Wednesday, July 27, 2011


If you were to ask me, what is love , I would not be able to explain it. I can probably lift definitions from books and the internet and repeat those defs to you.
But here is my ‘experience’ of love for my cat and others! This is what I do, when I am experiencing love.
*If my husband asks for coffee in the morning, I may or may not feel like getting it for him.
Sometimes I even get annoyed that he can’t get it for himself;
However, the moment my kitten mews, I jump out of bed and do its bidding. I experience absolutely no annoyance when I hear its mews. I am in fact glad! When you are in love, you will not be lazy! You will jump through hoops for the one you love….like your kitten.

*When any person ruins my dress (or anything of mine) , the first emotion I experience is irritation or anger. I may or may not show it, I may even smile and say, "Don’t worry. It is okay" but I experience a brief blaze of anger. I may not experience that anger if the destruction is wrought by a child, a baby or someone I like/love but I do experience some sort of negative emotion if the person who wrought the destruction happens to be an adult, especially if it is one whom I like a little bit less! However if my kitten happens to tear even a valuable silk outfit of mine, I do not experience anger. I have even been amused when my kitten has accidently broken something. Love is all-forgiving!

*When I am busy doing something urgent or important, I, like anyone else, don't want to be interrupted….except if the interruption is pleasant such as a tv program, a tea break, a welcome visitor, and so on. However any interruptions from my kitten are welcome. Feeding, cleaning it’s litter-box, filling it’s water bowl, whatever.

I think love is something biological and not something that is rational.

I had a difficult grandmother (if she had ever gone to a psychiatrist, she might have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder I think!) who was impossible to like or live with. She behaved obnoxiously towards almost everyone, considered herself superior to others; she was critical, paranoid and demanding. Yet I loved her! I would fight with her, yell at her, experience intense and explosive anger towards her, but I had  a great need to make her happy and I was ready to do anything to please her. She provoked me often & intensely and I would end up yelling at her; while one part of my mind yelled at her, the other part was simultaneously racing ahead, seeking words which would not hurt her much. Even while fighting with her, at the height of my anger, I took care, not to hurt her feelings and guarded my tongue.
Mind you, when I yelled at others, I never took such care, and would let go completely and bash the person I was yelling at, with all I had!

*Another expression of my love is the kind of thoughts I have towards the people I love. When I am idly daydreaming or thinking, I think of ways to make my loved ones happy. I spend hours, planning and doing things which I think would make them happy…….even if it involved a lot of exertion and expense. When my grandmother was living with me, I spent  a lot time, fantasizing how I would dedicate my life to making her happy…by fulfilling all her wishes to the best of my ability. At these times, I never spared any thought for myself, my needs or other people. Of course, I fantasized more and did less…..but maybe, if I had means, I would have done more.

*I consider myself frugal to the point of being miserly but when it comes to spending on those I like/love, expense does not matter at all! (I do not like spending on myself, but that is me.) Logic simply goes out the window and love pours in through the doors of my heart! Buying things for people, one loves is the most common and visible expression of love I have seen in people. It is touching and interesting to see the normally rational and budget conscious people going overboard when they splurge on the children or pets or people they love and try to rationalize their spending!

*Another manifestation of love would be, Impulsivity.
Let me explain; For those I love, the words "No; I can’t do that" never crosses my mind, however outrageous the demand.(Thank God, no one has made any seriously outrageous demands on me!). My mind jumps to action i.e. planning how to do what the loved one asked and the thought of refusing never crosses my mind. I start thinking about how best to satisfy the loved one’s desire rather than thinking in the usual mode which is : "why is this person asking me to do this? What will I get if I do this? Is it safe for me ? Is it possible for me? Is it too much trouble for me? If I do this for him, will it interfere with me or my interests?" And so on.

*Tolerance and forgiving is another aspect of this sort of  'biological' love.

I do not experience the same sort of tolerance, patience and inclination to forgive, towards people , I do not love. But I seem to have an immense capacity to ‘take shit’ from the people I love! Especially this grandmother of mine. I had an immense capacity to forgive and tolerate my grandmother’s behaviour; However, I cannot tolerate even one hundredth of her sort of behaviour, in someone else! I have this sort of inexplicable patience& tolerance only towards her, while I am much less patient with others! Love is illogical; difficult to explain with rational explainations; Love is blind! And patient and forgiving!
( I ought to remember this when I am baffled by the behaviours of clients I am counselling...their irrational behaviours maybe due to love!)

*My expectations from the people I love is almost zero. I simply want them to be happy and maybe I would like it if they like me. I feel rewarded if they show love towards me (such as my kitten approaching me and rubbing against my legs). But even if my kitten did not approach me, I would still feel love for it.* Love is unconditional.

Like most people, I do have expectations from other people i.e. people whom I do not love but am acquainted with, etc; And if they were not up to my expectations, I would probably have minimal contact with them.
The conditions and expectations from a relationship are more when there is little or no love. If people do not fulfil  expectations, like in a business relationship, etc, Interactions cease and the person may feel nothing when the relationship ends.

*Love also makes one do things which one generally does’nt do. I remember swearing that I will never ever beg anyone, in a humble manner, especially a corrupt person in a high up position. Guess what ? That is exactly what I did! …for love!

My sister wanted her daughter to get into a ‘good’ school in Bangalore but that is impossible without money or connections. But of course, the ‘good’ schools do not demand money openly and parents go through the sham process of buying applications, filling them in and submitting. I went to this school and stood in a line daily for a week in the mornings, hoping to get to talk to the principal of this school in order to beg her to consider my 4 year old niece’s application for admission. I was humble and downright ingratiating (read, ‘kiss ass’) in this principal’s presence and I had no qualms doing that for my little niece!

I cannot imagine being so humble and respectful and ingratiating for myself to some corrupt person! I boil at the very thought of it but I did this for my niece! Love can make one endure the unendurable!

*I also find that I can be a lot more creative and my brain seems to be flooded with ideas when I am doing something for someone I love or when I am especially excited. The ideas, just flow and the energy flows and this happens even if I happen to be tired or hungry or sleepy or whatever! I am sure the neurotransmitters in the brain are triggered by love, in no small way! When I was trying to think of a gift for someone I loved, the ideas for the gift, simply flowed and some of the ideas were pretty creative! I don’t want to boast, but that’s the truth!

However, when I am trying to think of ideas, for someone I am not really into, then I do not have the same flow of creative ideas.


Where have I seen displays of  love and affection? I have seen love and affection in literally thousands of relationsships. Love is not uncommon. Thank God!

I see display of love in several people around me…….husbands and wives, friends, parents and children, pets and their owners, even colleagues at work. The beauty of this sort of pure love is that people, love without expectations. They love someone or something who may not be 'of use' to them....the practical, materialistic approach is not there. There are people who are truly romantic and not the least bit practical(I am not sure if pracitcal is the word I want but I cant think of a better word here) when it comes to loving. I greatly admire this free spontaneous loving ...In today's world, when everyone seems to be so 'shrewd'; when people are more often 'practical' than romantic, 'when people almost always  weigh pros and cons before 'getting into a relationship'..... 'falling in love' without checking, thinking, calculating, seems a rare occurence!
And what moves me  most is the love I see of families for their mentally ill or mentally retarded (developmentally delayed is the latest, politically correct word for mentally retarded) members.

While working with this population, I was initially furious with the ‘crazy’ things people did for their mentally ill or mentally retarded family members. But as I grew older, I started seeing their ‘acts’ as acts of love, though it was so phenomenally impractical, stupid, expensive and caused more problems than it solved.

I remember this case of a young girl in Bangalore who presented in the psychiatry dept with Obsessive compulsive neurosis. She was started on anti depressants and later, she was put on anti-psychotics. There was little or no improvement in her OCN which seemed to go on to become some sort of schizophrenia.

Her mother was dedicated to taking care of her and she devoted her entire for her. The girl was of marriageable age and the mother started talking to me about getting her married. I strongly advised the mother against getting her married ….the girl was completely dependent on her mother, incapable of even eating, dressing and taking her medication, without being told or coaxed to, daily. How could she get married and take on the responsibilities expected of her as a wife and daughter-in-law? The mother was adamant about getting her married and told me that, she will look after her daughter and son-in-law, as long as she lived; that her daughter need not do anything; it is enough for her if her daughter, sits like a "doll in the showcase". (Doll-in-the-showcase is in my language, Kannada; she means to say that it’s okay if her daughter is merely ornamental and not useful i.e. if she did no work")

This lady got her daughter with OCN, married to a close relative of hers.
her daughter and son-in-law lived with her after the wedding and she and her husband supported their daughter and son-in-law . Needless to say, this was a marriage only in appearance; the son-in-law neither helped in the household chores not supported himself or his wife financially. He lived like a guest in this house, with his wife.

What struck me most was the mother’s initial comment to me when I opposed the idea of getting her daughter married: her comment that her daughter need do nothing but dress up and sit and she would look after her for life.(‘Dress up and sit’ is again a literal translation from my language and I hope you readers get what she meant) This love is biological and nothing to do with rationale.

Families who live with and care for the mentally ill in their families, do love their disabled members; Yet, they suffer from burn out after a while. I have come across several families in India who are so burnt out after years of caring for the mentally ill or severely epileptic or severely retarded or alcoholic and the love & goodness of these caring family members has eroded over time. I have had parents, siblings and spouses openly saying they wished their ill child/spouse/whoever was dead, right in their face! But I know that they speak harshly with the exhaustion of caring and not out of hate. Love is there but it is gradually fading or the love appears and disappears depending on their level of exhaustion at a given point in time. As you realize, by reading this, often, love cannot survive in the face of difficulties. The difficulties may be of various types…financial, social, emotional, etc.

I have also seen 'true' love eroded by various other mundane factors, which is a reality of life.....Relationships which were once happy and romantic are worn out by the difficult and the mundane factors of living...children, economic and other pressures, in-laws, growing apart in interests as they grow/change over time
The tragic love stories are much more unforgettable, romantic and poignant than happy ending stories.
Tell me which story moves you more:

...a story of two young lovers, madly in love, and one young lover is killed by the other's harsh relatives ....both died young and beautiful or were torn apart at the height of their love!


...a story of two lovers, who got married, had kids, lived a long and boring life, started quarrelling their love fizzled out, they drifted apart and finally divorced.....and they changed from youthful and beautiful to  fat and old and developed health problems like incontinence!


Now, just as I am trying to wind up this essay, I  discovered one odd thing about myself………..I do not have the need to hang out with the people I love all the time.

Hmm? Isn’t that strange…..I say I love my grandmother but do not want to hang out with her all the time….or my niece….or my husband….

I would much rather hang out with people who are witty, easy to get along with, are good conversationalists; who talk of things I am interested in; people who are not self-centered, boring or annoying.

I realize I love my grandmother but if I hang out with her all the time, I would go crazy! Same goes for most people I ‘love’. Maybe, that why I say that my love is biological and not rational.

So maybe I do not feel love for all the people like my husband, grandmother and niece but something else? Or is there something deficient in my love? I dunno. But I am sure I do not want to hang out with anyone forever. I want my space. I want to be with different people.

(Of course, I do have fantasies in which all my relatives and friends live close by and meet often instead of being scattered all over the world. But that is about it.)

Before I shut up, here are a few of my favourite love stories which made me cry and cry and cry!
Tristan and Isolde
Salim and Anarkali
Hundreds of Indian movies' love stories have moved me during my younger years: Two I can recall now are :
Marocharitra(Telgu movie, I saw 3 times, and cried each time!)
Bobby(with Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia)

A whole lot of movies in Tamil, Telgu, Kannada and Hindi moved me . Several Kamal Haasan's romantic Tamil movies of the 70s and 80s really moved me a lot.

I have had the pleasure of reading hundreds of book with love interests; Love in books which moved me, which I can recall now, as I am writing this are:
Eric Segal’s Love story
Colleen Mccullough's Thornbirds

There was also a wonderful love story in the book section of an old (1980?) reader's digest, whose name and author I cannot remember. It was very very moving...the love a teenage boy felt for his school teacher, a young lady, who is only a little older than him. She leaves his school and he threw a bouquet of wild flowers into her train carriage when she left. Oh my God! I have read this story a dozen times and cried every time!

I have enjoyed a whole lot of delightful romances written by Georgette Heyer such as

The convenient marriage
The corinthian
Devil's cub
The masqueraders
April Lady
These old shades
The grand Sophy
I grew up on Mills & Boon books, i.e. a publication of romances but now I cant bear them at all! Maybe I have changed in some way(grown up? Aged? Matured? Become cynical?) and so cannot tolerate the Mills & Boon which I once devoured with such rapt interest!
I also cannot bear the books of that humongous and humongously mediocre romance writer, Barbara Cartland today!
Now a days, I am less into romance and more into crime fiction & humour, be it television, books or movies.(However, if crime has a bit of romance in it, that is a nice bonus!) The romance in crime fiction is as engrossing as the romance in the out and out romantic stories..(dear reader, I am aware I started talking of love and have now slid to crime fiction, please bear with me!).
I have enjoyed the romantic peccadilloes of Archy McNally of the Lawrence Sanders series! I have enjoyed reading the sparse bits about the love lifes of characters in several crime fiction novels. The very very briefly mentioned love life of some characters in some novels of Alistair Maclean such as The satan bug, is an example. I was also much moved by the brief romance-like emotion experienced by Sudden aka James Green in Gold seeker, a western by Oliver Strange.

I have enjoyed and spent hours thinking about hundreds, nay thousands of love stories between people in several serials(soaps, crime, family dramas, etc) both Indian and English. The sexual chemistry and love/tension between characters, even the police personnel in crime television serials are captivating.
Needless to say, I find the sad ending love stories more moving and haunting than the happy ending ones.( But in real life, the happy endings are preferable! Believe you me!) Buniyaad, an old serial in India is one. There are literally hundreds of television and cinema romances I have mooned over!

But these days ( I am in my 40s now) I find romantic movies a wee bit boring and have no patience to listen to the gossip about my friend’s romantic relationships …..Love stories(except the Georgette Heyer ones) sort of bore me now…..
Does it mean that Love is dead to me?
No. It's not that. I am just not interested in others love life. I am happy with my love life but I have no patience for others love life. Sorry folks. It’s not you. It’s me!

Let me add one last bit about what I hate about romantic love...It is the pseudo romantics
 To me they are  people who are are  calculative and who check out everything and then 'fall in love' if 'all is okay'! I hate these pseudo romantics. I have seen quite a few of them in India.
 As you guys know, we have arranged marriages in India. I have seen women and men  who 'fell in love' with someone at work or college who happened to be the exact same caste, sub-caste, religion, whatever ! The practical advantages of  falling in love with a guy/gal in your own community are : They face little opposition from parents; the girl is saved from paying the dowry ( I have seen love marriages where dowry was demanded by te egroom's parents! and the  groom was sitting mum when his parents demanded!); etc.
I prefer that people are honest and admit  they are looking for someone who fit their criteria than pretend they 'fell in love', after they find someone who fit their criteria.
 I respect the fact that in India and other conservative countries, arranged marriages are the norm and people grow to love only after marriage.  But I prefer people admit that theirs is an arranged marriage and take their time to grow to love  instead of pretending to be in love (or is it true...some sort of an unconscious and powerful process of the mind?) as soon as the engagement is fixed!
Of the people I have observed around me, I find that the males tend to genuinely fall in love(at least for the girl's looks....however shallow this seems to be!) while females are  less romantic and more practical(females I know seem to be concerned about his job and earnings and less likely to fall in love spontaneously, without regard to the practical aspect) in their approach. What do you think?

One more thing: Please do not think I am a sucker for all  the Indian romantic movies! I find them absolute rubbish....especially the ones showing a rich girl falling for a poor guy... or a 'city' guy falling for a 'village girl' real life, they have will have no common interests to share or anything in common to talk about..... how long can this love be sustained...three days tops! (The Kannada movies I have seen have such impossible rubbish...the worst are the ones where the girl falls for a naive(read stupid//retarded/) guy or a guy falls for an 'innocent'(read immature/childish/developmentally delayed) girl. Of course these movies were in the  80s and hopefully they are no longer produced. Another piece of nonsense romance in Indian movies is the belle falling for a bully after being harassed by him, instead of kicking him in the balls.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Indian Politicians

Random Articulations of a Confused Brain:

Would  India be saved  if the people elected as politicians  fulfil the following MANDATED criteria, before standing for elections?

*Spiritually inclined Brahamacharis : Anyone who wants to stand for elections should be single for life, should be a Brahmachari and should not have any children.(Brahmacharya state  is for eternity i.e.  before, during and after his politician position.In short, he should be a life-long Brahmachari)

*Minimum of graduate level of education: Masters degree in some subject.

* An IQ of  at least 120

*Pass a test of psychopathy (proof that they are not psychopaths or criminally minded)

*Pass a mental status examination proving they do not have any major mental health issues.

The reasons for the criteria:

If the politician is spiritual, he will not be interested in worldly pleasures and acquisitions.

If he or she is unmarried and asexual, he/she will be free from temptations. Moreover I have seen many corrupt Indian politicians amass wealth, more for their children and grandchildren than for their own enjoyment.I am assuming the need and greed for amassing wealth would be nonexistent if they did not have children (i.e. if the politicans were unmarried & childless, Brahmacharis)

With some education, our politicians will not talk or act like fools. For example our health minister (whose IQ must be below 70)recently made such a stupid blunder in his speech and had people wild and furious: He called homosexuality a disease! I can give you thousands of such blunders made by Indian politicians.

In some village Panchayats, at Zilla Parishads, in Bihar (when Rabri Devi was acting CM or was CM when her husband Lallo Prasad Yadav was in jail) shrewd people working behind scenes place gullible or ‘malleable’ people in the forefront as politicians and manipulate them to satisfy their greeds.
 If it’s mandated that our elected politicians had an IQ of 120(120 is an arbitrary number I chose as it is above average; I do not mean that it should be strictly 120) at least, then the politician would see that he is being manipulated and he would stop it.(or at least, that is what I hope for!)

As everyone knows, India is one of the most corrupt countries in the world; our politicians have spread the rot of corruption from political life to all areas of life in India. As the world already knows, Indian politicians are, as a majority, anti-social personalities with less than 1% of exceptions to this rule. In order to improve India, we should have honest politicians (would  Abraham Lincoln clone himself a million times and settle in India please?). To do that, we should test the guys who want to be politicians and allow only those honest guys to enter politics.
 As far as I know, there is no fool proof test to assess psychopathy; I do not want to go into the details of the assessment but suffice it to say, it is going to be complicated to identify a tool!

Some of our politicians had dementia when in office and were controlled by those around them. Some were seriously mentally ill( I am naming no names here) . For example, there is  one mentally ill (bi-polar) chief minister of a state currently. The mental illness of those in power, affects not one or two but affects millions of people, who are helpless! It is mandatory for the mentally ill and dementing to not be in seats of power.
 Imagine how much less grief & destruction there would be in this world if the mentally ill, did not have power to rule!

You dear reader, may ask me, 'What about those who fulfil all this criteria, become politicians and then, deteriorate'?

That possibility is there. I have seen so many elected people, who seemed wonderful at first and then either deteriorated or showed their true colours. To avoid this, there should be watchdogs who keep an eye. Reassessing the politicians once elected also would bring to light, any deteriorating type of changes. (Assess their IQs, Psychopathy, mental state, commitment to work, etc).

Of course, these  politicians should not only be spiritual but they should also wield power; they should not end up being puppets in the hands of powerful psychopaths who stay behind the scene. By using the word spiritual, I am actually meaning ethical. They should be ethical, be motivated to work for the good of society, not be megalomaniacs (India is full of megalomaniac politicians, politicians children and relatives, megalomaniac film stars, etc….is megalomania a disease you get in India? So many people have this disease here that, one wonders!). Jayalalitha is one such megalomaniac;

They should also be practical; but not compromise ethics to be practical;

They should be humble; most Indian politicians lack humility ( the government bureaucrats too are obnoxious boors who lack humility)

I can go on and on about what they should have in addition to the criteria I mentioned above but I will stop here…except for one last word….continue reading.





What the heck! All these criteria are not needed. The only criteria the Indian politician should have is this: He should have the ‘shame gene’;

100% of Indian politicians are shameless; they seem to lack the gene for feeling ‘shame’ and gene for being decent. Indian politicians are so shameless that even if you prove that a politician is guilty of a heinous crime, he will still stick to his political seat and refuse to step down: he will not  try to defend himself by saying, ‘I am not guilty’!; he will defend himself by saying that others are guiltier than him!
(The current CM of Karnataka said recently that  even Gandhi would be corrupt today!)

India would do better if we elected politicians with some sense of shame and decency.
So if there are any decent Indian people, with intelligence, education, integrity & courage, they should be standing for elections!(As I said already, they should be Brahmacharis ties are an impediment to integrity! The minister cant say no if his wife demands that he gets a medical seat for his son or a 'high post' for her brother isnt it!)



Monday, July 25, 2011

Among the Believers:V.S.Naipaul(1981 Published)

I am currently reading the book Among the Believers by Naipaul. It is about Naipaul's travels in Iran, Pakistan and Malaysia. He has written about his interactions and meetings with various ordinary people and their thoughts and ideas. His writing is beautiful and to me, his take on the people is dead on!

This book is interesting to read and is  a wonderful way to learn about the lives of common people of these countries around 1980.

If the politicians of the west understood the people of the Muslim countries, like Naipaul does, then maybe they would be a better understanding and communication and better-planned  policies when dealing with these countries. War could be avoided altogether with a better understanding of the psychology of the people of  countries such as Iran, Pakistan, Afganisthan, etc.

The Norway tragedy

Do I have an opinion about everything? Yes . I do!
Even about the Norway massacre

Reading about the tragic massacre in Oslo, Norway, was heart-breaking for me.

I have been thinking about religion ever since I started reading religion related problems in India in the newspapers. And as all of you know, India, has seethed with religion related fights since thousands of years…Hindus who tried to crush Buddhism at the time of Shankaracharya; Muslims who invaded India and tried to crush Hinduism; fight between Sikhs and Hindus; between Sikhs and Muslims; Christina missionaries forcing conversion of Hindus during colonial times; even within the single Hindu religion, here are fights between the thousands of castes! This caste war amongst Hindus is like the Catholic-Protestant fights among Christians or the Shia –Sunni fights among the Muslims.

I remember reading in newspapers, when I was a teen about the Sikhs who were asking for a separate state (country?) of their own and there were daily bomb-attacks in crowded buses of New Delhi. The news about the India-Pakistan fights over Kashmir, the news about Hindus killing Muslims and Muslims killing Hindus, in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh are all grist for the Indian news ‘mill’.

After coming to Canada and reading news of other countries I realized that even in these ‘modern’ times, there are religion based fights going on all over the world…..developed countries, not excluded!

The Palestine-Israel fights for example; I neither knew much nor cared about the Palestine-Israel fights as I was too involved with the local and national Indian news than international news. Now that I am out of India, I am able to focus and try to understand what is happening internationally.

It is so depressing to see the religion based fights, wars, killings and bombings happening over and over in the world today. Here are a few day-dreams I have had, growing up.

* I always had this fantasy of a wonderful world, where people live peacefully and all are engaged in science and arts activities, production, conserving the Earth, discovering new worlds and enjoyment of life.

*For a while, Communism seemed such a Utopia. (that was when I read of a rather naïvely written chapter on communism in my political science text in B.A!).I gave up on communism when I realized that human psychology will never permit communism to work..... as people are only human and not 'perfect';  .

*Later, I fantasized a world without ‘evil’ people and a world where no one was selfish.

*I out-grew that fantasy pretty quickly and then thought of how wonderful the world would be if Jesus Christ and Mohamed had never been born. Of course, one major loss would be that the beautiful religion inspired art would not have got created. (the beautiful churches, mosques, sculptures, paintings, poetry, philosophy, literature, ethics, etc)

But a friend of mine, argues and stated that if it were not Christ and Mohamed, it would have been someone else! Someone would have been around to ‘lead’ or ‘save’ the people....and then teh usual rifts between followers would have started and the world would be in teh same state it is in now.

*Would banning religion help? I don’t think so. It has been tried and has failed miserably in communist countries. Religion goes underground; it can lead to twists and people's sufffering; People cannot be forced and it is simply not ethical to use force.

*I am not religious by nature and I sometimes wonder if religion has outlived it’s usefulness today. If religion dies a natural death and fades away slowly, then the world would be rid of a major war-causing nuisance. Of course, the wars are in the name of religion but are in fact  caused by greed, economic factors and greed or  need for power.
If   religion were to be dead today and we still had wars,  there would be at least be a greater transparency about the real cause of the wars. And when the true cause is known, it is easier to deal with.

*Would introducing mandatory logic, rational thinking, philosophy in grades 11 and 12 in ALL countries help? I don’t know. I know for sure that having Moral Science in Indian primary schools did not help much! So I don’t see how making Logic, Philosophy, mandatory in high schools help. But my heart believes that if sensible teachers, taught teenagers about ethics, morals, decency, philosophy, logic, etc, then you catch them young and the world can go in the right direction. Instead you have stupid parents who inculcate hate, paranoia, avoidance of ‘other’ people in their kids from a young age(My own grandmother would warn me not to play with certain kids as they were ‘not good").
You have stupid religious heads covertly encouraging attacks on other religious communities; you have stupid governments in some countries publishing children’s text books which incite hatred of certain religions! No wonder, these children grow up to hate other religions or other sects or any ‘other’s.

Coming to this awful massacre of young innocent people by A.B.Breivik, he says he killed them as a wake up call to Europeans to not let Europe be overrun by Muslims. But what is his rationale in killing innocent people? Does the wake up call have to involve murder of innocent people who had NOTHING to do with immigration policy of Norway. I do not know.
What is the logic behind killing young people, who had NOTHING to do with immigration to Norway? Was there no other way for him to communicate his beliefs?

This brings to mind, an article I read on the internet recently. Some states in USA and Canada have been overrun with deer and this has lead to lots of accidents and leading to deer damaging valuable farmlands. People are asking for culling of deer to control the deer population. I am very much pro-deer and pro wild-life and I think that the Earth has been overrun with human beings (7 billion humans will be inhabiting earth in a short while!) and I angrily thought that maybe the government should think of culling human beings who are overrunning the space belonging to wild life instead of culling deer. But reading about Breivik’s terrible deed, I have changed my mind. Don’t cull humans; don’t cull the deer; Just find some way to co-exist!

I fully understand Breivik’s fears about the people of certain faiths overrunning the space and changing the demographics. For example I have seen the lovely peaceful faith of Zoroastrians disappearing because that faith does not force people to convert to their faith and it is a gentle religion which does not force the people born into it’s faith to stick to it. As a result this religion is all but extinct. (I think the number of Parsees is less than one million in the world today)

Another example is that of the many faiths and cults which became extinct as Christianity and Islam spread all over the world. Whatever faiths or religions existed in Europe and West Asia have been wiped out by Christianity and Islam.

The demographics of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Bangladesh changed from being Hindu regions for thousands of years to becoming Islam dominant regions when the Muslim invaders came and forcibly took over the people living here. The demographics of even far east countries has been changed by the spread of religion...Malaysia in the far east is Muslim, African nations which once had their tribal Gods are now muslim, South and North Americas which had Native Indian Gods and tribes are now full of Christian Caucasians, with the original native population, constituting only a fraction of the population.

Of course, Buddhism too has spread and changed the culture of places like Japan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Burma, China, etc but as far as I know, Buddhism was never forced upon people as it was a peaceful religion.

What about the two continents of America and the continent of Australia? The demographics of these continents changed entirely by the movement of people from Europe to these continents for reasons apart from religion such as trade, invasion, greed or need for products for the European markets, etc. The indigenous populations of several Carribean islands have been completely wiped out by murder (My opinion is murder; others call it as something else) by the European invaders who later settled there. They not only wiped out the populations of indigenous people of these islands completely but also moved the indigenous people of Africa to these islands to work as slaves.

Today, the areas occupied by the indigenous populations in the two Americas and in Australia are paltry compared to the areas occupied by the European invaders.

The only reason the Europeans did not completely occupy India and China and other parts of Asia is because we were too populous for them to kill, I think! Who knows? I also think the Caucasians from Europe did not succeed in occupying Africa (except South Africa) because the weather did not suit them...this is simply my guess, not based on any thing!

As I am retrieving facts from memory and writing, I am realizing that the more powerful ( by power I mean intelligent, technologically advanced, politically savvy, psychologically sophisticated, etc) and less ethical the people, the greater their invasion.

Of course the invaders will never think of themselves as ‘unethical’. They are either deluded enough to believe they are doing good to the natives by invading them ( example the Catholics thought they saved the Africans and Asians from their primitive heathen religions and beliefs) or they know they are nothing but robbers but cover it up in high flowing talks about how they are actually "doing good by looting them" in various ways!

To me, in the modern days of the 20th & 21st centuries, a different type of invasion of the world ( USA, Canada, New Zealand & Australia)is happening by the Indians (whether Hindus, Christians, Muslims or whatever) and Chinese; these two groups are getting out of their respective countries because there are limited opportunities for them in their countries due to high populations. They are settling all over the world and populating those countries and changing the demographics there! Soon the world will be full of Indians and Chinese.
 I am also observing that while a majority of the Indians and Chinese get married and have kids, the majority of Caucasians, are less likely to do so as they seem to have other priorities in life or their needs and expectations in life are different. Whether this difference between Asians and Caucasians is due to their culture or upbringing, I do not know. There is a fall in the Caucasian populations in many countries of Europe.

I think the Muslims have beliefs similar to Indians and Chinese i.e. they have a need to get married and have kids! Also the wars, famines, lack of opportunities for jobs, in many Muslim countries for whatever reasons, make life miserable for them and they move out to Europe, and other places. And then they reproduce there with all their might! ( I am kidding but the Muslim friends I know, do have more kids than my Hindu & Christian friends)

What Breivik should have done instead of killing so many innocent Noway's youth is that he should have encouraged the Caucasians to reproduce so that they are not outnumbered by the immigrants in their country!

But can you imagine a world, (already at 7 billion) where people are racing to reproduce and populate the world with ‘their race’ instead of warring with the other ‘races’ or ‘religions’ or whatever? That would be another mess, as messy or more messy than the religious wars of today!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

absence of thinking

Absence of realistic thinking, depth and context while making plans and promises:

{Note: I have used ‘I’ but the ‘I’ in this article represents not just my own but the experiences of many people. For simplicity, I have bundled all people into ‘I’.}

When you ask a child, what it wants to be or what it wants to be when it grows up or what plans it has for the summer holidays, the child probably gives an answer which indicates its dreams and wishes. The child’s answers to this sort of questions is not realistic i.e. the answers are not based on Practical and available options. A child stating wishes as opposed to sensible answers is okay or ‘understandable’ because ….. "It is only a child".

But such responses from adults are unacceptable!

When I read the newspapers (Times of India & Deccan Herald, online) and read the plans of politicians which are similar to a child’s thinking and a child’s or a retarded person’s lack of depth, it makes me furious.

Just listening to the plans put forth by an Indian politician or bureaucrat, an ordinary but thinking layman immediately knows that the plan is not ‘doable’. Yet, the Indian politicians have continued to dupe the Indian people, for the last 64 years through such empty promises. And the Indian government planners too.

This absence of depth in thinking, absence of details in planning is seen in the behaviours of not just politicians but most Indian people. There is also what I call as wishful or illogical (or irrational) thinking, which governs the wishes, plans, of many people I have come across. The absence of realism in their plans dooms their plans to failure but they never ever try to identify the true cause of their failures. They tend to blame other people, events, God, fate, "Shani-Kaala", bad luck, etc for their failures and make another expensive but ill-fated (as it is ill-planned) attempt again.

I have tried several times to dissuade people from attempting when their plans appear blatantly foolhardy but I have failed. I meet a stubborn resistance. Let me give some examples of such thinking and such ideas which are doomed from the very outset.

The examples I am giving here display the typical Indian ways of thinking; this type of thinking surely leads to failure but the thinkers are unable to recognize this fact!

  • I have begged a high school student to study but he prefers to play cricket. I have tried to tell him that he will be overwhelmed at exam time to study all the subjects as there will be little time but he assured me that he can ‘manage’. Come exams, he rushes to the temple to pray. Not studying the entire month and rushing to the temple to pray to pass in the exams is a typical example of poor planning and wishful thinking combined.
  • I have seen several people buy things which they cannot afford. When I ask them not to buy those things, I am told that ‘they have to buy this(silk sari for example) and not something cheaper(synthetic sari for example) as they will feel humiliated otherwise. When I try to make them think a bit deeper about the issue…for example how they will get the money to pay for silk when they do not have the money, the answers reflect their ….shall I call it shallow thinking or shall I call it refusal to delve deeply or shall I call it complete avoidance of thinking ?

The answers I have got to this question of How will you pay for the sari(or whatever) include:
(1) I will pay it off ‘somehow’ (in my language it is ‘hae-ga-dru’)…when you ask what you mean by ‘somehow’, they get angry and refuse to explain as they really have no answer. This "I will do it somehow" is a classic reply I get to several questions, for which the listener has no true answer. They may as well admit that they do not know but they seem to prefer the face-saving, " I will do it somehow". And the sensible people around them are too polite to push them to answer this question or too scared to push and provoke a fight. I strongly believe that the wise people do not confront the non-thinking people in India as they do not want the non-thinker to ‘lose face’ and feel humiliated.
If all sensible persons always or often confront the non-thinkers and not give up until the non-thinkers came up with realistic plans, then the loss and failures in India would be lesser.
I think, it is better for a non-thinker to lose face and be saved from making a costly mistake than otherwise. I have seen sensible wives remain un-confronting and silent when their husbands are making stupid decisions. I have heard of a laboratory attender in the veterinary college at Hebbal who remained silent when the vet gave an over-dose by mistake and killed a pet dog. He told later, he wondered why the vet gave such a high dose, but he did not have the courage to step up to the vet, because he is a ‘lowly’ attender!
I am sure you reader, have come across several such incidents, especially if you are from a society like India’s.
I have seen over and over again, this silence by the rational people in India when confronted by foolish decisions of the irrational people because they fear the wrath of the irrational; several irrational in India are not only irrational but also have massive egos which bruises easily!
COMING BACK TO THE ANSWERS TO the question, How will you pay for sari…, another answer is
(2) "I will do it later". ….. Then I ask, "Later how?"….Then there is no answer but an angry silence.

  1. "I will save money and pay it off"….". Then I ask, "How will you save, where will you get the money from, you already have no money saved as you need all that you earn?" No reply.

Other examples of irrational choices follow below.

    • Students opting for courses they cannot cope with as they are not able to work hard enough or they are not bright enough for the courses. Either the student makes this wrong choice or the parent forces his child to study even if the child lacks the capacity to cope with the course. Every year, lakhs of students with marks below 50% in mathematics and sciences enrol to study engineering. The reason for choosing this subject are many such as "I will get a good job; or I can go abroad, or I can earn well’ . The reasons which are present but not boldly expressed are " Engineering is prestigious; or I will have to give less dowry(female engineers) or I will get more dowry(male engineers);

When I ask these students, who they expect to cope with the engineering syllabi when they have fared poorly in grades 11 and 12, they give me answers like, " I will study hard"; "I am different now. From now onwards, I will work harder". When I explain that hard work may not be enough, they come up with answers like "I will go for tutions". When they find me too confrontational, they get angry and leave.

Getting into tough courses with which they cannot cope with, leads to evils like copying in the exams, bribing to pass, buying question papers, giving huge sums of money in the form of donations to get into the courses, etc. Later of course, there is the bribing to get a job, doing sub-standard work at job and not losing the job in spite of poor performance due to inability of the Indian government to fire its employees!

Once I did the IQ assessment of two boys (twins) who had just passed 10th standard on the request of their father. Their IQ indicated mild mental retardation and I was wondering how they could pass the 10th exams with 70%. Then the father confessed that he managed to get them 70% as he had ‘contacts’. He wanted my advice about their future and I told him their level of functioning and what options were available for them. He refused all options offered and told me that he is putting them into PUC, science stream! (i.e. 11th and 12th grades). I told him that it was impossible as his sons could not even do 5th grade subjects, who can they cope with 11th and 12th. He told me that they have to get through PUC and degree; if not, what future will they have? What he was saying was so bizarre and illogical but I am sure he would have made it work! He would have paid their way through, got them government jobs, and they would draw salaries. Maybe they would even get married and their wives would look after them!

As I am writing this article, I am realizing a few things my stream of ideas is on fire today!

One is that the impossible is seemingly possible in India due to many reasons; as long as we Indians can get away with illogic, we will be illogical! . Due to the practices of ‘buying’ things which cannot or shouldn’t be bought, such as a good marks card, a good seat (e.g. seat in a medical college) a good job and even a good ‘wife’ or ‘husband’ (through the practice of the dowry system,) people do not try to build logically towards their goals but simply buy what they desire.

Propping is another reason why the impossible is seemingly possible in India: Propping happens for various reasons. One chief reason for propping is the India's denial of truth and inability to face it, for fear of shame and losing face. An example of propping would be a medical student going for tutions as he cannot cope with the medical school. He would rather fail, take exams againa nd again, take tutions, turn out to be a mediocore doctor than admit he is nto fit to study medicine.
 Another example of propping is where two are hired to do one person's job. Another is where the entire family pitch in to help one family member to do a jo; a job that, one should be able to do.... or an entire department pitch in to prop up the person who is not doing his share of work.
Another example of propping is where the more able person in a lower position, does all the work for the one who is higher up but lacks the capacity to do it.........the boss presents his subordinate's work, and takes credit for it! Students write papers and it's published with the professor as first author!
Propping is not seen as fact, it is considered as 'helping' in some contexts. The lines between helping and propping is sort of blurred in India. I have seen friends get upset, when their 'friend' refuses to help them with their 'copying' in the exam or refuse to help them with their homework or project...refusing to prop is like refusing to help a friend. the one sho refuses to help is supposed to feel guilty! The well-to-do brother who refuses to 'help' his brother who is not doing well is another example of propping. Many Indians are torn between helping and letting the true worth of a person show....

The lack of accountability and responsibility when things go wrong encourage the people to be careless about planning. For example, when the wall of the newly built veterinary college wall collapsed on and killed a person standing by it, no one involved in the construction was held accountable or responsible. The engineer, the contractor, the builders just got away with it! This happened in Bangalore and I am sure, Indians will recall millions of such incidents where so many get away. When there is no demand to be accountable or responsible, when plans fail, then there is no strong push to make people plan better to avoid failures.

In India, often, innocent persons get blamed when things go wrong. For example,

I have seen wives being blamed for the alcoholism of their husbands; The causes of alcoholism are many and none include a bad wife but the wife is blamed.

Another example is women being killed in the north, accused of being witches and bringing bad luck to the villages; Someone falls sick in a village and some innocent, unlucky woman in that village is blamed for her witch-craft causing the illness!

Another example is of women getting blamed when they are sexually assaulted; Instead of punishing the assaulter, the assaulted victim is blamed for ‘provoking’ the attack by dressing ‘provocatively’ or ‘staying out late at night’.

I am sure the reader can see the absurd cause-effect relationships in the minds of Indian people (Not all Indians but a significant percent of the one billion plus!)

Superstitious thinking is one major cause of illogical thinking in Indians.

Blaming Vaastu, Shani-Kala and presence of any one of a whole range of ill-omens when starting an enterprise or something important is often seen in India. I am sure you readers from India can recall several examples in your own lives. I have seen one guy’s business gradually sink. Instead of finding out why the business was not doing well ( the reason it was not doing well is obvious to any person with common sense; you don’t need an MBA to figure out why) the family blamed it on Vaastu of their house and demolished their car-garage! Needless to say, the business did not get better and they had to close it! The business they had was extraction of ground-nut oil; while middle class Bangaloreans were using ground-nut oil in 70s and 80s, they slowly switched over to the ‘palmolin oil’ which was cheaper and more abundant than ground-nut oil. It was also available in the ‘ration shops’ and people simply found it cheaper and better. This ground-nut oil business-running family stubbornly refused to either realize or acknowledge the change and their business went under. But they were illogical in their thinking and thought that by demolishing their anti-Vaastu car garage, their business would improve! The loss of resources in India due to superstitions will run into millions of US$.

Another aspect of poor planning, illogical thinking is that proper analysis of failure to find out causes of failure is not done. Therefore, poor planners get away with irresponsible, unrealistic plans when things go wrong.

Some examples of poor planning, which lead to huge wastage of resources is given below.

The government of Karnataka decided that every house in villages should have toilets. They ear-marked a huge amount of money for this scheme. But there was no planning about the type of toilets to be built, no study of the people’s attitudes towards the toilet-design, no study done about the resources needed for using a toilet in the villages was done. As you may already know, there is no running water in majority of the villages in Karnataka. Often, women have to draw water from wells and carry home, water in pots. Due to difficulty accessing water, most villagers, did not use the toilets built! They used the toilets to store things! The government should have either provided for water too and not just build toilets or built ‘dry’ toilets or done research to find out what type of toilets suit the different villages and built accordingly. So, lakhs of rupees was spent on these toilets which were never used. No one was ever taken to task for designing such useless toilets and the poor planners got away with it!

Distribution of tinned non-vegetarian tinned food at Kutch district after the major earth quake was another stupid waste. Most people in Kutch are vegetarians. And this food cost huge amount of money as it was flown by air from other countries!

Anyone who lives in India, has to simply look around and millions of such examples of poor planning will be visible. There is such poor planning of many engineers with regard to construction of roads, bridges, buildings, public vehicles, etc.

It is not just poor planning and disregard to details or the context but it is also the corruption which leads to failures in India

 Even if a plan is good, if there is corruption (there is 100% corruption in all government work in India). For example, the plan given by the engineer may be flawless; however if the builder builds with shoddy cheap materials as he had to bribe to get the contract from the government, he will use cheap materials to make his profit. As one looks around at any government project in India, the flaws due to poor planning, flaws due to corruption are visible to the blindest bystander! If you read the newspapers of India, you will see countless articles of buildings which fall even during construction, bridges collapsing, new roads unfit for driving within one season of rains, scores of people killed and injured by human errors and engineering errors. All these are avoidable if the planning, execution was good, if people were held accountable when accidents happened.

The Indian approach even to major works is extremely superficial and there is no depth in the planning and approach.

This is seen in several major and minor governmental and private people’s works. Pilot studies are not conducted. People's attitudes are not studied before acting on an idea. People's acceptence or rejection of what the government want sto give the people is never considered; plans are made and enforced without due research. Assumptions are made without verifying. Often many many Indians boast of their 'speed of work' and dont talk of quality. There was one Kannada film person who boasted about making a film in the shortest time and he did it! Though the film was awful! In order, to get the business, people make promises of' speedy' work,' cheapest' work, and so on;  and the buyer unfortunately does not seem to realize that it is 'speed' or 'low-cost' at the cost of quality. Slip-shod quality of work is seen in all, construction, transport industry, whatever area.

Lack of co-ordination between departments, between people is another example of lack of thinking in Indian government and people: This is another major problem seen in government work. Let me give you an example. I saw a road near Yelahanka Old Town, being dug by one set of workers. It disrupted the people's movement, parking and of course the businesses of eh people in the area. The digging was done to lay the water pipes. Within a few days, another set of digges came and dug teh same area to lay the cable. Once again there was disruption. Within a few days, again, digging started, this time by the telecom people! If there had been any co-ordination betweeen the departments, this sort of frequent digging in the same road, would not have happened.

Wrong priorities: Things which need more care get less and things which are unimportant, have hours of attention lavished on them! This is again a type of error in judgement, leading to problems.

Here is an example below:

*I have seen guys spend many days going form shop to shop to find the perfect pair of pants or find the perfect pair of shoes and gals spend hours trying to find the exact shade blouse material, lip stick or sandals for their saris. This shows an admirable attention to detail, right? And if you chose the wrong pants or shoes, or blouse piece or sandals you are poorer by one or two thousand rupees, right?

Yet, these same guys and gals who paid so much time and attention for getting the right shoes, pants, blouse or whatever are so hasty in selecting a life partner!

You will see the guy, come down from USA, on a three or four week vacation, meet a few girls (whom he has never seen before) and decide to marry one of them(if the girl too agrees). The girl too, sees a few guys, whom her parents have selected, meet briefly, and decide whom she is willing to marry and convey to her parents. They get to speak to each other and ask a few questions. That is the extent of their getting to know each other!

I sometimes find that these people have spent more time selecting a pair of shoes or a sari than selecting a spouse! Talk about priorities!

Major decisions based on sentiment than facts

: *I have seen major decisions made because of a favourite child in the home opting for it. I agree that we should respect children but imagine selecting a car costing lakhs of rupees because a four year old in the house, wants that model!

Decisions based on old and out-dated knowledge:

 Believing that "Old is right" and "New is wrong" is another major belief that influences decisions in India.

Any change is rejected even without trying; anything old is accepted without testing(the fact that it existed is proof it has passed the test of time). This preference for the old and rejections of new causes such a great deal of stresses, loss of time and resources.

People in villages refuse to accept several new techniques of farming available.

Another example is the refusal to switch in some households (and mutts, temples, etc) from wood to kerosene; from kerosene to electricity; from electricity to gas.

Insistence of building the new houses, etc using old and currently more expensive and less available resources like teak wood. Refusal to change architectural designs to suit the current constraints of space, light, air in cities. One example of people’s stubborn refusal to change is the Bhuj area reconstruction after the massive earthquake about 10 years ago. United Nations was ready to fund reconstruction of houses, if the people accepted the new earth-quake proof designs. People refused and wanted to build their houses in the old way i.e. use of bricks and stone for multi-storey structures. Bhuj is prone to earth-quakes and in the last devastating earth quake which happened on Republic day, hundreds of school children and people were killed as the buildings built of brick and stone came crashing down on them; the children were marching on the streets in the republic day parade, with their families standing on the pavement watching them..

This sort of sticking to old ways even when new better ways have been discovered is leading to several poor decisions in India.

The quick changes, adaptability and acceptance of new knowledge and ways of life or ways of doing things seen in the west are absent in India. I do know that India has changed a lot and adapted a lot but it is still short of ideal.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My gratitude to Toronto Public Library

I arrived at Toronto during the bitter winter of  January of 2004 as a landed immigrant. We lived in a rented apartment in downtown Toronto and spent the first six months, searching for jobs. As most job searches were online, we were mostly at home, without television, without much social life and without much entertainment(we did not want to spend our savings on entertainment, until we landed a job).

We soon became members of the Toronto Public Library(TPL) and I consider the Toronto Public Library as one of the best things to have happened  in my life! I love reading and this library has indulged me!
  Canadians born and brought up in Canada take their wonderful public libraries for granted and do not appreciate them as much as people coming from poorer countries do! (or people coming from countries where more than half the books ever published are banned due to religious or political reasons)

In India, at least in Bangalore, there were no good public  libraries and I had to buy the books I wanted to read and most books were simply too expensive. After coming to Canada, I have read hundreds of books without having to buy the books or pay for reading them.
At the TPL, I discovered so many fantastic books authored by a variety of authors. I have also bought used books at the TPL for dirt cheap prices for my collections.
 I have discovered less known books by famous writers such as the earlier, less popular works of Erle Stanley Gardner.
 I have borrowed travel books (such as rough guide to Havana) which were of immense help for planning trips.
 I have borrowed books on interior decoration and had great fun fantasizing about my dream house.
 I have borrowed books which have fuelled my fantasies such as books on building tree houses, books on lost cities, sea shells, antiques, Viking treasures, etc.
At the TPL, I have even accessed  books about India, which I could not get in India! (such as a books about old bungalows of south India and a book of Rabindranath Tagore's art work).
I have accessed rare out of print books which would not have been possible in India.
Again, this is something which Canadians, Americans and maybe Europeans take for granted but I LOVE, the fact that I can search for the book I need on the library's webpage, place an order online, and borrow when the library calls me on my home phone and informs when the book has arrived at the library branch  close to my home! This sort of easy hassle-free access to books is unheard of in India.

When I see the millions of books for all ages, of all types; when I see the presence of library branches all over Toronto; when I see  the activities of the library during summer holidays and all year round, for kids and adults, I feel sad that the children growing in India(and elsewhere) do not have access to this wonderful treasure of information and entertainment. I do try to help some kids in India  by buying up tons of used books at Goodwill and new ones from Indigo and lugging them to India...but a private person on a limited budget can only do so much!

A friend in Toronto borrows about  20-30 books at a time for her 10 year old daughter, who devours the books in no time and gets more. This girl has a gift for writing and I think the TPL has contributed significantly  to the development of her love of reading and creative abilities!

I also love the 100% access of the TPL to all people. There are so many barriers to information in so many countries, and coming from one such country, I appreciate this free access to information to all in  Canada (through books in the public library and other places such as the internet and government agencies  too).
 I have seen homeless people in libraries in downtown, browsing books and I feel so glad to see them in the library! They may be smelly and dirty, but their concentration while reading the books, their desire to read books, is something I really admire. (They would have been denied entry into Indian  public libraries, though in theory, the public library is open to all).

In Afghanistan, girls are denied education as women are not allowed to study;
 In the Middle East countries and communist  countries, thousands of books are banned and simply not available in the country's book shops or libraries;
 In several third world countries, only the rich can afford to buy and read books: there are hardly any decent books in public libraries of India ; there are no decent libraries in rural communities in several poor countries.
 I remember how bored and irritable I felt in some places where I had no access to books...while visiting  people whose houses did not have books(though they were well off!)and it was tough for me to pass time there; I have been  stuck in remote villages in India without books (or television) and was bored out of my gourd there!
All these observations of other parts of the world make me admire all the more, the public libraries in Toronto(Canada); I  admire the government and the people responsible for these great libraries.

To me, this free access to information is a part of democracy, a part of a civic culture. I keep repeating free access to information because I have seen so many people denied information, books and  education in other countries due to various reasons...
Women do not have access in rural India, girls drop out of schools at puberty for various reasons....You will find it difficult to find a piece of paper in some remote parts of India, let alone books.....
the rich or elite have access to information through the internet, resources such as people, mass media and  books while others do not have this free access .....
Armed with information,  the rich progress and without information, the poor remain stuck in the cycle of poverty.

I have also obtained free passes from the TPL to visit museums such as the ROM, Bata museum, the AGO, etc. This is a great money-saving benefit of the library. I have enjoyed reading the magazines and newspapers at the library. I like the friendly library staff ; there was  one  librarian whom I met  when I was new to Canada. He was friendly and  I would speak to him  about myself and my job search, which was my biggest worry at that time! I really value the encouraging words I got from him, during the few minutes it took to check out the books.

I hope the Indian (and other places too without good, free, accessible libraries) Government realizes the tremendous impact of  good well stocked  libraries on the lives of the Indian people. I hope the Indian government spends on the libraries.......I hope but I doubt very much!

Mojitos in Havana

I had been to Havana in Cuba during the last week of March 2011 with my husband.

We were dying to escape the cold weather of Toronto and decided on Havana for it’s short distance from Toronto, it's history, it's warm weather and as we had never visited before.

You may wonder why we did not leave during January or February when the winter is more brutal..… we chose March as we did not want to return to winter again after the warm climate of Cuba !

We had a wonderful time there! The people are friendly and warm. The weather was gorgeous (I did find it a bit too hot at 25 celcius but got used to it after 2 days). We had a wonderful time walking endlessly in the streets of Old Havana. The buildings and some plant & trees, reminded me so much of India, that I am convinced  that the Spanish who took over Cuba, 500 years ago, had brought stuff from India to Cuba or put stuff from Cuba in India. Two examples:  the doors of some buildings seemed exactly like temple doors in south India and the Gulganji trees found in Mysore( in India) grow here.

Some Havana experiences

Cars: The cars in Cuba are old American models, huge and flamboyant! One will never see such cars today in any other country in such large numbers. Due to the US trade embargo, the Cubans cannot import cars and are managing with the cars they got many decades ago from USA !  Most cars are used as taxis and most are flamboyantly coloured-where else can you see pink, purple and fluorescent green cars but in Havana ! One can see many visitors stopping in the middle of busy roads photographing these cars. The Cubans imported the Lada cars from Russia  for a while which is a small car like the fiat or premier padmini in India and the Lada is another car one sees in Havana but not in the US or Canada . I read somewhere that most of the old American cars do not have the original engines running in them. One proud car owner opened the bonnet and told us that his car has the original engine and that not many cars have that.  The Cubans are  an extremely ingenious people, who creatively recycle and use what they have. Poverty is a cruel but effective motivating agent for creativity. I saw a huge tin drum, cut neatly and used to hold burners in a resturant. I saw plastic coke bottles used as a drain pipe in places where the pipe was broken! I saw water melon seeds used to make women's purses and lots of seeds and coconut shells used to make lovely exotic jewellery!

Canadians and Americans can learn a lot about recycling from the Cubans! It is mind-boggling to think of the millions of cars junked in North America and the waste and pollution it entails and compare it to the Cubans who are using 50-60 year old cars today.

Buildings: Ironically, Havana today, is famous for the decaying of it’s once grand buildings. There are hundreds of grand old mansions, maybe 200 years old, with high ceilings, marble stairs, walls covered with beautiful tiles, ornate work in plaster on the outside …figures of angels, gargoyles, symmetrical designs, flowers and leaves. These mansions are now in varying stages of ruin with plaster falling off, the roofs missing in some, trees growing in the walls & beautiful stained glass broken in the once lovely windows. People are living in these decaying houses and are unable to afford repairs. 

The people are friendly and do not mind if you peek in and many sit with doors open (it’s hot) and one can see neat interiors with few but beautiful antique furniture. (the chairs I saw in some homes would cost a fortune on the antique market in New York !).

Lots of people sell things just outside their doors and I spotted a girl sitting on a chair outside her door selling candy in a plate on her lap! We were told by a tourist guide that free trade has been allowed in Cuba only since last November! And people try to make a little money by selling things.Most people sell just one item. I saw an old lady selling only garlic for example.
Many museums, government offices, schools seemed to be accommodated in buildings which were once homes. Many of these buildings (i.e. the current homes, museums, offices) have a open-to-sky space inside the house. It is wonderful…open to sky, yet private and reminded me of the Tarvads in Kerala which had similar courtyards.  Some of the restaurants we ate in had this space inside which was both cool and sunny; sheltered from the street noise and with a relaxed atmosphere.
The open-to-sky bit of square in those houses fired my imagination ! I thought of the many many things I would do there on sunny days & nights and rainy days too.

We spent a day at two in areas outside central/old  Havana i.e. Vedado and Miramar. Here the houses are newer, in better shape, smaller i.e have one or two floors and some resemble the houses seen in  the 60s and 70s in the Malleshwaram and Gandhi bazaar areas of Bangalore in India: Bungalows, with gardens in front and a few trees. It was like walking in some residential  lanes of old Mysore.
This is one of the houses slowly decaying...see the tree growing at the top of this house, with roots ruining it's walls!

Here above  is another house in ruins but inhabited by people

People: The people are very very friendly and approach you smile at and talk (Hola is the greeting ) to tourists, even if you do not understand Spanish. They do try to speak in English but it was difficult for us to get what they were saying! Many asked us where we were from and when we say Canada , many did say they have friends or relatives in Toronto or Vancouver . Many ask that their photos be taken and it was a change from Canada where people are reserved and don't talk to strangers ! Some do ask for money when photographed like a guy who was dressed like Chi and some old men; but some just enjoy being photographed and are excited to see their photos on the camera!

I saw a group of 5 girls aged between 4 and 7 playing in front of their house(with a ? mother seated on a chair outside her door, keeping any eye on them)and they asked us to photograph them. All of them were laughing and had plastic stuffed in the top of their frocks, as if they had breasts!  I was both amused and startled by the body image they seemed to have of themselves at this age. And also startled by the amused tolerance of the mother/lady with them! It made me realize how differently girls develop  their body image in repressive cultures like mine and in Cuba! I recall girls growing in India being shy/ashamed and covering up their chests especially when they attain puberty.

While walking through the lanes, we passed many houses with paintings, ceramic and wood sculptures for sale. We walked into a few and realized that the artists lived in these homes and worked at and sold their works from home! They were very welcoming and did not mind at all when we stepped into their homes and even lead us inside to have a better look! Many artists were very very talented and we bought a small painting from one. I would have loved to buy the wood or ceramic sculptures but as I was not sure of getting it back to Canada safely, I regretfully din't.
I don’t want to sound condescending but lots of the works were abstract and this was amazing to me. I think I assumed the art would be simple as I assumed this culture to be very simple…Let me explain myself...As I did not see computers, cell phones, etc, I assumed that somehow the country has not progressed and were functioning at a simpler level. But the art was modern and abstract. It is  a pity that such artistic talent remains hidden in Cuba and many of the artists cannot afford to travel or afford to  advertise or market their works beyond the boundaries of Cuba. I know that some are using the internet, some have exhibitions abroad, but still, they are not able explore the international buyer's market fully. With the low income of majority of Cubans, there could be few or no buyers of art works in Cuba. Or buyers who appreciate art but do not have purchasing power.So how the hell can the Cuban artists progress?   Many artists do not speak English and this to me, this is another  big hurdle for them.

I got the impression that Black old men spoke better English than others as they turned out to be the only ones who spoke to us in English outside the hotel. One of them who had a long chat with us told how poorly paid they were in Cuba and wondered where the money was. Thinking back  about my Havana visit, I realize that the few people who spoke to us made only veiled references to the corruption in the government and their own unhappiness with their pay and other issues. I now think that the happy people I saw around were either faking it or were ignorant of a lot of things or simply resigned to their lifestyle. A tourist guide made several veiled references to ‘the brothers’ , their life style, the government works, etc but he never dared to openly say anything negative about either Fidel or Raul during the entire 10 hours he was with us! I really thank God that I am in a free country where I can talk freely and can question the government openly without fear. Even in India , which is so damn corrupt, the poor can at least verbally vent their anger and frustration unlike in Cuba , where people are too fearful to either vent or talk.

Food: The food was one thing which was not really satisfactory for us. But maybe we should blame our narrow taste in food for that. My husband is a strict vegetarian and I like my food to be hot and spicy. In Havana , there is more of sea food and meat than vegetarian choices  and all food is bland and not spicy at all! I did not find red or green chillis or chilli sauce or even black pepper in  hotels and we had to put up with the blandness. My husband enjoyed  black beans and rice while I ate the seafood, pork and chicken. I loved the Mojitos (Rum with lemon/lime juice with sugar and a sprig of mint) which were refreshing after walking in the sun for hours ; I  had them daily with lunch and dinner. I have decided to make it at home too in summer……… grows wild in my backyard and now I can finally use it!

We tried different hotels for each meal as we did not want to repeat a restaurant. The most delicious food we had was at a paladar i.e. a home with a room converted into a dining hall with a few chairs and tables. The food was delicious, the family was welcoming and we were escorted to this paladar (hidden away in a residential area) by the security guard of a place we visited! We asked this guard where was a good restaurant and he walked us all the way to this place, instead of just giving us directions. The house itself was spacious and beautiful, there was a pet dog wandering around and the rooms we passed through to get to the dining room were neat .

We had breakfast daily at our hotel (Parque Central). It was a daily breakfast buffet with a collection of cold meats, breads, eggs, fruits, vegetables, cereals, juices, etc. I tried to stuff myself so that I could last longer but I would inevitably become ravenous by 12 or 12.30.
 I liked the décor of all the bars and restaurants we went to. They had an old world charm to them. The decor often consisted of wood and stained glass windows, chairs with goat skin seats, old ceiling fans rotating lazily high up in the ceiling and not really cooling.
 I have eaten in several Indian restaurants in India and Canada & USA and have liked the décor in only one! The rest were all pretty tasteless or garish or decorated with an assortment of art work with no running theme.....I personally believe that the resturant owner simply buys what he likes and puts them up on the walls. He may also be putting up whatever he gets as gifts; My dissatisfaction with Indian resturants decor maybe the reason I keep looking out for décor in resturants.

 The bars we visited had a wonderful ambience…the wooden chairs were old and shiny---polished by years of butts sitting on them; the stained glass windows were colourul in a subdued way, the old black & white photoes, the paintings and wooden art on the walls were interesting.

All or nearly all restaurants and bars have live music in the evenings and some have it at noon time too. Walking on the streets, the music fills the space and it is really pleasant.  I don’t know Spanish but the songs sounded very happy and romantic. 

I must mention here that I did visit hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemingway apparently spent many years. I also visited the room he lived in and took a few photos. I did not visit his house in Havana which was a few miles away and supposedly very nice…with views of the sea, his fishing boat, the graves of his pets, etc.

Another hotel of historic interest is Hotel National. Apparently all the VIP visitors to Havana stay there including the Mafia bigwigs, stars of the film and music industry.(At least that is what the guide told us). One feature which intrigued me was that the tourist guides point out many hotels to us as if they are points of interest. I cannot imagine why hotels should be of any interest to us while sight-seeing Havana.

Shopping:  Cigars, Rum, Honey, Wood work such as carvings (statues, ash trays, etc), jewels made of seeds of various plants and trees, paper mache and cloth dolls and puppets were the most attractive wares to me. One unique beauty of Cuba is that one will hardly find any “made in China ” products here ! Every thing sold here seems to be manufactured here, produced or grown here. The people here are creative and many souvenirs sold are actually recycled items. I saw a coke bottle lid used in a key chain; a coke can, covered with clay and shaped into a cup. Since it is difficult for Cubans to import much (Thanks partly due to the US embargo on trade and the  Cuban government's restrictions and the absence of free trade), they have become experts at recycling.

I bought a lot of seed jewels, a couple of ash trays carved of wood, a clay art work, purses made of water melon seeds. My husband bought a painting and the print of an artist he admired a lot in the museum i.e. Pedro Pablo Oliva. Lots of people buy the Che Guevara posters, prints, T shirts but as I had read a lot of negative stuff about him, I was not interested.

Museums: We did visit quite a few museums. Many were small and we zipped through them in just a few minutes. As the writing in the museums was in Spanish, I could not understand what was being said.

We went to a place right in the centre of Havana where old train engines have been dumped and took several photos. Here a few of the photoes.

We also spent a half day at one of the largest mausoleums of North America i.e. the Necropolis Cristobal Colon. This place has many famous people buried here: freedom fighters, poets, rich businessmen, etc.  Several of the  tombs are grand and  built with marble and granite. Many are adorned with  beautiful images of Christ, angels and the Madonna. I doubt if anyone can afford to build such grand monuments to the dead anymore in Cuba now!

We went to the famous cigar factory but as we had already visited a tobacco growing farm; a barn nearby where the leaves were dried; and also seen the entire cigar rolling process, we did not bother to see the cigar making process. My husband did buy the famous Cohiba cigars…both from our hotel gift shop and outside. Needless to say, the hotel’s gift shop’s were great while the cheap”Cohibas”, he had been conned into buying made him feel sick after smoking.  Lots of people, walked up to us almost daily and told us they have a ‘brother’ or a 'cousin' in a cigar factory who can get cheap but good cigars! We had to keep saying no to them.
We went to the car museum with antique cars but did not enter as it was too dark to take good photos and we just took a peek from the outside(and saved on the entry fee)

We also visited a factory making alcohol and saw the whole process. The building reminded me of the small scale
 industries buildings in Peenya of Bangalore of the 1980s! The process was partially mechanical and partially manual. A machine filled the bottles with  alcohol and sealed them while, women stuck labels on the bottles. We bought a bottle here as it was sweet and we like sweet tasting alcohol!

We bought rum at our hotel and paid just 5$ for more than a liter. I wish I had bought more but I dont want to pay duty and I  don’t think I could have lied calmly and got away with it  at the Canadian border!

Outside Havana : We went on a trip outside Havana to a place called Vinales.
We visited the cave Cuevas del Indio which had an underground river running through it. We also visited a tobacco farm(with a barn for drying) and an alcohol factory as I mentioned earlier. I also saw a sort of weird flat top mountains. I was amazed to see the Brahman bulls here, a breed I have not seen outside India . (I later discovered on the internet that Brahmi bulls have gone from India to the US to Cuba as early as 1868). But the bulls here in Cuba were a bit shorter and definitely heavier than the lanky bony Brahmi bulls I have seen in Indi. The Brahmi bulls in India are either ploughing fields or  used for begging. The Brahmi bull is considered as sacred in India and male beggers cover this bull with a colourful, quilted blanket and lead them from door to door begging
We spent a day outside Havana when we visited a place called  Vinyales. It is an agricultural area, growing tobacco and has weird flat top mountains. There is also a cave with an underground river here. The small town or village we pased through was neat and clean unlike my village in Tumkur district of India; The houses in Indian villages I have seen have  open gutters in front  with black water running which is disgusting!
 Once again, the houses of this town reminded me of houses in small towns in India-the weather, the houses, the palm trees, the fields, the bogunvilla and Oleander flower shrubs, the people……it was just like any rural area in south India.There was a nice church in this small town. We also visited a liquor factory where a type of  liquor called guabita del pinar is produced and bottled.

But now I am wondering if this was a 'showcase' village, menat to impress tourists while the 'real' villages are actully far more dirty, poverty stricken and not unlike Indian villages. I got this suspicion after reading a Cuba based novel of Kaminsky where a visiting Russian police officer is taken to a 'model prison' which seemed seem ideal while all other Cuban prisons are not!

All in all, I had a great time. I wish I had planned better and visited more places in Havana which I missed this time. I wish I had bought more of the seed jewellry, more rum and bought agave honey(agave honey costs a lot in Toronto).I wish I had gone to a few beaches. But there is always a next time isnt it?

Last walk at Sunnybrook park by the stables

Last walk because I can't take the mosquitoes.  I found this tree unusual... I dont know what these red berries are but th...