Saturday, April 27, 2019

My voting dilemma

My bad 5HTTLPR gene is responsible, not me. If I had the right version of the gene, I might have had better gambling instincts.

I have voted in every national election since I became eligible, barring the one time when the circumstance was extenuating. However, every wager I placed with my vote has failed me. Even the law of averages was miscarried, and the candidates, parties or issues I voted for over the years have never, not once, met my expectations.

Undeterred and armed with my carefully saved vote, I venture again, to place my come-back bet on Monday, 29th April 2019. I must wing it this time, for if I lose, the 5HTTLPR has potential of making me suffer anxiety and depression. This failure could trigger a chronic gambler’s despair that might last longer than the usual remorse of five years.
Image result for voting booth india
The first time I voted, it was for the candidate’s card. It is individuals who make up a party, I said to myself, and if the right individuals get voted to power, the country would have better governance as a whole, irrespective of the party at the center. I was ecstatic at his win and applauded myself on my well-structured logic. Sadly though, the party that won the mandate at the Center was different from that of my victorious candidate. I never did see the ‘good’ candidate again. His voice and other good voices like his were drowned in the noise of the ‘majority’. The vote-bet that I, and many like me placed, got squandered.

The next time the slots were open after five years, I reasoned that voting for an individual is flawed, like choosing a lone bird instead of a flock. For an individual’s voice to be heard, the voice of the larger herd seemed essential. I used learnings from my previous wrongly cast vote, and pressed the ballot button for the local party that I thought could strongly address local issues. Change, drop by drop, is the best way to bring positive change in the country, I surmised.  Second time unlucky, the party that was given the mandate to govern the country was different from the party I voted for, and my vote and the party I voted for, both got the boot.   

After another restless five years, I trepidatiously extracted my well preserved vote in the next elections and staked it on ‘issues’. I sought out election promise-charts, and found issues that concerned me and the nation, for I knew it made good sense. Issues matter to people, and people matter to political parties, so this time the Play Slots were sure to churn me a bumper.

I celebrated as the party I voted for came to win a stunning majority. But some gamblers have everything but luck. The issues I voted for were vetoed, diluted or delayed, and none of the issues I thought mattered were moved to legislation. No promise was kept, in fact many blatantly backtracked. Some new issues which were taken up were even totally alien to my voting agenda. My vote-coffer empty again, my IBS working up, I took to deep introspection.

Coming Monday, when the voting booths open yet one more time, I have decided to be among the first of valiant voters to cast my vote. Failures, if studied, can teach, and I think my fruitless votes have lessons for me, and also for others who will stake their votes this elections. This time, armed with instructions of my past, I have realized the fundamental mistake I made each time. I now have a clearer direction on how to win with my vote.

A country, a collective of its citizens, is an extraordinarily strong force. It is, yet, also very vulnerable. And it is mostly it is vulnerable to those who govern it. The government is a guardian of the nation and if the guardianship is benign and benevolent, the country and its citizens build better relationships, kinship, mutual respect and act cohesively as a nation. By the same logic, if the nations’ guardians are divisive, manipulative and jingoistic, the same power can be malignant, creating a parochial, suspicious, hate-filled and violent flavor to the nation.

Image result for positive children indiaWhen I vote this year, I will not for a candidate’s credentials, or for the local party which may make a difference, nor for issues alone. I will, instead, vote for the one party I imagine as a good guardian of India. But I will take as much care as I would if I were choosing a guardian for a vulnerable, pre-teen child. I would want a guardian who could help create an inclusive culture, values of acceptance, respectful, fairness, love, truth, courage, positivity and kindness, characteristics I would want my vulnerable ward to grow up with. These are also the very same qualities I want to see in my country and its citizens.

So my vote is for a good guardian of the country, one who will nurture a cordial, filial and yet strong India. I, however, keep strongly in my mind that the country is as vulnerable as a frail and delicate child, and that the choice of a good guardian will determine her future. If you are a disillusioned voter like me, then when voting replace the vulnerable child’s image with that of the country and your vote will find the right guardian. So will mine.

And this year, without doubt, the law of averages is more in my favor than ever before.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Five Life lessons from Facebook

The old school often pulls down the new age technologies as culture-killers. Though I do not disagree that the excessive time spent on applications like Facebook (with 1.3 billion users - nearly a sixth of the world's population) and Twitter (nearly 300 million) can be detrimental, I also see many lessons that can be learnt from these two omniscient apps. Here are some of those. 
1. FB lesson #1: Dont be afraid to like something openly, even if you are the first and no one else likes it. In life we often are afraid of show our liking for something openly unless someone      else does it first. Ditch that. Be like you are on FB - be eager to show your like of anything in real life too, no matter how trivial. 
2. FB lesson #2: Just like Facebook, erase life's 'Unlike' button too.  Dont dislike anything that much that you must wear it on your sleeve. You can 'Not Like' something in life, and that's ok, but Disliking something is worse for you that it is for the other - so avoid it like plague. 
3. FB lesson #3:  Have an active 'Comments' area in life. Have an opinion, on many things, different things. Dont be afraid to be different and to show it. Know that if you're yourself, it's not that you dislike the other's opinion.
4. FB lesson #4: Share what you like and Share repeatedly what you like immensely. In life we usually hoard that which we like, but if we learn this facebook lesson, then not only will the world be happier, but so will you.

5. FB lesson #5: Make friends. When someone stretches out a hand to you, be ready to reach back. However, dont be indiscriminate - make sure to keep the creeps out of your life . 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Whats taxing, whats not

Tax is an essential burden that all citizens have to bear - our contribution for services and amenities provided by the government - the cost of governance, if you will. Unfortunately, the current tax vision (of any government) only aims to increase government revenues, and does not pay too much attention to the changes in behavior that such an universal and important monetary system has the capacity to bring about. 

This piece is not to be confused for a treatise on taxation, but  is instead a general observation on tax through the lens of reward and incentive principles that many of us are familiar with. At last count, there were about 20 different taxes that citizens in India are subject to. Actually speaking, the categorization of these taxes can be done on 4 broad levels (if you like, you can add a couple more), i.e. Value-addition, Transaction, Ownership and Subsidy. Usually, most tax methodologies are designed for ease of compliance and management, and only in the rarest of cases is it used for guiding citizens' actions (as in the case of higher taxes for cigarettes or alcohol - which is more done because they can impose it without expecting protest, and not because they want people to stop smoking or drinking). Or in a manner that conforms to the long term vision of a nation (provided, of course, such a thing exists).

There are several conflicting views on guiding citizens' action, but if the vision and values of the governing authorities for citizens are consistent, then it is distinctly possible to make taxes a valuable tool to encourage right action and thereby guide a country's collective behavior. After all, they don't call taxes the universal leveler for nothing.

Here are three thoughts on how the taxation system could be transformed.

(1) Simplification: The entire world is screaming hoarse about the need for tax simplification. Though there has been no dearth of intention, I assume that simplification may be an avoided path as it makes the tax system too easy and transparent (and therefore, more understandable). It makes the citizens more aware, and sensitive to changes in it, thereby empowering them. However, simplification is a must for experiential wisdom shows that simplification would increase compliance. And further still, it would add the essential thermometer to the tax system, making it more adaptable, and allowing irrelevant taxes or those that have outlived their life, to be changed. 

(2) Vision for taxes: At the broadest level, there could be two bases for taxes. Firstly, the taxation may be based on the degree of government involvement, control, management or (possible) clean-up etc. needed on any product or service. For example, processed foods may have a higher tax level than that of raw fruits or vegetables (with the logic that for processed foods the quality needs to be monitored, complaints need attending to, and it has a higher potential of irregularity than the raw stuff. Also, petroleum, by similar logic could be charged a higher tax as well). At the second level, taxes must be based on the vision for the country, making it a behavior change incentive (more likely a disincentive). For example, for locally grown food material (in keeping with an environmentally conscious vision), the tax would logically be less than for items which are transported from far (even if it is within the same country) Same thing for organically grown food versus GMO. Some may argue that even now there is an indirect accrual of taxes and costs by way of transportation when goods come in from far. This tax, however,  becomes invisible to the consumer by the time it reaches them (and consequently is of no use in behavior change) and therefore the need for the next step outlined.

(3) Communication:  All taxes must be clubbed under 5 or 6 broad headings (four of which are given above) only, and the total and its sub-parts must be made available/displayed on the product or service on which the tax is imposed to give a clear understanding on what amount is being paid and why it is being paid. This then puts the onus of choice on the consumer, thus giving a better clarity on the choices the citizens are making.

If citizens know what we are paying for, how much we are paying and voluntarily make a choice of paying it, (more so in the case of taxes than anything else), not only we be more accepting of our choices, but it will seem less taxing as well.

Seems like an idea.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tolerance and intolerance - What laws should we question?

"I will speak of Thomas Aquinas instead. I will tell you my dim memories of what he said about the hierarchy of laws on this planet, which was flat at the time. The highest law, he said, was divine law, God's law. Beneath that was natural law, which I suppose would include thunderstorms, and our right to shield our children from poisonous ideas, and so on.

"And the lowest law was human law. 

"Let me clarify this scheme by comparing its parts to play to playing cards. Enemies of the Bill of Rights do the same sort of thing all the time, so why shouldn't we? Divine law, then, is an ace. Natural law is a king. The Bill of Rights is a lousy queen. 

"The Thomist hierarchy of laws is so far from being ridiculous that I have never met anybody who did not believe in it right down to the marrow of his or her bones. Everybody knows that there are laws with more grandeur than those which are printed in our statute books. The big trouble is that there is so little agreement as to how those grander laws are worded. Theologians can give us hints of the  wording, but it takes a dictator to set them down just right - to dot the i's and cross the t's. A man who had been a mere corporal in the army did that for Germany and then for all of Europe, you may remember, not long ago. There was nothing he did not know about divine and natural law. He had fistfuls of aces and kings to play."

That is what the American author Kurt Vonnegut wrote in the 1980s, when his book, Slaughterhouse-Five, was burnt by a school for containing a few expletives.

And when we have the law spell expletives against those who express themselves differently, most of us quickly bite into our stuffed parathas or Subways and munch away, lest our thoughts become words. Perhaps, we would all do well to express ourselves now, when lawmakers exercise the right of the statute over the sovereign right of the individual. We must announce our stand, lest those expletives become ours to take.

We choose our food, our education, what we read, or write, and with the great medical advancements of this age, even our gender. But when those with sight lead us daringly into the future blindfolded, we must question, else be willing to give up our sight as well as our right.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

AAP ne kya kiya

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has done something to the Indian political scene that may not change the battleturf, but will definitely change the battle. And since enough has been written on the political ramifications of this small and new party, let me debate the brand related manifestations of AAP. The party's message has been simple, clear and reflected in every aspect of their brand, and it is this singularity that helps people identify with the party so strongly.

Firstly, the adoption of the name Aam Aadmi Party was itself the first masterstroke. They initially wanted 'India Against Corruption' as the name of the party, the movement it spawned from, but in retrospect, the Hindi name has a better ring than IAC and I am sure they dont regret it. Further, all political parties, which seemed to have stake claim on the 'common man' messaging suddenly were bereft of talk points without referring to the 'Aam Aadmi'. Indians have heard this term for decades and it is as ubiquitous to the ruling party as is 'Banana hai'. And in naming their party such, it ensured that it took away the biggest plank of the ruling party and usurped it without even a copyright case against them. In advertising terms, this is much like Pepsi's 'Nothing Official About It' advertising campaign when Coke won the campaign rights for the Wills World Cup, naturally without the same cost.

Now, the attire. In this case, the ubiquitous Gandhi cap. This thin sidecap, usually of white colour, of no real, intrinsic  political significance, has been used in several Indian states for centuries. In fact, Nehru used a wider version that also served the purpose of  covering a balding pate, and a large number of the Indian independence activists showed their solidarity to the movement by wearing it. It evoked a meaning of self-reliance as well, since most were woven out of khadi. In fact, Indian National Army and its leader, Subhash Chandra Bose wore a khaki one, representing the military intent of the wearer. Many other parties had unique colour codes for their caps, RSS-black, Samajwadi - Red etc.

Things for the cap changed during the Anna campaign. Someone thought of printing the caps with a solidarity message 'I am Anna'. And as hundreds of thousands wore it, it became the a statement of a fight against the corrupt, even a message of the might of the right. (Even I wore one during one protest evening and felt a surge of unexpected well-being when I wore it.) AAP, the placenta of Anna's movement, used the idea and used it well. Many white caps were printed with Aam Aadmi Party name on became the brand of anti-corruption on the heads of many individuals. It is also so universal, that anyone trying to use the same tactic gets confused for an AAP supporter. I've seen a cap worn by a PETA activist that says 'I am a vegetarian' , but viewed from a distance, it all reads the same - Aam Aadmi Party.

An unfortunate side-effect of this was, however, AAP inadvertently also killed a lot of sale for KVIC (Khadi and Village Industries Commission), because now it truly dint matter what you wore with the cap, just this cap, printed or otherwise, was enough to send the needed political message. Suddenly the thousands of khadi robed politicos, wore their Guccis and LVHs openly (mostly along with the cap, mind you). If you finger-dribble the remote to fleetingly political debate on TV, the only thing you will retain is the AAP's cap branding.

The other big success step is of course the Jhaadu, the broom, the electoral symbol chosen by the AAP party. Universally available, easily identifiable with the message of 'sweep away corruption' and cheap enough for everyone to carry, it is perhaps a shade  better than the Cycle and the Open Hand, . One which though may connect with the common man, many other connotations (the open hand is a very strong visual symbol for 'Stop' across the globe).

Whether, the AAP wins in Delhi or not, one thing is certain in Indian politics, the cap has become the political hoarding and the election symbol, the equivalent of product packaging. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Environmentally conscious ways to fly

Flying for work or pleasure is an unavoidable modern day necessity. Along with the ticket, we unfortunately believe that we've bought the right max out on every entitlement. More luggage weight, better in-flight food - just top-it-up for me please! While what we buy is ours, a greater responsibility on our shoulders is to not use up all that is given to us. When you are thinking environment, less automatically becomes more. Here are some practical ways to be environmentally conscious when you fly.
1. Travel light: Travelling light will definitely make your travel more enjoyable, but the lesser your luggage, the lesser the load the airline will have to fly. Unnoticed by you, each extra shirt, dress or shoe that you carry contributes to more fuel being consumed. It becomes more fun when you start to keep a track of the average luggage weight you carry (per day of travel).
2. Eat on ground: Though it has become a practice for airlines to offer food on flights, we generally consume what's on offer not necessarily because we are hungry, but because we have nothing better to do. Eating on ground before the flight is a good way to show that one more person does not want their food-weight to be carried on the flight. Of course, the airline will have already carried the food, but with each subsequent person not eating in-flight, the airline will gradually lessen the food-load they carry.
3. Laundry: For travel of more than a few days, if circumstances permit, see if you can get the laundry done on ground (through the hotel or family you are staying with) rather than carry extra clothes. If you think that hotel laundry service is exorbitant, find a good 24hr cleaners service near your hotel. Think of the extra spend as your contribution to the environment kitty and the extra effort as the one reason you needed to explore the city.
4. Use less disposables: To the extent possible, reuse the disposable cups the airline serves beverages in, refuse tissues with every serving if you do not need it, use only the toilet paper necessary when using the washroom. This reduces the environmental burden due to the disposables, but over time and when enough people do it, the airline will also reduce the disposables they carry in-flight.
5. Newspapers etc.: If you are reading a newspaper in the flight, ensure that you keep fold it back in as close to pristine condition as possible. Place it in the seat pocket as if the airline put it there on purpose. This will ensure that the cleaning crew in the next stop does not dispose of the newspaper and it will be convenient for the next reader to read as well.
6. Give feedback: Take a little time out to give the airline your feedback about their environmentally conscious ways (or the lack of it). Bring it to their attention and reiterate it over email as well. Your compliment for good environmental action taken by the airline or your reprimand for their lack of environmental consciousness will get their attention for sure, goading them to change policy that is better environmentally suited.
Also smile a lot and thank the crew for taking care of you. They sure to give you back a sunshine smile - and we all know how important sunshine is for the environment!
(If you have any practical ideas on how to be environmentally conscious when flying, please add them as comments on this blog.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Cycle your way to better sleep, better health and a new high

My experiences on the 9+1 reasons to take up cycling

Take up cycling. If you've learnt it once, you never forget it, so all it takes is a little initiative. If you've not learnt it, this is the best time to learn. The best cycles are available and you can choose one that best fits your budget. 

1. You’ll get there faster 
Commute in any city and you'll find that you'll get there faster. Well, maybe not really faster, but the time difference between a 4 wheel ride and a 2 wheeled pedaled ride is not much.
I started in Sewri (where I stay) and went to Marine Drive land's end in 30 minutes. When I take a car, I reach there in 20-25 minutes. I pedal from Sewri to Seawoods (35km) in 1hr 20min. and if i drive there, I take about an hour. For short circuits of less than 10 kms, you'll actually reach faster in a bicycle. (just the time it takes to take your car out and put it into parking can often take 10-15 minutes). 
2. You'll sleep more deeply
If you're the type who tosses on the pillow, then biking will solve that problem in a jiffy. A research by Stanford University School of Medicine researchers asked sedentary insomnia sufferers to cycle for 20-30 minutes every other day and the result was that the time required for the insomniacs to fall asleep was reduced by half, and sleep time increased by almost an hour.
The article quoting this research said, “Cycling helps get your circadian rhythm back in sync, and also rids your body of cortisol, the stress hormone that can prevent deep, regenerative sleep.”
I sleep better now than any other time in my life. 
4. Look younger, be smarter, healthier, live longer
Cycling helps in circulation  and in regeneration of new cells. Your skin will have a lot less wrinkles (if it already has them), else it will delay wrinkling. Memory loss due to brain cell decay can also be delayed (which usually starts once you've crossed 30). Cycling makes immune cells more active and helps you stay healthier as well. Research with 2400 identical twins showed that such exercise made the body more efficient at defending itself. Though cycling is a great sport at any age, it is imperative after 30. 
5. Save the environment
How many times have you wanted to do something active about the deterioration of the environment but it just remained nothing more than lip service. You can now contribute by doing something you enjoy like cycling. Not only do you contribute to saving fuel, but it takes lesser energy to make bicycles and they produce no pollution.
6. Build values for your children 
There is no better way to build values in your children than to show them how. If you cycle with them and show them that you care, you'll build lasting values for them (something that every parent strives to do). But more importantly, you'll do it while you're bonding with your kids and while you're having fun. 
7. Sure cure against heart disease and keeping away cancer 
Exercise is the best way to give your heart a better chance against Cardio-Vascular Disease and strokes.  I hear of 35 year olds getting into critical cardiac care very often and it is a sign of the poor lifestyle and uncontrolled diet that we are all getting accustomed to. By keeping cells in good order, such exercise also helps moderate the body. One research shows that those who did such exercise were half as likely to develop cancer as those who didn’t. 
8. Fun way to Lose weight in the saddle
Loosing weight is the toughest thing in the world. I lost 4 kilos a couple of years back when I did a 15 day trek. And after that I've been able to lose not even a gram despite having a very regulated diet, regular exercise etc. etc. That's probably because I don't push myself in exercise and I am not paranoid about the diet.
However, cycling is changing all that. The exercise is fun so I tend to do more, it is competitive (if you set records for yourself), and all it needs is a cycle and you.  One hour of cycling burns 300Cal and its much better than even running because you don't load your knees with your body weight (which is a valid medical argument against running.)
9.Develop a positive addiction and get a high (a legal one)
Cycling releases endorphin in your body - the 'happy' chemical. This addictive rush  will give you a feeling of well being and get over any work or social depression. Cycling is also like meditation because you keep your focus so sharply on the road that there is little else that enters the mind. Try that without the cycle and you'll know what a difficult state it is to achieve. This will also give you ability to concentrate. 
Last few weeks, my happiness index is bursting the charts. :-) 

Last of all, 
10. Do it because it matters, it matters to the future of mankind. 
The more we cycle, the less dependent we are on fossil fuels, expensive cars which choke up roads, and we work towards a better collective future. 

Start now, you'll see the benefits accrue faster than you can imagine.