The fragility of human life


When I take a long walk (around 90 minutes) in the morning, I tend to do one of three things – either I walk in total silence focusing exclusively on the terrain ahead, or listen to my old-time favourite songs (almost always Abba or Carpenters or Lionel Ritchie or Michael Jackson, or sometimes Norah Jones), or engage in some serious thoughts with good clarity of mind in a very calm environment (there are very few people walking or jogging at the time I usually go in the morning).

I have always found that thinking hard is tough when I am stationary, or just at home doing mundane things. When I am on a solo walk, I tend to be able to think more vigorously. While there are strong positives for thinking in a calm manner while walking a long distance, there are also some downsides. For example, when the mind flies into the future (or into the past occasionally), I tend to be less careful on the terrain ahead, and have fallen down a few times because I failed to “see” some obstacle on the path (there are many stones before I reach the wood-tiled pathway around a lake that I usually go to). I realized that it is not a good idea to keep falling down and hurting myself (especially on the knees) at my age, so have improved my caution while walking which reduces the intensity of thinking somewhat. The other challenge usually is the speed at which some runners tend to overtake me on a narrow path, forcing me to move to the extreme edges of the pathway which could push me into the lake if I am not careful.

This post is however not about my walking per se. It is more about thinking. I always felt that I should have devoted more of my time in my life to thinking hard about every choice open in front of me, or to every issue in my life crying for my attention and resolution. I spent far less time on thinking, or took the easy short-cut of personal advisors, or fell back on just my previous experience.

I still take advice from others close to me, but I spend more times thinking about all issues and come back home with a clarity which is difficult to beat. The result is that I am able to engage with my family members in a calmer manner, and others in a more effective way. As I walk more, I think more. The latest issue surrounding my thought process is the fragility of human life.

We see death and destruction all around the world when ideologies clash and countries end up fighting unnecessary wars or engage in unwarranted conflicts. A beautiful life which existed yesterday with lot of hopes for its future, is suddenly gone today. The ability of man to pluck another life out of this world has only grown tremendously over the years, and that man continues his life without remorse under the guise of morality, the necessity of a “good” war over evil people, or the essential nature of law enforcement – I am sure there are hundreds of reasons that a man can devise for taking the life of another human being for which he needs to answer in his own after-life – such offenses cannot be hidden or explained away under the guise of moral explanations that a government or religion can provide to the man who is plucking the life away. There is no real serious explanation that can be offered for shooting a suspect twenty times all over his body, especially on his head and chest. There is no rationale for bombing a country with cluster or chemical weapons. There is absolutely no possible reason for trying out one country’s latest weaponry on a country which cannot defend itself against such attacks.

So, what could be the reasons why bad things continue to happen all around us establishing the total fragility of human life, which should have always had a “precious” status in humanity?

While no explanations could be acceptable, the lack of fierce responses from religious guardians is absolutely stunning. When defenceless countries and people are bombed, where is the question of religions taking sides with the perpetrators? Where is the neutrality of religious intervention to stop or deter such devious things from happening?

As I think more and more on such topics, it is not unusual for me to get depressed on our inability to stop or vote against such things – there is no possibility that poeple could question or challenge a conflict or a war, unless there is a direct referendum on the most serious matters affecting this planet as a whole. However, that is unlikely.

Our own lives are so fragile, that we are not in a position to devise suitable advance responses to what is happening to our own bodies as we age. Any amount of preparation or planning is not going to help when the inevitable thing eventually occurs in our lives. We go on steering our lives taking some precautions as and when we feel necessary, but one day the fragility of our own lives will be exposed in a natural manner.

So how do we get ready for such a 100% clear possibility at an unknown date?

Try to think of whatever you had ever wanted to do, but could not do or achieve. Create a “bucket” list of such things. Spend more and more time with your family members. Do some charity. Do not expect any returns, and do not think that you will get to heaven or hell. None of that sort might exist. At the end of the day, what matters is whether you have helped people around you, stood for some good cause, made your family members successful in their respective lives, and garnered respect and admiration from friends and relatives for your ability to successfully steer your life and contribute to society in a manner that you could. Forget about emulating other successful people, or investors, or businessmen. It does not matter.

Well, more in future posts on this topic.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2018

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The impotence of the global order


I return to one of my favourite topics after many months!

It took a serious struggle in the U.N. Security Council for the 15 members to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire for 30 days. What does that say about our global peacemaking council, and what does that say about armchair leaders in world capitals who dictate to their U.N. Ambassadors about how to vote for the Security Council resolution? After all, the 30 day truce was just for delivering food and medical aid to the suffering civilians who have been bombarded constantly.

It is OK for them that innocent civilians die every hour in Eastern Ghouta region near Damascus in Syria. While I am not fond of Nikki Haley’s vituperative outbursts every time she encounters Russia at the U.N. Security Council, I am now questioning the motives of Russia. It is collaborating with Syrian government in bombing the civilian areas in Eastern Ghouta, and apparently, the U.S. or allied forces cannot help the rebels holed up in this region as it will inevitably lead to a war with Russia. While I am also not supporting the misadventure of the U.S. in the Syrian struggle, I think wherever these two great nations have interfered, it has led to serious wars and bloodbaths such as in Afghanistan starting from the late Seventies. What do these countries gain? Of course, power and influence, the ability to maintain a naval or air base, and to counter each other in this global warfare. Unfortunately, the people who are dying are not the military forces of either side, but poor civilians long suffering under the brutal President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. President Bashar apparently likes to clean out his own countrymen along with the rebels fighting him. And, President Putin of Russia is his most ardent supporter.

For good measure, we have Turkey, Iran and Iraq also involved in this war in someway or the other. Turkey does not want the U.S. to collaborate with the Kurds who are helping in the fight against the ISIS in Syria. Iran seems to be having its own plans. In a nutshell, Syria is a total mess.

My suggestion would be to bring the entire country under the auspices of a U.N. Peacekeeping Force. This would require a hardcore negotiation with President Bashar, but Russia will stop any such initiative dead on its tracks, as it does not want any direct U.N. involvement. It suits Russia and the U.S. to directly get involved and oppose each other in a huge proxy battle with the Syrian civilians as the casualty. This is a total and abject failure of the U.N. system and the global leaders who are responsible to bring any genocide to a complete stop. Just because people live in a rebel-controlled area (they have always lived in the area) does not mean they are traitors to the Syrian government. This interpretation is totally wrong and completely objectionable. Where will these people go anyway in the face of continuous bombardment? Why should civilians suffer like this even in the 21st Century? The same is the case in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia bombarding the people there because it does not agree with the political situation in that country. Thousands of people are dead in the Yemen war.

There is no respite in the Middle East, which must be the most bombed region after the battles in the Second World War. The Western nations (the U.S., the U.K., France, Australia) have used all their latest ammunition in the Middle East wars over the past 17 years (and even before that in the Kuwait vs Iraq war). Russia is now trying out its latest gear in Syria to ensure all their equipment do indeed work, and also to demonstrate to Europe and to the U.S. that it has missiles and planes which can deliver big damage, so don’t mess with us………….

Unfortunately, the only global mechanism we have is the U.N. and its almost useless Security Council.

There is nothing much else that can be achieved if the big countries who hold veto power cannot see eye to eye. I also believe Nikki Haley should use her considerable negotiation tactics instead of just shouting at the Russians who simply ignore her. There is just no point – she needs to work with her allies to get Russia into backroom negotiations and offer sops to Russia like not enhancing the already stiff sanctions regime that has been imposed on Russia for its indiscretions in Ukraine and Crimea. One cannot keep punishing a global power continuously, and blaming it domestically for election interference all the time, while expecting cooperation on tough global war-like matters, like in Syria. What is the point? The manner in which Nikki Haley operates is inconsistent with her boss’s approach – and the boss is President Trump, who wants to “work with” Russia, of course.

So, in a nutshell, it all again goes back to super power rivalry. The U.S. diplomats may not like Russia or President Putin. The Western nations may not like them either. But, do they have a choice?

Absolutely not.

And, where is the other super power – I mean, China? Just behind Russia, all the time. You get not one veto, but two.

Negotiate in good faith and without the theatrics and drama.

And, achieve peace for all. Stop the bombing, and save the remaining people, all of them.

Stop the total failure of the U.N. system.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th February 2018

 

Welcome to 2018


We welcomed the New Year in Singapore with non-stop rains, which played spoil sport for the thousands of party goers assembled at multiple venues for cheering the arrival of a new year. This past year has been a successful one for the Singapore economy with GDP growth almost doubling from its original forecast, and a general uplift in the mood of people with increasing income levels. Real estate prices are climbing yet again after several years of tightening measures by the government. Jobs are available for the right skilled people. Immigration is under check. Workers are adapting to newer technologies. Population of “smart” workers is on the rise. MNCs still view Singapore as a critical piece of their Asia Pacific expansion and growth strategy. Home rents are lower thanks to an oversupply of apartments. New Healthcare initiatives are being rolled out.

However, the world around does not share similar performance as that of Singapore, even in the immediate neighbourhood. While young Asians share an optimism about their future prospects, the Asian governments need to balance their thirst for economic growth and advancement and their strong desire to maintain social order and stability. This is an issue even with developed countries, so it is not new. However, the younger demographics of Asia could pose a tough challenge to governments. The younger generation has been defined by social media proliferation and intense networking, and share a common desire to break away from traditional viewpoints, often espoused with strong vigour by many Asian government leaders.

This is one reason why the Singapore government is infusing its party and ministerial line-up with younger, high-potential leaders. I am sure several other governments in Asia are also thinking and executing along the same lines. It is more critical and important to have an energetic global view of governance and its challenges, rather than just fall in line and toe the party line. Younger generation of today brings unbridled energy, enthusiasm, drive and passion to whatever they do, and if they feel they are not going to be heard, then they will head for the exits – it is not going to be a revolution of sorts, but going where they can be heard and can play a crucial role via contributing to the rise of new technologies. Governments so should devise a strong policy framework to keep their younger talent at home (at least a majority of them), rather than lose them to the same set of developed nations who provide a better ecosystem for such young workers.

The U.S. still remains the bastion of new ideas, despite the damaging influence of President Donald Trump. May be he will go away, and then the new President would liberalize the country and its tech-driven economy, and also further integrate the U.S. with its major trading partners more closely. The world will wait for that to happen. Nevertheless, people with dreams will still find a way to migrate to California.

Now, on another critical topic of interest to all global citizens:

2018 promises to be a year with lot of hopes, aspirations, desires and dreams. Global citizens should unite to stop war threats, and hold the U.N. accountable for ensuring peace in war-ravaged countries. Civilian casualties should completely stop. The International Criminal Court should prosecute more war criminals, keeping its mandate strictly in mind. Lack of peace and war-mongering are the antitheses of economic growth and social development. Let us not forget that there is more investment on offensive weapons and ammunition than on building national infrastructure, providing a higher quality of primary and secondary school education, ensuring a high quality of national healthcare, and other key people-oriented initiatives that governments should consciously implement with the tax payers’ money.

More weapons, higher the stock prices of the defence systems contractors. Who else benefits?

Given that the global wish is to have a peaceful 2018, let us all petition the U.N., the U.N. Security Council, and the U.S. President Donald Trump (no choice folks!), to stop all ongoing wars, and not to start a new one, and to commit not to use nuclear weapons irrespective of irresponsible provocations by rogue regimes. This is the best outcome for a peaceful world in 2018. Our collective conscience should demonstrate our joint commitment to demand that our leaders listen to our collective voice, and act based on that voice. People have a vote, a voice and of course, they pay taxes. Expecting leaders to listen is not an “out of the world” requirement.

So, friends, let us dedicate all our joint efforts in the coming months to stop wars. Please run through some of the anti-war initiatives in the following websites:

United National Antiwar Coalition

Peace and Security: UNITED NATIONS

United for Peace and Justice

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (which won the Nobel Peace Prize 2017)

List of Anti-War Organizations

I strongly feel about this anti-war philosophy – every day brings news on atrocities committed by governments, sometimes on their own citizens, and on other governments which are waging wars under the pseudo-umbrella of a “coalition” against all norms of humanity, civilization, and decency. How can killing of innocent civilians and children benefit any country? I fail to understand the concept of “war” perpetrated by countries with advanced weapons against poor, innocent civilians in the name of obliterating an opposing political or religious philosophy that they are not comfortable with. And, in all this, our great U.N. has been found to be wanting, totally lacking of firm leadership.

I can go on and on, but it is very important for all of you to stop for a few minutes and think, especially those of you living in developed countries. The planet is under threat of wars and an impending nuclear cloud. If you think you can escape by virtue of living in an advanced country, you are totally and clearly mistaken with an absolute lack of understanding of these threats which could become rather real in 2018.

Welcome to a challenging, yet promising New Year folks!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 January 2018

The Passing of an Eventful 2017


Today is the last day of 2017.

What an eventful year it was – every year has some significant events which define it. However, 2017 was one of those years which had multiple significant events trying to define it, the most important one being the coronation (!) of Donald Trump as the President of the U.S. in January 2017.

That changed almost every other significant event in the entire world – Trump changed the world order for everything significant. It became a topsy turvy world defined by uncertainty, chaos, confusion, war-mongering, spiced up elections, enhanced killing of civilians, increase in the number of refugees, increase in the severe perpetration of atrocities on ethnic minorities, diplomacy torn to tatters, more urban violence, intolerance towards minority races, testing of long-established alliances, threat to dismantle trade partnerships, ruinous twitter shots, anti-immigrant rhetoric, vilifying genuine polictical opponents, and what not. The list is endless, but the defining moment of the year was the unexpected anointing of Donald Trump as the most temperamental power-mongering trigger-happy IDK (I don’t know or care) president of the most powerful nation on earth.

If the U.S. is making diplomatic and militaristic waves in the North American continent, the U.K. is making a different set of waves in an economic and trade sense, in Europe via its Brexit separation from the European Union. While massive chaos has not followed the Brexit vote, it is likely that the full impact of this separation would be felt in 2018/19, as both entities resolve trade, immigration, security and other issues between themselves. In Asia, the country which is making most of the persistent waves of a destructive impact would be none other than China, which is intent on flexing its military and political muscle towards an unreasonable, unjustified nationalistic expansion into the South China Sea, to the detriment of the South East Asian countries. While Japan and India are acting as joint counter-balance to the rising influence and belligerence of China, they would not be able to match China, without the active involvement and participation of the U.S.

The most peaceful economic rise is that of India. While marked down by the demonetization and the national goods and services tax initiatives, India is recovering and is on the verge of exceeding a 7% GDP growth rate, soon to reclaim as the fastest growing large economy on the planet. Such a focused, sustainable growth rate is expected to lift 200 to 300 million people out of poverty in the coming 3 to 5 years.

2017 saw military conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria – all in the Middle East. An accurate tally of the human cost of these conflicts is not available, even from the United Nations, but it is safe to assume that a million or more civilian lives has been lost in these countries. It appears that human lives are the easiest expendable commodity that is available to policy makers in both political/government and military circles. This is a pathetic evolution of unnecessary warfare on civilians who cannot defend themselves, or who cannot be defended by their own weak governments. A totally ridiculous situation which even the most sober people in the world are not able to address and resolve to this day.

The ejection of the Rohingya Muslim community by Myanmar is another sad refugee story, which is tainted by lots of blood in the hands of the government and the arumy. The glorified leader and Nobel peace prize laureate, Aung Saan Suu Kyi of Myanmar, has not done herself any favour, by not speaking out loudly and clearly on the ethnic cleansing which has characterized the army operations against the Rohingyas. The United Nations, again, is unable to do anything except giving media interviews.

2017 was positive in many aspects as well. Stock markets everywhere created huge additional wealth during the year. There was strongly positive action in corporate market, with several major mergers and acquisitions announced/completed. Tax rforms in the U.S. have been a positive news for U.S. corporations. Climate change initiatives are in progress, despite the lack of U.S. support and participation. Trade initiatives are in progress, despite lack of U.S. participation (Trans Pacific Partnership, Belt & Road initiative, etc.,). GDP per capita is firmly rising in Asian countries.

So, in a nutshell, 2017 while being a dramatic and significantly eventful year, has not diluted the human confidence on the criticality of economic growth, alleviation of poverty, elimination of wars, sustainability of peace, trade, manufacturing, healthcare, etc., At the end of the day, people need more bread on the table, and if governments can help in achieving that goal so much the better for everyone.

I think we can learn a lot from the happenings of 2017, and could plan execution of important events in our life a little better. Lack of study, analysis and preparation hampers our execution many a time, and we should not let that happen. However, we almost have to pray that a nuclear war is not unleashed on Asia (again). Only one country has suffered from a nuclear war, and that is Japan. Do we want the second such country in Asia as well?

Surely not. Let us hope better sense will prevail over hot heads who have been given the mammoth responsibility to make epochal decisions which affect all of mankind.

I hope you all had a good 2017, and here’s wishing you an outstanding year in 2018 and more success, peace, and health. Forget the money and focus on these three things. You will come to the conclusion that your money priorities were not the right ones to lead a positive and cheerful life.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

31st December 2017

The Palestine Imbroglio


As I had written in one of my blog posts a few years ago, the Israel – Palestine conflict is an unnecessary one which has ravaged the Middle East politics and society, and caused untold misery and deaths.

I generally like Israel and the Jewish people who are creative, resourceful and talented. Israel was born out of the misery of the Jewish people. As was usual in those days (1940s), Britain was the cause of many territorial problems around the world. Britain just walked out of many trouble spots that they themselves created, and left it for the warring parties to settle scores. They did it in many nations, and I come from India wherein, Britain caused major damage to the fabric of Indian society.

It was no different in the Middle East. The Palestinian problem could have been resolved with the intervention of Britain (who was the occupier of many of the lands) just around the time of formation of Israel. Britain failed to resolve the matter and the result? A festering problem even 7 decades later.

I am not blaming either Israel or Palestinians for the problem. However, Israel is the more powerful party in the conflict, and it indeed has the most powerful military in all of the Middle East, the only one to have nuclear weapons and very advanced missile technology. Israel has the power – both military and moral – to stop all the killings which occurs in their conflict with the Palestinian factions. Please read one of my earlier blog posts – The Unnecessary War.

Now that the U.S. President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel, the Middle East is in a state of unrest yet again. Clearly, the Palestinians see this as a direct endorsement of the policies of Israel by its ally, the U.S., which is now increasingly losing its position as a conflict mediator between the two parties. The Palestinian President rightfully refused to receive and host the Vice President of the U.S. Mike Pence after President Trump’s announcement.

Israel has a great chance (it always had a chance) to call for an absolute truce and sit down for a dialogue without the presence of any third parties. Israel needs to communicate its sincerity about peace without getting irritated by unofficial statements of the Palestinian factions, and the anti-Israel utterances of many nations in the aftermath of the Trump announcement. Israel can show its magnanimity towards the suffering Palestinians and offer them the pathway to a dignified life with a statehood as they deserve. Of course, Israel’s security is absolutely critical, but then I believe that Israel is the most prepared nation in the event of an attack or a conflict. Israel needs to make it very clear to the Palestinian leadership that any violations of its security will lead to a complete reversal to the status quo.

And, Palestinians need to play ball with sincerity as well. There is no point in getting riven by internal factional politics without focusing on the welfare of the Palestinian people. They need to understand that the existence of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and they need to make some compromises towards achieving a state of long-standing peace, like what Israel has to do as well. It takes two hands to clap, and the third hand(s) are now getting out of the picture, if you understand what I am trying to say.

So, in my opinion, the stronger party has to take the lead in establishing peaceful conditions for negotiations to move forward. Building settlements on Palestinian land (or, disputed land) should stop. Using brute force against unarmed Palestinians should stop. Accusations against the U.N. should stop. Similarly, Palestinians should stop street violence against the Israeli Defence Forces. They should compel their military factions to stop launching rockets against Israel. They should work with Israel in a positive way to defuse the current tense situation, and enter into negotiations with Israel.

Are all these things practical? Will they ever happen in our lifetime? There are tons of naysayers who preach that hostilities will continue till the time a “two-state” solution is reached, which appears impossible as of now, which then means that hostilities will indeed continue.

However, I think that if the U.S. and the U.K. get out of the peace negotiations, and let direct talks start between the Palestinian leadership and Israel, then we can hope to see some concrete progress in about a year’s time, provided there are no provocations from either side. If both parties are willing to make some compromises, make some much needed adjustments in territorial claims, remove irritants from the relations, and talk every day, then things can indeed move in the positive direction for both parties.

For Israel, this will be a positive step ahead towards lasting peace. For Palestinians, it will be a stop to their never-ending misery in living conditions, a stop to unnecessary deaths, and a potential realization of an official homeland for all of them, even with some limitations and compromises. It will be a huge start for them.

This is a real possibility only if Israel starts the ball rolling towards the Palestinians in a proactive manner, without any pre-conditions for starting the negotiations.

Let us all hope Israel will take that much-needed initiative, and bring about a much-needed peace to their lands, for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians. I hope Palestinians will cooperate if Israel takes the first positive initiative towards securing peace. Then together the world can celebrate the Israel-Palestine peace sometime in 2018.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th December 2017

Humans Losing out to Technology


There are countless ways in which advanced technologies have helped mankind over the years. The current (and future, for sure) rapid pace of technological development, will, no doubt, continue to render advanced capabilities to people, businesses and governments like what we could not have imagined even yesterday.

Technology is almost on a free roll now – nobody can stop its non-stop progress and achievements, and it is the way it should be. The challenge now is adoption and ongoing utilization of technologies – let us not forget the actual fact on the ground that over 3B (yes, billion) people in this planet do not have access to the internet (most of them do not have access to electricity or clean water or sanitation either). There is a lot of work to do before we get everyone in the world connected.

In the meanwhile, the military applications of technology are proceeding at a faster pace, as the world’s super powers race against each other to get the upper hand, which will never be used as there will be no global war between or amongst the super powers due to the possibility of total annihilation of this world as we know it today.

In this context, I was horrified to view the video of the huge destructive impact of tiny drones launched in a warfare situation, put up on social media by Stuart Russell, a University of California Berkeley Computer Science Professor.

Take a look at Future of Life Institute Autonomous Weapons Ban and

Slaughterbots Video CNN article and YouTube video

QUOTE

Professor Russell says “Trained as a team, [the drones] can penetrate buildings, cars, trains, all while having the capacity to evade any countermeasure. They cannot be stopped,”.

He noted that “a $25 million order” can now buy a swarm of such tiny “slaughterbots” that could kill half a city.

Professor Russell said that although A.I.’s “potential to benefit humanity is enormous, even in defense,” allowing the widespread use of machines that “choose to kill humans will be devastating to our security and freedom.”

UNQUOTE

These tiny mini-drones which have destructive military uses are now called “autonomous slaughterbots” and are unleashed in a “drone swarm” from the underbelly of a bomber plane. These are now rightfully characterized as “weapons of mass destruction” as a small band of military men can essentially bring a country to its knees by launching a slaughterbot attack which will raze an entire city to the ground and kill millions of people at one go – more effective than a nuclear weapon which is much more expensive to build, maintain and use. In today’s world, even a kid knows what a drone is, but do we really understand how nations can get completely out of control with this technology which is like a powerful machine gun or multi-barrelled missile launcher, the only difference being that the slaughterbots can come in thousands to obliterate an entire battlefield or a city.

There is no current counter-attack mechanism against an attack by slaughterbots. Even more worrying is the fact that the “attacked” cannot easily figure out who is the “attacker”, or where they are located. How do you attack someone who you do not know, or whose location cannot be determined. So, we are now in faceless military attacks, and all that it takes is one small band of rogue folks who know this technology. Let us not forget that both “good” and “bad” guys now have drones, and also that the “good” guys could be indiscriminate in their plans and attacks sometimes.

So, the world is getting to be a deadlier place than it ever was in its history. Drones can target individulas anywhere in the world, and are being enhanced to penetrate any kind of structure to reach to the designated target. Further, drone swarms “act” like a swarm, in the sense that they will coordinate their attack plan with each other, leading to a scalability that does not exist today. We are essentially looking at the collective brain power of a slaughterbot drone swarm, which could be as deadly as a nuclear weapon without incurring all the risks of a war.

Welcome to the slaughterbot era, friends. It is critical that we protest against such weapons of mass destruction, these are much worse than land mines.

Cheers (and No Cheers!),

Vijay Srinivasan

26th November 2017

 

The Zookeeper’s Wife


I continue to have a fascination for the Second World War and its stories. I might have seen many war movies over the years, and especially like the ones which show the miseries of war, the sufferings of the people, the utter insanity of war, and the cruelty displayed by the average man in all his barbaric manner when he belongs to the winning side (not always though).

In my recent flight, I chose to see The Zookeeper’s Wife after I read the brief description of the movie – nothing much, but enough to kindle my interest. I browsed through a lot of movie briefs on the screen, but eventually came back to this one because it was set in wartime Poland, which was probably the most bombarded and affected country in the Second World War and also in its aftermath.

I am not going to recount a summary of the movie here in this post. In a nutshell, the movie is about the Director of the Warsaw Zoo and his wife (Jan and Antonina Zabinski), who managed to save 300 Jews from sure death during the German occupation of Poland from 1939 onwards. It tells their story of warmth, kindness, compassion towards the Jews, whose Ghetto was under attack by the German soldiers and eventually burnt down. It also shows the cruelty and barbarism of Nazi German soldiers, who were anyway under orders to murder Jews.

Imagine if Germans had discovered the fact that Jan and Antonina were hiding hundreds of Jews in their zoo. They would have been executed without mercy for an act of human kindness – an act of saving other people from the cruelty of Germans, and also an act of saving them from torture and death (which was impending as the Germans rounded up the Jews in the Ghetto and packed them off to the concentration camps – it was heart-breaking to see the small kids as young as 5 years old pleading to be taken off the train and saved). It is still sometimes difficult to believe that such cruelty existed in this world (unfortunately in continues to exist in several nations as we know for sure now).

While the story revolves around Antonina, the real hero of the story is Dr Jan Zabinski, the Director of the Warsaw Zoo. He displayed a strong sense of humanity and justice (remember this is a true story) towards the Jews. He secretly participated in the Polish underground, and was always working against the occupying German forces. Jan said “My deeds were and are a consequence of a certain psychological composition, a result of a progressive-humanistic upbringing, which I received at home as well as in Kreczmar High School. Many times I wished to analyze the causes for dislike for Jews and I could not find any, besides artificially formed ones.”

As a lover of animals and believing that every living creature was important, Antonina played an indispensable role in saving hundreds of Jewish lives. “I looked at them with despair,” she said. “Their appearance and the way they spoke left no illusions. … I felt an overwhelming sense of shame for my own helplessness and fear.”

[The quotes above from Dr Jan and Antonina Zabinski are from Biography.com – please see Zookeeper’s Wife True Story].

Out of the 300 people the Zabinskis saved, only two died during the war; all the others remarkably found refuge and safe passage elsewhere.

In 1968 the state of Israel honored the Zabinskis with the title “Righteous Among the Nations,” a recognition that was given to all those brave citizens who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.

I liked the movie though it was not a big commercial success. I understand that the Polish people liked the movie. In my opinion, the movie shows that human kindness and civility have a big role to play even in today’s highly commercialized world. During the Second World War, the situation was vastly different from today, especially in the countries occupied by Germans who were on a mission to eliminate Jews. Poland was hugely affected. We cannot forget the fact that Adolf Hitler managed to murder 6M innocent Jews in Europe, and movies such as these show the small, yet critical kindness that was required on a humanitarian basis to save people of any kind. After all, what is the difference between one human and another? The brutality of Germans has been depicted in some savagery in this movie, though much less than in some of the other movies.

Let us not forget that human kindness, compassion and civility form the crux of human life on this planet. And, powerful nations cannot keep silent in the face of ethnic cleansing, brutality and murder of innocent civilians, irrespective of their race, religion, colour or ethnicity. I have written about other such instances (the expulsion of Rohingyas of Myanmar is a strong example, and the Syrian War – both are going on currently).

As highly educated and well-to-do people, we owe it to this world to do the right thing instead of keeping quiet in the face of atrocities unleashed on civilians by brutal dictatorships. We should push our own governments and multilateral agencies to act to save people.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

12th November 2017

Make the Best of the Rest


I was having a chat with one of my close personal and family friends yesterday. It was a casual chat, but as always it turned into a deep discussion on several matters which have always been close to my heart, and I am sure, to his heart as well.

While we meandered around issues and challenges of mutual interest, we finally landed on the most important and critical issue that should dominate every discussion that people over 50 years of age are having, and that is, how to make the best out of the rest of our lives.

Yes, it is something that we should not shy away from. Discussing potential death timeline, and how to deal with it in advance, and understanding how others would deal with your death, is something that is direly needed. We do not discuss such matters. Period. Don’t you agree? It is considered inauspicious to even think of such things.

While discussing death could be seriously challenging, what about discussing about how to make things better for others while we are all on the firm and unchangeable path to our respective deaths? In a nutshell, how to make the best out of the rest of our lives? How can the rest of our lives be useful to not only the people closest to us, but also to people in the society we live in?

While my friend and I discussed this matter briefly, it was clear in our minds that this was something that is going to dominate our thoughts and actions in the coming months and years. Again, let us think about our legacy. Who will remember us, year after year, outside of our very close relatives and family friends? Is there someone out in the open world who would recognize your contributions to the society that you had lived in before you passed away – someone not related to you, someone not your friend? You do not have to be famous or a big philanthropist to have that kind of recall.

As we plough through our conscience, our entire life till now, our close family members and friends, it becomes very clear that there are very few people outside our circle who have been impacted by your presence in this world (let us say over 50 years, could go on to a 100 years!).

Did we ask the right questions to figure out who needs our help? Did we consciously feel that we could have been of service to those in need? Did we do public service? Did we mentor people who are not related to us or not friends of us? Did we donate to charity every year? Did we give out time to people who would have benefited? Did we even ask our own close personal and family friends if they need any assistance?

Very few people do these things. Just touch your heart and respond. We want to have a drink and relax, or we want to attend parties and network, or we go for movies. We worry about our financial position all the time. We worry about the condition of our car, yes, we “feel” for our car, or our apartment. We worry about tons of mundane things. But we do not worry about how to make the best use of our time to help others in need.

Money and material things dominate our conversations, even those within our own family network. There is no spirituality in almost everything we do. We should not confuse religious affiliation or temple visits or prayers or rituals with spirituality. This is a common mistake we all make. You attain spiritual well-being when the Super Power (not the U.S.) determines that you are (a) devoid of material desires; and (b) you have rendered help to several poor folks who would vouch for your generosity, kindness, time and assistance. It is not going to be based on how many times a month you visited temples or prayed for your own material success.

I think if you are reading this blog post, you are going to probably ring me. You would want to discuss more. Yes, I think there is a lot more to this topic than what I have written thus far. Let us discuss. I strongly believe our times are limited, and we have to contribute urgently. No one can predict how long we are going to live. Why bother about the lifespan if you can focus on things which help others? Not that it would assure a place in heaven, but that is the best thing that you can do.

Think about it, and let us talk soon!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

5th November 2017

 

 

Life is all about sharing


We see lot of wealth around when we live in developed countries.

For instance, in Singapore, we see lots of very expensive cars on the roads. For the uninitiated readers, Singapore is the most expensive place to buy a car. Period. But then, we see lots of BMWs, Mercedez, Maseratis, Porsches, some Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and big SUVs on any major road, speeding past. Such cars cost a lot of money, and some of these cars could cost as much as an apartment.

Of course, one sees a lot of cars in the U.S. and other major developed nations such as Germany. However, relative to median per capita income, Singapore still continues to have the most expensive cars on the road, despite strong discouragement from the government in terms of taxes on cars (foreigners always get shocked when they find out that a piece of paper called the certificate of entitlement to drive a car costs as much as a car). Further, housing prices are rising in Singapore again, putting condominiums out of the reach of the average buyer (a typical freehold or even leasehold apartment of 1,300 Sq Ft area could cost as much as SGD 1.8M and upwards). Forget houses, which could cost upwards of SGD 3M.

Well, the point of mentioning all this stuff is that developed countries are moving fast forward in per capita incomes and cost of living. The poorer folks get marginalized in almost all developed countries. As we now know for sure, Capitalism holds sway in all developed nations, there are very few countries which are socialistic and still well developed (like the Nordic countries).

Governments make attempts to be inclusive. For example, the Singapore government raised the income tax rate a few years ago to provide more funding for social programs. Other governments also try to do similar things. At the end of the day, people who are left behind by capitalism are exactly the people who need help from the government. Unfortunately, the richer people do not encounter poverty in most countries, and do not feel the compulsion to help their compatriots benefit from the spoils of capitalism. In the U.S., we hear the usual refrain that the poor folks do not work hard enough to uplift themselves out of their poverty. It is all their fault, and what could others do that possibly they cannot do themselves?

It is ridiculous to expect all people to be at the forefront of an economic surge. The U.S. is a USD 19T economy with 320M people. However, 46% of U.S. households live from paycheck to paycheck. There are millions of Americans who are technically “poor”.

So, now I come to the key issue of this blog post. Life is all about sharing and donating to the less fortunate folks around us (or even in other countries). I only talked about developed countries, can you imagine the status of the less developed or developing countries – vastly worse, as we can ourselves see. What can the most fortunate people do to this world? Make even more money (as many or most of them are doing anyway), or share their wealth in a coordinated manner with the less fortunate?

The argument here is clear. If rich people are making more money, it is because there are people who make the goods or deliver the services which make the rich people richer by the day. If the government (like in the U.S. currently) cuts the taxes via a major tax reform, what does that mean? It reduces the tax on corporations and richer individuals in a bigger proportion, and increases the value of their equities on the stock market, making them richer. Does it do the same to middle class households or the poorer sections of society? The jury is out, and let us see what happens.

In a nutshell, if you do not share a single dollar or rupee with poor folks, there is something seriously wrong in the way you look at your own life. No one is going to forcibly take that dollar or rupee from you, but you will have to answer your own conscience when folks are suffering and sometimes dying on the streets. Share your wealth, like what Mark Zuckerburg or Bill Gates is trying to do. You will depart this world with a better “feeling” and a sanguine conscience.

It will help this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

4th November 2017

 

Our Life is not Religious anymore


What kind of topic is that?

I have been thinking of what to write this weekend in my Blog, and I was deluged with a number of potential topics. In fact, there were so many topics, I just could not decide during the course of today on the specific topic which would be of interest to me. Yes, to me. After all, my Blog exists for the pure purpose of satisfying my writing and literary skills, and nothing else/nobody else. If others read my Blog, that is fine, but that is not a pre-requisite for the existence of my Blog. I love writing and writing on a wide variety of topics which interest me. I am constantly on the prowl for issues which are of importance to me, and by extension, to other people! I am sure my readers see the relevance. It is not my intention or desire to conform to prevailing norms or practices. It is my desire to think and think deep and well, for my own benefit.

When I started my life, I was very religious and prayed everyday. My mom taught me that it is important to pray to God everyday, and especially to the Elephant God (Ganesha as we call Him in Hinduism) as He is the greatest remover of obstacles in one’s life.

So, I was religious for almost three decades. It was good, as I had some “hold” on the Hindu faith and God(s) in general, though I was not a big temple visitor, or follower of religious rituals. I believed in the power of one God and its influence for the good of mankind. I never asked God to grant me anything. In that sense, I was a man without “material” wishes. I knew that what I need for life has to come through my own hard work, and not because God decided to give me something by granting my wishes.

Since I was on my own from the age of 17 (my father died at that age of mine), I built my life on my own. People around me used to say that God always helped me, and at that time I believed in a power bigger than mine guiding my actions. I used to go to the temple near my house every week (and sometimes twice a week), and thought that it was the most appropriate thing to do. Since I had many critical responsibilities at a young age, it kind of helped me to think about God sometimes. I did very well in my studies, and in fulfilling my family responsibilities, by my sheer hard work and personal commitment and drive. I declined to marry a rich girl as I thought such a marriage would be incompatible with my socialist views and adherence to a frugal philosophy in my life (several close friends of mine know about my life and behaviour during those formative years). I went against my mom’s wishes, and told her that I was not ready for a huge marriage commitment, based purely on economic betterment.

So, life went on, and slowly but surely I discovered myself.

It is very important for each one of us to “discover” ourselves.

I began to visualize my own contributions to my own life and to the lives of my siblings and immediate family circle. I understood that nothing would have happened had it not been for my vision and hard work. Yes, it was very very hard work at a very very young age. I sacrificed many things, which I would not have done if my father had been alive.

Slowly, I stepped away from blind faith.

Slowly, I stepped away from following others.

Slowly, I stepped away from the thought that God provided guidance and help.

Slowly, I became an agnostic.

I began to question everything in life.

I kept my views private. Only my wife knew about my thought processes. However, she remained and continues to remain a devout religious person, despite the influence of my own wandering ideological thoughts and philosophy.

She always respects me for who I am. She never challenged me. She only pointed out what I was leaving on the table. Yes, of course, I was leaving several things on the table. My significant connections to a private circle of relatives. My strong connections to a religious community. My double standards when it came to very close relations, from who I have to partially hide my views (like my own mom, uncles, etc.,). However, I knew how to keep my private views away from table top discussions, it was never my intention to offend anyone for their own beliefs or faiths.

So, it has gone on for the past 15 years or so…………….I am still strongly beholden to my own religious views. I think that religions have divided rather than unified mankind. I believe (I think it is true) that religious wars have killed millions of people around the world. I think religions provoke unnecessary tensions, wars and passions. I think we can do well without all this stuff, and direct our collective energies towards the betterment of humankind.

Some folks I know think that I am idealistic. I am not pragmatic. I am not a model human. I am not a person that falls in line. I could be a trouble monger. I am not a human being that understands how other humans work. And, so on and so forth.

The issue, of course, has always been the same – people have been endowed with enormous brain power. Why are they not using it for improving the livelihood of poor people? Why are they spending so much money on religions, temples, and faiths? Why are they allowing religions to be misunderstood and crucified by gurus who are no messengers of God? Why are they allowing rape, killings and house burnings of non-conforming folks (like in the latest example of Rohingya Muslims who are being driven out of Myanmar by practicing Buddhists, Buddhism being the most pacific religion of all)? Why are injustice and inequity not being called out by religious followers? Why is there a deafening silence from “good” folks?

Well, my conclusion has been the same for the past 15 years. That is, God is a Socialist and never a Capitalist or a Communist. He wants us to help the poor. He wants us to share our wealth and savings. If He exists, He would insist that we cause no harm to others. He would emphasize the importance of Love and Peace.

I am not going to follow any religion because I was born into one, or because I was directed into another, or I was forced into one. Man and Woman have the power to think, conceptualize, contribute and improve the society. That effort is not going to happen because God asked us to do that. It happens because WE want to do that. We look out for one another. We realize the importance of LIFE. We conclude that all lives are equal and same.

So, my life is no longer religious. My life is going to be human. Just going to temples is not going to absolve us of our irresponsibility and collective darkness. The LIGHT is within us. It is up to us to discover and light it.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

21st October 2017