Acts of Small Rebellions

You might have heard the name of Martin Luther King and even heard his famous “I have a dream” speech. But did you know how the civil rights movement started? It started like this:

Montgomery, Alabama. December 1, 1955. Early evening. A public bus pulls to a stop and a sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on. She carries herself erectly, despite having spent the day bent over an ironing board in a dingy basement tailor shop at the Montgomery Fair department store. Her feet are swollen, her shoulders ache. She sits in the first row of the Colored section and watches quietly as the bus fills with riders. Until the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger.

The woman utters a single word that ignites one of the most important civil rights protests of the twentieth century, one word that helps America find its better self.

The word is “No.”

The driver threatens to have her arrested.

“You may do that,” says Rosa Parks.

A police officer arrives. He asks Parks why she won’t move. “Why do you all push us around?” she answers simply.

“I don’t know,” he says. “But the law is the law, and you’re under arrest.”

On the afternoon of her trial and conviction for disorderly conduct, the Montgomery Improvement Association holds a rally for Parks at the Holt Street Baptist Church, in the poorest section of town. Five thousand gather to support Parks’s lonely act of courage. They squeeze inside the church until its pews can hold no more. The rest wait patiently outside, listening through loudspeakers. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd. “There comes a time that people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression,” he tells them. “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid st the piercing chill of an Alpine November.”

(Excerpt taken from Susan Cain’s Quiet: The power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking)

A little bit of context if you’re being introduced to the topic first time. During the time of Martin Luther King Jr. racial segregation was practiced in US. For example, there were different schools for black children and white children. In army, there were black units & white units. However, both of them would be led only by white officers. In the incident described above, there were different sections in the Bus where black or “colored” people can sit and where white people can sit. And then there was a law that allowed white passengers to take seats in the colored section if they so desired. And then came “No”. An act of civil disobedience.

Although not all of us are likely to start massive movements as a result of something we do, let’s take this incident as an illustration of what little acts of rebellion can achieve. Note here that Rosa Parks is going against the law of the land for something she believes to be right. She believes that all people are equal and white people shouldn’t have the right to take seats allotted to black people. And she acts on it going against the law. Going against the current.

In our lives, daily we may come across opportunities to go against the current and do what is right. Maybe it’s helping someone cross the road. Maybe it’s standing up for one of our peers who’s constantly being teased. Maybe it’s owning up to our mistakes when an easy target to shift the blame is nearby. Maybe it’s helping someone. Maybe it’s picking up someone’s trash and putting it in dustbin. Maybe it’s being kind. Maybe it’s being patient. Maybe it’s shutting up when we want to lash out. Maybe it means turning the other cheek. Do we have courage to go against the tide whether or not it’s popular thing to do? G K Chesterton used to say, “A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.” Are we dead or living?

As you ponder upon these things, let me leave you with a song. The song is called Small Rebellions by Jars of Clay.

God of the break and shatter
Hearts in every form still matter
In our weakness help us see
That alone we’ll never be
Lifting any burdens off our shoulders

If our days could be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all
If we stand between the fear and firm foundation
Push against the current and the fall
The current and the fall

God of the warn and tattered
All of Your people matter
Give us more than words to speak
Cause we are hearts and arms that reach
And love climbs up and down the human ladder

Give us days to be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all
If we stand between the fear and firm foundation
Push against the current and the fall
The current and the fall

The fall

We will never walk alone again
No, we will never walk alone again
No, we will never walk alone again

Give us days to be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all
If we stand between the fear and firm foundation
Push against the current and the fall
Give us days to be filled with small rebellions
Senseless, brutal acts of kindness from us all
If we stand between the fear and firm foundation
Push against the current and the fall
The current and the fall

The fall…

You can listen to the song here.

Mercies New

Regrets are the tollbooths of human life. Just like tollbooths, regrets stop us from whatever we are doing and exacts a price from our time & emotional energy. To me, living without regrets seems almost impossible. It seems to me that if we went in search for a man who had no regrets, we would never end our search. And if we do find one, I can safely say that we have found the most ignorant fool on earth. We all have done something we regret. It can be something we did or something we said or it can even be something we didn’t say or do. Whatever the case may be we all have our burdens to bear. These burdens have a way of weighing us down. If we let them, they’ll keep us from getting out of our bed. We won’t have the courage to face the day. I’ve been there and it’s not a nice place to be.

But over the years, I’ve realized certain truths that keep me moving no matter how bad the situations get. Some of them are common sense, but the primary ones are inescapably linked to my faith. I know where I’ve anchored my ship and no matter the size or the shape of storm before me, the anchor will hold. I know that I can lose everything in my life, but I will always have a place to return to. That place is on my knees. I know a love that is more jealous and demanding than death. Standing on these tremendous truths, many of life’s struggles become infantile. These give me strength to be unfazed by the challenges of life.

The secondary truths are more simple and practical ones. I realized long time back that worrying about something changes nothing but your blood pressure. I see each new day as a new opportunity. Even if the previous day I failed miserably, that is in the past. I can’t change the past. The only time I can act is present. And if now I stand frozen at the horror of my shortcomings of yesterday, I will still be in the same place tomorrow, frozen at the shortcomings of my today. The only way to break the cycle is to get up and move.

The whole world stands nowhere but upon the grace & mercies of God. The sun shines both on the good and the wicked. All of us have sinned and fallen short. But to all of us, a promise is also given. A promise of forgiveness and redemption. A promise of renewed mercies every morning. And he says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

To conclude, let me leave you with a song that communicates beautifully the truth of God’s mercies. It reminds us that the stores of his mercies are inexhaustible and no matter how many times or how far we have fallen, we can always come back to the mercy seat. The song is “Mercies New” by Nichole Nordeman.

Is it fair to say I was lured away?
By endless distractions and lovelier attractions then
Or fairer still, my own free will
Is the better one to blame for this familiar mess
I’ve made again

So I would understand if You were out of patience
And I would understand if I was out of chances

And Your mercies are new every morning
So let me wake with the dawn
When the music is through or so it seems to be
Then let me sing a new song, old things gone
Every day it’s true, You make all Your mercies new

The distance left between East and West
Is how far You would go to forget the debt I’d owe
And thrown into the sea, the wicked ways in me
Will never have a chance to wash back on the sand

So I would understand if You would make me pay
And I would understand lying in the bed I made again

Your mercies are new every morning
So let me wake with the dawn
When the music is through or so it seems to be
Let me sing a new song, old things gone
Every day it’s true, You make all Your mercies new

Up comes the sun on every one of us
Gone, gone, gone the guilt and shame that knew Your name

Your mercies are new every morning
So let me wake with the dawn
When the music is through or so it seems to be
Let me sing a new song, old things gone
Every day it’s true, You make all Your mercies new

You can listen to the song here.

This is how the world died

Have you ever wondered, what would happen if suddenly the gentle pull of the earth was no more? What would happen if the weakest force of the universe ceased to exist? What if gravity was no more? Let’s imagine for a moment.

First, all the vehicles will start flying in the air! Directed not by the friction between the road and the tyre but by the friction of air. All the people walking have just propelled themselves into the sky! Everyone is floating. And while floating, we feel the air getting thinner and thinner. Air itself is moving away from the earth. Without gravity, there’s nothing to keep the atmosphere of the earth together. Slowly, the atmosphere will start to dissipate into the vaccum of space. Look at the sky! Why is the sun getting bigger and bigger? But we feel colder at the same time! Hold on! The earth is also disintegrating. What is happening? As we float in the direction which our last step propelled us towards, slowly but surely we will suffocate in the vast expanse of the universe. And humanity will be no more. Earth will be no more. The solar system has flung all its planets to the corners of the galaxy. The sun is no more. Maybe all that will remain is the cosmic noise of particles. And then, maybe there in some dark corner of the universe, an inanimate lump of rock will philosophize, gravity was the weakest of all forces. But she sure did keep the universe in order.

I know, I know. You’re asking, Noel! What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Well, I’m doing this to make a point. But I can’t make the point in the normal fashion because if I do, my point will suffer the same fate all other interesting and valid points seems to suffer in this world of whataboutery, alternative facts & funomaniacs. What’s a “funomaniac” you ask? It’s a word I just made up. It joins together 2 words. Fun & Monomaniac. A monomaniac is someone who is obsessed with a single idea. Those who are obsessed with “Fun” are called funomaniacs. Funomania is a rapidly spreading disease. A study was conducted in 2019, which concluded that the national pastime in US, England, India and China was internet trolling. In 2021, the theme of the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations was “For the lulz”. That same year many countries also adopted “minion” as the model for ideal citizen. Soon, most laws were abolished and it was convened that anything done for the lulz was right.

Have I got your attention yet? Yes? Do read on.

For the past couple of years I’ve been feeling like humanity is losing a very crucial skill. It seems to me that humanity is forgetting how to be serious. We now live in times where being serious about anything has become unfashionable. And it is even more true for the topics that should really be taken seriously. As I see the news, I see the president of the United States & the supreme leader of North Korea calling each other names. “Dotard!” says one. “Little Rocket man” says the other. That’s how leaders of the 2 countries converse on the topic of nuclear missiles.

India is no different. We Indians believe in balance. Both sides of scale must be equal. So, when the Indian mind encounters any issue that challenges its own preconceived biases the issue is met with whataboutery and victim blaming. Want some examples?

  • Girls were molested on university campus? What were they doing out so late or that is to be expected with the kind of clothes they wore.
  • Girls were lathi charged during protests for molestation? There were anti-national elements in the protests.
  • A man was beaten to death while watching Garba? What was he doing at a “private” function for higher caste people? He must’ve been molesting girls.
  • GDP growth hits 3 year low? Well it’s been lower during the previous UPA regime.
  • A newspaper reports that politician’s son’s business’ turnover increased 16000 times in a year? Well we’ve seen bigger scams during previous regime. Also, sue the newspaper as no law is reported to be broken.

It’s ridiculous. But do you see the pattern? Once the Indian mind has balanced the equation by using whataboutery and victim blaming, it has done its duty, contributed to the conversation and can move on to next topic without any moral obligations or hurl abuses at the other side just for lulz.

Nothing is taken seriously. Having been desensitized by so much violence & depravity we’ve lost the capacity to be appalled and shocked. Every tragic news is just another infobyte to munch on and spit out. Unmoved by the problems of others we move onto the next item on the newsfeed in hopes that it will tickle our funny bone. There are exceptions but they are swimming against the tide.

Let me conclude. It seems to me that “being serious” serves the same role in human realm as gravity serves in physical realm. That’s why the word is sometimes used interchangeably. “Do you understand gravity of the situation?” is used interchangeably with “Do you understand the seriousness of the situation?”. And the reason we imagined the loss of gravity in the beginning of essay is because I think that the consequences of eliminating seriousness from human realm are the same as the consequences of eliminating gravity from the physical realm. If we’re not serious on serious topics, our institutions, traditions & even our common sense will disintegrate before our very eyes. It will be the end of us. I’ve heard people say “A little fun hurts no one.” But I can’t agree to that statement when I see porn destroying lives for nothing but fun. If we can’t be serious about serious matters, then we may just hear the laughter of hell.

A Secret Chord

It’s been long time since I wrote a blog. And there’s so much going on around the world and in my life that I don’t get time to write. I’ve been trying to focus my writing on current affairs but to my horror no affair seems to be current for more than a week. I’m like, “Hold on! Think about this for a moment.” But nobody’s listening. Everybody has moved on to the next big controversy. Or the next big tragedy. Blame it on technology. Blame it on progress. But the end result is we have become a civilization that is on the run. From what? To where? We don’t know. But everybody runs.

But that’s a rant for another day. Today I want to focus on something else. I want to focus on something that everyone likes. Do you know what the most generic answer to the question “What are your hobbies?” is? Listening to Music. Today, I want to do 2 things with this blog.

  1. Introduce a new Series of blogs.
  2. Highlight one of my favorite songs.

Let’s get on with no. 1. Music has been my anchor through good and bad times. It’s been my teacher and comforter. Perhaps, I’ve learned more lessons from music and songs than from anything else. But how? How can music teach? Isn’t it there just for entertainment? Not for me. How dare anyone limit the scope of music to “just for entertainment”? I have learned singing, English, interpreting poetry, philosophy, theology through music. I developed a taste for sublimity from nothing but music. There are great treasures hidden in the songs that we hear. I just want to highlight these treasures.

And when I say that the music has a potential to teach, that potential comes largely from the lyrics. However, with great music accompanying great lyrics, the lyrics come alive and become unforgettable. Sometimes, the songs become the part of our own identity. And in this way, some songs become timeless artifacts of the human condition. They become eternal, relevant through all times. Very much in contrast to our current tendencies of running after the next best (or the worst) thing. I think the way to cure our world from chronic amnesia is poetry. And the world needs poets and romantics more than it needs economists, technologists & politicians.

So, in an attempt to nurture poet inside you, I want to do a series of blog posts that will highlight an artists or a song that has stayed with me for years and will stay with me for years to come. These songs have struck a secret chord with me and I hope they do it with you as well. I will be tagging all my articles in this series with the tag “a secret chord“.

Let me introduce the song that I want to highlight today. It is also a song from which I’m stealing the title for this series of blog posts. It is, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohan. The best musical rendition is from “Jeff Buckley” but a lot of other artists have also covered it. Here’s the lyrics:

[Verse 1]
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing “Hallelujah”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 2]
Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 3]
Baby I have been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 4]
There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 5]
You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 6]
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

[Verse 7]
I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

So, why do I love this song? Because it defies categorization. There are parts of the song that I don’t fully understand, but I can’t deny a certain mystical allure of the song. It haunts me from time to time. It is not perfect. It is broken. But still, it’s beautiful. It’s something to wrestle with.

As this is just the first post, I won’t go in deeper into the lyrics. I’ll leave that to you. For now, go on and listen to the song from Youtube.

Reflections on Nationalism in India

It was in the month of February last year that anti-national slogans were chanted in the JNU campus and a students union president was arrested on the charges of sedition. Watching Kanhaiya’s videos on youtube, I couldn’t understand why there was such an uproar. We were supposed to be living in a democracy with freedom of speech as a fundamental constitutional right. I also had a very hard time (and still do) understanding the logic behind the involvement of our home minister in the matter of a student speaking his mind. Even if he did say something anti-national, for which there is no evidence, shouldn’t the University administration be allowed to deal with it? Or maybe the local police can handle it. What’s the point of the involvement of home ministry of country as large as India?

But I digress. The year has changed and there is a new controversy in the limelight. This time, there’s a 20 year old student of DU and a daughter of a kargil martyr Gurmehar Kuar at the center of the storm. “I am a student from Delhi University. I am not afraid of ABVP. I am not alone. Every student of India is with me. #StudentsAgainstABVP.” read the signage held by her on a tweet. Soon, a sports star, a Bollywood actor and a politician weighed in. Everyone’s aware of what followed. In typical trollish fashion, she was called a prop, a sickular, a political pawn incapable of forming independent thought and even received rape threats from the multitudes of so called “Nationalists”. All because of a single tweet voicing an opinion against a particular student organization.

I can go on because there’s a lot more to the story and there are a lot more stories. Take for example the Supreme Court order of playing national anthem at Theaters or the movie boycotts or the journalists revoking and dispensing nationalism licenses live on TV news channels! Everything seems to revolve around the word “nationalism”. What does it actually mean and why is there such fierce opposition (to the point of rape threats) to anything that is perceived to be anti-national?

May I suggest that the “nationalism” that is being experienced in India today is rooted in a philosophical void within Hinduism? It seems to me that Hinduism as a ideological framework doesn’t have a unifying cultural identity. In his riddles of Hinduism, Dr. Ambetkar askswho can be called a Hindu? Hinduism is an umbrella term under which multitudes of faiths, philosophies and deities are gathered together and each of them are equally valid philosophically. It means that, speaking strictly philosophically, there’s no correct or incorrect way to be a Hindu.

As I pointed out in an earlier article, identity crisis has become a global phenomena in our times. There’s a strange resurgence of nationalism around the globe. Why this is so is anyone’s guess, and there are many theories, but it seems to me that in the end, it has something to do with people’s want of identity and meaning. People are hungry for what philosophers call ontological security. People want their own story to fit within a metaphysical narrative that stretches beyond their own lives. It is a basic human need. However, the principles of Karma & Reincarnation and even moksha as conceived within the framework of Hinduism are ill equipped to provide this meaning. Hinduism is essentially fragmented because it is a collection of different culture and faiths that are equally valid. These cultures and faiths provide micro narratives to their adherents but these micro narratives are insufficient to provide meaning in our globally connected world. Something bigger than a micro-narrative is required. And here, Hinduism falls short because it fails to provide a unifying meta-narrative to fulfill people’s want of identity and meaning. Hindu nationalism is a response to this fundamental void as it is an attempt to provide this culturally unifying meta-narrative.

However, Hindu nationalism is an idea that is fundamentally at odds with the Indian constitution. India is a secular pluralistic democracy. Remarking upon Nationalism, Nehru said, “I am convinced that nationalism can only come out of the ideological fusion of Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and other groups in India. That does not and need not mean the extinction of any real culture of any group, but it does mean a common national outlook, to which other matters are subordinated.” In his vision of a pluralistic democracy, Nehru considers Hindu, Muslims, Sikh and other groups in India as equals. He gives all faiths equal chance to contribute towards the idea of India and restricts each one on the same standard of a common national outlook under which a faith is to be subordinated. Hindu nationalism, to the contrary, is a form of supremacist nationalism and envisions India as a country where only Hindus are first class citizens and all other faiths and cultures subordinated to the Hindu culture and philosophy. If we are to subscribe to the idea of a secular pluralistic democracy in India, Hindu nationalism cannot be adopted as an ideal or official concept of nationalism. India as it exists now, and the idea of Hindu nationalism are fundamentally incompatible with each other. Both cannot co-exist. One of them has to go for the other to survive.

When people subscribe to a specific flavor or narrative of nationalism, they begin to perceive themselves as part of that meta-narrative. In short, the collective identity of the nation becomes a part of their individual identity. As a result, whenever anyone criticizes the nation or the national identity, it is perceived as a personal attack on their identity and honor. In India, honor must be protected. Even by non-honorable means. And thus we see, movie makers being slapped, celebrities being told to leave the country, a man lynched because of a rumor that he had beef in his fridge, college students being charged for sedition and a daughter of a martyr receive rape threats and silenced for her liberal views challenging the status quo.

But let me step down from the high horse of philosophy for a moment and reflect upon one aspect of the culture of India. As far as I can remember, I have always been uncomfortable with our conflated ideas of pride and honor. When I was younger, I learned a story in school. I don’t remember all the details but the central part of the story was: The writer of the story was visiting some far off relative in far off land. The person who he was visiting was an old widow, who had 4-5 sons. This family was very poor. But when the writer of the story visited them, the poor family fed him, even though they themselves went hungry because they had nothing else to eat. Everything that they had, they gave it their guest. This whole affair always seemed a bit ominous to me.

The story bothered me because, I did not like either the guest or the hosts. I didn’t like the guest because he put burden on a poor family. And I didn’t like the hosts because they didn’t tell the guest their condition. They could’ve asked for his help. The could’ve shared the meal among themselves so everyone had something to eat. But nothing of the sort happened. Instead of the poor family suffered alone. Why? It seems to me that all of this was nothing but an exercise in “keeping up appearances”. And I can see around me that everyone is busy “keeping up appearances”. If there’s some social glue that binds the Indian culture, it must be social stigma. And if there’s any question that explains our irrational decisions against our own-well being, it must be the question “What will the people say?”

The whole of Indian civilization seems to be under the tyranny of the question “What will people say?”. Not only Hindus, but pretty much every faith / culture within India is affected by it. Keeping up appearances has been the ruin of many lives. “Protecting the honor” of the household has led to a resurgence in “honor killings” among other things. The question not only terrorizes us individually but also collectively. When Aamir khan remarked upon growing intolerance within India, there was a nationwide public outrage. Of the many things he was accused of, one of the primary accusation was of “degrading the public image of India”. People opined, a public figure of his stature should not criticize India as it will degrade the image of India on the international stage. Very few people asked if there was any truth to what he said.

If we are collectively worried about our national image, (which we are) then the question “what will people say?” has the power to unite us under the umbrella of nationalism. But if Hindu nationalism is the only flavor of nationalism that is politically backed and publicly available, then that’s the only form of nationalism to which unsuspecting men and women will subscribe to. This is our current situation and a very dangerous territory. If protecting the national image has become more important that what India stands for, and allegiance to a flavor of nationalism has become stronger than our allegiance to truth, then truth and reason has lost its place from public discourse. And if truth has become a casualty in our search of a collective identity, I fear what is to come.

Scriptures of the secular age

Scriptures has always held an important role in human culture and society. Scriptures, sacred texts of various religions, promoted a set of non-negotiable principles on which to construct a worldview. Our collective history shows us that we are peculiarly dogmatic creatures. So much so that G. K. Chesterton once quipped, “There are two kinds of people in the world, the conscious dogmatists and the unconscious dogmatists. I have always found myself that the unconscious dogmatists were by far the most dogmatic.”

Scriptures or dogmas (among many other things) fulfill 2 important functions in human society. It provides a set of common precepts or beliefs which serves as a framework upon which a culture is developed. To paraphrase, it provides a set of non-negotiable, self-evident, absolute truths which become the foundation on which human societies, cultures and nations are formed. Scriptures provided eternal truths to its subscribers.

Furthermore, no scripture was ever written simply as a list. The truth that it represented was always communicated as a part of a story. A narrative. A myth. It may be a complete fabrication as it was the case with Greek mythology or it may be based on a historical narrative as it is the case with Judaism and Christianity. Whatever the case may be, scriptures were generally not communicated as mere lists of absolute truths. The truths were always communicated in the context of a story. And they can only be interpreted and understood in the context of that story. And when interpreted in the context of that story, the truths fused the story with a meaning. The truth gave meaning to the lives of people in that story. This is the second function of scriptures. To provide meaning. And isn’t that the eternal human quest? To find the meaning of life? If it is so, then the fundamental longings of the human hearts are eternally linked with scriptures.

It is no secret that our post-modern, post-truth society has rejected the notion of absolute truth. It is a widely held belief that truth, and especially moral truth is only subjective and relative. That what’s true for you may not be true for me and vice versa. What this means is that dogmas or principles as laid out in scriptures no longer provide the framework on which to build the cultural values (or the melting “pot”) of the society. And advocating universal moral values based on a certain religion has become the intellectual equivalent of committing a political suicide. As a consequence of the absence of commonly held dogmas within a culture, the ideal of pluralism has become the driver of sectarianism instead of liberty. By the minute, the secular society is becoming ever so fragmented.

In this context, I want to draw your attention to a very peculiar phenomena that is being experienced around the world. In olden days, what was shown on screen was judged based on scriptures. Now, what is shown on the screen judges the scriptures. In days past, the content of any movie or TV serials was judged by the scriptures of a culture to be moral or immoral. Now the roles have been reversed and it is interesting to see how whole worldviews are being re-interpreted and re-aligned to comply with what is shown on the screen. The rise of Trump, the sexual revolution of the west, even the rise of suicide rates around the world can reasonably be traced back to the power of the screen. But I must ask, why does the screen hold such power?

Historian Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Sapiens: A Brief history of Humankind promotes the idea that the secret glue that is binds the human culture and society is a myth, a story. When people believe the same story or a myth they come together and work towards a world that the myth promotes. Even Nietzsche in his Parable of the Madman where he declared the death of God asks, “What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we need to invent?” Having declared the death of God, Nietzsche immediately asks what new myths will need to be invented to take the place of God? Both of these great thinker seem to suggest that without a unifying myth, Human civilization will break down.

Earlier I pointed out that the scriptures provide 1) common absolute truths and 2) context within which the meaning of life can be found. But the scriptures are nothing more than the container for the myth. Religious texts are prime examples of such myths and we can see it’s power throughout history. But as the dogmas and myths of the old are being driven out of the mental landscape of culture, it has created a want of meaning. People are quite content making up their own truths but these truths without the context of a narrative have no way to provide meaning. Recently in a TED talk, Chris Anderson, the prime curator of TED asked, “What are humans for?” as a question that’s been haunting him in recent years.

Today, media houses around the world are churning out myths at an unprecedented scale. Even elections around the world are being won or lost based on who’s myth is more appealing to the masses. The myth doesn’t need to be true to gain momentum, it only has to be appealing. Because “the need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning.” as Hannah Arendt pointed out. Truth and Meaning are two different entities. And humans at an existential level are more concerned about meaning than truth. Having abolished the traditional myths, the hunger for meaning has become a cultural phenomena rather than an individual crisis. Is it any wonder that facts and truth holds less weight in public discourse? Today, we have amassed more knowledge than any point in human history and still the metaphysical question of meaning continues to haunt the masses.

Having denied the “True Myth” people continue to look for other myths that may provide meaning to their lives. The screen provides myths in abundance. And thus the masses turn towards the screen as if it is the oracle of God. Peering intently into it as it narrates the myth of the secular dogma. Because the scriptures of our secular age are not written on pages. They are shown on the screen.

Caste based reservations in India | A Christian Perspective

This post is an compilation of 3 articles. The articles came about as a result of a Ahmedabad Reflection Forum meeting that I had the privilege to attend back in october. The goal of the forum is to discuss current issues with a Christian perspective and form Scripture based opinions. We had very heated discussion on caste based reservations in India with very strong arguments coming from both side of the fence.

The below 3 articles are in a sense an amalgamation of various viewpoints presented at the meeting. Without further ado, let’s begin.

In opposition of Caste based Reservations (by Leena Santosh. Dated: 10/12/2016)

‘Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality’. Acts 10:34. If God does not show partiality, should we? The casteism prevalent in India, for centuries, goes against this principle of fairness and impartiality that Bible teaches us. But ironically, the solution (reservation policy) that we have come up with to address this issue, happens to go against the very principle that it perceives to uphold.

The reservation policy was first introduced in India in the late nineteenth century. Since then it has seen several amendments under the leadership of dedicated visionaries who fought for the plight of the most downtrodden section of our society which comprised of nearly 80-90% of the Indian population. The concept was noble wherein a compulsive inclusion of “representatives” of the schedule castes (SC), schedule tribes (ST) and other backward castes (OBC) through reservation policy, would bring about fairness in the social order of the society that was torn in the lines of caste. Unfortunately, this grand scheme has resulted into reverse discrimination. In the past, a person was denied education, job and career growth based on the fact that he/she belonged to a lower caste and not on the basis of his capability. Today, the denial is based on the fact that he/she belongs to the open category and not on the basis of his/her efforts and ability.

In the prevalent changing dynamics of our society, reservation policy, needs rethinking. Some pointers for alterations to our policy makers are as follows. Firstly, if a person has already claimed reservation and benefitted to it, his/her next generations must not be able to claim the reservation again. Secondly, along with caste, the economic status must also be considered before allowing reservation. Take the case of Tina Dabhi (IAS topper this year). Her father used reservation to get proper education, entrance into the government as an IAS and even for promotions thereafter and without reservation he wouldn’t have had these opportunities to join the mainstream society. On the other hand, his daughter inherited opportunities in terms of finance and an environment of growth from birth unlike her father. Hence if Tina Dabhi should have cleared preliminary examination of UPSC, it should have been based on her hard work and capability and not because of a reservation quota. In Timothy 5:9, (‘Do not add any widow to the list of widows unless she is over sixty years’) even the bible puts restriction on who should be and who should not be helped by the church. Not all widows (read downtrodden/needy people) are entitled to help from the church. The younger widows and widows with wealthier relatives can take care of themselves and hence are not entitled to church’s assistance. When the rich SC/ST/OBC applicants avail to reservation quotas they not only rob the open category aspirants who have put in their blood and sweat, but also from their own poorer SC/ST?OBC counterparts who have lesser marks and lesser qualification because of lack of opportunities and not lack of effort.

Thirdly, the policy makers must use resources to strengthen the public education while gradually reducing reservation quota. The state of our government run/municipality schools, as of today, is dismissal. Improving the education quality in these government run schools is a proper solution to the problem as opposed to the reservation policy. Building the house on rock is wise Mathew 7:24. Strong public education is the rock on which our societal order free of casteism should be built- not on sandy ground of reservation policies. When low cost affordable education becomes quality education in our government run schools, the economically backward people irrespective of their caste, will get an equal opportunity to compete and find their own way of life.

Implementation of the above may seem like a daunting task. But like it is said in Galatians 6:9 ‘Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Why I support caste based reservations? (By Sumeet Mohanty. Dated 12/12/2016)

I was notorious in college for being a rebel and a backbencher. I’d studied quite hard to crack the IIT-JEE, but with the marks that I’d received, I managed to get a rank where I could not get any of the coveted engineering disciplines. Not in the General Category at-least. I managed a discipline which was not exactly my favorite and I spent 4 years scraping through a majority of my courses. I remember during one my classes, my Professor called me to the front and with a straight face asked me, “Why are your grades so poor? Are you a Scheduled Caste?”

More than 2000 years of the most devious form of social engineering have gone into the making of the above sentence. At a time when education centered around the Vedas, the Gautama Dharma Sutra says in Chapter 20, Verse 12, “Now if a Shudra listens intentionally to the Veda, his ears shall be filled with molten tin or lac. If he recites Vedic texts, his tongue shall be cut out. If he remembers them, his body shall be split in twain.” It doesn’t therefore take a Doctorate to figure out that after being deprived of knowledge and education for scores of generations vis-à-vis the educated and more entitled castes, just mere improvement in the accessibility to education for seventy odd years will not undo the effects of a couple of millennia of injustice. President Lyndon Johnson in his commencement speech at Howard University in 1965 puts it as follows, “You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair.”

A nation is the result of a socio-political contract between communities and people groups of different ethnicities, regions, religions, languages and in India’s case, castes, agreeing to live in harmony with each other. A strong nation is built when this contract is inclusive and makes provision for equitable distribution of the nation’s resources amongst these different people groups. Merit has and will remain a criterion for distribution of any resource only within the overarching, fundamental framework of inclusiveness upon which a modern day state is founded. Dr. Michael J Sandal, Professor of political Philosophy who is renowned for his Harvard course – “Justice: what is the right thing to do?” very rightly asks as to why merit alone should be the sole criterion for college admissions, especially when one of the unsaid aims of a university is to advance national goals of inclusiveness. Taking his argument one step further, if a community is large enough for its voice to be heard and it demands that in order for it to remain an integral part of a nation, its members should get proportionate representation in college admissions or for that matter in political representation or the administrative services or academia or media or even cricket, shouldn’t that demand trump the criterion of merit?

Detractors of caste based reservations insist that reservations should be given on the basis of income, not caste. What they forget is that poverty alleviation and economic justice are the goals of a welfare program like MNREGA, not of an affirmative action program like reservations. Arguments are commonplace citing as to how instead of reservations, the schooling system should be made more robust and inclusive. Aren’t the Right to Education and Sarva sikhsya Abhiyan programs tailor-made just for the same? The purpose of reservations is to ensure that all dominant communities in the country find adequate representation across all strata in society, at-least till a time when these welfare programs bear fruit and reservations are no longer required.

Some point out and quite rightly that reservations have not yielded the necessary results. As Christians, we understand that to undo a discriminatory system which is a product of unjust socio-religious engineering requires a spiritual battle against the principalities and powers that established it. Only Christ’s love can heal the wounds of two millennia of discrimination and subjugation. Caste based reservations are not the final answer to India’s problems, Christ is. Then why do I still support a system that is most likely not going to emerge as the final victor against the mammoth of a problem that it seeks to redress? Because, as in a game of chess, just because a pawn doesn’t always finally end up winning you the game doesn’t mean that it be removed from the chess board. It has its place along with the rook and the bishop and the queen.

Lastly, but most importantly, the New Testament not only seems to support the idea of reservations, but takes it one step further. The fledgling church in Acts 6:1-6 faced a problem of the Greek speaking widows complain of being ignored in the daily food distribution. The disciples prayerfully along with the new believers handed over the administration activity of the Food Distribution System to seven individuals who were full of the Holy Spirit. All seven names were Greek names. Were no Hebrew speaking men found who were meritorious enough for this task? Were Hebrews not present who were full of the holy Spirit? Individual capabilities and merit were not considered, but the majority community selflessly and out of love delved power and responsibility to the minority community that was being discriminated against to undertake administration. The Bible in these few words gives a powerful message to governments and policy makers across the ages: discriminating on the basis of associated identity is inherent in humans and preferential treatment for the community being discriminated against is acceptable as a Biblical act of remediation.

Caste, Merit & the Indian Culture (By Me. Dated: 15/12/2016)

Leena bhabhi begins her article by asking the question, “If God does not show partiality, should we?” Then, she goes on to say, “Unfortunately, this grand scheme has resulted into reverse discrimination. In the past, a person was denied education, job and career growth based on the fact that he/she belonged to a lower caste and not on the basis of his capability. Today, the denial is based on the fact that he/she belongs to the open category and not on the basis of his/her efforts and ability.”

Immediately, I tell to myself, “Leena bhabhi seem very partial towards a merit based society”. If Sumeet is discriminating on the basis of Caste, then Leena bhabhi is discriminating on the basis of Merit. And even if Merit may be a “more just” parameter on the basis of which to discriminate, it is still discrimination. Meritocracy is still a discriminatory system. And both of them being discriminatory systems, if working in isolation, in the end, yield the same results. Let me elaborate.

Caste based reservations, if continued indefinitely, will raise the lower castes to the status of higher caste, reversing the imbalance of power and status, This is the reason that both of you (and pretty much everyone involved in this discussion) agrees that caste based reservations must be removed at some point in time. Key words being “till a time when reservations are no longer required.”

Meritocracy, if continued indefinitely, will raise those with higher “Merit” to the top of the society, concentrating the power in the hands of few. Ignoring the elephant in the room, the very definition of “Merit”, Meritocracy is still a type of oligarchy and as such, brings with it all the evils of oligarchy. (Not to mention, it is a system that competes directly with democracy.) The minority with “Merit” will rule over the majority with less “Merit”.

Realistically, the systems will not work in isolation but in the context of the history and culture of India. Now, I’m no expert so correct me if I’m wrong, but Meritocracy as a societal construct does not exist in India. Whereas the Caste system does exist. If one were to remove all cast based reservations overnight, Meritocracy will by default fill the void. But in Indian context, Meritocracy will actually begin to reinforce the caste system because the merits of the higher castes are higher due to the total opportunity enjoyed by them in the history of India as compared to the opportunities enjoyed by the lower castes (even though higher castes are a minority.)

When a new idea or a concept is introduced in a culture, it is always understood in the context or ideas and concept that are already understood. The whole idea of Meritocracy depends upon the definition of Merit. As long as the Indian subconscious continues to make judgments based on person’s caste, it will also continue to ascribe merit on the basis of caste as illustrated when Sumeet’s professor asked, “Why are your grades so poor? Are you a Scheduled Caste?”

I’ve said much against Meritocracy, but to be honest, I do think it is a far better system than the Caste system. But as long as the caste system is woven in the very fabric of the Indian culture, it will also cast its shadow upon Meritocracy and thus it is not suited for India.

Does that mean I support caste based reservations? I’m not sure. I do support the intent and idea behind caste based reservations when it was first implemented. But I’m highly doubtful that the same intentions drive the current political climate around the reservation debate. As they say, content follows intent. If the intentions of our politicians are not in line with the original goals of reservations, then the content of their policies will reflect their actual intent. Taking this into consideration, it’s quite plausible that continued existence of reservation in Indian society will work to divide the society along caste lines. Instead of reaching a point in time where reservations are not longer required, it might actually strengthen the caste system by the way of reverse discrimination as Leena bhabhi pointed out.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I still haven’t pointed out the obvious. The foundation of caste based reservation is Caste. Caste is determined at birth. Thus, qualification for reservation is also determined by birth. Sumeet asks, “If a community is large enough for its voice to be heard and it demands that in order for it to remain an integral part of a nation, its members should get proportionate representation in college admissions or for that matter in political representation or the administrative services or academia or media or even cricket, shouldn’t that demand trump the criterion of merit?” I am not convinced that it should. When something trumps merit, it automatically means that it is more important than merit. The goals of inclusiveness as pointed out by Sumeet do seem like a worthy candidate. But I must ask, “Inclusiveness based on what?”. Caste is the answer. In short, indirectly, caste trumps merit. This is the basic principle on which reservations operate. The same principle can also be reasonably defended as the basis of the caste system.

It is also important to note that support for caste based reservations also indirectly validates the caste system. And without removing caste based reservations, it is impossible to remove caste system. If the goal of affirmative action is to transform the culture in such a way that affirmative action is no longer required, then it seems to me that reservations will fail to even qualify as an affirmative action. Because,

  1. It lacks the ideological foundation to transform the culture.
  2. It is trying to cut the very branch it is sitting on. (a very worthy goal indeed. No pun intended.)

Sumeet has already said reservation is not the final solution to India’s problems. I’ve tried to trace where exactly both systems working in an Indian context will fail. They are bound to fail. And I hope that India will be rid of caste system before the worst comes to the worst. I agree fully with Sumeet when he says solution to India’s Caste problem is Christ.

So far I have not stated where I stand. The reason is, even if I do side with one or the other, I want to make it clear that the reason I side with is not because I think it is a particularly good solution but because it is a less bad solution. Effectively, I’m choosing a lesser evil. I reluctantly side with caste based reservations because, in my opinion, removing it will immediately begin to reinforce the caste system. And though reservation may be ill equipped to eliminate the caste system, it does weaken it.

Policy changes suggested by me:

  1. Reservation policy should be accompanied by a disqualification policy. (The first suggestion of Leena bhabhi can be considered under here but I’m not a fan it working in isolation. There should be some more parameters here as well. And economic status should be somewhere near the bottom of the list.) The disqualification policy should detail the basis on which persons can be disqualified from assigned reservation quota. These persons must compete in general quota. Every person applying for a reserved seat should be evaluated against the disqualification policy.Such disqualification policies will also serve as an indicator as to when reservation for that particular people group becomes unnecessary. For example, if disqualification rate reaches higher than 70%, and there are more than 50% seats going empty for 3 consequent years, reservation should be removed and the seats should be returned to general quota.
  2. Reservation policy should also be accompanied by a development policy that targets the development of targeted reservation group. This may be as simple as making sure that other government policies such as MNREGA or Right to education are implemented and monitored closely for that particular people group. The monitoring should be done by the leaders / representatives of the targeted people group.
  3. In education (and not in government), if reserved seats are not filled within certain time frame, empty seats should be allotted back to general quota. (I’m not sure what the current scenario is.)
  4. Politicians fighting elections on basis of reservation promises should be required to submit their full reservation policy to election committee. The policy should be approved by state level high court. The policy cannot be changed after they win. (I don’t know how practical is this, but anyways I’m putting it here.)

Addendum: I think that the reason that we as Christians struggle with it so much is that we fail to realize that caste based reservation as a concept is trying to achieve the Christan ideal of justice and equality by the non-Christan means of caste system. The goal is noble. The means are not. We want to reach the goal, but want to avoid the collateral damage it brings. And so, we want to support and oppose it at the same time.

The fallacy of Situationalism and Cultural Relativism

Situationalism says that morality is determined by situations, and situations are relative; therefore, morality is relative. It says, even killing cannot be called wrong if done in self defense. Even stealing can be good if you are stealing a weapon from a terrorist. And since situations are so diverse and complex, it is unreasonable to hold universal moral absolutes. And thus, the situationalist concludes against moral absolutes because he finds all morality related to situations.

The premise of situationalism does have some truth in it. Situations do influence moral judgments. But when one says that situations influence moral judgments it does not automatically follow that all morality is relative and there are no moral absolutes. Situationalism begins on the right track but reaches the wrong conclusion. How? Let’s delve deeper.

Let’s consider the two examples stated earlier. Killing, which is generally viewed as wrong, cannot be called wrong if done in self defense. Stealing, which is generally viewed as wrong, can actually be called good if you’re stealing a weapon from a terrorist. You must note here that in each of these situations, there are actually not one but two moral actions. In the first case, it is killing and self defense. In the second case, it is stealing and preventing a genocide. In the first case, judgment is reserved because killing happened in the heat of the moment. Probably by an accident without any premeditation. In the second case, the evil of stealing is trumped by a much greater good of preventing a genocide. Thus, we must observe here that killing or stealing hasn’t become essentially good, but only balanced or trumped by greater good or evil.

If stealing is good in the above situation, it does not follow that killing and stealing does not have intrinsic moral value. And suppose if stealing has an intrinsic moral value of -10, then preventing a genocide might have an intrinsic moral value of +1000. (Note here that moral actions cannot have any empirically verifiable value due to the intangibility of moral actions. Here I’m just assigning an approximate value based on common sense.) The statement, “Stealing can actually be good if you’re stealing a weapon from terrorist” does not only talk about the moral value of stealing but it is also talking about the moral value of preventing a genocide.

And if, what I’ve stated above is the thought process of the situationalist, then he has already presupposed a moral framework. He already assigns more positive moral value to preventing a genocide than the negative value he assigns to the act of stealing. And this moral framework is not part of the situation. Rather, it is judging the situation by itself. And if there’s an external moral framework outside of the situation that is judging the situation, then, the situationalist has already presupposed a moral framework that he is trying to determine through situations. You cannot have a cake before baking it. And since situationalism is trying to smuggle a cake in the recipe of making a cake, its logic is faulty at best and its intentions questionable. Situationalism simply can not be true.

As a side note, situationalist’s own thinking pattern is not at all different than that of a moral absolutist. Moral absolutist do hold to a rigid moral framework that is universally true, but this moral framework is not rigid in it’s application. It can be applied flexibly in different situations. In Christianity, when there are conflicting morals, we are to oblige the greater good. The above thought process of weighing good and evil where conflicting morals exist in the same situation is called graded absolutism in christian ethics. The situationalist not only presupposes a moral framework but he believes this framework is true absolutely because it is used to judge different situations. And situations can be infinitely complex. If a moral framework is to be applied to situations that are infinitely complex, then it must be absolutely, universally true.

So, the situationalist actually believes exactly what moral absolutist believes and behaves exactly like a moral absolutist. But it leaves us with a question. If the situationalist already presupposes a moral framework, then where does this moral framework come from? I know the answer that the situationalist can provide. In fact it is the only answer that he can provide without explicitly invoking any moral absolutes. From cultures. People learn their moral framework from their own cultures. And cultural values can be relative.

This is basically cultural relativism. The claim is that anthropologists and sociologists have discovered moral relativism to be not a theory but an empirical fact. Different cultures and societies, like different individuals, simply do, in fact, have very different moral values. In Eskimo culture, and in Holland, killing old people is right. In America, east of Oregon, it’s wrong. In contemporary culture, fornication is right; in Christian cultures, it’s wrong, and so forth. And if different cultures can have different moral values, then moral absolutes do not exist.

But the fact that different cultures behave differently in the matter of ethics doesn’t automatically follow that there are no moral absolutes. Different cultures do behave differently in the matter of ethics, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are right. Only if we presuppose that all of different moral frameworks created by different cultures are right, then only we can say different cultures hold different moral values. But the statement that different moral frameworks created by different cultures are right is an absolute statement. It applies universally to every culture in every time. It is presupposing the very moral cultural relativism that it is trying to prove. This is basically circular reasoning. And even that with the help of an moral absolute.

The conclusion is, that complete situational or cultural relativism by itself simply can not be true. It has to presuppose a moral absolute. But moral absolutes is exactly what it is trying to disprove. And thus, any type of moral relativism simply can not be true.

But leaving aside what is philosophically true or false, we do live in a society where I can choose to subscribe to a worldview even if I do not believe it is true. I am perfectly capable and free to do that if I wish to. But we must tread with caution in the matter of moral relativism. Because if we do away with moral absolutes as relativism is trying to do, then eventually we will lose the ability to distinguish between not only right and wrong, but also right and left. That’s the only logical progression relativism offers. Everything else requires positing absolutes. There is no way of escaping from absolutes. We can have morality only through some set of moral absolutes.

In Defense of Naivety

“Naive” is generally a description we do not hold proudly. It is either used for children or for people who we see as immature or gullible. People who are not seasoned in the the ways of the world. Who are unsophisticated. Simpletons. It is not a word that majority of people would want to make to the shortlist of their character traits. It is perceived as a flaw. As something that needs to be corrected. Something to grow out of.

But before we go further, let’s look at what the dictionary says about the word. The dictionary gives 2 definitions.

  1. lacking experience of life, knowledge or good judgment and willing to believe that people always tell you the truth:
  2. (approving) (of people and their behavior) innocent and simple:

It is a quite narrow definition. But if we look at the root of the word, it is not so narrowly categorized. The word “naive” is derived from the Latin word for “natural”. A word that we are much more familiar with. A word that is much more favored than the word “naive”. Taking this new information in account, true naivety can thus be defined as absence of artificiality. As unaffected simplicity of nature. And with this definition, it becomes much less an insult and more a quality to which we might actually aspire.

But if the word naive is in fact a good quality, why then is it seen with so much negativity? Let us, once again, go back to the dictionary and look at the first definition of the word. It says, a naive person is “lacking experience of life”. I want to ask what kind of experience is this? Is it experience of people keeping their promises? No! Is it experience of never being wronged? No! Is it experience of never having to regret a decision to trust? No! To the contrary, the lack of experience that is being talked about here is actually the experience of being wronged. Of being manipulated, violated and broken. Never the experience of laughter or joy, never of trusty friends keeping their promises. The experience referred to here is only the experience of the dark variety.

Further, the definition speaks about “Lacking knowledge or good judgment”. These certainly do sound like a disadvantage. Knowledge and good judgment are really qualities worth having. But when I look into my own mind I realize that there are things that I know that I wish I had never known. I have knowledge that I regret having. It is a burden I wish I never had to bear. Everyone knows what I mean, and if you don’t just open today’s newspaper and you’ll come across an event that will permanently modify your outlook of the world for the worse. Just like in the earlier case of experience, the lack of knowledge that is being talked about here is the knowledge of how depraved and perverse the world has become.

So, the reason that naivety is perceived as a flaw in the world is not because it is essentially a flaw, but because of the state in which the world is! In a better world, in a perfect world, naivety would be all that we required!

But let us go one step further and think about what it means not to be naive. Or rather, what it means to know the world. If a person is not naive, does it not mean that he will bend the rules even just a little to his advantage? Does it not mean that he will take advantage of people who are gullible for his own advantage? That he will take shortcuts whether it is right or wrong? Does it not mean to have a permanent courtroom in your head where everyone is on trial? It seems to me that to such a worldly person, right and wrong or good and bad matter much less than advantageous and disadvantageous. For people who leave their naivety, morality stops being the driving principle and selfishness takes over the driver’s seat. It matters very little what others might suffer because of one person’s selfishness. And what about those who become victims of this selfishness? “They are naive. They must learn to live with it. It will make them strong. If they don’t, it’s their loss.” That’s how the world justifies itself. Simply put, the message is, “This is a dog eat dog world. It’s no place for children. The only way to live here is to leave off your naivety & innocence and play by the rules I dictate.” And these are the rules: anything you do is fine as long as you’re not caught.

But this type of thinking is flawed. Not only flawed, it’s quite simply wrong. And it makes men, less than what they used to be. The experiences that lead to one leaving one’s naivety behind also hardens the heart and grim the outlook of the world. It makes the person vary of every kind act and suspicious of grace. The proposal of someone doing a good deed for the sake of goodness start to look otherworldly. And if we go to the logical conclusion of this kind of thinking, in the end, the person himself will become incapable of doing good. Unless he leaves off the principles of the world.

And that is exactly what I propose to do. I propose that we look back in time and remember a time when we were still children. When the world was full of wonders. A time where in our youthful innocence, being a “Good boy” still meant something. Before a time when being “cool” or being a “bad boy” became fashionable. I ask that can we look at that child from our past and learn something from him? Can we learn to be like him again?

I propose to be naive again. But how can anyone decide to be naive? Is not naivety just a quality strongest when we are children but ebbs away as we grow up and experience perversity and horrors of the world? Yes, it is certainly that. But having lost that, I also think that we can still go back if we choose to.

Let me be frank. This essay has been more than 2 years in the making. And it is as much an argument as it is autobiographical. About 4 years ago, I had a sudden epiphany. I looked at where the world was going and what I was becoming. At the same time I looked at the childhood I was leaving behind. And I realized that the philosophy that I was leaving behind was much more complete than the the one that I was expected to accept. I decided there to stay naive since there’s no better alternative.

The decision to be naive is not an easy decision to make and certainly not an easy decision to live. To tell the truth, the first naivety of childhood has long been forgotten and I cannot go back even if I wanted to. I’ve seen enough, read enough to know that the pit of human depravity is bottomless. But still, in my dictionary being naive means to be generous. It means to trust people. To put away the spectacles of prejudices & discrimination based on caste, creed, race, color, status, sex etc & take people at their face value. To give them a chance, a second chance, a third chance and then, as many as they require. To put faith in them when no one else will. It means to be prepared to be hurt in order to heal. To sow so that others may reap. To do all this and still keep a smiling face and a joyful heart.

It sounds very hard to do, but then again, it is the easiest thing to do. Because it’s in our very nature. We are wired to trust what people say. We are not wired to deceive each other. If we do, we feel guilty. And those who don’t feel guilty are called sociopaths. A medically recognized mental condition. But being naive is still more than going back to our original nature. Living like this is like a breath of fresh air. For you and for the whole world. When one begins to live naively, he begins restoring the world back to its original innocence. First, through his own perspective he sees not the worst but the best in people. Not the ugliness but the beauty of the world. Then, through his actions, he begins to diffuse the artificiality of people who come in contact with him. Because slowly they begin to realize, for that one person, yes means yes and no means no. It’s as simple as that. And this simplicity is contagious. Slowly but surely, this simplicity, this going back to innocence can change the world.

It might sound like very foolish advice, but I believe in this foolishness with all my heart! Because I’m not the first person to walk this path of foolishness. There have been many before me, but before all of them goes the creator of the world! What shall I tell you about his naivety? Shall I tell you about his choice of Jewish people about which William Norman says, “How odd of God to choose the Jews”? Or shall I tell you about his choice in disciples? Or maybe I can tell you about all the disqualifications of the people who he chose to deliver nations!

I can go on, but I will speak on none of these. Instead I’d like to tell you about how he, after watching over humanity for thousands of years, after seeing every despicable act being committed against innocents, chose to be born as a baby, helpless and fragile, in that very world. How he gave himself over in the hands of his creation. But that’s not all! He came not to conquer, but to submit. Not to be served, but to serve. Not to condemn evil men, but to save them. Not to be glorified, but to be despised. Not to live as king, but to die among criminals. And in doing all these he changed the world. So much so that he is regarded as the central figure in history who divided history in two. He is regarded as the most humane teacher although he would refuse such a title. His teachings run contrary to everything that world promotes. He calls us to be “as innocent as doves” and teaches us to go “one extra mile”. When all that the world knew was “an eye for an eye” he taught us to “turn the other cheek”. A philosophy, that played a pivotal role in freedom struggle of India. The last two thousand years stand witness to the truth of his teachings. And perhaps, the last two thousand years also stand in defense of naivety.

Journey Towards the Perfect Desktop Environment

Many moons ago, I wrote about how discovered Archlinux. It’s nearly 6 years and Arch hasn’t let me down. Some people say that they use it at home but not on their main production system. Well I do. And even on my main production system it hasn’t let me down. I can’t remember when was the last time that Arch actually broke for me. It’s always been there. As a solid foundation on which to build my work environment. Its a solid distro and my faith in it keeps going stronger and stronger.

But Arch is not today’s topic. Today’s topic is my desktop environment. What I use to get things done.

Setting up a new work environment in linux is not a simple thing. Not if your requirements are non-standard. And my requirements are certainly not standard. From computers, I expect efficiency above all else. So, I’m happy to sacrifice some “user friendliness” in order to gain increased efficiency. I’ve learned that the general concepts of “user friendliness” are not as useful when creating a work efficient environment. If a computer system is only to be used by you, then it fulfills its purpose if it allows you to do your work without much hoopla. Anyways, my requirements are as below:

  1. An efficient window managerI think I need to elaborate what I mean “efficient window manager” as all window managers can claim to be efficient in different sense. And all of them would be correct. So, when I say “efficient window manager” I mean,
    1. It should let me focus on my work instead of tracking which window is where.
    2. Quickness
    3. Moving around windows should be as simple as few keystrokes
    4. Ability to show multiple windows at the same time, side by side
    5. Full screen mode
    6. Mouse should be supported but not required
    7. Lightweightedness is an added bonus if available but not a requirement as long as it is quick
  2. System trayAs many of the programs support docking to a system tray, it is pretty much a requirement of all modern desktop environments.
  3. Ability to launch programs with few keystrokes
  4. Modern conveniencesThe environment should afford me all the conveniences of a modern operating system. This refers to easy connecting to wifi hotspots, auto mount for portable storage media, Bluetooth connection etc. I shouldn’t have to fiddle with configuration files every time I need to use one of the above mentioned functions.
  5. Sane handling of multiple displays.

In my opinion, the above requirements are not something extra ordinary and most of the standard desktop environments do fulfill many of them. However, there’s only one combination of softwares that works for me. This post only describes how I found the tools that have been been working for me for last 3 years smoothly, without competition from any other desktop environment. This is a very subjective piece. It should not be taken as a critique of every other environment.

The setup that I use is basically XFCE desktop environment with i3 window manager and i3bar as statusbar and system tray. In time where the other two major desktop enviroments on linux, Gnome & KDE, have gone through several major redesigns and broken workflows of many people, XFCE has stayed relatively unchanged. It has stayed consistant and predictable. And this is the reason I choose to use it. Sure, it’s not as “revolutionary” as Gnome & KDE and the development pace is slow as snail but it only means that I can rely on it without worrying what chaos the next update might wreck.

So, why don’t I use the stock XFCE with it’s own window manager XFWM which is perfectly fine on its own? I blame circumstances in which I learned linux. You see, when I started using linux about 6-7 years ago, the computer I used was about 7-8 years old at that time. It had 512MB RAM. And, I had a lot of time on my hands. So, as I went on looking for the perfect operating system, I also went on looking for efficient tools. Tools that didn’t take up much of computer’s resources but helped me accomplish various things. I also subscribed to the unix philosophy of “Do one thing and do it well”. So I looked for programs that did that.

This was the time when I learned VIM, more, less, grep, rgrep and many other command line utilities. I witnessed the beauty of what simple shell scripts can accomplish and how a desktop environment can be bent to one’s own will. Microsoft windows doesn’t offer his luxury. And this is the main reason that I continue to choose my linux work environment over MS windows or even Mac OS X. (And I have used both extensively.)

Anyways, while I was exploring various tools and trying to minimize base resource use of my system, I learned that in linux, one can run window manager stand-alone, independent of any desktop environment. And that this will reduce the overall resource use of the system as additional bells and whistles provided by the desktop environment will be stripped. I liked the idea and so the first window manager that I ran standalone was openbox. A very good window manager. After that I also tried Fluxbox which was also good.

When I was reading various online discussion on window managers, occasionally I read about “tilling window managers” and how they were better than Floating window managers. The idea intrigued me and I had all the time in the world. So I tried out Xmonad. A window manager written in haskell. It was good but something didn’t stick. Later I tried ratpoison. It was OK but too spartan. I tried dwm but disliked the idea of compiling the WM from scratch every time I needed to change configuration. Also, the configuration wasn’t a configuration but the change in the source code of the WM itself. After that I tried Awesome wm and it was really awesome. I stayed with it for a about a year. It even provided an inbuilt system tray which I didn’t get with other window managers. However the version 3.4 upgrade of Awesome WM broke backward compatibility with the previous configuration files. And this was the reason I went looking for an alternative.

At this time I had started hearing good things about the i3 window manager. So I gave it a try, and it was love at first sight. The configuration was simple, it was lightning fast, and also provided a system tray through i3bar. But it also provided certain additional features that weren’t available in other window managers. It provided innovative feature “modes” in which the window manager will enter a different state where the keys can do different things. And modes can be defined and customized as per one’s liking. It also provides a “floating” layout which is used by default for notifications, program dialogs etc. which other tilling WMs always had trouble with.

From the days of using Awesome, the first tilling window manager that used seriously, I had already learned to configure the tilling window manager to my own liking and already had developed muscle memory to do various common activities for managing windows. I had also assigned certain applications default workspaces so that I can switch to them instantly. All this was possible in i3. Additionally, using “modes” made launching applications or running scripts a matter of few keystrokes. I created an “execute mode” in which I can open programs with a single keystorke. However, it doesn’t have to be a program, I can also define a keystroke for opening a particular document or do anything that can be done through a bash shell. Furthermore, i3 handles multiple displays very well. Exactly like how I want it. i3 became my favorite window manager.

This combination of i3 + XFCE provides the bedrock of my work environment. It gives me a way to focus on my work without having to think about window management.