But is Sorrow, really a karmic derivative? Much to my dismay, the karmic solution lies way beyond my human comprehension. Even if we keep track of the good or not so good deeds of our lifetime, we will never know if that goes to the debit or credit column of the Karma tally. The recent news report about how a man rescued a rabbit from Northern California wildfire and how that might have endangered the rabbit’s litters who may starve to death in some underground tunnel. A rather innocuous deed turned into a noxious one and yet again we fail to comprehend the grand scheme of Universe.

Another way to distract your mind is to start thinking the alternative scenarios. The ‘what if’s will echo in your head perpetually. The could-have-been- happy scenarios, and the possible turn of events will occupy your mind long enough. There will be an infinite number of things which you could have done better or you should have avoided and all those memories make a stunning reentry to intensify the suffering. It is like poking to see if the wound still bleeds. I did this self-torture for a while before realizing the futility of it. How much ever you poke around the past, it never changes and the best version of past is what was actually rendered.

 

When you run out of excuses to occupy your mind, it will eventually circle back to the raw sorrow of the loss. When you hide the remains of sorrow deep inside you, they turn into little seeds. You will never know when these seedlings become an all-devouring monster trees. The ways of sorrow are grappling and eventually, it will hide even the brightest sun. The ways depression can hit you is unimaginable. There was a time when I was addicted to mirrors. The moment when your eyes are filled with tears, and when you almost close the eyelids, you see make-belief images on the mirror, you see shapes and wonder what are they. It took me a while to realize no matter what I imagine, it will be only me in that mirror. That realization and acceptance will help you pull out of such pitstops before the tipping point.

The only bright spot in this journey is that you get to feel your red threads of fate along the way, the eensy red threads which connect your destiny with many others. Even a smile from a stranger you meet on your morning walks becomes a firefly in your low lit sky. They might have never thought twice about it, but there are many times, a smile and a hello from complete strangers lingered inside and brightened my mind. You will find your own tethers and hinges to keep you earthbound. No matter how down you are, there are hands which lift you up and refuse to leave you ever, its all about recognizing the love of family and friends. During the lowest of my lows, a worldly wise man told me ‘to count your blessings’ and I literally did that and the list turned out to be my anchor to life.

Over the past few months, I have read a gazillion articles on how to handle loss and went on from one thing to another in a loop trying to get a grip. None of them worked. None of them works. None of them will. You can get distracted and train your memory to forget it but from time to time the pain resurfaces. The weight of loss never leaves you even with time. It is something time can never heal. Eventually, you will learn to run with it or make peace with it in your own way. But the bruise stays with you forever festering and healing along with the ups and downs of your life. Once you see the Thestrals, there is no unseeing it.

Loss of a loved one is a life-altering event. You never stay the same anymore. It becomes a part of you and your personality. The sooner you accept it the better. It changes you in ways you can’t even anticipate. It uproots few emotions and plants an entirely new range of emotions.It makes you aware of the mortality, it makes you value the tethers and hinges of your life. The loss, sorrows, trauma, we would be much lighter without any of these. Since the fate has chosen to tread along this path, its better to assimilate the best parts of it, the heightened empathy, a better self who appreciates the value of people around you, to name a few. Every day I strive to be the best version of me in the eyes of my late father and along with time, I hope it becomes my second nature. That would be the best eulogy I can ever give him

Charlie

When I watched Charlie for the first time in 2015, I was impressed with the movie for the wrong reasons. The usual charming DQ, the ever effervescent Parvathy and a subject that connects with almost every one, I liked the movie for these reasons. Never thought I would be writing a review for the movie almost two years later. Better late than never.

After watching the movie again the other day, the first thing I did was to read about the story writer Unni R, the master craftsman. The essence of Charlie lies in the script. Very rarely I loved a movie so much that I even dug into the script writer’s Wikipedia. The uniqueness of Charlie is its superb superimposing with Jesus Christ’s life. When Tessa searches for Charlie, she gets to hear stories of him and his almost godlike character from his apostles. Queen Mary, Fisher man, the shepherd, Wine, the ‘unceremonious’ death of Charlie at the age 33, the blind person Das, associations list is endless.

At the same time, the movie has all the masala of a new generation movie. Light and insidious comedy, the larger-than-life righteousness of the hero and off-the-wall heroine , mixed with a play of colors make it a delight to watch. To top it all, it has stroked the inane wanderlust enshrouded in everyone. Thats the master stroke and with that I have utterly fallen for this flick.

The Hunger Games

As we grow up, we realize the horizons of our mind are smaller than we imagined. The things we can know, understand and believe are much less in number than the ones which we are supposed to blindly trust. We never grow up and become a know-it-all as we thought as a child. The heap of cognition keeps getting smaller while the dubiety stacks up like a mountain.One of such riddle is the ever-intensifying confusion between Mythology and Religion. The famous lines makes the perfect sense here

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them: to die, to sleep

Faith and wit have been fighting an eternal war inside human minds for a long time now. The mind numbing conviction of faith bestowed upon us by our ancestors and the nerve-wracking realization that it all may turn out to be a myth, the battle seems to be never ending. As the wheel of time turns, the latter seems to be getting momentum and it’s clinching grasp forces to the conclusion that the world might be running randomly without any meaning or purpose. A series of Random accidents making continuum called life as we know it!

“Destiny is something we’ve invented because we can’t stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.” – Annie Reed (Sleepless in Seattle)

But who can contradict the God himself?

“There is no coincidence, and nothing happens ‘by accident.’  Each event and adventure is called to your Self by your Self in order that you might create and experience Who You Really Are.  All that is required is to know this. For you are the creator of your own reality, and life can show up in no other way for you than the way in which you think it will.” – Conversations with God, An Uncommon Dialogue by Neal Walsch

Maybe, Mythology and my faith do not necessarily come under the same umbrella. While there is a lot to deliberate on the superhuman aspects of Gods(be it any God! Did Krishna actually kill all those asuras as a kid? Did Jesus actually walk on water?), the spiritual prowess of any deity is undeniable. The material existence of any God is questionable and can be critically examined from an agnostic point of view. But spiritually speaking, all these Gods exist and they are the basic energy that scruples our very own thought process which in turn webs the society ‘s conscience and it is all very powerful and personal. to an individual, yet it affects all. That collective conscience, that faith,  is what runs the world. Still, Myth and faith have been woven in us so intricately that separating them would be spoiling our own very soul.  Faith is stronger when they have a solid Mythology foundation and Mythologies are more trustable when we associate our faith with it.

Recently I heard a very interesting concept about Hunger Games at Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva from Indian Hindu Mythology. Lord Shiva is a deity of immense power who should not be meddled with.His ‘Ardhanarishvara’ concept is an esteemed one from Indian mythology, just like the Ying-Yang from Chinese philosophy. Here goes the abstract.

Ardhanarishvara

In the picture, the mount of Devi Parvathy is a Lion and that of Lord Shiva is Nandhi, depicted as a bull. Both are connected directly in the food chain, yet they stay together and calm without any hungriness. The devotion of Shiva means the end of that hunger, the hunger for power, the hunger for money and the hunger for all the other material things in the world. Shiva means denouncing the material world and desiring the ethereal planes of spirit. Same is the case of mounts of Subramanya and Ganesha, sons of Shiva. One has a peacock and the other one has a rodent as their respective mounts. To link and complete this food chain, Shiva carries a Snake around his neck. The family union at Mount Kailash would have been a bit chaotic, if not for the abstinence of the mounts. Yet they remain, free from all Hunger Games.

Even a small thing from Indian Mythology has so much to ponder. I wouldn’t dare discredit it as a mere coincidence. When you think about it, each and every deity of Hindu mythology has many such intriguing and interlinked stories that you really wonder if it can really be the creation of a human at all. The reality, myth, and imagination linked with unadulterated beliefs of many make our mythology, a thing to be admired. Indian mythology is of magnificent and unparalleled complexity. But once you associate it with our faith, it takes another level of existence and veneration.

An agnostic and a believer is present in every human’s personality. The believer always looks for the way out of any kind of confrontation.Normally it goes like this ‘It does not matter if God exists or not. His teachings, the parables of his life and the overall goodness he spreads, aren’t these things we should be focusing and assimilating on rather than reasoning out the existence or the nonexistence of God’. Though quite a tangent to the existential question, the agnostic part of the brain murmurs rebelliously, ‘Why wouldn’t I want to know the source of the food we are eating?’ As if we really know the origin of all the food I eat, the other parts retorts. The bickering continues perennially. Eventually, as a person evolves and depending on his situations, one side gets stronger dominating the other one, still, the other part exists.

The conflict is of the innate inquisitiveness of the brain to know the Hows, Whens, Wheres and Whys of the things and the inherent fear of our mind finding himself haphazard in the world, which never reaches anywhere near a conclusion. Maybe in some, It eventually leads to the slow eroding of faith. The loss of faith is nothing less than an internal inferno. You never survive those catastrophic seismic shifts without any damage. It is essential to have your own angels and demons than burn in an eternal hell of forlornness so balancing the conflict is important. Personally, the superficial currents keep drifting me away from casting anchor, and so far I never found the gratification of knowing the truth from anywhere nor have the bliss of complete belief. Hope I get better with age and win my own hunger game.

We exist!

Do we have a dearth of woman writers? – It seems every other shelf in the library fiction section is overflowing with Woman authors. Every other novel seems to be written by women. Why do we even have to think that there is a deficiency? Then I found my answer here – The second shelf. It tells you exactly how the top creamy layer of Literary fiction reflects the status quo of gender disparity in all the other streams of life. Woman writers are there, but mostly deemed to be on the second shelf knowingly or unknowingly. Literature awards, renowned reading lists – the top is brimming with male authors with a very few mentions of noteworthy female writers.

Do not judge the book by its cover. Well, What about the author? Are we being a little judgmental about the Author’s gender as a reader? – Recently I was reading an article about the reasons why JK Rowling changed her pen name to Robert Galbraith – a male name. Its alleged that she changed the name to ‘fit in’ the Crime\Thriller Genre which has an overwhelming presence of Male authors. If The Cuckoo’s Calling had been written by a woman, will it receive the same raving reviews? Along with the creative freedom it gave her, the name change did give JK Rowling a remarkable foray into a Genre where few female authors have ventured. If you give a little more thought into this matter,  ‘JK Rowling’ name itself does not give away the gender. Much to my dismay, I realized, not just JK Rowling, there are many female authors who use male pen names to publish their books in the not-so-woman-friendly genres.

Where are the women writers? Why there are less number of serious fiction\non fiction writers around? – While googling about woman authors I ran into a very interesting news piece. In 2014, in a Washington DC theater critics and artistic directors summit, one of the directors explained the reason for the low representation of female playwrights at American theaters as ‘that there just aren’t enough talented women playwrights in the pipeline, and that it will take at least a decade to fix the problem’. A furor was ensured followed by the creation of an a google document – ‘We Exist’ with the details of over 1000 female playwrights(The document still exists!) by the activists. Following the analogy, publishers either can not find good content or are reluctant to publish content under uncharted genre’s. Well, here comes the good news – Small press and Other Stories will produce no books by men in 2018 in answer to Kamila Shamsie’s call for direct action to beat gender bias in publishing.

Does this gender disparity in literature make a difference to me as a reader? – May be No. But in the long run, it does have an impact. An era is remembered by its art. So it would not hurt to add a little more of female voice in it to represent half the population. That’s under the assumption that female authors tend to write stories revolving strong female characters. When you portray strong female characters of different shades who can be empathized with, it gives a bigger platform to echo social issues. The way women deals with issues, situations and stress is completely different from men. So it would be a refreshing change to see woman protagonists in thrillers and serious fiction, other than romance and chic-lit. There are more shades of women than the ones ‘who blooms and melts under his touch’.

Such portrayals go a long way in demolishing the existing prejudices of society about woman. Recently I read a thriller with an alcoholic female protagonist and inadvertently the ‘unbelievable-ity’ of such a scenario crept into my review as well. When I can gulp down the scene of ‘a drunken hero beating about a half a dozen villains in his hot pursuit  to save the world from an impending danger’ without even thinking twice about it, why not a woman? We sink into the comfort of cliched characters and stereotyped women many a times and any aberration is sure to bring a tartness. It’s refreshing to have a different view of women when we are used to viewing woman through the kaleidoscope of preconceived notions. Its time to lean in and the break the glass door. Its time to shout that we exist. A little perseverance and a little boost is all that we need. When we have a long list of pioneers ahead of us, the task in hand turns less arduous. Hoping to see more Woman writers in more uncharted genres.

The Multiverses riddle!

The other day I was watching Little Krishna with my Avni. She has a fervent obsession for anything related to her little Chinna (K still evades her speech and gets replaced by a benign ‘Ch’).  In that movie, Little Krishna had decided to teach Brahma a lesson and summoned an infinite number of Brahma’s to show him that there are infinite number of universes and ours is just one of them.  I was grinning like a Cheshire cat during that sequence. It just so happened that I watched the TED talk about Multiverses just a day before this happened.

It seems science just recently proved\acknowledged the existence of other universes. The ever diminishing skeptic in me calls this a mere coincidence! Still it amazes me even to think that thousands of years ago, people knew things(be it as a form of literature or as a fact) which we recently found out.

Ref – Multiverse in Religion