Saturday, December 27, 2014

Some late night poetic ramblings

2014, 2014, where have you been?
We greeted once, and then you were nowhere to be seen.
Please tell your younger sibling, 2015
At least glide, don't just careen.

Let me learn more, travel more, live more.
Why make life routine?
I know you and tide wait for none. But if you do want to run,
Let me remind you, my Martian age is just seventeen!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tomorrow, Something Nice Will Happen.

Tomorrow, something nice will happen. How do I start? Where do I start? How do I end? Where will it end? Let's see. Let's start with life, for what am I, and what are you, and what is this, and what is that, without life?

Tomorrow, a baby will be born. A person will be gone. A flower will bloom. A storm will loom. A new word will be created. A language may die. There will be new inventions. Discoveries. Conventions. Contentions. Someone will be proven right. Someone will fight for their right. Someone will win. And someone will learn, that one does not always win. After all, winning is not all.

An infant will rise. Stand up. And take the first step. Boldly, for it knows not the fear of falling. Dangerously, for it knows not what lies ahead.

A girl will become a woman. A boy will shave for the first time. A woman will fight. A man will cry. A parent will become proud. A teacher will inspire. A guest will be satisfied.

Someone will fall in love for the first time. For the n-th time. Someone will kiss, for the last time. Someone will marry. Someone will be single again.

Someone will find a greener pasture. Someone will discover the beauty of home. The universe will expand a little more, as it has, for eternity. And yet, on this earth, a new place will be explored, and a treasure will be uncovered.

I will sing a song. Play the flute. Meet a friend. Take a picture. Dream a dream. Read a book. Run a run. When I am sad, I know that someone out there is having fun. Shedding a tear, for that tear is unwanted in the eye. I know that someone will be on a vacation. In Paris. In Bali. In Delhi. In Jokulsarlon. In the Amazon. Or at home, savoring the simple pleasures of life. Thanking the unknown for this life. For family. For friends--the fat ones, the loud ones, the unwitty, the gentle and the kind.

A river will be born. A stream will die. The old will give way to the new. The present will learn from the past. Someone will learn that despair will not last. That happiness is everyone's to take. For it is not a limited commodity, but is a choice. Yes, happiness is a choice.

Something new will occur. A phenomenon. An idea. A story. A theory. A company. A hope. A hope that I will be born again. That I will smile again. A hope that tomorrow will be better. That life is not all that bad. That tomorrow, something nice will happen... to someone.

I am thirxy and I know it!

Men usually brood over love, not age. But at the turn of every decade in a man's life, there comes a moment when he has to do a status check--where he has come from, where he is going and where he wants to go. I am at one such turn now, and as for many, it is one heck of a turn! I had a similar feeling when I turned 20 and will probably have a similar feeling (if and) when I turn 40. Fifty is too far away.

When I was a kid, I saw thirty-year-old men as men who raised a family, who worked at Satyam Computers, who almost have reached some kind of a "settlement" in life and who behaved like real grown up men. I saw 30 as a milestone, by which time I aspired to be a hero that everybody looked up to. I created my own Bollywood in my head, where 30-yr-old men were actually heroes. There were several things I wanted to do, and roles I wanted to don. I wanted to be a cricketer. A table-tennis champion. A champion swimmer. An IAS officer. That was all that I knew back then. But I did not realize that by the time I was dreaming about these things, it was already too late. I should have started dreaming very early.

Then when I was in college, I wanted to be a high-flier by the time I turned 30. I wanted to be an executive in a large company, making decisions and commanding respect. I dreamt about becoming famous for being a great leader in the making, and then eventually, I wanted to get into politics, not to make more money, but to do some good to the country. One day, I met a guy who was just over four years older than I was. He just then returned to India after he had completed his masters in civil engineering in the US. He was working as a freelancer in Hyderabad, and made sure he wrote at least one article per month in Telugu. When he asked me what my interests were, I fiddled with ideas for a little bit and then told him that I was interested politics. He immediately rubbished the idea saying, "It is not a career option at this point in your life". I was almost devastated. Perhaps I was only dreaming all the time. I never had any concrete plan. I was only taught to study hard and "become something in life". No body told me what that "something" was.

I have done a few things that a "typical" Indian male would not have done before turning 30. For example, I have visited five different countries (apart from India and the US, of course). I obtained a full time MBA in the US, to what avail is a different question. I spent half of my third decade in India and the other half in the US. I went scuba diving, ran 8 kilometers (Yay!), played 'competitive' cricket for a full season in all whites, published photographs, wrote essays--including a short commentary on the Mahabharata, read and wrote philosophy, challenged organized religion, became (almost) agnostic, developed interest in classical music and started learning western flute, learned some Spanish, drew a self sketch, met my idol Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and ... remained single!

Having said that, how different am I from the others? How different could I have been? In the grand scheme of things, 99.99% of us are just as mediocre as a pretzel stick. The taste is just the external seasoning, but the core just remains the same--filling, but dull and useless. I have assumed the mantle of the emperor of the kingdom of Mediocrity. Quoting Salieri from Amadeus, "I will speak for you, Father. I speak for all mediocrities in the world. I am their champion. I am their patron saint." All those who are mad at being called mediocre by me, screw you! You are just as mediocre as you can be... unless you are in the illusion of belonging to that remaining 0.01%. I would rather let the world decide if I am mediocre or not.

However, in these mediocre thirty years, I have nourished an ardent desire to do good to the society and to my country. Not the spiritual way, and definitely not the religious way. And my desire is still as strong as ever. I wish to focus my energies on that front in the next decade. I also want to write a book, travel more countries and visit Manasarovar.

Edit - 12/10/2013: Holy cow! This blog has been sitting in my drafts for the last one year! I turned 31. Nothing much has changed, yet. This again proves how mediocre I am. I have seen a little more in life in the last one year, but nothing that can significantly tell me apart. I am still the same (just lost a little more hair), and I am glad about that (not changing much). One great lesson I have learned this past year is, happiness is a choice. Nobody is perfect, and that applies to me as well. I will still strive for perfection, because that will at least make me good.

And with that, here's to yet another exhilarating year! Bravo!

Friday, February 8, 2013

A St. Josephian's Emotional Spring

A little over two and a half decades ago, a tiny tot joined the LKG of a school that had already left a legacy in a quaint and a seemingly quiet town, which was legendary in its own right. There is nothing great about this kid, or the thousands of other kids that had already graduated from this school, or were yet to join it. The greatness was in the school, and it was still in the making, for the school had left, and was going to leave, indelible impressions and unforgettable memories in scores of young minds.

This story is not about those tiny tots that joined this school on that day, or on any other day in the school's illustrious fifty-year history. It is about the role a school plays in molding a child's personality and in creating glorious memories. The role of a learning institution is similar to that of a potter that carefully moulds clay. Of a jeweler that meticulously studs gems into precious metal. And of an artist that diligently creates his work of art. That tiny tot was I, the school was St. Joseph's, and the town was Kothagudem. It could have been anybody else, but the story would not be too different.

I remember how my sister walked me to the school on my first day. And how my mother walked behind us to see if I cried. I do not know if I constructed those memories later, or if they are stuck somewhere deep in my mind, but to me, the significance of that event is unparalleled. Equally unparalleled is my attachment and my affection towards my lovely school. I vividly remember the smell of the classrooms after every vacation. I remember how my sister and I, along with a bunch of friends, walked to school every morning through an area with unpaved gravel roads, narrow bridges over small streams of fresh water, lush green trees and touch-me-not plants. I remember the harmonious sounds of learning in repetition… math tables, Telugu poems and English verse. I remember how I ran and jumped and played in every ground of the school and around. I remember how an "avva" used to bring our tiffin to the school on some days, and how we used to walk home to Rudrampur to have lunch on some others. I remember how I ate and shared lunch with friends sitting in the sand, under the plenty many peepal trees that provided the much needed cool shade on hot summer days. I remember how I raced with new classmates to see who was faster. How our eternal picnic spot used to be the mango groves next to the football ground. And I also remember what I went through when I had to leave the school and all my friends because my dad had to take a transfer to a different location. It was no less than a heart break.

When we came back to Kothagudem four years later, I insisted on joining St. Joseph's, because I knew I would find my old friends and teachers there. And sure I did. Unbeknownst to myself, I had developed an emotional bond with the school. The next four years would be the best time of my life. By no measure was I to be one of the best students in the class, much less the school, but this period taught me great lessons in hard work, competition, leadership, fun, relationships, love, morality, kindness, knowledge, wisdom, honor, respect… and by all counts the greatest lesson--friendship. I made some of my best friends at school, and never again could I connect to other people in the same way as I did to my friends at school.

Going to school was fun. In the four years that I was there during highschool, I never faked illness to skip classes, because I loved going to school. I loved sitting in every class, playing with my friends and making mischief. The mischief was subtle. It was never meant to hurt anybody. But it was never meant to make anybody happy either. Our teachers were the best in their own right. I do not remember any teacher discouraging us from participating in literary, cultural or sports events. St Joseph's had a rich heritage of encouraging students to participate in all extra-curricular activities. Years later, I would so proudly tell my friends at college and work how great my school was--for many of my friends went to schools where class work and grades were the only important factors to be considered a good student.

The seed to my artistic pursuits was sown back in my school days. I remember our drawing classes where Paparaju Sir so uncannily drew on the blackboard with a chalk. My love of languages, which came to the fore only years later, had its origins in my school. Subrahmanyam Sir's Telugu, Nightingale Ma'm's and Lalitha Miss' Hindi and BennaRao sir's English were always fun classes. The computer back then was an enigma. The ability to programmatically draw a map of India in dBase III Plus--thanks to Durgaprasad Sir's computer class--was a mind-blowing wonder in high-school. I would never have thought I would make a career in computers much later. I only wish I had a better memory to remember everything that I had learnt in my classes, because as I realize now, those lessons are of insurmountable importance. The principles of Mathematics, Physics, Economics and the basics of Civics and Biology, are all as important as learning the alphabet in English in LKG.

I visited the school a few times after I had graduated from there. Although I never really had a chance to meet all my teachers, just entering the school, or even getting close to the school campus, in itself was a tremendously inexplicable feeling. It is a moment when everyday issues of my adult life suddenly start to seem insignificant. When my life after school starts to dissolve into oblivion. When I go back in time to re-live all those fond memories--starting from getting ready to school in the morning, taking the bus, running to classes dodging drill sir's cane, the morning prayers, the Monday morning assemblies, all the classes, all the teachers, the lunch time, the every opportunity that we used to look for to play in the grounds, the computer lab, the library, the chiding of teachers, the burning of my cheek and ding in my ear caused by a teacher's slap, the street vendors and tiny shops that sold snacks and cold drinks, and the long bus ride back home… only to wait to go to the school the next day. In the fifteen years after school, I remembered my school and my teachers as many times as I thought of home, of freshness, of fun and of carefreeness.

Whatever I am today, be it a nondescript employee in a large corporation, a one-in-the-herd engineer, a software programmer, a small time artist, a wannabe writer, a well-meaning doctor, a courageous entrepreneur, a conscious social worker, or another inspirational teacher… I owe it to my school for making me what I am today. I owe it to my school for molding me from the clay, for studding me in precious metal, and for crafting me out of emptiness. I owe it to my school, as much as I owe it to my parents, if not more. For the memories of the yore. For being my fairy-tale place of lore. I owe it to my school for being the pride of my childhood. For being the solace in my adulthood. And I owe it to my school for giving me a reason to reminisce with fondness, to forget bitterness--albeit momentarily, and to look to the future with positiveness.

At this juncture, when my school is celebrating its glorious fifty years of existence, of spreading the message of kindness and, more importantly, of committing to provide quality education to children in and around Kothagudem, I only wish I were physically present there to share that joy with my fellow classmates, several alumni, my old teachers, the school's administration and the current students and parents. I regret not being able to help the organizers. I regret not having planned well in advance to take a dip in the Ganges of memories, and to experience the exuberance of a younger generation. But as always, when I think of my school, all my issues and sorrows cease to exist, and I blithely melt into the nectar of my St. Josephian past.

Here's wishing St. Joseph's High School the very best, and fifty more years of glory. Jai St. Joseph's!!

Vamsi Krishna Hemanth Illindala
X B - 1998.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My India - The India that was, that is and that will be.

So, it has been a long time that I wrote about "issues" in India. Not that I have forgotten about my country, or that I have grown disinterested in it, but a part of me got acclimatized to the idea of India, and another part of me has matured enough to understand what really is required for India to be a better country. I have realized how my acerbic rants from the past are nothing but a waste of space and bandwidth on the web. Now, the reason for this post is almost obviously a reaction to the most gut-wrenching Delhi gang-rape. A promising life has been wasted, a million dreams have been shattered, a society has started to feel more insecure, and there has been an exponential increase in decibels in the name of "outrage" and "activism" throughout the country.

I am not an active activist. I have not participated in rallies that ask for justice. So, many activists may write me off as one of the scores of other "socially conscious" citizens, who sit comfortably in foreign countries and complain (read bitch) on the social media about issues that affect their own countrymen, but do nothing about them. I am a thinker. Trust me, I am as (un)necessary as you are in this democracy.

In all these years that people have demanded a change in the country, I am sure that there are several people who asked the question "why?" about the issues that currently concern us. Why are our politicians and politics like this? Why is there crime? Why is the society so corrupt? I mean, WHY? Unfortunately, these questions are never too popular among activists, as demands for justice and immediate change are. I have asked these questions to myself for a long time. I have not found any definitive answers yet. And I am not sure I will. But I have discovered for myself, and stumbled upon discoveries, that seem to make sense to me. What we are seeing are effects. There are some causes to those effects that are rooted deep in time. It is not possible to go back in time and to fix those causes. Change is inevitable. But it cannot be achieved immediately. Try making a friend of yours do something that you think is good, but that he/she thinks otherwise. If convincing and changing one person is that difficult, what would it take to change an entire society that is plagued by a misplaced sense of time, sits comfortably in the dungeons of history and hopes for a glorious future without letting off the chains that tie them to the ancient past?

Activism is good. Activism is great. But activism is reactive. It will definitely lead to some improvement in the safety situation in the current case, and I do commend activists for this, but it will never change the entire situation for good. People ask for justice, and ask for the perpetrators to be hanged, castrated, paraded naked and stoned in public. Just for fun, let us suppose that all these punishments are indeed carried out. Will it stop another beast from perpetrating the same crime in the future? Show me the proof. Show me the numbers. I know this is just emotional outburst. But criminals are like bedbugs. You trample some of them, burn them or flush them in a toilet, there will still be a ton of others that will still bite you. It is their nature. Crimes and conscience defying blunders are committed in the heat of the moment. I personally like to see these six perpetrators killed. Not because death penalty will serve as deterrence to the would-be perpetrators, but the scum of this earth should be washed away from time to time. On the other hand, activism in a weak society is like food for a weak body. You eat just enough to gain energy. You eat any more or any less, it will be detrimental to the body itself. Apt amount of activism is required to serve as wake-up calls for both the society and the administration.

It is not wrong to expect to live in an ideal society, where everybody is free to do anything that is within the moral, civil and lawful limits. But when Barkha Dutt, a Columbia-educated, self styled torch bearer of justice and activism of Indian media asks the chief minister of Delhi, "When will we have a city where I can go out for myself after 9 o'clock at night? When will this be a city where I do not need an escort? Why do you have to keep me escorted, and not go after the men? Why why why why?", I really find it disconcerting. May be she is only trying to elicit a response so that people know what Ms. Dikshit is thinking, but I only find it a laughable joke. When you are walking on a road full of thorns, you've got to be cautious and wear thick boots. However, the goal for the future should not be about how to make your boots stronger. It should be about how to remove those thorns. I mean, when people say that women should dress "decently" in public to avoid rape and molestation, I do believe that there is a tiny bit of truth in it. But the major part of it, missed by either these commentators or the opposing activists, is that it is only a precautionary measure, whereas the root-cause is yet to be fixed. It could sound like a trite remark, but if there is cancer in the body, pain killers are as essential, if not more, as treating the cancer itself.

There are crazy and insane people out there. These people have a literally incomprehensible gender bias against women. And they will not change any time soon. They are made to be what they are, by their families and by the society that they live in. There can be enough reasoning attributed to the justice systems' failure to check crimes being committed against women, but no amount of logical reasoning can be given for a lack of morality in perpetrators of these crimes. I see a strong connection between the current situation and the economy and the history of India. History cannot be altered. Economy can be.

My basic premise here is that as long as people are educated, are occupied doing what they like doing, and can earn enough without being too greedy for more, there will be a tectonic shift in attitudes of the people. Economic development is not just about making people rich and increasing the GDP. I see it as an overarching principle which encompasses educational, social and financial improvement of the people. Take China for example. China has done everything possible to erase the Tinanmen Square incident from its nation's memory. The media is so tightly controlled by the government, that students at a premier Chinese university cannot identify the picture of 'The Tank Man'. While it is important for the current generation of Chinese to know and understand their own history, I do not think that it is absolutely essential for them to do so, until they have ample opportunities to live a comfortable and a happy life. Yes, the victims of that tragedy will still be sore. Again, there will be several Fabindia-kurtha-and-jeans clad activists that pounce on you upon the mention of China as an example for its development. I just believe that there is more to the China model of development than what we hear about in India.

It has also been suggested that "repression of sexuality" in India has led to rampant rapes. While this argument partly makes sense, I seriously doubt if sexual freedom, without proper education and economic opportunities, will lead to decrease in rapes and gender inequality. The problem is, we are neither a tribal country, nor a developed country where gender equality is high. We lie right in the middle with an adulterated sense of morality. While rapists are essentially clinically perverted minds, they do belong to the same society that we live in.

Solutions for this crisis in India are very heavily dependent on its social structure. Gender inequality, I believe, is deeply rooted in religion and traditions. There has to be a methodical breakdown of religious and caste bigotry, and the so called "customs and traditions". In a country where the majority of the population still believes that marriage by a certain age, and within the same community, is a necessary condition for both men and women to be considered normal and sociable, changing the mindset of an entire nation to adopt gender equality is going to be almost a myth in the near future.

The India that was had an eventful past. The nation kept changing, but as is change's characteristic, it was always slow. For several decades after independence, there was inertia of growth in the form of pseudo-socialism and passive capitalism. In my understanding, the inertia came from the way we achieved our independence--the Gandhian way. The father of the nation taught us passivity in everything. It worked well during the independence struggle, but we adopted the same principle for the development of the country for far too long. Then, when we adopted aggressiveness, the idea was mis-constructed. I have said this several times (and once too many in my blog too), that as my wise Infosys interviewer told me, "charity does not help. It is more important to empower and educate the underprivileged and downtrodden, and to make them fend for themselves." Unfortunately, the perceived economic freedom mistakenly percolated to sections of the society that were not ready for it in an emotional and a material way. I believe in the argument that a sudden windfall without proper education has resulted in bloated egos of the neo-rich and the neo-middle-class across India, especially in and around the NCR. While this does not apply to rapes, the increasing economic divide has certainly entertained ideas of instant pleasure and ill-placed sense of gender superiority.

This brings us to the India that is. It has become an extremely complex and a noisy society, with a seemingly malfunctioning democracy. I do not believe that the entire system has to be changed to make India a better country. If there is something wrong in a process, the solution is not to change the process itself. The process may have to be only made better. This is one of the very important lessons in process excellence. There are several institutions in India that need revision. Understaffing in the judicial system (see this also) has been time and again suggested as a major problem. But the problem cannot be resolved if there is no maturity in the society to perceive every profession with equitableness. If my parents wanted me to be an engineer, it is because they perceived engineering as the only respectful and reasonable profession for a middle-class family back in the day. I was allowed to think big only in the confines of a middle-class mindset. It has been just over a decade that I joined my engineering, and although there has been a huge change in the middle-class attitude, our perceived insecurity in other professions still remains unabated. While we, and our activists in various fields, strive to achieve this social and economic change today, the India that will be, seems to me like a mixed bag of candies and stones.

In the near future, hoping our systems do not fail completely, there will be more stones than candies in this mixed bag of our collective future. We will change. However, any change, as reiterated, will be slow. Every child has to be educated. Every old-timer has to go. I believe that a few generations have to pass-on on a first-in-first-out basis before the change is complete. Much of our energy should be focused on making the economy better, and changing the social outlook. Outrage will cause us heart-burn. Calculated anger and patience only will take us forward. It took 90 years of pre-independence activism to make Indians realize that we are one, that the British do not belong to India, and several decades of the life of a Mahatma Gandhi to boot the British out of the country. It will not be easy to change the mindset of an ancient society. There is no quick-turnaround time here. It is a long term project.