A name for an issue

Being able to give a name to a difficult experience or a problem can be incredibly powerful. It helps you make sense of the situation. It may still be hurtful and the solution may still be difficult or effortful. But naming the issue, without being judgmental about it, is the huge first step towards recovery or solution.

An example would be identifying that the cloud in your head that weighs you down all the time and wouldn’t let you feel anything close to happiness as depression. Once it has been named, you know that you aren’t doing anything wrong. You are suffering from a problem, and you can reach out for professional help to resolve it.

Similarly, realizing that a person you look up to is using your regard for them in a self-centered fashion causing harm to your emotional well-being or self-esteem, and hence they are a manipulative person and you are in an abusive relationship (this isn’t applicable only to romantic relationships), is the first step towards setting your guilts and regrets aside, knowing that you will not get closure, and moving on from it.

Naming your aversion to small talk and sales-y situations as introversion means that you don’t need to think of yourself as anti-social or inept as the society is likely to make you feel. The realization here is not even about a problem. It is just identifying you for who you are. Then you can choose to withdraw from situations where it is not respected, or educate people who care to be educated, or perhaps mold your behavior where you can without distressing yourself or being unfair on yourself.

Formal support groups are a way of telling you that your issue has a name.

Apart from these technical and psychological ways of naming, there can be more informal ways of doing so. For example, reading a book or seeing a movie where a character is experiencing something similar can be therapeutic, because that is also a way of naming the issue (assuming it isn’t a trigger!).

Naming the issue is not just a powerful way to address personal problems. Even in professional settings, or in handling business issues, this is very helpful. Being able to put the right framework on a business problem can help you arrive at a solution systematically, instead of haphazardly trying out the guesswork. Being able to accurately label an issue as a communication problem, or an employee morale problem, or a capability problem, or a process problem will help in fixing the right thing. If people are not being communicated the right thing, it doesn’t matter how high their morale is they will do the wrong thing (very enthusiastically too). If the capability is the problem, the best processes in the world are unlikely to fix it.

As human knowledge has accumulated, a lot of issues have received valid names. Whether mental health issues or business problems, many of them didn’t have names a hundred years ago. They do now. There may be problems even now which we don’t have a good name to identify with. I hope you don’t get stuck with them. But if you do, may you find a way to unfold it into things that do have a name or understanding, so that you can address them.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash


Learning of the past decade: There is no “real world”

When I was younger, in my student days, for example, there was this dichotomy in my head (and pretty much everyone’s head around me) of there being this difference between the almost make-believe world of academics and protective family you inhabit when you are still studying and the real world out there waiting for you. The real world was supposed to be, well, the real thing. Student days were nice in many ways. But not the real test of how capable you are, how successful, and how far you would go in life.

While tweeple were busy listing their achievements of the last decade (and some were busy criticizing the trend), I realized that my biggest learning in the last decade is that there is no ultimate “real world” out there and no absolute achievements and failures. All worlds are make-believe worlds. We are always a part of some system or the other. Our successes and failures are relative to that system. Whether we are capable or not depends on the system we are evaluating it in. And the systems are all created by humans. If we take the system seriously, we would call it the “real world”. If we don’t, we are waiting to enter another system we can take seriously and call the “real world”.

After student life those who chose to enter academia, the same academic world became their “real world”. Those entering corporates found their “real world” in that. After all, that’s where the real stuff happens and that’ where the world is run from, right? And then some decided that the corporate world has too much nonsensical work to be meaningful and tried to find their “real world” in startups. Some academics may have decided that too. Now, some may find that the startup ecosystem, that runs on funding rather than profits, is as much of a make-believe world as an inexplicable big, fat department in a 100-year old huge company where no one knows why they are there or the good, old make-believe world of academia. Some may find their “real world” in non-profits or in public service. The jaded and the cynical may still struggle!

Then it isn’t just one system that we are a part of. There are multiple. Sometimes there are systems and sub-systems. Sometimes they are overlapping. Your company is a system in itself. And there is a super-system above it that you may call the corporate world. People you associate with in your personal life form another system. The same action can be brilliant in one system and dumb in another. Fighting with your boss makes you an idiot in the system that is your company and the corporate world. You will not succeed there if you keep doing that. The same action can make you a hero among your anarchist friends, assuming you have those. To your extended family, you may be a big failure in life for not getting married, in a feminist group you would be a hero if you stuck to that because that’s what you wanted! The tendency to take charge may make you a great startup founder, but as a young employee in a company, you may be chastised for stepping on other people’s toes.

While occasionally there may be a genius who shines in a system despite not caring for it, in general, it is difficult to do well in a system that you do not take seriously. Because irrespective of what the system is, navigating it for success takes effort. Corporate shenanigans may look comical and meaningless from outside, but they take an understanding of the system and ability to do things that the system demand of you. It would be a lot of hard work. An obscene round of funding may make a startup skeptic shrug their shoulders, but those raising it have lost nights of sleep over it. Not possible if they didn’t believe in the system and didn’t attach huge importance to succeeding in it. The same belief in the system is needed if you appreciate other people’s success. If you don’t believe in the system of exams, an exam topper is nobody extraordinary to you. They just mugged things up (and it took a lot of hard work!). If you do believe in that system, they are God! Celebrities not repeating their clothes cater to a system that some of us would find superficial and extravagant, while others live for that. The world of paparazzi and entertainment magazines is “real world” or not, depending on whether you take that system seriously or not.

There is no real “real world” out there. There is only a make-believe world, a system, that you take seriously. And as someone making a statement like that, it would be obvious that I struggle to take any system too seriously. Not being able to take any system seriously means finding most of the things meaningless. I have found that taking a very high-level view of systems makes them look more ridiculous rather than less. So, to cope, I sometimes have to deliberately narrow my view down. When changing the world feels meaningless, I stick to doing my job well. If society demands things that make me miserable to keep them happy, I focus on keeping myself or those few people happy who understand and need better things. Since there isn’t a specific definition of success I care for in my career, I would be happy if there are at least a few people around who are happy to have worked with me.

To each their own make-believe real world!

Image Credit: Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Own Poetry Hindi

हम ज़िंदा रहेंगे

(Follow up to छीन लो)

तुम एक भाषा समझते हो,
उसको बंद कर डालोगे।
हज़ार और हैं दुनिया में,
किस-किस को भला संभालोगे?

विरोध की भाषा ज़िंदा रहेगी।
कवि लिखेंगे,
और कविता ज़िंदा रहेगी।

तुम सड़कें बंद कर दोगे तो
महलों की छत गिर जाएँगी,
खुला फ़लक रह जाएगा
नीचे गलियाँ बन जाएँगी।

उम्मीद के तारे जिंदा रहेंगे।
लोग उठेंगे,
इंक़लाबी नारे ज़िंदा रहेंगे।

आज ज़हर तुम्हारा बोलता है, लेकिन
होता था शहद उनकी ज़ुबान पर।
तुम्हारे ही धोखे से स्वाद फिरेगा,
वश नहीं रहेगा तुम्हारा आवाम पर।

काट ज़हर की जिंदा रहेगी।
रस आएगा,
गुड़ की चाशनी ज़िंदा रहेगी।

कुछ मरेंगे, कुछ सालों जेल सड़ेंगे,
कुछ लोग हममें से दब जाएंगे,
कुछ रास्ते भी बदल ही लेंगे,
कुछ डरेंगे, और भग जाएंगे।

सब नहीं, भले कुछ कम जिंदा रहेंगे,
सालों बाद भी,
किसी ना किसी में हम जिंदा रहेंगे।

politics · Thoughts

सरकार और नागरिक बराबर नहीं हैं।

सरकार एक संस्था (इन्सटीट्यूशन) है।
नागरिक एक व्यक्ति-मात्र है।

सरकार के पास बहुत पावर होती है, क्योंकि उसे देश चलाना होता है।
एक नागरिक के पास वह पावर नहीं होती। इसलिए उसे संविधान ने मौलिक अधिकार दिए हैं, ताकि सरकार की पावर का इस्तेमाल नागरिक के ख़िलाफ़ ना होने लगे।

चूँकि सरकार एक पावरफुल संस्था है, नागरिकों के लिए पारदर्शी रहना उसकी ज़िम्मेदारी है।
चूँकि नागरिक एक व्यक्ति-मात्र है और उसके पास सरकार जैसी पावर नहीं है, उसके पास अधिकार हैं जीवन, स्वतंत्रता और निजता के (rights to life, liberty, and privacy). ये अधिकार नागरिक के पास सरकार के ख़िलाफ़ भी उपलब्ध हैं, बल्कि ख़ास कर सरकार के ख़िलाफ़। एक नागरिक को सरकार से सवाल पूछने का भी अधिकार है।

जब सरकार नागरिकों के सवाल और शिक़ायतें नहीं सुनती, या उनसे बात नही करती, तो वह गलत है, क्योंकि सरकार का अस्तित्व ही नागरिकों के लिए है। नागरिकों को सुनना और उनकी शिकायतों को दूर करने के लिए क़दम उठाना ही सरकार का काम है।
जब एक नागरिक किसी दूसरे नागरिक की बात नहीं सुनना चाहता या उससे बहस नहीं करना चाहता – जैसे कि सोशल मीडिया पर, वह गलत नहीं है। ये उसका काम नहीं है। उसे अपनी ज़िंदग़ी अपने तरीके से जीने का अधिकार है।

चूँकि सरकार एक पावरफुल संस्था है, उसे अपनी हर शाखा, हर विभाग, हर हिस्से के काम की ज़िम्मेदारी लेनी होती है।
चूँकि नागरिक व्यक्ति-मात्र है, सरकार एक व्यक्ति की गलती की वजह से किसी और के अधिकार नहीं छीन सकती है। सरकार के पास गलती करने वाले को क़ानूनी तरीके से सजा देने के कई तरीके उपलब्ध हैं।

ऊपर की गई बात का एक महत्वपूर्ण निष्कर्ष ये है कि “लोग भी तो गलती करते हैं” कह के सरकार (या किसी सरकारी विभाग जैसे कि पुलिस) को कानून तोड़ने का, नागरिकों पर हमला करने का, या संविधान को भंग करने का अधिकार नहीं मिल जाता है।

जब सरकार नागरिकों से प्रतिरोध का अधिकार छीन लेती हैं, या उन्हें सार्वजनिक स्थानों के उपयोग से वंचित करती है, तो वह फा़सिस्ट कहलाई जाएगी। सरकार के पास नागरिकों ये सह सब छीनने का अधिकार नहीं है।
लेकिन जब मैं trolls को अपने सोशल मीडिया अकाउंट्स से या मेरे घर से दूर रहने को कहती हूँ, तो मैं सिर्फ अपने जीवन, स्वतंत्रता और निजता के अधिकारों का इस्तेमाल करती हूँ। और अपने संपत्ति के अधिकार का भी। मैं एक व्यक्ति हूँ। सरकार नहीं। मुझे किसी को अपने घर में या अपने अकाउंट में आने देने की ज़रूरत नहीं है। सरकार को भी नहीं, जब तक वह क़ानूनी तरीके से नहीं आती।

इसलिए जब भी मैं नागरिकों के अधिकार की बात करूँ, मुझसे पलट कर सरकार के अधिकारों की मांग ना कीजिए। सरकार को अधिकारों की ज़रूरत नहीं है। सरकार के पास ऐसे ही बहुत पावर है। सरकार की पावर पर अंकुश लगाने की ज़रूरत है। और नागरिकों के अधिकार वह अंकुश लगाते हैं।

politics · Thoughts

Citizens and government are not equivalent.

Government is an institution.
Citizens are individuals.

Government has lots of power because they are supposed to run the country.
Citizens don’t have those powers. So, they have constitutionally guaranteed rights, so that government’s powers don’t turn against the citizens.

Because government is an institution with powers, it has a responsibility to be transparent to the citizens.
Because citizens are individuals with no power to compare that with government, they have a right to life, liberty, and privacy. Even and especially from the government. And they have a right to question the government.

When government refuses to engage with citizens and their complaints, they are wrong, because their very existence is for the citizens. This engagement is their job!
When a citizen doesn’t want to engage with another citizen in a social media debate, they are not wrong. It’s not their job. They are just living their life as it suits them.

Because government is an institution with lots of power, it has to take responsibility for the actions of each of its arms.
Because citizens are individuals, government can’t use one person’s wrongdoings to take away the right of other individuals. It has enough powers to punish the wrongdoers according to the law.

Corollary to the above, “But people also made mistakes” is not a justification for government (or its functionaries like police) to break the law, assault the citizens, or violate the constitution.

When the government denies its citizens the right to protest, or the right to use a public space, it is being fascist. Government does not have the right to deny these to the citizens.
When I ask the trolls to stay away from my wall, or from my home, I am only exercising my right to life, liberty, and privacy. Also, my property rights. I am not government. I don’t have to allow you into my space.

So, every time I talk about the rights of citizens, don’t turn it around and ask about the rights of the government. Government doesn’t need rights. It has too much power. It needs restraint. And citizens’ rights are those restraints.

Literature · politics · Thoughts

An Islamist and a Drunkard

Poets and writers use imagery to convey their points. This isn’t such an extraordinary point to grasp. Even if you are not a literature enthusiast, you have heard and sung songs. Bollywood songs, at least? Pardon me, my examples might be slightly old because I can’t seem to recall the lyrics of more recent songs. But “maine poochha chaand se ki dekha hai kahin” does not mean that the hero of the movie actually asked a question to the moon. It would make him delusional. He intends to convey that what he thinks about his beloved’s beauty must be believed because it isn’t just his bias, everyone – even those who may be famed for their beauty – agree with him. When they sing in the movie Border that “hamare gaon ne, aam ki chhaon ne, purane peepul ne, baraste badal ne” have asked them when they are returning, they didn’t really mean that they had received a letter written by their village, mango or peepul trees, or the clouds and rain. They are really talking about the people back home.
I feel stupid that I am even trying to explain this. But the world has come to this. I have to make these arguments so that I can extend it to Faiz and his famous poem “Hum Dekhenge”.
The poem uses Islamic imagery to actually convey the ideas of revolution. But oh, what about sentences like “sab but uthwaye jayenge” and “bas naam rahega allah ka”? Well – read the full poem
जब अर्ज़-ए-ख़ुदा के काबे से
सब बुत उठवाए जाएँगे,
हम अहल-ए-सफ़ा मरदूद-ए-हरम
मसनद पे बिठाए जाएँगे,
सब ताज उछाले जाएँगे,
सब तख़्त गिराए जाएँगे।
On “sab but uthwaye jayenge”, what will the icons removed from Kaba be replaced with? With pure-hearted (अहल-ए-सफ़ा), but hitherto powerless people (मरदूद-ए-हरम). The icons in Kaba represent not the actual, physical statues, but the powerful rulers who are repressing the people. And if there is any confusion still, read the last two lines. All the crowns will be thrown away, all the thrones smashed. There is *nothing* religious about it! It is a very strong revolutionary political statement, however.
बस नाम रहेगा अल्लाह का,
जो ग़ायब भी है हाज़िर भी,
जो मंज़र भी है नाज़िर भी।
उट्ठेगा अनल-हक़ का नारा,
जो मैं भी हूँ और तुम भी हो।
And “bas naam rahega allah ka” comes after that. Representing not an Islamic rule, but that just state of the world where people would be important, not the powerful rulers. “Jo gayab bhi hai, haazir bhi, jo manzar bhi hai naazir bhi” might actually make Islamists raise their eyebrows. The later part of this stanza is even more telling. “Uthega anal-haq ka naara”. Anal-haq translates roughly to “I am the truth”. And guess what, the Sufi who had spoken this had been executed by the orthodox keepers of Islam because they found it blasphemous. If Faiz were an Islamist, what on earth was he doing with Anal-haq? You know who should identify with Anal-haq? Those who understand “Aham Brahmasmi” (अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि).
Faiz was actually a communist. He may or may not have been a card-carrying atheist but he definitely was not an Islamist in any sense of the word (positive or negative).
Why did Faiz have to use Islamic imagery though, you ask? My answer is why should he not? Using imagery well is a poet’s craft. Faiz was a terrific poet, great at his craft, he knew Islam and Islamic traditions well, and he has used the imagery to convey his point powerfully. There is nothing to be judged here.
Talking of imagery and a poet’s use of imagery not representing anything personal about him, I can’t help but talk of Harivansh Rai ‘Bachchan’ and his famous creation – Madhushala. If you are young or unfamiliar with Hindi literature, you may have to know him as Amitabh Bachchan’s father. But much before Amitabh Bachchan, the actor, was this national hero, Harivansh Rai ‘Bachchan’ was a stalwart of Hindi literature. His most famous creation is Madhushala – a book-length poem written as a collection of “rubai”s. Rubai is a specific form of verse. Some people may be more familiar with it because of Manna Dey’s rendition of the part of the book. The thing with this book is that it uses the imagery of a tavern throughout. And Madhushala is not the only book in which Bachchan employs this imagery. If you were to extend the logic that declares Faiz or “Hum Dekhnge” to be Islamist, Madhushala would be a book promoting unfettered drinking, and you would think that the writer would have been a career drunkard.
But Bachchan was as much of a drunkard as Faiz was an Islamist. Bachchan was a teetotaller.
And Madhushala is as much about drinking as “Hum Dekhenge” is about religion. See a few verses here –
Need a lesson on focus?
मदिरालय जाने को घर से चलता है पीनेवला,
‘किस पथ से जाऊँ?’ असमंजस में है वह भोलाभाला,
अलग-अलग पथ बतलाते सब पर मैं यह बतलाता हूँ –
‘राह पकड़ तू एक चला चल, पा जाएगा मधुशाला।’
This could be an entrepreneur’s anthem.
बहती हाला देखी, देखो लपट उठाती अब हाला,
देखो प्याला अब छूते ही होंठ जला देनेवाला,
‘होंठ नहीं, सब देह दहे, पर पीने को दो बूंद मिले’
ऐसे मधु के दीवानों को आज बुलाती मधुशाला।
And if you want to hurt Hindu sentiments.
बने पुजारी प्रेमी साकी, गंगाजल पावन हाला,
रहे फेरता अविरत गति से मधु के प्यालों की माला’
‘और लिये जा, और पीये जा’, इसी मंत्र का जाप करे’
मैं शिव की प्रतिमा बन बैठूं, मंदिर हो यह मधुशाला।
Or in general the keepers of religion.
कोई भी हो शेख नमाज़ी या पंडित जपता माला,
बैर भाव चाहे जितना हो मदिरा से रखनेवाला,
एक बार बस मधुशाला के आगे से होकर निकले,
देखूँ कैसे थाम न लेती दामन उसका मधुशाला!।
Why would Bachchan use imagery of a tavern to talk about the complexities and lessons of life? Well, because he was great at his craft and could do a phenomenal job at it.
Madhushala was a comfort book during my time at IIT Kanpur.
In today’s world, it would perhaps be banned.
Own Poetry Hindi

छीन लो

कवि का अलंकार छीन लो,
कागज़ की दीवार उठा कर
निर्बल की पुकार छीन लो।

यौवन की ललकार छीन लो,
तोड़ समाज का ताना-बाना
बुढ़ापे का आधार छीन लो।

नोट का सारोकार छीन लो,
बंद कर दो इंटरनेट, मज़लूम
की हाहाकार छीन लो।

प्रगति की रफ़्तार छीन लो,
समय के बढ़ते पहिए की तुम
ताक़त ओ सरकार छीन लो।