Crucial Curation

Those who have followed this blog for a while, know of my love-hate relationship with social media. I have been on and off social networks — as if I was punishing the networks — when I got upset with the nature of conversation and interaction that people on the network were having.

The network is inert.

Lately, without wanting to do so, I have been away from the networks. [To be clear, I do not consider WordPress as one of them]. It’s almost impossible to be on a network without taking sides. And if you do not take a side, variants of history’s accusations are hurled at you from all sides. Taking sides is worse; the enslavement is unbearable.

While this phenomenon is obvious and in-your-face on digital social networks, it is not limited to them. Shoot first and ask questions later is becoming the norm. Everyone wants to be the quickest draw in the West. And the East. And the North and the South. Amit referred to it as a left-right mud-slinging contest in a recent Twitter thread. It’s not. It’s fact-slinging. Apparently different types of facts. Alternative facts. Your facts. My facts. True facts. Baseless facts. Useless facts. (Yes, I have read people use these pairs).

We are fast losing the ability to discern between opinions, suggestions, ideas, rhetoric, humour even. All these, and more are being abstracted as statements, open for the rest of us to vilify, mock, abuse, and in general – demean. We do not have the time to pause and refer to context. And even if we had the time, where is the context? In less than three minutes we send eight tweets on seven different themes. How does a reader get the context? When does the reader get context?

There is also the question of the platform. Take Twitter, because I have mentioned it a couple of times now. Most of us readily blame the platform for this phenomenon.

The platform is inert.

It has no means or the capacity or the intelligence to expose us any more than what we publish to the platform. The one thing that it has enabled — is give voice to everyone. In these times when voice is free, there’s a dash to be heard. Me, me, me! But no one listens, because everyone is busy talking. And one thing is clear: mostly, people are angry. And it seems like old anger, one which was voiceless so far. And it has become ugly and rotten.

Unlike the different types of facts, that we believe in, we don’t believe that there are multiple truths. We do not have the patience for any truth to reveal itself. Fleeting gratification appeals to our ever shortening attention spans.

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Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

Jama Masjid, Kalburgai (Gulbarga)

All is not lost however, as apocalyptic this post may sound: as long as you curate.

There are many people who are spreading joy (not by mis-attributed feel-good hackneyed cheesy-quotes on mushy-stock-images) but, by just being themselves, sharing life experiences. These are statements in the true sense. They carry with them, no attributes of opinions, suggestions, and such. There is no compulsion to engage. In this case, the consumption is the engagement.

That’s where curation becomes crucial.

This is not to say that we become unaware as citizens and humans. What’s wrong must be righted.

In the real-world. Not on Twitter.

Return of the Rhythm

Writing here feels a bit weird, now. Using a keyboard, i.e.

A couple of hours ago, I completed a handwritten assignment: over 11,000 words, in seventy-five pages. The wrist and the fingers feel different; rejuvenated, or something like that. Like the return of an old memory; only that the sense of the memory is physical.

When I got to know about this assignment, I was a bit surprised. In this age and time? Handwritten assignments? That too, these long? I mean who does that anymore! A friend even called it regressive. And she would be right. But I decided to go through it. If nothing; as an experience.

When I finished the first three pages, I was not sure I’d be able to complete. The wrist and the fingers were ready to fall off. And I posted a picture of the pages that I had written, on Facebook, and wondered socially aloud, if I could complete it. Like an angel that she is, my English teacher from school, saw that post and asked me to keep at it. All through, whenever I talked about this — with friends and family — all I saw were congratulatory thoughts and lots of “thumbs ups.”

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The first seven – eight pages were painful, to say the least. And they were excruciatingly slow. Somewhere around that time, I found my rhythm. The muscle memory, which I thought I had lost, forever, kicked in. Ink started flowing on paper. The speed of my thought and the speed of my writing, found harmony. It was sweet music and dance. Fond memories of learning, discovering new things, surfaced slowly and put me in a happy place.

I am glad I didn’t give up.

Thank you, you know who you are.

PS: This post is a measly three-hundred and thirteen words. Perhaps this assignment was more than just a submission for my course-work.

209 pages

This book that I am reading. A mass market paperback. It’s called “What is History?” by Edward Hallett Carr. I started reading it on 10th October, this year; am on page 112, now. That seems like an achievement to me. So, as is my nature, I posted this update on Goodreads, and it showed up on my Facebook feed. (Not magically; I’ve given Goodreads permission to publish on Facebook on my behalf.)

Of all the people who saw that post, it was picked up by my English teacher from school, and she commented, “Atul, keep up the speed.”

Disclaimer: She is my favourite teacher of all times and I am her favourite student of all times. (Irrespective of the thousands of kids she taught after I completed high school. A few of these thousand kids may have been good, but I am her favourite, I am sure. Let’s not dwell on the fact that I didn’t make it to Editor of the school magazine, in my last year. Those were purely technical issues.)

More than twenty-five years later, she keeps tabs on what read and write. On my previous post, she said, “Well tried.” That was a message, if I ever got one. That’s who and how she is; she always pushes you forward.

You are never as good (or bad) as what you just accomplished, you are as good as what you can achieve.

Perhaps, that was her mantra for all of us. Perhaps that’s why I am not as lost as I think I would have been, otherwise.

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Back to the book.

This book is about Historiography. Unlike most facile stuff that I once used to read, it’s not an easy read. Here’s a sample:

This is the real indictment of those who seek to erect a super-historical standard or criterion in the light of which judgement is passed on historical events or situations—whether that standard derives from some divine authority postulated by the theologians, or from a static Reason or Nature postulated by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. It is not that shortcomings occur in the application of the standard, or defects in the standard itself. It is that the attempt to erect such a standard is unhistorical and contradicts the very essence of history. [E. H. Carr, What is History?]

As is obvious, such a paragraph takes time (for me, at least). The idea in itself is quite simple and straightforward. The manner in which it is presented seeks that the reader be involved with heart, soul, and mind.

So, yes, I’ll complete this book. Soon enough, for it’s the kind that needs to be savoured.

And that’s the speed. Thank you Ma’am!

A Broken Narrative

Few of my friends know of a certain profile picture I use on Facebook, which indicates that I am away. Every once in a while I test if I can be away from Facebook (and therefore Twitter and other such networks). October was my away month — by my standards. I used Facebook sparsely. I’ll be back on the 1st of November. The last three or four times I did this away exercise, it was more of a test of my addiction, so to speak. While October started with the same purpose; the revelations were interesting to say the least.

The narrative of everything has changed.

There isn’t — according to the way I see it — anything that we can say, that will not be crushed out or hammered in by some ism that someone else follows. Opinions do not have spaces anymore. Jokes have no space. Most people I see, are angry and belligerent. Mostly, deep down, they are defensive – but outwardly they are angry and belligerent. Those that aren’t angry are on a trip, some trip, which offers them a false sense of happiness.

When ideological camps never intersect, where is that common space for us to speak and hear? What is our meeting ground? Not to make a statement; just to speak, to listen to each other. In the race to be heard, no one is listening.

I am not lamenting social change. I have lived my adult life, with and without mobile phones, e.g., and I am aware of the boons and curses of how society responds to changes it did not expect. In these times of (mostly) nonsensical back-and-forth, I struggle to find a place of my own.

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Within that struggle, I have discovered a small place. It’s nice. Comfortable. Mine. It’s not mine, yet. But I’d like it to be mine. And it has the potential to be mine. In times of predictable spaces, determined by isms, I am fortunate to have found one that allows for isms, but is not dictated by an ism.

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I am participating in Movember, yet again, this year. (That’s the day I return to Facebook) It has been over half-a-decade of Movembering; I have yet to find an organisation that works for men’s health, in India. If you know of one – do let me know. Nevertheless, It seems, I will be a permanent Movember Member; inspired in no less measure thanks to The Bum.

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It’s the festival of lights, here, in India. In my head, there is a philosophical connotation to the festival. To tell you the truth, it is a festival of light and sound. Traditionally, philosophically, and spiritually. Not anymore. Either by armchair activism or sheer usurpation. Those that purportedly attack and those that apparently protect — both have it wrong. Festivals are resilient enough that they can survive attacks. Festivals are strong enough that they do not need protection. I wish I do not live long enough to have to wish “Happy Holidays” for a festival that you celebrate, even if I do not celebrate it. When a festivity is reduced to a holiday – that is when we have lost everything. We should be worried about sameness, assuming we will live long enough to sense it.

My apologies for this line of thinking on such a wonderful festive day. I leave you not with thoughts to discover the light within but just be good. In your own way. Do something nice. I will.

Happy Diwali!

Little Injuries and Big Bandages

Thanks to #2016KabaddiWorldCup, a small conversation of injuries ensued, with a colleague. For the few years that I have played Kabaddi, I have never seen serious injuries; me, my team mates, or my opponents. (My parents, without doubt, disagreed.) Young as we were, we bandaged even the smallest injuries. While it sounds (and definitely is) stupid now, injuries were conversation starters. Young men wanting to be in love understand the value of big bandages.

There were two reasons we didn’t like tincture. One, it stung, as if hell itself had descended where we were sitting. Second, it exposed the extent of the cut. There was no way to make it seem bigger that it actually was. Which, as you can imagine was a conversation non-starter. Big bandages made sense when you were in your late teens. Bandages were medals that weren’t celebrated.

Cut to 25 years later. Well, to today.

20161013_003112I have yet to find a knife that can cut through tomatoes, especially the wrinkled, sad, mushy tomatoes. This happened (See photo).

Needless to say, my ethos of demonstrating a cut has not changed. The cut is less than 3mm, but as you can see, the bandage is almost an inch.

Also, needless to say, the most important women in my life were concerned, and it started a conversation. For this miniscule cut, I have been advised bedrest. How can I not be in love with these two girls?

But I want this post to be less about starting conversations.

There aren’t knives in the market that cannot defeat wrinkled, old tomatoes. We need knives that cut through shrivelled tomatoes; not firm thumbs.

May there be better knives. And may I find them.

Perhaps, I will manage with small and appropriate bandages.

Being Friends

All that is in quotes happened offline, or in my head. The rest of it is real; i.e. it actually happened. Like, as real as it can be. I mean, as real as a real conversation is dramatised, embellished by (my) poetic license. And know this: I have permission from the person with whom I had this conversation. And no, I don’t have permission to reveal who it is. Do you care?

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The Friend: How many friends do you have?

I quickly go to my Facebook profile. 269. That’s it? Damn. I should start accepting all those friend requests I get. But then, I can hardly keep up with 269.

Me: A few short of 300, I think. Why?

TF: Not on Facebook, dummy! Real friends.

ME: Maybe ten or fifteen?

I have no idea what the right answer is. How many friends does an average person have? That’s the number I am seeking. I am an average person.

TF: No. Really. How many friends do we really have?

ME: I’ll let loose my hound-algorithms to deduce that. What’s on your mind?

Luckily for me, I remember all the tech jargon from college. But I was already wary of what was coming.

TF: How many real friends do you have? Seriously.

ME: As many fingers on one hand; I have no mutation.

Five.

TF: I just told off a “friend” – I said – I have enough fair weather friends. Where do you fit?

ME: Ouch.

TF: Yeah! That person didn’t understand what I am going through. I think, however, that the person understood exactly what I am going through. And being with me would be so much of a burden; a taxing companionship, so to speak. I have lost friends like autumn leaves. Once, my life made sense to them. Now that I am coloured by circumstances, friends are de-saturating.

ME: Hmm.

The “Hmm” is a catch-phrase of any IM conversation. It means absolutely nothing but it can mean anything. You use it when you have nothing to say, but need to respond. Because, the lack of response is worse than the infinite abstraction of the universality of the “Hmm.” I was however, also thinking of those that moved away. Those “friends.” Did I drive them away? Was I not good enough for them anymore? Did they choose to move away? Did my life suddenly become dull and uninteresting?

TF: You there?

ME: Yes, yes. Am here. [12 second pause] You did what you had to do. I have only just walked away. Perhaps I find it uncomfortable to confront. So I walk away. Telling someone who they are is a pointless exercise because, either they know who they are or they think they are someone else. Telling them, therefore, serves no purpose.

It’s 1994 or 95-ish. I am waiting at Stadium Restaurant. I have called my friend from a PCO, as I left office that evening. I’d be there in 45 minutes, he confirms he will be there too, in about an hour or so. These are the days when we didn’t have mobile phones (Just helping your imagination). I am there at 7:45pm as promised. I wait there. For three hours. I have no way of contacting him. He shows up. After three hours. He was unapologetic. Mostly. I am surprised about myself. Yes, I am tired; I am not angry. He is my best friend. Finger No. 1.

TF: I should do that. Walking away is maturity, I guess.

TF doesn’t mean it that way, but I cringe. There comes my age into play again.

ME: Please avoid the word “mature” – makes me feel old.

TF: Haha!

Time is experience. Yes, many years have passed. And I am what I am only after these many years. c. 1989. College hostel. I meet with a senior. He tells me what I am getting into. After all the talk, he says, “Forget all I said, no one learns by listening – you have to make your own mistakes. Just enjoy the ride”

ME: There is no one truth. It’s unique to us. Live your own, in the way you can. Your circumstance isn’t your life. Your life has a circumstance. Life’s forever. Circumstances come and go. Don’t let a circumstance dictate what you have to say and what you do not. Let life dictate that.

TF: I like that thought.. good idea. Let me try that.

Happy Teachers’ Day

In my work, I often see the angst that has now become the mainstay of any conversation or discussion about education. The world as we know it, is changing rapidly and almost everything is under the social microscope. Every thing is being dissected by those who know something of a thing, as well as those who do not know about a thing. Alike.

In this rapidly changing world, all professions and vocations are being evaluated and questioned. Teaching is no exception. Except in one way. For almost all professions, it is the profession which is being looked at, not so much the professionals. When it comes to teaching, it is the teachers where the focus falls. It has become personal. For reasons I have not yet understood. I do understand, however, that it’s the wrong approach that we are taking.

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For all of us who have had the good fortune to have had good teachers, we know that these folks did good by us in spite of the hurdles they faced. The problems of the system existed then, as they do, now. Only the context has changed. And even today, teachers are working in spite of the problems. I know this because I see the love and respect for teachers by the young ones around me.

The situation is not as bad as we are made to believe it is. It only looks worse because those telling us how bad it is, are only looking at the situation and doing very little (other than telling us how bad it is). And I’d like to salute those teachers today, who are doing something for our teachers. They are the reason we will have even better teachers tomorrow.

To all my teachers — in school and college, at home and my workplace, young and small. Those who intended to teach me and those who didn’t; who got called teachers and those that didn’t.

Happy Teachers’ Day!