Anything logical will most probably happen

Civil society expects us to obey the law. The premise is it is right to be on the right side of law. But isn’t the law formulated by some men with some ideals, values and standards? If the standards change then what is right changes.There are certain events that do not lend themselves to the debates of right and wrong, good or bad. We do not ask whether gravitation is right or wrong or whether it is good to breathe or not. These are natural laws and consequently beyond debate. I similarly feel that if something is logical it will happen. The human mind may not be able to comprehend the totality of a problem or an issue and thus may not be able to deduct the next logical step in the process.Till the time we are able to comprehend this universal logic we will flounder in contextual ethics and morality of the evolving species.

Whose law is it anyway?
Civil society expects us to obey the law. The premise is it is right to be on the right side of law. The law and the rules dictate what one needs to do in a given situation. This works most of the time and society functions. Or societies function. Each society has its own set of rules that members are expected to abide by. Most of the time these rules are applicable to all in a given geographical region. When folks move from region to region they know they are expected to follow the law of the land.

Most do. But then there are always some who feel that these rules are not for them. They then become the outlaws. The law gets into a conflict with the outlaws and people are led to believe that the law always wins. As “good” always triumphs over the “bad”.

But then not everything is as black and white. There are various shades of grey. There are unforeseen situations and actions that cannot be labeled as legal or illegal. Then people get into great debates on what is right and therefore legal and what is not.

Ethics and morality
There are great epics and ballads that set up elaborate plots and situations that look at human relationships, society, commitments and pose questions on what is the right thing to do.  These draw upon various lines of reasoning to establish the concepts of a greater good. The lay down guidelines to decide on what is right and what is not.

The results are often bizarre. The Mahabharata is packed with such dilemmas and paradoxes. In the modern day there are questions on the legality and righteousness of suicide and euthanasia.

How do you know what is right?
So how do you know what is right? Do you say that if it is legal then it is right? But isn’t the law formulated by some men with some ideals, values and standards? If the standards change then what is right changes.

There are certain events that do not lend themselves to the debates of right and wrong, good or bad. We do not ask whether gravitation is right or wrong or whether it is good to breathe or not. These are natural laws and consequently beyond debate.

If it is logical, it will happen
I similarly feel that if something is logical it will happen. The human mind may not be able to comprehend the totality of a problem or an issue and thus may not be able to deduct the next logical step in the process. Consequently we act at times in an illogical manner. We like to believe that we have acted by “free will”.

This business of the random free will is more a matter of the physical universe than a meta-physical one. So most probably we take decisions that we are – given the biological machines we are – most likely, or logically, to adopt. The consequences are a matter of logical progression.

Till the time we are able to comprehend this universal logic (and agnostics will say it is impossible to do so) we will flounder in contextual ethics and morality of the evolving species. We will need simpler guidelines and rules. The belief in the supremacy of the law is safer proposition.

Jingoism, Patriotism, Nationalism

I remember a firebrand Nepali opposition leader accusing the government of selling the country to India. I almost chuckled at the absurdity of the suggestion. But weren’t the opposition in my country too making a career for years accusing the government of selling the country to the evil imperialist empires headed by America? Were their raves and rants equally stupid to the visitors from those dark evil empires? Did that incident provide clues to me on why the western world dismisses the Indian government’s statements on cross border terrorism with a “here we go again” attitude. Speaking of the “western world” and perspectives, it was interesting to note the differences in the responses around the world to the boot camp the President got trapped into.

A range of emotions – outrage, shame, grief, vows for vengeance – were expressed after and during the terror attacks at Mumbai during the US Thanksgiving weekend of 2008. When one of the terrorists was caught India had proof of cross border terrorism. At the same time it was crystal clear to a lot of people in the neighboring state, on the other side of that same border, that this was part of a grand conspiracy to fragment and balkanize that country.

After all, the last acknowledged Indo-Pak war in 1971 did result in the independence of a part of the country. I, like most of my fellow citizens, believe that this attack was planned and organized. Such organizations need infrastructure and sponsorship.  I find it difficult to believe that it is not possible to find the money trail and trace it back to the players involved. However that is not the subject of this write up.
I suspect that a lot the same fellow citizens of mine will have the same gut reaction that I had when I read the conspiracy theory on the net – “are you nuts?”

But then are they? To the believers of that possibility it is as true as the fact that there is gravity. Living thousands of miles away from either country gives one the luxury of considering a perspective at odds to the generally accepted one in my homeland. It reminds me of an incident in Nepal and my thoughts at that time.

Ratna Park is a very interesting place in Kathmandu, or was when I was last there in ’94. There were professional carom players lined up against the fence on the south west corner who you could play against for stakes or watch on your way to or from the New Road. There were these parades that you could go to, dust you could kick up, buses that were lined up or rallies that you could attend.

A bit like the Hyde Park, you could also try to hold one yourself. In one of those small gatherings a young opposition firebrand was exposing the government. He was accusing the government of selling the country to India.

No offense to the ancient land that gave us the Buddha, but I found the notion of India wanting to buy Nepal hilarious. Yes, Nepal was a buffer between China and India; but wanting to buy Nepal? What a ridiculous idea. I almost chuckled at the absurdity of the suggestion. But how far fetched was the idea?

Wasn’t the opposition in my country too making a career for years accusing the government of selling the country to the evil imperialist empires headed by America? So were their raves and rants equally stupid to the visitors from those dark evil empires.

Some passersby looked at me with concern as I started giggling to myself at the realization. Perspectives do interesting things to, well, perspectives. Perspectives: use it or lose it.

That does not for a moment dilute the need to roar “enough” in protest to the lack of action on the part of our government. My submission is that it does, however, provide clues to why the western world dismisses the knee jerk reactions of the Indian government with a “here we go again” attitude.

Speaking of the “western world” and perspectives, the point was driven home by the responses around the world to the boot camp the President got trapped into.

Opinions, recommendations, beliefs and value judgments

As a consultant I am expected to recommend what I consider to be “right” for them. But clients don’t hire us to be correct; they hire us to do the job for them. We may recommend; but it is up to them to judge what is good for them. I would be entitled to have an opinion. Belief, on the other hand, is a dangerous thing. It clouds my ability to think logically and is the root of self fulfilling prophesies. How far can you take this line of reasoning?

Have you ever been to a physician who started writing out a prescription in thirty seconds of you meeting him? Have you ever met a realtor who knew just the right property for you as soon as he saw you? Do you know a journalist who provides solutions before he has even found out that there is indeed something wrong in the system? They are all meant to be consultants, in their own domain.

I consider myself belong to the consulting profession too. As a consultant I am expected to recommend. Not what the client wants to hear, but what I consider to be “right” for them. That, though, is a tricky situation to be in, like walking the tight rope. Who am I, I tell myself, to judge what is right?

In fact, in my trade of ERP implementations, I have often told my team that clients don’t hire us to be correct; they hire us to do the job for them. We may recommend. Oh yes, we do that way too often; but it is up to them to take the call, to judge what is good for them.

I don’t judge; period.  I don’t feel that I am qualified enough to sit judgment. I rarely would consciously begin a statement with, “you know in this situation, you should…”  Who am I to dictate what you should or should not do? I would rather say, “you know, given the situation, I would …”

I would, however, be entitled to have an opinion. Since I do have one under most circumstances, as a consultant I am obliged to share the same, and provide a recommendation. If I feel strongly about it “I would strongly recommend that…”

When I do say that I know that what I am tendering is a recommendation and an opinion. It would rely on analysis of available information and generally accepted – or rather logically derived – frameworks. I would not want this to be based on generally accepted beliefs.

Belief is a dangerous thing. It clouds my ability to think logically. It also interferes with my ability to listen. When I go to “consult” beliefs are extremely dangerous baggages to bring along. They are the root of all self fulfilling prophesies.

How far can you take this line of reasoning? Meursault, I guess, is the limit – remember him in “The Outsider”? No belief at all in every aspect of life is dangerous. So there you have it, I am on course to complete a full cycle in this progression of thought. If I don’t stop here I will also argue that industry standards are born from distillation of experiences – of lessons learned and best practices.

There are values or standards that most folks set for themselves and others judge them as moral, immoral, amoral and what not based on the standards of these other people. I feel it is easier to go through life – at work and otherwise – if we are more ambivalent.

Home sweet home

There is a possibility of me moving back to Calcutta for about a year and a half or so. Knowledge of the plan has been, but naturally, triggering off lot of questions on whether I am happy to be heading back home. Well, the question is not an easy one for me. Answering these also bring back some memories.

 

I was a day scholar in school. The boarders used to glow with happiness at the end of each term at the thought of returning home. The “home sweet home” inscription had a special meaning for them. That was when I used to live in Asansol.

 

I wasn’t raised in Calcutta it seems everyone expects me to think of it as “home”. I am not so sure. “I am I said” by Neil Diamond goes like this: L.A.’s fine, the sun shines most the time. And the feeling is ‘lay back’…  Well I’m New York City born and raised.  But nowadays, I’m lost between two shores. L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home. New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.

 

I visited Sumit in October 2006 at San Jose. He and his wife drove me to Palo Alto to watch “Aniket“. It is about a not-so-fictitious couple attempting a defection back to the “homeland”. They try to fit in and enjoy the best of both worlds but eventually realize that Calcutta has moved on. It survives without their presence anyway. The couple has no option but to rejoin the lost tribe of the Bay Area Bengalis.

 

That evening over dinner and the drive back our conversation touched upon the subject of what the definition of “home” is. In the “Death of the Hired Man” he says “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” To which she rebukes “I should have called it Something you somehow haven’t to deserve.”

 

If you have a reservation in a hotel or a guest house they have to take you in. But that does not make it a home. Nirmal in The Hungry Tide says something like “Home is a place that you refuse to be driven out from”. But for the nomad like me, his wife Nilima’s words “Home is a place where I can make a cup of tea to my liking” is better.

 

In the last eight and a half years I have lived in Bangalore for forty two months, a bit over twenty one months in Calcutta, eleven and a half months over various locations in the US, close to twenty Pune, two in Mumbai, two in Noida, about one in Germany and three weeks in Canada. I think I understand Shaw’s feeling “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.” But then I also remember the feeling of homecoming that my wife and I had once when we returned to the project accommodation at Bangalore after a week long trip to Calcutta.

 

When I mentioned this to a colleague of mine I was surprised to find that I had struck a chord somewhere. He told me about this town in Maharashtra where he had spent the early years of his career. It is a small town where he does not have any childhood memories, assets, or relatives. The few friends who have not moved on are the only familiar faces he gets to meet when he visits the town. But each time he does so he is happy to be back home.

 

Someone called Tad Williams wrote “Never make your home in a place. Make a home for yourself inside your own head. You’ll find what you need to furnish it – memory, friends you can trust, love of learning, and other such things. That way it will go with you wherever you journey.”

 

I think I will buy that. To lighten up the mood I will end with a more frivolous quote. “For a lot of people, the weekly paycheck is “take-home pay” because home is the only place they can afford to go with it.”

National Culture and the Cricket Test

I recently watched an episode of “Imagination” on BBC on an American teacher in the US. The class comprised a good mix of students from different ethnicity. Quite a few of them were second generation South East Asians and Hispanics.

I felt that the teacher was using his English class to inculcate values that would do not only America proud but humanity as well. There were a number of works that were being studied. Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn seemed to have significant mindshare.

In one of the sound bites the teacher said that the students were learning to identify with the American culture. This struck me as a remarkable sentence. The idea of a democracy has been stumbled upon in various geographies by quite a few cultures in different ages. There has been civil war in the United States of America because a significant number of citizens adopted a strong position on freedom as a birthright and that all men are created equal.

But aren’t these “values” only? Or do values form a dominant component in the definition of “culture”? The phrase “American culture” feels, sort of, strange to me. I have been hearing of the term “the melting pot” for years and have only partly understood it

I remember the short story “The Ice Palace” from way back at school. The compatibility, or lack thereof, of the way of life between the northern and southern regions was under the microscope of the class. In India we call it the unity in diversity.

The Canadian way of life – on the other hand – that I was exposed to while in Toronto was very different. I commented to a lot of people that America tolerates while Canada accepts. The arterial road has signs in Korean, Japanese, and Arabic besides the ones in the standard language. In fact there are two standard languages. Every paper napkin in the Subway fast food chain has text in English and French at opposite corners.

Australian, I have heard, is possessive of its Australian identity. The white Caucasian American will go back to Ireland or Wales to re-discover where her or his ancestors were from, but that is not the way of the Australian. An Australian is an Australian is an Australian.

On 21 May 1972 a Hungarian-born Australian geologist name Laszlo Toth damaged the Pieta by Michelangelo at The Vatican with fifteen strikes of his hammer. Catholics and art connoisseurs of the world were disturbed. So were a group of Christian Brothers. One of them was an Australian. Another, an Irishman settled in India, remarked “It seems he is of Hungarian origin” to soften the blow. The Australian Brother was stern “He is an Australian”. Is that another version of the melting pot?

What is a melting pot anyway? A euphemism cooked by a nation of immigrants? Can the melting pot be a culture? What is culture, or more importantly, what is this concept of the national culture? The concept of the nation state is fairly new in the history of mankind while culture is as old as human civilization.

In India we have this trail of culture that recedes beyond history, legends and myths. It certainly reaches out beyond the constraints of the nation state that came in being on August 15, 1947 A.D. Pundits have found threads that have evolved from the banks of the Indus and have got entangled with the confluence of the three seas at Kanyakumari.

We, the people of the modern day nation state of India, are comfortable with this evolution of thought, values, civilization, religion or language. We call the current stage of this evolution as our culture. We have this comfortable feeling that our fore fathers have been around for millennia and have been part of this evolution.

There have been settlers who have come in from time to time; but that too has been centuries ago. They are now an integral part of Indian culture. So when I see second and third (or even fourth or fifth) generation settlers becoming one with the “culture” of the administrative entity of a nation state I feel something is not being defined correctly.

You can adopt a family and become one of them. The duration of the process would perhaps depend on the size of the family, the diversity in thought processes, the bond within the members and a host of other factors. It is, nevertheless, conceivable. But can one come from a culture half way round the globe and adopt another in a matter of a few generations? Can one ever really pass the “Cricket Test”?