Sunday, July 24, 2016

Letter to My Future Self

Hello, New Me, this is Old Me (even though technically you are the older person.)

You are definitely wiser and more experienced than I am. You may wonder why I am writing to you from my time. I will put it this way: We have these epiphanies sometimes and we discover what being truly happy is, but they last for a short time before being forgotten and lost in our daily struggles. This letter is an attempt to preserve one such epiphany.

I believe you are currently surrounded by more people than I was but connect with very few of them. I started that phase of your life. I understood that material stuff brings limited happiness and people bring a little more happiness, but in reality, our happiness lies with us. Today, you will find people pressuring you into do things you do not wish. In that case, I remind you, strive for solitude and reflection.  That is what brought you the success you enjoy at the moment.

If you are at the moment feeling depressed and indifferent to pretty much everything around you, know that I, your Past Self had successfully recovered from similar feelings.  Don’t be dead from inside. If you are, remember the alternative life I envisioned under the Eternal Optimist. If you are living that life right now, congratulations; if not, reignite that dream. Stop looking for people to confide in and empty your mind to of worries. Start looking for people to build an empire.

I hope you do not struggle to survive the way I did. If you do, then reduce your spending right now. You need nothing more than three meals of dal-rice a day, enough cloths for a week or two, and a roof over your head. Dispose of all that is unwanted.

Last but not the least, you have become a cold and ruthless person fighting wars that I planned, and paying for the mistakes that I made. Do not let my mistakes make you feel guilty. They made you stronger. Stand up. You are a new person and you must fight new battles. But even as you go on to add to what I built, you must also add, , meaning and practice to the values that I inculcated.

Less is more

Consistency above hard work

Caution before celebration.

Yours Truly
The 2016 Me.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Grass is Always Greener on Our Side

I have found a flaw in our lives and I intend to mend it. 
People are glorifying rat-race; prioritising work over sleep and health.  “I am so busy, I don’t have time even for myself” is something people say with pride. This is a cool trend.

I intend to reverse that trend.

It is cool to have control over your own time; to be happy with less rather than chasing money at the cost of health. The West is witnessing such a trend where young professionals are rejecting hectic work schedules and opting for less-paying options that offer a slower and more peaceful life. This is called ‘downshifting’.  This is the trend I seek to drive forward. 

To that end, I have tried to write stories about people caught in the rat-race, only to find them sprawling with clichés. I found myself falling prey to anger, frustration, pushing myself harder to research Slowness and Minimalism, reading books late into night, exhausting myself thinking hard till it was almost sunrise; doing the very things I stand for avoiding. My eyes opened when during one of my late night readings I stumbled upon a quote which I then simplified for my understanding:

“One big thing is a series of small things brought together.”

I have to start small; at my own pace, connecting the dots as I grow older.

People are those dots. If you read this and agree with it, you are one of those dots. 

There are many other things I wish to put across through my writing but they will have to wait for more of such small, abruptly ending posts. I will stop here because I feel like I have made my point. 

Even as we strive to grow,
We are happy and content
With what we have
At the moment.
Opportunities come and go.
Some we choose, others we let go.
No regrets, no hurry, no greed.
The grass is always greener on our side.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Rules of Sharing

Had a discussion about the proper use of social media in office yesterday.  We talk a lot about the increasing penetration of social media but with that we also need to develop the right mindset to use these media. When you are sharing something on social, it is akin to broadcasting your views on national television. In case of something like Twitter or blog, you are broadcasting to global audience. With that in mind, and drawing upon my thoughts during the discussion, I listed some basic guidelines for sharing information on social .

I call them the Rules of Sharing.

  1. Think twice before you post anything.  The world is watching.
  2. You won’t gain much by following your own friends. Follow people from different countries and cultures. Broaden your horizons. 
  3. Curate relevant information by scanning the right hashtags. Getting information is the easy part. Curating is more important. 
  4. Hashtags are a must with every status. They get you visibility. 
  5. People who troll your profile see what pages you have liked. Refrain from liking stupid pages. 
  6. Your tweets and statuses are being studied by business intelligence softwares to better your shopping/followee recommendations. If you make intelligent posts relating to your areas of interest, you might benefit from this system. 
  7. Do not always post only serious content. Include your own comments on daily life/your views about things and trivia. Show your human side to your followers. 
  8. Remember again that you are being watched. So, carefully craft your image on social media with consistent tweets about specific topics. Once you establish your image, your followers grow, and so does your clout. 
  9. Always, always live-tweet interesting lectures and seminars. Your followers love it. Also, it makes seminars less boring and the tweets later serve as notes. 
  10. Retweeting/ sharing famous quotes is cliché. Try sharing original thoughts instead. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Shifting of Sands

I am very uncomfortable with goodbyes.  They bring abrupt change in life. They create memories that haunt you when you are alone. I too let go of people, but I call it the “shifting of sands” because I do it slowly like shifting sand dunes in the desert.  The term is usually used in a slightly different context but I have my own definitions of things so bear with me here.

Change should come but no one should notice it coming. This is true of politics as well as individual lives. Politics is especially dear to me because it is a long game of patience. Slowness is a political value, a principle that seeps into your individual self as you dive deeper into this field. The Chinese for example took a decade and slowly built their String of Pearls around India.  The Americans slowly and subtly influence the whole world with their soft-power.

The Chinese diplomacy I feel is an inspiration for calm and controlled individual life. The Western countries for instance, assert their military power and try to take responsibility for maintaining global peace.  China has the world’s largest army but you never hear of a significant Chinese military deployment for global peace. That country did not even join the anti-ISIS coalition. It seems as if China is quietly waiting till the reigning powers wear themselves down trying to maintain the current world order, from which the dragon itself benefits the most.

Exactly this strategy can be used in individual life. Assertive people will compete for and gain leadership positions in a firm. You simply wait. Observe and learn from their mistakes.  That position is not going anywhere. You will get there at your own pace.  Chinese soldiers for instance never fought as part of the coalition in Afghanistan, but they do guard the China-operated infrastructure in that country.

China calls Pakistan it’s all-weather friend, but if you see the global power-shifts, the dragon has slowly let-go of Pakistan, shifting its focus on troubles in the East China Sea and the String of Pearls strategy. Pakistan knows that it has been demoted, but can’t say anything about it because China has never actually recognised the change.  The sands of global politics have slowly shifted.
Similar path one takes when one changes friends. Sands must shift slowly. That way there are no ‘goodbye movements’; no sad memories; only a slow, cold, pragmatic realignment of relations.  To give it all a poetic twist:

Be polite; speak softly
For none of them should know
Like  shifting sands, with cold ends
They’re all being let go.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The Big Brother That Watches Over Us

Our magazine, The Goan in School just brought out a special issue on secret services around the world. As a part of the issue, I got a chance to interview a former officer of India's internal intelligence agency, the Intelligence Bureau. It was an interesting conversation and I couldn't resist sharing the article here.  

Considering India’s strategic situation, security has been a serious concern for the country and this has called for the need of a powerful and efficient intelligence apparatus. Today, at a time when we are fighting unconventional threats such as terrorism, it is important that the nation’s internal intelligence mechanism should be sound and capable. Associate Director of Fomento Resources and former officer of the Intelligence Bureau Mr Suresh Kumar Nair spoke to us at length about the strengths and weaknesses of India’s primary internal intelligence agency, the IB.

Our perception of the world of spies is often shaped by the TV and movies which tend to romanticise the profession, say Mr Nair but the reality is very different. Intelligence consists mainly of two parts. First is “operation” where information is collected by various means from various sources. The second is “analysis” where people in the Bureau try to assess the quality and credibility information and decide where and how to use it.

“Checking this credibility of information is very important” say Mr Nair. “And there are times when only 15 per cent of the total information given by an agent can be genuine and valuable.” The IB does a good job at collecting the information but the agency needs to improve its analyses capabilities, says the former intelligence officer.

In the IB, the agents operating on field are supposed to pass on the information to their superiors without analysing it. Analysis is done only at senior levels and this can at times be problematic, says Mr Nair. “Therefore, the field units must develop some analyses capabilities so that the quality of information can also improve and the higher officials can be better informed about the situation on the ground.”

Here, Mr Nair cites the example of Kargil war. In case of Kargil, the field agents reported the transgressions from across the Indo-Pakistan border, but the analyses division thought it was the usual infiltration activity by terrorists whereas in reality it was Pakistani soldiers trying to enter and hold on to Indian territory.

True, it has had its share of failures, but Indian intelligence has improved tremendously with the passage of time, the Fomento Director states. A major driver behind this is the improvement in information and communication technology. Things such as satellite imagery have multiplied manifold the power of Indian intelligence agencies. “For example the incidents such 26/11 did not repeat. This shows that we are really improving.”

Here a frequently asked question is that when the IB is gaining power to efficiently combat terrorism, what is the need for a new agency such as the National Investigation Agency? Wouldn’t giving the IB more powers be better?

No, says Mr Nair.  “The NIA is an important milestone in Indian counterterrorism mechanism. The IB does not have enforcement powers that NIA has. This enables the NIA to take up investigations into cases related to national security. If the IB is given enforcement powers, the IB officials will come before the public eye. This is not advisable because the first rule of intelligence is that spies should remain unseen.” Hence, the IB agents can only collect and give information and the NIA can then act upon it, informs the former IB operative.

Commenting on the factors that limit the efficiency of the IB, Mr Nair notes that India has a diverse society and it presents a unique security challenge. There have been instances where political interests and interference have affected effectiveness of Indian agencies. “There has to be a better accountability mechanism if Indian intelligence has to improve” he says.

Intelligence agencies have to be always on guard and always evolving because communication technology has aided the rise in the magnitude of terrorism. To combat it, we need comprehensive security processes, and stringent laws to punish people identified as perpetrators of terror, says the veteran security professional. 

(First published in The Goan in School dated November 27, 2015)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Let The Sleeping Dogs Lie

So, I was telling you about my time in Pune and how I got where I am today. But there are certain things that re preventing revealing the story ahead.

Trouble is, with passage of time I have forgotten many interesting details of life in Pune. If I were to write about that time, I will have to meet my former boss in Pune and rekindle some memories.

Secondly, in order to make my story effective, I need to meet with a policeman. However, I do not get time for this and thus my story is stuck.

Third, my parents have forbidden me to write about what I am doing right now for a living.

These three are not the problems. I am afraid they are the cans of worms waiting to be opened.

My former boss Emperor Akihito has not read what I have written about him. I did not show it to him because I was safely out of his reach when I wrote it. If I go and meet him now, he will read my blog. I do not know how he will react to my writing.

The policeman who I plan to meet has not read my book. That book has a character nicknamed Alcohol who is a policeman. The real policeman might have some objections regarding that character. If I meet him, he will read my book.

Third, I cannot afford to cross my parents because I am planning to renovate my flat and I do not wish to pay hundred per cent of the money from my own pocket. I need my parents to be on my side.

It is wise therefor to let the sleeping dog lie.

Last but not the least, I am tired of the characters in my last book and need some new ones. To aid my character research, I have made some new friends. They do not know that I write about people. I am planning to flood this blog with book and film reviews and random stuff before telling my new friends that I am a blogger (they have only read my writing in the newspaper).

So, if anyone asks you, I am not a blogger. I am a Marathi writer who writes a weekly column in a Marathi daily. And  I write anything but character sketches.

Got it?


*cunning smile* 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Reasons to be unashamed of not blogging

Hi guys!

We meet after a really long time, I know. I’ve been doing some aimless reading lately, picking up books that might help me design quirky characters and twisted storylines.  I have no idea what I am looking for. Just wandering through the two worlds –real and literary, hunting for people and ideas. I just read these two amazing books that triggered the urge to write something.

The first book, which will stay forever in my shelf, is “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig.

Matt was 24. He was living in a posh villa in Ibiza, Spain, and his job was organizing parties. But he had severe depression. This book chronicles his suffering and rising from the mental illness.
What I like about the book is that it combines deeply personal narrative with bits of psychological research regarding depression, and all of it is presented with dry humor. The author tells us how depressing thoughts turned his days into nightmares and states that the medicines did not seem to work at all. Then he goes about speculating why that happened, and presents us with the current lines of thinking in neuroscience.

One line of theory is that depression is caused by lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in our brain. Hence, the tablets are designed to increase serotonin levels. However, there is no way to measure the levels of serotonin. So how do you decide upon the tablets?

The second theory looks at the little part at the center of the brain called “nucleus accumbens”. It is believed that a malfunction in this part might be the cause of depression. Is why the group of tablets known as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) does not work?, asks Matt, and then tells us all things he tried to combat depression, such as visiting Paris.

So, that gives you an idea of how deep the book is. Plus, it has beautiful similes (no wonder, because the author is British.)  Most of the narrative is honest, direct, and crisp with similes used just for taste like salt.

I have just finished Reasons to Stay Alive and am presently halfway through the second book titled “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson.

This book looks at how some embarrassing posts on social media made ordinary people infamous around the world and ruined their reputations. It narrates the stories such  PR officer Justine Sacco  whose life was ruined by one stupid tweet –of how she and many others were brought down by social media and then some of them managed to rise  again.  The book looks at why strangers on social media unite to fling dirt on other strangers and in some cases enjoy doing so. Then it goes on to look at how the people who are shamed deal with the humiliation and rise from it.

I discovered both these books via twitter and a TED talk respectively. The twitter hashtag #amreading can lead you to some good treasures.  I never thought twitter could become a tool for searching great books, but apparently it has. And yes, one needs to be careful while using twitter to fish for books.