Thursday, July 28, 2016

Jottings : slice of Life - 29

Jottings : slice of Life - 29
Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist and professor of comparative religion, mentions a beautiful metaphor to indicate Human potential. Sea turtles lay their eggs about 30 feet from the sea, and when the young turtles, size of a nickel, break out of their shells, they immediately start scrambling towards the sea. They don’t have to be taught that if they tarry a moment longer than needed on the shore, they will be scooped up by birds waiting from their delicious arrival. Its biological and psychological structure has been programmed, wired from its inception to move swiftly towards safety. They also know how to swim, and water doesn't unnerve them. These were learnings, instincts hardcoded into them. They come into this world fully formed and equipped to lead lives in a manner chosen fit by millennia of evolution. They have no problems of schooling, tutoring or a learning curve, or even the inclination to learn, grow and transform themselves into something they want to.
But Man is different. The new born human baby is almost physically useless to do anything at all. It wails, its helpless and almost certainly will die if let unattended. It is as if evolution has abandoned its child into hands of unknown, and not equipped its choicest organism ( at least that is what we call ourselves) with instincts necessary to live, thrive and safeguard itself effectively from its predators. The purpose of this post is not to trace this evolutionary path of Human beings. But it will suffice to point out the somewhere along our journey, nature decided to bring us into this world only biologically well formed with eyes, nose and the rest of it, but without absolutely any capacity to survive and adapt. It expects the human child to to be given adequate time for intellectual, cultural development. It relies upon existing Human society, its elders, its teachers to be the vehicle of transmission of acquired written and oral knowledge, skills of survival and channel necessary life instincts for the child to grow inwardly into a fully blossomed young man or woman, capable of handling the world on its own terms and conditions. And the gestation period for this transition to happen is not less then a couple of decades, if not more. Definitely, A Huge span of time for a fragile baby to grow up, when you compare with the turtle that Campbell mentions.
That is why education is so very important, and great, committed teachers almost indispensable. It has been my privilege, honor, pleasure over the years to have worked with so many youngsters in many different ways. Yesterday, My dear friend Aromal mentioned my teaching skills in response to a post of mine. What can I say, but for the fact that I am glad that I chose to channel my energies to be able to touch lives of such talented and committed youngsters as him. I still remember this bright, handsome boy who sat in my class, quite skeptical, with dreams and fire in his eyes. Fifteen years later, his dream is consummated and the fire is even more brighter, and many more vistas to conquer. Well done Aromal. I am with you every step!! The other day, a group of boys who joined the professional world a decade ago, fresh from college, were nostalgic about their journey so far. They were an incredible, brilliant batch of young girls and boys. In that indeterminate period, when one steps out of college, and about to step into the world of adults, there is a short period in between - full of aspiration, brute confidence in themselves , nagging doubts and a mysterious sense of beckoning destiny. It is a crucial phase in a young life at the threshold of adulthood. Because, the world is watching you. The nurturing is done, care given, and you are expected to now become responsible for your future. It is at this time, that you need a mentor to help give you the slightest of pushes into an unknown future - not merely an intellectual thrust, but an attitude, a clear lens to look at life and adjust to it ( Like the turtle who knows it should swim towards water). All the boys and girls from those classes are today growing up wonderfully well. And I watch with pride and happiness their progress.
Even today, I enjoy working and teaching youngsters, though my job has taken to other levels of Higher education. In J krishnamurti’s schools across the world, the fundamental principle is not to create specialists ( that will anyway happen) but to provide holistic education. And I my own small way, I try and inject a life vision into my classes, beyond the mere technicality of it. I have been fortunate to have learnt some valuable lessons at great price sometimes, but never have I allowed them to cow me down. I pass those lessons down as a legacy to my beloved students..
So then, To all the wonderful people in my classes and outside.. Have a great time, and keep it going…
God bless..
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 30

Jottings : Slice of life - 30
In the midst of all the euphoria surrounding Rajnikanth’s “Kabali”, I can only sympathize and pity the Person Rajni who has to endure all this. This may sound very strange to you. When a movie has raked in 250 crores on its release, screened across 8000 theaters worldwide, watched almost with frenzied religious fanaticism by every section of Indian society; profusely written, spoken and reviewed about in all forms of media, Daily lives forced to come to standstill in major Indian cities and beyond to honor the occasion of his movie release, ardent fans flocking and stampeding into screening halls with milk, garlands and other ritualistic paraphernalia to propitiate their God incarnate( as he appears to them) each time he appears on Screen - like the resurrection of Jesus - praying for immortality of their beloved superstar, Families forsaking their humble earnings to get an invaluable ticket to watch the first show in the hope of attaining fulfillment of their life purpose, educated sections of population trying not to be overtly fanatical or emotional, but surreptitiously betraying their thoughts, emotions on Mobile messengers applications and group chats - With all this happening, why is that I feel sympathy and sad for Rajni. Is this not , after all, the greatest day in his aging life to witness the kind of appreciation and welcome his mere presence is bringing in? Is not a wonder that yet again, his idiosyncratic histrionics was all that was needed by public from his movie? Who bothers if Rajni enjoys doing what he is doing?
It is exactly for reasons mentioned above, I sympathize with him. What have we done to a Man who walked into films in late sixties from difficult life conditions to find himself an artistic outlet in movies? Why have we abandoned Rajni -the talented actor, over the last three decades? Where is that energetic, angry young actor who was blossoming into a fine artist and could play serious roles with ferocious ease and inimitable style? Where is that Man who during his most fertile years between 1971 to 1985 was cast into some very admirable films by able directors only for his ability to play wonderful and controversial characters, and not merely to fantasize on screen? Where is the man whom we have trapped in the golden prison of our own making, typecasting him, not allowing him to experiment, grow, mature; relentlessly pushing him to cyclically repeat himself to the point of weariness in order to satisfy our trodden, crushed middle class ego’s fantasies of a Superman?, and above all, where is the man, who I believe, still has the artistic capability to rise beyond this trap and break new grounds? But, Will we ever allow him to be himself - which is , an actor who needs to be acting new roles, and not having always to accommodate his work to suit mass hysteria and public taste.
The answer to these questions, if posed to one of his devoted fans, would be : But that is how Rajni presented himself to us. Yes true, that was one phase of his career, but what right do we have to expect him to put on the same gloss over and over again to merely appease our credulous sense of inferiority and dreams of incarnating a superman on screen to cover for our sense of inadequacies. The point is: would we have allowed him to do anything else. Time and again, the actor in Rajnikanth did try to do something different, present a side of his acting that could somehow help him slip out of this rut he had fallen, or pushed into ( depends on who is doing the talking), but did we ever embrace that change with equal enthusiasm and fanaticism we now accord to run of the mill movie called Kabali. Have we allowed him to successfully choose a role with the slightest change in script, style or anything other than a manifestation of demigod persona, each time he appeared on screen. A sincere answer is No.
What can a man do under such debilitating circumstances? He would turn to alcohol for solace; try desperately to keep a visibly aging and diseased body look young on screen despite every indication that layers of paint are not camouflaging the wrinkling skin anymore or the tremor in his voice is giving away his true identity; running off to the mountains in the name of spiritual solace or seek anonymity in other continents of the globe, check into hospitals in the middle of the night hoping to recover enough to continue the fiasco. But even such moments of privacy end up becoming public spectacles. This is the price an artist pays for giving into public demands, and not being wise enough to break the shackles early enough in one’s artistic journey.
When we allowed an Amitabh Bachan or a Kamala Hasan to transform , reinvent and find consummation in avant garde Movies, why did we not accord the same privilege to Rajni, who may not (arguably) be as gifted as them , but certainly was capable of doing much more than what we have seen in last two decades at least. For an art to grow and refine itself, it must have audiences capable of genuine critical appreciation. Fanaticism cannot prevail or help grow greatness. When such an atmosphere of mature appreciation is not present, art cannot aspire for greatness. There is long standing debate as to why Indian Cinema cannot be compared to Hollywood or other European theaters. We get very defensive when asked. But the truth is blunt and brutal: We have to get away from hero worship , and take art on its own merit. Only when that happens, can we expect to see a degree of sanity creeping in our largely commercialized “industry” of film making. The immediate reaction of many when i say this would be “ Are you suggesting there is no Hero- worship elsewhere?”, Frankly, that is not my concern. I can only point out what I see very clearly wherever I see it. And I may be totally wrong as well. In the recent past, there have been several movies in different Indian languages made with great story, relatively unknown actors and virtually unknown directors. They are wonderful. Those films are beginning to represent the possibilities for future. I only hope, we as matured audience, will raise our bars enough to give them the same kind of welcome we give to commercial pictures.
I wonder how many more movies will Rajni continue in this vein. There has to be a stop at some point. I have grown up watching him, so I do have a soft corner for him. But I think, we are pushing him too far. We need to let him cool his heels, and start playing roles which are less demanding on himself physically and mentally. If there is any respect left in us for what he has done in the name of entertainment for indian cinema - we should begin to accept him in any role he chooses to play, and not be judgmental about it. Not push him so relentlessly to live up to an image that surrounds him so impregnably. For a man who is deeply spiritual, philanthropic and graciously remembers his roots, I am sure all that he would in the deepest corner of his heart pray for - is to finally be left alone and not sucked into glare of unchanging limelight each time he walks in front of the camera.
I wish and pray that he will, during this lifetime, see such a day, and we as his well wishers and patrons will embrace him with equal, if not more, acceptance and love for whatever he chooses to do - on and off screen.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Jottings : Slice of Life - 27

Jottings : Slice of Life - 27
“The Intern”
I am quite picky about movies I watch. Not that I rationalize, sift through options or always rely on favorable reviews to decide on what I wish to watch, but I primarily base my choice upon a gut feel cultivated over years of watching all kinds of films with a critical eye than most of them would care to. My watchlist on Netflix or Amazon or other online movie providers runs into hundreds. These are movies aligned purely on educated instinct. If you ask me to explain why a particular movie is on the list, I would not be able to point my finger on any specific reason. In fact, I wouldn't even be able to substantiate my choice, but like a trained cabbie who knows which roads to avoid at what times, how to quickly assess traffic conditions and a keen nose for cars and directions, one learns to react to good pieces of art through a very mysterious process in the brain. In fact, Malcolm Gladwell, in his brilliant book, “Blink” begins with an anecdote of this kind of gut feel that makes all the difference between a novice and an expert - the art and science of instinctual assessment based on years of experience. But the sad truth is : sometimes, this feeling can be entirely wrong, misguided or disappointing. And as an experienced practitioner, I must be prepared for such failures of judgement. Its part of the learning process, a learning experience that refine and distills ones taste for future evaluation. Watching “The Intern” featuring Robert De Niro and Anna Hathaway was such an experience. I was disappointed, to say the least.
If its a feel-good movie I wish to watch, with accomplished actors throwing in mediocre performances, storyline verging on the inane, then I am better off sitting through three hours of a commercial Indian film with enough songs and dances to relieve my steadily increasing boredom. But when a movie pretends to be tackling an important social trend (at least, to director Nancy Meyers) which seems contemporary, and tries to look at it through a Moralist prism rooted in traditional value systems, and ends up not knowing what to do with it half way through the film - then for people like me who treat movies as an art form - are in serious trouble. Because, we have invested our time hoping to see a great story unfold and told well, and all of a sudden , we are unceremoniously pushed over the precipice with not even a straw of hope or interest to hold on to. Here is the story in a nutshell. Jules (played by Anna Hathaway) is a successful technological entrepreneur with no time to live her life. The office she runs in the name of IT seems more like a zoo with caricatured specimens to identify who’s who, and all them seem jumpy, energetic and articulate without any specific reason. In the middle of this circus, Jules tries to balance a husband and child, both of whom seem oddly out of place ( especially the husband, the girl child is a saving grace). In comes, the seventy year old Intern in the form of Robert De Niro. He is mourning the loss of his first wife, and wants to get on track by leading a busy life. He obviously belongs to old school. Primly dressed, well mannered, mouthing time tested platitudes,feeling odd and out of place in the midst of nerdy software folks and hyperactive secretaries, dates his aging masseuse with all traditional male chivalry possible - he represents the directors’s version of lost humanity in a ambition filled modern world. Anyway, the story takes a turn when he gets assigned to Jules as her intern, and then on it is all about how she slowly begins to understand herself, her messy life through the eyes, wisdom and good deeds of her intern. Freud would have definitely been interested in this relationship - An emotionally incomplete and unhappy girl with unsatisfactory childhood leaning on a father-figure for succor and counsel. You know where I am getting with this!
I am a great admirer of De Niro’s work. His intensity on screen, his commitment to roles which demand extraordinary understanding of character and ability to translate them to screen is nothing short of legendary. But if there is something that simply is not in his genes, it is playing light roles. Though over the last five years, he has tried performing few such roles, it really has not come out well for him. As Ben Whitaker, he has literally breezed through this film with consummate ease. No questions about it!!. But the character didn't push him at all, and with such roles where nothing is demanded out of him , De Niro seems lost and unsure. Understandably so. Having worked with some of the finest and most intense directors of his generation like Martin scorcese and roman Polanski, he needs substantial meat in screenplay to produce his best, otherwise he languishes on screen. If the only purpose was to draw audiences to watch this movie, then i guess, the choice of having De Niro is justified. Otherwise, there is absolutely no scope in this film for him to dig deep into his vast reservoir of talent.
On the other hand, I have never been great admirer of Anna Hathaway. Don't get me wrong. I am not prejudiced at all. It is just that i have not seen a great performance from her so far. I loved her giggly, teenage role in “Princess Diaries” and other teen movies, but I personally believe, she has not grown beyond it. She is smart, in her own way quite good looking; but what she lacks is depth and emotional range on screen. The contrast in this movie between De Niro and her is extraordinary. What takes a single glance from him to convey needs a trunkful of facial gesticulations from her. I hope she has learnt a few tricks from the master.
Anyway, the good thing about this movie was I did not turn it off. It did make me sit through it. As I said in the beginning of this post, its a feel-good movie covered in chocolate and cream; drawing a picture of world that rarely exists in real time, except some parts of it. To her credit, Director Nancy Meyers has made some great films . “Something gotta give” with jack Nicholson, “Holiday” with Kate Winslet ( I have reviewed both in my previous posts) were great movies with right balance of frivolousness, story and performances; but "the Intern", somehow, didn't scale up to my expectations. For a movie made under budget of 35 Mn to gross over 190 Mn will be considered successful in many cinema circles. But to me, it was more the presence of De Niro that raked in crowds. Its a kind of movie, you would want to watch during a wet evening, after a few glasses of chardonnay and exquisite Italian food, walk or drive over to nearest theater or snug into sofas in your living room, dim the lights, press the pay button, and go to sleep midway with pleasant dreams.
For cinema lovers, who like that kind of Cinema , I highly recommend it..
God bless..
Yours in mortality,
Bala


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life - 26

Jottings : Slice of life - 26
He was a young man clad In a blue flowing Kurta and black jeans. His eyes were wide and deep, nicely trimmed beard, and he had an expression of confidence on his face. It was around 7.00 PM in the evening; and weather in Downtown Bethesda was humid and hot as it has been this entire week. The young man was profusely sweating, constantly dabbing his face with a towel in his left hand and holding a crudely written placard in his hand, turning it this way and that way to catch the attention of pedestrians walking swiftly past him trying to get into a some kind of shade and respite from the heat. None paid any attention, and even if they unconsciously did, the message on his placard was really something they could not or would choose not to readily respond. It read
“ I am a Muslim by heart and practice and a true American by birth and nurture. Pls spend few minutes talking to me, we will dissolve our differences..”
I have been watching him for last few days as I walked down to a nearby Italian place for my dinner. He would be there when I passed him at 7, but would not when I returned around 8. Today, I stopped and spoke to him. His name is Aslam (name changed), and he studies English literature. He spoke in immaculate English.
I asked “Aslam, what is the purpose of what you are doing?”
“Sir, It is difficult for anyone to understand what it is to be shunned and stigmatized in one’s own country. My parents migrated to USA decades ago, and for generations we have been devout Muslims without any qualms, guilt or any need to justify our presence. But in the last fifteen years, there has been a fundamental shift. Almost, as if, the very ground upon which we stood has been pulled away. I was bought up doing Namaz every day, and taught with all sincerity that Koran was God’s word; but never once has anybody breathed a word of Jihad, or martyrdom of bloodshed in the name of God to me. My parents taught the teaching of Koran was to seek God within and not outside. I have read all scriptures along with my own, and had friends with whom religion was not a consideration at all. My parents passed away five years , more from internal grief on what has happened to their faith and culture in the hands of few bigoted sectarians who have distorted the traditions of millennia. I am financially comfortable, but I felt deep within my heart that as an individual I must do something to restore the purity and cosmopolitanism of my faith. At least twice a week, I stand here , in this junction, for a few hours, not soliciting anybody in particular, but talking to few who voluntarily approach me. I tell them how I am a true Muslim as a Muslim can hope to be, and how America is my mother, My birth country - the land that has nurtured and educated me, and how both of them are inseparable from one another. Some of them scorn, make fun and even deride my words; but select few , after few minutes of confrontation begin to melt and understand where I am coming from. We strike a chord deep within, and we part with a sense of ease and empathy. Over the last six months, this kind of contact would have happened with say three or five people at the most and not more. But that's enough for me. I am doing what I can do..” He smiled and continued “… I sacrifice my movie time to establish communal harmony. If I could live to see the day when we get the past the appalling violence , misconceptions and misunderstandings we are embroiled in, I will consider these evening spent in sweltering heat well spent. Many who pass by look at me as homeless, offer money and sometime show pity as well. I am willing to accept any stance they may take, if I can touch the heart of few – not to convince them of Islam’s greatness but to gently point out that our faith and all others are one and the same, and beyond peripheral differences the infinite divinity flows undisturbed and unbroken …”
I listened with rapt attention as Aslam gently spoke to me. I was speechless. I gently tapped him on his shoulder and said “ I am honored to have to stopped by and met you. From a fellow Human being to another, I am sure, both of us will live to see a better day…”
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jottings: Slice of life- 25

Jottings: Slice of life – 25
“Orlando” - a novel by Virginia Woolf
To define the kind of person and writer Virginia Woolf was - is extremely difficult. Not because, she is difficult to categorize, or pin down to a particular genre of writing, or because her works are often personal ruminations, splintered sparks of consciousness clothed in prose, or because her stories are born out of deep depression, melancholia which afflicted her for most part of fertile literary life, or because she was a feminist who believed deeply that a woman can produce peerless works of fiction only when she is relieved of economic, moral and social necessities of life and living, hence her novels were always punctuated by women who strove for independence within and without. She is difficult to define because she was a genius, a rare flower of the twentieth century, for whom words weren’t mere dictionary jottings, but real, tangible, tactile sensations. Very few Women writers have so enamored the literary world as Virginia Woolf has. I can only think of two other female writers who could come close to the depth and beauty of Woolf’s literary excellence: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Margaret Atwood. All possessed prose to equal Woolf's but falls short of the versatility of Woolf’s genius, except Ms. Atwood, perhaps. From “Mrs. Dalloway” to “To the lighthouse” to “The waves”, her writing sparkles with a rare lyrical beauty and depth of consciousness that reveals many layers of understanding of Human life and its myriad moments. She was an active member of the eclectic Bloomsbury group of writers, which included the likes of Lytton stratchey and Keynes, who were Avant-garde thinkers shaping the direction of literature and thought in an era preceding and following the two world wars. It was a mystery how Woolf was able to straddle the world of social intercourse and her own lonely depressive life, and in between t found time to forge a tortuous, loving marital relationship with author Leonard Woolf and write prolifically as she did. Yet that was Virginia Woolf, a unique life in the world of letters.
If one reads the corpus of Woolf’s works, her Book “Orlando” will stand out as an anomaly, a digression in an otherwise serious and intense body of literature. It is almost as if she wrote the book in rare moments of cheer and exuberance. Based on her famed ( and some would suggest) romantic relationship with fellow poetess and member of the Bloomsbury group - Vita Sackville, the story of Orlando begins with the tale of a young Nobleman during the Elizabethan era in 1500’s who mysteriously undergoes a transformation to become a Lady at the age of 30, lives on another 300 years, watching the centuries change, social conventions and etiquette modified, grappling with the meaning of being a woman in the body of once Male form, ruminating on arts and literature, philosophizing on life’s curiosities and cosmic playfulness; speculating on progress, attempting to woe and write poetry, and finally settling down as woman into marriage. I have summarized an entire book into a single sentence; but what I cannot summarize is the sheer brilliance of Woolf’s writing spread over 300 pages. Her pen dances, dazzles, ebbs and flows with a creative effervescence carrying along it the reader into a magical world, where time, place, person dissolves, and almost every leaf, every flower, every drop of dew, every ray of sunlight, each casual insight jumps out of its wordily description and comes alive in our mind’s eye. In all, It’s a celebration of language, prose and beauty in English literature. Published in 1928, “Orlando” ensured that Woolf never felt the need for money anymore. The book kept her financial worries at bay. It was a publishing sensation, and has remained one ever since.
Recently, I was listening to the only available recording of Woolf’s voice captured during a BBC talk on the use of language in 1937. In her immaculate British accent, she speaks about words, and its usage, as reflections of mind and emotions, and how language should evoke inner perception of feeling, and not merely be a string of grammatically correct aggregation of words. A good sentence, in her opinion, should be tactile in the true sense of the word, and a perceptive reader should be able to feel the emotion passing through the writer’s mind as they were written, not experiencing them as an afterthought. And if that is the yardstick Woolf set for herself, then Orlando is the supreme example of such pedigree of writing.
It is interesting that a copy of “Orlando” has been lying on my shelf for three years waiting for its turn. I got around to reading it last week. Unlike, other Woolf books, which needs tremendous involvement, time and focus, I breezed through “Orlando” in three days. Pages kept turning, and the magical and magnetic quality of its prose was intoxicating enough to keep me riveted for long hours in the night. There were certain paragraphs I read at least a couple of times, simply for the beauty of her writing. I wish I could reproduce few passages for my reader to feel its beauty and texture , but that would be injustice both to the book and its author. . I would rather have you read the book in full.
In 1941, Virginia Woolf committed suicide by walking into a pond and drowning herself. History will remember her death as a suicide. But if one has read her works of fiction in their chronological order, one would not fail to note that she always lived life on the edge. Her writing reflected consciousness as fragmentary and never continuous. To her, suicide would only have meant a temporary pause in perception, and nothing more - a short break in her stream of consciousness.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Monday, July 4, 2016

Jottings: Slice of life - 24 (Alvin Toffler ( 1928 - 2016))

Jottings: Slice of life - 24
Alvin Toffler ( 1928 - 2016)
If you were in your teens during the eighties, and interested in ideas; then it is unlikely that you would not have read "Future shock" by Alvin Toffler, published in 1970 - one of the most influential books on the progress and direction of Human civilization as we approached the twenty first century. It was one of the first books which bought into focus technology not merely as a means to an end, but as a revolution penetrating and redefining the very structure, relationship and meaning of social life. When Toffler talked about Internet, cable Television, robotics and genetic engineering then, it seemed eerie ,quite unbelievable and downright impossible . But nearly half a century later, his words, thoughts and vision ring ominously true, and more so, seem to be vindicating the pervasive presence of a "Third wave"- a new way of human living after the agricultural and Industrial waves that preceded it - that he so strongly advocated in his second book published in the eighties.
Alvin Toffler wanted to be a writer from a very young age. He knew it was his vocation, but the question was what did he want to write about? The answer to that question emerged when he became a journalist and an investigative reporter for emerging technology companies. What he saw happening within those hallowed walls, the kind of radical breakthroughs they were working upon , the information overloaded society that was envisaged, moved him to spend five years understanding, digesting and articulating his views in his seminal work "Future shock". In the exuberance and financial boom of the radical sixties, nothing was deemed impossible in America. There was money, initiative and progress. And Toffler captured that optimism in his book. It became, more or less, the lingua Franca for countries aspiring to hold the global stage. From Gorbachev in Russia to Lee yuan kew in Singapore, they applauded and embraced the clarity of Toffler's thesis, and began the process of orienting their nations towards technological supremacy. Like Arnold Toynbee's "study of history" and Jared diamond's "The third chimpanzee", Toffler's book was able to condense for the common man the direction he was being herded to. He coined the term "Future shock" indicating the disruptive nature of this technological change. When innovations supersede the rate of acceptance, society flounders, trembles a little; and if not handled well, could lead to chaos moral turpitude and collapse of social systems as we know it. This is not new in Human history. We have passed through such waves of massive change in the past. But what Toffler, points out as different this time around, is the preparedness and sudden shift the third wave would force upon us. There is no scope for gradual change. It's a quantum shift, and the cycle of adoption will be in periods of years and not in centuries as in the past.
To me , one of the striking ideas of Toffler was his prediction of information overload. When Man loses his ability to pick and choose what he wishes to learn, and he is bombarded from all sides with information, both needed and unnecessary, then his intellectual security begins to be threatened. The line between What is true, and what he is made to believe as true becomes blur, and a process of dehumanization sets in. In one of the most striking observations Toffler writes:
"Tomorrow's illiterate will not be the man who can't read; he will be the man who has not learned how to unlearn."
In other words, a man who cannot sift information with wisdom or apply his own mind to analyze, observe, understand and discard will find himself frightfully insecure. He will become a programmable robot in the hands of whomsoever has access to his attention. The proliferation of media and technology is already showing such signs of Human distress, as Toffler predicted, unless we start acting judiciously.
The reason Alvin Toffler was liked and respected was because he never advocated a dooms day analyses. Though his book were futuristic, there was always an underlying optimism about where we are heading, and even in his most cynical, skeptical and pessimistic observations, Toffler maintained strong dignity and belief in the capacity of Man to live and accommodate changes, as he has always been doing for millennia. It is this refreshing sense of confidence and progress that make his books and ideas still eminently readable and printable even after forty years.
When Toffler passed away quietly in his sleep this past week, the intellectual world felt orphaned. Rarely do we find individuals who can raise themselves above the humdrum of facts and stormy waves of Human progress, to observe the movement of life from an elevated standpoint. Toffler was one of them.
For my young readers, pls read Toffler when you get a chance. It's the best summer reading you can hope to get.
God bless...
Yours in mortality,
Bala

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Jottings : Slice of life – 23 (Notes from SanFranscisco)

Jottings : Slice of life – 23

Notes from SanFranscisco

I was having dinner the day before yesterday at Roy’s, San Francisco with Mark, a senior Architect with over thirty years of experience in the networking space. First, a few words about Roy’s, and then to core purpose of this post. If ever there is a prize for an expensive, most courteous and arguably the best Sea food place in America, I am sure Roy’s will be a top contender. Last year, when I was in Honolulu, I was taken to Roy’s, and the taste of Mahi Mahi served there still irresistibly lingers on my taste buds. Chef Roy Yamaguchi needs no introduction to connoisseurs of food. Not only is he one of the most delectable, competent and innovative chef’s in America today, with over thirty restaurants; he is also an eminent TV personality, philanthropist and social entrepreneur. Legend has it, that if Roy cooks, even the most tasteless piece of meat or vegetable turns into ambrosia and acquires immortality. Anyway, his Hawaiian restaurant in SFO is known for its decor, authentic aloha flavors, and more importantly the deserts they serve. Simply ethereal! Mark had a heavenly plate of Teppanyaki Shrimp in red sauce, and it was recommended to me to have their specialty Tofu, marinated in special Hawaiian sauce with Jasmine rice. When the dished arrived, and both of us tasted our first bite, there followed an absorbed silence for over twenty minutes. The sumptuousness of the meal gave us no time to converse. Every forkful of food evoked a million subtle sensory triggers, and by the time we ate the plate clean, we had a red flush on our faces. We had a look of total immersion and deep satisfaction - a nirvana of senses, so to speak. And then came the Deserts arrived hot and succulent from the kitchen. Freshly baked Pineapple cake with Ice-cream and chocolate soufflĂ© with signature Roy’s syrup dripping invitingly from it. After all the Eastern spices and fusion sauces in the meal, the deserts wriggled smoothly down our food pipes filling our stomachs with that touch of sweetness, which always makes a fine dining experience so fulfilling and complete.

After this ecstatic experience, Mark and I started talking about technology and technology based companies. When the stomach is full, the brain tingles with energy and exuberance. Our conversation meandered through breakthroughs in Web services, the role of Google, their innovations and programming interfaces, the future direction of privacy and security, the interweaving of Big data and Data analytics and how our lives are so public these days that nothing we do is safe from the prying eyes of location based services. Mark was not only an accomplished and articulate Network architect with virtually every certification under his belt. His mature sixty years of age and wide enterprise experience showed in the way he was able to condense, understand and put the pieces together. He said (I am paraphrasing an hour’s worth of dialogue)

“..Bala, I completely agree with your statement today in class that a technologist shouldn’t be talking economics to a customer. The biggest challenge today for companies like us is we are so concerned with selling something at any cost, so much so, we often end up giving the customer a solution which do not meet their needs, or falls short of it. Our concern is to sell something, and meet our targets. But what we don’t understand is in the long run, our short sightedness will progressively reveal our initial failure to stand up and speak the honest technical language we should have spoken in the first place. In that sense, a Technologist should be candid about what works, and what will not. It’s up to the customer to decide if they wish to take that route. If a technologist begins to play the role of a Pre-sales or sales, then we are going down the wrong route.

Secondly I liked the way you stressed our core competency and bought together all different strands of technologies under one common vision. I guess, your broad spectrum of understanding IT comes in handy here. Honestly, I have never heard any technology instructor bring that kind of holistic vision into class. In fact, in my experience, most IT companies seem to forget their core competency and the bigger picture; with the result the employees often are not deeply in sync with what their company exactly sells for its existence. Very few organizations impart that kind of vision to its employees. Let me illustrate. I was consulting for one of the largest truck manufacturing companies. They make all kinds of Heavy duty vehicles for different purposes. And one of their core HR policies is that every employee, no matter what their role; from the CEO to data entry operator will go through exactly the same training program for first two weeks. And do you know what kind of training happens in those two weeks. Amazing! Nothing role based, technical or managerial. They are taught to drive every vehicle they manufacture. At the end of two weeks, every single employee is given a master key to be able to drive any kind of automobile in their massive factory floors and outside. The idea is this: no matter what role you play in the organization; each one must realize that producing heavy duty vehicles is their core business. I may be a senior developer, but my code is inconsequential if I cannot sell my manufactured vehicles, and I must be conscious that I am writing code that drives a vehicle. I may be a support engineer, but my job is useless if nobody buys my vehicles; so each call I handle must be done with the thought this call will enhance customer stickiness and more sales, and not merely as just one support call with its targets of closure. This core vision is missing in technology companies today. They are broken into hundred silos, and each one believes their work is uniquely measurable and sellable, when it is not. When that happens, the victim is the customer who gets pulled in different directions by each team, and what looks like a good sell in the beginning soon turns into a nightmare; and the cleaning up operation is far too expensive, frustrating and a drain on resources. As an architect, technologist – our priority should be to present our company’s core product strength first, and all other factors subservient to it. So when we call ourselves a “Performance” company, we need to understand what that means from all angles and then present our solution In a concerted manner...”

As the evening faded away, we weened our conversation to books, music and movies. Rarely, do I get to meet someone who is equally at home with hardcore technology and arts in general. It is conversations like these that brighten my days as a technical teacher and evangelist. Many ask me why am I so passionate about teaching. My answer is: for such moments of pure intellectual satisfaction.

God bless…

Yours in mortality,

Bala

Friday, July 1, 2016

Jottings: slice of life -22

Jottings: slice of life -22
It’s a great mystery on how we fragment, apportion our love to different people at different times in our lives. We ensure our boundaries of affection are clear, at least, our upbringing indoctrinates us to believe they are very clear. Between Husband and wife, friend and lover, friend and family, sons and daughters – the lines are firmly drawn. Even if our instincts deep down propels us to cross those limits, we are tied down. I call it mysterious because these fences are fictitious, thought made and have no real basis biologically or otherwise; and our desperate attempt to stick to them like leech to skin seems so incongruous and stressful. There is no way in the world we can control what we feel. The idiom “be true to yourself” is the greatest lie propagated. Because, if each one of us were to be so, society as we know it wouldn’t exist. Now what else would take its place. We don’t know. We can only conjecture, but all of us would like to believe that there will be chaos. Well, that’s a good way to find solace in fictions we so tortuously love. Creation of made fiction is a unique development in our evolutionary history. Not only are we the only ones capable of creating such powerful psychological thought structures, which more or less govern the way we live; but somehow we get lost in its meandering pathways. The many genuine moments of our lives often decay in the slime of these fictions. Who defines I cannot love anybody else like a husband or wife. Who defines it is incorrect not to feel sexually, emotionally attracted to another. Who defines I must not “overstep” boundaries of affection? And if I happen to feel the need to do so (which most of us do, if we are honest with ourselves), then what do I do. Sweep it under the carpet, and act as if everything is alright. Is it not self-duplicity to hide behind fiction, when raw facts stare at us on the face? I am not for a moment even suggesting that we throw every social convention to the winds, and live with gay abandon. But do we have right perspective on it? Is it not equally important to live true to oneself at some point in one's life? Fiction does have a place in human understanding. Nobody questions its utility. But when it starts governing Man’s inner psyche, we run into problems. Science needs ideation and adequate fiction, without which, we cannot attempt to grasp it's working; but when the fluidity of life itself - its passions, its instincts, it's emotions are jettisoned within artificially erected fences, we are then attempting to subvert the reality of our being and living life according to fictions we have blindly inherited or adopted. All psychological conflicts of modern man can be traced to what he genuinely feels within and what he thinks (fictions) he should live by. In 2015, Professor Yuval Noah Harari taught an online course (MOOC) which subsequently was published as a best-selling book titled “Sapiens: A brief history of Mankind”, in which, he beautifully points out how our fictions have aided in our material progress from an instinctual ape to an astronaut, but at the same time, the price we have paid for this progress is almost a complete disintegration of our inner self. Ideas about nations, corporations, tribes, Gods, love, sex, success, compassion have taken over the living reality it represents. And therein lies the struggle of modern man.
Arts have always dabbled with fiction. It has always had the freedom to push our boundaries of social conformance to its limits. That is probably the reason, we love controversial books, movies, drama and music. When DH Lawrence wrote about illicit physical love between land lady and her gardener, something ignited within us. It gave our feelings of lust a legitimacy which we don’t often find in world outside. Or when we watched or read “Bridges of Madison county”, we sympathize with the lonely lady who finds true love, solace in the arms of a complete stranger, or when Sharon stone crosses her legs during a police interrogation, we are shocked; our moral and ethical foundations are shaken; yet, surreptitiously, we admire her character’s brutal honesty, provocation and unbridled sensuality. What we don’t have the courage to face up to in reality finds its expression and transference to art forms. Perhaps, it is better that way. It is not for nothing that art is called the mirror of our souls.
I recently watched a wonderful Made for Television Movie titled “Strange affairs”. Low budget, starring Judith light; the movie captures a unique relationship between a husband and wife and her lover. All three live under the same roof with complete acceptance of each other’s relationship. When their initial reluctance to break conventional ties are overcome, then it becomes utterly natural. That a woman can love two men simultaneously without prejudice or disrespect to each other, and both men can engage in mature friendship with a tacit understanding of each other’s role and position, give equal respect to the woman they adore and love - is sensitively bought out in this tale. To my surprise, this movie was directed by Ted Kotcheff, the same man who directed “first Blood” - the first Rambo movie. Diametrically different films.
I guess, the point of this essay is simple. There are no equatorial lines dividing life into distinct compartments. It is only a fiction, and our modern issues of morality, customs and conventions are only true so long as we want them to be true. In Ernest Hemingway's words “… So far, about morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”. A good enough yardstick for whatever one does, I guess.
God bless...
Yours in mortality,
Bala