Tuesday, August 15, 2017

15 August 1947 : When a civilisation became a nation

I am born of Sri. and Smt. Jha, both from Bihar.

Both were raised in what I call the ‘Golden India’ - my parents studied in public schools, with the quality of education and integrity of teachers that rivals that of modern Nordic nations. They were trained in handlooms, gardening, science, mysticism, and humanities with equal ease. Moreover, they had kids from all classes and creed share their classroom with a sense of oblivion.

By the time I was ready to go to school, the public schools had started rotting, and my parents got me into convent schools - so that I would learn English, get a stable job, find a wife, raise kids and live normally! If someone would have asked me when I was 10, “Who are you?” - I would have muttered, “Prashant”, “Indian”, “Son of Mr. and Mrs. Jha” or “Boy”. My identity was based on my chosen noun, country, parents or gender.

Now in my mid thirties, at footsteps of mid-age, my identity is smudged!

Am I a resident of this planet, domicile of Delhi, a descendant of Biharies or citizen of India?
Probably all! As I have lived and worked across a dozen countries across Europe, Americas, Orient, Australia and South Asia - the national identity of being Indian is what most of my colleagues identify me with.

Often, it makes me think what is India.
The morning of 71st Independence day of India is probably a great time to meditate on what is India.

To me, India is one of the boldest experiment in the human civilization. Millions of people, with mind-numbing differences, embracing the idea of equality is India. I have traveled to over 100 districts in India (yes, that is off by bucket list) and I have seen more differences than similarities.

I have been intrigued about what do people from Patan and Patna have in common to be identified as Indians. It seems I know now.

Our spirituality - our belief in Good Karma, Cosmic Justice, Tolerance and Openness to Self-doubt, Questioning our beliefs to shape a new one.

Despite different skin tones, diet, deities, we are unified by a common civilization. Not by political parties, leaders, religion, language, wars or common enemies. Yes, they all have played a role in shaping our civilization but none of them have been more profound than our way of thinking and our way of life.

As I meditate more, it appears that 15 August 1947 was a significant day in the history of Mother Earth because one of it's oldest civilisation that embodied a collective way of life of millions of people(and now over a billion) got a new identity - India.

Let us celebrate what is common and enjoy our differences.

Happy Independence Day India!
I am proud to be born in the land of hope, humanism, and spirituality.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Truth, Trust and Technology

We live in a post truth-world where people believe in Facebook and WhatsApp forwards more than their own logic. With the American elections and the Indian public discourse riddled with fake news in last few months, I was wondering if such a thing actually existed. 
My life’s choices expose me to very little un-credible sources of information.
I read news using a set of tools (RSS feeds) that hand picks news for only a specific set of topics that interest me and then creates a custom newspaper for me every morning (and evening, if I wish!). I use Facebook to tell people that I am alive and kicking - not to read opinion shaping news!

But in the course of public interactions some very bizarre things happened over last few weeks:

1. I am a minimalist and hence don’t like owning a car - since I can get a car on demand. Uber and Ola have been my wheels since they arrived. But, increasingly a strange problem has been emerging. Both these providers use google maps as the foundation of their navigation. And if you live in the by lanes of Delhi - and have used Google Maps - you would relate to my problems. Google Maps loves the 100ft + roads. When I ask it to navigate from South Ex 2 to Green Park, it will by default put me on Ring Road!
Hey wait, I know a shortcut, uncontested, uncluttered and that cuts the travel time and distance by half.
But, is my advice of any use to the Uber driver. No! They would retort - Let us use Google Maps, it knows BETTER! A discussion on how google maps consumes our time, battery and data to tell us what to do - only leads to an argument. 
Round I : Trust on Humans loses!

2. I was recently tele-introduced to someone by a family member. 
We were to discuss life, technology, ethics, plans, career, etc. But a spoiler arrived. 
This time it was not a Google Product. It was a software from Scandinavia, known as Truecaller. This is a rather nifty app, useful in my opinion. But most people don’t really seem to understand how it works. When I would call, my name would show up as Apollo Jha! I have neither changed my religion, nor my name. And I haven’t been to moon on a NASA mission, yet! But the confusion this has created is incredible. Am I Apollo, or am I Prashant. Or, Am I someone else ? I looked under the hood of this app and realised that it does a few things without most of the people knowing. It steals all your contacts in the phone book and then uses that crowd-sourced information to alert someone who has the app, but not your name in their contact book.
Funny still, if my friends call me Teddy Bear, and they save my name as Teddy Bear, I will now show up as Teddy Bear calling, when I call a new number. This is ridiculous.
 A better version should be where, Truecaller should seek consent from people if they want to let go of their entire contact book to an unknown server and it should be an opt-in service. If I want my name to be listed in a directory, I should join, if not it is best marked as Spam/Not-spam! Do we really want to know the name of the spammers? I don’t.
This trouble doesn’t seem to have ended. Hours and hours of conversation has lost over a trivial bug. 
Round II: Trust on IT tools trumps.

3. I recently lost a bag at Geneva airport. Last flight in Geneva - and the last train to city was 40 minutes away. As the Q from the luggage belt started to dwindle, I was worried. I was the first one to arrive there. But my bag was not in sight! I waited, and then finally the information board said that the luggage to come next was from a different flight. Disgusted, I headed to the baggage office, to see where my bag was. The executive after a check with my boarding pass told me - your bag has arrived. It is on the belt. I told her my story - I was there since the beginning of time, but to no avail. She said her system says the bag has arrived. She nearly scolded me for being careless as to have missed by bag on the belt and that it would go into quarantine for security reasons. Then she checked if my bag was in quarantine - No, said her system! She looked at my handbag and asked if this was the bag I was looking for? I almost smiled in disgust! What happened to my bag next is immaterial. The trust in a computer screen is more than in a living person - in flesh and blood! 
Round III: Tech trumps over Human Information System.

I usually don’t rumble on my blog, but these three incidents in last few months make me think that if we continue to let search engines or apps shape our beliefs and perception of reality, we would be doing it at the risk of losing who we are - imperfect human beings.

I would rather like to be lost in a city than mechanically commute from point A to B.

While lost, I might discover a Partner, a Saathi, a new Corner or even Myself!