Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tests and Results

The initial mould:
Our education system plays a very important role in how we perceive the world (and what it does to us). Unfortunately, at a very early stage, we are introduced to the concept of 'test'. This notoriously has two out comes - 'pass' and 'fail'. We are told a 'pass' result makes our teachers, parents and other relatives very happy. While a 'fail' result will bring humiliation, taunts. As a side effect, along with a 'fail' result we learn to lie to avoid social ill effects of being identified with the 'fail' result. This learning to lie is the first step towards systematic erosion of values. But that's another discussion.

As we grow, more differentiation was made in the the 'pass' result to bring about - third, second, first and distinction classes. Agreed - that the system is intended to identify (and there by train differently) the bright students. But the society continues to use this to judge the person in fields other than education too.

Real Life Tests:
After being through all these, we get into this world with the same notion of 'tests' and their 'results'. Real world tests do not have an objective result. They are merely subjective statements of behavior. I will give you an example (risking trivializing the concept): When we touch acidic solution with litmus paper, it turns red. We should not classify the result as 'pass' or 'fail'. The 'pass' or 'fail' depends on what you were looking for. Further, if the result was contrary to our liking, then who failed? Is it the acidic solution or us? That solution, no matter how many times, under how many different conditions we try, will still turn the litmus paper red. It is we who will finally change our 'expected behavior'.

Chemistry lab gives a very new way of looking at the tests. We subject a salt into so many tests. At each stage, we get closer and closer to the truth - knowing the salt better and better. We do not discard the salt itself at any stage. At the end of the whole exercise, we would have known the truth and hence we declare 'us' as pass - not the salt (even though it was the salt that went through the tests).

Life is an endless series of tests?
Contrary to popular belief, the real world is not full of tests. It is wrong to see it that way. Its another mistake to expect a pass/fail kind of result in every imaginary test. That only makes it harder when every moment of life is spent in preparation for the next test or brooding over the result of the previous one. I have known people who take every day commute as a test - happy when they reach office in 30 minutes, sad when it takes 40 minutes. There are others who necessarily believe that year-end appraisal is a true picture of one's performance. The rating (and the subsequent pay revision) gives them a sense of 'pass' or 'fail'. Most of us feel job interviews (both interviewers and interviewees) definitely have a 'pass' or a 'fail' result. An objective look at both cases makes the matter more clear. 1. One's commute time is 90% dependent on other people in traffic and only 10% on his own aggressiveness (not even skill). 2. Rating (and subsequent pay revision) only depends on how hard it is for the firm to live without you. Ask any HR (when they are drunk) and you will know. Either way there is little relation between one's ability and the perceived result. 3. Job interviews is just a compatibility test - open position challenges v/s your strengths, company culture v/s your nature, company vision v/s your ambition and lastly money. None of these have a pass or fail... then why attribute its success or failure to yourself?

If imagining yourself to be in endless series of tests was one end of the spectrum there are other kinds of people as well. At some stage, man's ego will grow to such heights that he starts pushing those around him into useless mind games and keeps score. I will let you imagine the repercussions of such acts.

Bottom Line:
Real life tests are very subjective. They do not have results. They are only meant to lead you closer to truth. Avoid labeling subjects of tests as 'fail' when the truth is inconvenient or as 'pass' if it matches your preconceived expectations. I feel incomplete if I do not quote from the second chapter of the Bhagavadgeeta - "Karmanye vadhiraste..."

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Mohandas Gandhi [1869 - eternity]

Any thing that is absolute and complete, never loses its relevance. Gandhi, in reality did not tell anything new. He only reiterated what was proposed by all proponents of absolute peace - Buddha, Yesu. Yes, I do not hesitate a minute to take Gandhi's name in the same breath as the other two. Every once in a while in history, there comes across a person who shows that 'means' are as much important the 'end'. Gandhi was one such person. Every year, around this time I come across people who criticize Gandhi for playing into the hands of the British, of delaying Indian Independence, of begging for Independence rather than snatching it from British, of causing the partition of the country and so on.

Here is how I see the issue. As a person trying to be as Gandhian as possible, I will not force you to accept it. You should reach your own conclusions.

+/ We always compare Gandhi's way of getting independence to something hypothetical. The revolutionary way of Bhagat Singh, Azad, Netaji et al, is equally commendable on the motive front. However, we have not seen any of them reach their conclusion. We can only extrapolate. India was split into pieces of princely states. Each one of them wanted the other to suffer rather than progress for his own state. In this situation, the common man had no way to source a successful revolution. The rich and powerful were never supported any sort of struggle (revolutionary or Gandhian) any way. They were happy maintaining status-quo (Rich grow richer, poor remain poor). That is partly responsible for the failure of Netaji (in spite of he making a deal with Japan and (regrettably) the fascist Germany) and other revolutionaries. In such an environment, 'morality' was the only wealth we had. And Non-Violence is the only way we could preserve it.

+/ A bloody revolution or total Ahimsa: They are 2 different ways of thinking... While the revolutionary way was tried before in other countries and in other times - the non-violent way was being used for the first time in modern history. Neither one of them helped the other. We should not pit one against the other. But if you have to, I can cite examples when revolutionaries played spoil sport - No-cooperation movement would not have to be with drawn if not for Chauri Chaura. Bhagat's case was not compromised by Gandhi. It was compromised by a so called 'revolutionary' - Jai Gopal who squealed after being tortured (?).

+/ Bhagat Singh's execution could not have been stopped by Gandhi. The Gandhi-Irwin pact achieved what it was intended to. Release all political prisoners, no tax on salt and other such immediate issues effecting entire India. It resulted in the release of thousands of political prisoners. The term 'political prisoner's was unequivocally uncompromisingly defined in international treaties. More over, Bhagat (and others) was incriminated for Saunder's murder. If it were only bombing the parliament, then they could have been included as 'political prisoner's. Moreover, knowing the nature of Bhagat, I doubt he would have liked if Gandhi (or anybody else) made a deal with the British for his life. That would greatly compromise Gandhi's high moral ground and also Bhagat's position as the torch bearer of revolutionary arrogance (in a good way). It is a 'what if' scenario in which people do not think the repercussions of 'what if not'.

+/ The Partition stigma: There are two kinds of attacks done often done on Gandhi:
1. Why partition? First of all, the effectiveness of hypothetical dream of undivided India is yet to be proven. The erstwhile USSR and other eastern European (erstwhile) countries show us that it is not a good idea for people with vastly different ideologies to live as one nation. Chechnya, Serbia, the LTTE in Srilanka, East Timor - all have taught us that once the seed of separatism is sown, its not easy to contain the daemon. Have you even considered what if the idea did backfire? A civil war is not what a newly born country with limited resources can afford. Don't believe me, ask any body in Afghanistan or Iraq. The other alternative to partition would have been the use of force - which would go against all that we stood for over a century. Partition unfortunately seemed to be THE only viable solution.

Side note:
At the same time, separatism is not an answer to all problems and partition is not the solution in every case. In today's context, the north-eastern part of our country is brewing with separatist movements. The reason this time is not religion. Its purely development. It is not the Central Government to blame. There have been 16 parliaments since independence and that region has had fair representation. They have to accept part of the blame for consistently sending corrupt representatives. On the other hand, force is not the option. We are now a sizable economic power. We can and should take splurge some money on the North East and make them feel that we care. Economic sustenance will shield them against brainwash and hence

2.Why did he not stop the killing of hindhus in Sindh? The counter question is 'why is it his responsibility?' Partition happened. Inevitable and till day, assumed to be irreversible. From that point of time, Gandhi lost his control over Pakistan. What happened there was to be treated as internal matters of a neighboring country and rightly so. It was a noble and holy decision to let people in India decide their own fate. Scores of Hindus (unfortunately brain washed by fanatics) believe that was a horrible decision and attribute all the source of violence in India to the Muslims left behind. Any Hindu worth his salt should question that decision because it was consistent with Hindu belief of non-violence, tolerance and 'love thy neighbor' philosophy. Gandhi advocated restraint and peace from both sides. As they say "An Idea is not responsible for actions of its believers". How can you blame Gandhi for people *NOT* following what he said? Or following his preachings conditionally? Once the killings happened in Punjab, you lose the moral right to question what happened in Sindh or Bengal. Revenge is an ugly human emotion... and knows not to be in proportion to what caused it.

Those Hindus who cry foul at letting Muslims stay here are the ones who never saw their livers change after partition. Those Hindus who came from Pakistan (thousands of Delhites) do not want anyone else (even muslims) go through the pains again. Its one thing to discuss partition at a coffee place after 60 years, and totally different to be part of it.

+/ You can always take individual statements made by Gandhi and misquote him. We have not lived in that era. Our knowledge about historical events, circumstances, things at stake while those 'statement's are made are limited. This weakness is often mis-used by fascists, fanatics to shed ugly light on Gandhi. I urge people to dig deeper to see where the opinion comes from and do their own research using neutral citations. No great man in history has ever escaped criticism (Yesu and Buddha inclusive). Why should I expect Gandhi to be any different? But criticism must be self researched, neutral and never argumentative. Sampling always dilutes the essence of the absolute. See Gandhi as a whole and not individual quotes - especially when you do not know the complete story.

+/ Finally a word about Ahimsa and Satyagraha are not signs of weakness. They are pillars of strength by themselves. Just imagine, a lanky Indian gentleman in his late seventies clad in 2 piece dhoti - taking on the greatest International power of the time, the British Empire. He did not hide behind a fort of body guards, neither did he ever hurl insults at his opponents. He did not raise his voice to be heard and yet reached out to an entire nation. The strength comes from the moral high ground that Gandhi achieved in the past 50 years of clean polity. That is the strength of purity. People tried to rob this asset from him by trying malign him - while he was alive and after that too. Gandhi did not concede an inch. Those who can not achieve that level of purity can only envy it. Satyagraha is simple. It is a firm belief that truth shall prevail and I shall not relent until it does. The strength of being on the side of truth that can only be experienced and not described in words. Also, the strength of Satyagraha is again its absoluteness.

Here's something I read about people finding faults

Gandhi preached Love and purity of thought. This enough to over come any adversary. When you go away from these principles (when you embrace hate, dishonesty and treachery), you give ammunition to your opponents. They may come in handy as short term ego satisfying solutions. But in the long run, Ahimsa, truth and love has never failed.

I shall up date more points when I get hate comments on this blog. I expect the objections to be on the following lines:

1. Misquoting Gandhi to show that he was pro Muslim.
2. Hypothetical alternative solutions to the grave problems of that time.
3. Gandhi should not have tried to influence politics in the country post independence.

If you have anything new, please let me know and give me time to respond. I have intentionally left out his contributions/stand to social and economical reform since they are not disputed even by the staunchest anti-Gandhi propagandists.