Sunday, July 17, 2011

Article in Brink about The Museum of Broken Hearts!

I just discovered 'Brink', UC Berkeley's magazine today.

There is an interesting article featured in the magazine about the museum of broken hearts in Zagreb, Croatia.

I liked the author's views on experiencing love and heartbreak rather than numbing it with medical painkillers. Like Jim Carrey's character in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind', we try to hold on to our loved one's memories desperately. Sometimes, time and new experiences, fresh new faces in our lives help to see things from a different perspective and the pining gives way to a more detached memory of the beloved. There may be some extreme cases when the hole in one's heart does not get filled completely.

However, trying to circumvent life by medical means is missing out on the chance to experience life firsthand and grow as a person. Someone once asked me,"How do you know it is love?". I do not know the precise answer but I do have a strong feeling that true love elevates you spiritually. It forces you to look within yourself, sometimes getting you closer to God or the unknown forces in the universe. It makes you take a good hard look at yourself and find ways to improve yourself and move on even after the relationship is over. Some people take up learning a new language or career advancement, some people become more empathetic and a sounding board for people in similar situations. True love does change you forever.
It can happen before marriage, outside of marriage and any other socially sanctioned setting but it does exist.

It is important not to let the experience embitter you like some people who become cynical about love itself and start bashing men, women and all relationships in general.

I agree with the author's take on getting over heartbreak. There are people who have killed themselves over a broken heart like Devdas and, maybe, for certain extreme cases of suicidal depression, some medical help may be the need of the hour. However, for the rest of us, a good dose of philosophy, spirituality and just plain living and appreciating the small things in everyday ordinary life can get us by.

When you are sad, remembering that life is precious forces you to look at things that you previously took for granted like the love of your family and friends, the beauty of sunshine or blooming flowers, etc.

Life experiences such as love and heartbreak also cause one to question previously held beliefs and open your eyes to a new reality and the vast possibility that Truth has many facets and we as humble human beings may get to see just a few in one lifetime.

I do believe that feeling true love is a gift, even if the other person is not present in your life anymore. We are all together in spirit, as one of my favorite self-help gurus, Steve Pavlina, would say. The hardest part to get over is the regrets that one could have done more to save the relationship. Here, too, spiritual practices such as yoga can help forgive oneself. I found this great yoga article about self compassion.

I hope we as a species do not run away from our unique experiences and become a medicated, dull society with no ups or downs in our minds, just a steady chugging along. Life would truly be robbed of its meaning and potential to think outside our narrow socially conditioned boxes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mumbai terror attacks - an introspection

On July 13, 2011, terrorists hit Mumbai yet again.

As a former Mumbaikar, I, too, am tired of hearing about Mumbai's resilience. For me, it's yet another depressing episode, mixed with worry for my family and friends and relief that they are safe and wondering if I have to someday face what loved ones of those killed are going through now. I can only pray for those affected. Then there is the guilt that I am far away from India and unable to do anything much except write about it, discuss and argue and think about what I can possibly contribute to make the state of affairs better.

There are other related posts written by famous bloggers such as GreatBong.

Yes, we should have had more surveillance cameras installed. Yes, we should have done more in terms of intelligence gathering. The public should put more pressure on our politicians to actually start doing something and demand more accountability. However, it also gets to me when people start drawing comparisons with the United States.
The United States has immigrants from all over the world but generally, the ones who chose to emigrate do so to make a better life for themselves and their families. While the U.S. has historically had issues with race, it has not faced even 10% of India's problems regarding religion. Even today, the U.S. is a largely Christian Protestant and Jewish country (even the atheists and agnostics have been raised in a Judeo-Christian ethos).
There is one more important factor: there is little or negligible home grown terrorism as yet.
America's war on terror has predominantly been waged on foreign shores.

India, on the other hand, is still a developing nation with a historical record of religious strife such as riots between people of various faiths - Hindu, Muslim, Sikh to name the most common, a bloody partition in 1947 whose scars haunt us till date, Islamic extremism and separatism in Kashmir aided and abetted by Pakistan and tons of other issues. Even in the distant past before the British took over, India has been victim to Islamic persecution under Aurangzeb and the loot of our temples such as the glorious and wealthy Somnath temple by Mohammed of Ghazni. (Note: This does not negate any acts of persecution by ancient Hindu kings but some such as the above mentioned cases more recent and had a huge impact on our civilization because of their extent).

On the non-religious side, there is mayhem to be battled from Naxalites, criminals, political goons and massive corruption.

While we all hurl abuses at the incompetence of our politicians and the police and intelligence forces, at our secularists and extremists of all hues, the larger issue still remains untouched. Just what exactly are we doing about preventing terrorism and crime in general? No, intelligence gathering is only one facet of the exercise.

Do we spend enough and wisely enough on guarding ourselves to even 50% of the extent to which the United States does? Of course, all the money in our coffers may not see the light of day going instead to our corrupt leaders' vaults but that's another issue.

More than America, countries such as India and the United Kingdom need to approach the issue from different angles. In the recent blasts in Mumbai, the Indian Mujahideen is one of the suspects. Apart from the risk of homegrown terror, India still faces a potent threat from organizations that originated beyond its borders and then infiltrated India. In the past, Islamic terrorist outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba have been found guilty of involvement in various incidents. Added to that, even if 1% of our misguided youth actually decide to put their violent ideas of religious domination above respect for human life and love of country, we have a huge problem.

We are a nation of a billion-plus people, overcrowded cities with overflowing trains and buses and thoroughfares and the risk that some crude bomb in some crevice or corner will go undetected is very high.

The war on terror is not merely a war of missiles and bombs. It is primarily a war of ideas.
While many terrorist acts are linked to specific ethnic conflicts, when they are powered by a religious ideology, they become monsters that are a danger to human life beyond their region.
How can India combat these forces at a grassroots level? I don't know the answers but we have to nip them in the bud.

Many of society's problems today are not adequately approached from the prevention perspective. Whether is is battling crime or human trafficking or terrorism or even cancer, prevention does not receive as much attention as war or cure. Prevention does not sound cool.

For one, India needs strong law enforcement with greater involvement from the citizens, demanding accountability. There should be more personnel and technology dedicated to anti-terrorism.

On another note, when I read this piece of news, I was shocked. Is public taxpayer money being used to provide special security to Bollywood stars and builders? True, they may be getting threats from the underworld but isn't every citizen at risk from terrorist acts? In fact, the average citizen who commutes by train or bus is probably at greater risk than a film star who has his/her own car and mostly takes a flight for out-of-town shoots. The state should treat all citizens as equal under the law regardless of their status in society. Is a doctor's life less important than Amitabh Bachchan's or Shah Rukh Khan's? High security is provided to the topmost people in public office such the President, Prime Minister and Chief Ministers and extended to a few others who hold high positions in government. In India, however, we have a skewed logic where public money is expended on unnecessary things but not essentials such as better equipment and training for our police forces.
Movie stars can afford to pay for their own security.

As a nation, we need to sit up and do something about our burning issues, not just rant and rail against the system, then go back to our world and throw up our hands in despair.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Count your compliments

When we have those bad hair days and other awful-appearance days and those times when we feel we are over the hill or too old, it would serve us some good to remember the compliments people sent our way in the past.
Sometimes, I am having a really hectic day at work and a casual chat with a coworker reveals a nugget, "You are so beautiful!" or "You have lovely hair!". (And there are the stares from the handsome coworker, too:)).

It does prove that life is full of pleasant surprises which means that there are still more secret admirers in the woodwork waiting to be revealed :).

I would probably not want the ability to read people's minds. It is sometimes better to assume that people secretly admire you rather than know that they hate you or hold contempt for you.

I am going to keep a note in my diary about all the compliments I have received over the years and have made my day. I also give compliments back to people when I sincerely mean it. People deserve to be told that they are considered beautiful, smart or kind or talented. Pass the love and smiles on!

Monogamy, marriage, family and everything in between

I was reading Mark Oppenheimer's column in the New York Times today which also covers Dan Savage's views and all the comments accompanying it.

I do agree with the overall premise of the article - that absolute monogamy should not be the only standard imposed on all people. Everyone may want different things at different points in their lives but this has to be negotiated with their partner. I liked the overall emphasis on honesty and trust in relationships rather than a universal set of restrictions. After all, marriage as an institution is older than any religion.

What I disagree about is that couples should agree on relationships outside marriage just to keep their union intact for the sake of the children. In an ideal situation, where both partners are happy with each other and are perfectly monogamous, there is no question of really sacrificing that much for the sake of the children. However, if one partner wants out of the marriage due to any reasons and is forced to stay because of the kids, what kind of message does society send out about the institution itself? This is supposedly a win situation for the kids and a lose situation for either or both parents.
Is a perpetually unhappy family member an asset or liability to the family unit?
An institution that is supposed to nurture and protect suddenly becomes a sort of prison for one of the parties. How many people would feel enthusiastic about getting hitched? No wonder there are 'commitmentphobes'.
This is also a patently unfair situation condemning one or two people to many unhappy years. There are studies that even report that couples who worked on their marriage reportedly felt happier 5 years later. However, working it out has different connotations for different people. For example, would you continue to sleep with someone you don't really feel like or are not in love with anymore? Would you constantly battle against the urge to walk out for the prescribed greater good of your family? A lot of relationship advice columns and religious folks would say that this is the responsible thing to do and that to shirk it makes you a very selfish person and that this is the reason for the current breakdown of society.

Disclaimer: I have no experience dealing with such a situation and coming from a country where divorce was and still remains a taboo, I do not have much anecdotal evidence or statistics to support or refute any related arguments. These are, therefore, only my thoughts and the questions that pop up in my head when I read about such topics.

At the heart of this debate is the assumption that divorce means only instability, hostility and the constant absence of one parent from the child's life. What about those responsible parents who handle the divorce with as little hoopla as possible and make an effort to spend as much time with their kids as possible, even together at times? Except in cases of abuse, a divorce is almost always less desirable than parents staying together. However, it does not also have to be the miserable hole that it is sometimes made out to be.

In a society where divorce is the exception, children would probably get affected more as their family is perceived as not normal. However, in societies where divorce is more commonplace and even handled gracefully, it may have a lesser impact.
When it comes to statistics, one has to remember that certain issues such as happiness are not easily quantifiable.

The article also raised more questions about the role of religion in defining relationships and family. I wonder about tribal societies where women actually could have multiple partners and they could have raised their children without the biological father living with the family at all times. By creating laws that are in line with the Judeo-Christian, Anglo-Saxon way of thinking, some social conventions that could have actually been beneficial in many cases, have disappeared.
In ancient societies, fathers often went off to war and were absent or killed, leaving mothers and the entire extended family to raise the children. The nuclear family with just the husband, wife and children was not the universal norm and is still not in several countries.

I do not know about the difference between children raised by separated but otherwise loving and supportive parents and the children raised by parents living together but I do believe that children need love and nurturing to flourish no matter what their living arrangements are.