Genders and Languages

Standard

I’ve noticed an increasing number of people declaring their preffered pronouns on their social media bios like “he/him” and “she/her“. This is aimed at making the society more sensitive to people who do not identify with the conventional gender identities. So some people prefer to be referred to as they/them rather than the conventional he/him or she/her. It has even been endorsed by most dictionaries that they/them can be used to refer to a singular person.

While the pronouns in English language are not gender neutral, the verb forms are. As an example, the different forms of the verb ‘go’ remain the same regardless of the gender identity of the subject in “he is going“, “she is going” and “they are going“; or “he went“, “she went” and “they went“.

As a contrast, the pronouns in the Hindi language are gender neutral; well almost. But the verb forms are not, well almost! So the verb forms can be either masculine or feminine, but there is no verb form for people with non-binary identities. Translating the sentences from the previous example – “वह/वो जा रहा है“, “वह/वो जा रही है” and “वे/वो जा रहे हैं“; or “वह/वो जाता है“, “वह/वो जाता है” and “वे/वो जाते हैं“.

As an exception though, the conventional plural verb form becomes gender neutral when referring to someone older or when referring to someone to whom respect is to be accorded. So, the conventional plural verb forms can be used for non-binary subjects.

As is evident, for a Hindi speaker, specifying the pronoun on their profiles would not make any sense; it would be “वह/वो” for everyone. It would be more useful to specify the preferred verb form as “करेगा“, “करेगी” or “करेंगे“.

But the most interesting fact though, is that one of the most ancient languages of the world – Sanskrit – which predates both Hindi and English by several thousand years, completely embraces the third gender.

Sanskrit is more similar to English, than Hindi though. The verb forms are common for all genders, but the pronouns are not. “स:“, “सा” and “तत्” are the pronouns for masculine, feminine and neutral genders.

As is evident, Sanskrit requires no adjustments as the third gender is intrinsically incorporated in the language. The oldest language ironically happens to be the most progressive.

Of Dreams and Firewood

Standard

“When do you stop?”, my colleague Rajeev thought out loud suddenly. “What?”, I enquired, not immediately getting what he meant to say. “How do you decide how much is enough for you? When do you stop going after materialistic things and start doing what you really enjoy doing?”

“What do you mean by materialistic things?”, I asked him. He explained – “Take for instance this job. It’s not that I don’t like it, but there are things that I will never be able to do till I am working here. I want to someday own a farmhouse where I can have dogs and cats and other pets”; and then he joked – “and chickens and lambs as well because we’d need food!” 😀

I think there can never be a correct answer for this. It is always subjective. For most people, their passion – that one thing they can sacrifice everything else for – is not something that can get them their daily dal-roti. But with thousands of years of evolution of the human brain, it is almost impossible for us to be satisfied by dal-roti everyday for our entire lives. You need to find your own perfect balance.

Coming back to Rajeev’s question, all I could manage was an analogy. “Your dreams and passions are like the fire that keeps you warm and cozy in the cold. But to keep it burning, you need to step out into the cold to get wood. Your current job is the part where you get the wood.”

Here’s a beautiful song written by Prasoon Joshi from the movie ‘London Dreams’. Do give it a listen.

Jo Tujhe Jagaaye
Neendein Teri Udaaye
Khawab Hai Sachcha Wahi
Neendon Mein Jo Aaye
Jise Tu Bhool Jaye
Khawab Woh Sacha Nahi
Angraron Ko Jagaye
Koyalon Sa Jo Gaaye
Khawab Hai Sacha Wahi
Lehareein Jo Uthaye
Paaniyon Ko Hilaaye
Khawab Hai Sachha Wahi
Khawab Ko Raag De
Neend Ko Aag De….

Odd Odd-Even

Standard

The Delhi government implemented the odd-even traffic rationing scheme from 1st January 2016. My car is odd numbered so I had to rely on taxis on even dates. It is a good initiative by the government; at least it’s a start for bringing down pollution levels.

But did it really bring the pollution levels down? I am not too sure about that. Pollution is affected not just by the number of vehicles on the road. The weather has a huge role to play. Wind speed, humidity and temperature – all affect the pollution levels. Amusingly, contradictory reports appeared in different newspapers about the new scheme’s effect on pollution levels.

Hindustan Times: Delhi’s air quality worsens 50% a week into odd-even rationing
Times of India: Odd-even scheme: Peak pollution levels at ‘lowest’, says Supreme Court appointed panel

I have been following the scheme diligently myself. But there are some genuine concerns. The public transport is not quite up to the mark for people to switch from personal vehicles. For instance, I need to change buses twice to reach my college that’s a measly 8 km away. Instead, I just drive. It takes me one-third the time. If there was a better alternative in public transport, I would have been happy to switch.

Thousands of people entering Delhi on Monday, 1st January were challaned near the border. They were possibly the ones who were out for the weekend on New Year’s. What happens if you drive out of the city on one day, but have to return the next day? Do you wait for 12 hours at the border to avoid the challan? These are only some of the concerns.

The odd-even scheme is a novel experiment and it would be interesting to see the results. But it can’t be the permanent solution to the problem.

Rest In Peace?

Standard

The cricketing world was left in shock upon hearing the news of Phil Hughes’ death after being hit by a bouncer. Social media was filled with RIP messages. I’ve always wondered what ‘Rest In Peace’ is supposed to mean.

Indian philosophy is about motion and change. It is not about permanence. Even death is not permanent because it is believed that there is life after death. One might disregard this as a myth, but I believe it is not incorrect. When an organism dies, it is fed on by bacteria and microbes that decompose the body and return the elements to nature. These are then absorbed by other organisms. So there is movement even in death. This is what it means when they say that the body might die but the soul is immortal; it only changes bodies. Death is not permanent; it is the beginning of new life. The ancient Egyptians recognised this too. Precious stones, jewellery and other goods were kept inside the tombs of rulers to aid in the ‘journey’ after death.

If death is indeed not about rest but about moving on, then why do we say ‘Rest In Peace’?

Delusional Realities

Standard

All of us are good people; at least according to our own opinions. We think we are the true personifications of ‘good’ in the world and our understanding of ‘good’ is the ‘real’ good that this world needs. We all take steps to spread our version of good and yet much bad happens. Doesn’t that signify something?

Two separate yet subtly similar incidents led to this post.

Some NGOs either independently or in partnership with the government; Samaritan as they are; felt they should help the street dogs by getting them jackets to keep them warm in the cold. So one fine day I go out and see that the street dogs are the most stylish of all living beings in the colony, clad in colourful checked jackets. So far, so ‘good’. But recently, it rained in the city. I heard a neighbour saying that they must have shivered through the night as their jackets must have become wet. The Samaritans also didn’t consider that the dogs would start to itch and get irritated when they wear the same jackets for many days. They thought they were doing a noble deed.

And the news that shocked the world yesterday, terrorists opening fire in a school in Peshawar and killing 132 innocent children and 9 teachers; all in the name of religion, or rather what they thought their religion says.

We live in a world of delusions created by our own minds; a delusional reality where our motive is the ultimate motive, our version of good is the ultimate good. It is time to pop the bubble.

Women > Men?

Standard

Some time back, a friend spoke about a strange situation she sometimes gets into because she earns more than her husband. I’ve heard various views on this matter before, mostly while the elders of the family were looking for grooms for my cousins. I believe that most women would say that both sexes are equal and if a woman can be fine earning less than her spouse then why not men. We had a lengthy conversation on this topic and I told my friend that I did not believe that both sexes were equal and it is okay for a man to feel inadequate if he earns less than his wife. This last line would probably get me killed, but I’ll try to explain my stance through this post.

In the prehistoric times when humans started living in groups they followed a civil code (I do not claim I have unquestionable knowledge on this topic. I’ll talk about the general sense I got through various documentaries and articles). Men were the bread winners; or the meat winners since they went out for hunting and not for baking; and women would stay in the wild abodes and take care of the young ones. The human body and brain have evolved differently over thousands of years for men and women to aid in their respective functions in the human society.

Since the males went out for hunting their bodies developed more muscular mass. They needed more coordination. They needed to remember routes to places where they could find more prey, and back to their caves in case they faced danger. It was also important for men to obey orders of the leader of the hunting pack because if they did not, they could jeopardise the lives of the entire group. Hence, modern human males are better at remembering routes to places. They have a stronger logical side of the brain. It is easier to train men to obey orders without questioning. The level of attention evolution has paid to detail is quite surprising. For example, men’s eyes are more recessed into their sockets than those of women. This is to protect them from attack by predators.

Women stayed back in the caves taking care of young ones. Women formed the essential fabric of human society. They probably spent most of their time talking and socializing. That’s how languages developed. That is also why women are invariably better at learning new languages. And that is also why a modern woman speaks 5000 words in a day while a man limits himself to 3000. Learning languages enhances your memory capacity, and women have a better memory as compared to men.

A male in general is much more expendable than a female. This is because men have a very limited role in the society. From a daughter/sister to a mother and eventually a grandmother, a woman’s role keeps changing with time but her importance in the society never diminishes. A man on the other hand is practically of no use after he passes his young years. It should thus be of no surprise that evolution has granted a much longer average lifespan to women.

The situation is quite different nowadays, but the basics are pretty much the same. Women have taken up the role of bread winners and no one needs to prove that they are as good as men, if not better. But there is one issue. Can men take up the role of a home maker? I say no. I think men lack the strength to make sacrifices that women do as mothers. Men are more self-centred. With time it has become essential for both the husband and wife to earn and women have adapted to the dual responsibility with amazing dexterity. I don’t need to look too far for an example, I have my mom who’s a working woman. On the other hand, men have mostly stayed where they have always been. It is probably the patriarchal nature of the society that gives them the luxury of not doing much and still getting away with it.

All this should probably explain why I think it is okay for a man to feel inadequate if he earns less than his wife. Earning money is the only thing he is probably capable of, and it probably hurts his ego a lot that his wife can outclass him in everything, even in the role that was traditionally made for men. It should be pretty clear why I said that women can never be EQUAL to men, because they are far superior, much more important.

I did a quick survey among my friends and found that almost all agreed to the fact that it was to their mothers they spoke to regularly over the phone and at length, whereas it was limited to the pleasantries and ‘take-cares’ with fathers. The saying ‘behind every successful man there is a woman’ is incomplete. Because I think behind every successful person; man or woman; there is invariably a woman – the mother. She’s the one who makes the most sacrifices for us. A successful person might deserve all the accolades, but I believe it is time we start celebrating and acknowledging the women in our lives for all that they do for us. A woman can replace a man almost everywhere, but a man can never replace a woman at what she does best – being human.

Women are far superior than men, and always have been

Why We Do Not Need ‘Development’

Standard

Satya-Nadella

The latest international news on the block that made us Indians’ chests swell up with pride was Satya Nadella – an Indian – becoming the CEO of Microsoft. There were accolades and the media, especially the Hindi news channels ran 2 hour bulletins with cheesy taglines like “Bharat ka jaaya, duniya pe chhaya” in big bold letters. The English media was a bit snooty as usual. I wish Arnab Goswami had organised a debate on the topic where Congress and BJP representatives could each have claimed the constructive role their respective governments played in his formative years that took him this far. It would have been entertaining.

There was a counterview as well. I saw an article doing the rounds on Facebook – “Nadella as Microsoft CEO: A slap in the face for Indian system” by R Jagannathan. The author points out various flaws in the system that prevent entrepreneurs and big conglomerates like Google and Microsoft to flourish. He goes on to say that every India-origin person to win a Nobel after independence in the sciences is not a resident Indian. And all of them flowered only because they left India, and not because they were Indians per se.

So should we bow our heads in shame every time an Indian makes it big outside because we are not ‘developed’ enough for people to realise their dreams? Before we do that, we should ask ourselves some other questions.

Why is our idea of development defined by what the West thinks of it? Is building conglomerates and enterprises the only way to development? I don’t think so.

India has traditionally been an agrarian economy. That is to say that more people depend on agriculture for their livelihood than on any other trade. What we need to ask ourselves is whether building a more conducive environment for businesses to thrive is going to help our ailing agriculture in any way. Ambanis and Tatas can offer employment to lakhs of individuals, but they can’t feed a billion plus mouths. Our leaders talk about building more and more cities, yet none of them talk about making villages self-dependant. Our development has been largely skewed and building more cities is going to skew it even further and widen the per capita income gap between the lowest and highest strata.

I believe that India’s true potential lies in ‘jugaad’. ‘Jugaad’ leads to innovation. We don’t have millions of dollars for a Mars mission so we make one in ₹450 crores. India has many times more engineers and MBAs than jobs it can possibly ever create. At this point we need thinkers and true leaders more than engineers. We need people who can look beyond the skyscraper model of development and look at building more huts for the common man. That would be true development in the Indian context.

We are doing very well other than the self-bashing we constantly engage ourselves in. We should celebrate the spirit of the village woman who despite all social stigmas manages to set up a co-operative bank for rural women more than Satya Nadella’s elevation to the post of CEO. I feel we just need to set our priorities right. Why can’t we focus on our handicrafts and small-scale industries and leave the building of multi billion dollar enterprises to the goras? I don’t see how this should even hurt our ego. It is because we are trying to ape the development model of the West, that we are still a ‘developing’ country. I believe that if we can change our development model we can very well become ‘developed’ with whatever means we have.

We are trying to run too fast on an empty stomach. Probably we just need to stop and think: Why are we even running?

Of course, this is my personal view. Comments invited.

Art of Losing

Standard

Truth is hard to digest, I had heard. But there’s quite a sizeable difference between hearing and coming across this reality; just like there’s a difference in sympathising with someone in pain and actually feeling the pain.

There are times when you start believing that a particular thing belongs to you. But the sad reality is that certain things in the world are just not meant for you, and you have to accept this fact sooner or later.

I knew it isn’t easy, but actually experiencing it was a completely different ballgame. It’s just so difficult to let go off something you’ve treasured for too long. It feels like you’re losing a part of you, and this feeling of loss seems to tear you apart.

I figured there are two ways of dealing with this. You could either not be attached to anything, so you do away with the feeling of belonging. If you don’t possess something, you can’t lose it. But, by doing so you risk making your life a dull, colourless and tasteless journey through time. It’s the sense of belonging that adds flavour to life.

The other way is to learn to let go. This is the difficult part. But things don’t quite come so easy in life, do they?

Confusion hi confusion hai!!

Standard

There are certain phases in life when your mind seems to be utterly confused about pretty much everything. That’s exactly the state of my mind presently. I feel as if a big tornado is whirling inside!

There are so many things that my mind keeps reminding me to cogitate on. It’s playing the irritating assistant these days who keeps troubling his boss for every little thing. The only difference in my case is that the things that it irritates me with aren’t really ‘small’! There are decisions, very important ones, that my heart and brain have yet to reach a consensus about. I feel I am two different people within the same skin; two people who seldom agree with each other.

It’s not that I am trying to run away from making choices. It’s just that I’ve thought so much, and so many times about them and reached no conclusion that it seems worthless cogitating repeatedly when my thoughts invariably veer in the same direction each time. It’s like driving along the same road again and again and yet expecting to reach a different destination each time!

Sometimes I decide to think about something, and while I am doing so, several other issues come to mind simultaneously thus perplexing me in a very strange way. You’d empathize with me if you’ve had the experience of several restive mosquitoes buzzing in your ear at the same time while you tried to sleep!

I know all this sounds crazy, but that’s what it really is! Life IS crazy!