Handling criticism

Heard some good words on TV that I really liked, so am writing this piece. Many of us have difficulty handling criticism. We all like hearing good things said about ourselves. Common wisdom says that we should criticise (constructively) in private, and praise (lavishly) in public. Yet, there are times when we hear ourselves or our near or dear ones criticized or gossiped about, which leaves us or the person pained and hurt. There are two kinds of criticism – one in front of us (on our face), one behind your back. Critisism or talk that makes fun of us done in our absence is called gossip. Why do we gossip? Some of us consider it a good past-time, some of us are compelled by habit to take on the role of BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), while most of us (I’d like to believe) do it unintentionally. I am intolerant to criticism or gossip behind my back. I guess most of us are. I’d much rather somebody comes and tells me directly what he/she has to, and I’ll try to improve (or find out what is bothering the person and sort things out). Many of us learn to take and learn from constructive criticism. But can we always take it? How about if somebody is to come and hurl abuses at us right on our face? Heard a guy on TV (an Engineer turned Hindu religious figure) tell what Kabir (a fifteenth century Indian religious reformer who reached out to the hearts of Hindus and Muslims alike) had to say about criticism. He quoted Kabir as preaching that we should be thankful of our critics. The message can be interpreted as follows.

We should be thankful when we have critics and if someone criticises us because they serve as ‘free washing machines or a free dry cleaner’ (he used the term ‘dhobi’, which means a man who washes clothes). Just as a dhobi (or a washing machine) cleanses our clothes of dirt, a critic helps cleanse our hearts and soul. He/she prevents us from getting too proud, and helps keep us grounded. Kabir, apparently, even said that if he had an empty house opposite his own, he would get his biggest critic, perhaps even pay him, to come and stay opposite his house. Then, each time, as he would leave and enter his house, the critic would help cleanse his soul and prevent false pride from seeping in.

Something to ponder about! Not advocating that we go and start criticising today, thinking that we are doing a favour. In fact, it is said in Hindi "Vaani se kabhi kisi ko kasht na pahunchao" (never hurt someone with your words, at least try not to). The message from Kabir is how to view and handle people/the situation if and when somebody criticizes us.

Rang De Basanti Critique Competition

On Sep 22, the Society for South Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore organized a movie screening of "Rang De Basanti" at LT29. I was one of the participants who had to provide a critique based on the theme, "Do you support the actions taken by the lead actors?". The theme was given out before the movie started. The audio quality in the LT (Lecture Theatre) was excellent. Apart from the obvious young Indian crowd, a couple of local Chinese and Caucasian faces were also to be seen. Though watching it for the second time, I loved every moment of the movie, as I made my notes on what to speak. It was an excellent audience too, with a palpable vibrancy in the air that suggested each person watching was really proud of the movie (as if having a personal stake) and was enjoying every moment of it – something one rarely gets to see in a movie theatre. There were bits of verbal interaction as well. When a dejected DJ (with a stress on D..DDDDJ..Aamir Khan) says he doesn’t know what to do, I heard a voice behind me say "NUS mein aa kar research kar le" (come to NUS and pursue research). I laughed and cried with the movie. When DJ lights the funeral pyre of his pilot friend, I imagined my cousin Sanjay doing the same in Jalpaiguri that day, who lost his father (my mousaji – Bidya mousi’s husband) a day before. When the movie ended, it witnessed a standing ovation from all present. The organizers announced that refreshments would be served outside, but only after the critique competition was over. The students (mostly) sat back and watched. Each speaker was to be given 3 minutes to present the critique, followed by 2 minutes of Q&A. Two out of the first three speakers presented arguments saying they did not support the actions taken by the lead actors. One girl said when DJ and his friends reach the radio station, they should not have pointed guns against innocent people. On being questioned if they’d have been allowed to go and disrupt a large radio station without using guns, she said, perhaps they could have pointed guns to the security guard but not to the people inside. The response from the audience was lukewarm. One speaker said he was confused as to whether they did the right thing or not. Then came a fourth speaker, who went forth and declared, "I totally support the actions taken by the lead actors. I am no Gandhi fan…and this is the only way which actually works". He went on to say how non-violence didn’t work in the recent protests by medical students against reservations at premier Indian educational institutions. The audience clapped and cheered. I was the last speaker. Following is a gist of what I said:

My name is Naresh Kumar Agarwal and I am a Research Assistant and a 2nd year PhD Candidate at the Dept. of Information Systems, School of Computing. To answer whether I support the actions taken by the lead actors, I’d say that I totally support the actions taken by the lead actors in the movie, but to say whether you or I should do the same, I’d say "No". When I first watched the movie, and having been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi all along, I went through a dilemma whether the method advocated in the movie was correct. Mahatma Gandhi has said, "Be the change you want to see in the world". After much thought, I concluded that Rang de Basanti does not advocate the method, but rather, the courage to take on the responsibility for bringing about change, to take responsibility for the state of things in your country rather than simply blaming the other, to question and resist injustice, to follow the truth. Mahatma Gandhi has said that there are three possible responses to oppression and injustice: First is the coward’s way – to accept the wrong or to run away from it. Second possible response is to stand and fight by force of arms. Gandhi said this was better than acceptance or running away. So in the movie, given the option of not doing anything against injustice versus seeking redemption through the violent way, I’d say the violent way is preferable. But the third and the best method of all, and one which requires the most courage, is to stand and fight solely by non-violent means. In this non-violent method, violence is present, but it is not directed against the other person, only to yourself. The actors in RDB also went on a candle-light vigil to India Gate in a non-violent manner. Only when it didn’t work did they adopt violence. The lesson to imbibe from the movie is not voilence, but rather the responsibility to bring about change (instead of cowardly accepting or running away from the state of things). The following is inscribed on a tomb in Westminister Abbey "When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamt of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world." The biggest message of RDB is to be able to change youself. And for this, you don’t really require violence, but rather, compassion for those around you. HH the Dalai Lama has said, "To experience genuine compassion is to develop a feeling of closeness to others combined with a sense of responsibility for their welfare. This develops when we accept that other people are just like ourselves in wanting happiness and not wanting suffering." (I didn’t say the Dalai Lama quote in the actual speech). A previous speaker mentioned that the actors used a personal loss as pretext to rise up against injustice, which she said is not correct. I disagree. One spark is enough to bring about change in a person – "Aag hai mujhmein kahin". That spark could be anything, if a personal loss helps you bring out the fire in you, so be it. If watching this movie helps spark the fire within, why not! So while we go out and do what we do – pursue research, strive to rise in our jobs, whether we are in our country or outside it, when we spend lifetimes wanting to go and buy the next car, that condo out there, and worrying about me, myself, my spouse and my children, let us strive to do something worthwhile for our country. "Ab bhi jiska khoon na khoula, wo khoon nahin hai paani hai. Jo bhi desh ke kaam na aaye, wo bekar jawaani hai"! (Translation, not mentioned in speech: even now if someone’s blood does not boil, that is not blood but water. Anybody who does nothing for his/her country, that is a wasted youth).

During the Q&A session, somebody asked me, "So do you believe in Mahatma Gandhi or in Rang de Basanti". I replied,

"I believe in Mahatma Gandhi and I believe in Rang de Basanti. And I see no contradiction."

The first four consolation prizes announced didn’t include my name. I was declared the Winner.

Time to mourn – my hope for India on death-bed

I am angry. No, I am very angry. I don’t get angry easily. But this time, I really am. For the first time in my 11 years outside India, I question whether I am indeed fortunate to be outside? Whether it is at all worthwhile to go back to the muck and dirt? I am not referring to the dirt on the roads – which can be cleansed. I am talking about the dirty minds of power hungry leaders who are collaborating the sunset of all things good in India. With ALL political parties unopposed to reservations, with our economist prime minister silent/supportive of the issue, with our scientist president appealing Medical students to call off their strike – it appears to be death bed of all hope of India rising, of India actually shining. If such qualified people were not at the helm of affairs in our Parliament, there would have been a potential to blame. It is precisely the inability of good, qualified people to fight the murkiness of vote-bank politics that is seeing the death of meritocracy in India. The implementation of 50% reservation for the elite "OBC – other backward classes" section of Indian students in India’s premier educational institutions, while leaving deserving students from other sections to scramble for seats has the danger of: – Bringing down the quality of education and hence the name of these instituitions – Furthering the caste divide in India – Power hungry politicians dividing and ruling the masses – … Mourn…its time for condolences…for hope for a better India lies in the death-bed, betrayed by its best "Et tu Manmohan, then fall India"!

On reservation

Even since there has been renewed talk of increased reservation for other backward classes in premier Indian educational institutions, there has been an intense debate going on. In my view, it is hardly a matter of debate – just a matter of populist measures trying to cure the symptoms rather than the disease, and garner more votes in the process. On the one hand, India is slowly but surely finding its rightful place in top league, with its economy doing well and people in general being able to afford more. This should be a catalyst for the political spectrum to try and change old mindsets – to make people take more responsibility for their lives and their country – and get away with the ‘chalta hai’ attitude. But no, the very man who has inititated economic reforms in India heads an executive that now wants to turn our educational institutions into symbols of mediocrity where you are judged not based on your merit but the surname that goes behind your name. If affirmative action is required to pull people along, provide them free training/coaching – help them to compete, instead of turning them into second-class citizens with a carrot of special privileges. Continue reading for a counter-argument as to why reservation should be supported (expressed by somebody in a Rediff message board):

"I think we should have job reservations in all the fields. I completely support the PM and all the politicians for promoting this. Let’s start the reservation with our cricket team. We should have 10 percent reservation for Muslims. 30 percent for OBC, SC/ST like that. Cricket rules should be modified accordingly. The boundary circle should be reduced for an SC/ST player. The four hit by an OBC player should be considered as a six and a six hit by a OBC player should be counted as 8 runs. An OBC player scoring 60 runs should be declared as a century. We should influence ICC and make rules so that the pace bowlers like Shoaib Akhtar should not bowl fast balls to our OBC player. Bowlers should bowl maximum speed of 80 kilometer per hour to an OBC player. Any delivery above this speed should be made illegal. Also we should have reservation in Olympics. In the 100 meters race, an OBC player should be given a gold medal if he runs 80 meters."

I’m sure most of us would agree on these recommendations for reservations ;-) The only ‘reservation’ I have is that the list could have been longer!

Mahabir dadaji?€™s passing

Mahabir dadaji, my grandfather’s brother died last night – 12 Mar 2006. He was perhaps nearing 90. I remember sometime after Ajay daju’s wedding when he was quite serious and we had gone to meet him. That was in 2001. He lived a full 5 years after that. My own grandfather had died 24 years ago when I was in L.K.G. in TNA and incidently, Mahabir dadaji’s youngest son came to pick us from school, telling us that we were to go for a movie or picnic. On another March evening in 1986, 20 years ago, I had lost my grandmother. Mahabir dadaji was the last among the 4 sons of my great-grandfather Brijlal Kandoi to go. When I called to express my condolences, I was told, "Haan, shareer pooro ho gayo" (which was a strange sentence to hear, but which implied something like his body had reached its limit). He had apparently fallen down and was unable to sleep well, and not keeping too well for a while. He was there for my wedding as well. The last interaction I had with him was during my trip to India in Dec 2005 when he was sitting in front of our house and Ma had asked me to pass a glass of tea to him. When I was part of a discussion in his house a couple of years ago, I’d realised that he knew a lot about my family history, and how my great-grandfather and his brothers arrived and settled in Sikkim sometime around 1902. I had thought it would be great to document his thoughts and knowledge. Another episode I remember was when his wife, and my father’s aunt died. That was many years ago too, perhaps late 1980s. There was a big crowd of onlookers gathered near the stairs leading to his house (as normally happens in a small town like Gangtok whenever something happens anywhere). I was somewhere in that crowd. Incidently, Mahabir dadaji was around there too. Then, some passer by remarked, "Ko maryo ho?" (an off-the hand remark in Nepali, meaning "Who died?"). Mahabir dadaji replied, "Mero jaan theyo" ("she was my wife" – the Nepali word ‘jaan’ is a perhaps a slang for wife, but which literally means ‘life’ – so the meaning can be construed as ‘she was my life’). This brings me to another issue – the life of old people when they lose a spouse. The sons and daughters are married by then and busy with their careers and families. Two people who have gotten old are in-sync with each other and often out-of-sync with the ways of the changing world (of which their children are a part). I remember how Archana’s grandfather cried before us when we visited them in Darjeeling, saying he’s scared for his wife (who is bed-ridden after a stroke), if something were to happen to him. He said its alright if she (his wife) goes first, but he’s scared of he being the first one to leave. When Singapore’s first foreign minister and one of its founding father, Mr. S. Rajarathnam died last month, Singapore President S.R. Nathan was quoted as saying how Raja never quite recovered since he lost his wife in 1989. A newspaper report said how when his memory started failing, he used to put notes on his wife’s photo to remind himself of undying love. Strange, scary, insecure…a lot of people go through all kinds of thoughts and phases…valiantly dealing with life to the best of their abilities…and as Reza said to me on the phone, after he was back burying his grandmother, who died last December, "Everybody goes bhaai! Everybody has to go one day!"

India gets her due!

On Mar 3, 2006, President George Bush of America made a speech on the grounds of Purana Qila in Delhi (built by Sher Sha Suri and used by Humayun) – a day after signing a historic accord for civilian nuclear cooperation with India. Here, I quote parts of the speech which I thought were very well worded (source: The White House)

"Over the past two days we’ve been grateful for your kind reception, touched by your warm hospitality, and dazzled by this vibrant and exciting land. I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the Indian people. I’m honored to bring the good wishes and the respect of the world’s oldest democracy to the world’s largest democracy. Tonight we stand on the ruins of an ancient city that was the capital of an Indian kingdom thousands of years ago. Today it is part of a modern Asian city that is the capital of one of the world’s great nations. At the heart of a civilization that helped give the world mathematics, cutting-edge businesses now give us the technology of tomorrow. In the birthplace of great religions, a billion souls of varied faiths now live side-by-side in freedom and peace. When you come to India in the 21st century, you’re inspired by the past, and you can see the future. India in the 21st century is a natural partner of the United States because we are brothers in the cause of human liberty. Yesterday, I visited a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, and read the peaceful words of a fearless man. His words are familiar in my country because they helped move a generation of Americans to overcome the injustice of racial segregation. When Martin Luther King arrived in Delhi in 1959, he said, ‘To other countries, I may go as a tourist, but to India, I come as a pilgrim.’ I come to India as a friend." "The partnership between the United States and India has deep and sturdy roots in the values we share. Both our nations were founded on the conviction that all people are created equal and are endowed with certain fundamental rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religion. Those freedoms are enshrined in law through our written constitutions, and they are upheld daily by institutions common to both our democracies — an elected legislature, an independent judiciary, a loyal political opposition, and, as I know well here in India, a lively free press. " "your economy has more than doubled in size since you opened up your markets in 1991. You’ve dramatically raised the living standards of your citizens. India’s middle class now numbers 300 million people, more than the entire population of the United States." "When your Prime Minister addressed the United States Congress, he said this: ‘We must fight terrorism wherever it exists, because terrorism anywhere threatens democracy everywhere.’ He is right. And so America and India are allies in the war against terror." "India has a Hindu majority, and one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. India is also home to millions of Sikhs and Christians and other religious groups. All worship freely in temples and mosques and churches all across this great land. Indians of diverse backgrounds attend school together and work together and govern your nation together. As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy, India is showing the world that the best way to ensure fairness and tolerance is to establish the rule of law. The best way to counter resentment is to allow peaceful expression. The best way to honor human dignity is to protect human rights. For every nation divided by race, religion or culture, India offers a hopeful path: If justice is the goal, then democracy is the way." "The world has benefitted from the example of India’s democracy, and now the world needs India’s leadership in freedom’s cause. As a global power, India has an historic duty to support democracy around the world." "In a few days, I’ll return to America, and I will never forget my time here in India. America is proud to call your democracy a friend. We’re optimistic about your future. The great Indian poet Tagore once wrote, ‘There’s only one history — the history of man.’ The United States and India go forward with faith in those words. There’s only one history of man — and it leads to freedom. May God bless India. "

Be the change you want to see in the world – the message of ?€˜Rang De Basanti?€™ (Paint ?€˜it?€™ Yellow)

After hearing and reading great reviews about it, Archana and I decided to steal time to watch ‘Rang De Basanti’ yesterday. The movie is unlike any other movie I’ve seen so far – I’m sure it will be counted among the landmark movies. Rang De Basanti The performances, one-liners, characters, the artistic feel were all excellent. The lines were real and funny: "yaar mera haath dekh kar bata na..love line kaisi hai"…"teri love line hai hi nahin…lagta hai bachpan mein chooran ke saath chat ke khaa gaya" "Ik pair future mein te ik pair past mein rakh ke aaj par moot rahe" (With one leg in the past and the other in the future we are peeing on the present) Reminded me of the funny lines in the 1997 Jack Nicholson movie, "As Good as it Gets". But above all, its the message of the movie which has perhaps made the most impact in the minds of those who have watched it. Felt my eyes swell up with tears as Atul Kulkarni recited Ram Prasad Bismil’s lines:

Sar faroshi ki tamanna ab hamaare dil mein hai, Dekhna hai zor kitna baazoo-e-qaatil main hai! Rahrav-e-raah-e-mohabbat reh na jaana raah mein, Lazzat-e-sahraa nawardi doori-e-manzil mein hai. Yoon khada maqtal mein qaatil keh raha hai baar baar, Kya tamanna-e-shahaadat bhi kisi ke dil mein hai Waqt aane par bataa dengey tujhe ai aasmaan, Hum abhi se kya bataayein kya hamaarey dil mein hai. Ae shaheed-e-mulk-o-millat terey jazbon par nissar, Teri qurbaani ka charcha ghair ki mehfil mein hai. Kheench kar laai hai sabko qatla hone ki ummeed, Aashiqon ka aaj jamghat kooncha-e-qaatil mein hai. Ek se karta nahin koi doosra koi bhi baat, Dekhta hoon main jise woh chup teri mehfil mein hai. [We are now raring to die for our country’s sake Let’s see how much of strength the assassin can display! O traveller on the path of love, do not drop mid-way, It is the distance of the goal that glorifies the chase. Standing by the gallows the hangman makes a call, Come, if there be any, by the martyr’s zeal enthralled. We’ll tell you all, O sky, wait till the time arrives, How can we at this stage, our secret plans unveil? O martyrs in the nation’s cause, kudos to your sacrifice. Even in the enemy camp they talk of you with praise. Fired by patriotic fervour, many a maddened youth Has gathered at the crossing, itching for the cross. Why are they mute and silent? no whisper, no talk, Everyone that I see has got his lips locked.]

I loved the movie throughout – there wasn’t a moment of time to think while watching the movie…but the after effect left me with a strange feeling. While ‘Dil Chahta hai’ and ‘Swades’ wowed me and filled me with joy, the feeling after ‘Rang de Basanti’ was strange. Yet it was as great a movie, if not greater. I was reminded of the line in Rajkumar Santoshi’s ‘The Legend of Bhagat Singh’ when there was an attempt at mocking Gandhi for not doing enough to save Bhagat Singh, when Naseeruddin Shah (portrayed as Gandhi) says, "Par mein hinsa ka saath nahin de sakta" (I can’t support violence). I felt myself repeating the same words at the end of the movie. The movie certainly got me thinking. And as you think, it sinks deeper into you. At the end of it, I concluded that the message of Swades (Gandhi) and Rang De Basanti (Bhagat Singh) was one and the most important to take home: "You must be the change you want to see in the world" (as said by Mahatma Gandhi). Rang De Basanti, in reality, does not advocate the method, but rather the courage to take on the responsibility for bringing about change. Read these lines by Michael Angier in Top Ten Things to Think About If You Want to Change the World: "The following is inscribed on the tomb of an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abby (1100 A.D.):

When I was young and free and my imagination had no limits, I dreamed of changing the world. As I grew older and wiser, I discovered the world would not change, so I shortened my sights somewhat and decided to change only my country. But it, too, seemed immovable. As I grew into my twilight years, in one last desperate attempt, I settled for changing only my family, those closest to me, but alas, they would have none of it. And now, as I lie on my deathbed, I suddenly realize: If I had only changed myself first, then by example I would have changed my family. From their inspiration and encouragement, I would then have been able to better my country, and who knows, I may have even changed the world."

I’ve written about the one spark needed to light your inner fire. Go watch ‘Rang de Basanti’. Who knows, it might just be the spark for you!

Loved the music of Hanuman – the animated movie

Sometime last month, came across the picture of the child Hanuman in the then, to-be released animated movie Hanuman. Both Archana and I thought that was the cutest depiction of Hanuman ever. Hanuman Hanuman Today, just thought we’ll see some clips from the movie. Saw the trailers Were mesmerized by the video clip featuring the energetic song Mahabali Maharudra sung by Shaan, Sonu Nigam, Palash Sen (Euphoria, Myari), Kailash Kher (Allah Ke Bande Hans de), Madhushree, Sneha Pant and Sapna Mukherjee (Trailer 3 at India FM). Not since I first heard Kabhi to Nazar Milao, Dil Se Re, Tadap Tadap Ke or Allah Ke Bande Hans De have I loved a song so much. Archana and I watched the clip almost 15-20 times back to back. It appeared like an India coming of age..the new mixing with old to create a lasting reverberation of harmony. If religion is to be taught to the new generation, this is the way….not by forcing it down people’s throats…like the reaction of a child coming out after watching the movie in the theatre, "No superman, batman for me…only Hanuman" Like saying, "I love you..I love you too…I love you three..I love you to the power infinity…I love you to the power Hanuman" The music overall is excellent, including the Hanuman chalisa, akdam bakdam, Jay Hanuman, Jay Bajrangbali… Okay..akdam bakdam..back to padhakam..exam in 1 weekam..

Importance of discussing PoK

On 21 Oct, TimeOfIndia brought out an article Google’s googly: PoK is shown as part of Pakistan! by Samiran Chakrawertti [ Friday, October 21, 2005 12:06:59 amTIMES NEWS NETWORK ] showing how on Google Earth, the part of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan in 1947/48 has been shown as part of Pakistan (which legally, as per the instrument of accession and as per the Indian constitution) is a part of India. There were a large number of comments on this article – many expressed concern, many said others like BBC, CNN and all are doing this as well and many others said, "So what! Indians should realise the reality and stop crying hoarse about something that we lost more than 50 years ago". My concern is with this last group – and other Indians who might be thinking this way. The reality today is that most Indians want peace and see the only solution to the Kashmir imbroglio as accepting LoC to be the de-facto international border. The problem is that whenever India and Pakistan want to discuss Kashmir and the possible solutions to it, a number of solutions are cited. Pakistan wants to discuss the part of Kashmir which is under us while India wants LoC to be made into a border. Fine, we want LoC to be the border (and live happily ever after), but there are certain things important in negotiations and bargaining – you can’t begin with your last price. If we are ready to settle for LoC as the border (and for an Indian map with the left ear cut off), we must begin our negotiations higher. Instead of letting Pakistan set the agenda at all international fora, we must be the one setting the agenda. Pakistan discusses what it calls "Indian-occupied Kashmir" or "Indian-held Kashmir" or "held Kashmir" (never mind that hardly any development took place in the so-called Azad Kashmir – alas, no one will find that out now – oh! there was a lot of development…all got destroyed in the quake) while India discusses LoC and soft borders. If Indians want to see the LoC as the border, they must be passionate about discussing PoK (and the word "occupied" here is important). Discuss PoK, only then can we have LoC as the solution, otherwise we might stand to lose more! Note: I’m happy that we were always taught the complete map of India in Geography lessons (including PoK and Aksai Chin). We realise today what has been lost and stands to be lost. A few years of exposure to the Internet and international media (with PoK being shown under Pakistan and Aksai Chin under China or as a separate disputed land), and many Indians are saying, "so what…this is always the case in maps shown outside India"