Ramblings in an absurd, absurd world

I think it is time to change the name of the blog. I would like to call it “In an absurd, absurd world”. Feels strange that at some point of time I thought it should be called “Miles to go…”. Go where? To an unappetizing future? Or to the unappealing past that, unlike some luckier souls, I can’t romanticize. Of course, to the extent that you are living, you are going somewhere. And the distance might very well be in miles. It doesn’t leave you or the world any better off though. So why have that as a motto of sorts. It is simply a given, a compulsion.

UnsplashDestructionOrConstruction

The only miles I would really like to go are the literal miles. That you cover in traveling. But I don’t want to do so to achieve anything, not to make the world a better place, nor to make myself a better person. It seems like more harm is done to the world in the attempts to make it better than just letting it be would have done. And more pride is instilled in one’s person by the attempts at betterment than would have naturally been there.

It is theoretically impossible to create more happiness by creating more things. Either physical or virtual. More things only create more reasons to be disappointed when you don’t have them. The solution to happiness problem today is in distribution. And that solution will not come about, because we, the human race, are not the product of anything “humane”. We are the product of a bloody (literal, not the curse word) evolution. There is nothing inherently (what we call) humane in us. It is all self-interest and an immediate, highly short-term self-interest at that. For one reason or the other we have kept coming up with systems to channel and control the fierce self-interest. Tribes, religion, rulers, nations, democracy, organizations, corporates etc. etc.  We will keep coming up with them, but they will be products of our limited abilities, and each of them will be marred by the same self-interest it tries to control. So we can keep creating institutions, but it is self-interest that has caused our rise (if it can be called rise) and it is self-interest that will lead us to our fall. Because the self-interest is now combined with illusions of grandiose.

But until then, we are at the mercy of man-made systems. They have become so pervasive that an individual will find no space outside of them. And in that system, if you have to eat and survive, you have to keep making things. Things that cannot create happiness.

You are doomed.

The evil facebook ad reporting

Recently I started using Facebook Ads for Pothi.com. And ran into a problem that must be familiar to most Facebook advertisers. The click-through numbers reported by Facebook were nowhere close to the numbers reported by Google Analytics.

GoogleAnalytics

So, we searched around and put into place some more tracking setup so that we could have more accurate data on traffic coming from Facebook Ads. But the traffic number tracked on our site was still about only 25% of the Facebook ones.

Then we studied the potential reasons on Facebook’s official page about it.

Some of those are reasonable, but 75% of the traffic not being reported was still too much! Then the following caught our eyes –

EvilFacebook

Umm… What?

Because a person saw my ad on Facebook (correction – Facebook served the ad, whether the person saw or ignored can hardly be known!) and later visited my site, it will be counted as Facebook’s conversion? Even though he didn’t click on the ad.

Pothi.com is not a new venture. We already have many customers, many of whom are on Facebook, many of whom might be served the ad. Later they log in to check the status of their order or their sales dashboard, or to upload a new book, and Facebook takes credit (and money!) for that??

I might even be running other promotions elsewhere. And it is one those other promotions that brought this person to my site. But that too will go to Facebook’s credit (and pocket)?

No wonder my real cost of clicks from Facebook is four times of what they claim.

When I advertised for InstaScribe, since most of the traffic was coming from Facebook ads, I think this problem was not too big. But with Pothi.com, which has an existing user base and traffic, this is just ridiculous. Time to reevaluate Facebook Ads!

Appreciating Indian Classical Music… And Indian TV Serials

What would happen if someone who has grown up on the exclusive diet of Bollywood music was taken to an Hindustani classical music concert?

Predictably, he would come back rather dissatisfied. Perhaps even angry at the money wasted on the concert.

“You can’t even understand the words they are uttering, there is so much aa-aa-aa going on,” he would fume. Although if he is the consumer of 21st century Bollywood music, probably not understanding the lyrics will not be his biggest complaint.

Still all that artistry of the alaap and the taan and catching ‘sam’ after a complex maneuver and the difficult dedh-gat and expert use of vivaadi and respecting the time of the day in the choice of the Raga would leave no impression whatsoever on him.

“I’m better off on YouTube,” he would declare and put on his fancy headphones.

Do you see what the problem is? Appreciating classical music needs you to have some training. Otherwise, you are like an illiterate person trying to appreciate a great work of literature which doesn’t even have any photos to entertain you.

VintageTV

It is the same with appreciating Indian TV serials. You need to be trained to see the nuances involved in the art.

If you are not trained to see those nuances, you would not know the difference between an Ekta Kapoor serial and a serial by a new production house that is making a “different” kind of show. You will fail to see that while a misunderstanding between the protagonists (that admittedly should not have occurred between two beautiful people who are endowed with the abilities of seeing, talking, hearing and presumably also a bit of thinking) goes on for two months in the Ekta Kapoor serials, while it is resolved within a week in the newly minted “different” serial.

You would also not appreciate the genius of being able to shoot knee-buckling romance scenes after romance scenes, day after day when actors in real life have long ceased to talk to each other. But they can’t move on because the show must go on until the TRPs start falling, whether or not you have a story.

Check this review of a show on First Post, for example. What is he complaining about? That the makers of a show called Reporters don’t seem to know anything about how a newsroom works. But you know what a trained Indian serial watcher would appreciate in the show? That there is no evil saas in there (not for the heroine anyway). And although the heroine’s hairdos are superbly intricate for a busy field reporter, she isn’t doing her job in a benarsi silk saree. You need to be trained on a heavy dose not only of the now outdated Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahut Thi, but also of the Balika-Vadhus, Saath Nibhana Saathiyas and Ye Rishta Kya Kahlata Hais of the world.

And if you are not willing to spend your time and effort in some difficult training, well that’s your choice. Classical music, or Indian serials, are not your cup of tea. You keep listening to the Bollywood songs or watching Mad Men.

Heroes are a means, not an end!

Note: Please read “hero” in a gender-neutral sense in this post.

Earlier this month, I attended a women’s day event. There were professional men and women there, discussing different issues about – well – women in workplaces (perhaps it was specifically about tech industry, but that doesn’t matter for the purpose of this post).

A familiar phenomenon played out. A lot of chest-thumping by women who have “made it”.

womenatwork

I will come to what the problem was, but before that let me clarify that the chest-thumping was not undeserved. Most women who make it anywhere in the professional world have to do it against the societal expectations and pressures. Sometimes by outright fighting, at other times by at least ignoring the expectations and taunts. If a younger woman asks me for advice today, I will also tell her all these stories to encourage her to do her own thing and not give into what the society expects from her.

But a problem arises here. A problem arises when these stories start overwhelming the larger, real social issues. When you have gathered to discuss the situation of women in workplaces, it is not the time to sweep aside the societal issues by chest-thumping. This is how it typically goes:

Person 1 raises issue X which limits women.

A professional woman who has “made it” jumps up and objects. “That’s not really true. I have faced issue X and overcome it. Look where I am today. So why should it stop others? All you need are A/B/C qualities.”

(Replace A/B/C with things like self-confidence, talent, hard-work etc.)

Everyone else claps.

More similar stories are told and it is decided that issue X doesn’t really exist.

To understand what I find problematic in this, let’s consider a parallel hypothetical discussion in a society from middle ages. It is ravaged by constant wars.

Person 1 says that because of the wars, the farmers are not able to peacefully do their work and raise crops. Not only is there a shortage of grains in the country, but the farmers are also poor and hungry. Their condition is deteriorating everyday.

A farmer jumps up and objects. “That’s not really true. It’s just an excuse of the coward and the lazy. I am a farmer, but I learned to wield weapons and I can protect my farms. Why can’t others do the same? You just need some resourcefulness, weapon wielding skills and courage.”

Everyone else claps and it is decided that constant wars in the land are not really a problem for the farmers.

Does that sound right? Not to me! We like our current society better than the ones in middle ages because we don’t need to be warriors to be reasonably certain that we will live out our natural lives and won’t be killed by a stray weapon or a raging soldier. Wars create many heroes like the ones in the above fable, but as a society creation of heroes doesn’t justify constant wars.

It is the same with women issues. Or with pretty much any societal issue that involves a suppressed or an underprivileged group.

The heroes are good as an inspiration. They should be the means of proving that the discrimination is uncalled for. They should be the means of bringing about changes. They shouldn’t be used for brushing the issues aside. It is good to have women who make it against all odds. But as a society, we need to move in a direction where someone doesn’t have to overcome an odd just because she is a woman. Such a society will not consider a successful career woman any more of a hero than a successful career man. But despite fewer heroes that is the society we want.

Next time, please think about that before using a heroic story to sweep an issue aside.

मेरे बचपन के भगवान

मेरे बचपन के भगवान
खो गए तुम
मेरे बड़े होते-होते।

अब लगता नहीं कि तुम हो।
लेकिन तुम पर भरोसा बना रहता
तो अच्छा होता।
परेशानी के पलों में
झूठा ही सही
कोई सहारा होता।

लेकिन क्या करूँ?
बड़े होते हुए
तुम्हारे नाम पर
लोगों को बस अपना उल्लू
सीधा करते ही देखा,
मारते-काटते देखा,
लूटते-पीटते देखा,
दबाते-कुचलते देखा।

उठ गया मेरा भरोसा
तुम्हारी कहानियों से,
और खो गए तुम
मेरे बचपन के भगवान।