Another 17 days


Now that I have read a couple of Sir Ken Robinson’s books, I understand his point better. I could digress and discuss it, but I want to talk about something else.

Can I still write a story? I was certainly capable of it in childhood, I could imagine in detail and with clear beginning, middle and end. I don’t know. I began this blog with the hope that I will rediscover a love for writing, and I have.

The other problem is, the story I plan to write must be anonymously written, yet would reveal more details about me than this blog ever would. Secondly, do I have the discipline to write the story I want to tell? I don’t think I do.

I think I need a proper outline.

Chapter 1: We meet our protagonist. I will call her Diya for now, but I would look for a better name. What would her family consider a “good” name? Maybe Aditi. It was a common enough name in the 90s. Anyways, she will watch a delivery. She will be shocked, and then numbed by what she sees, the complete lack of empathy important, because we can then deconstruct it later. I do not want to introduce heroics yet. I want to talk about intellectualism, and the disconnect from people and their lives that medical training is.

Yes. Everyone is nice, but has a callous cruelty and and the protagonists POV shows shock and amazement at the baby’s head turning- just like the books said it would. A connection between her academic life and reality but not to life. Not yet.

Chapter 2: We meet her friends. Girl 1- lets call her Aparajita for now, only that is a Bengali name, and I don’t think I can write a Bengali character- and a Bengali girl wouldn’t have this particular problem- has a demanding boyfriend. He is extremely intelligent, beloved of faculty, do I give him lots of papers and a path to US? No, because the story can’t go to a country I have never visited. So a commitment to stay in India. But that makes the guy nicer than I planned. Maybe I can give this interesting boyfriend to Aditi. Or call her Aparajita. Maybe he intends to stay because exams are his natural habitat, so entrances are not a problem, and his parents are rich and successful and expect him to stay. Which brings me to the problem of parents. Rich, successful. Brahmins. From where? UP. I suppose. That’s the only other background I can do, as long as I don’t have to do any details. So revised chapter. We meet her boyfriend. And then her friends. Now Girl 1 has a secretive relationship to a guy she doesn’t want anyone to know about. I want to do secrets, but I don’t see how to justify them. Anyway, something to think about. Girl 2 is single and would make a happy arranged marriage. I won’t invent any other girls because of the problem of writing about cultures. Or maybe I can put my medical college in UP/Bihar and that would solve that problem.

Chapter 3: Parents on phone, traditional, sweet, not too rich. Older sister, traditional, young gynecologist. In a okay arranged marriage? Maybe change to brother. Older brother, IIT, secret girlfriend she knows about. Or maybe finds about in this conversation with brother. We start to get the theme of secrets. And also of studying. Everyone is studying all the time.

Chapter 4: You are starting at the wrong place. There will be too much setup required at the time in their lives you want to start at. Too much detail about marriages and disapproving families which I do not want to write about. Make everyone about 3 years, or even 4 years older. Here, let me spell out the story I want to tell. Of a country changing rapidly. and yet stagnant. Of the problems of intellectualism.Of men who were brought up to be retirement plans and are incapable of becoming real people. Or maybe are capable.

But how to make this story interesting? This is the story of life, and life is boring. And a bit depressing. Let me think about this. Some magic? Some sense of danger? Where would one get danger?

Let me think about it some more.



17 days


So, I saw Sir Ken Robinson’s various speeches at TED conferences. That was a few days back, and I have been thinking on them ever since. They explain why my parents wish that I will get that “dream” job I did not want in the last post. They explain how even writing blog posts about my own life was so difficult in the beginning. And I am afraid they have made me take seriously the super expensive IB schools. There go my dreams of not spending too much money on my kid.

I was a highly imaginative kid. And all through school I wondered why imagination, which seemed like my greatest quality, and strength, was completely ignored by my parents and my school. I could lose myself for hours in manufactured realities and what is now called fanfiction. I think it was my mother’s dedication which ensured my “success” in life. I wonder what I would have been if I was not so good academically. That is to say, and this caveat is very important, I love what I do. I am not a fan of the place of work and how little actual work I do at present, and I hate the long hours. But I love my work.

What I am asking is different. What if I had to confront failure? At this point in my boringly ordinary life, characterized by some measure of what the world accepts as success based on very little actual effort, I have no doubt that actual fear of failure can make me do something better. It is the damn safety net which has stopped me from aiming higher.

I am too agitated to bother with counting

First I thought I will just launch into this without context, but that would not be fair to you, dear hypothetical reader. So, a tiny bit of context, without giving anything away.

A few years back, there was a Guardian or some other foreign newspaper article or CommentIsFree piece about the Indian Navy. If you remember, there had been a spate of high-profile accidents. Some British (again I am not sure, but Westerner anyways) had written this article pointing out the problems he had seen while doing a short tour of duty with the Indians. As faras I can remember, his points were-

  1. There is a rigid chain of command. You cannot question it, however there is no guarantee that the higher-ups actually know anything.
  2. There are too many people standing around who do not know anything and have nothing to do.
  3. Safety protocols are routinely ignored.
  4. Others I do not remember but in a similar vein.

So, imagine I used to work in a place where all this applied. Also imagine that I left that place where 1 and 2 are not followed, and there is a good faith attempt made to avoid 3 (we are Indians and are terrible at following protocols.). So, now, lets say there was a way I could go back to workplace 1. Would I want to?

It is of course a government job. Going back to a government job from the private sector also means going back to Bharat from India.However cruel and unfair you want to believe the 2-country hypothesis to be, and however much your liberal heart bleeds for the denizens of Bharat, India is a better place because the people here are nicer. The place I work now, they smile, they laugh, they take vacations. They read. They understand that the workplace is a place to make money and find job satisfaction. It is important, but not the center of your life. Neither is it a place to come and waste time on the governments expenses. They are, I suspect, happy, even though they do not get any paid 2 year childcare leave.

To step back and look at this from a different perspective, the reason I am tempted is not the paid childcare leave, it is something much more complicated. I was brought up by parents who wanted me to fulfill their dreams. Their dreams were different from mine. My dreams are a cushy but interesting job, and time to read, think and live life. They dream of a prestigious hard to get job, and the social capital generated with it. They were born and brought up in a different era, and even they do not belong in that long forgotten era now. Neither do I.

So, what to do? The good news is, hard to get, poorly paid government jobs are hard to get for a reason, and I don’t seriously think I will have to do it. All this soul searching has been basically to punish myself for being unable to stand up to people who want meto be someone I am not. Right now, I am Althea Vestrit and I just need someone to come and tell me, this is who you are, accept this and and be this. Being who you are is okay.

15 days


I want to link to this series of tweets by V Vinay on twitter. I am not sure how long twitter links function, so I will summarize. The 12th board CBSE paper was tough. There was a hue and cry about it. And as a friend of mine used to wish, a tough paper is better because it is tough for everyone. It can differentiate those who actually know the answers from those who were lucky and read the right books/guides/question papers. But, as he points out (I know little math but this is what I understand) the questions don’t do that either. They are just lengthy and complicated and not really interesting.

This is a territory I wanted to stay out of. I think I have said this before, this blog is public because everything is eventually public anyways and I plan to keep away identifying information. If I do that, maybe the following paragraphs will not make much sense- or maybe they would make too much sense- so, fair warning to you, dear non-existent reader.

Many years ago, one day I decided to stop studying. It was a very interesting, engagingly written and beautifully illustrated book, which was the “syllabus” for those exams. THe book presented huge amounts of information. It certainly was humanly possible to mug them up, people I know did that year after year. But if you read that book, you got the feeling that the authors would be bemused if they found that was what we were doing. The huge amounts of information was there so that it could be a reference book, but also to show the reader how complex and complicated is the subject matter in question. I am not saying that the information was irrelevant. Only that it was inappropriate to mug it up as a part of undergraduate syllabus. Anyways, these lofty thoughts did not motivate me to stop. I stopped because I figured out that there is more to life than undergraduation, and that with much lesser effort, I would not be first in class, but I would be in the top 5, and would have time to read other things. So I wheedled a laptop and a net connection from my father, and here I am. And after all, what do they know of cricket, who only cricket know?

All this was in the past, and also in the future, as I must put my child in a school. Which school? How much mugging up should I tolerate from a school? Are the fancy new schools which promise a new kind of pedagogy, actually teaching critical thinking? From the experience I have in my own field, I cannot but doubt it. We have terrible quality in India, and we have the great. Unfortunately, our greats are not even close to the basic minimum a European or American would expect from their own systems. We manage with individual greatness. There are places where the great are many, and can deliver world class quality, inspite of the systems. And then there is everywhere else. Even in those great places, not everybody is even good. And there is no way of finding out, unless you are deeply embedded in the system, who is bad and who is good (the great are easier to identify).

This too must be true of schools. So, should I offer my child expensive, erratically good education? Or should I accept that a child I bring up will learn to think critically, and can save us some money? They say that children who are in the IB system cannot adjust to the Indian university system. But what if the university system changes? It must, the only question it faces is when. Anytime in the next 15 years? Almost certainly. Tough question this.


4 days


Finally, I am going to put together all my thoughts on the JNU controversy and Kanhaiya Kumar. First of all, I am not anti-BJP. I don’t like their politics, religion bores me. But I understand that they are the only realistic political option we have today. I also understand that the BJP is fundamentally a party whose interests are aligned with that of People-Like-Us, and I am selfish enough to accept that. So, I might not like BJP, but I am all for it. In that context, I think I can begin.

My first instinct, I am not at all ashamed to say, was admiration. The Rohith Vemula issue had forced the BJP in the politically untenable anti-dalit position. Here was a Machiavellian solution, to put a Bhumihar in jail for the same slogans, and do it in Delhi, so that it is convenient for the media to cover. It seemed like a masterstroke, and the day I realized this I ended up with the thought that those who can manipulate the country so well can fool all the people all the time. They will win the next election too.

But, it turned out, I was wrong. I, and the BJP too, both overlooked the young man who was in the eye of the storm here. When you are accused repeatedly of being evil, and you try to destroy a helpless boy, a name like Rohith is okay. But Kanhaiya? Before defending Hinduism, shouldn’t you spent some time reading anything about it? From the politically untenable position of being anti-dalit, they have now moved into the frankly ridiculous position of being Kans and his chosen hitwoman who pretended to be Kanhaiya’s mother. We all know that story. And to his credit, Kanhaiya made the speech which forced them there.

The problem with being forced in the roles of Kans and Putna is that they were not the main villains of that story. They were just small stepping stones one the way to his greater destiny. If they had chosen someone named Arjun, maybe they could have fared a little better?

Anyways. staying on the topic of Hinduism, destruction as a act of creation is one of its tenets, the Destroyer one of its greatest Gods. The great texts of Hinduism again and again talk about how the world must reform after an eon. Again and again hindu scriptures talk about freedom from the burden of life. Think about that for a minute. Why must life be a burden? If you had “aazadi” from caste & feudalism, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, would life be a burden? Would the circle of life be seen as a chore if marriages were for love and compatibility, divorces not a big deal, childcare was easy and high quality, and death mainly from old age? Is not asking for this idealistic world similar to asking for Moksha? Asking for this never was, and is not anti-Hindu.

But it is anti-national. No doubt. so why do citizens of this great nation want Bharat ki barbaadi? Smriti Irani actually gave a lucid and believable answer to this question. Maybe it was a complete answer. Or maybe we can respect our own citizens and acknowledge that they might have arrived at this conclusion independently. No one, really, no non-psychopath wants war and destruction. (Even the scripture writers. They kept the pralays far away, at the dawn and end of time.) People want peace and security.

So, to change the subject for a second, if you read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (which everyone must read, even if what happened to Hermione makes you hate it), somewhere in the story, Harry says that he can only blame himself because whenever a fault analysis is done, blame must be placed on something which can be changed. When an aeroplane crashes, it makes no sense to blame gravity. We only have power to change ourselves. We cannot change the actions of other people. Something Kabir also said, Jo man dekha aapno, mujhse bura na koi. We cannot change the people who want “Bharat ki barbaadi“. We can only become more inclusive, more united, more cohesive as a country, ensure that everyone has a big stake in the survival of this country, and no one will want to end it. This is what the Communist Party has done in China. People do not shout slogans against things which benefit them. I do not like the BJPs politics, but even in this post, I haven’t criticized them. Why should I?

Before asking anyone else to change, maybe we should change first. Become less intolerant, more inclusive? More rational, more scientific? People who can see nuance in an argument, and must not be presented everything clearly labelled as black and white? People who can think for themselves? Become what the Romans, whom Smriti Irani also approves of, called vir, people with courage and intelligence, whose goal is to acquire the admiration and respect of their fellows? But that will require actual education. The yawning gap between saakshar and shikshit Kanhaiya talked about. The difference between the padhai of vigyan and its practice, which he also talked about. Frankly, I do not think this gap can be bridged at all. Which will cast me into despair, and make me rebel, but I have a stable job and a happy life, and so I won’t. That is what quells the spirit of rebellion most effectively, but providing that to our poorly educated youth is perhaps equally impossible.

1 month


Long time. I missed commenting on any amount of news, on issues everyone had an opinion on. I missed talking about a lot of things of personal importance too. Not everything can be written down. Yet, when there are things one cannot write, one doesn’t feel like writing at all. (It is reading all those Mitford novels. Now one tends to refer to oneself as one.) I did write a post 2 weeks ago, but could not complete it. Maybe I will just post it incomplete, or maybe one day I will go back and complete it, we will see.

So I visited the realm of the Indian super rich. What a fascinating place! Would I find this many Rolexes in a Rolex showroom? Or this many diamonds in a diamond mine? Yet, I felt that- or rather the fact was- they were being overcharged for worse facilities than what the rest of us find for free. It is true for the diamonds- zircon is equally shiny, and fabulously cheap- the watches- really, anything can tell time- and the event I went to.

Anyways, to move on from the travails of the rich and stupid. A fooland his money is soon parted and there is no surprise about that. No, what impressed me was the rise in inequality. See, I had been watching P. Sainath’s speech at JNU before I left, so inequality was kind of on my mind. But we tend to think, inequality has always been there. But what I realized that this is not really true. Visiting the forts and palaces of Rajasthan, what stuck me was that the total amount of wealth in the world has increased tremendously. The kings and their subjects could not “afford” airconditioning, say, in the 19th century.  There was less inequality between the kings and the peasants they lorded over than and average upper middle class dude and the same peasants today. The human economy is unimaginably wealthier today than what it was 200 years ago. And none of that expanding wealth has made the really poor richer.

What the kings could afford, was watches, diamonds and land. That should tell me something, but I am not sure what.

18 days


I meant to write, but was helpless against the relentless demands of real life. Trending today on facebook is the news that Mattel has decided to change Barbie. This is Mattel finally responding to little girls across America abandoning Barbies and taking up the pink Legos. Legos are awesome- kids love them, and their parents love them even more. My daughter gets lost in her Duplos and for that time, there is no general mayhem accompanying her. We love her Legos slightly more than she does.

So, anyways, it seems Barbie was rapidly losing marketshare not to a rival toy company, but something entirely different, a new way of looking at the world. Day before yesterday, for instance, I watched two little girls play at princesses. It involved welcoming foreign dignitaries -me- (that too with a bow and not a curtsy) and then their castle caught fire and they heroically put out the fire and saved themselves from ruin. It was evidently very exciting, and their was no tiara, no dresses and no princes involved. Can you imagine Barbie putting out fires? She will not be able to run on her ridiculous legs.81t8jtvvzul-_sl1500_ But look at Anna and Elsa in Lego’s Arendelle castle. They look competent and capable, and the dresses are super cute.

How could Barbie compete once parents and their daughters both abandoned traditional roles of women and migrated to modernity. Upper-middle class India, the one I live in now, mirrors America, and the same holds true for them. The people rich enough to buy expensive toys are increasingly- from the evidence of Mattel and Lego- abandoning dolls and the world they represented.

Yes, in India we also have films like Mastizaade. (no link, you honestly do not want to know about this movie.) We in India are changing faster, but the change is not yet visible because this is too big a country, and the average is hiding all the interesting action in the fat tails. I think we will have to wait forever for the average to reflect any social change in India. And movies pandering to the lowest common denominator will never know anything.