Why I Write ?

On the opening page of his only book ‘The Histories’, the great Greek historian Herodotus explains why he set out to write it in the first place : ‘The purpose is to prevent the traces of human events from being erased by time.’ A simple goal, yet the founding block of our civilization. Herodotus was obsessed with memory, even scared of it. For him, memory was something defective, fragile, impermanent or even illusory. It can simply vanish without leaving a trace. His whole generation was possessed by the same fear. Memory is what elevates man above beasts, and yet at the same time so unreliable, so elusive.

We are not obsessed with memory as Herodotus was. We live in abundance of memory – search engines, books, documentaries, libraries, audio and video recordings and archives. Countless words, sounds and images have been recorded by the human civilization and it is now being done on an unprecedented scale. History and communication are the two pillars on which our societies have been formed. In most animals, history is something genetic and biological, it forms the basis of all their actions but we as human beings, have managed to engage with history on two levels – biological level and also an emotional and intellectual level- the other side of history that forms the basis of our knowledge and our wisdom.

But there are questions that haunt us – are we any wiser than people in 400 BC were? Many will say we are not. Some nostalgics will even say that we are worse off than people in elder generations were. And yet none of them would argue that we stop recording history, stop writing words, and capturing images; for all of our foolishness can be attributed to lack of knowledge of history. We have written about tyrants, genocides, wars, injustices, sufferings – only in the hope that future generations will learn from past.

The only serious challenge that has been posed to the written word and our recorded history has been from the Buddha. It may seem strange that the most wisest among human being never wrote a word, and advised his followers to live in the moment. But Buddha understood that memory is also the root cause of all our mental suffering. Our past affects our present more deeply than we can understand and forces us to constantly worry about our future. The experience is so enchanting, the sense of calm we feel when we try to follow Buddha’s words on living in the present, and yet, we have never thought about letting go of our memory, our history.

Herodotus and Buddha, both have been proved irrelevant over the years, and yet here I am, writing about these two men. A young man like me has a lot of goals when he sets out to write something, He maybe wants to change the world, or he wants to become immortal through his thoughts, when he’s wiser enough, he wants to prevent the traces of human events being erased by time. In the short term, he wants to get famous, be admired, or simply wants to earn some money. But on a deeper level, it’s always about connecting with some other person, touching someone’s heart. I have come across so many random blogs which have left a smile on my face and a feeling of companionship in my heart. It’s always about making someone feel a little less lonely and a little less alienated by telling them that they exist, like I exist and they are not alone in their pursuits, they have a fellow traveller. For a while, I am not trying to sell anything, I will do it if my profession requires, selling words and making viral content, but meanwhile, what I can offer is me, and what you can offer is you. And maybe long after I’ve stopped writing, some people will visit this blog by mistake and realize that they are not alone in this world, that someone thought like them. As E.E. Cummings once said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best night and day to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.”


The idea of money and why do we do what we don’t want to do

How career choices based on money and status anxiety make us live empty lives

As someone who reads a lot of economics, the questions around money have always haunted me. How a medium of exchange became the most important part of our lives. Yes, it always had a role to play, but money was never supposed to be master of our lives.

The problem is not really about money, it’s bigger than that. We want to live in abundance of money, we want loads of it, because we want to be admired, and we want to be loved and money seems to be the cure. We want money to run away from real questions, the inconvenient questions, we don’t want to face them. We want money to purchase more and more things, so that we can fill emptiness of our lives.

We have become such pathetic creatures that the only way we can feel good about ourselves is by making others feel bad and insecure about their lives, to make them jealous of our status, to be jealous of their status, and most of us spend our whole lives doing that.

I have made some nasty career choices. I always knew I belonged to social sciences or literature. But that never looked like a practical decision and I found little support. So I went ahead with science. It took me two years to again make a decision, but I ended up enrolling in Chartered Accountancy. I always knew that it was not the right career choice, but the question of money, status and ‘What will people think ?’ kept me going. But after starting as a trainee and working in that field, it became really difficult to continue. The decision that I was trying to postpone from so many years now sat on my face. It had to be taken.

My father and I have never agreed on the way how I want to live my life. He grew up in financially difficult situations and had to struggle a lot. All he wanted was a settled job with a lot of security, which he found working for the government.

On the other hand, I grew up in entirely different situation. The question of fulfilling life and work had become more important than security for me.

So what kept holding me back. The question of money ? But after a while, I realised I was not that greedy and could always make a living. I never wanted big car or a house or everything that market wanted me to buy. Then the status anxiety began to come up. Chartered Accountants have social status. IITians have social status. The world doesn’t cares about Teachers, Writers , Journalists or Academicians.

There are regrets that are associated with our lives, and the most dangerous of them is not trying. It’s always better to try, then to die without trying.

And having been spent time doing a conventional degree, I realised that people dont really want money for the sake of money. They want money because they don’t have confidence that world would still love them and care for them if they didn’t have the money and social status.

It’s also the question of our meaning as a whole. Why do we go to work ? Just for the sake of money, and what’s the point of earning money and living an empty life.

So at last I had to take a decision, and I took one. One cannot just keep watching his whole life passing by just like that. I quit CA to go into something as insecure as Journalism. And somebody asked me,

What’s the guarantee that you will stay in journalism, what if you find it dull and boring.

There’s no gurantee. Human beings don’t come with a guarantee card.

Mob Spring

How India of our dreams may look like in the times of mobocracy

There was a country in the heart of Asia where all the residents were of a single religion. There was not even a mention of any other religion. All the Muslims in the country had just vanished. Youngsters either married the girls of their parent’s choice or that girl that brought the highest dowry. Girls had absolute freedom inside their rooms and they had stopped using cellphones and internet to celebrate their freedom. Everybody indulged in sexual activities but they were not allowed to do it consensually. Love was reserved for cows. Intellectuals used to live in museums. The land was not occupied by stupid things like forests and tribals. Those who had committed sins like benefiting from caste based reservation used to wash the toilets of true Hindus to repent for their sins. The judges of various courts used to base their judgments on Manusmriti. It was the duty of every ideal citizen to know what their neighbors were eating or drinking or wearing and to object to their choices. It was a sin for a normal citizen to mind his own business and he was looked down in the same way as a cannibal. Rama and Krishna were not fictional characters but Gandhi was. The country had got freedom despite the efforts of traitors like Nehru and Patel. There was a grand temple in Ayodhya whose turnover was bigger than all of PSUs combined. Anybody could be beaten anywhere by anyone for reasons ranging from a Facebook post to non-attendance of Diwali pooja.

Thankfully, this country does not actually exist. No country has the power to exist with the things I have described. Yet, all of these events seem possible in the kind of environment we live in. A grim spectre has crept upon us slowly, and soon my imaginary country may come to life. Thought experiments no longer remain thought experiments when democracy starts turning into a mobocracy, consisting of an angry mob, an uncontrollable mob.

Why a society does get attracted toward mobocracy? What are the reasons that inspire people come together to form a mob? Are they angry? Are they sad? Do they feel betrayed? Or is it simply related to their animal instincts?

Maybe they are angry because Rajput kings were defeated by Muslim conquerors or because they are unemployed. They may feel betrayed because of the partition or because their kids married partners of their own choice. Or they feel sad that they could never gather up the courage to talk to the girl they liked, or maybe they have a Dalit boss in their office and they could never digest that fact. There need not be any big reason for their anger. It does not take much effort to offend a person living in the subcontinent.

And who are these people? The people who form majority of a mob?

The great polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski writes about the people who form a mob in his final book :

At any moment and for whatever reason, these people, to whom no one pays attention, whom no one needs, can form into a crowd, a throng, a mob, which has an opinion about everything, has time for everything, and would like to participate in something, mean something. Dictatorships just have to reach out to these people searching for some significance in life. Give them the sense that they can be of use, that someone is counting on them for something, that they have been noticed, that they have a purpose. In this relationship, the man of the street starts to feel at one with the authorities, to feel important and meaningful, and furthermore, because he usually has some petty thefts, fights, and swindles on his conscience, he now acquires the comforting sense of immunity.

How do we restore logic and law in a mob-ruled State? How do we bridge the gaps between the different communities when mutual trust has been broken?

No one seems to have a definitive answer. The great German philosopher Hegel‘s thinking process called as dialectical method provides a logical explanation of the process we as a society are going through. Hegel explains to us why human progress cannot be linear, while encouraging us to trust that it does occur, nevertheless. For him, history moves forward in what he termed a “dialectical way”. It is an argument that is made up of three parts : a thesis, an antithesis and a synthesis. At first there is a beginning action called a thesis, and then, there is a negative reaction of that thesis called the antithesis. At last, there is a synthesis whereby two conflicting ideas are reconciled to form a new situation. Both thesis and antithesis need to clash and interact until their best elements find resolution in a synthesis. One cannot get there in one leap. The world makes progress from one extreme to another as it seeks to compensate for previous mistake. We are merely seeing the pendulum swing back for a time.