Listen to Your Silence


Today is the last day of 2018.

As we bid goodbye to a “mixed fortune” and rather troublesome year in more ways than one, I thought it would be best for me to take a couple of hours off from my schedule and write about something that has been brewing up there in my brain for the past couple of days.

This year I have chosen not to attend any New Year parties (or even Christmas parties) for personal reasons. While the option of more intellectual and social networking with friends and colleagues is rather enticing, sometimes I hit a roadblock and would rather not feign a celebratory feeling and communicate the same to others who might be truly celebrating. Not that I don’t wish to celebrate, but there is nothing (unlike in the past several years) this year that kind of pushes me to let my guard down and dance around. [Disclaimer: I do not really dance, that is a figurative phrase! My songs of the bathroom variety are more well known within my house and my family members do not appreciate my music sense and eloquence in renditioning songs which I myself put together from various languages!!].

Today, I wanted to focus on the topic of “listening to my silence”.

What happens if I position myself in a sphere of silence, forcing myself to think about silence itself as a matter of virtue?

As I look outside towards the clouds and then beneath it the large body of water, a sense of tranquillity sweeps over me (it helps that there is now no one sitting next to me as I write this post!) – a sense of calmness, of intense composure, a waveless mind – not even a drop of the pin or of a drop of water would dare destroy that sense of calm. There is no one else in this journey as I fly through the clouds and apparently even swim through the calm waters. What am I thinking here?

I am thinking my thoughts all alone in a deep silence – I am experiencing the “power of silence” so to say. I am not trying to reach out to any other soul, I am not seeing the TV, I am not even feeling my own fingers typing out these words as I am still looking at the clouds and their magnanimity. When you are alone with your own thoughts (on whatever be the matter), then there is a high probability that you will feel the “power of silence”.

This is what I try to practice on those rare occasions when I choose to go to a Hindu Temple (may be thrice a year or so). A temple, or a church, or a mosque, or a synagogue is a solemn place wherein you should try to keep your mind still [I have been to all these other places of worship as well]. There should be utter calmness of your mind, with no extraneous thoughts of any type. Surely not the ones from the illicit WhatsApp messages that have streamed into your phone that very same day. When you succeed to keep your mind still, you will experience silence, and then you will experience an insight. What is this insight?

Insight is your view of the universe when everything stands still, including yourself and your mind. When your mind and body are totally still, you will see what you cannot otherwise see or feel. This is no magic, this is simple and total commitment to silence which should take you towards an undiscovered journey during which you will experience rare insights about the universe, and then in that process, about your own self.

You do not need to offer prayers or perform rituals to achieve silence of the mind and the body. You do not need the sage advice of gurus or “god middlemen” to connect your being with the unknown. The man himself achieves the discovery on his own effort by stilling his mind towards total silence and insight. And, the temple / church / mosque provides just a venue for this purpose. It is not necessary to go to any such place for that matter. My own home balcony with the view of the cloud and the water body is just good enough and more productive for me as there are no extraneous disturbances of any kind whatsoever.

What is happening now? You are becoming more aware of yourself – in other words, instead of an ordinary existential being, you are becoming “self-aware” – not many people you have met in your life are “self-aware”. An awareness of self can be achieved by meditation or by silence which is similar – the power of such silence could be intimidating as you are actually embarking on an unknown journey to discover yourself, and you might not know yet what you are going to discover. An ability to dissect and completely analyze yourself arises only during a complete silence or meditation process. You may not like what you see in yourself, but then you become totally “self-aware”.

Is this making sense? If not, I can elaborate. I have often embarked on these silent trips, especially on occasions when I am forced to solve a personal problem. However, nowadays, I tend to do this silence journey more often for its revealing discoveries and benefits. Some of you might have tried it as I know that several friends of mine are meditation experts. However, to follow what I am explaining as above requires no expertise of any kind – it only requires focus and commitment, and a strong urge not to be disturbed by the usual human disturbances.

What are indeed the benefits of following this “silence regimen”?

Apart from self-discovery and self-awareness, you also achieve peace of mind and an ability to deal with issues and problems in a calmer manner. After all, everyone needs peace, isn’t it? The world lacks it, countries lack it, political leaders lack it and most people lack it. If you are able to achieve peace on your own, with your own self, isn’t it simply wonderful? Think about it for a minute in silence!

Remember, when you hit silence, you learn about your true self. You see truth in yourself. You do not see any more deceit. You replace any deceit with complete truth. You see your true purpose in life.

This is what this world lacks. It lacked it in 2018. I hope that 2019 will be vastly better. It is not simply a hope or a prayer. It is my expectation that I witnessed when I went totally silent – still and numb in the mind. Even my body became stiffer. After some time, you will feel relaxed. Try it!

All the very best for a successful and prosperous 2019 folks!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st December 2018

SINGAPORE

 

 

 

 

2018: What a Year can do to You?


In our apparently long journey of life, a year is a long time! Yes, one year indeed is longish, if only you choose to savour and enjoy every day of it. If the year is full of nonsense and frustrations both in personal life and global affairs, then you would rather expect the year to finish quickly and go away!

Of course, you can interpret any year in exactly the opposite way as well. Good years seem to fly away in a flash, and bad years seem to prolong.

Going by my first interpretation, you would like a good year to prolong wherein you can enjoy every moment of it to the fullest possible extent. Like all of us, I have had the good fortune of experiencing and going through several such years.

But what about 2018?

What do you think my answer is going to be? Take an informed guess. Answers will be different from different folks, to be sure. That applies to anything in life. The value and importance of what exactly one individual feels and experiences show that humans are different with varying perspectives on life.

For me, 2018 turned out to be not so great in terms of several dimensions, while it did produce its good moments as well. My views are coloured by external matters mostly, as I am a global affairs analyst and a consistent weekly blogger on a range of topics.

In my analysis of 2018, I felt that global citizens were impacted by happenings which they did not control or even anticipate. Unfortunately, large countries with big economies such as the U.S., the U.K., China, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, France and Germany, dictate world affairs and how things shape up. Their actions impact this entire planet, and their lack of action where it is urgently needed could be even more devastating.

On the personal side of life, I wouldn’t put the blame on any specific year, as things which happen to our lives are, at least, partially controlled by us. Well, there is always the “luck” factor in life, but I discount that aspect. I also do not believe that people who ask for material favours from their respective gods, get those wishes granted or lead a better life. Similarly, thanking your god for a windfall in your life is also not an appropriate gesture. Humans should realize that their lives are just a temporary speck in the millennia of the universe. If they work hard, and get rewards due to their work, it is simply the result of their positive efforts. The best way to “visit” a god is to enter the temple without any desire or asks or thanks. You are just recognizing that there is a place available for you to keep your mind pure without any desires clouding your mind. That’s it and if you train your mind accordingly, you will experience peace. Removing the “self” is the most challenging thought one could have. You do not have to go to the extreme extent of renouncing all material possessions and desires, like what Buddha did!

So, if you take the personal and global impact of 2018 together, and apply an analysis for your own good, I will be surprised if more than half of the global citizens said that it is indeed a great year. Lots of institutional damages have happened to democratic frameworks. Lots of ordinary citizens are dead in unnecessary wars. Our own personal data has been stolen by state and non-state actors. I can list a thousand things, and you might not even know certain bad things happened. Why? Because generally humans are selfish and rather content with their immediate lives and neighbourhood. What happens a few thousand KMs away is generally not of immediate concern to most ordinary folks.

I only hope that 2019 will be a better year for the world. Going by the government shutdown in the U.S., the China-U.S. trade war, the Brexit chaos expected in the U.K. with its inevitable spillovers into most of Europe, the Venezualan exonomic crisis, the Syrian war, the killings of ordinary civilians in Yemen, et al, it may not appear so! However, humans revolve around hope. We all “hope” things will get better – but not before they get worse first???

Don’t know yet. I am not having my crystal ball with me right now (!). While just hope will never do the trick, we have to believe in human ingenuity and fairness.

Cheers to my audience, Have a Wonderful year-end, and a Great New Year in 2019!

From Singapore with Love,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th December 2018

Shoot the Piano Player: Andhadhun


Well, let me get to my movie rating quickly. Andhadhun is a good movie, no doubt about it. It is a murder mystery, and has several murders in it. Sriram Raghavan is a good director given to multiple twists and turns, and keeps the audience guessing as to which way the movie is taking, and throws in a totally unexpected surprise towards the end, and all of that.

While I would give the first half of the movie a 4.5 rating (on a scale of 5), the second half of the movie gets no more than a 3.0. Overall, I would have to give a rating of, let me say, 3.8 – actually, my wife may not agree to this rating, she thought the movie flagged and meandered in the second half, so probably she would give it a 3.5.

“Andhadhun” is a well-directed movie, Mr. Raghavan does a great job. To decipher the movie’s logic, you need to be in his shoes and see what he sees through his characters. It will be challenging, let me assure you, as you are likely to miss certain cues and clues as your mind is racing fast forward to solve the mystery which has been presented to you – and you are acting like a Sherlock Holmes in unraveling the mystery.

While I knew or felt that the piano player would survive all the attempts to murder him by several players, I could not have forecasted the multiple twists that he would be put through before he finally survived! That play by the director was outstanding, in terms of eliminating all the other “bad” characters in an unsuspecting manner towards the end of the movie. However, the movie has an “open” ending, our piano player hero does not choose to connect ultimately with the heroine who has had a crush on him but deserts him when she found out about his false infidelity, perpetrated by the main antagonist who murdered her own husband. So what is the real ending? Our hero kicks the coke can on the street!

It is an unusual plot, and I was not surprised to learn that the director has given credit to a French movie called L’Accordeur (Piano Tuner). French mystery movies are my favourites, and I have seen plenty of them in the past. Concepts such as a twisted murder mystery plagued by suspicions and more murders are best handled by French directors with their dollops of creativity and expert direction.

While I would not reveal the plot details of the movie in this post, suffice it to state that “what you see is not what you get”. You must understand that our piano player hero plays his first role not as a real blind man, but as a simulated blind guy – which means he can actually see what he sees, like all of us. In the next role, the main antagonist blinds him willfully for real, so this time our piano player really becomes blind. His reaction when he finds out that he has totally lost his eyesight is a priceless enactment of his real feelings, as compared to the previous simulations as a pseudo blind guy. It is funny how the audience learns about his fake blindness via the tracking of a small boy who lives in the same housing block as our hero, who becomes suspicious and even goes to the extent of tying his smartphone on a long stick to film the “real” normal hero who is performing the daily chores like a normal person would do!

My view of Bollywood movies still remains the same – “not much substance” in most of the movies coming out. But, Andhadhun is a refreshing change – once in a long while, we do get some real good movies, but let us not forget that these are adaptations of Western movies and their directorial impact. While it is fine to adapt, the fact is that the concept has already been tried and tested out, and our Bollywood director is adapting the storyline to his tastes. I don’t know if I am wrong on this count. I am, however, looking for truly original concepts and storylines like what we sometimes get from Malayalam or Bengali movies with lot of thought about a social mechanism and impact of real-life humanity on a movie’s story.

Nothing wrong with Andhadhun, except for the flailing second half which could have been speeded up, instead of engaging in unnecessary dialogues. The director had total control in the first half of the movie with a crisp plot and amazing execution. He could have carried it through to the second half instead of the convoluted plot which becomes confusing – though it might be deliberate.

You can see Andhadhun on NetFlix now, which is what I did.

Cheers, and have a great week ahead folks,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd December 2018

How to deal with an Idiot


Nowadays, it has become a routine yet demanding task.

Good, hard working, well meaning folks have to deal with several idiots, sometimes on the same day.

Idiots come in a variety of forms.

Unfortunately, idiots are sometimes very powerful. And, that puts most of us in a rather awkward position. When I say “us”, I mean the “proletariat” or the common man on the street. The general population of any country falls under this definition. In developed countries, most of the common population are at the median level of income – the folks that you see on the roads and in the subway stations rushing to work. This translates to a set of people who are at or above average intelligence level.

When there are many such people on the ground, one thing they consistently try to avoid is dealing with idiots. Idiots occur in all places – our workplaces, shops and restaurants, bus or subway rides, supermarkets, government offices, private offices, clinics, and what not. We know how to deal with most occurrences of idiots in our lives, though new types of idiots challenge us to think more and develop strategies to deal with them.

But what do we do when the idiot sits in the White House of the U.S. Government as President of the U.S. ? The most powerful elected office in the world ?

That is emerging as the crux of the existential problem that people around the world (not just the Americans) are facing today.

On the 8th of November 2018, Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) was at 26,191 at close of trading. On the 21st December 2018, the DJIA was at 22,439 at close of trading. In less than 6 weeks, Donald Trump’s confusing twitter messages and erratic actions have resulted in most of this loss of market value. During the same period, the tech-heavy NASDAQ index dropped from 7,530 to 6,333. In a nutshell, the DJIA dropped by 3,752 points or 14.3% and NASDAQ dropped by 1,197 points or 15.9%, wiping off well over two  trillion dollars of investor wealth (I am not able to compute the drop in terms of market value accurately). Please see CNN Coverage on Stock Market – Dow’s Worst Week since 2008

Donald Trump boasted that the stock market had performed outstandingly well under his tenure, but he has been responsible for its destruction over a short period of time between November and December 2018. Further, his erratic behaviour has been the reason for the fluctuations in the market over the past over 6 months as well.

Apart from investor losses, there are many things to fret about the idiotic behavioural characteristics of Donald Trump. I cannot list all of his misdeeds here in this post, but suffice to say that my audience is well educated and well read to have followed his idiosyncratic logic and actions over the past many months. The latest shocker is his abrupt pulling out of U.S. troops from war-torn Syria and also from Afghanistan. Trump has lost most of his experienced cabinet members, the latest being General Jim Mattis, the Defence Secretary, who could not take it any more. Please read his resignation letter to get the full import of his resignation – Jim Mattis Resignation Letter in full

And so on and so forth……….the Donald Trump saga plays on in Washington, much to the detriment of U.S. itself – the most affected folks are the U.S. citizens and the U.S. allies; and the U.S. economy is getting damaged due to Trump’s battle with China (on this point, I agree with Trump’s aggressive manoeuvering against China). The Mueller investigation is producing more indictments and more accusations against Trump, and Trump is increasingly getting nervous. And, to cap it all, the mid-term elections in the U.S. delivered the House of Representatives to the Democrats, so it is going to present a bed of thorns to Trump by stopping most of his executive decisions and investigating his tax returns, and what not. Of course, the U.S. Senate is going to be controlled by the Republicans, but they need the support of Democrats to hit the magic number of 60 votes in the Senate to pass big legislation such as the spending bills (Republicans have only 54 seats).

Though I live in Singapore, and have nothing to do with the U.S. Politics, unfortunately I need to know almost everything that is going on, as stupid actions of a sitting President of the U.S. damages the entire world – again rather unfortunately. Nothing much can be done by remote observers, except to write a blog post and actively discuss such stupid actions in social networking sessions. Most news media publish controlled content as no one wants to offend the U.S. – so fake news is becoming the norm on the other side of Trump as well, if you could decipher what I mean!

Though I supported Donald Trump when he was elected President of the U.S. after Barack Obama (I have published couple of posts on his election), over the past 18 months or so, I have become disenchanted with Trump. He needs adult guidance, and people like Jim Mattis provided that guidance to him. But he despises good folks with serious advice, as he has repeatedly demonstrated via the Cabinet exits which have continued non stop. This shows that Trump is not a good “manager” of people and resources. He makes very random statements and commitments (without a shred of advanced thinking) to solicit the support of his strong conservative base; but as the mid-term elections demonstrated, he has lost significant support amongst women and minority voters, both of which he has alienated constantly.

The bad deeds of Donald Trump are countless to list. But I am most concerned about his idiotic and erratic behaviour, which urgently requires the sane and sober counsel of senior Republican politicians. He is not going to get that advice, as now almost everyone knows that honest advice providers are going to be short lived in his administration.

How to deal with the most powerful idiot in the world is the question of the day. If we can resolve this question, the world can get on with its future business. May be Trump requires advice from Singapore Government, as he would not follow any advice from America’s long standing allies in Europe (like Angela Merkel). Or, should we hope for his impeachment on impeachable grounds soon?

Cheers, and have a great Pre-Xmas Weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd December 2018

 

The Only Bulwark Left Now


Have you guessed what I am going to write about?

I guess not.

Right now I am travelling in a car somewhere outside Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Since I am in the front seat next to the driver, the rest of the family members at the back of the car do not get to see what I am doing. It appears to them that I am, as usual, browsing the web, whereas I have finished all of that and decided it is time to contribute my thoughts to my august audience, like I do every weekend.

Coming back to my idea of the topic for this blog post, it is about how Germany, rather surprisingly, is now best positioned as the only remaining bulwark against the encroachment of authoritarianism in the Western nations – as exemplified by Donald Trump in the U.S., Theresa May to a certain extent in the U.K., and even Emmanuel Macron in France – all right wing, my way or high way kind of characters. Japan is ruled by another right wing nationalist, Shinzo Abe, but it is too far away from the epicentre of the Western community which spans between the Americas and Europe. Russia is anyway ruled by an autocrat – Vladimir Putin, but is economically not as strong as Germany. I am not comparing military might here, but more of moral leadership for the distraught world.

My choice of Germany is questionable, of course, like every other choice that one can make or suggest. After all, how can Germany be a moral leader of the world, after its nauseating criminal history which spawned the Second World War and eliminated 6 million Jews from the face of this earth? How can it claim moral superiority of the Western world even? Have people forgotten about the past history which demonstrates the bottom of human depravity? Can we even imagine today that people like Adolf Hitler walked around Germany and caused so much destruction?

Well, in the current context, Germany has at least demonstrated that it has an enlightened leader in Angela Merkel (though she will no longer continue as Chancellor for the next term), who has effectively provided political and social leadership to the European Union countries. Europeans look to Merkel for key decisions and clues on how she is thinking about tackling the big issues facing Europe. She took an egalitarian view of the immigration challenge, and made the right decisions while the other European countries shunned the immigrants, notwithstanding the fact that they had invaded and occupied many of the countries from which these immigrants were coming. It cannot only work one way, folks.

Germany has always been a manufacturing powerhouse. It has invested heavily in manufacturing facilities around the world. While the U.S. has always been the preferred partner for several things (especially military purchases, higher education, high tech industries, Hollywood movies, etc.,), for many other precision industries Germany and Japan were the preferred choices for a long time.

You may stop me now and ask me about China. Yes, China is a huge economic powerhouse with a huge manufacturing base. However, it lacks the “soft power” that U.S., Germany or Japan can bring to bear. China can also be very difficult to deal with, though that position seems to be unravelling in its trade dispute with the U.S. I don’t believe China is ready to assume the mantle of a global player with moral leadership – it has to demonstrate new skills that are needed for this purpose.

What about India? In my considered opinion, India lost its way long time ago in the name of democracy which never worked for its long suffering people. India used to be a world leader in trade and export of spiritual and religious influences quite a few centuries ago, but no longer. When people think of India today outside of India, they think of the teaming population, pollution, unceasing corruption, and lack of infrastructure. India is not ready – yet.

Coming back to Germany, I believe that it should take a stronger stand in world affairs, without any guilt feelings from 7 decades ago. Germany has all its strengths intact, is a key leader of tbe NATO alliance, is the main leader of the EU, is strong in almost all aspects of governance, and can therefore be the bulwark that I am talking about.

Germany will never again have a dictator. Any nation which learns hard from its mistakes, atones for its sins and national guilt, takes effective measures to completely avoid dictatorahip and authoritarianism via institutional safeguards and appropriate checks and balances, supports other countries, etc., is ready to take on a bigger role. Let us not forget that the biggest and most powerful “liberator” is sliding backwards in its measure of moral rectitude and righteousness, and the world (atleast the Western world) desperately needs a new leadership devoid of innuendos, empty promises, fake news, executive lies, abandonment of international treaties, military misadventures, constant theatrics, breaking of partnerships with allies, walking out of longstanding military blocs and trade deals, and what not.

Can Germany replace the U.S. atleast for the interim? Can Germany provide moral leadership so badly needed? Can Germany take a firm stand on many issues afflicting the world today?

Well, I believe so but then I do not see widespread discussion on Germany assuming the leadership status. So it is only my analysis, I am not sure that if Merkel is thinking along the same lines.

Again, it is my intent to provoke a meaningful discussion on such critical matters of global importance. We as global citizens need to speak out, write as in my case, discuss amongst ourselves, and influence our lawmakers and media.

Think about it folks.

Have a wonderful week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

16th December 2018

Secular Experience Indonesia


I am currently on a family vacation in Yogyakarta (also called as Jogjakarta) in Central Java region of Indonesia. As my readers should be aware, Indonesia is a secular country though most of its citizens are Muslims; as a tourist guide put it to us, it is a moderate Islamic country with acceptance of other religions and full respect for those people who follow other religions. This is the result of a very long and rich history of tolerance, and also the fact that Indonesia was strongly influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism before it eventually adopted Islam. I am not a historian, neither am I a religious studies specialist, and I am writing all this based on my understanding and interactions with people who I meet when I travel.

This means that most Indonesians were Hindus and then Buddhists before they became Muslims. That explains their moderate views on religion, though most are practicing Muslims. Christianity has also has had some influence on Indonesians. Most Indonesians are soft-spoken and polite, with a deference to almost everyone and especially to foreigners.

At one point in time, Yogyakarta was the capital of Indonesia, and there is even a Presidential Palace here – we passed by it on our way to see the Royal Kraton Palace, or the Sultan’s abode. There is not much industrial activity in Yogyakarta, the economy seems to be centred around tourism and other service industries.

There are two key temple zones around Yogyakarta – one is the Prambanan Temple which is a very large Hindu temple, with individual temples dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. There are hundreds of other smaller temples in the Prambanan temple zone. It was damaged considerably during a big earthquake which occurred in 2006, with its epicentre at Yogyakarta. The main temple has been restored with significant effort after the earthquake. The architectural design of the temple complex has obviously been influenced heavily by Indian Hindu temple construction, but the ingenuity of Prambanan construction comes due to the interlocking stones which prevents them from sliding down in case of any disturbances. The stones were gathered from the rivers which carried volcanic ash from the nearby volcanoes. During the restoration, concrete has been poured to solidify the structure. Amazing indeed.

Some pictures from the Prambanan temple as below:

We also visited the world famous Borobudur Buddhist Temple. At both temples (Prambanan and Borobudur), there were hundreds of school children streaming in, because December has school holidays in Indonesia. There were not many foreigners, my guide told me that most Europeans visit in July and August, and further November to March is a rainy period. Luckily we were spared from the rains so far when we visited the two temples, though it drizzled this morning quite heavily for a short while.

Borobudur is all about Buddha. I have always been impressed about Buddhist philosophy, though I may not agree with Siddhartha for abandoning his wife Maya and their only child, when Siddhartha left his family to get into meditation. Though Buddhism has many variants itself, the ideas pertaining to samsara, karma and nirvana are easily articulated and understood. Some of the ideas are in the pictures below:

Pictures from Borobudur Temple as below:

Overall, the visit to these two temples has been enlightening and revealing: the historic influence of India on Indonesia and several other countries such as Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc., in South East Asia cannot be underestimated.

More coverage on my Indonesian vacation will follow, in the meanwhile, enjoy your weekend folks.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th December 2018

Find Your Original Value Systems


This post is not about “individual” values and value systems that we all originally grew up with, and sometimes abandon on the way of life for whatever reason(s).

This post is more about that moral beacon of the “free” world, the U.S. and how it has been diluting its own original values and value systems over the years for convenience and monetary/business reasons. There are always plenty of reasons why a country would abandon its values, the most critical one being political and / or business expediency. Countries sacrifice their values to make money, or for national security purposes. There are thousands of reasons why such a sacrifice is always portrayed as warranted, especially to the domestic audience.

There are hundreds of instances when the U.S. preached from a high moral ground to other nations, but secretly or sometime openly, pursued national goals which were totally contrary to its founding values. I am not documenting in this single post all the very bad things that the U.S. did in South America, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere. There must be plenty of academic research carried out on this topic by its own universities who do not shy away from such research even if it is damaging to the country where they are based, and that is sheer goodness.

In the current state of global affairs, time has come for the U.S. to reassess its seven decades old strategic partnership with Saudi Arabia, and this is the main thrust of this post. I am not writing this post as the consequence of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder and dismemberment at a Saudi diplomatic facility, which is totally and utterly despicable. Such pre-meditated actions only demonstrate that most of the Middle East region is yet to get out of their revengeful tribal mindset and integrate with the rest of the world. There is nothing special or unique about Saudi Arabia or for that matter, the Middle East as a region. Every region of the world is the same with similar people eking out a living. The governments make the difference.

My view is that Saudi Arabia is not going to change its ways, and the U.S. is going to be forever subservient to Saudi interests, simply because of two things: access to unlimited oil wealth and as a strong counterweight to Iran. For whatever reason, the U.S. continues to hate Iran, and is not going to reconcile with Iran. And, given that Iran is also a very proud nation dating back thousands of years of civilization, it is apparent that scores will be settled one day or the other between the two countries. In such eventuality, Saudi Arabia will be a key ally for the U.S. to count upon, and will take the brunt of any potential war with people and money.

But, in the process, both countries have seriously departed from their respective founding values. Apart from the known case of Khashoggi’s murder, the brutal war on Yemen which has unnecessarily killed thousands of innocent men, women and children, is a direct result of the planned collusion between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. Where is the morality? Where is the human conscience? And, where is that useless organization that we are all funding called the United Nations?

The U.S. cannot be complicit in the execution of what can easily be determined as war crimes. It should stay well above such actions, and demonstrate its moral values in any part of the world. No point in arguing against Myanmar government for murdering the Rohingya Muslims on the one hand, but assisting Saudi Arabia to bomb civilian areas of Yemen on the other hand. What kind of value system is this and why are the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as the U.S. citizens, not protesting against such egregious violations of human rights?

What applies at home should apply anywhere else as well. The U.S. needs to learn that every human life that it helps to kill in the name of even a “righteous” war (which it is not in the case of Yemen) would cause irreparable and severe damage to its own value systems; and as many believe, would come back to haunt it, like what happened with Vietnam.

We cannot and should not forget our roots – where we came from, what value we were born with, what values we grew up with, what kind of moral and social systems that we have imbibed, etc., Likewise, nations cannot and should not forget their own value systems, in the name of national security or strategic alliances, etc., If those issues are causing concern, there must be ways to tackle the same with the same firm value systems, and demand that every constituent or participant adhere to some basic common values as well. If the U.S. cannot or will not demand such compliance from its strategic partners, then it has no right to demand that other nations should adhere to its values either. There will be no moral high ground from which it can preach its values while destroying the same underneath the ground for its own benefit.

In a nutshell, my concern is that values are fast disappearing from international discourse and diplomacy. Every country is becoming short sighted. Every country stands ready to dilute its values. Every country is willing to sacrifice values in the altar of expediency. And, no country can be pointed out or blamed, since the high priest itself is engaging in similar activities.

Is this wrong? Absolutely.

Is this morally correct? Absolutely not.

Can such things be done in the name of national security? Surely not. There are other ways.

So friends, judge for yourself. Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

09 December 2018

 

 

Crazy Rich Asians


This is the name of a recent movie which depicts a cross-cultural love story between an American (Chinese) professor, who looks rather young to be a professor, and a very rich Singaporean Chinese man, who hides his richness from the professor.

In my sincere opinion, this movie was a disappointment.

While I believe there is richness in terms of obscenely rich in every society, the manner in which Singapore is depicted in this movie shifts the needle more towards obscenity in terms of ostentatious display of wealth and arrogant positioning taken by the key characters against people of lesser means (like the professor who grew up in New York with a poor mother). The movie also demonstrates that there is utter racism even among the same ethnicity (Chinese) when it comes to haves and have-nots; and the “haves” have serious issues in accepting the have-nots who they view as people with less of royalty in their blood, of poor origins and taste, no wealth and no pedigree. We have seen such tendencies and attitudes in India as well.

The movie goes to prove that when it comes to integration between the rich and the poor, the Western societies have done a much better job. The Asian societies are still steeped in conservatism and a superiority complex which they find hard to shed. More I think about it, more it appears to be true; I may sound a bit contradictory, but that is because I am defensive on Singapore, which unlike Hong Kong as an example, avoids ostentatious display of wealth, though to be sure there are hundreds of cars which are worth USD 500K and more on the road, and condominiums range from USD 1M to USD 10M, and houses could range from USD 2M to USD 50M. However, you do not witness what you see in the movie – there are no crazy rich “Chinese” running around the city in jeeps and revving their sports car engines, and dancing away the night. If anything, Singapore is known for its hard-working people who have built an incredible society and country from what was just a marshland some six decades ago.

Coming back to the stark contrast between Asian and Western societies, it is apparent that the Western countries have “equalized” their societies in terms of acceptance of folks based on merit only (in most cases) and less emphasis placed on sheer wealth and connections. There can be no movie like “Crazy Rich Asians” which revolves around America for instance – there will be no “Crazy Rich Americans/Caucasians” kind of movie as there is no story there! A cross-cultural mix is so normal in America or even in Europe these days, but it is still a wonder in Asia. What is then so unique about two Chinese people falling in love with each other – not even one White and one Chinese mixing together? The only difference is the obscene wealth of the hero’s family and the attitudes of his family towards newcomers into their family who are not of their richness level.

While there is a story line in the movie, it is nothing outstanding. It is a story of unstoppable romance, and I knew for sure that our hero is going to pop up in the plane towards the end of the movie, which is due to depart with our heroine and her mother……..getting out of our hero’s life for good. It is so very much like a Bollywood movie – in fact, there are hundreds of such movies in Bollywood and Kollywood, when the hero and the heroine reunite after breaking their respective hearts and the viewers’ hearts, who are disappointed that they have broken up.

The movie rambles on for quite a while after the couple arrive in Singapore……..I do not see the rationale for certain sequences which are garish like at the friend’s house of the heroine. I would have preferred a simple friend who lives in a HDB (Housing Development Board) apartment with a more “common man” view of the society that we all live in here! That would have been more humane as well, and would have brought our hero into that kind of abode for a change!!

So, in essence, this is a movie which would result in a wedding ultimately between the two people in love, but would never rest the case of the ultra-wealthy family of the hero in Singapore, which is looking for their first son to take over the reins of the family business from the father, marry into another wealthy family, and run the business and make even more money. I am reminded of the Ambani family in India here. So, how can the hero’s mother be peaceful? She will try to create more problems for the couple, though they might return to New York for what they perceive to be a simple married life as a middle class couple.

This probably explains why a sequel is already being planned for this movie. Is it surprising? Not at all.

Given a better understanding, I would have avoided seeing this movie as it corrupts my view of Singapore and the Singaporean way of life. This movie would surely be a hit if it is adapted by Bollywood for an Indian version of the movie. That is not surprising at at all – they will just add more songs, and some car races, show Jaipur/Jodhpur palaces, et al.

Enjoy your weekend with other excellent movies that are available on Netflix or elsewhere!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th December 2018

The Inherent Corruptibility of the Great Human Mind


It took me quite a while to think and frame the title of this blog post, though I know well what I am going to write about. I added the word “great” after more thought, as I concluded that notwithstanding the negative aspects of the mind, it is still the greatest invention of man (till Artificial Intelligence unseats it from the throne).

The idea for this post came from the introduction chapter of the book “We are the Change we seek – The Speeches of Barack Obama” edited by E.J. Dionne Jr., and Joy-Ann Reid. My wife passed this book to me for weekend reading, asking me not to waste time and instead read something substantive and meaningful (Disclosure: She likes Barack and Michelle, but I am ambivalent on Obama and fond of Michelle). There must be some pointed intention in her to make me read the works of this famous orator of a president.

I did read the introduction fully, and then meandered around the book, read Barack Obama’s farewell speech at Chicago, and so on. But one thing in the introduction chapter held on to me like a leach – it was the quote from a speech delivered by FDR (Franklin Roosevelt) at Thomas Jefferson’s home at the historic Monticello venue on July 4, 1936.

To quote FDR, “……….our nation’s founders had broken away from a system of peasantry, away from indentured servitude. They could build for themselves a new economic independence. Theirs were not the gods of things as they were, but the gods of things as they ought to be. And so, as Monticello itself so well proves, they used new means and new models to build new structures”. Unquote – the purpose of the past is to serve the present and future. History is about testing institutions against standards and adapting them, as FDR puts it, to “enlarge the freedom of the human mind and to destroy the bondage imposed on it by ignorance, poverty, and political and religious intolerance”.

I rarely quote from books or articles or newspapers. Most of what I write germinates from a single idea, a single inspiration. I then think about the idea and bring together the thoughts from a racing mind, in order to make a meaningful blog post.

However, in this case, I felt that I am rather highly influenced by the idea of FDR, and so wanted to give full credit to him, before I leverage his idea for my add-ons!

To dissect FDR’s idea, you need courage, yes, I mean courage and boldness of vision. Mahatma Gandhi had that courage, to break away from traditions, and release the collective power of the minds of millions of Indians. I may not agree with his collaboration with the British during the Second World War, but that does not take away an inch from the greatness of his mind, which was as astute and visionary as the founders who wrote the Constitution of the United States.

We are held back from progress when our minds are not completely free from the bondage that FDR is referring to in his Monticello speech. When we discriminate people by their race, religion, or colour, it means only one thing – that we have not yet forgotten slavery and the hard lessons of ethnic cleansing. This discrimination exists everywhere, in all societies, and more so in that beacon of human freedom, the United States.

The human mind is highly influencable and highly corruptible. I would argue that the human mind distances itself from morality when it is forced to encounter difficult choices in society. It is rather easy to follow countless others and take the beaten path – why take the risk and chart a new path like what Gandhi did? And, face unknown troubles? It requires big courage, self-sacrifice and a certain moral steeliness.

The societal demand for conformism is a drag on the independence of human thought and freedom of the mind. Society corrupts each and every member who has chosen to be part of that society. If the cult leader (taking an extreme example of conformism) orders his disciple or follower to commit a crime, it is more than likely that the crime will be executed just so that membership benefits continue and there are no repercussions from the cult. You see what I am suggesting? Society controls the freedom of the human mind.

Gandhi protested against the religious traditions of the early 20th Century, and went against established traditions followed by Hinduism. He was a rebel and a reformer, who wanted to transform the Indian society and unlock its long held shackles. He wanted independence from the British rule, no doubt, but first he wanted Indians to achieve independence of their minds.

Human mind, as I stated above, is corruptible, as it is not immoral to amass wealth in whatever way possible. If the mind takes that view, then any logical argument to wean it from its corruptible state would be pointless.

So, in a nutshell, the human mind is corruptible, highly influencable in a negative way, and is not reform oriented due to the necessity to confirm to society’s conventions. Reformers come along once in a while, and try to persuade the people on the critical importance of positive reforms in an egalitarian manner. Mostly they fail, as Obama did, but sometimes they succeed as Gandhi did.

So what do you think?

Is your mind already corrupted? Are you forced to conform to societal norms and demands?

Or, are you a reformer? Do you feel that the society is unfair and unjust? Do you think marginal folks do not get a chance to play a meaningful and impactful role in society? How do you knock off corruption from society?

What should we do together?

There is always time to think, and no time is more suited for thinking than a Sunday evening with a nice drink in the hand and thoughts in that corruptible great mind of yours.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

02 December 2018

Grandmaster


I selected a Malayalam language movie for a change this time around.

I think Malayalam and Bengali movies are the best ones that came out of India. These two states – Kerala (Malayalam) and West Bengal (Bengali) – continue to produce quality, thoughtful, and deep artistic movies which are sometimes provocative, compared to the fun (lovers running around the trees) and emotional movies from Bollywood (mostly Hindi), Kollywood (mostly Tamil) and Tollywood (mostly Telugu).

This is also the reason why national award-winning “art” movies mostly originate from these two states of India. Many a time, such movies could be boring, long-winded and totally fun-less in their dramatization, and so fail to make it to the box office, but seriously appreciated by critical audience.

As I was browsing Netflix recently, I saw that they have created a separate special section for Indian movies with some pretty good selection – I found that I have not seen most of the movies! I selected “Grandmaster” because it was a thriller and sounded like a mysterious serial killer kind of movie, and the cast of actors was also good. It took me almost 3 sittings to finish the movie during the previous week.

Grandmaster is all about a top intelligent cop trying to solve a serial murder mystery in earnest, as he discovers that the murderer is going to hit close to home – or at his own ex-wife. Mohanlal (I am using real actors’ names here) delivers an excellent performance as a senior police official who has lost his way due to separation from his wife, and who is being egged on by the Police Commissioner to do better at his new assignment, which is about stopping crimes before they happen (!). I thought the director has done a good job weaving the story around Mohanlal’s own life, sending key messages from various actors throughout the movie which Mohanlal captures due to his past experience as a cop and trained intelligence. It was very interesting to see how he single-handedly identifies what is going on in the serial killer’s mind in the old fashion police detective manner – there are no fancy tools here, not even fingerprint analysis. Mohanlal displays a thoughtful demeanour as someone who is constantly thinking through the various scenarios, and finding clues at the murder scenes which others do not seem to find. Well then this is the hero’s work and it is to his credit, right? It is funny that the police does not even attempt to trace the letters coming to Mohanlal directly from the serial killer.

The killer is shown to the audience, though he is unknown (not yet known to Mohanlal)  till the end of the movie. But the assumed killer is not the real one, and therein lies the mystery of this movie. The killer we see at the murder scene of the first victim (Alice) has the rough edges with a suspicious look, and we more or less fall for the ruse of the director. He is involved, but he is not the real killer; he is a mentally deranged person, effectively directed and used by the real killer. I am sure that if we dig around we could find some old Hollywood movies like the Grandmaster.

How this killing plot ties in with Mohanlal’s ex-wife is a big twist and relates to why they two separated in the first place. I liked the way that the director brings in Priyamani (Mohanlal’s ex-wife) to share with Mohanlal the whole story about a court case which she won against Mohanlal’s police work, and how that ties back to the murders happening now.

I have not seen even Bollywood directors thinking in this seriously convoluted fashion. Mysterious and seriously interesting! Mohanlal pieces together the puzzle on his office chessboard and solves it in his own mind, but waits for the killer to make the final move against his ex-wife, and he is ready.

Like most movies, the director is now used to throwing twist after twist at the audience, and so spins one last one on stage with the real killer making the appearance and then explaining why he did what he did and what he is going to do right at this moment. I do not understand why police and others at such a scene would allow such a dissertation by a serial killer who acknowledged he killed all the 3 women before coming for Mohanlal’s ex-wife! But this is Indian cinema and even Malayalam movies cannot escape such demonstration of what I call “unreality”.

In a nutshell, I liked the movie and the manner in which it has been directed by Unnikrishnan, and also the acting of Mohanlal. There is almost negligible violence (I am not counting the easy murders executed using a simple long duppatta cloth!), the characters are delivering what is expected of them, and the story line is pretty decent. At the end of the day, as audience we expect an interesting and engaging delivery – and Grandmaster delivers it. It is not very highly rated, but it does not bother me. I think I should start rating movies, like how I rate my wines!

I recommend seeing Grandmaster. It is a good, thoughtful movie, well acted and directed. It was clearly not a waste of my time, as the movie made me think about human beings and the extent to which they can go in life to untangle life’s mysteries – in this case, the brother of Paul Mathews (the guy who was killed by one of the women who was later murdered) traces the people involved in his brother’s murder and one by one, eliminates those people, but the audience does not know about this till the end of the movie – that is the aura of a mystery movie!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 December 2018