Archive for July, 2012



You’ll hear a lot of applause in your life, fellas, but none will mean more to you than that applause – from your peers.

I hate tennis.

This is what one of the world’s greatest tennis player repeats page after page in his autobiography aptly named ‘OPEN’. If you are a fan who has followed him throughout his eventful career you might find it hard to believe. If you are a reader like me who turns to the book with out any preconceived notions then the statement resonates in every page of the book.

Pushed to be the world number 1 by his father from a very young age, Agassi was the tennis prodigy that he never wanted to be. He resented the game, hated it but found him elf with out any choice but to continue playing.

If you are a tennis aficionado then you will find wading through the book pure delight. However even if you are not a person who follows tennis the book will catch you by surprise on more than one occasion. Agassi is what he claims in the title, OPEN. He bares his psyche before every match for the reader. He deconstructs his mind for us and gives us glimpse of how lonely life as a tennis player can get on the tour. The extreme highs and lows that he has been through, the blunders and phases of depression, all are retold.

The only place Agassi holds back is when he is speaking about the women in his life. At no point does he go into a territory that is trashy. He treats chapters involving his girlfriends and ex wife Brooke Shields with utmost respect. In fact if anything, Agassi seems to be the hardest on himself throughout the course of his professional and personal life.

He is considered to be one of the most loved tennis players and yet  was regularly on the receiving end of scathing criticism from the press. Agassi’s flamboyance, his image in media is very different from the individual that he is in real life.

He comes across as vulnerable but more importantly normal. His life has extreme highs and lows, typical of a tennis player’s life. Yet what sets him apart is his resolve to fight back even though he hates the game as much as he does.

For the eternal romantics like me, OPEN is a first hand account of Andre Agassi’s journey that made him cross paths with the greatest woman tennis player ever; Steffi Graf. The rest as they say is history.

It is ironic. It is an eye opener. It is a revelation.

Whether you are a tennis fan or not the book will grip you.

Flipkart

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Inherent Sexism


Is nature sexist too?

Why would I ask that? Well, biologically there is a stark difference between the way men and women are built. It would be considered sexist to say this in the 21st century but I believe that men and women are not equal. You compare two people or tasks when they are similar. How can you compare two different genders that are biologically and physiologically created to be so different?

As a woman myself, I think it is very unfair that girls get to bear all the pain. I will explain the reason for my strong views on the subject. To start with, when a woman starts menstruating that is the beginning of a long and arduous cycle of pain, exhaustion, tiredness and related symptoms. The term ‘Oh I think she is PMSing’ is used by everyone from boyfriends to co-workers around women at all stages of their lives. That however is just the tip of the ice berg.

Women are hailed as givers of life and seen as being the one who nurtures. But all this comes at what cost to them? Childbirth is the most painful and exhausting process that a woman is likely to live through in her entire life. Why could nature not have divided the process equally between men and women?

It is unfair to put all the pain in the share of what the society perceives to be as the ‘weaker sex’. Once her reproductive life is over then she has to go through the dreaded phase of menopause. It appears to me that not just the society but nature herself likes to constantly test a woman’s patience and endurance.

The most sexist of it all is the concept of virginity. Why do only women have a hymen? Why is there  no tell tale sign of a man’s virginity? This puts the onus of chastity on women alone leading them to be ostracized in several communities for no fault of theirs.

Men and women according to my understanding are not equal because they both undergo totally different journeys in their lives when it comes to their physical maturity. The emotions vary corresponding to that as well. I do not subscribe to the notions of society that believes that certain tasks are reserved for men and others for women. You cannot compartmentalize tasks based on gender like that unless you supplement it with valid arguments.

For e.g. when I read that Indian army does not send women on the battle field I wondered how such an archaic rule can prevail even today. However when I read about the reasoning behind it the decision made much more sense to me. In a war zone hygienic issues get scant attention and a woman who is menstruating can become a liability in such a situation where both water and privacy can be beyond reach.

So the bottom line is that if you want to hold grudges, it’s the nature you have to blame. Society is just trying to keep pace with it.

Internet has moved on from being a technological invention to being an entity that forms a major part of our day to day lives. No sphere of our lives, at least in the urban areas has remained untouched by it. This post is a continuation of the same thread about a TED talk which opened my eyes to things that I did not know happened when I clicked the ‘search’ tab on Google.

A friend of mine shared the link of a TED lecture with me and asked me to watch it. I did so and the talk introduced me to a new phenomenon that I had noticed on the internet but had not taken that seriously. Turns out, I should have.

Here is the link:

Answer this. How many people do you have on your Facebook list? For most of us the number exceeds 100 at the very least. Now, on a daily basis how many different faces from that list appear on your home page? I am sure that by now you already get the drift.

The talk elaborates that based on the links you click on, Facebook prioritizes who is important to you. That person shows up more often from then on. Which means in most likelihood, hundreds of your friends get left out of the updates you receive on a regular basis. This is what can be called as the information bubble and you are the creator of that bubble in a way.

What is happening on Facebook might not be as relevant to our lives but something similar is done by Google as well. Did you know that the same word typed in the search box can throw up different results for different people? These are based on where you are located, your search history and several other factors. The same information is used to determine what ad is most relevant to you. Why does Google do it? They believe that they are customizing the result for you. Then what is the problem you would ask? Well to put it simply, this way you will never be exposed to new information! You will be trapped in your own information bubble.

Even if search engines are trying to help you, it might not be the best of the things to do. Relevant and vital information might be buried deep inside the chunk of unnecessary data. Also these are things that are happening without us even knowing about it. Why should somebody else decide what I should read and watch? The reason for the popularity of the internet was the freedom it offered us.  If I really wanted censorship, I would turn to China and not Google!

The internet was meant and still is, to ‘connect’. It is the single biggest equalizer that we have. If all your search results are unique and customized, your top results will follow a similar pattern. You do not search to know about things that you are already aware of. Right?


Yes I mean it. I am not turning into a schizophrenic.  I have begun observing every search result and advertisement when I am surfing the internet and have made certain observations. I shall tell you exactly why I think I am being stalked.

A few weeks back I was looking for wallets to buy and since I did not have much time to go shopping I decided to check out a few online stores. I checked Zovi and Inkruit but did not take a fancy to any of the products available. Since then which ever website I visit, the corresponding advertisements that I get to see are of Zovi or Infruit only!

Not just is the search engine keeping a tab on what websites I visit, but also about what products I checked. All the ads that the search engine deems fit for me are those of wallets! My problem is not wallets but my problem is why ONLY wallets!

The same thing happened a few months back when I was researching about laptops as I was planning to buy one soon. Suddenly I could see laptop advertisements every where. It is convenient at times but you do reach a point where you do not want only customized information coming to you. This is something that I will be discussing in detail in my next post as well.

What if Zovi had other amazing products but since I checked the wallet section and am being bombarded with information about it I would never learn about the other products. I might however be interested in buying something else but they are losing out on me as a potential customer.

Later that day I was checking out a website called Carsingh and the advertisements that I could see again were of wallets only! Really? A car website and wallets all around! Are you kidding me! What more proof do you want reader? Now are you convinced of my claim? For the record, I do not like to be stalked at all. I am a voracious reader and my preference is to be exposed to newer information and not go around in circles with the same old stuff.

If only I had a way of letting Google know that I have indeed bought myself a wallet and next on agenda is a watch. Oh wait! There is a way to let them know. I simply have to Google search for more watch designs and I shall be bombarded with offers related to watches.

Words. Sounds. Conversation.

These are things that I take for granted. I am my happiest self when I am talking the most. There is something about the act that makes me feel full of energy. But what if I had no sound? Would my conversations still remain as enthusiastic as they are now?

I got the answer to my thoughts in two parts. The first was when I witnessed a couple animatedly having a conversation at the platform of Sandhurst road station in Mumbai’s central railway line. My train had stopped there for its customary 30 seconds halt when my eyes fell on them. They were sitting on a bench on the station. They appeared to be in their early 20s and were communicating using sign language coupled with animated expressions on their faces. They were no different from any other ‘normal’ couples that dot the mega city’s landscape.

There was something very touching with what was happening in front of me. The couple was oblivious to the world around them and found no difficulty in explaining what they wanted to say to each other. My train started soon after but the images stayed with me for a long time after that.

It made me wonder why people make such a big deal out of aberrations. Considering that as humans we come in a variety of shapes and sizes including different racial backgrounds we should have been used to the diversity in nature. Why do we call it abnormal? Why is our definition of what constitutes normal no narrow?

It is not unknown that the world appears to us the way that we as individuals perceive it to be. What would be an enticing vision for one would be nothing but ordinary for another. I found the speech impaired couple having a conversation one of the most beautiful things that I have seen. I was proud of the way they relegated their handicap to the background.

The second incident or rather a pleasant experience came my way recently. While doing my reporting assignment for our news show in college I visited Balya Vidyalaya in Adyar, Chennai. Balya Vidyalaya is a school for the hearing impaired for children up to 5 years of age. They are not taught how to use sign language rather the focus is on trying to teach them how to speak. I walked into the school and interacted with the children happily studying with their extrememly patient teachers I did not feel that these children were in any way different from other tots of their age. They were as enthusiastic and hated studying as much as any 4 or 5 year old would.

Communication I have come to learn is more than just words. Some times it just takes the intent and desire to get your word across to another person. The determined ones eventually find a way with or with out words. So would I still be a good communicator if I was unable to speak? I’d like to believe that I would.

As an administrator Ashoka understood what all cultures have always known yet struggled to implement.

Prosperity goes hand in hand with peace 

Throughout the ancient and modern times, the countries that have witnessed stable geo-political situations have prospered. You cannot be in the midst of simmering tensions and war like state and expect trade and commerce to flourish. Also, a peaceful society gives the residents a sense of safety and belonging which in turn inspires them to work harder.

Ashoka’s act of embracing Buddhism turned out to be a political masterstroke because of this reason in particular. He understood that he needed to have peace reign in his empire and Vedic Hinduism was anything but peaceful with its brutal varna system where humans belonging to the so called lower castes were treated worse than animals.

Ashoka turned to Buddhism knowing that his lead will motivate a huge chunk of the people in his empire to turn to Buddhism and embrace a life where every life form is treated equally. His first wife Devi who was a Buddhist is said to have had a major influence in Ashoka being exposed to the religion.

It was a huge step towards an egalitarian society, one that even Dr B R Ambedkar turned to in more recent times. Both of them had similar motivations, one that aspired to build a progressive and content society.

The varna system was not just restrictive but inhuman in its more serious forms. It had turned our society into a narrow minded one which shunned every sign of progress, the exact opposite of what the system was meant to do when written and codified by Manu.

Maybe the leaders of today can take a page out of the way these leaders instilled pride in their subjects. Or may be it would not work today.

That’s the thing about history. What worked in one period might just not work at another because the social dynamics are vastly different. Also with today’s age of instant communication you can never be sure about how one thing will impact another.

A cricket match is directly proportional to the low voter turn out during elections. Years back when Ramayana and Mahabharata were broadcasted for the first time, it meant empty streets. What I am trying to say is that I might wax eloquent about the kind of administrator Ashoka was but I will not make the mistake of ignoring the fact that the age was totally different. The country that India was then and is now are two vastly differing worlds. It however still does not stop me from trying to wade through the thick 1000 page book on him as I am still determined to read till the very last word.

I am currently wading through a humungous hardback edition of a book on Ashoka which is over 1000 pages. I started reading it over six months back while I was working. It has been a while since I moved to Chennai to pursue my post graduation but I am yet to finish that book. This does not mean that it is boring, it is just so hugeee to even a voracious reader like me that I am still 500 pages away from completing it.

Anyway what I wanted to talk about is not so superficial as the size of a book.

I am still not certain about my religious beliefs in spite of being in my early 20s. Though I was born a Hindu, going to a Catholic school with a church and masses to attend had left me with a fascination for Christianity. To this already simmering mixture, the third ingredient, Arya Samaj was added. When I switched schools in secondary, I joined DAV (Dayanand Anglo Vedic) where for the first time in my life I was exposed to more Hinduism. It is ironic that being a Hindu I did not even know the Gayatri Mantra but with both parents working, Sundays were all about catching up and religion was the last topic one would discuss with a growing child. So it was in school that I did everything from singing bhajans to being exposed to Moral Science lectures where the Arya Samaj and its philosophies were introduced to us.

I went with the flow and read a lot. What I liked about Arya Samaj were their forward thinking ideals. It is not a separate religion of course, just a group of people who believed that Hinduism has to be rid of evils like caste system and the practice of untouchability. It was formed in the late 1800s as an answer to those Hindus who wanted to study science and be more liberal, yet retain their religious identity. Here is where Ashoka comes in. How? I’ll explain.

When Ashoka ascended to the throne o f the Mauryan Empire, Vedic Hinduism was at its peak. Vedic I say because it was a very different version of modern Hinduism. Rituals were prescribed as a solution for all problems. The religion was at its brutal best with religious sacrifices being the norm. Animals and humans alike were ruthlessly slaughtered to please the God. Society followed the varna system strictly. It was in this society that Ashoka threw his weight behind Buddhism just like Arya Samaj threw its weight behind revisiting Vedas to purge Hinduism of its ills. Now you see the parallel?

But why would a Mauryan prince bother with religion?

He did so to be a better leader and consolidate his reach. His legacy has not faded away even 2000 years after his death. He still remains the only ruler to have ruled an area that stretched from modern day Afghanistan in the West to present Bengal.

What is it as a ruler that he saw which aroused his interest in religion as a tool of control for such a vast and diverse empire? Also why the fascination with Buddhism in particular?

As a ruler Ashoka understood one fact…


My Experiments with Truth

                                     My experiments with Truth- M K Gandhi

When I picked up the book I expected it to be a boring autobiography filled with the same details that we were fed with year after year during our school years. I couldn’t have been further away from the truth! The father of our Nation true to his form had caught me off guard.

In Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s own admission he beat up his wife, sampled non vegetarian food when young and turned down a doctor when the doctor wanted to administer his dying son the only medicine known that could save him- beef soup. Gandhi is candid about his flaws and under plays the action when he describes the incidents which have now become renowned as important historical events in our country’s consciousness. The choice of title is apt as throughout the course of his life Gandhi is trying out new methods that test his endurance. He calls them experiments.

Would you have revered him so much if you were told that Gandhi was a wife beater? I was shocked when I read his candid description of his father’s death. He admits that his lust for his wife robbed him of the opportunity of being by his father’s bedside in his dying moments. He beat his wife in his teens as he was away for extended periods of time for studies and was a jealous and possessive husband for the short durations that he spent at home, flying into a rage at the slightest incident.

Gandhi mellows considerably with age and by the time he reaches his late 30s his transformation into an almost saint like personality is complete. As a reader you grow to understand that he is at one level someone who is constantly trying out new things. He goes on a full nut diet, tries out extreme forms of fasting, all in the quest of understanding health and aspects related to it better. His evolution into a man geared for public service runs parallel to his increasingly distant relationship with his wife. Later on in the book he repeats many times of how much he loves his wife but that the nature of his love has changed considerably over time. He embraces abstinence and encourages others to do so as well though the motivation according to him was to limit the size of his growing family. He also wanted to experiment and see if he can live amidst material comforts and still remain disconnected with them.

This makes me wonder, if a woman would treat her husband in the same way as he treated his wife then would she have been revered in the similar fashion that Gandhi is? Why is it alright for a man to be irresponsible about his wife and kids’ welfare but the same behaviour by a woman is condemned. Doesn’t she have any say in the decision that impacts both of them? Is that fair on his part?

While I read the book my heart went out to Gandhi’s wife who gets no say in almost all his decisions. She is either a silent spectator or a weeping desolate woman. Over time though she emerges and becomes his pillar of support who looks up to her husband and revers him. All the while however she remains an utterly powerless individual who is always on the sidelines.

Gandhi’s children seem to occupy even less of his thoughts. In their initial years he is mostly away from them.when they are growing up he is keen on making them model children all the while giving a complete disregard to what they like. This is in complete contrast to Gandhi’s own personality which thrived on freedom of thought, speech and action. He did not follow what was taught to him, rather he at all points seeks more information to gain a complete mastery over the subject and then come to a conclusion.

To a book lover I would say that the autobiography will not always be a page turner and would demand your patience. It will however be a revelation and show you facets of Gandhi’s personality that you never knew existed. It is a good example to understand how far our history text books are from reality.


Feminism and things connected to it have come to be sniggered upon. In cities the general perception is that we have come a long way from the age when girls and boys were considered unequal. I often wonder if we really have come that far? I have been born into a family where I have not faced any gender bias so I do not connect with the feminist movements on a personal level. However there are issues that as girls or women we face that makes us feel that even now the gender bias is deeply ingrained not just in our day to day interactions but on a far deeper level.

I am going to go with this blog post into a territory that I have not written about before. Today while I was reading Times of India’s ‘Crest’ edition which had a cover story on feminist movements, I was reminded of Eve Ensler’s path breaking play- ‘The Vagina Monologues’. A scandalous name for sure but when I saw the play a year back at the Prithvi theatre in Mumbai, I was more sensitized than scandalized. The play resonates with every woman of a generation back for whom just the word ‘vagina’ would be blasphemous, let alone be something they would talk about.

Cast of the Indian adaptation of Eve Ensler’s path breaking play ‘The Vagina Monologues’

I say a generation back because our society today is a lot more open to debates and discussions. To those wondering what the play is about- I’m sure you will Google search it any way. However to still give you a gist, it is a compilation of a number of stories of women belonging to different ethnic backgrounds. The play, in a humorous way touches on issues ranging from rape and molestation to being comfortable in one’s own bodies.

It raised so many issues that we shy away from talking about but the recurrent theme was that as women we have to first learn to accept and love ourselves. Women in our so-called modern society too are victims of violence and crimes mainly sexual in nature. This is not just restricted to certain parts of the world but is a universal issue.

In a war zone women gain prominence in ways that are not so pleasant. What I mean is that in cultures across the world, a woman’s body is associated with ‘honour’. It naturally means that in a war or situation of conflict, to harm the enemy, you attack where it hurts the most. Every woman your enemy holds dear becomes the target.

‘RAPE’ is the biggest war crime according to a report by United Nations, not because people are starved of physical intimacy but because it is symbolic of hurting a man’s pride.

Herein lies the first bias. It is assumed that the man owns the woman, so to be able to be intimate with another man’s woman is to attack him in more than just one way. It is also an attack that the woman cannot redeem herself from, she merely ends up being a pawn in the larger scheme of things.

She is not punished for who she is but rather for who she ‘belongs’ to.

Being a mass media student I understand one thing. Media is a reflection of society at any given point of time. That also gives me the evidence that as a society we are opening up to debates about issues related to women and do not just brush them under the carpet anymore. One example is the earliest advertisements of sanitary napkins (yeah I’m going talk about that as well 😛 ).

The plot would be very simple. A worried girl would come running to her mother and whisper something into her ears. A crease would form on the mother’s forehead. Time for the product to make an entrance! The advertisement would then end with everyone smiling. Nobody would even use the word ‘period’, let alone discuss it. Times have changed and how! Such advertisements are now are a thing of the past and so is the stigma, at least in the city that I live in.

Biology has created two different sexes in the animal kingdom for a majority of species. Society is simply trying to strike a balance with that basic fact. We will make mistakes but eventually every society chooses a system for itself. If you agree with the majority view then all is well. But if you beg to differ from the masses, therein lays a problem. What is right and what is wrong is always subjective.

Entrepreneurs are a very inspiring bunch of people. Being brought up in a house

Image by: Stock Xchange

where both my parents hold regular jobs, business and everything associated with it was not something I knew much about. In the past few months since I began covering businesses and interviewing entrepreneurs, I have learnt and observed a lot about this group. I think there are certain things about entrepreneurs that stand out. Here is what I have observed in my short stint in this beat so far.

Passion

This is one thing that every entrepreneur whether young or old has an ample supply of. They can go on and on talking about their ventures. When they talk about their ideas for the business and share their vision with you, they almost will you to believe every word they have uttered. And guess what? You actually do. Most of the times I am so impressed by the concept and the passion the person has for the job that I find myself fervently hoping that they taste success very soon.

Vision

You will almost never find an entrepreneur without a vision. This is the hallmark of an entrepreneurial soul. He/She will always have grand plans and in their mind they have a crystal clear understanding of where they want to see their company 1,5,10 years from now. Believe me they ALWAYS have a plan. The vision may or may not culminate into a reality but it is always there.

Gender neutral

Whether it is a male or a female entrepreneur who is handling the venture, the spirit remains the same. Both of them are equally driven and passionate. Both of them can be stubborn, adamant and hard task masters when needed. I find both the sexes equally competent in the interactions that I have had with them so far. The only exception is that married woman entrepreneurs have to walk a tightrope between maintaining a balance between their personal and professional life while the family puts up with a workaholic male entrepreneur, though grudgingly.

Workaholics!

I am yet to meet an entrepreneur who works 5 days a week. Holidays are a taboo. They will all say, “It is tough. Our families always complain that we are never around!” But does that mean that they will take a few days off? Never! Holidays are the bane of their existence. They might dream of a time off but will never do so.  So any girl reading this- Beware! You will always be secondary to his business and he is likely to shower you with gifts but not the one thing that you would desire the most- his time.

Time

You want to learn the value of time? Ask them. They might have been the sloppiest of people while in college but not so with their business. Forget the old Hindi movies about a father lecturing the son about the value of time. They can do a 100 times better job than that.

Once you strike a conversation with an entrepreneur you will always come out of the room inspired and in awe of their vision.

Screwed Nuts N Bolts

"An idle engineer's mind leads to a screwed up blog."- Anonymous