The right to not be ‘Accomplished’

I think its a dying right and ought to be protested, Loudly and vociferously. I’m going to go ahead and say this potentially offensive thing – all women (urban-rural, tall-short, old-young, literate or not, bright-stupid, pretty-pretty ugly) have the right to undiminished self respect and regard from fellow human beings that is NOT contingent on their accomplishments.

From the moment they are born till they die women are in a race – a race to cook the best, look the best, remember and execute perfectly, if educated then be a top 10 percenter, if working then earn enough and be a top performer at the same time. Women also need to ease themselves into being great partners, great bosses and great mom’s without the slightest friction. They have to be great caregivers and know directions as well as an awesome Smartphone navigation tool. They need to be musically talented, intellectually stimulating and rise early. And they have to be this ALL THE TIME. This is the stereotype of the ‘modern woman’. The ideal we are all quietly pressurizing ourselves into conforming to.

And what if you’re not IT? Your body isn’t perfect, you have a tyre or two, your eyes buldge and are bloodshot a little. You read but don’t necessarily remember and accurately recall every word. You cook because you have to but aren’t the next Master Chef contender. You remember as much as you can but also forget a lot. You make lists then you forget where you put them. You won’t get lost but you can’t necessarily divine a destination and drive there unprepared. Then you are what you already know you are. UNACCOMPLISHED. You are a slob bemoaning the fact that work never finds you and you live in pyjamas. Lo and behold – you have turned into the very thing all modern women are socialized into running away from. You are just not worthwhile. You will never be one of the women who are saluted to subtle shades of pink on the 5th of March every year. You just aren’t there. You are not IT.

Pull up your socks woman – what will people think of you? Even the partially accomplished are better. Take a look around. Your neighbour who is both pretty and pretty-accomplished. She makes a divine South Indian cuisine despite being absolutely East Indian even if that is all she does. This is the type of woman you must emulate. And your pyjamas — get rid of them. Where is your womanhood? Women are meant to be IT – quiet, sweet, ordered about, never scatter-brained- you are less than a woman. Did I mention less than a woman? I meant less than human.



Bad Birthday

Same place, different year. Slightly worse circumstances. I’m turning nearly thirty in a couple of days. For all it is worth, I haven’t done much to be proud of in these thirty years. I don’t have a great list of publications, I don’t have a great network I can leverage to find a reasonable job. I’m struggling to fulfill the demanding requirements of a house loan- a house I haven’t ever and never will live in. I am also struggling with a car that I don’t know how to drive. I don’t pay rent and I routinely poach of my family. I am also fat, lethargic, incapable of producing a baby and frankly don’t care enough to do anything well. I might also be entering into a series of legal battles that will consume the rest of my life. This is not what I wanted to have on my birthday.

Yes I am FAT

An uncle tagged me in an unflattering photograph. Extremely unflattering. And I thought “Wow, so ugly”. Then I checked myself. Am I actually letting someone’s poor light and composition skills drive my self-worth. Yup. Actually it is more than the picture. It is also snide lunch-time conversations expounding the virtues of being “vegetarian”, the virtues of “working out” and surfeit of salads. Alright – so I am fat. So what?

Doing the unmanly thing…

I want to ask men this question. Married men. Is there anything you actually want to learn from your wife? In the heart of your hearts – is there anything at all that you respect about her and think you could learn from? Do you actually think it might be, for example, to learn how to cook up a fabulous meal? Or how to study/read? Or how to work very hard? How to love? Anything at all?

Question two – is there anything that you would change about yourself for your wife? Or do all married men actually think they are perfect? Is there even an inch, in your relationship, for an alternate perspective?


What have I contributed?

I got asked this question today. Again. For what seems like the millionth time in a fairly short span of time. Here are my top 5:

1. Love, devotion, time, conversation, laughter…

2. Books and book shelves

3. Food, cooked and uncooked.

4. Party hostess service, good humour and flexibility

5. Tolerance


Useless right?

A lack of connect…

…that, I think describes it best. Sometimes in a fit of enthusiasm you imagine that colors don’t have to be similar or even complimentary. Go in for the absolute mismatch. The ridiculous. That is “brave”, “bold”, “new” and then, of course, “the right thing to do”. The quiet voice in your mind that used to tell you not rush-in, got shushed in all the euphoria and all the estrogen.  For a while there was some ridiculous thing clouding your judgement – people call it love. Then one day you wake up and it is all gone. Nothing you do is right for the other person. No gifts, no household contributions – it is all about the imperfections. Like acid it eats slowly into the fabric of your relationship. The edges get weaker, then, the center weakens.  Then you start asking – how did I end up here? And the other question. The big one. How did we get from there to here?

Hypothesis. It was the wrong color. Period.

1. You like the intelligent life, books, technology – he couldn’t care less.

2. You like to be cuddle to spend time – he couldn’t care less.

3. You invest/save/insure at least 75% of your income every month – he couldn’t care less.

4. You hate your job – but sharing that makes him feel like you do worthless work.

Not the same/complimentary colors=ruin.

Between the lines

I’m beginning to document the differences in spaces and types. It doesn’t mean anything. Not anything much, at any rate. I wanted to do the cliched thing – describing scenes at coffee shops , for example. I hear these sounds in my head and I see colors. Bright yellow patches threaten to send cheer from a wall across the market. I wonder if I can ever sing in tune. The soft unobtrusive people have somehow evaporated and replaced by the loud, cacophonous kinds. It’s probably time to head home. The evening holds no promise or romance. Just a kind of a heavy dreariness intercepted with an occasional stab of hope. The disappointment will be crushing, surprising resilient even after eons of monochromatic evenings. Would I feel more sentimental if I could perhaps sing?

I’ve been feeling vaguely superficial for sometime now. There have been a few mornings when I’ve woken up to find myself dead. It’s almost like I spend most of my time pulling out splinters of broken glass from my hands that haven’t really managed to cut very deep. Still, they’re like a kind of a dull, throbbing twinge that follows me around like a persistent shadow or an endless headache. I’m exhausted- the worst kind- exhaustion that comes from sleeping too much. Occasionally my fingertips are found smeared with rage that softly dissipates into a colorless helplessness. The tables are dark green, the lights are mellow. There is a kind of a wholesome happiness, a solid structure sort of a feel to the place. It’s the best escape I could find from the cruel oranges-and-yellows that surround me at elsewhere. How much longer before the winter rages around me and closes its fist around my heart?

Its the small things, the words veiled under heavily overdone doses of laughter. Who takes away the real freedoms, what kinds of sounds play?  When did I stop? When did I tell you to stop? Its not your private places on display and of course, I have the “problem”. Why bother to stand by? Is that the wind howling – I forget, this is your season. Grey, one-sided, wooden colors and dancing embers in the sky.

A wheel rolls by and so does time. Wheel

How to destroy Morale in six easy steps – 101

Step 1: Find someone who takes pride in what they do

Step 2: Tell them that they have done a consistently poor job at what they take pride in

Step 3: Call them a failure

Step 4: Criticise their few errors and completely ignore any successes

Step 5: Tell them that they are not invested, do not care, do not make an effort

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat

Bonus Step: Pat yourself on your back for a job well done. 

In Memoriam

Of many bits of paper….
Newsprint old and new
Spiderwebs and a rosewood table
No spectacles and some brandy everyday.

Of fearlessness, humour and all things political….
Languages, passion, food and travels…

The little odds and ends of a full-life,
A painful life, a principled life…
A head full of curly hair and greyish blue eyes,

A man like no-other
A person we could all hope to be….
A tireless walker, teacher and friend

A wish for you upon the stars,
I hope you can see the world better now,
Have found some questions to ask up there…
Gather the forces there too, will you?
You made the world a better place, now lonelier without you
And heaven needed you too.

An anti-corruption herd…

Times like this, when Arnab Goswami (who is the self-proclaimed modern messiah of great journalism), is trying very hard to prove that the ‘anti-corruption‘ movement in India is now going international – leave me rather astounded. And frankly, I’m not astounded at anything new. People love causes. Wearing pretty T-shirts with snazzy ‘anna’ slogans, a couple of afternoons out in the sun, the excitement of ‘hey I’m being arrested’ can all be very exciting. Also very juvenile – but never mind that.

Here’s the real question, does more litigation/the enactment of more laws solve corruption?  The best question is however this; is corruption even a problem? Of course, this is a terrible question to be asking. It surely means that I must be corrupt, support corruption or at any rate be unwilling to do my bit to ‘root-out’ the unforgivable sin of corruption. I’m going to go out on a limb and say yup, all of those things are true.

Here’s why: Of course I am corrupt, like every other Indian I have been part of a system that has forced me to, against my wishes (nobody likes to part with money, nothing to do with nobility), to pay a bribe in order to get the job done. Of course its wrong and it doesn’t matter that if I hadn’t paid the bribe, I wouldn’t have gotten a passport.  I do support corruption, in that —  my understanding of it being a ‘problem’ is completely different. Am I unwilling to do my bit to ‘root out’ corruption, yes absolutely – because the movement is ill-conceived.

To begin with ‘corruption’ is not a problem, its a symptom of a larger problem. By waging war against a symptom, one isn’t really sorting anything out – the disease you see, is still around. In this case, the disease is poorly-designed incentives.

As Nitin Pai eloquently writes (and thankfully relieves me of explaining the theory behind incentives):

The idea of a ‘Jan Lok Pal’ is flawed and profoundly misunderstands the causes and solutions of corruption in India. It seeks to create another chunk of Government, more processes and rules, to solve a problem that, in part, exists because of too many chunks of Government, too many processes and rules.

If the ‘Jan Lok Pal’ presides over the same system that has corrupted civil servants, politicians, anti-corruption watchdogs, judges, media, civil society groups and ordinary citizens, why should we expect that the ombudsman will be incorruptible? Because the person is handpicked by unelected, unaccountable ‘civil society’ members? Those who propose that Nobel Laureates (of Indian origin, not even of Indian citizenship) and Ramon Magsaysay Award winners should be among those who pick the Great Ombudsman of India — who is both policeman and judge — insult the hundreds of millions of ordinary Indian voters who regularly exercise their right to franchise. For they are demanding that the Scandinavian grandees in the Nobel Committee and the Filipino members of the Magsaysay foundation should have an indirect role in selecting an all-powerful Indian official.

The argument that people should be involved in drafting legislation is fine, even if it misses the point that the Government is not a foreign entity but a representative of the people. It is entirely another thing to demand that the legislation drafted by an self-appointed, unaccountable and unrepresentative set of people be passed at the threat of blackmail. If we must have representatives of the people involved in law-making, we are better off if they are the elected ones, however flawed, as opposed to self-appointed ones, whatever prizes the latter might have won.

The ‘Jan Lok Pal’ will become another logjammed, politicised and ultimately corrupt institution, for the passionate masses who demand new institutions have a poor record of protecting the existing institutions. Where were the holders of candles, wearers of Gandhi topis and hunger-strikers when the offices of the Chief Election Commissioner, the Central Vigilance Commissioner and even the President of the Republic were handed out to persons with dubious credentials? If you didn’t come out to protest the perversion of these institutions, why are you somehow more likely to turn up to protest when a dubious person is sought to be made the ‘Jan Lok Pal’?

But this is us. Given this reality, the solution for corruption and malgovernance should be one that does not rely on the notoriously apathetic middle classes to come out on the streets. The solution is to take away the powers of discretion, the powers of rent-seeking from the Government and restore it back to the people. This is the idea of economic freedom. Societies with greater economic freedom have lower corruption. I have long argued that we are in this mess because we have been denied Reforms 2.0.

How can we have Reforms 2.0 if “those politicians” are unwilling to implement them? The answer is simple: By voting. Economic reforms are not on anyone’s political agenda because those who are most likely to benefit from them do not vote, and do not vote strategically

So here’s the solution; don’t keep adding layers upon layers of legislation!!

Legislation fails catastrophically (what lawyers like to dismiss as implementation problems) when it doesn’t account for incentives. India is known for fantastic legislation and implementation failure. However, implementation failure, like other forms of market failure, are signalling devices. They’re telling you something. They’re saying, for example, systems where clerks are under-paid sustain systems where bribes need to be paid. Systems where accountability is not structurally built-in allows for large-scale corruption…

In the meantime, if you are pro-Anna – consider this. What should you be supporting? Well-designed policy or one man holding a government to ransom?  For further reading consider reading: Why the Lok Pal is a bad idea.

When Mallika Sarabhai says that  “we live in the most exciting times for democratic India, at least in the last two decades”,  I wonder what she is referring to?  The fact that so many Indians think turning out in hippy t-shirts singing songs is the equivalent of a movement, or that the stalwarts of this ‘movement’ consider it to be truly ‘mass’ given that all of India has internet connectivity (sic), or the fact  that India’s need for heroes (read Anna) has grown so much that we should consider this the greatest signl of a fantastically dynamic democracy.