Tag: Social issues

Celebrate Gently

Celebrate Gently

Last year I wrote a story about Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations in my column “Out and About” in The Times of India, Thane Plus, in which I urged readers to celebrate gently. I feel its relevance has not diminished and therefore I am reproducing the story here.

Celebrate Gently
(First published in The Times of India, Thane Plus on 26 August 2006)

Last year, on the sixth day of Ganapati Mahotsav, a truck carrying an idol was proceeding towards immersion. The reveling children and adults were dancing to loud music and throwing gulaal (red colour powder) on passers-by. As this writer overtook the truck in his car, some of the ecstatic celebrators tossed some colour, which landed on his windshield, blocking the view partially. Fortunately, it covered only the passenger side of the windshield. If the colour would’ve landed on the driver’s side, it could’ve led to a disaster on the road, risking the lives of pedestrians and of passengers in other vehicles.

Every year the twin cities of Thane and Mumbai celebrate Lord Ganesha’s birthday with vigour. Millions are spent on extravagant pandals, ornate idols complete with themes and contests marking the ten-day festival. Immersions too are grand affairs with devotees dancing all the way to tunes produced by a combination of large drums, banjo, keyboard and other musical instruments. With so much show of devotion, the Lord of Prosperity would be pleased with Mumbai devotees. So what if in the process of celebrating, the devotees cause irreversible damage to His creation? So what if they disturb the peace of their neighbourhood, cause traffic obstructions and create impediments for ordinary passers-by who are trying to reach home after a hard day’s work? These are trivialities that the Lord will obviously overlook. Or will He?

The world over, and especially in India, people spend a lot of energy in trying to please God by celebrating religious festivals lavishly. To be sure, there’s nothing wrong in celebrating per se, even celebrating lavishly. It is only when these celebrations take on a competitive nature, with everyone vying to please God that the problems begin. It does not require a high level of IQ to understand that you cannot bribe your way through to earn the blessings of the almighty, the Creator, the omnipotent.

Bigger idols and brighter colours are often made from substances that pollute the environment and harm Mother Nature, which God created with such love. Loud music creates noise pollution that has been found to be harmful to humans in the long run. And nothing, not even celebration of the Lord’s birthday, justifies the inconvenience that all this causes to millions of residents, both believers and non-believers.

It strikes one as ironical that devotees create impediments for others in the name of the very God who is known as the “Remover of Impediments.” Such is the inconsideration displayed by some of the devotees of the Lord that they need Supreme Court rulings to prevent them from blasting music after 10 pm, so that senior citizens and those suffering from high blood pressure can get sound sleep. Come to think of it, it must have been Lord Ganesha who, in the guise of the Supreme Court judges, gave the 10 pm ruling, in order to protect His other devotees – the ones who express their gratitude silently – while the noisy devotees indulge in reckless extravagance to earn brownie points.

Let’s take a pledge this year to be more considerate towards God’s creations – both Mother Nature and Her people. We can do so by acquiring only idols made of clay, keeping noise pollution in check, by immersing the idols at home in a bucket of water, and by celebrating Lord Ganesha’s birthday in the spirit of love for all humanity. Let’s pray for greater peace in the world and seek His blessings for a better world.

Link to the original article

High Life

High Life

They are beautiful. They’re rich. They are famous. But the similarity doesn’t end there. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Richie have other things in common…like being booked for drunken driving, doing drugs, serving prison terms and going for rehabilitation.

To common folk, these girls have a dream life: looks to die for, good fortune, wealth, fame, fan-following. Or do they?

Having to go to rehab at 20 is not exactly the kind of life anyone would want. But maybe I am old-fashioned, conservative, or even downright boring! “High life” is about taking the risk, get on a high, and indulging in all that is proscribed — after all life’s nothing if not adventurous. Going by this logic, these girls are living their lives to the fullest, aren’t they?

To me, life is a constant high. Unlike what abusing artificial stimulants and substances produce in us, life’s challenges produce a genuine high. Its varied trials, tests and hardships make it adventurous. Its unpredictability makes it risky.

Perhaps the irony is that these are the very things that are missing from the lives of these rich and famous girls. They get everything on a platter. For them, life is easy. They have lived, and are living, a life of utmost comfort. No worries or challenges whatsoever — at least not the kind we common folk have. They have nothing to look forward to. If life is simply great all the time, it becomes monotonous. Much like, if there was only happiness, it would quickly lose meaning because there isn’t anything to compare it with.

The following extract from Tao Te Ching (The Book of The Way) by Lao-Tzu sums up the irony:

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad

Being and non-being create each other
Difficult and easy support each other
Long and short define each other
High and low depend on each other
Before and after follow each other

So, essentially, opposites define each other. And, too easy a life loses definition. I suspect that Lindsay & Co have too much of a good thing going for them — so much so that they get bored of it and therefore “manufacture” worries and challenges to make their lives interesting. When I ponder on what makes celebrities do drugs, indulge in outrageous acts, or break the law (à la our own Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt and Fardeen Khan), I am tempted to veer towards thinking that they create their own problems to keep their lives exciting even though they may be doing so entirely unbeknownst to themselves.

Of course, this is just my hypothesis and I may be entirely wrong. But it’s worth thinking about…it makes me wonder whether our hardships and difficulties are a blessing in disguise?

Harvest

Harvest

The mind’s garden is fertile
As we sow, so shall we reap
A good seed produces a smile
A bad one makes us weep

Resentment leads to anger
Prejudice promotes hatred
Fear is a synonym for danger
Guilt kills before we’re dead

Doubts raise uncertainty
Envy is the root of pain
Blame generates toxicity
Is there anything we gain?

To avoid a harvest of weeds
We must plant noble seeds
Like those of genuine love
Blessed with grace from above

Love dissolves all sadness
Helps us deal with madness
Wipes away all the gloom
Causes the garden to bloom

So what would we rather breed,
A love seed or a hostile weed?

~© Manoj Khatri~

Reform better than mere punishment?

Reform better than mere punishment?

So finally, after 14 long years, sentences in the 1993 Mumbai serial bomb blasts case have been announced and all the accused, including the high-profile film star Sanjay Dutt, have been convicted. The punishments vary—from death sentences to probation.

Everyone has an opinion on the judgement. I am no exception. I am sharing mine here.

After I heard about the conviction, I pondered: What is the purpose of punishments? The idea of punishment strikes me as odd. The law of the land is not about getting even, is it? I think the law is for protecting the society from anti-social elements. In my opinion, punishing people with death penalties or rigorous imprisonments doesn’t serve the larger goal of the society.

I am strongly in favour of reform and rehabilitation in place of punishment. We must aim at eliminating the crime, not the criminal. This is not to say that we leave criminals free to roam. By all means confine the convicted in closed spaces like jails. But give them an opportunity to get reformed. In fact, active steps should be taken towards changing the criminal’s bent of mind.

In my column, I have covered fragmented efforts of some jailors, police officers and NGOs in bringing reformist activities such as meditation camps to jails. Read All in the mind. Also read about Bihar Government’s initiative: Fresh move for reforms in jails.

However, the best-known reform activist I know of is Kiran Bedi, winner of the 1994 Ramon Magsaysay award, whose initiative of introducing Vipassana meditation brought about a change in the outlook of inmates of Tihar jail, one of Asia’s largest prisons. Bedi is definitely a role model for police officers anywhere in the world.

But initiatives like hers should be taken by the central government at the universal level. Every prison in the country should become a reform centre with one objective: eliminate crime.

Any opinions?

Petty Politics

Petty Politics

So finally we have the first woman president of India.

Shiv Sena declared that it supports the candidature of Ms Pratibha Patil because she is a Marathi woman. So now we choose presidents based on their mother tongue. And I thought India was a secular country, where things like caste, creed and religion didn’t matter.

The UPA chose Ms Patil as their presidential candidate because she would be the first woman president of India. So now we also choose presidents because of their gender.

And NDA did not support Ms Patil because it simply did what every opposition party always does—it opposed the candidate of the ruling alliance!

What about merit? Does that feature anywhere in the decision-making process?

If a meritorious candidate who is elected as President happens to be a woman from a specific region/religion, it is a matter of pride for the country—that we do not let gender/caste/language come in the way of merit. Unfortunately, the other way around seems to be happening. We’re letting issues like gender and caste overshadow merit. Will our politicians ever rise above petty politics?

A letter to Ms Sanghamitra Chakraborty

A letter to Ms Sanghamitra Chakraborty

Sanghamitra Chakraborty
Editor
Prevention (India Edition)

Dear Editor:

I was taken aback on reading your note in the latest (July 2007) issue of Prevention magazine (India Edition).

Here’s an extract of the note that I found particularly startling:

“I know of a man who had devised a simple way to sort his laundry. He would fling them on the wall in front of him. If they stuck, thanks to the grime, they were ready for a wash. If they didn’t, he would use them until they did.”

From this you conclude that “men are wired differently” and that “men don’t waste their time fussing about cleanliness”.

You also go on to call the July issue of Prevention a “user’s guide to men”. You seem to have decoded men in entirety.

I am sorry to say but this is the worst kind of gender-based over-generalisation I have read in my life.

First, you have simply declared that “men” care little about cleanliness.

Ms. Chakraborty, just because you happen to know an unkempt, scruffy man who doesn’t wash his clothes till they become “sticky” doesn’t mean that all men do the same. Far from it…in fact there are as many men out there who fuss about cleanliness as there are women.

Then, you mention men not being interested in “cooking elaborate meals”. I would like to draw your attention to an interesting statistic: 79 percent of all lead kitchen positions including chefs are men; and these guys cook nothing if not elaborate meals. Not that it makes any difference. Chefs or not, if you ask me, cooking elaborate meals is a matter of personal interest and has nothing to do with gender.

If I sound like I am writing in defence of men, then I am not. I am only writing against gender-based over-generalisation.

To prove my point, let me give you an example of another common and absurd over-generalisation – this one stacked against women:

“Men are better and safer drivers than women”.

You’d be pleasantly surprised to know that in 1998, American women caused only 27 percent of fatal crashes while American men caused the rest. (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, USA)

Moving on, the article you refer to in your editor’s note (Steal His Routine, Prevention, July 2007) is equally absurd. It says:

“Guys go from fast asleep to ready for work in 20 minutes flat.”

Are you kidding? It takes me at least, and I mean at the very least, an hour to get ready for work from the time I wake up! I prefer two though. I know many of my male friends who need similar timelines to get ready in the mornings. On the other hand, some of my female friends are quicker to get ready.

Any kind of over-generalisation only reflects prejudice. Physiological differences are all right. But behavioural differences between men and women are not rules. I think it is unbecoming of a magazine like Prevention to take such a biased view of half of the world’s population. I hope you prevent such a prejudiced view of the world in your future editions.

Unbiased,
Manoj Khatri

Manifesting our reality

Manifesting our reality

I am thinking, who am I and why am I here? I am thinking, what is my purpose in life? I am thinking, am I only a puppet or do I have any control over my life and my environment?

Most of the times events in life make us feel that we are merely acting out a script, with little, if any, scope to change anything. But then there are those life-changing moments that force you to think otherwise. We are living, breathing miracles. We have the power to shape our destinies. We have forgotten that we have this gift, this remarkable ability to manifest our thoughts into matter.

I have, several times in my life, experienced miracles. Real Magic. I label them as miracles because they do not have a scientific explanation and they were not “mere coincidences”, which is what narrow minded scientists would have us believe.

When I think about those miracles, I realise that I am more than just a puppet with a pre-ordained destiny. I am capable of changing, influencing my life and my environment too. In tangible terms.

The question then arises: Does thought influence matter?

Yes.

At the sub-atomic level, all that appears to be matter is empty space and energy waves vibrating at a certain frequency…controlled by an unknown, but intelligent force.

When German Physicist Max Plack received his Nobel Prize, he said this in his acceptance speech: “As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clear-headed science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research into atoms this much. There is no matter, as such. All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of the atom to vibration. I must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter”

I like the phrase “conscious and intelligent mind”. If Planck is right, then isn’t it possible that thoughts might have to power to create matter? With the current levels of scientific understanding, it is difficult to answer how. But I have experienced its truth in an incontrovertible way. That’s why I am confident that my thoughts are potent. And so are yours. The choice lies equally with every individual…we can use this power to bring about a positive change in our lives and the lives of our loved ones…or use it to succumb to fear and worry…or worse still, use it to manipulate and victimise vulnerable others.

At the larger level, whether you’re beggar or a king, a poor farmer or a rich businessman, a politician or a terrorist, a spiritual man or an atheist, each of us have the choice to influence this world through our thoughts. If enough of us direct our thoughts towards world peace, for instance, then lasting peace may no longer be a dream.

Traders of Fear

Traders of Fear

As a novice in poetry, I love experimenting. So I decided to write a poem on World Environment Day (being observed today).

The cars on roads are swarming
The deforestation too is alarming
The rising CO2 levels are harming
Is this leading to global warming?

The amount of fuel being burned
Along with trees being upturned
Oh! environmentalists are concerned
So should consumption be governed?

Politicians are churning money
Making hay while it is all sunny
Though scientists don’t find it funny
Then, is all the clamour phoney?

Some questions in mind arise
Why exactly do temperatures rise?
Are these alarms false outcries
of profiteers from Fear Enterprise?

Isn’t our planet older than mankind?
Hasn’t it survived many a tough grind?
Though species have grown and declined,
doesn’t it continue to be streamlined?

~© Manoj Khatri~

Global warming — truth or politicised science?

Global warming — truth or politicised science?

It is World Environment Day [WED] on June 05, 2007. This year’s WED theme is “Melting Ice – A hot topic?”

Why is ice melting? Because of global warming. And what is global warming? Simply put, it means hotting up of our beloved planet.

Some say it is because of the rising temperatures on Earth. The cause: deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, leading to a drastic increase in CO2 levels, which in turn is trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Some others say global warming is politicised science at its worst—that global warming is a myth. I am inclined to agree with this set of people, in spite of overwhelming sentiment in favour of the former.

But whatever the truth, alarmists have reason to rejoice! Because this year they have succeeded in spreading the paranoia to the UNEP. There is little doubt that such a theme as “Melting Ice – A hot topic?” will propagate terror among the already worried peoples of the world. But doomsayers, who have been predicting that global warming is going to destroy planet Earth, should perhaps do some homework.

Here are some interesting links that will explain why I choose to be on the “politically incorrect” side of the debate:

Green Myths On Global Warming — Debunked

Laying Ten Global Warming Myths

Myths of Global Warming

Common Misconceptions About Global Warming

Top 10 ‘Global-Warming’ Myths

Celebrating Womanhood

Celebrating Womanhood

On March 08, the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD). Newspapers, TV and radio channels and even hoardings were shouting hoarsely about the importance of Women’s Day. Most of it was empty rhetoric — lip service, if you will.

I wonder what the true significance of the day is. When I ask someone why it is celebrated, I get answers such as “to celebrate the power of women”, “to emphasise the role of women in the modern world”, or even “to establish the superiority of women”. Lofty objectives, those! What I fail to understand is: how can one token day in the whole year help achieve them?

Here’s what I think:
Women, who comprise approximately 50% of us, are far too important to us than what one single day can highlight. By dedicating one day in the year to them, aren’t we doing gross injustice to their contribution to our society, our lives? Women are mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, bosses, subordinates, teachers, friends and so much more. In highly evolved cultures, women are worshipped. Womanhood ought to be celebrated every single day.

Nature has bestowed certain unique qualities to both genders. These qualities are complementary, not opposed. For instance, women bring a fine balance to our world with their compassion and love, which they can express more easily than men. If men are physically stronger, emotionally women are stronger — they are able to withstand pressures with more grace. Men and women complete each other and fulfil the universal law of polarity.

I feel observing Women’s Day the way it’s done these days is more like acknowledging that women are a weaker sex. It’s like “let’s give them one day in the year to rejoice womanhood, let’s give them a day to air their voices”. If this is not tokenism, then what is it?

Upon researching, I found that IWD was first observed exactly 100 years ago as a collective voice against the lopsided social mores of the times. The social repression of women continues in many parts of the world. But if the objective of Women’s Day is to make our society more sensitive to women’s issues, and to bring some balance, then we are missing the point. Judging by media’s slant, Women’s Day has become an occasion to bring out the differences between men and women. I found that so many stories in the newspapers were about how women are greater, better, or superior than their male counterparts. Many others were about how some women have made it great in the world dominated by men.

I read one story that revolved around a social issue. It was Shabana Azmi’s guest piece in The Times of India, which focussed on the declining sex ratio across India. She opines that, among other initiatives, offering incentives to couples that have girl children would be a good way to set the gender ratio right. Seems like a noble idea but I don’t feel comfortable with it. I don’t like the idea that couples will now have girl children because of some external monetary incentives. I would like to think that the only reason anyone would want daughters is because daughters are blissful! They are a gift of love from God, from nature. They are little bundles of joy. They are warm sunlight. They are fairies and angels. These are the real incentives for having daughters.

Coming back to Women’s Day, I think the original significance of the day is lost. IWD is now simply a commercial opportunity that individuals and companies exploit to create an impression, to establish a “connect” with half of their target audience — the better half! (Incidentally, the advertisers and sponsors of most women-oriented features were cosmetics and jewellery companies.)

Let’s stop trivialising women by observing a day in their honour. I am not suggesting that we turn a blind eye towards women’s issues. In fact, they deserve more attention than what we can offer in one token day. Much more…