Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why should Indians care about Afghans ?

  1. Because the Sarod originated from the Afghan Rubab.
  2. Because Kabuliwala is one of the best stories penned by Tagore.
  3. Because Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Dileep Kumar, Sanjay Khan and Fardeen Khan are all born in Afghan immigrant families. 
  4. Because stalwart musician families such as those of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan have come from Afghanistan.
  5. Because Afghans have helped Netaji Subash Chandra Bose in his escape from the British, and in raising the Indian National Army.
  6. Because sculptures in Hindu temples owe to the Gandhara tradition of Afghans.
  7. Because Sher Shah Suri, the great reformer of India's administration, was an Afghan.
  8. Because Maulana Abul Kalaam Azad, who ended communal electorates and shaped India's  secularism, was born in an Afghan immigrant family.
  9. Because the Pathan brothers are the pride of India's cricket team.
  10. Because Bacha Khan  was a most loyal friend, and a brother in spirit, of Mahatma Gandhi.
There is a large amount of apathy amongst educated Indians about what's going on in Afghanistan and in the Pashtun provinces of Pakistan. Many people look upon this conflict in communal terms, as a problem of Islamists, which is very unfortunate. Innocent people are being murdered here by the fundamentalist Taliban, or by the Pakistani or American armies. Journalists, secular politicians and educated people are specifically being targeted. Afghan people are trapped in a nefarious network of religious extremists, drug mafia and geopolitical actors. 

Whatever aspirations that Afghans have about peace, democracy or prosperity are being crushed under the weight of this misfortune.  Indians need to be aware of this problem, and should stand in solidarity with the Afghan people. 

Monday, February 02, 2009

Shattered over the Internet

I hate buffet dinners. I get frantically confused when I am presented with an empty plate and a dozen dishes to pick from. I make the trivial choice - that is, I choose them all.

I put a tiny bit of each dish onto my plate. Quite usually, the plate is too small to hold all of them. Nevertheless, I manage to make room. The sauce of each dish slowly seeps into the rest, and the boundaries between the dishes become fuzzy.

When I start eating, I have no idea on what order to follow. I apply the round-robin algorithm - which is to say, I pick each dish by turns. After the first round is completed, I have a vague idea of what each dish is. But by now, all the sauces will have mixed up and formed a composite mixture : which is at the same time, sweet and sour, creamy and tangy, and bitter and salty.

I gobble this primordial soup in big gulps, and feel full in the stomach. But there remains the nasty feeling that I haven't eaten anything at all.

I made a very annoying observation today : that I am living an entire life which is equivalent to eating a buffet dinner. The culprit, since we always want to push the blame onto something else, is the internet.

Let me explain. The easiest example I can provide is that of browsing. Here comes the first confession. I am addicted to news websites. I keep checking them every minute and a half, just to keep myself abreast of the happenings in the world. It is almost as if the world would not function without me being aware of it. When I don't check the news for a long time (that is to say ten minutes), I feel as positively guilty as Atlas would have felt when he gave up his burden of carrying the world to Hercules.

Then comes my annoying habit of leaving comments on blogs. When I don't leave a comment, I get as restless as a dog which hasn't relieved itself.

Third comes my commitment to checking emails. Depending on the time of the day, I can survive from between five minutes to half an hour, without looking at my inbox. And I suffer from an odd feeling of loneliness when I find my inbox empty. To avoid this, I subscribe to several mailing lists (each of which I despise from the bottom of my heart) so that they can fill up my inbox as flowers (or cactuses) in a garden. However, these are not sufficient to fill up my inbox as rapidly as I need . So I also spend considerable amount of time looking at the spam folder.

Fortunately, I am not addicted to the curse of chatting with friends online. But if I were, I think this would have come fourth in the list.

Instead, the fourth addiction happens to be the browsing of wikipedia. Over the years, I have diligently swollen my head with several mega-bytes of wikipedia text. Usually, the wikipedia browsing occurs in tandem with checking for news. No person, place or activity mentioned on a news website will escape my referring to wikipedia to complement that information.

All these activities have transformed me into a new cyber-being which should be called me 2.0

If one might imagine the length of the day as an empty plate, me 2.0 fills it up with several hundreds of thousands of dishes : sweet and sour, creamy and tangy, and bitter and salty. In the end, me 2.0 feels full in the stomach. But there remains a nasty feeling, that me 2.0 has done nothing at all during the day.

In fact, this nasty feeling is very much the reality. The productivity of my work has drastically went down over the years.

However, the story is not just about work. My friends have transformed into their new cyber-version called friends 2.0. These days, most of my communication to friends happens via status messages on Facebook or via commenting on the status messages of others. My 2D circle of friends has evolved into a rapidly morphing 3D sphere where new objects dash in and fade away at lightning speeds. Nowhere is it more obvious than with the opposite sex. The amount of time that I stay interested in a girl (without actually beginning a relationship) has diminished exponentially.

Even with old friends who existed before web 2.0, I find myself communicating in odd packets of messages. I might chat utter junk for hours with someone, but serious issues such as wishing a dear friend on his wedding get condensed into one-liner emails ending with a smiley.

The same odd feeling permeates my communication with my parents and loved ones. If there exists a part of the brain which specializes in the prioritization of affairs, that little part of my brain is seriously in need of help (or more likely, in need of total replacement).

What is happening to me can only be described as an assault on my senses. I am bedazzled and boondangled by the amount of information that is thrust onto me. I have absolutely no clue on how to divide my finite attention span amongst the infinite. What worries me to the bone is that this is only going to get worse in the future. The technologies of the internet and virtual reality are growing at an exponential pace, and the processing power of the human brain has remained static.

In the good old days, which I can still recollect from my childhood (and that was barely ten to fifteen years ago), news is read in the morning in the papers, mail arrived by the post once a day (or once a month in the form of comic books, for the kid that I was), and knowledge is accumulated by reading books. Oh, how much I long for those days ! The duration of a day was divided as a nicely prepared meal of several courses.

But this is true no longer. Welcome to Buffet Lifestyle 2.0

We are desperately in need of a new thinking to channel our energies and to realize our potentials : in a new world that offers infinite possibilities for each one of us.