Occupy Your True Self - Reclaiming Our Humanness

The movement against the inequities of the socio-political and economic systems that we have created over the last several decades is growing steadily. Whether it be the protests against the G-20 summits in London and in Toronto, the uprisings across the Middle East regimes, the anti-corruption movement in India, or the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States, these protests are grassroot movements that express popular anger and disagreement with the way our human values have been hijacked by corporates, governments, and trend mongerers with their hearts in their wallets. This is our moment to help each other actualize our true potential as human beings instead of pulling each other down like crabs in a bucket.

From the perspective of the mystic simultaneity of cause and effect, it is easy to see what is happening. The movement is mystically empowered by its very powerlessness over the might of governance and corporate greed. As the desire of the wealthy to become wealthier tramples over the welfare of the masses, it also sets them up to face the wrath of the universe. The recession of 2008 was obviously not a loud enough wake up call for the wealthy. The incredible bailouts were seen by governments and financial institutions as nothing more than an escape route to indulge in greater misuse of public trust (and money). At the same time, the insecurity of those years drove the middle classes to pursue financial security with a renewed desperation.

From another point of view, the promotion, growth and endorsement of capitalism, consumerism and competitiveness as values to aspire for have resulted in humanity outsourcing everything but the pursuit of material wealth. Both the rising cost of living and the scarcity of opportunities to meet that cost are bogeymen of our own creation. And who have we outsourced our thinking to? To corporate marketeers, to advertisers, and to social media spin doctors who have started deciding flavors of the month on our behalf in almost every area of our lives. Even spiritual values needs a marketing angle in this world that we have helped create! What is the solution to this apparent deadlock?

Diwali, Halloween, and All Souls' Day

My year begins on All Souls Day. It always has, but this year, there is a greater meaning to this day. Halloween is what sets this season into motion, followed by trick or treating Hallow mass and then All Souls Day. 2012 is truly going to be the end of the world as I knew it, and I am excitedly looking forward to it. It is exciting because it is a new beginning, a beginning of a world that I have longed to belong to. 
The most spectacular fireworks this Diwali were the digital Ra One Bombs. Halloween is upon us and it is time for frugal Halloween costumes, and recipes to help dispose the pumpkin flesh.  As we travel from the pumpkin patch to earthquake-ing Turkey towards Christmas and New Year, I revisit the resolutions that I made at the start of the year, and start working on new ones for the coming year.

Movie Review: Shah Rukh Khan's Ra.One - Quite a Bomb, Really

I like Shah Rukh Khan. He is a nice guy who knows how to use words like dichotomous. I like a few of his movies too. I look forward to his films, and even after reading reviews, I do go and watch them. There was Bazigar, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Oh Darling, Yeh Hai India, and DDLJ from his years as a star. There was Devdas, Veer-Zara and Swades from his years as a superstar. And then there was Paheli, Om Shanti Om, and My Name is Khan from his middle age years. Some other films that I enjoyed have been Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani, Hey Ram, and Kal Ho Na Ho. I guess that entitles him to have his share of bad hair days. And he sure knows how to claim his entitlements. There are a good number of Shah Rukh Khan films that I wish I had not had to see. Ra.One just got added to that list.

All of the last several weeks, Shah Rukh has invaded all breathing spaces of the nation, through television, newspapers, radio, malls and multiplexes, and the internet, pushing his diwali offering of Ra.One. Positioned as a high tech, sci fi, good versus evil, comicbook superhero movie, Ra.One is the ultimate mish-mash of all the formulas that have worked for Shah Rukh over the decades. There is bad stereotype comedy, a non resident Indian family, a fantasy action hero, a fantasy action villain, an item number where you are not sure who or what the item is, pathetic regional language puns, a host of special appearances, along with a dash of romance and some glycerin tears. With a budget of over 100 crores (which can mean anything between 150 and 200 crores including the marketing and promotion budget, but why split hairs over a hundred crores here and there), and tech effects that are truly cutting edge, this film is one that people have been looking forward to very eagerly. You know what is coming next.

The good bits first.

The sound design by Oscar winner Resul Pookutty is impressive as is the Dolby 7.1 effects. Like most Hindi films with impressive sound engineering, Ra.One takes it for granted that you are hearing impaired, and manages to soak the otherwise attractive soundscape with uncalled for decibels.

The special effects and the computer graphics are on par with the best seen in recent times but appear disjointed, as if patched on to the movie as an afterthought. Arjun Random Access Rampal “did good.” He looks convincingly good and evil, even though you can hardly understand what he says. Maybe that is how his lines were written.

There are only 10 kinds of people in the world, those who speak binary and those who don’t.

The film also does an Om Shanti Om (I guess it is that, and not just blatant copying, since even Shah Rukh has some self respect after all) by creating moments that take you back to a host of classic superhero movies - Matrix, Spiderman, Terminator, Batman and Ironman.

End of good bits.

The film fraternity and the ancillary industries are all abuzz about what a wonderful film it is, and how it portrays Indian values packaged in International high tech. I am not sure about this at all. Shah Rukh plays a south Indian techie who is a Berkeley graduate living and working in London for a gaming company. The brightest moment of the film is a Hindi version of a song that has “and possibly bend you over, look back and watch me, smack that, all on the floor, smack that, give me some more, smack that till you get sore,” as its refrain. The game handle that Shah Rukh’s son uses is Lucifer. The tech references and subtexts do bring a smile to your lips, but not unless you are very familiar with role playing games, robotics, and of course, the usual gaming and computer generated imagery worlds. For the rest of us, we have to make do with risque regional language puns and cultural stereotyping. Not at all sure which Indian values the cultural ambassadors of bollywood are referring to in their tweets and blogs.

The Rajnikant cameo will go down as a Indian cinema moment only for the star values involved, but there is nothing more to it. One fails to understand the logic or purpose of the special appearances, that is presuming that there is one. The film starts with a fantasy tone, letting you know that this is a comicbook superhero kind of a film, and that you should probably suspend your disbelief is order to appreciate it. Best of luck is all I can say to viewers who fall for that. The entire first half is devoted to creating the setting for the showdown between the dark.one and the good.one, while the second half is drowned in special effects, both visual and audio. The Indian tradition of sci fi films is maintained with no plausible explanation for the things that happen as the plot unravels, leaving trails that start out of the blue and take you nowhere. There was a certain freshness about Mr. India that is obviously difficult to recreate in today’s day and age, but Ra.One is definitely more bearable than Krish, Koi Mil Gaya, and Dashavatar. I am aware that that by itself doesn’t really amount to anything, but then, neither does Ra.One.

Writing for a Broad Readership

This blog, contrary to all “good advice,” continues to remain dedicated to old fashioned values of living life fully, deliberately and usefully, to creating value and encouraging people to think about the principles on which we base our actions, and to making positive changes to the world inside and outside us. However, that does not mean that this blog is indifferent to the way the blogosphere works, the niceties, protocols and the competitiveness of the world of bloggers, blogs and their readers. A poor workman is he who does not respect and understand his tools. Studies reveal that one out of every five visitors will not continue to read the next paragraph. Let me tell you why.

There are two broad blogging theories to explain why YOU are still reading this. The first reason is that you are a writer or a blogger and are trying to improve on your skills and understand how to blog. The second is that you do not fit the profile of the average blog reader who cannot comprehend complex writing and has to be fed sentences that are less than 100 characters long including spaces. The third possible reason is that you are enjoying what you are reading, and will likely feel better about life after you are done. Congratulations, whatever your reason is.

In this post, I will share a few things that I have learned (I am a real slow learner, and it takes me even longer to share that learning) about how to blog about stuff that you don’t mind writing while making sure it is what people want to read. This post will largely not be of interest to those who are not actively involved with blogs or blogging.

A Winter of Global Discontent

The year 2011 has seen uprisings like the Arab Spring across the countries in the Middle East, the Civil Society movement against corruption in India, and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the United States and elsewhere. These movements have captured public imagination to a point where the authorities have had to climb down, whether it be from power or from highhanded indifference. All of these movements have been grass root movements with participation by the common people. In most cases, the new media, the internet with its digital social media and news television, have been successful in getting the masses to share information and organize themselves.

Question. What is it that has shaken people out of their stupor and out into the streets to protest against the three most powerful institutions - governance (state), financial institutions (banking) and law enforcement (defence)? What is motivating people to take on forces for whom it has become normal to crush dissidence at its first appearance? During the Anna Hazare movement, several thousands of common people across the nation from all walks of life showed up and stood up to be counted in spite of the risk of police action. The people that I know who were part of this movement are people who would normally avoid any kind of confrontation at any other time. Why did they decide to invest their time, risk their welfare and take to the streets?

Small Steps to a Greener Planet

Green initiatives and environmental protection are phrases that we typically link with governmental programs, developmental policies and huge renewable energy projects. With a growing realization that the ecological crisis that we have been hearing about is no longer decades but just years into the future, it is time each one of us pitch in to do what we can to ensure that we have a future at all.

Have you wondered how you, as an individual, can make a difference to the future of the planet? There are things that you can make part of your life to contribute to a greener and cooler planet. If each of us try and make these three changes to our lifestyles, we would have made a significant impact on the future of the environment.

Three Tips for Successful Blogging

Many of you who have been visiting this blog for a long time may have noticed some changes. The ads have been cleaned out and the few that are there have been pushed to the bottom. There is a "search this blog" widget to help find things. The "personal rant" posts have reduced. "How to" posts have increased. There are fewer links in the body of the posts, et cetera. Some of you may have noticed that everything I am doing on this blog (or on other blogs) is no longer being promoted as aggressively any more in other social media.

What you will not have noticed is the rather amazing growth in traffic over the last several months. And this has happened without a significant change to the new visitor versus returning visitor ratio. I am not a big fan of stats and ranking, but they do decide how others view your writing. How others view your blog determines the rate at which readership grows on the internet.

All of these have been the result of trying to apply the little that I am learning as I study the art, science and the technology of writing for readers on the web. If you are a blogger, or are thinking about blogging seriously, you may want to improve your understanding of how the whole writing for the internet thing works.  Here are three important lessons in blogging that are timeless. They apply as much to a newbie blogger as they do to the master. This was a guest post I wrote for the Daily Blog Tips website, one of the places where I learn a lot about blogging.

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10 Ways to Remain Creative

I am proud to belong to the old school. I am glad that I am a slow learner. I live my life deliberately, and love it. I re-visit the magic of firsts over and over again, every time if possible. The first time that another blog published a guest post by me. The first time I unboxed an Apple device. The first time I heard Gershwin.

All these magical moments fade away as the experiences become commonplace, and we lose the ability to be surprised. Once you cross large enough numbers, joy and surprise is often replaced by smugness. I have seen that happen with my writing, with my music, and with my blog stats!  
One of the secrets of creative living is the ability to stay connected to that sense of wonder, that feeling of awe, that childlike a-ha moment. For creative artists, like writers or painters, it is not uncommon to experience times when that energy seems to disappear. Here are some simple ways to get those creative juices flowing again.

Muammar Gaddafi Dies in Attack

Muammar Gaddafi led the military coup against the then King of Libya - King Idris - in 1969, and the Kingdom of Libya became the Libyan Arab Republic. Born in 1942, the charismatic and whimsical leader, did manage to bring some improvement in the lives of the Libyan people but most his work was overshadowed by the ills his regime inflicted on the masses. On October 20, 2011, the NTC spokesperson announced that Muammar Gaddafi was killed in an attack.  

Muammar Gaddafi was a man driven by his view of himself as someone who would unify and lead all the Islamic nations of Africa. He adopted terror as his chosen path to realizing that vision. Libya was soon acknowledged as a nation that harbored and nurtured global terrorism. In 1986, the United States went ahead and bombed Tripoli and Benghazi. However, that did not end Gaddafi’s open endorsement of the Palestinian-Syrian terror axis. However, in 40 years of single-minded self aggrandizement, the people of the country were not on his agenda.

Shah Rukh Khan's Hangout on Google Plus

Woke up this morning to double sided full page ads about Shah Rukh Khan taking Google's pretty impressive multi-user video chat client Hangout for a spin. Nowhere in the ad does it mention that only up to 10 people can be on a Hangout video chat at any given time. Much later in the day, Shah Rukh's Google Plus page updates that they are trying to find a way to stick a live feed of the chat on his Google Plus page, and that it looks like he will be able to "hang out" only with some. The last few days have been very trying as SRK is everywhere you turn, promoting his new movie.

For those of you who may have been wondering what happened to the nifty feed that Google introduced with Google Plus called Sparks, - well, it has been taken off the sidebar menu and only shows up when you do a search using the search box on top of Google Plus. The search results are sorted by tabs into Everything, People, Google Plus Posts, and Sparks. Go figure.

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

This is just a link to a post by a friend. That post is just a video of a song that my friend likes. Some things are just some things. 

Some things in life cannot be expressed in words. Extreme experiences of love, joy, gratitude, grief are not describable. Some experiences and feelings are private. While you do your best to keep them locked away, they claw their way back into the forefront of your consciousness. Some battles are best shared. This post is to honor the contribution of a fellow traveler in more senses than one. Please click here to visit his blog to see a video of a Phil Collins song that my friend Gokul has shared for his estranged children.

Wynton Marsalis & Eric Clapton Play the Blues

When I started finding official clips of Wynton Marsalis and Eric Clapton playing together in rehearsal for a show in April 2011, I was quite naturally excited, and hoped that this would get recorded and released. Marsalis had earlier guested on Eric Clapton’s 2010 album called Clapton. 

The album was released on September 13, 2011, and it took me till now to get my hands on it. Here is a first listen review (well, first, second, third, fourth, etc., listen) over at my music blog.

How to Tweak your LinkedIn Profile for Better Results

This one is in honour of the 22% of my readership that comes from the 120-million strong LinkedIn professional network.  It is also for all those who visit this blog from elsewhere and would like to know how they can use their LinkedIn profile to their advantage. If you are a professional, there are simple ways in which you can use a LinkedIn profile to create greater visibility for yourself, drive more traffic to your site, get more business for your company, and open up greater opportunities for yourself.

I have had a profile out on LinkedIn for a very long time, and I never really knew what I had it out there for. I worked a regular day job at a company that I hoped to retire with, and I was not interested in business networking. Yet, whenever I received an invite from colleagues, classmates and friends, I added them, and slowly built up a reasonable network. I truly did not realize the value of my LinkedIn network till recently, when I had to turn to it to build a new career up. In the process of leveraging my presence on LinkedIn, I learned a few effective ways to increase and improve my visibility and have more people visit this blog, among a host of other benefits. Some of these lessons have been learned from my own mistakes, some from exploring the large feature set that LinkedIn offers, and some from the experiences of others. Here are seven ways to leverage your LinkedIn presence.

Breaking Out of a Writer's Block

I have never had a problem with not being able to write; it is with writing for a broad readership that I have a problem. In the blogger’s world, one has to be able to write for a wide cross section of readers, and to be able to do this without compromising on your style, your message and your values is sometimes very, very difficult. My mentor always reminds me that my chosen place of work is a place for forging my character and growing as a human being. By extension, therefore, it is a place for my spiritual practice, a place for practicing and deepening my faith. When I view things from this angle, all my complaints disappear. No one is more pathetic than someone who is constantly complaining. My chosen place of work is at my writing desk, and this morning, all I have been doing is complaining.

This morning has been all about the writer’s block, where nothing I write seems to read properly, leave alone read well. Of course, this is not a new thing for me, since the most common responses I get to my writing is. “what were you trying to say?” After two failed attempts at writing about something that has been on my mind for a while, the role of education in creating a value based society, I gave up and headed over to my favorite scratching post when stuck for inspiration, the Daily Blog Tips site. I ran a search for writers block and found a host of really good articles. I realized that I was not alone, and that this was something I was perhaps best qualified at this point in time to write about. 

Here are my top tips to get yourself out of a writers block. Try them out and let me know how they worked for you in the comments thread.

Prashant Bhushan Attacked for his views on Kashmir plebiscite

In another startling revelation of how frayed our social fabric has become, attackers entered Prashant Bhushan’s chamber in the Supreme Court and physically assaulted him for his views on the Kashmir situation. Prashant Bhushan is a leading member of the civil society movement against corruption as well as a petitioner in the 2G scam case. 

Click here for the latest news stories about this shocking development.

Janis - Just Another Word

"Onstage, I make love to 25,000 people - then I go home alone." - Janis Joplin

Somewhere in the dust raised by the launch of the iPhone 4S and the death of Steve Jobs, the death anniversary of Janis Joplin (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) snuck up and crept past quietly. Janis died of a heroin overdose 41 years back and hopefully went on to find what she sought but never found in her lifetime.

My first exposure to the music of Janis was as a kid at Trincas in Kolkata on nights they’d allow kids in, while Pam Crain sang Move Over and Summertime, and then as a teenager listening to Anjum Katyal at Calcuta School of Music with Nondon Bagchi and friends singing Cry, Cry Baby. I was curious to hear what these gut wrenching renditions sounded like in the original. Woodstock on a Sunday morning at Metro was the first time I saw and heard her. It was part of a much more overwhelming experience but it remained etched in my mind, and my friends and I set out looking for the music of Janis Joplin.

How To Cope With People And Change

Things don’t change; people do. Dreams and visions change. They sometimes grow and evolve, and sometimes decay, self destruct or just sit around and stagnate. Organizations and communities are made up of people. People change. Sometimes, they just get up and walk out, and never come back. At other times, they say hi to you on the steps every morning, but they are no longer who they used to be. Coping with life is difficult enough when things are fine, but becomes near impossible when you don't know if people around you can be trusted. One of the most difficult lessons in life is being able to accept that people, dreams, and visions change.Perhaps the most useful skill one can acquire is the ability to cope with people and change.

The reason this grief is so difficult to cope with is because it involves a loss of trust and dependability. When someone changes from someone you knew into someone you have never known, much of your belief in the goodness of the world can come crashing down. I know how it feels, since I have been witness to such changes in and around me, and I have bruised myself over and over again. Here are some ways I have learned to grieve and get over the one thing that is inevitable - change.

Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011)

I woke up this morning to find this statement from Apple doing the rounds. "We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today. Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve. His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts."

For me, Steve Jobs not only revolutionized the way we listen to music, interface with computer, buy software and products, and think about animation, but set standards for the rest of the world to follow in all that he did. 

Steve Jobs will always be remembered for the consumer revolution he led at Apple, creating new markets, new marketplaces, and new objects to market. He will be remembered for making Apple one of the most profitable enterprises ever. What he probably will not be remembered for is the frugality he practiced at a personal level, not in terms of his cost of living or allowances he drew at Apple, but in terms of his business concepts and design principle. While his 1$ paycheck will be taken by many as a pointer toward frugality, no one is going to miss the several hundred thousand that has been spent annually as his personal expenses. However, there is frugal madness in his method that we can adopt in our personal lives, something that is easy to miss in the glitter of the iThing story.

When I list, which side do I favor?

I was designing a fresh menu for my tea shop. I needed a breakthrough creative idea. I toyed with listing the price on the left and the type of tea on the right. It didn't look right, so I left it as it was. My to-do lists are all left justified. When things need to go off the list, I check-mark it on the right. On the whole, when I list, I let my heart decide which way to list.

I also respond poorly to the typical Indian career politician. I am not talking about the ones in jail, but of those not in jail as yet. Most people take politicians very seriously. As a result, I am often in a very sticky situation with my views on politics. Part of that has to do with the fact that I have not met a lot of people actively involved in politics who come across as genuinely interested in public welfare. That, of course, can be coincidental. The fact that this is an almost universal sentiment, too, is coincidental. Nothing like statistics.

The recent spate of Indian public servants (most ministers and other high ranking government officials forget that that is the technical term for elected representatives) being implicated in corruption and money making scams has been terribly embarrassing. Come on, is it fair to pull the rug from under these guys' feet just because you have not been in power for the last few years or have been thrown out of the party? And all these decades, all six of them, we as a nation had been able to keep it under wraps with everybody certain that nobody except them knew about it. But now, with the media and Julian Assange clicking the wrong links, by mistake, I am told, everybody knows that everybody knows!!

Discover Your True Self

I tried a lot to come up with a less corny title for this post. Then I read a blogging tip that said corny came second only to outrageous as far as post titles were concerned. That made me feel much better. The problem lies with the fact that I, like many of others, live my life based on what others think. I would have lived it based on what I think, but I don’t think too often, and I don’t know for sure what to think either. I am happier running after material possessions, fretting about how I look, having the body shape others want me to have, and working insane hours in order to buy the cars, perfumes, clothes and accessories that advertising tells me I must have so that others don’t think I am not man enough.

There is a great deal of cool comfort in living life as others want you to. As long as others think I am man enough or anything enough, I don’t have to take the trouble of thinking about anything. The mad pursuit of a life of appearances saves me the trouble of having to reflect on troublesome stuff like poverty, environmental degradation, corruption in public life, social issues and of course, my values. Thanks to technology, I can get away with that without appearing ignorant. As long as I have the latest smartphone in my pocket, I can’t be termed stupid, can I? So what if the phone is called Bling? 

If you are plagued by your conscience, read on, because, in spite of all my selfishness, I have chosen to share my secret tips to guilt-free and pointless living on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti out of my fondness for all that he stood for.
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