Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Dying Art of Conversation

I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Blink’. For those of you who haven’t read it, take the time and look through it. There is something he calls ‘thin-slicing’—how to read people in the first few moments of meeting them. It really got me thinking about conversations and debates. People can be so involved in what they are saying that they fail to pick up on little cues to what the other person is thinking. If you can read the other person, it’s easier to shape your argument in a way that they might end up seeing your point of view. Now in the past few days I chatted about different things to a varied bunch of people: a Professor at Cambridge, a Fellow (and historian) at Cambridge, an Indian politician, a movie star, a successful lawyer and as usual, my friends. Now many of the themes were the same- Middle East crisis, Bombay blasts, Muslims in India, religion, and so on. Now everything is a matter of opinion. Coming home from Cambridge my brother and I were amazed at how well Professor Hoskins could hold a conversation. We joked about he was more of a Master of Conversation than a Master of Science! But then the next day we got embroiled in a crazy political conversation which soon dissolved into a screaming match. But this is what I don’t understand. Unless you only want to state your opinions louder than everyone else, one would assume that you would want to actually *gasp* HAVE A CONVERSATION! But it’s getting tough now. I have started respecting people who actually listen to others- in hopes of absorbing a new point of view- instead of listening impatiently waiting for their chance to start speaking again. [Admittedly I am guilty of doing the same, but that’s only when I have a reaaaallly interesting point I’m dying to make!] What is the point of trying to be smart by entering into an ‘intellectually stimulating’ conversation when you are going to intellectually dishonest about it and refuse to listen to anyone else?

‘Blink’ is about more than just the art of face-reading; it allows you to understand what instinctive reactions are all about. We’ve all had reactions in an instinct—but why do we? Why are we right some of the time, and wrong at the other times? Now take for instance a conversation on Sonia Gandhi- and what right she has to become PM of India. I know this topic leads to an explosion every single time because everyone has very different- but definite opinions about the topic. And when you are having a passionate debate at times- and this is something everyone is familiar with- you end up harassing each other on points that have nothing to do with the topic in hand! But even more interesting to me is the question- especially with my friends- if you and I have lived in the same circles, studied in the same schools, and so on, how do we end up with such dramatically different ways of seeing the world? And such different value systems?!

My friend’s father was just telling me that he appreciated the way I handled myself in a recent heated debate we had about politics. He said he may not have agreed with all of what I was saying but I was able to hold a debate in a really good way. I didn’t step on any toes. Its funny- because little did he know that this is exactly what my post has been about.

So my question is, in all this talking, why do we stop listening? I have spent countless hours arguing with some people for the sake of it- and none of us have gained much from the other. But on the other hand, some conversations are pivotal to my life. I’ve learnt so much. I think this is why I loved History as a subject so much. It taught me more about the world, and every time I walked out of class, I felt I’d become smarter. So I guess it’s crucial to learn- as it is to make allowances for the fact that different views DO exist in the world and instead of rejecting them outright, perhaps understanding where they come from will help you see it better.

How can someone’s entire view point and understanding of the world be dismissed by someone else? Ugh, this is the age of democracy people. TALK.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

To Asma, July 15th: VERY late at night

Oh my god! I think I'm in love with you!!!! YES... delhi is like... no one knows there is a world.. they are just cruising.. i am like!! Dude! Bombay-- blasts??!!! israel and lebanon?>>!!! nothing!
Btw this SIMI group that they think worked with lashkar has been around for a while. In UP mulayam has said all SIMI guys are cool- they weren't involved (perhaps for his vote ;)) people are like dude! But the thing is this, the way it was done it was prtty good, same line, diff stations, within the same time prd-- but get this. Because people have cell phones they can send their pictures of what happened... and they have been able to figure out what happened .. how?! They did that in the diwali blasts to with this market place-- but i was just thinking... Look how technology is changing the way we choose the see the world- like we are looking at the news and the world seems so big, like we could drown in it, but to other people technology also brings about leisure... just new ways to hang out, chill... and thats a whole diff POV but everyone survives/ But back to the blasts. Jeez i dnt get it. Yesterday my mom and i went shopping for clothes -so we were walkng in GK shes like 'isnt it crazy that someone could blow a bomb here because its a pretty busy place..' something, something------ but you know, when i thought of it like this- if they hit delhi, they could hit this exact place cause its a pretty busy, popular place... i just felt... a shiver. You know, its no longer news, if this is something you LIVE with... and then today i saw the pictures of beirut... dude. Bridges in the city have been blown apart, thr airport was hit. Someone left a comment on bbc that said-- its so sad because we went into a lot of debt to build up our beautiful city, and you know what i thought. Indias developing, good amt of money around. But if delhi got bombed... in a lot of key places, how would that be? It would be demolished, scars of war. And when it ever (and i hope never) i .. just dont ever want to have to deal with that. I think thats why its important to do soemthing in a larger sense, even if right now its as basic and talking about whats going on- If we understand that someplaces in life its worse .. and it shouldnt be- we'd help instead of trying to and scamming them .. Ok im just thinking out loud way too much, but i guess i just needed to rant. Third world war you say?! God, i hope not. They are so unpredictable, i mean israel especially, you never know if they suddenly wanna talk or just carry on bashing everything in sight... ok babe. Thanks for listening to me!!! I make everything sound like it may be in my backyard but only cause... alright. Bye now! Miss u!!!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

..take back the night..

The right to information should be a basic and fundamental one. Many times, in a country mired with red-tape and corruption, one can almost forget that we live in a democracy where power lies with the people. The media certainly has a grave responsibility in educating people; its something I'm looking at more closely with Doordarshan and Kalyani (aimed at education people across the states about health related issues). The ongoing campaign, 'Drive Against Bribe' is a step in the right direction. You might have seen it on TV or read about it. Parivartan is an NGO behind the scheme- it has tied together groups like NDTV and HT to remind people that if they come across government officials (etc) asking for bribes, the only recourse is NOT to simply pay it but to get justice delivered by following the rules. The right to information: find out what they are meant to do and use that information against them. We should not need to bribe people to simply do their jobs. Hopefully this is true- the more people look at you- the better you need to perform.

I'd mentioned Rang De Basanti in a previous post- it impressed on me the need for action. Well, this is the basis of a mass movement. Sometimes I feel almost fake talking about issues that face our country. Let me explain; if I don't put on the TV to find out about the massive power cuts Delhi is facing, I may not even know it. I live in the NDMC part of town where electricity is practically guaranteed. I've had a fortunate life no doubt, but that doesn't mean that it should necessarily lead to complacency.

Now, I've been thinking about the possibility of a people's movement since my mother suggested that is the only way we can have change in this country. Watching 'The Big Fight' where politicians played the "blame game" about everything from electricity and water shortages to poor urban planning its impossible to imagine any constructive solutions ever coming up. But as was pointed out, in assigning blame we often delude ourselves into thinking that everyone in the government is corrupt and the few honest people calling for change are kept out of the powers of corridor, unable to do anything. Its institutional change that is the problem. Beyond that, how do you get people to DO things? The promotion of the RTI act is one way. Compel people to do their jobs, force the bloated bureaucracy to get some exercise.

Talking to your representatives is key. I think, often, we expect problems to be taken care of and bitch about the fact that they still exist, but we never file an official complaint ourselves. When I was working with Orion Publishing I would often have to go through authors post. I would be amazed to find that so many people wrote to authors telling them how much they enjoyed the book, sometimes making a correction or telling them a fact the author may be interested in and so on. I love reading but I've never written to an author expressing my admiration. Which is odd after all; I write too and I look forward to feedback. Yet I haven't really given any myself. The same can be said of democracy-- we expect the government to work but we don't want to participate in it. Change doesn't happen from couches in front of the television.

Voices need to be heard. Journalism paving the way for social change? I hope so. Its time the media really mattered. But lets not forget the role each and every one of us has to play in this.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Does the world need Superman?

After his long absence from Earth, Superman returns home to his farm. He flips through the television channels only to accosted with images of war and pain. Later, when he takes Lois flying, he asks her what she can hear. She says 'Nothing'. He tells her he can hear everything, all the people crying out for help. This is why he knows he is needed.

As heroes go, Superman is my favorite-- ever since I had a supergirl costume as a kid and tried to 'fly' by jumping off my window sill onto my bed and convincing myself that I actually flew for a few seconds. No, really, I did! Hee. I remember having these conversations with friends- about how Superman is the real superhero- and his disguise is human in nature. As compared to everyone else- Spidey, the Hulk, you have it, he doesn't mutate into a superhero, he IS one. His challenge is to be human. He doesn't want to rule the Earth, given his ability, but he just wants to belong. He wants to help the world that took him when his own was lost.

So does the world need a Superman? A savior? The parallel with Christ is unmistakable. The savior who hears our cries and comes to save us. Mull over this: Created by two young Jewish men, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman was the product of the Great Depression. Although Krypton was about to be destroyed and Jor-El had to save his son, the booming voice of Marlon Brando cannot be forgotten as he tells his son that humans need to be shown the way and "For this reason I have sent them you, my only son." Like Jesus, the son of God, Kal-El (Superman) too is an immigrant; wandering. He comes from a distinguished blood, he rights wrongs, performs miracles, saves people and so on. [Actually, Richard Donner (who directed the older movies) received death threats from people who were upset about the parallel.] In later years- 1992- Superman died, only to be rumored sighted and to return a year later.

But the question remains, what is the role of Superman? The last movie which many people did not like (I did) posed a very interesting internal debate for Superman. His father had told him not to interfere with the course of human history and to let it play out. But a little boy asks Superman to get rid of all nuclear weapons in the world. He is torn, but ultimately decides that he WILL do so. In this movie, he goes away for five years and people move on. They survive. Perhaps experience a loss of faith, as is evident by Lois Lane's Pulitzer Prize winning article titled ''Why the world doesn't need Superman".

Of course, for me the religious parallels don't make a difference. I love the concept of a hero. One who fights for truth and justice. What is interesting is Tarantino's take on Superman (in Kill Bill 2)- that Clark Kent is Superman's critique of humans. I suppose you could read that as him regarding humans as eager and honest and perhaps a little helpless and lost. And if that is the essential human being, then does this mean we do need a Superman?

Well, duh, yes we do! Not having the real deal (and by that I mean the man in tights himself) we have created heroes all around us. Role models are aplenty as are people who sacrifice themselves to just causes. To me, Superman is a testimony to faith. Faith in- no, not God (after all, he is Super MAN) but faith in the power of good. And with this new movie, there is a new facet. Faith in the fact that we can pass along this 'good' to our children and that every new generation holds promise and hope. The backbone of Superman is the story about fathers and sons; that if you teach them right, they can grow up to do many wonderful things. Unlike General Zod and his cronies (the second movie) Kal-El has learnt well. The next installment of the Superman movie will certainly take this concept further with a little superkid waiting in the wings.

Plus, you gotto love someone who saves an entire plane of people from having the most horrible crash-landing, but takes the time out to remind them that statistically flying is still the safest way to travel. He is just SO cool!!!