Friday, June 21, 2013

Judge not?

There's a soap on Indian television that threw some excitement at us this past week in way of a child born out of wedlock of an already married man. Peanuts, you say? That thing is the lot of every soap ever written?
     Maybe, but I thought this one was different in that the man who duped his wife and got another woman (who he married later) pregnant was not made into the  proverbial bad guy. But, as the female protagonist pointed out, he did wrong, so no matter what the explanation is, the act is done and no amount of justification should acquit  him of his punishment/responsibilities.
     It was a little eerie that they chose to air these episodes right now, for I've been wondering about this for some time. Not about double-crossing spineless men, but about rights and wrongs and justifications, I mean.       
    For as long as I have been able to think for myself, I've known that it is not a good thing to judge others, especially if you do not know their story. "To judge" here largely meaning to not look down on people or proclaim they are wrong simply because they operate in ways you are not comfortable in.
    Now, I'm willing to make exceptions.
 To judge, is to “form an opinion about through casual weighing of evidence and testing of premises.” So, what if, through careful observation and repeated experiences, your opinion of a thing, situation or person is not casual, but the opposite? Is it so wrong then to say “I know what this is about and I can tell you this is wrong?”
     Sure, there is a reason why "I do not judge" is the libertarian banner most young urban people like to  brandish as they try and break free from their traditional and orthodox settings. Because, our society is almost always too eager to punish anyone who is happy doing things differently,  and the mark of a modern man is/was to distance himself from that kind of madness and keep an open mind.
    But then, are there really no rights and wrongs, and is it necessary to interchange “I do not judge” with nonchalance and shirking of responsibilities? I doubt disinterest and taking the easy way out is what the great saints meant to propagate when they said "judge not, and you will not be judged." 
I say this because I see people doing that every day, in big and small measures.

The friend will not be asked to cut back or get help for his borderline drinking problem because hey, who are we to judge? Plus, calling people out on these things can brand you “uncool”. The husband will not tell the wife that she should stop dealing in inanities or be better behaved in public because well, it’s her life. (Also, which husband can dare  tell a wife that she is terribly ill mannered?) The employee will not tell the colleague that when he keeps playing Pacman on his computer during work hours it is not only distracting, but also detrimental to his career, because hey, it’s his life. Who are we to judge?

 But here’s my question, if you are a responsible, thinking human being who cares (or claims to) for that friend, colleague or wife, why is it a problem for you to call them out when they are wrong?

    Now of course you'll have comebacks to the tune of who am I to decide right or wrong, but then I already said, this is on the premise that the call is not based on “casual weighing of evidence and testing of premises.” That’s the thing with the universe, you see. There are some things that never change and cannot be. Being unnecessarily loud and ill mannered = people don’t really like you,  no matter how much they pretend to, is one such rule.

    Also, there is a vague chance that if you do hear me out, you may be ready to give this a thought and we may be able to agree or disagree like adults.

    Take that man in the soap for example. He was married and claimed to be in love with his wife. Then he fathered a child with another woman who did not know he was married already.
I do not have a problem with the fact that he slept with one woman while he was married to another so much as I have with the fact that the woman and the wife were both not made aware of each other's existence. Would it  be so bad if I said the man is spineless and has done a wrong thing and there are no excuses?
 There, I judged. And do you really think there is any valid argument that can make any reasonably well-balanced person say or see otherwise? 
    I see people lying through their noses every other day and then I see people validating those lies or shrugging off the responsibility of calling those out because they "don't judge." Little do we realize that that attitude also says that we do not have any opinion on things or that we are choosing not to think. Which can't be a good thing if we claim to have fully functional brains.
     Now, if to opinionate is equal to immediately branding a person a philanderer or a liar or in some way unfit to live in civil society just because his or her style is not yours, or s/he is challenging age old norms, of course I do not side with that.
    But in what I see around me, people are largely hiding behind the open minded democratic banner of "I do not judge" simply to shrug off responsibilities and validate their wrongs. 
    "I had my reasons. He had his reasons." Sure they did, but whoever said that makes it OK? Not to mention my nagging doubt that what people think of as "reasoning" is most often than not a fear of missing out and following the herd.
    Anyway, giving reasoning a chance, I'd still say this in various forms might as well be used to validate anything ranging from Hitler murdering thousands of people to crazed men shooting openly in schools to parents dressing up toddlers like grown women in dresses that draw attention to their non-existent cleavages. It's quite gross, really. Only, no one seems to mind.  Here, I see nothing wrong with those who say that is not their style, for how many of the above can you really justify ?
    If it is not OK, then you are agreeing that it is a wrong thing to do, which means somebody or some people are responsible for perpetrating that wrong. Would you seek to justify Hitler by way of any "he had his reasons?
    Most of us, educated that we are, try to establish how modern and broad minded we are every chance we get.
    And so, even though a small voice inside the head keeps telling us it cannot be a good thing that a classmate is drinking too much, we try to act "cool" with it.
    So it goes with going to the temple, reading vernacular literature, objecting to that extra skimpy dress.  The pressure to be "cool" overrides sensibility and in such a manner that not only are we unable to talk sense into others, we ourselves give in too.
I’ve gotten my fair share of “but this is what everyone does” in my life, so I know.

    This is our way of telling the world that though I come from a family where parents are likely to get a heart attack if they knew their teenage daughter is sexually active, I'll still never warn the girl I call my "friend" against unprotected or callous sex because hey, you know what? I do not judge, I'm cool like that.

    No, seriously. I once asked some men friends if they would take any woman who spent most of her energy trying to draw people's attention to her pout and low neck line seriously. This, as you know, can be done in many ways, right from how you dress to how you talk. Come on, I’m not really thinking Mamta Kulkarni.
    None of those men said "yes". One said if that's what she did actively and knowingly, she was not asking to be taken seriously, so why should he care? Not that that justifies sleaze or rape, don't get me wrong, but if such a girl then cries about how people are always taking her for a bimbo, I find it difficult to sympathize for her, and I also find it difficult not to judge her for what she is doing to herself.
    Ditto for men by the way, only that pouts and low neck lines are more common in women.
And then the other excuse is that people are trying to be politically correct, which often translates into  "I'm too scared to speak my mind or make a decision."
   You know what Dante said? If you've read Inferno (I'm not expecting anyone read and remembers The Divine Comedy), you're familiar with this: "The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
    So, you're not doing any good by not speaking against what you know is wrong. On the contrary, you're even reserving your spot in the darkest place in hell, which I hear is not a place where they care much for political correctness in.
   I recently had a somewhat heated discussion with friends over a situation that involved an extra marital affair. I had no problems with the affair, but I could not bring myself to justify the lying that came with it and I said as much.
    So apparently, I made the terrible mistake of judging and someone at the table tried to tell me this was because I am Indian and that this behaviour would be acceptable in other parts of the world. I asked which part of the world, what religion or what mores justify lying (notice, I am not calling it "cheating"), disrespect and stupidity.
   And it does not always have to be these soap opera type situations. I'm sorry, but if after more than 10 years of formal education all your conversations revolve around boys/girls, cosmos/cars, and partying, I am judging you a little. People who know me know I do my fair share of going out, but that cannot be but more than a small percentage of who I am.  Besides going out,  I also  tried things like reading more (Hosseini’s latest is a must read), returning to formal/professional dancing and rekindling my wobbly chess-playing skills over the week (Baba taught me how to "castle" when I was still writing with pencils but then I somehow just stopped playing. I'm hoping Apple's magic apps can undo some damage ). 
Anyway,  you may not have any interest in these things, but you get the point? 
    And if you decide it is OK to shoot at and kill your girlfriend on Valentine's Day I will judge you, no matter how fast a runner you are. If you decide if is OK that your 10 year old son is calling his teacher "sexy" and you decide to laugh along instead of correcting him, is it because you have your reasons to do so?
    And please, don't tell me people are different. They are, which is why some tenets of right and wrong are important. And that’s how there are good people and bad people.
  Of course you have your reasons for what you do. What matters is whether they are the right ones or wrong ones.

Monday, June 10, 2013


They say your family has a huge hand in shaping you into who are, because even when you’re an infant, you unconsciously imbibe their tastes, mannerisms and choices. I've always thought it is really difficult to bury that root altogether (for those who try, for any reason) and most people, when they do, become strange cross breeds that fit neither here nor there.
So, I was shaped by my parents too, but then I was shaped some more. This post is about how, and more importantly, by whom.
There’s a reason they ask young headstrong teens to “listen to your parents,” (though you could beat me to death and I won’t agree to that when I’m arguing with my mom). For when I was about 17, the mother semi-forced me into Suvro Sir’s English coaching classes. And that, I still think, was the single most important thing that has happened to me while I was growing up.
A lot of you who read my blogs and think they make some kind of sense have asked me, “who is  Sir?”  When you've known a person for as long as I've known him and as closely, answering that question gets more difficult that one would expect.
You know how you sometimes meet a person and know; somewhere deep down, that this is someone you always want around you? That is one of the most important things I've learnt in life and this is largely a story of how.
Like in any small but reasonably prosperous small town in India, tuition classes are a rage where I grew up. It does not matter if you really need extra help. It does not matter if the teacher is actually able to help. There is some underlying belief that you need to attend coaching classes.
 I had let my parents know that if I don’t like the teacher they found, I’ll bail. Baba agreed while Ma said something to the tune of Baba always letting me get away with these things. But because I really did not need help scoring marks in English, I won that argument. So I went, because a) I’d rather spend time reading Dickens than doing Maths, b) someone had told me it is “really difficult” to get into Sir’s class, c) that Sir is a really grumpy person, and d) that Sir did not like to teach students from my school. Now b, c and d – none of that was true, of course, but which 17 year old worth her salt does not like a challenge?
So, I went expecting an angry and condescending man. For everybody and their uncles knew Sir is extremely learned and has many feathers in his cap, so the ‘angry and condescending’ bit fit into the image. Yet, I met a polite and reasonably friendly man, despite my producing a very crumpled mark-sheet quite unfit for submission anywhere. But I had run out of fresh photocopies and was already building up a quasi-revolution against the supposedly stuck-up English tutor who did not like students from my school, so I deliberately did not make any effort.
There was an amused "this is the copy you have?" to which I think I must have mumbled an incoherent "yes", as far as I remember.
Then, I attended his classes.  I did not bail.
And my world changed.
I don’t much like clich├ęs either, but they exist for a reason. When the world changes, you say it changes.
 We've remained friends ever since. Yeah, that happened. Somehow, the most learned and wise man I've ever met or know of became friends with me and let me hang around for more than a decade. Still counting.
And I’m very serious when I say he’s really the most learned man I've known in my life.  You can talk to Sir about any subject under the sun and be sure you’ll actually learn. Last time I was fretting, he helped me learn about turbofan engines. Don’t ask.
But turbofan engines and English scores are not the reason why I say what I say. Engine technologies change (though I bet he'll keep up somehow) and marks stop being important after a point in time. What he really teaches to those who care to listen (and it takes intelligence to listen to him), is the infinitely more important lesson of how to be a good, thinking person. Tall order, indeed.
So I learn from him (OK, let's go with "try to learn"). Next time you’re impressed with some great philosophy I come up with, don’t be surprised by my conviction. Chances are it is borrowed and then modified, but tried and tested. I made Sir my mentor and he let me, look upon him as a father, fight with him (not proud of it, but then I’m working on it), ranted and vented and then found peace.

Peace, yes. That’s what I said.

Happens when you know you have someone wise and sensible to listen to you patiently and respond with care, no matter how silly your “problem” is and no matter how much you’re responsible for getting yourself in the mess.
Have you ever met a person who makes you feel so comfortable that something inside you tells you that it is OK to open up to this person and s/he’ll listen?
That kind of peace.
It was in Sir's classes that I saw an adult tell a bunch of teenagers, without any hemming and hawing, that respect and love are a function of action and not of age. As I learnt from him how to do that, I took that to my friends as well and what a difference that has made!
So, teacher-friend-father-mentor-confidant all rolled into one. That's who Sir is to me. Only, it took me about a decade to realize that. Anyway, better late than never, no?
Plus, that taught me how to decide who is important in my life. Very crucial. Which is why, I keep insisting, if  you've found who is important keep him/them, even if it means you have to forget about your stupid false ego (you know, “I love him/her and I’m happier when we’re together, but s/he did this and I can’t be the one to make truce.”  OK, don't. But is that helping you?  So?)

 Because, I've known through trial that if you let someone who makes you feel that way go, you’re the one losing out. Which, apart from being a very bad feeling, is also pointless. You only have one life, no?
Now, most people in this world do not have Sir’s infinite patience nor capacity for caring  so I told myself it is necessary that I follow through every “you’re important” with suitable action. Try it, often results in friendships that last a lifetime. Also, because there are idiots out there who will take you for a ride if they can, also evaluate other people by their actions. Not entirely fool-proof, but comes close and can save you a lot of unnecessary trouble.
Like you, I've seen teachers and I've seen schools and I've seen coaching classes. But I've barely seen another teacher or even heard of one who would, as a rule, goes beyond the mere curriculum set by university boards and actually teach. He even gave us a quiz on General Knowledge once (English tutor, let me remind you), through which I realized more than half of my classmates, at age 16-17, did not know how to spell "Raisina" Hill. Or that a "disc" was really a "discotheque".

This, while also doing the infinitely more important work of teaching us life lessons that can be used well after the immediate need to score good marks is over. As you grow older and older and report cards become distant memories, you realize how important this kind of teaching is.
For people used to equating "coaching classes" with "take down notes", this must be a really difficult and new concept.
My parents told me that it is important to be a good human being. It is from Sir, I learnt (yeah, fine. “trying to learn”) how to actually do that. No, really, he can actually tell you how to do that, I don't mean it in way of some vague rhetoric.
And he can show you too, for he’s a living example in himself. Which makes it very difficult to brush it all aside saying “but that’s all mere ideology” and can be very inconvenient at times, but then who said being a good person is easy?

Little things that can not only help you but also help in evaluating those around you: be honest, especially with people whom you love and who love you, no matter how inconvenient it could be for yourself. Don’t ever, ever, use other people to further your own immediate, petty gains or interests. Communicate well. People react to your actions, not only to what you think or claim to feel. OK, I can some close friends laughing as I say that but come on, I look around me and see such strange cases I think I make the cut. Teach yourself some discipline but don’t become an automaton.  Learn to love.

And then the most important, learn what “love” really means and also how to show people you love that you do so.I’m not talking about just the boyfriend or the husband or the pretty girl you want to ask out but don’t dare to. If you've read on till here I'm hoping you know as much. Oh, and start with having the strength to acknowledge to the world that you do. Believe me, it gets easier once you do it.

And yes, that last one's one of those used, borrowed, tried and tested philosophies, so don't bet against it. You'll lose and I'll make you do my dishes for the next six months.

In case you’re wondering if I've over sold my tutor, here, go try his blog. You’ll see why I'm writing this post now, but more importantly, why I keep saying I’m extremely grateful to whichever gods up there decide on these things that I know him. And to fate that he chose to be an English tutor and not one for Physics or Maths. That just might have made it a different story, and my loss. 

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..