Word of the Week #124:

Secession

Earlier today, on the eve of our 72nd Independence Day, the President addressed the nation.

Did you watch it?

Of course, I did not watch it live. I did not even know it was happening tonight. For some reason, I thought the speech happens on the Independence Day…

But, for the very first time in my life, I actually watched the entire thing.

Among his 21 minutes of remarks, one statement stood out in particular to me. I must warn you that the following is not a precise translation, but I believe I do his sentiments justice.

At the very least, I did a better job than the folks over at NDTV. Come on, guys. You are supposed to be the professionals, around here…

Expanding the extent of freedom is an unabating endeavour.

— President Ram Nath Kovind

Such alliteration… Wow…

Of course, it is news to nobody that we, as a nation, have a long way to go.

On 15th of August, 1947, we did successfully secede from the British Empire. I wonder if any country can truly be called independent, in this day and age, but we have maintained our sovereignty, which is commendable.

However, when it comes to freedom, we have a particularly long way to go.

Just a couple of years have passed since the JNU incident, wherein the government decided to arrest students protesting in the campus and charge them with sedition. Talk about overkill…

While the matter is still sub judice, the court asked the university to take no coercive action against the students, including Umar Khalid.

Naturally, the university responded by refusing to accept his PhD thesis. This was, once again, followed by much hullaballoo.

Now, Khalid was allegedly shot at just three days before the next hearing. Coincidence?

Maybe it was all unrelated… Maybe he is just unlucky… Who can say, am I right?

Of course, according to the National Crime Report Bureau, over 142 unrelated cases of violence against journalists have been registered in the past 3 years. One wonders how many passed not registered.

Interestingly enough, not a single murder of a journalist has been solved in the country over the past decade.

So much coincidence. It makes my nerves tingle.

Clearly, we have a long way to go. And a particularly difficult one at that.

But for now, we fly these colours. Let us talk more about it next week.

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Word of the Week #123:

Apocalypse

This post culminates the discussion we have been having for the past few weeks, and let me just begin by saying this: DON’T PANIC.

Now, anybody who has not been living under a rock for the past few years must have noticed a few subtle changes in our socio-political landscape over the past decade or so, in our country and across the world. Certain elements that have existed on the fringe of modern society suddenly find themselves a part of the mainstream..

Of course, the eldest among us would argue that the fringe has always existed and it is only the media that now highlights it more than ever before, but there is more to it. One cannot deny that the extremists among us have been emboldened by certain individuals.

One might be tempted to ask, “Really, just what does it matter if certain dogs continue to bark? It is what they do, after all. Why should we bother?”

The answer is actually simple, and lies in the Middle East.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 overthrew the Persian monarchy and replaced it with an Islamic theocracy. There may be some who would argue this was a step in the right direction but the members of the Jewish community in Iran, which essentially halved overnight, might want to disagree.

There are always certain people who will ask, “What is wrong in seeking religious, ethnic, or ideological, homogeneity in your country?”

Well, if every citizen chooses to believe the same thing, nothing is wrong, is there? It is the opportunity to make that free and informed choice that matters.

Of course, you cannot choose your ethnicity, so if the regime suddenly decides it does not want you around, you better get ready to run, am I right?

The question we now have to ask is this. How does this lead to the end of the world? The answer is, once again, quite simple.

The world is always ending.

It is the rule of entropy.

It is why your clothes are constantly getting dirtier, and your body is growing wearier every day that passed. Both avoid complete degradation because you put some effort in making them last just a little bit longer.

The same is true for the world at large. It is always ending. It survives when the best and the brightest of the entire human race come together to make it last a little longer.

However, that may not continue forever, and from the recent evidence of our self-destructive nature, I wonder how much longer we might have.

Word of the Week #122:

Pestilence

Okay, I’ll try not to get too dramatic, here.

However, as I mentioned two weeks ago, we may be approaching what can only be described as the beginning of the end.

Let us skip the feels and focus on the facts.

Last week we discussed how the world we live in can be defined by two words: Liberalism and Globalisation. Of course, these are not firmly established truths in all parts of the world, but at least they have been seen as ideals worth striving towards. Unfortunately, in many nations around the world, that no longer seems to be a case.

In the words of every horde of aliens invading the planet, let us start with America. The so-called leaders of the free world are themselves being led by a historically incompetent administration, and its population is deeply divided on all major issues. Of course, a difference of opinion among the masses is not a bad thing. But if those opinions are based less on rational facts and more on irrational feelings, there is no way to address those differences and move forward.

Sure, we could talk about the situations with xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, Nazism, gun control, or the lack thereof, failing healthcare, crumbling infrastructure, income inequality and dozens of other things going wrong with the country, but those are just the symptoms. The two causes are actually quite simple, and exceedingly common:

  1. Apathetic ignorance among the many
  2. Unmitigated dishonesty among the few

The British are similar of course, but with better accents. Their own chicken, fondly known as Brexit, is coming home to roost soon enough and they could not be less prepared if they tried.

The rest of Europe is also far from flawless. Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán is extremely popular, both within and beyond his own country. This is despite his blatantly Islamophobic views on immigration and the European society in general, or is it because of those views? Just last week, the government in Poland passed a law that allows them to handpick the chief of the Supreme Court. Neat.

Additionally, economies like Greece still remain in crisis, while Italy is plunging towards a crash. That is definitely going to hurt the entire European Union.

Towards the Middle East, just earlier today, Israel signed a new law, essentially mandating apartheid. The crises in Syria and Yemen are far from resolved, and the Arab Spring has subsided into the Arab Winter.

And this is all without even talking about the Russias and the Chinas of the world.

These can be seen as isolated problems faced by separate countries, but nothing is truly isolated in this ever-shrinking world of ours. If allowed to fester, I see this as an epidemic that can decimate our world just like Black Death through Medieval Europe.

Some people might think this is too outlandish. They would want to remind me that, despite all its problems, this is by far the best time to be alive.

Well, they are not wrong.

However, I would counter with this: A mango is the sweetest just a day before it starts rotting.

Word of the Week #121:

Advent

Democracy by itself is not a new thing.

As with many other things, the Greeks did it first. The format itself was dissimilar to what we observe today, but the intent was largely the same.

Experiments with electoral systems continued almost for two thousand years, before the first modern democracy was established. Of course, even that seems archaic by today’s standards.

So, when did real, modern democracy become a norm? As we discussed last week, a lot of this was an aftermath of the two world wars. Essentially, we can mark three major points of inflexion in our recent history.

1918

After their losses in World War I, the German, Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empire fell, laying ground for the foundation of—at least relatively—democratic regimes. Universal suffrage in the United States followed soon.

However, this push could not build to a tipping point, as a combination of economic strain and budding nationalist sentiments led several states towards authoritarianism. This was one of the major causes for World War II.

1945

After World War II, the balance did tip in most cases. The newly liberated colonies opted into this democratic experiment, as did Japan. However, authoritarian communism stayed strong in the Soviet Union, and soon spread to China as well.

With the world divided between the two superpowers, each espousing a diametrically opposite ideology, tension continued to brew. Often referred to as the Cold War, this tension further precipitated in conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

1992

Eventually, the Russian influence began to wane, before being extinguished completely with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War ushered an era of economic growth in the former Soviet dominions and allies, and saw another push towards liberal democracy. The unparalleled power of the United States, the consolidation of the European Union and the rise of China and India, aided by the rapid progress in technology, initiated a movement towards unprecedented globalisation.

Those are the two words I would say represent these past few decades: Liberalism and Globalisation.

So, why do we need to talk about this now? Well, to put it simply, I believe we may be moving towards another point of inflexion. The pieces are all there, one simply needs to put the puzzle together.

What is going on? Why should we care? Let us discuss that next week, shall we…

Word of the Week #120:

Genesis

What was the most important event of the 1940? What led the world where it stands today?

The answer can, obviously, vary according person to person.

Around here, the most popular answer would be the 15th of August, 1947, the day India earned independence from the Brutish Empire.

Oh, pardon me, I meant to say the British Empire. My auto-correct tends to malfunction at times, you know. Totally an honest mistake…

Some of the more learned of us might argue that the 26th of November, 1949, the day our constitution was ratified, went a long way forward in making us who we are today. However, the constitution did not actually come into effect for another two months, so… Different decade…

Further West, the 8th of May, 1945 holds a significant place, being the day the Germans surrendered in World War II, although the war officially did not end till 2nd of September.

Regardless, it is safe to say that the end of the Second World War also marked the end of the old world order, and it shaped the world that our past generations have known. The subsequent decolonisation, the establishment of the United Nations, and the growth of modern powers was all a consequence of the same.

In my opinion, however, the day of the new beginning should be considered far more important. To wit, the 17th of July, 1945 marks the day Chairman Stalin of Russia, President Truman of the US, and Prime Minister Churchill of the UK met in Potsdam, and essentially laid the foundations for the world order that lasted for, one might estimate, 45 years. Perhaps we could discuss more about that, some other time.

Considering that, it seems ironic how, over the past week, the current POTUS has held successive meetings with the current heads of both the UK and Russia. And from what we know about the content and the nature of both the meetings, it would not be overly dramatic to believe that we have reached another of those interesting junctures in history where the entire fabric of the world is unwinded.

Let us take another couple of weeks to explore exactly what that might entail.

I do believe I must warn you in advance. These could get somewhat bleak.

After all, this may just be the beginning of an end.

Word of the Week #119:

Deluge

When it rains, it pours.

We have all heard this, right?

Well, throughout the course of my life, I have always found it to be true, but rarely have I experienced it quite as literally as in the past week.

Last Saturday, we saw 265mm of rainfall in a span of 8 hours. In contrast, the average rainfall for the entire month of July is 317mm.

And according to meteorological experts, the worst is yet to come.

Sounds like a good time to jump off SS Sinking Ship, if you ask me…

The odd thing is that we have now come to expect and accept what are clearly major anomalies in the weather. Getting the entire month’s rainfall over a single weekend cannot be normal.

Just imagine it: Can you eat a month’s worth of food, and then not eat for the rest of the month?

Okay, “a month’s worth” is not very specific, I suppose.

Consider it this way… An average adult consumes roughly 2500 calories a day. That is 10 slices of a supreme pizza from Pizza Hut. So, roughly 300 slices a month. Now, does each pizza have 6 slices or 8? Let’s assume the latter. So, 37.5 pizzas.

Now, imagine trying to eat 37.5 pizza in two days. Will you eat yourself into the hospital or into bankruptcy, that is the question.

Wait… I forgot the point I wanted to make… And now I want pizza.

The point is, never try to get work done when you’re starving.

And maybe stock up on food and water and drinks and batteries, and get ready to stay indoors for a fair part of the week.

And for the love of God, turn off those ACs that are permanently cranked up to 22°C. You are only making it worse.

A storm is coming. And, by all accounts, it is only going to get worse.

Word of the Week #118:

Sinister

It was only tonight that I realised that I had not really spoken much on the blog about the fact that I am left-handed.

I think it is rather odd… After all, being a lefty is an immutable part of my identity, but at the same time, it does not come up that often in the normal course of a conversation, right?

Think about the last time you heard someone say, “As a left-handed person, this is what I think about this issue.” It just does not happen.

However, as with any demographic minority, there is always some bias, intentional or otherwise, that we have to deal with growing up.

Things as basic as scissors are made with the assumption that the user will be right-handed. It may seem inconsequential to us as adults, but you cannot even begin to imagine how traumatic it can be to an eight-year-old sitting in art class trying to understand just why he cannot get the scissors to work.

Yeah, it took me half a decade to realise that I’d have to use it with my right hand to make it work, but to be honest, I no longer care…

Even pens and pencils are not designed for use, and let us not even talk about chalk boards and white boards and spiral-bound notebooks…

As a young adult in college, it did not take me as long to realise why the drafting equipment would not support me, and how to compensate. This was largely because I knew I could ask other lefty friends who had done it before.

Even now, most tables I use are asymmetrical. As a result, half of the space remains unused.

Such impedance is always annoying, but after several years of bumbling about, it can certainly be circumvented.

What is a much larger annoyance is the extreme stupidity of the people we meet all across the world.

If I could get an extra mark every time an invigilator asked me, “Oh, do you really write like that,” I might have actually made the cut-off for Delhi University.

“Yes, of course, I really do write like. What did you think, I’m doing a bit, here in the examination room? Moron…”

Of course, I never really said that, but I assume my glare would have sufficed.

I remember one morning, I must have been 10 or so, when a shopkeeper refused to take money from me because I offered it with my left hand. Give it with your right hand, he told me, and of course, when he said right, he meant correct. I did what was the natural thing to do in the situation: I left the cash midair, glaring into the man’s eyes till the coins clanged onto the floor, and just walked away.

When I look back now, I feel lucky to have had family and teachers who did understand what it meant to be left-handed. I have met others who have not been as lucky.

There are many who erroneously believe that being left-handed is a disease, and needs to be corrected. A forced change in the handedness of a person, particularly at an extremely young age, can have catastrophic repercussions. Since handiwork is controlled by the same part of the brain as speech, such a change is often accompanied by speech disorders. Learning disabilities are also a common side-effect.

And then, of course, are the morons who actually believe that lefties are unlucky or inauspicious or whatever. To quote Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, “When I come to power, those people will be sterilised.”

I recently attended a Pride Carnival, and while I was generally quite, well, proud to be there, I could not stop this one thought from continually nagging at the back of my head.

For a society that still struggles with the idea of “left-handedness”, concepts like “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” might be far too advanced.

Now that I think about it, there is a simpler way to explain these things to the more moronic parts of our society:

Some people are different. That is all. It is not a disease. It is not a curse. It is not something to be outgrown or corrected.

Different is not wrong.