19 February 2017

Too loud a solitude

Sometime ago when I heard about Ann Morgan’s journey through the world through books, I was fascinated by the idea. Apart from the cost of the books, I can’t see another affordable and authentic way of seeing the world. Of course, it can be argued that one book or one author can’t possibly tell you all there is to tell about one country. But think of it like this: when you meet someone from a distant land on a train or bus, you’re grateful for that opportunity – at least I am – to have been able to peep into another world and other lives. You don’t think of complaining, “Hey, not fair that I only got to meet one person from xyz country?”

I have decided to follow in Morgan’s steps and for those countries that I have no idea where to look for books or authors, I will follow her even in the books she has read. I think there will be a lot of such countries.

So, Too Loud a Solitude is my first step in this world tour. It’s written by Bohumil Hrabal in Czech and translated by Michael Henry Heim. Coincidentally, there’s a thread of commonality between my choice of the book and my renewed interest in waste management: the protagonist Hanta’s job is to compact waste paper. (There are accent marks missing from his name that I know not how to reproduce.)

Of course, the last thing that Hanta wants to do is to send fine books to their death. He’s been saving books from the paper compacter throughout his career of 35 years and has ended up with a stash of nearly two tons of books at his place.

Quaint things happen in Hanta’s life. Like for instance, the misfortune of his girlfriend who always seems to get faeces on her dress at the most public of moments. Or, how the kind, absent-minded philosophy professor routinely mistakes Hanta for his employer, an older man, when he has his hat on.

I keep looking for clues to the politics and culture of a place when I’m reading fiction. In Hrabal’s book, it comes in the form of the new-age paper compacting machine and its eager attendants – the Brigade of Socialist Labor – that Hanta feels threatened by, what with its inhumane vigour and its un-reading, uncaring staff.

Hanta is scandalized to see them drinking milk at work: “But the biggest shock came when I saw the young workers shamelessly guzzling milk and soft drinks – legs spread wide, hand on hip – straight from the bottle… think of drinking milk at work when everyone knows that even a cow would rather die of thirst than touch a drop of the stuff!” But his heart breaks when he sees them put in bales and bales of books without stopping for a moment to think about the thoughts and words they crush with their machine.

Soon, he finds himself replaced with these men from the Socialist Labour group. He has nowhere to go and roams around the city, guzzling down beer after beer. Finally, he decides to compact himself in his machine with his beloved wastepaper.  

I loved what he has done here by showing capitalism under the guise of socialism. The doing away of any appreciation of art is, of course, given here, but it also shows a disconnect between even man and the machine.

To Hanta, there’s no way you can travel to Greece without having read about Aristotle or Plato or even Goethe. So relevant in our times of consumerist culture where we flit about from land to land, ticking off places from our bucket list.

There never was a greater lover of books than Hanta, for he chose to be a wastepaper handler just so he could lay his hands on books. “…just as a beautiful fish will occasionally sparkle in the waters of a polluted river that runs through a stretch of factories, so in the flow of old paper the spine of a rare book will occasionally shine forth…”

As I read the book, I become very conscious of the fact that I too am holding a book in my hand and hope that I will never be callous enough to toss it in amidst waste paper. Hrabal renews my gratitude to authors who enable time travel, who pack their thoughts into words and share them with us, who lay bare before us beauty as well as misery. For, “real thoughts come from outside and travel with us like the noodle soup we take to work; in other words, inquisitors burn books in vain. If a book has anything to say, it burns with a quiet laugh, because any book worth its salt points up and out of itself.”  

03 October 2015

Reinventing Organizations -- Hoping and Working towards the Soulful Workplace

I am a very slow reader and some months ago when I was job-hunting, I saw this among the requirements of a company: Must have read Reinventing Organizations. I hadn’t read it, of course, and was instantaneously disqualified, but the book did intrigue me: What did it talk about that made it so important as to be a job qualification? I went straight ahead and bought it.

And, I must thank the company – Buffer – for making me discover the book.
Reinventing Organizations is that rare kind of book that inspires and opens your mind up to seemingly impossible and new ideas.

The subject of the book is modern organizations, whether they be for-profit, non-profit, or even educational institutions. I’d never have bought such a book of my own volition – am pretty much the last person to be interested in management-speak. But right from the start, Frederic Laloux speaks about the moving force behind each organization: human beings.

This is how he begins:

“Can we create organizations free of the pathologies that show up all too often in the workplace? Free of politics, bureaucracy, and infighting; free of stress and burnout; free of resignation, resentment, and apathy; free of posturing at the top and drudgery at the bottom? Is it possible to reinvent organizations, to devise a new model that makes work productive, fulfilling, and meaningful? Can we create soulful workplaces—schools, hospitals, businesses, and non-profits—where our talents can blossom and our callings can be honored?”

“Guy must be nuts,” I thought. I mean, workplace and soulful? C’mon. Maybe for someone running a resort in the foothills of the Himalayas, but not for someone braving the commute in Bangalore or any other Indian city and getting to work at a place where they didn’t feel stressed and burned out. All my managers quickly paraded through my mind. Luckily for me, most were good, interesting human beings, but a few here and there liked to control the hell out of me and even laughed at me or ignored my presence totally. I’ll not get into the details for the simple reason that there are perhaps gorier stories out there.

My point is, what was this man talking about? Has he even worked in an office? Still, I bore with him and trudged along. 

And, I am glad I did.  

As I read on, Laloux started linking the steps in the evolution of organizations to the evolution of human consciousness itself. I became fascinated by his mere attempt to do so, because it seemed to be such a great mix of breakthrough intelligence and childlike simplicity.

Basically, Laloux talks of five major steps in human consciousness and how it influenced the kind of organizations we built at those stages. The five phases are: Red, Amber, Orange, Green, and Teal. He does talk of two stages preceding Red, but they’re from a very long time ago, going back to 100,000 to 50,000 BC and 15,000 years ago, when our sense of community did not exist beyond small tribes of up to a few hundred people.

Red or Impulsive-Red is when we start growing fiefdoms and proto-empires and it dates to about 10,000 years ago. This stage is marked by “hostile environments, combat zones, civil wars, … or violent inner-city neighborhoods.”

Organizations that are still at this stage of consciousness are the street gangs and mafias.

Next, is Amber or Conformist-Amber. This is when people started settling down, thanks to agriculture. Roles are strictly defined and conformity is by default. There are only a handful of truths out there and you’re expected to swallow them whole.

The Catholic Church is the best example of an Amber organization, Laloux says. The strict stratification introduced at this stage brings about the first true divide between planning and execution. That is, planning happens at the top and the plan is executed at the bottom.

In Achievement-Orange, rights and wrongs are not so absolute any more, but it doesn’t completely do away with some beliefs held at the Amber level. It does believe that people should be free to do as they choose, that everyone should be accountable, and that if anyone has made it to the top, it is because of meritocracy, and as such hierarchical structures need to be maintained.

Pluralistic-Green is not so comfortable with power and hierarchy, and likens organizations to families.

Evolutionary Teal uses a completely new metaphor than any other stage of human consciousness: it likens organizations to organisms. And, this is the fascinating part of the book, where it talks of actual companies that are operating from this paradigm. Organizations that belong to this stage operate like, well, organisms. No one person or group tells the other person or group how it must react in a given situation.

Instead, they self-manage, follow the advice process, and take decisions as a group, according to their knowledge and expertise, the data that they have at that point and trust each other to do the right thing. There are no managers or job titles, yet it’s not anarchic.

My description of Teal is very simplistic and short. And, to get a real understanding of what self-management is, what is the advice process, and other processes and structures (yes, they do have structures, just not the strait-jacketed ones we’re used to. They’re more like networks.) of Teal organizations, you must really read the book.

What makes Teal work is that it recognizes us as human beings and operates on basic assumptions of trust and respect. We need to trust each other to do the right thing. Yes, people may make mistakes, may get selfish, or try to cheat. But such acts are exceptions and such wrongdoings are easier to catch when all of us act as colleagues rather than mere cogs in a stratified organization, where we’re certain no one is going to listen even if we raise the alarm.

Naturally, this way of operating organizations demands that such beliefs actually go beyond the organization itself. That’s when the future starts to get interesting.  

I am not doing justice to this book by ending the review here, but this is part of my weekend writing project, where I only give as much time to writing as my daughter deems it fair. So, though there’s much, much more that can be said about the book, it’s best that you explore it for yourself. 

31 December 2014

Love languages, not fear them

My toddler's language skills are pretty advanced in both her mother tongues - Kannada and Bengali. I don't teach her English per se, but she has learned quite a bit of that, too, as there's always some English in the environment. That was the precisely the reason why I am not emphasizing on English at this point, because she cannot escape English and ultimately, she'll learn it.

I am concerned that she'll lose one of her mother tongues or both to English once she starts going to school, because I see quite a few young Indians today converse completely in English. If you talk to them in their mother tongue, they do understand, but the reply is in English.

I was recently told that I do need to teach her English or else it may hurt her admission opportunities to schools. Learning language for opportunistic reasons doesn't sound that great to me, though I am aware that quite a bit of language learning is opportunistic and language teaching in itself is a huge business.

Still, there is a difference between learning languages because you're curious about it, the culture, or the people who speak it, and learning something just because you want to advance your business or fear that you may be left behind if you don't learn it.

Language is a lot about curiosity. That's the only way children learn about new words, when they keep asking 'what', 'why', and 'how. And of course, by listening to all the language around them.

There could be nothing better than learning about another culture and I don't think this can be intimately done without speaking the language of that culture. And, power languages like English can easily ruin this process of discovery. Well, only if you let them.

I studied in an English-medium school and use English for work and personal expression, as in this blog. But I was also among the few students in my class who were comfortable in their mother tongue, too. I have never written professionally in Kannada and that could be the reason I perhaps don't feel as confident in it, but that's just a matter of practice.

I have always loved reading Shivaram Karanth, Jayanth Kaykini, to name a few Kannada authors. In my mind, there is no power equation between English and Kannada, but I am aware that it exists. That's why I am saddened when I see a lot of young Kannadigas grow up completely detached from a beautiful and diverse culture, inspite of being physically located in it. And, this is true for a lot of other young Indians. Often, they do not know how to count beyond 10 or 50 in their language.

Parents are a child's first connection with their culture and their language. So, they do have a responsibility to introduce children to their roots and keep the connection going. This can be done in a fun way by introducing them to rhymes, stories, or children's movies in their languages. With a lot of Indian language content now moving online than before, this isn't particularly tough to do. Publishers like Pratham Books are also a good source.

Learn languages because you love them, because you're curious about the world like a child is. Or maybe, come home to your own language. 

24 December 2014

The Kashmir vote

The thing with fractured mandates is this. Ultimately, everything becomes a numbers game and to hell with people's aspirations. Omar Abdullah's flippancy on TV yesterday wasn't particularly enjoyable. It's a polarized vote, but even such polarization comes to naught when the BJP has to go to bed with frenemies. So much for the Hindu vote and Muslim vote. But I hope the Kashmiris don't have to prove their allegiances any more, given the numbers in which they voted.

05 December 2014

An okay for a medical test in rape case seems like a huge leap for justice

Update on 12 December 2014: Swami's DNA has matched with that found on the clothes submitted by the rape victim.   Will try to post a link to this news in English soon. 

Raghaveshwara Swami was accused of rape in the last week of August. The Karnataka HC today okayed his medical test, which is one of the first steps to be carried out in a rape case. For those not in the know, please see my post here that recaps the events in this case till about mid-October.

From the start of the case, the rape victim and her family have undergone an unbelievable ordeal. Why unbelievable? Because, no rape victim since Nirbhaya has perhaps had to face such a witchhunt as she and her family has. Most recently, the newspaper Kannada Prabha hit under the belt by publishing a 'leaked' forensic report of the clothes the victim had submitted. The paper said it found the semen of two men on her clothes, and not one, as she had submitted. You see where this is going. 

But at the same time, they also said they couldnt find the woman's DNA on the clothes. Now you cant see where this is going. That's okay, you dont know how to write up fake reports.

The Swami had questioned the provisions of the Indian Penal Code that state that medical tests need to be carried out on rape accused. His grounds were that such tests violated his rights of privacy. Yes, you read it right. This happened in modern day Karnataka.
Yet, despite everything, today there is fresh hope. Yes, despite the silence of big media, politicians, the chief minister, women's rights groups(?). Despite the apathy of the apoliticals, the taunts and insults of the rabidly faithful.

31 October 2014

Will the Havyaka community please stand up?


I have decided to not publish any more comments that go on about why Raghaveshwara Bharati Swami is above the law, or respond to them. I have published enough dissenting comments and replied to them, so it's not as if this a one-sided conversation.

To me, this is simple enough and for the life of me, I cannot fathom what's so unfathomable to the  bhakta-trolls, who're busy spewing venom across the internet and coming up with one conspiracy theory after another.

They go on and on about why they think Premalatha Diwakar's statement is not the gospel of truth and, hence, this case is false. The latest I heard about why we should disbelieve Premalatha is that there is no witness to her 'alleged' rape, hence she's lying.

Are rapes done with witnesses hanging about?

I am astounded. Amazed. Disgusted. Sick to the stomach. And, sometimes, even amused at the lack of ingenuity of these zombies. These people are no less criminals than rapists and no punishment is enough for them, as they poison the society with illogic, unreason, and misogyny.

The person who made this comment is not worthy of my answer, my time, and my intellect.  

When did we, as a society, lose what we call in Kannada - vivechana shakti - the power to think and reason?

Who are you and I to say who's guilty or not? Is this the new way we're going to decide cases? How are we different from a khap panchayat then? God forbid, is there a fatwa coming? What, pray, shall we do with these institutions that we have created called the executive, the judiciary, and the government?

What concerns me now is not so much the Premalatha Diwakar case. My faith is unshaken that she will get justice. But the concern is the disappearance(?) of a community known for its gentle ways, its accommodative nature, and agrarian spirit of living together. The quality of bhakta-trolls is as worse as any other trolls. I thought I came from a community of educated and courteous people, but the language of the bhakta-trolls is as bad as any over the internet. What have we turned into?

There are many among the Havyaka community who do not side with the bhakta-trolls, but their silence, and fear of being bhaka-trolled feeds these low-life creatures. It is to them that I appeal to break their silence and demand that the law be given precedence over all else. You do not need to take a stand for or against anybody, but demand that everyone be treated equally before the law.

For, if you don't do this, you will be supporting adharma by your silence and passivity. So, c'mon people. Speak up. Speak to your family, your neighbours, the journalist friend you know, the cop you have contacts with, your MLA, your chief minister... Do not stop until we have established again that the Havyaka community is a law-abiding one.

17 October 2014

Something is rotten in the state of Karnataka

Update: A few days ago, the order prohibiting the Shastri couple from talking to the media was removed. They have now spoken to some Kannada TV channels. 

Something sinister has been happening in Karnataka since the last couple of months. For those of you not in the know, and there are many of you thanks to curbs on media reporting, I present below a timeline of the events and my thoughts below. 

August 26: Two cases are filed. In the first one, Seer Raghaveshvara Bharathi Swami accuses a couple - Diwakar Shastri and Premalatha Diwakar – of blackmail in Honnavar, Karnataka. The couple was promptly arrested and their bail plea set for September 10. This couple was associated very closely with the Ramachandrapura Math – of which the seer is the head – for long years. Premalatha, an acclaimed singer, used to perform at various Math events and her husband held some positions at the Math.

In the second case, the couple’s daughter filed a complaint in Girinagar police station, Bangalore, alleging that the seer sexually harassed her mother. Subsequently, Premalatha herself lodges a similar complaint, accusing the Swami of rape. In her complaint, she said that the Swami raped her many times over the last three years or so.

The seer makes appearances on some Kannada TV channels claiming his innocence.

Swami is not arrested.

August 27 - 31: Media pretty much blacks out all reportage on the case. We hear later that there is a order from the Honnavar magistrate prohibiting media organizations from maligning the Swami(!). But surely, it didn’t ban reportage of the case? In any case, the big media establishments suspiciously fall silent. Smaller, non-mainstream newspapers though carry on reporting.  

Swami is not arrested.

August 31: Diwakar Shastri’s brother commits suicide in his village near Mangalore, Karnataka. In his letter, he states that he killed himself as some people close to the Math were pressurizing him to ask his brother and his wife to withdraw their case.

September 7: Bangalore police issue a notice to Raghaveshwara Bharathi. He says he’s observing Chatrumaas, can’t appear before the police before September 9.

Around this time, Swami makes another appearance on TV proclaiming his innocence and throws an open challenge to people who want to fight the Math. Please note that the Honnavar magistrate's ban on media reportage doesn’t obviously apply to the Swami. He can go on air any time and say what he will.

Swami is not arrested.

September 8: Swami petitions the High Court to quash Premalatha Diwakar’s case against him as it as ‘false’. Court reserves order.

Swami is not arrested.

September 10: High Court stays arrest of Swami, but says police can investigate.

In Honnavar, meanwhile, at the bail hearing in the blackmail case, the Swami’s lawyer tells the court that the Diwakar couple should not be released because the couple face a threat to their life, hence jail is the safest place for them. This has to go down in history as the most ludicrous plea to not grant bail.

Swami is not arrested.

This is till where I followed the case day-to-day. By mid-September, the Diwakar couple did get bail despite all machinations to the contrary. Of course, there are conditions, one of them being that they cannot say things injurious to the Swami’s reputation.

Another major development was for the Advocate General of Karnataka to take up Premalatha’s case. He challenged the validity of the High Court’s order which was preventing the police from arresting the Swami and the media from writing about the case.

On October 9, the High Court finally lifts these orders and dismisses the Swami’s appeal to dismiss Premalatha’s case. The police are free to arrest the Swami, but of course, they don’t. by the end of the same day, the Swami manages to get an interim bail of a month. He also secured bail in the other case of the suicide of Diwakar Shastri’s brother. The family has accused the Swami and his followers of being responsible for his death, because of their threats to him.

A couple of days ago, the CID began interrogating the Swami, while he is still out of jail. This is where the case currently stands.

Here are some questions that the government, the judiciary, and the police of Karnataka state have to answer:
  • The most obvious question, being of course: why have you not arrested the Swami yet? Before the High Court issued the order preventing the state police from arresting the Swami, there was a clear window when they could have followed the due course of law. Why didn't they? Why did the police issue a notice to Swami, when the law requires to just go and arrest a rape accused? How is he different from the Nirbhaya accused, Tarun Tejpal, Asaram Bapu, Nityananda or any other man who has been accused of rape and then arrested? Would you have allowed these others to walk away free if they had similarly said they were observing Chaturmaas? Or, some other religious practice? Were these others issued notices? Last I checked we are still a secular country, where we treat everyone equally before the law, irrespective of considerations like religion. Has this changed now?
  • Why did the Honnavar magistrate ban media reportage of the case? What interest does the magistrate have in protecting the ‘reputation’ of a rape accused? Also, what is the jurisdiction of the Honnavar First Class court to issue such an order? This one beats me.
  • Why were the Diwakar couple arrested promptly on August 26 and refused bail till mid-September? The speed with which police moved to arrest them casts real doubts on what fuelled their speed.
  • Even after the Diwakar couple was released, why were they prohibited from speaking to the press? Is is too late in the day to be naive and ask about freedom of speech?
  • On October 9, when the police/CID had a clear window to arrest the Swami, why didn’t they still do it? Were they waiting for him to get the interim bail? Nice teamwork there.
Meanwhile, our middle-class, herd moralities have kicked right in and they are making the same cliched, dripping-of-patriarchy comments, like:

How come Premalatha never complained before, but is only protesting now? People who ask such a question obviously have no idea what it means to be exploited by a man of power and good for them that that is so. I, for one, am amazed that Premalatha has emerged sane and brave enough, after her incredible ordeal, to actually fight this case.

Also, the Math’s followers seem to think their Swami is infallible. Reailty check: the Swami is still only a human being, capable of the same follies and vices as all of us. And, if he is innocent, he can prove that in a court of law. But for that, of course, he needs to be arrested.

Another crucial differentiation they need to make: the Swami doesn’t embody the Math. And, there is no attack on the Math, as the Swami would have you believe. It’s a rape complaint against a person, so let’s treat it as that.

Next, as happens with so many rape complainants in India, the investigation often starts with them and not the accused. And, by investigation, I not only mean one that is instituted by agencies of the state, but also the whisper campaigns against the victim and her family. Premalatha has been interrogated by the police multiple times for long hours by now. Meanwhile, people from her own community and close social circle are busy questioning her character because of the sole fact that her complaint was so graphic.

Such attitudes make me burn up with rage so much that I don’t even know where to begin.

Is it okay if a heinous crime is committed, but not okay to report it?

How does the character of a woman who complains of rape come under scrutiny? What does character have to do with this, anyway? Are we implying that only women of low or uncertain character are raped? That is, promiscuous women can be raped? And, what is the definition of this character, I’d really like to know. In any case, what’s the character of these men like? 

There can be no doubt that it is such attitudes of otherwise educated and well-placed people in society that must have made Premalatha put up with the brutality. And it all begins with disrespect of women right from the womb. Now that it’s become difficult to kill female foetuses, we cant wait to kill little girls as soon as they’re born.

If they escape that too, we then begin conditioning them about how to be ashamed of their bodies. If a man on the street leers at you, there must be something wrong with your dress. Maybe you dressed too well, maybe you wore the wrong clothes, maybe you look too good, maybe you’re so irresistible that you have no business to be on the streets. But never, ever, is it the fault of the man. No wonder, that we hear that rapes happen in India, not Bharat. I wonder what clothes were the Badaun girls wearing when they went to pee in the fields. Surely, not T-shirt and jeans.

I am not so much worried about whether or not Premalatha will get justice. Something tells me she will. But what makes me frigging mad is our unabashed eagerness to vilify women who come out against powerful men in our society. It’s 2014, people, don’t you think it’s time we actually started using our brain power to think logically and act fairly? It’s now coming to close to two months since the Swami has been accused of rape. That he’s still not arrested should strike everyone as odd and reeking of something rotten in our systems, whether or not they they think of him as innocent or guilty. And that something rotten is people’s brains and hearts: zombie-like, we refuse to think and don’t flinch a bit when attacking women whom we should actually be grateul for, for taking the courage to step out in the open and standing their ground.

Still, for all that has happened in this case, I believe Premalatha will get justice. Kudos to her and her entire family for their courage and tenacity. And, I post this video to inspire them further (English translation of the lyrics here). Plough ahead, sister!