2017 : A year ahead

I tend to prioritise the things that i am, and i like to do, towards the end of the to do queue. For a person who rarely procrastinates professionally, or has very little pending work on a daily basis – including responding to mails, i tend to procrastinate a lot in my personal life. There are things that i like to do, and have always liked doing, they take a back seat to more pressing commitments. But, as my father once asked, what can be more important than your commitment to yourself ? And, 19 months after dad passed away, i think i am ready to make that commitment to me.

Things I want to do this year – personal goals.  :

  • Write more regularly. Often, i get satisfied with the idea. I am happy the idea struck me. I debate the idea in my head, pros and  cons. Sometimes, when i understand theoretical underpinnings, i have an academic debate too (in my head). And then i am so satisfied with the whole thing, i don’t bother writing. 2017, i hope to be more disciplined. Atleast, once a week.
  • Photograph : sigh. And develop the stuff i shoot. Be more structured in the story telling part of it.
  • Shoot a documentary — or at least write one. i think if i don’t tell a video story this year, i will possibly explode or something.
  • Learn a skill – i am still figuring this one out. Whether i want to learn to cook a specific style, or learn pottery, … i don’t know. much of it looks exciting.
  • Enrol and finish a coursera or equivalent course – something not in my field. The easiest would be picking media or policy. But, i want to experience the joy of discovering new things, new ideas …
  • Be more social in real life – meet people i like. And, i like a lot of people, i have been avoiding people. social media makes the real world nearer, and one day you realise all of it is maya – nothing beats real life interactions.
  • Go to two new places – in India. One is most likely kancheepuram.
  • Read a book a fortnight … finish the books i start.
  • Attend 6 concerts in the year.
  • Watch more movies.
  • Cut down on social media, re connect with real life.

(life emerges from below the web. )

This is just a personal plan. My professional life will follow it’s path. But, generally given my interests, they end up walking hand in hand – doing things together.

2016 Retrospective : The Dystopian Present is here, is it ?

Was there ever a year like this ? Every literary cliche you can think of, can be brought into play year. And yet, as 2016 makes way for 2017, a question remains – will 2017 be better than 2016 ? And there are two answers to that – a) how can it be possibly worse, and b) abhi toh shuruvat hai (it has only just begun).  To say we are in for a rocky ride, is an understatement. There was a twitter joke a few months ago, a few years from now, whenever a quiz question is asked “when did event x take place” the safe answer would be 2016.

Amongst the more popular urban legends is one pertaining to a quote by the ancient Chinese, which was also a curse,  “May you live in Interesting Times“. The only problem is that no one can find a single ancient Chinese reference to this. It is a bit like the stuff my grand mother would tell us, when we were growing up – ‘if you do this, this will happen’. Brought up to be inquisitive – or sceptical – we would ask “how do you know”. she would respond “the elders said so”. I have never been able to figure out if the elders indeed said so, or did she attribute it to the elders. But, there you go.

In a post truth world, it is useful to remind ourselves that all falsehoods didn’t spontaneously come into existence in the last 5-10 years. We have had post truths that have defined worlds. the earth is flat; The King is God; Our Religion is the Best; The Caste System is God’s will; An Angry God will condemn you to eternal damnation; people of colour x are better than people of all other colours; I can go on and on- but, you get the gist. Those in power tell lies to stay in power. Those without power tell it to get into power. I think that most normal people, outside ivory towers and echo chambers, get this basic fact. Leaders lie. These could be outright lies, or these could be being economical with the truth. There is that old joke. How do you tell when a politician lies? his (or her) lips move. In today’s world, with fragmented power bases – add corporate leaders, media stars, top journalists, and every other ‘manufactured’ image to this – and you have a certain fuzziness as far as truth is concerned. If events were always represented from the observer’s point of view (and the observer was always the winner), in today’s era that observer is manifold and can add his or her voice to convincing you that night is day.  Orwell wrote about this in 1984. Way back in 1949, when the book was published, it was an allegory of those times. It really wasn’t that dystopian. It was their current reality. One of the most famous created words, Doublethink originates from this book :

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary.

And, while the former was considered to be the process that those in power used to create the sense of social coherence, this is how Winston, the main protagonist in 1984, saw it

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word “doublethink” involved the use of doublethink.


If we look at the world around us, based on both social chatter and main stream media – you will find that you are living in a rather schizophrenic world. There is a part of it that tell you we live in the worst of times. And, another part of it tells you that this, indeed, is the best of times. Nether data, nor evidence seems to matter. What matters is belief. Their hero approximates to God or Prophet, or a historic hero of mythic proportions;  and all others approximate to the demon, or the enemy. And, conversations tend to follow partisan lines. Very little discourse, and a tremendous amount of validation and re-validation.  It is almost as though the process of dialectic and the evolution of a synthesis is discarded, and we are reversing back to dark ages – where a truth is  prestated and accepted without question. Questioning is seen as blasphemy, and the punishment for blasphemy is death. And, blasphemy was defined as anything you didn’t believe in, and attributed to God. Today, you look at topics as diverse as beef ban (in India) or abortion rights (in the USA); climate change or automation – the middle ground is being squeezed out, and all of us are being asked to take polar sides. This or That ? A or Z? And, while death may not mean the state will shoot you, it means that enough nutcases, frenzied enough in their belief, might. And, we see the most extreme forms of this behaviour from organisations like ISIS. If something doesn’t fit their world view – and given how warped their world view is, most things don’t fit – they destroy it. People, history, institutions, everything. If i spend a lot of my time on the interwebs – and i do – this is the world i see. A world with two opposing sides, battle lines drawn, no conversations, everyone snarls at everyone else, and there is no common ground even in areas there should be.

But, is the real world really this polar? is all of humanity gathered around two poles of opinion, on each topic. Do each of us, in real life, want those who have divergent opinions from us dead or worse? Are we really, as a species, so bereft of decency and niceness ? Does the world depicted by Main stream media, and increasingly by social media, reflect us as a species? are we really that terrible ? Is the dystopian future already upon us ? is there nothing really to look forward to. And, the answer, no matter how politically or cause aligned you maybe, is no – the world is actually a comparatively nice place. People are nice and helpful. Random strangers are kind to people. Families are still the source of support. Friends still catch you when you stumble, and help you up without any expectations. It is still possible to have a healthy exchange of ideas, and even disagree with people without being called names, or threatened with death. Even on social platforms such as twitter that are accused of fermenting hate and fascism, you find decency and niceness.

It isn’t all hunky dory. You find the nutcases too. But, and this is the big question, do you want to focus on the ugliest aspects of human behavior to the exclusion of everything else. If you see the world through a distorted lens, the world is going to look ugly. If you take away all lenses and see it, you will possibly see it for what it is – mostly good, often helpful, mainly decent, with a bit of humour, instinctively helpful. At the worst of times, the decency of ordinary people has shone through. Maybe we all, especially those who are in AC offices and run the media or social media,  need to get out of our comfort zone, and stop having pure social media conversations. The nuances that come through real life conversations, may redress our balance and our world view.

And, on the last day of 2016, ask this question of yourselves – was the year really as bad as it is made out to be, or do you feel it was terrible because everyone else is saying it is terrible?

My year, like all years, was a mix of the great, the good, the nice, the fun, the sad and the tragic. And, as with most years i am grateful to the people in my life, my friends, my family, my colleagues, and my dog(ess) who have been there for me. stood by me. and made me feel loved. There isn’t much else one can say about 2016. If you ask me a few years from now, i will possibly remember it as the year Mohammed Ali died.


Brief Review – Rogue One


Many moons ago, i watched a war film called Operation Daybreakthe story of Czech partisans – fighting for the British Army – whose mission it is to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich . Heydrich was the brain behind the plan for the Final Solution – a soultion that would see millions of Jews being sent to the gas chamber. A man who was truly evil, and without a moral compass.  Operation Daybreak was a movie about individual heroism, and a mission that is greater than your own life. I have seen many such films base on true life incidents of war, but Operation Daybreak has stuck in my memory, possibly because it was the first one that I saw in that genre.

When i began watching Rogue One yesterday, it was impossible not to make comparisons. A well organised, united,  highly militarised enemy. Rebels who are not organised, not united, and have weapons cobbled together from leftovers. And, a mission to destroy a weapon of mass destruction, that would save the universe.

If you look at the film and ask, what is the film about – it is about heroes, who fight for something they believe in, for a better tomorrow. A film about hope. IT is also a war film, in the true sense of a war film. A small squad of misfits who goes to take on the Goliath military operation- think Guns of Navarone.

The film had a magnificent set of characters, and unlike most films in recent times, i wished that the movie was slightly longer so that i could get to know them better. All in all, story wise, a much better outing on the franchise, than the last 4 films. I would still rate Empire Strikes Back as the best Star Wars Film, this comes very close in toppling that number one status.

If you are a star wars fan – this is a must watch. And, if you don’t know the universe at all (how is that even possible), it is still worth viewing for the tightly plotted storyline and well etched characters

Amazon Go – Jobs Gone




#AmazonGo – Amazon’s latest offerings. A shop without check in and check out, where your amazon wallet and enhanced AI, allows you to pick up what you want, and walk out of the door. The system, takes care of everything from entry to the shop, to counting picks, to calculating totals, and deducting it from the amazon wallet. The first store has already been in operation for a year. They are planning to roll it out.

And while the consumer in me rejoices at the thought of no queues (no, i really loathe queues, but that is another story) I can’t but help think, how many jobs will be lost to this. It is only a matter of time before others join in to create a more efficient shopping network, that yields higher profits, and better return to the shareholder. But, the question remains what about the jobs.

With more and more automation, and this is impacting services too. You hear about teams of 150+ systems engineers, being reduced to a dozen. AI is taking over many of the jobs, that don’t require complex decision making. And, give it time, it would do that too.

So what do you do with so many people sitting at home. Or loitering about. Or waiting in queues to find jobs. Where there are no jobs to be had. What do you do?

You could be a benevolent (and prosperous ) system, and pay everyone (i mean every single person) a minimum living wage, so that people not only don’t starve to death, but have something more. But, the planet has 7 billion people. And, you are talking about a fair amount of money for a minimum living wage. I am not sure that countries or economies possess that kind of money to pay people to sit on the bench, unless robotic efficiency is so great, and corporate taxation so fair, and all off shore tax loopholes are abolished and companies pay tax – to be able to deliver this.

There are no consistent estimates for how many people work in the world, there are estimates of as high as 70% of the population is occupied with some work or the other, mostly informal, others talk about a “global labour force of  3.2 billion”  in 2030; and, there is an estimate of 1.3 billion people in full time employment by Gallup. This is a 2013 figure. And, I seriously don’t see the figure going up drastically. Gains in one part of the world, would be off set by losses in another. About One fifth (19% if you want accuracy) of the population is in formal employment. And, the rest is in informal employment. And, more of the 1.3 billion jobs will be lost.

I quite like robots. They are good. efficient. They don’t ask for holidays. You don’t have to counsel them. They don’t go on strike. They don’t need to be paid. Or fed. Or clothed. Or be listened to. I am sure 50-60 years from now, they will be writing news and scripts, and making films – but, I will be long gone by then (hopefully) 😀 I can completely see why a large assembly line will replace 800 workers with an army of robots – it is efficient.

But, is efficiency everything ? Should corporate profits be at the expense of social stability. Think of India, 70% of the population under 35. There are large plants that i have visited, that have less than a dozen full time staff. It is all automated. And, they get in contract workers (no benefits) when demand goes up. The rest of the time it is only machines. What happens to the jobs? What happens to the adjoining areas of the factory? Very often land and other tax breaks are offered to companies to set up in the hope it will bring in jobs. Highly skilled jobs.

There are 7 billion people on earth, 7 million mouths to be fed. And, with ever aspect of the market place becoming more and more automated, there are fewere and fewer jobs. . And, while technology is great and good, and i love technology – this aspect of it is also very real.  Those jobs gone, will never come back. The ATM is not going to be replaced by a human being (even though a human being doesn’t need to be calibrated to give out Rs 2000 notes),  The new jobs that are being promised, are highly skilled jobs. Or require very high levels of decision making. And, you cannot have 2 billion of those.

Should governments, especially in countries with huge populations like India and China, give companies tax breaks not to automate. But, that will make the industries inefficient. How do you trade off technological strides with social stability ? Can states even attempt to do this?

What will states do with all the unemployed ? And, they are all worried about this. Not just because of Brexit and Trumpet, but also this –   one of the things that you have when there are large numbers of young people unemployed, is either a war or a revolution . Just look at the middle east, would radical Islam have taken a foot hold if the young were bone dead tired from working all day ?

Do governments even have a plan for future jobs (i am hoping they are discussing with industry and figuring what these jobs are)  ? for training people from now on. I don’t know the answers to this. I wish I did. But, i would be very curious to know whether you think your job (not personally but the function that you perform) will be taken over (or not) by the machines. Why is all this important? because if a world with 1/5 people in full time employment is scary – because there are raging fires where ever there are no jobs (crime, riots, rebellion, civil war) – a world with even fewer jobs in even scarier.



(image from here )

Short Review : Dear Zindagi


I finally got to see Dear Zindagi.

A story about a young woman – a cinematographer – who has everything going for her. She is confident, talented, good looking – and yet feeling completely out of sorts. Nightmares. Insomnia. A sense of being on the edge with everyone in her life. A sense of not belonging. we have all been there.

But, she does something, most of us don’t do – she visits a counsellor for help to take charge of her life again.

Alia’s character, Kaira, does not have any dark demons. No child abuse. No abusive parents. None of that. And, that is what make’s Gauri Shindes take on mental health so interesting. The fact that seemingly ‘normal’ people can have problems. That you can cope with your everyday activities, have fun, laugh, smile and all of that, while you are crumbling from the inside. Alia’s vulnerability and brittle strength are played well. SRK as the counsellor is outstanding. The sheer empathy, decency, and that his character does not judge situations or issues in the young woman’s life, or her choices, makes him a poster boy for popularising mental well being. I am not sure anyone else could have pulled off the role as well – there was, unlike in most of his films,  no SRK superstar in this film. There was only Jahangir Khan (Jug), and you wish you met someone like that when you were going through your own shit (without outside help). And, it is not because of the way he looks. It is because of the way he is. SRK, is infinitely better when he plays his age (or close to it).

A bit talky, maybe 15 minutes too long . But, beautifully cast. well acted, and a lovely little slice of life. I would definitely recommend it to watch in the theatres – preferably with BFF’s, an extra large box of tissues, and some pop corn.