Delete Facebook For The Right Reasons

#DeleteFacebook is trending, and I will not miss this one for anything. Brian Acton who got part of the $16 million that Facebook paid to acquire his baby, WhatsApp, joined the movement with his own time to #DeleteFacebook tweet. Kind of ironic, and a post on WhatsApp is a real possibility, but let me share my understanding of Facebook. Those who know me (in all worlds, the real, the virtual and the other) will agree that my views are jaundiced and rabid. I like my yellow foam. 

I stepped out of Facebook nearly two years ago. Before that, I had spent six years as a social marketing consultant, advising clients on how best to build strategies that would get their message across to social media users who were most likely to respond to those messages with an expression of interest, if not a transaction itself. In the process, I gained a fair amount of insight into what Facebook does and how it does it. Given the nature of today's world, a free market, and no holds barred marketing environment, I cannot find fault with the way it works. Users give the permission to host their personal interactions on Facebook servers, and anonymized manipulation of those interactions, or data derived from those interactions is used to build a price model for advertisers. Of course, when that anonymity is violated, there is a problem. Similarly, content that is intended to extract user information needs to be regulated much more stringently. All of this is for Mr. Zuckerberg, the guy who boasted of 4000 Harvard names, emails and photos that he could get you, to figure out. The guy whose 2018 resolution is to fix Facebook. Yes, the same guy who paid $16 million to anonymously listen in on your conversations with your friends and family.

My reasons for stepping out of Facebook are quite different. I will summarize them briefly, since this is not worth dwelling on more than we have all (one sixth of the world's population is on Facebook) dwelt on already.

1. Facebook robs you of your present. Have you kept track of how much time you spend versus how much time you intended to spend on Facebook? You will be surprised at how violable your own commitment to yourself is. Facebook is designed that way. The dopamine high you get from knowing about your best friend's new dress is rivaled only by the thrill of scrolling on. You spend your time commenting and liking and sharing things that do not in any way add value to your real life. You do it because you feel you are contributing to a conversation. Life is what happens when you are busy scrolling down your newsfeed. This time could have been spent in real conversations with your loved ones, time spent with your parents and kids, time spent in self-care, or time spent learning something new.

The Six Tastes of Life

Ugadi greetings to all who frequent this madhouse. Ugadi greetings to those who have chanced upon it now. Gets me thinking why we attach so much significance to beginnings and ends. Hindu festivals, like all other religious or cultural festivals, usually commemorate the passage of time, the seasons, linking it to mythology, the cycles of life, and the movement of the planets. Ugadi is derived from Yuga (age) and Adi (beginning) and is observed on the first day of the waxing moon fortnight that falls in the month of Chaitra. For Bengalis, Chaitra is the end of the calendar year. For Telugus, it is the beginning of the year. For the missus and me, it is double the celebration.

Over the years, she has learned how to have a happy festive day, and leaves me out of pretty much everything but the partying and the homme a tout faire treatment, more a massaging of  my ego than true need. So there are mango leaves strung up on the doorway, rangolis at the entrance to the home outing the closet artist. The food prep, like the house cleaning, start days ahead and Ugadi day itself is a frenzy, everybody is bathed at unearthly hours (I work the night shift, so that makes it even more unearthly for me), the recently deep cleaned house is deep cleaned again in the span of the morning and the gods are remembered. The village takes over the kitchen, containers running out and ziplocs taking over. Junior and I get to dress up for apparently no reason, and usually with clothes just bought, sometimes with the price tags still on. Once lunch is over, and you get to think you just might be able to catch forty winks, it is time to socialize, I guess since nobody wants to dress down and then up all over again. Some do though, sometimes just to ensure that all the apparel received for the occasion get broken in. 

This Ugadi, however, is more special than others. It marks the end and beginning of a particularly strange period of our lives. Chandrababu Naidu's withdrawal from the NDA will probably go down as the moment that Indian politics changed. Given the crowded and corrupt fundamentals of Indian politics, it is hard to say with any confidence that great tidings await us, but still. It is a declaration of righteous indignation that should send a message to the unprincipled, and encourage those who choose to live by their conscience. At home, we are going to be looking back at this time with the deepest of gratitude and respect for life, and for the people in our lives.

Three Books Outside Begumpet, Hyd

Now that the Oscar fever had subsided, the delirious movie binges are easing out as well. We are done with most, and the rest are in a tomorrow box that never gets opened, one that the missus and I never forget even when we fight about something else altogether. It also provides for a little more time for reading. It is this way for me, and if you are like me, I thought you would benefit from knowing about three books I read recently that really made an impact on me.

It is a fairly wide range of things that I have got to do with my life. I read a little, but I have never done and do not intend to start doing book reccos, and these are definitely not my desert island books, but these three books were breathtakingly fascinating, contributing to my worldview in ways that compel me to share them with you. I am a firm believer in the purposefulness of all that occurs and in the epiphanic nature of each moment. These books brought me what I needed at this point in time, mystically.  I had lived with what can best be called philosophical shame for a good part of my life, embarrassed to share what I believed.

My disagreements with organized mysticism and psychologists have landed me in more trouble than I had bargained for, inside and out. I grew averse to the entire philosophy-psychology-productivity-self help continuum after overdosing on it in the '90s. Similarly, I have been outgrowing my understanding of music and musical expression, straying uncomfortably close to noise, yet enjoying the precariousness of it. Over the last decade or so, I have been actively pursuing a line of thinking that all we know and believe about the science of music, the conventional theory that all students of music are subjected to, is possibly a very limited, censored, "state sponsored" view of things, and that the truth lies in the voices of the voiceless. This conspiracy theory was further strengthened as I watched Junior explore rhythm, melody and language. What was going on there was not what any convention could explain, and this is evident in the development of this faculty in any child, and it doesn't have anything to do with what you learn when studying music or language.

Two of these books are from the pop psychology genre. The third is a book I was advised against by a fellow music lover who had much greater engagement with the theory and history of music than I ever did and whose opinion I revered.  The likelihood of my reading these three books was close to zero. As my best friend always course corrects me, we don't know why anything turns out the way it does. Our intent is never lost on the universe, it is just that needs have to be met first. These books met a need that I was not entirely conscious of, resolving conflicts that I could not acknowledge.   

Three Bluesmen Who Shaped Rock and Rhythm N Blues

This blog has way many more followers that any of my other blogs, perhaps because most of them lie untended. It makes it a good platform to promote posts that would otherwise not get read. 

For those of you who enjoy rock and R&B or just music in any of its myriad forms, and those who do not follow my blog on music, The Operative Note, here is a close look at three blues guitarists who shaped much of modern music - The Unholy Trinity of Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. It is not an introduction to these musicians or their work, but more of a critique of their contribution, both positive and negative, and a questioning of the mysticity of their lives.

I would love to know what you think of it. I know, the pictures have dates.

Salutations to the Sun

My life,
My seasoning, my reason,
My reasoning, my seasons,
My riches, my Eden,
My bearing, my North,
My courage, my learning,
My yen, my diet,
My redeemer, my comfort,
My mystery, my lotus,
My document, my script,
My morning, my noon,
My being, my bravery,
My light, my air,
My sex toy, my sanctum sanctorum,
My spring, my fall,
My melody, my counterpoint,
My hemlock, my truth,
My pulse, my heartbeat,
My onion, my universe,
My raised letter,
My inclination, my Eiger,
My beginning, my end,
My hopium, my aadhar,
And then just numbers, values, dates.
My! My!My! My!

February 14, 2018

Music For Those Who Listen

Most writers write with the purpose of being read. Therefore, nothing such writers write is personal. Pitches to publications, revisions suggested by editors, all of it serves to remove all that is personal to be replaced with market politics or universal marketability. My journey of trying to be a writer, one who considers writing his primary occupation, has thus far indicated otherwise. I am not talking about one trick pony theories that suggest that everyone has a novel in him or a story in him, his own, and after that, zilch. My limited reading of the masters, classic and contemporary, seems to indicate that what one writes about has to be personal to possess enduring value. And I feel that is true of all arts, visual, music or words.

The trouble with the personal lies in the conflicts it triggers in living. I see my life as a classic example, since no one is really qualified to comment on the life of another. If I were to make my innermost thoughts public, it would land me into a fair deal of trouble, with my friends, my neighbors, my insurance, my parents, my siblings, my spouse, and my children. Oh my, my!

Having Dad around hasn't helped much with resolving this dilemma, since he turns into a duck's back whenever I bring up the question of an artist's priorities and commitment to the truth. But this question haunts me more than ever as I grow older, move into newer territories of relationships with self, society and state, new worlds of the mind and the spirit, . I am not Prince Rama, nor was meant to be, but heck, I wouldn't mind putting a few of my conflicts to rest.

Millennial Lessons from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat

How could I not have a Padmaavat post on this blog? Even if it is the 3000-word rant that you have come to expect on this blog, even if it is a commercial Bollywood, pseudo-historical film with its standard share of songs and violence, even it is a subtle nudge towards reigniting the fire that consumed women of honor in the 13th century, a post was in order.

The run up to Padmaavat and the content of the film itself has a lot of lessons for those who are going to run the world the next few decades. This run up did not start a few years back, but can be traced back to the early days of Independence. It is one that validates and justifies intolerance and hatred in the name of identity. It is one that drowns out the equality, of nations, ideologies, classes and gender that should be the beacon of our times. The recent years have only seen a growing acceptance and institutionalization of this rabid movement. Everybody who is anybody now has an identity that needs to be defended. The parallels of the religious and gender levels of this oppression is frightening when not sickening.

This is not a review of the film. With everybody posting reviews, I have little new to add. I believe films, like all art, has the ability to profoundly influence our worldviews and the beliefs based on which we make choices. Very often, especially with popular cinema, this messaging and learning is unconscious.  The unquestioned objectification of women ties in with the gender violence we are seeing today. The nationalist films of the 70s and 80s have shaped our collective understanding of Hindu-Muslim dynamics and the attitude towards a land that was once a part of India, Pakistan. Along with this, there has been the rise of voices that object to art that opines on matters in a way that is not comfortable. Whether it be Hussain with his Hindu deities, Rushdie with his Satanic Verses, or lesser known painter who get their exhibitions vandalized because of nude subjects, freedom of expression is limited to the convenient and the universally acceptable. Step out of line and the baton comes down.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali (the guy who gave us Black) has been in this kind of trouble before, and there has been speculation that the protests might have been engineered to boost publicity for the film. The last time, he offended Ram-worshippers by naming his film Ram-Leela. The workaround seemed just as absurd as the dropping of the letter i in the case of Padmavati. I like his work (not that the guy who gave us Hum Dil De Chuke and Sawariya) and after Ram-Leela and Bajirao-Mastani, I was looking forward to Padmavati. The controversy and the hype took away a lot of the fun of waiting, but there we were on its first weekend, catching a late, late show on a large, large screen, 3D glasses and popcorn in hand.

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