Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Deconstructing heroes

As a naïve schoolboy often doused & immersed in polar concepts like good and evil, black and white, day and night, I was used to viewing things in extremes. It is, of course, an easier way to teach people at the developmental stage, to show every concept or idea in terms of its upper and lower limits. Some would argue that some issues need to be examined at the extremes of their ambits in order to understand their impacts fully.

Once, during a Hindi movie, where the villain happened to be the father of the leading lady (big surprise), I failed to understand why he would care to save his daughter when he was, after all, a villain. My tiny brain thought, "As this man kills without compunction, he is evil and that's that. After all, if he were to care about his daughter's well-being, shouldn't he empathize with the other people whose sons and daughters he indiscriminately harmed?"

People who are determined to like me read that as precocious empathy, while naysayers would chide me for my naiveté. I would agree with both. Mind you, I was six years old then.

As I am older, I often contemplate the role and structure of a true hero. Bill Maher says that heroes distinguish themselves by willfully putting themselves in harm's way. I agree. So what exists in the fabric of a person that confers upon him such ultimate altruism and selfishness?

Panderers would be quick to say that these are the chosen ones and they are really gifted; and we must all emulate them.

When you stop to think about a society filled with heroes, the utopian desire to have a firmament of altruism disappears. When you really think about various motivators which help determine (or even predict) behavior, the one that beats all else is self-preservation and self-interest.

It is probably the lynchpin of the theory of evolution which is all about adaptation to various conditions. It is understandable, therefore, that people around us will act on their self-interest more than anything else.

Let us go back to the fundamental gene or elemental particle that makes a hero a hero.

It would be simplistic, and quite simply demeaning, to characterize such people as self-loathing or self-destructive. There is more to this.

Now, most people are not perennial heroes; there is more likelihood of an ordinary person stepping up and doing something heroic. So, most lives are characterized by long periods of self help and preservation peppered by moments of altruism.

Our eyes now move towards understanding the more elusive 'small heroic moments'. News archives are replete with people trying to describe what went through them during that moment. There is hardly anything going on in the mind as to whether to do that heroic deed or not. That part is so much more instinctive. A person sees a situation, and does what he can to correct it, within reason. A hero almost discards reason to save another life or a cause.

All this rambling is leading nowhere. Perhaps this post serves only the purpose of making people reflect on those moments where they have seen or done something that can be agreed upon as heroic. I do salute heroic deeds, but I also know that while they are few and far between, there is something in the totality of evolution that has a spot for heroism and probably even explains it fully. We need to look hard enough; it is waiting to be found, patiently, like all other explanations.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 08 - Poverty

This is a subject that we all pretend to be very concerned about. Pretend to ourselves that is, I would never accuse my audience of pretending outwards!
The other day I was standing with a lady friend discussing casually various things including the weather and the vagaries of our professors when a clearly destitute person came up to us and asked us whether we could help him out to get a meal: I have spent a year in the USA and should be ideally used to people speaking in English, but even now, a beggar speaking in English is striking and stands out...but I digress.
I pulled out a quarter from my pocket and gave it to him: that was all I was going to spare, besides, this was being given to get rid of him: my mind spun to the same old cliches, he seems able bodied, why can't he work for a living?
Upon some sensitive reflection, I realized just how shallow I was being. True, this person seemed like he could do a hard days work; but do we think it is that easy to get a job in this world? The ubiquity of poverty has numbed us to its effects. If we look at it objectively, the only thing we will see is its horrible spectre. Annie orphan had some choice optimistic things to say about poverty during the great depression in the US, but those comments suit the visage of a twelve year old with very little real world experience. In reality, some cynicism should temper the blank optimism that is being touted as the mantra for success.
Again, discussing poverty does nothing to any of us except maybe guilt us into donating a dollar this week or something, and while that will benefit some poor homeless person, it is not something that will gather force or pass a tipping point in our war over poverty.
Que bono or who benefits is an important question to be addressed when understanding the cause of something. Now, one can debate the reasons for the birth of poverty ad nauseam, and it would not serve any purpose. What we do need to discuss is who benefits from the perpetuation of poverty.
As far as poverty is concerned, there needs to be some more awareness about it.
The idea behind this post is that 15th Oct has been declared Blog Action Day - 08, where all bloggers talk about poverty; in the hope that more than anything else, it would feature in our minds more often. Let's do all we can.

Friday, October 10, 2008


He wiped his brow and frowned. This was going to be a long climb. His muscles had started to ache. This was more due to inaction than actual strain. Working whole days and some nights punching on a keyboard wiped his body by the end of his week. The weekends, when not working, were filled with mental fatigue and angry snappy remarks at good natured advice to slow things down. He looked up and calculated the number of paces he would need to take to reach his destination.

As was the norm whenever he felt any physical stress, he swore to start gymming. He needed to get in shape. He was the fittest of all the software engineers working on his side of the block, but that wasn't really saying much. He was sweating profusely now. There are some climbs that one must undertake alone, he thought. Some battles that need to be fought alone, no matter what. Ever since the breakup, he constantly found himself subjecting his body to all kinds of punishment. He knew it was not his fault, but there was some culpability. He knew she did not love him, but he was still trying to get over her. The pain of loving someone with full confidence at no returns is unbearable and indescribable, and he needed physical, dull pain to counter it.

He was not a person given to suicidal thoughts, and this was no different situation. In fact, despite his situation, he knew he had a certain joi de vivre which prevented him from completely drowning in morose thoughts. His self-imposed tasks simply required more stamina, but his body simply refused almost as though his frequent pants and poohs were his body's way of saying, "Are you kidding me!"

His legs were starting to burn now. Maybe she never loved him; maybe it was all an illusion to her. She probably thought she loved him a lot, but once the initial attraction faded, she simply saw the light. Too bad for him though, he knew where he stood during the whole time: he wanted to make a life with her, a life that would not happen now. Somehow, even though his disappointment was too much, he managed to understand that it was for the best. One can never forget one's first love: that adage would be tested in time. For all he knew, she was having some trouble getting over him too.

He was so naïve, when he actually heard the four ugliest words in the Engligh language, "I wanna break up." He contrasted them with the three ugliest words he had once heard, "I am pregnant." It had turned out to be a false alarm, but his heart had skipped several successive beats. He remembered the stoic expression she had had on her face as she said it; as if probing him to see his most instinctive reaction to the news. In any case, she had gotten her period the next day, and both of them heaved a sigh of relief and doubled their protective measures.

He had to sit down now. This level of exertion was just not correct for a person of his poor fitness. He breathed heavily, with his heart pounding, and just collapsed on the ground. He swore, the next time the power went out, he would wait for it to return, instead of foolishly attempting to climb up to the 23rd floor.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Of Pale kristols, and wright stuff

William Kristol has written an Op-Ed in the gray lady, which has, at best, betrayed his conservative dogma, and at worst, brought the newspaper of record to disrepute. Based on a telephonic interview of Sarah Palin, this piece, penned with an adulation quite resembling feverish worship, goes on to cover various softball questions lobbed sweetly at her by this articulate, posturing, conservative fundamentalist. Remember this is the man who said that the US entry into Iraq would not result in a sectarian scuffle. He is clearly not given to rational analysis of every word or thought coming across his way.

This column reminded me of Sarah Palin's tv interview conducted by Sean Hannity (cruelly but accurately termed as an infomercial by's John Amato). Hannity, though seems like a redneck who would put party before principles. Somehow, Kristol seems like the intelligent but misled person from whom you would not expect such pandering cynicism. I would argue that Hannity knows not any better, but I would find it hard to believe that Kristol is a stupid person. He is a true cynic, for he knows that Sarah Palin is a joke, but still supports her.

Her response to every question is to launch into a jingoistic tirade devoid of substance or rational argument but well garnished with words like maverick, Washington-outsider, country first etc. She is saying things that are so removed from the truth that one might as well believe that the earth is flat if one believes her. She refuses to believe in evolution, is a clear Jesus-freak, believes abortion is a sin even in cases of rape and incest, believes in abstinence education but has an unwed teenage daughter. (By the way, how come there are no criminal charges of statutory rape leveled against Levi Johnson, the boy who knocked up the underaged, but over-fertile Bristol Palin?

I feel sorry for her son Track, who is in Iraq. While anyone who goes to fight for his country no matter what the mission is deserves praise, this boy has the added microscope following his moves. While she claimed to have studied for the debate, her son said that he was praying for her success. The smart Republicans who are cynically supporting her must have said the Bible to themselves twenty times over praying that she remembers the talking points (which she sort of did) and she learn to pronounce nuclear (that did not work as we were treated to the more folksy nukular along with a lot of winking and references to hockey-moms and Joe-sixpacks.)

At the head of the debate, she said that her answers may not have anything to do with the questions. She was right. When I was going through school, we always had mediocre professors who were very nice to the mediocre students, but preferred to crush precocious minds. The US electorate is similar. Instead of shelving its ego, and voting for the best person possible for the job, they will tend to vote for the person who seems the most like themselves, for this country is filled with the Lotto crazies who believe not only that can they win a small fortune in an instant, they even believe that they deserve it. Hence the desire to vote for the common-seeming person, which betrays their narcissism.

I will never understand why Obama attends Reverend Wright's church; that man seems to have some serious issues, and Obama had to publicly denounce him in the primaries to even have a chance. In this country, you have to have faith to run for elections. The people attach a moral compass to a person who goes to a room with other people on Sundays, and pledges his undying loyalty and inferiority to a fairy tale told to him when his mind was young and defenseless. Palin however, need not attack him on that. Forget that Obama's health care plan covers most people, forget that he plans to cut taxes for 95% of the middle class and the underprivileged, forget that he actually has a plan for bringing US troops safely home, forget that he has the wisdom to surround himself with economic experts to pull the country and in a way, the world out of this crisis, forget all that…what everyone is focusing on is that Obama is an educated elitist who seems like a smart snob and McCain is a maverick because he says so.

The world leading country is slowly being filled with a bunch of hayseeds, incapable of critical thinking, and swallowing as gospel what anyone tells them, just like the owners of the country wanted it. (Refer George Carlin)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Strange happiness

I had written this some time seemed nice then...let's see how it plays out now.

I don't know what has come over me
A strange ephemeral happiness
A feeling of satiation, coupled with
Some anxiety

It shows me more of who I am
Shows me more of who I'm not
Makes me realize my predilections
On this path of self-discovery

Shaken I feel with some turmoil
Upset I am at something in the air
Yet there is a peace I cannot describe
The joy and pain in this diatribe
Is palpable as you can see

It is truly me, as me as I can be
For as long as I live I will not forget
Nor will I wish we never met