Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The one inside us

Is not finding meaning in 'life' a way of finding it? Is it a straitjacketed monorail journey which we all take just to go from point A to B? Or it is just a web of experiences where achievers and losers criss-cross to shape each other, one indispensable to the other? Whose life is more important, the 'one' who guides us all, gives meaning to those As and Bs for many generations? Why is that few people can see and are willing to go on 'that' path, that the others cannot(or don't) see? What drives us when we don't have anything left? Can societies afford more change agents, the outliers, or only a limited few have that responsibility? What breeds a lack of ambition and fuels complacency? What breeds suffering? Why are 'systems' in us and around us always susceptible to fail? What allows us to not 'think'? Why cannot the journey to reach to ourselves pass through others? What is this thing that passes and makes us old? Why does it end, always?  

We start out as young flexible minds and end up having our own rigid identities, defined by our work, our nature and our upbringings. Freedom and the lack of it, both, makes us who we are. The glare of life around us is such, that it creates 'us'. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

No lines in Bus?

I was traveling to office, in one of the often crowded buses of Delhi. As my stop neared, I stood from my seat and waited behind others who were to get down as well. A man, in his late fifties (observation), with his bag, tried to brisk me sideways. There was hardly any space to give him a way and others were already standing near the exit front gate. 

I asked him, "What are you trying to do, the stop is some 5 mins away." He said, "Can't you see the crawling traffic? I will ask the driver to halt the bus and get down now." 

I replied, "then what good is this line for? (as not only was he quite unaware of his uncanny behaviour* but also wanted a public bus to be halted for him prior to the bus-stop). He said, "you don't know son, there are no lines in bus." 

The bus driver was unperturbed and he stopped the bus only at the designated bus-stop. I was amused but raising my voice I said, well, now that I have publicly accosted you, next time you'll be careful to jump the queue, because they exist! 

We both got down and walked our opposite ways, silently acknowledging our act of change. 

*This uncanny behaviour is what is slowly eroding our societal values. We must point out to others the relevance of being courteous in public life. What is disheartening is not that the bad people indulge into ill-behaviour(and acts) but that the good ones, the educated often shy away from bringing out these behavioural changes in others, which is often only, a simple act of dialogue.  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

"Young girl and a map"

Kids are pure. Their minds slowly evolve towards the complexities of this large world.
Standing at a stationery shop, I asked for a writing pad. I observed a young girl came from behind and asked for India's map. She wanted 2 of them. 
Sometimes its good to see young people involved in studies, creative work, talking about science, their country. Never would one find a child discussing about such things for the sake of it. They do so with genuine curiosity, with feelings. They represent our future but somehow scripting their own future later in life, they hardly remember that they were meant to be not just their's but societies's future. Most of them, ungrow

She handed over a Rs 5 coin, the coin she was carrying in her hand to the owner. 2 maps were to cost Rs 4 so he handed her another map, thinking she will take 3 for Rs 5. She asked for Re 1 and handed him 1 map back. Perhaps, she didnt understand that she was about to get a good deal, another map for just Re 1. 

I smiled at the shopkeeper and said it is us who teach them to mend ways, they are willing to follow rules. He grinned but couldn't say anything and girl, she slowly faded away with her maps. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

What have I learnt from Daniel Kahneman?

This article is my first serious attempt to understand Human Behaviour, written in form of a Concise Summary, highlighting the ideas of Nobel Prize winning Professor Daniel Kahneman who wrote the book, Thinking Fast and Slow. This article will make a good reading for anyone who wants to quickly understand Kahneman and will be of help in making better decisions, or atleast averting bad ones.
The debate of choice.

To begin with, in every decision of ours, we have a conflict between intuition and logic. We usually try to prevent the loss rather than focusing on achieving the gain.
eg. Take the case of Cab drivers in Rains. They should ideally drive more in rainy days as everyone wants a cab(as fast they can) while its raining (nobody wants to get drenched?). Though the cab drivers, who want to earn a said income everyday be it rainy or a sunny day, their daily wage, stay away in the rains. They dont realize that during a rainy day they have far better chance of earning than on any given sunny day. The gain they can achieve on a rainy day is way more than on a sunny day but they do not think in terms of achieving the gains only on averting the loss wherever they can.   

A question we can ask is, Are we very deliberative people? Who weigh the costs and benefits of every decisions of ours?
No. As per the work of Daniel Kahneman. We will look into this with the help of biases and the two systems of thinking. 

First lets see what is 'Inattentional blindness': It defined as an event which a person fails to recognize and event despite it occurs in his plain sight. It is a psychological blindness and not a perceptive one.  
eg. The 1995 case of a police officer, Kenny Conley, who failed to notice a fight( a set of other police officers who were beating up another suspect, who later died) which was happening in front of him. He said he was only observing the suspect which he had caught oblivious to the other one. He was prosecuted for perjury as everyone believed that he was telling a lie. 
Honestly we walk past so any things which are happening around us but we tend to be unaware of them. We make a lot of decisions without even realizing anything about our surroundings.

Daniel Kahneman, suggests the following two ways of human thinking,  
System 1: Fast (Intuitive, Basic Visualizations, Reflexive)and this is what drives us in most of the conditions. This is our Auto-Pilot mode. Sometimes it leads to a thoughtless creation of habits. Sometimes one bad decisions leads to another bad decision and we fail to realize this.   
System 2: Slow (Deliberate, Rational, Thought based) and here we follow some rules and it involves work, effort and concentration. 

There is a battle between these two systems of thinking. We tend to make a mistake when we use the wrong system for a decision. We tend to make decisions, based on our past ones. We assume that because we have decided something in the past we can continue on that decision. It is important to understand where do our beliefs come from.

Lets see what a bias is. 
It is a systematic error and is predictable. Over 150 Cognitive biases have been identified. Lets see some of them.

Like in the Present bias, we tend to think too much about the present and not think about the future. Halo effect, If we like something or an organization we tend to think that everything about it is good and vice versa. What we like is a good thing and that we dont like is a bad thing.  eg. we tend to disregard an attractive trait in a bad person. 
Spotlight effect, we tend to think that other people give a lot of attention to us but in practice they dont. Confirmation bias, is where we seek evidence of what we already know. eg. When we pin the allegation on the usual suspects. This is perhaps the most dangerous bias we have. Bias of Loss Aversion(the most important work to have emerged from Kahneman)  We tend to avoid losses than acquire gains. Effects of losses are twice as powerful than gains. This was taken up in the example of Cab Drivers.
These biases tend to explain a lot of wrong decisions which we make. eg. Our impulsive spendings, choosing the wrong person, not seeing the other person's point of view etc. These biases are all the more important when we are an expert and a lot depends on our decisions. Evolution as in turns out, has a lot to do with our biases. 

In Finance, these biases can have tremendous effects. We assume that finance decisions are very rational but in practice they are subjected to the similar biases. When Money comes in, it brings with itself a peculiar mode of thinking. Our decisions change when money arrives. We tend to think we are very rational in money matters. Though, this is debatable. Kahneman has given a lot of insights on our decisions with money. Our decision to gamble with money is very different when we have  made a gain vs when we have made a loss. We risk more when gain or a person will gamble more if he wins.

System 2, Slow thinking allows us to note that there is a System 1, the Fast and this realization can help us make better policy decisions and design better institutions for the world and also for ourselves. We have to change the environment we have build around us rather than to change ourselves. 

This article is an attempt to understand and is not a review by any standards of Behavioural Economics, Human Psychology or of Kahneman. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Old man and Chicken Soup

Taking a walk on Shankar Road, famous for its tandoori chicken outlets, serving food inside customer's cars, I decided to try the newest joint, the Sardar M* Shop. Waiting for my serving I was joined in by an old, well dressed gentleman, who asked for chicken soup. For some five minutes, busy eating, I did not notice him in any detail. As I finished, he collected his package. Both of us took out our wallet and paid at the same time. The counter guy went inside the shop to get some change and at that moment I noticed him. He wore a winter cap, plaited trousers, a blazer and matching shoes. He looked frail and quite old. It was past evening so it was hard to discern how old he was (Well, isn't it becoming hard to notice old people in any detail these days? Arent we getting increasingly occupied with ourselves and some selected things around us?). 
I thought of saying hello to him. But what could I ask? What could one ask an old man(who knows all at once)? What if he was a pure punjabi, who did not care to reply in english? (sometimes initiating a conversation in english is a bad idea, as who knows if the intimacy gets lost?) I thought it better to ask him directly what came to my mind and I said, "Uncle, at this age, how can you like Chicken soup?" (By the looks he was to be in seventies, when people eat bare and plain stuff, just to keep them going, and here he was ready with his packet of chicken soup). He said, to my astonishment, "I am 86 and I am doing just fine!"
I have never really talked to a man of that age, specially at a fast food outlet, alone by himself. I said, "Whats your view on these outlets, serving just about anything, anyhow. How was it back then, when you were you young?" He replied, "Ah it doesnt matter! Eat anything, which looks good and tastes good. You see I am single and I have worked in the foreign office, lived abroad and eaten everything that came in my way. I am 86, you see!" For a minute I felt relieved from the bashing anyone receives from within because of eating out. "Why did you stay single? Sometimes, Uncle, I have a similar urge, a deep thought of staying single too!", I remarked. "Ah no! Never stay single!" By this time we started walking, "No one comes to a lone tree, people prefer them in groups," which showed that he had felt loneliness and perhaps suffered from it too. I had to smile and asked him about his routine. "Nothing, I do nothing now, the cook comes and she make my meals, I call my friends, and go for long chats in the park. Thats about it." Walking, we had arrived at his by lane and we had to part, but I was glad I said hello to him!  

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Interests and Collections

This article is about a coming-of-age-Indian and attempts to take a look at the changes that sweeps through our society in recent times, (changes) in the things we like, about and for ourselves. The article tries not to stick to one thought and weaves a interplay between different times and ideas. 

A man can be best defined by his 'interests' and his 'collections', given off-course his will and ability to make room for them in his life. Collections, not just in terms of money but of the things he like.  

As average Indian kids of past decades, what did we use to collect? Newspaper cuttings(sometimes pasted in scrap-books), calendars(tabled and walled), books and various other stationery items like diaries, stickers, colours(crayons, wax, sketch-pens), pencil boxes(which later got replaced by pouches), book marks(I remember it used to cost Re 1, and was a cheap way to build collection, you see), puzzle books. There were very many of them, as choices, but at the same time one could count these things on his fingers. Sometimes we used to collect wrappers of packaged items we used to eat, like that of Ruffles Lays(and the freebies that came inside it), Amul's chocolate boxes, Alpenlibe(that was the best toffee/candy of our times) and even KismiBar(again a cheaper way to build a collection). We were also keen to collect accessories like wrist bands, laser beams, bracelets and wrist watches. Sometimes we were keen to better equip our bicycles and bikes by adding gears, lights, sirens. 'Music' was the biggest rent we used to pay(remember buying a blank cassette?). Sometimes buying musical records, cassettes and CDs of the movies we liked and could afford. Learning Music(and instruments) was only for the privileged few but nevertheless it was common. Our interests depended a lot on our collections and what we could get within our cities, or some of the bigger nearby cities. They were not toys. They were collections of our life, something which not only gave us pleasure but defined us as individuals. Each one of us had a particular combination of interests and collections.  

Fast forward to now. Where are those things that defined us? Is growing up an explanation to their disappearance ? We can grow up(and old) but we cannot forgo our interests. Nowadays, many of those have got moulded in forms of 'folders' and 'bookmarks' and sometimes reduced to mere likes. We now define our interests in a vast sea of information. We stand at the shore of this vast sea and can enter anytime and reach any of its corner, as we please. It is impossible to start a day without coming across a new thing, either through phones, discussions or on our computers. The density of activities around us just keeps on increasing and the flux just doesn't seems to end. All this makes sticking to few items not a great idea. 

Let us see a case of 'staying fit'The idea of staying fit was inherently attached to having fun. We maintained and attained fitness by playing cricket and not watching it. Going to parks in the morning, taking a longer route on the cycle for exploring things around generated thrill, fun and kept us fit. These days, Gym is our idea of a staying fit. A small room with elephant sized instruments, which eat our calories and give a sense of workout. Lest we forget that burning calories is also only a wastage of our bodily calories. Have we completely forgotten our right to spend our own calories in a sensible way? Isn't it similar to throwing away some cash just because we have piled up way too extra. The question is, couldn't it be spent in a better way? 
We are humans, who can and should feel, as opposed to machines which work based on fixed calculations between their components. It can be channelized with a sense of purpose and fun.

It is in this context that it becomes imperative for us to remember the importance of cultivating interests. It pays to build a collection and above all that we did all this within our own lifetime, once. I am not just finding faults with the internet but the entire ecosystem it has generated. What  is left of our attention span? How long can we dig-in to pursue an issue? How long can we actually pursue an issue? Take the case of news these days, something big is waiting to happen every other day, which also eats the previous dust and cleans the slate of our memory. Importantly(and sadly), the biggest of the biggest news is only left to us as an information

The world is in an increasing state of flux but as individuals the most important thing we can do is to cultivate interests and guard them, because only our interests have the power to define us, lest we be reduced to mere numbers or information. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Few months ago, I went to one of my friend's house. An old buddy from the school, with whom I had shared countless events, days and nights. It was evening time and we were to go to some place. Waiting in around his garden I saw a few flowers. Coloured, soft skinned, wallowing with the mild breeze that was flowing, they really caught my attention. When he came out, ready to rush in to the newly opened multiplex in our town I asked, Man, when was the last time we saw some flowers around? I mean, looked at them and felt something?
The grass was greener.

I remember during the summer-breaks of our School days, we used to go to a nearby park in the mornings and kick start our days with sports and jogging. In the carved out lanes within the park, there were hundreds of flowers. The park even had a mini nursery inside. One of our favourites used to be something called a Dog Flower. It had a dog shaped mouth on its top and upon pushing it with the fingers around its bud it used to emulate a dog's barking action. My friends and I used to carefully tip toe our way to its lanes and pluck some. Almost always, being caught by a distant gardener and fleeing away in the process. I don't know what exact feelings we had at that time but I am sure it was a mix of curiosity, fun and deprivation. The last one because we too had gardens at home but there were only roses and marigolds. 
Now almost fifteen years have passed and not just us but our entire nation has changed. There has been development all around and development comes at a cost. Costs that are not just physical but psychological too. Standing in his garden, that evening I was actually paying the price for seeing them while they gave me a chance to relive the days we use to play with them.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Tulsi, A note on Mother

When we are too close to someone, when our life significantly overlaps someone else's, possibilities of strange kinds of differences among ourselves pop. Trivial differences and of the kind which can easily perish on second thoughts. Perhaps, being less judgmental on the very first note is a trait of an educated soul of highest degree.

Her healing touch.

Mummy, under whose lap I decided to re-mushroom for a while, one day, out of either over indulgence in my daily affairs(which can never be ruled out, she is a mother afterall) or contempt towards my flailing approach to life these days, decided to put her delegations of empathy on hold and I enjoyed  few solitary days. However, nature, decided to play its role in our qualm and abode Winters, brought its own kind of wrath. With an overdose of spicy meals I developed heavy throat and one afternoon, after the lunch said to her, that I need 'tea' and coughed a bit. Thats all I did, coughed, dint tell about the problem. Sitting outside on a chair, the tea arrived and the first sip was a realization. It had Tusli (Basil) and she knew I needed it. I only wanted tea, thats the thing that came to my mind for that sick throat but 'Tulsi' was her ingredient, a mother's ingredient. 
That night we ate together, thereby putting an end to the week long qualm.  

Friday, October 17, 2014

"The curious case of girl in the back seat"

Today, I was on board a Volvo Bus, coming back to Haridwar from Delhi. It must've been years, since the last time I used ISBT (good trains, you see). I was skeptical to see it in its new avatar till the moment I saw some buses, for anybody could mistake it for a Metro Station, if not an Airport itself. What a makeover! 
Go check.

Anyways, ISBT's not the issue here. 

Whenever I visit Delhi/Mumbai the most common difference with a smaller town is in its Womenfolk. Outward, large in numbers, publicly socializing, shopping, engaging in all those works, which in smaller towns you'll find only the men occupied with. A peculiar thing and which is on rise these days is their display of love or rather indifference towards the public at large , while doing so. Most of the times we might pay little or no attention and perhaps acts like these can as well be considered the seeds of an open and progressive Indian society. But where do we draw the line? 

A case exemplifies my concern. 

While I was discussing the stops and route of the Bus with the Bus-Conductor, stood beside me a couple. The girl had to leave and her boyfriend was seeing her off. Usual things, no big deal. 
She took(got) a window seat exactly behind me and the windows were all sealed. Another guy sitting next to me, took his copy of Hindustan Times out and got immersed with no signs of being perturbed. Nice, I had a book in hand and it was good to see him reading too. Random partners, cool! The engine fired and the bus started to roll back, making a u turn and then heading on its course out of The Kashmere Gate

A phone rang but the girl was doing her bags on the upper shelf. Moments later, settled, she picked up the phone and started off! The journey for me was then to become not mine but a narration of hers.
Bus journey, a collective responsibility.

"Anil, where are you? I cant see you, ohk dont worry, you must head back to office now. And how much money have you put into my purse? You! Ohk. Lets talk after sometime and hey! don't forget to eat something. You know one thing which I like coming here about is the fact that you eat properly because of me, else you stay like a log only. Yeah Yeah. Hang up! Love you!"

Just 10 mins later, "Hey where are you, I am crossing Shahadra Metro Station, 5 mins later I am crossing that big pile of filth, now in a Traffic Jam, not in Jam, are you in Jam? You ate something? I'll come back on 9th. Shilpa's ring ceremony na! Even if I dont come, atleast we have an excuse na. NoNo, please dont stand on the terrace, go to office instead, I dont want to see you (Wait a minute! House visible from the road, and a plan for that too? Incredible)! What! your promotion is due? Perhaps it'll surely happen if we marry. Thanks for the Wrist watch and Volvo tickets too. Love you!"

She was not to stop, like forever. Shrill voice, all over.  
I kept my book, The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P Huntington, inside my backpack and took out the Tablet to watch its documentary instead. However, Sun played the rest of the part and I dozed off. Meanwhile the back-lady said something really good, her battery was dying off. For a moment, I thought isn't it great that Samsung gives only 6 hours of Talk time? For a moment I thanked them for this technical barrier they haven't been able work on, which I used to crib about (in college days). 

The Hindustan times was now all read (Editorials including) and the next-seat-guy joined me in the siesta. Midway through our journey the fallacy broke the hell out, when I was awaken with the back-girl still lingering on with her dismal battery over matters she was most dear to. 

"I'll eat na, I'll eat at McDonalds once it stops. Though it didnt. It was Gupta Ji resorts, she(we all) finally had to resort to, in case she did. You haven't eaten since then!? Go, or I'll hang up. Hang up? Really? Perhaps only the battery would've done the wonderful thing. But it dint. So she kept on.. I have my SSC exam day after tommorrow and then we'll catch up again in Delhi ohk ?(SSC exam? This girl is plan-marrying @ 22(say)? Great!), Hey listen I'm so sorry for this months expenditure of yours, you could have bought a Bed instead. 'Arey my company pays na!' Hey when are you buying Gas Connection? We've never had Dal-Roti in Delhi! Ohk I am sorry na! Love you!"

Then there was sudden calm. Her parents called and she talked for 2 mins! like a real sensible ward, updated her route, the interview she had come for, before the wonder actually happened and I took the book out, again. Gupta ji Resorts wasnt that bad too. 

I was a forced on-looker. It was Anil, whom I was forced to think again and again. Down faced, in his cubicle with a pile of work brushed aside trying to weave his future and the present, unknowingly, in public. Who was to blame? Was she right on her part of not giving a damn about anything else. What about the guy who sat next to her? Perhaps he was poorer than me too? Where do we draw the line? What is sensible, if nothing is insensible? The fact that, for now, she only wanted to be a Girlfriend and then very soon a Wife, was it at all connected to the expectations with which her parents had brought her up and the interview from which she was returning, back into the lap of her big eyed parents? Is this new-age-love , with technology defining intimacy, also holding the capacity to define us as an individual? And what if I had asked her to stay put for a while? Would that have worked as a solution or an irritant, to the things so dear to her? 
Oh girl!

PS: No names have been changed as luckily, she never called her own name out loud thus keeping the entire narration, practically anonymous. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014


How do you think you will conquer the World?

" By showing respect to and following your daily routine, each second."

Like the early morning Cycling routine.