Thoughts

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

Thoughts

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

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.
Thoughts

I, Introvert!

Most people, after they have seen me speaking on a stage and interacting with people afterward, find it difficult to digest that the reason I want to crawl into an empty room and spend the next twenty-four hours on my own is not because I am physically tired, but because I am an introvert and am done with people for a while.

“You didn’t sound like an introvert.”

Well, I am. I am an introvert. I am not shy. I am not unopinionated. I, sure as hell, am not uninformed. I don’t lack confidence. But I am an introvert. I am very comfortable in public speaking. One-on-one conversations make my palms sweaty, and the prospect of initiating a small talk makes me faint. I hate phone calls. Please send me a message instead.

Growing up in a society that didn’t care for such psychological subtleties, I was branded shy as a child. Looking back, it was not shyness, just the discomfort with small talk that dominated most of the day-to-day conversations. And that still does! Half-jokingly (the joke was strictly half only, I think), I was also labeled a misanthrope from time to time by my super-social extended family.

Life outside the home, starting with hostel-life as a 10-year-old, could be a challenge initially, but ultimately I wasn’t shy. I was an introvert. Meaning, I can deal with, hey actually get comfortable with and have a meaningful relationship with, people I am familiar with. A close, known group. Of hostel-mates, batch-mates, and later co-workers. It just takes some time to reach there with every new group. That means that the first impression I give, and the lasting impression I leave, can be very different. Former can be shy and docile or aloof, the latter can be difficult or cool – depending on how things turned out between us.

When I didn’t understand introversion, I lived with a slightly odd notion about myself for a long time that “I was shy at home, but not so outside.” Because the “shy period” was usually limited in any new environment after which I found my people! The discomfort with salespeople in shops or elsewhere and some other day-to-day manifestations of introversion were not noticed or ascribed to personality quirks. (And my family always wondered at the public speaking skills of this shy child!)

But then, at some point of time, I understood the idea of introversion and extraversion. And also, the difference between shyness and introversion. Since then I have lived comfortably with the “introvert” label and used it to make sense of my behavior for myself.

And while I was aware that my introversion created problems in certain situations (networking events, my God! And I never aspired for a sales or business development job!), I hadn’t realized until recently that it is considered an active handicap in the western professional world, and hence now in Indian one too. The number of articles on the Internet trying to boost the confidence of introverts, giving them public speaking tips, and generally telling them how to be more like extroverts is astounding, baffling, and to be honest, a bit offending.

And then there is Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts… I haven’t read the book, but the fact that such a book exists, and it has taken the world by storm… Dear God! I didn’t know I was living in such an uninformed world.

But yeah – this one I was woefully uninformed on. It wasn’t just the members of my extended family who misunderstood introversion. Far too many people all around the world have a similar misunderstanding, so much so that introverts seem to need an Internet-wide defense!

In case someone needing a lesson (or needing to identify themselves as a perfectly normal introvert) lands here, here are a few things about me as an introvert.

  • Yes, I am comfortable in public speaking. I am not shy. I don’t lack confidence. I am not unopinionated. (Some introverts, and extroverts for that matter, can be one or more of these things. But simply being an introvert isn’t equivalent to any of these.) Since I don’t have any of these issues, there is nothing that stops me from being comfortable in public speaking. Not only comfortable, I am even good at public speaking, part of which is about using some advantages introversion brings to me (about that, see a later point), and part of which is just preparation, technique and some natural flair.
  • Every instance of talking as an introvert involves first asking a question – why does the other person need to hear this? There has to be a good reason. And dear God! Is that reason difficult to find? Small talk never passes the test. Public speaking is fine because the very arrangement that has resulted in the assignment has answered the question. So, are the conversations with a clear, pre-set agenda (the small talk before we come to the agenda? oof!). One-on-one conversations with the audience after public speaking is also fine. Because presumably they know who I am and they initiate the conversation (so they have a reason to hear what I say in reply), and the conversation would typically be related to what I spoke on (so the agenda is sorted).
  • Despite the difficulties I have in socialization, I don’t have a problem in understanding people. As an introvert, I am perfectly comfortable not being the talker in a group; I may indeed prefer not having to talk (see the previous point); I listen, and more importantly, I observe. So, I understand people. I understand them more than most gregarious people who won’t stop to listen and observe. It’s the reluctance to talk without a good reason that makes me appear unsocial. Not the inability to understand.
  • For people who are in need of being understood, I can be a great comfort. If I were a more shrewd person, I would be able to use this understanding to my immense benefit. But since I am not that, the usefulness of this understanding is limited. And sometimes it even becomes debilitating. I can sense disinterest very quickly, and very acutely. Makes me a very bad salesperson. At other times, since I understand a person very well, it becomes too difficult to keep the pretenses up in a conversation that depends on my not understanding them. Do you know what I mean? Makes for a very difficult social (and sometimes professional!) situation.
  • Coming back to public speaking, this understanding helps me be a good public speaker. I can think from the point of view of my audience. If my point of being on stage is to tell them what they want to know and hear, it is straightforward. But even if I am on the stage to tell them what I want them to know, I would be able to do everything possible to make it about them! As an introvert, it is easy (natural!) for me not to be consumed by my agenda, but to remain focussed on my audience. Yes – that’s my introversion benefit.
  • If I come across as someone whom you would like to prove wrong but aren’t able to, it isn’t because I pretend to know everything. It is usually because I keep my mouth shut on things I don’t know or understand. As mentioned several times earlier, as an introvert, I don’t have a compulsive need to talk. I am happy to remain quiet. So, when I don’t know things, I am perfectly fine listening to other people on such matters rather than giving cooked-on opinions. In a new and unfamiliar environment, I may not open my mouth even on things I know about. Same will be the case where it is likely to result in fierce arguments that I have no interest in winning or energy for continuing. I don’t derive much satisfaction from winning an argument. I will get into an argument, only if winning it is really needed for some other end important to me.

Finally, as an introvert, it is very difficult to talk so much about myself. 😂 It is only online or on social media that I can do that. Because if the other person doesn’t want to know this, they can totally ignore it. So – that question is sorted.

Photo by Ismail Hamzah on Unsplash

Thoughts

Discovering a Fondness for Nehru

Indian_Prime_Minister_Jawaharlal_Nehru_with_Denmark_Prime_Minister_H._C._Hansen_in_a_Bumper_Toy_Car_-_Copenhagen,_Denmark,_1957Growing up, Pt. Nehru was one in a long list of people about whom you had to cram up information to be able to write essays in exams. He was a man who featured in the books about general knowledge and in those about great men of India. I think you were supposed to feel some sort of fondness for him, because this great man was after all “Chacha Nehru” and he supposedly loved children. But so did many other adults around you, and they were far more accessible than this long-dead man. He was a man whose photos patriotic characters in old Hindi movies kept in their houses. He was the first prime minister of India. His birthday resulted in a holiday. And yes – he was the man after whom my school was named (Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya). Great man, like I said.

Somewhere during my early adult life, this greatness of Nehru faded from my consciousness. I did read his books. Like I read so many others. But it took much more adulting to start appreciating the man.

It took a lot of reading and traveling to realize how badly many other countries decolonized in the 20th century had done. It took looking at Vietnam, at Cambodia, and at African countries in the grip of autocrats to realize how far-sighted a man we had in our first prime minister, who focused on strengthening democracy, and not on trying to turn his immense popularity into autocratic power. Something he could have done. It took a prolonged stay away from home, exposure to language chauvinism in my country, and the hopeless language policies of some other countries to appreciate the open-mindedness of a man who got Urdu added to the 8th schedule of constitutionally recognized languages after retorting to a Hindi chauvinist friend of his that Urdu “is my language, the language of my ancestors.” It took shedding of a lot of simplistic notions about life, politics, and society to admire the vision of a leader who wasn’t bogged down by the immediate challenges of a newly independent nation and invested in building the institutes of science and technology. It took confronting the cringe-worthy behavior of petty politicians, who rise to power far too often, to admire the statesmanship of the prime minister of a country who power, and even survival, was doubted by all, but who could garner international respect and attention despite that. It took dismay at the utter lack of vision our current leaders display to appreciate the vision of a man who thought of Non-alignment movement back in those days. It took being face to face with the apathy of many regimes towards persecuted refugees to understand the heart of a man who offered refuge to Tibetans, even if he wasn’t in a position to fight China over them (and many Tibetans hate him for that!).

It also took time to understand that the man sold in the books as an infallible great man was after all human. That even if he recognized thirteen languages, including Urdu, in our constitution, he did make a strong case against recognizing every “dialect” of Hindi as a separate language, an idea that reflected in the “Hindi belt” language policy and has done irreversible damage to many languages by subverting them to “standardized” Hindi. That he could have done things differently in Kashmir. That despite his generous and inclusive idea of India, a lot of people were left out of its ambit – you can start by thinking of everyone displaced and ill-compensated for the large projects he championed and of people who continue to suffer for the sake of such state-backed projects even today. That there are a lot of problems our country has that can be traced back to him.

However, with every realization of all the things that were wrong with him, I also realized that so many things that are right with our country can also be traced back to the same man.

It took extensive vilification of this great man by our current regime for me to appreciate him as a visionary leader. It took a certain dear leader and his puerile pettiness for me to discover my fondness for Nehru.