Category: Life Experiences

Campus Protests and Free Speech


You might have followed media coverage of campus protests against conservative speakers in prestigeous U.S. universities like University of California Berkeley. This is an important development in the annals of free speeach and freedom of expression in university campuses and society in general.

Key questions to be asked in this context:

  • Is there real freedom of expression in society and specifically, in university campuses today?
  • What is free speech and what are the limits of free speech?
  • Why do students generally and largely consider themselves “liberal”? Why do students not respect the need for universities and societies to listen to “alternative” facts, theories, hypotheses, though propounded by conservatives who have equal rights for expressing their views?
  • Why do we militate against people with different views on social matters as compared to ours? Why can’t we treat all people normally?
  • Why do universities, generally considered the bastion of free speech, free thoughts and freedom of expression, tend to invite controversial speakers and then buckle to student protesters? Do they not have a responsibility to execute their plans to defend the above key tenets of academic life?
  • Why do Republicans (in this context, I am referring to legislators belonging to the Republican Party of U.S.) wish to legislate this aspect of campus life, allowing fiery speakers belonging to either liberals or conservatives into campus without any cancellations (like what has been happening a few times already in the recent past), but without due regard to university administration?
  • Why has almost everything polarized in U.S. society? Why can’t things be simpler? Where is the need to create several camps of thoughts in a university, except for mock debates?
  • And, so on and so forth

I believe it is critical to hear what opponents to your belief say in a public forum. If not for anything, it allows one to strategize for evolving a counter approach to the ideas propagated by powerful believers of opposing philosophy. It is the right thing to do. Impeding free speech by anyone is not the right way to operate in a true democracy. If this is not possible in the U.S., then one can assume that the U.S. is not a true democracy. Unfortunately, what happens in the U.S. is frequently copied in other countries. Or else, excuses will be used based on what has happened in the U.S. Such practices, while unhealthy, are inevitable due to the influence of the U.S. on world affairs.

Don’t we disagree with other people all the time? We must disagree respectfully, however. Sometimes, we do not say anything, or respond to provocations. Sometimes, we reserve the right to speak or respond in a civil manner. Sometimes, we congregate and evolve a uniform approach towards countering people who vocally drive a wedge in society for their own benefit.

However, violence is not an option at all. Attacking professors and guest speaker? A strict NO, NO. Our students should know better, they are not kids in primary school. The changed political landscape in the U.S. does not give permission to students to physically assault folks who have an opinion different from theirs. If such be the case, what is the difference between illiterates settling disputes by show of force, and educated elite doing the same in an open forum. Walking out of a convocation being addressed by Vice President of the U.S. is fine, but disrupting the convocation is not.

Students have to learn reality of life. In real life, one learns to respect others. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. When a co-passenger on a recent flight out of the U.S. asked me about what Asians think of President Trump, I told her what I think of him. I said I cannot talk for others, almost everyone seems to be enjoying the fun of a rather brash President. I uttered what I did on U.S. soil without any fear, because I believed in what I believe. She was a Democrat and might not have liked what I said about Trump and Hillary Clinton, but she did not shout at me or hit me! Civility and respect are the cornerstones of intellectual debates, and these cannot disappear from U.S. university campuses due to the outsized influence of extreme Left. Sometimes, the political Right may also be right.

Let us listen to all views before analysing and concluding. Academics should know this better than anyone else.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

Windsor Nature Park Trek


By now, my readers and friends know that I like to take very long walks (exceeding 14 KMs on the average every day of the week) and trek around the national parks of Singapore. I do not like the hot sun on my skin (which is the usual pattern of weather in Singapore), so I tend to go for my trek early in the morning. However, that does not always work as it is pretty dark in the parks and I am usually forced to stick to the roads in the park/reservoir areas, till the daylight streams in. Usually, I try to finish my walk or trek by 8:30 AM at the latest (during the weekends and public holidays). When my wife joins me for the trek, we start slightly later at around 6:30 AM or even later sometimes, and we return home by 9:30 AM or so. Every weekend day is different, and I enjoy the walking experience more than anything else. Of course, I am interested in the “Fitbit” metrics, and have written about it in my previous blog posts.

While MacRitchie Reservoir and Labrador Park remain my favourites, I also tend to explore anything new which crops up in Singapore. Recently, the National Parks Board of Singapore opened the Windsor Nature Park in Upper Thomson area, which is the sixth nature park in Singapore. I am always amazed how much of greenery exists in Singapore, one of the most urbanized cities of the world. It is the result of conscious decisions made to retain trees and greenery which provide oxygen for the concrete jungle in which we all live.

Further details of the Windsor Nature Park can be found in the official announcement linked below with due acknowledgement to National Parks Board of Singapore, so that the readers of my blog can benefit: NParks opens Windsor Nature Park, Singapore’s sixth nature park, and announces plans for a new Rifle Range Nature Park

My wife and I wanted to go to the Tree-top Walk and it took us more than 2.5 KMs of intense walking through Windsor Park to get there. The other way to get to the Tree-top Walk is via the MacRitchie Reservoir Park with which we are intimately familiar. We thoroughly enjoyed the walk, though when we reached the Tree-top Walk it was just 8:00 AM, and we found out that the Walk opens only at 8:30 AM on weekends and public holidays. Thankfully, the operator of the Walk arrived 15 minutes early, and our wait did not go beyond 20 minutes or so. While the Walk as usual is a great one at a height of more than 25 metres, with lots of things to see on either side of the Walkway, it is not conducive to enjoyment when there are many people pushing you to move ahead. I do not understand the point of rushing through the Walk which offers a lot to be enjoyed by visitors. But then, this is Singapore where people are always in a hurry. We had to move fast forward without so much as getting time to take selfies. For folks who have not visited, this is one of the best experiences in Singapore with an excellent connection to nature. Go at less crowded times like late mornings or early afternoons and enjoy the walk, relishing it slowly.

Overall, we walked close to 7 KMs through Windor Park (to and fro), and enjoyed every bit of it. I realized the value of trekking shoes – my Merrel shoes worked hard during the trek! While ordinary sports shoes might be adequate, it does serve you well to have anti-slip, ankle-protecting trekking shoes with strong grip on the gravel.

I am strongly recommending that you take a trek through the new Windsor Nature Park with its multiple trails, new boardwalks, water streams all over the place, and interesting flora and fauna. Focus on the pleasure of walking through it all, and you will realize how much we have missed all through our lives! Yes, in the past, I never did all this kind of stuff, and my senses were not up to the mark of hearing sounds or smelling fragrances in almost a forest kind of environment. This Park is almost like a forest in a city area with condominiums and houses all around, with a golf club (Singapore Island Country Club) adjoining it, and yet you will get a feel of nature with no intervention capable of disrupting the experience.

Enjoy it while you can. Have a great weekend!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th May 2017

Washing Your Own Car


Wow! What a topic to write on? Amazing. I know what you are thinking – “this bloke must have run out of things to write”. I don’t mistake you. I also thought the same thing.

But then, I thought that it is an important thing to write upon – it is very important that you wash your own car. I am sure most of you don’t – you either have a maid at home whose SOW (Scope of Work) includes washing of your car, or you will drive into a car-washing facility at a local gas station. But I do neither.

For me, washing my own car is an important bi-weekly action to be undertaken with my own hands – sometimes, I miss the schedule and the car looks really dirty during the third and fourth weeks. It happened today for me – the trigger for me was the ugliness of the car with some bird sh** on the bonnet. I told my wife that it has now become very critical for me to go down and give the car a thorough wash.

The interesting thing is the assemblage of multiple liquids and wiping clothes in preparation for the washing of the car. In my case, it takes a good 5 minutes to put together the car washing liquid, the wiper cleaning liquid, the glass cleaning liquid, and the tyre-blackening liquid, along with a plethora of some 5 different yellow wiping clothes and two buckets, etc., I then triumphantly set out after intimating my entire home that I am going to wash the car. Everyone says bye and they all know well that it would take not less than 75 minutes.

Here I go, and what do I see – atleast two maids washing their owners’ cars. No owner in sight. There are some 200+ cars parked in the parking area of our condominium. Since the owner is not available, the maid cannot move the car to the washing area, and so washes with water from a bucket and no advanced fluids except for a liquid detergent. No polishing either.

I got my favourite place to wash however, and started setting up my “equipment”. Following are the steps I used for washing my car today:

  1. Since no hosing is allowed for washing cars, I used small buckets of water to throw on the car and wash it adequately. My estimate is that I used some 15 small buckets (10 litres capacity) of water to remove the dirt and grime accumulated over the past 3 weeks.
  2. I mixed the liquid soap wash in a bucket of water and lathered it up. It was thick and creamy with thick soapy feel. I thought it was of the right mix and density, and proceeded to apply the same using a high quality wiping material (like a hand brush) all over the body of the car. This is the most time-consuming action, as one needs to ensure that almost all areas of the car are well soaped over and rubbed using the soft clothes brush.
  3. Once step #2 is completed, then the major work is throwing water with some force all over the car to clean off the soap. Sometimes, the soapy foam is still there, and it takes some repeated effort to get it off the surface of the car. This will probably required some 20 small buckets of water. One has to be reasonably sure that all the soap is gone completely from the car’s surface.
  4. Now comes the next tedious part – wiping with soft cloth all over the surface of the car and the inside edges of the doors, the boot and the bonnet, apart from the top surface (roof) of the car and the windshields. It is tough and takes time, but this is essential before any further cleaning is tried upon. Also, clean the tires with lots of water and soap, and then again with lots of water to remove all the dirt.
  5. Now, open the bonnet and wipe off any residual water along the edges. Then use the wiper cleaning liquid to fill up the container with 1:10 ratio with water. It should fill up to the brim, and once done, it will be ready for atleast the next 5 to 10 wiper washes. Most people don’t do this and just fill up with plain water. I recommend a wiper cleaner.
  6. It is now time to use the glass cleaning liquid to spray on the front and back windshields as well as the glass windows and side mirrors. This would make visibility 100% and is an essential action that car drivers need to take up, as the weather conditions make all glass areas dirty, with visibility reduction.
  7. Finally, use the tyre-cleaning spray on the tyres (generally this is a whitish liquid) – you should spray only on dry tyres. This liquid will make some mark on a clean surface or road, so ensure that the spraying is done around the washing area, and wash off any marks from the area on which your car is standing. Upon further drying, you will have fresh-looking black tyres, and I can tell you that you would surely like them. Tyres should look shiny black and not greyish black, as you would agree.
  8. Once all this is done, take a smoother cloth (like a vest cloth) and wipe off the entire body of the car. Now, the car should be entirely dry with no residual water on any surfaces.
  9. You have achieved a total car washing phenomenon, and your car should be looking great now, irrespective of its age!

It is very important we do the above all by ourself. I used to get help from my family members long time ago when my kids were young – they were eager to learn how to wash a car. But now, nobody wants to join the experience. I am sure that the children would prefer to go for an auto-wash facility and save time and effort. But I feel that it is a great experience to wash one’s own car (no need to wash others’ cars, though I felt that the drivers in my car park wanted to stop by and ask for my service!!!).

Learning to do something and self-help are the best things life has to offer to us.

Enjoy car washing and the weekend!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

6th May 2017

Religions and Future Generations


My views on the unnecessary importance that we ascribe to religions in our lives and the extraordinary negative impact that the segregation of people is having on societies around the world are well established via this blog communication in the past. I have written about the destruction caused by religions over the centuries and how religions divide, rather than unite us.

While nothing much has changed in our societies with regard to the treatment of religions and the impact that the religions have on societies, it is now widely accepted that multiple religions with differing philosophies have succeeded in dividing people, and polarize their views about what is right and what is wrong. Strong indoctrination of religious principles which are not subject to debate and discussion, has further fomented these divisions. Only a few religions are pacific, the rest push for indoctrination of principles, adoption of basic tenets, and followership of the “cult” to the exclusion of all others.

Added to the above religious divisions forged by major religions, the caste system perpetrated in India (for example) has further deeply polarized the society. While the caste system in itself is deplorable, the adoption of non-economic criteria in stratifying a country’s population into haves and have-nots has worsened the deep divisions in society, and has led to the departure of meritocracy from running of the society and the country. India was accordingly set back by several decades when compared to caste-less societies such as Japan or China, which are much more homogeneous in population demographics and treatment of citizens.

We argue vigorously oftentimes that equal treatment should be meted out to equal votes from citizens. Such is not always the case even in developed countries. There are very few examples wherein countries do not even differentiate based on gender – these are the Nordic countries which have reached a very advanced state of development, not found even in the wealthiest and more developed nations such as the U.S., U.K., or Germany. The treatment that citizens usually receive in countries such as India is dependent on religion, caste, race, colour or gender. We tend to ignore such treatment from society in the hope that economic advancement will eventually obliterate such divisive tactics. I am not so sure.

While we have felt the acute impact of religious and caste divides in our current generation, somehow we have been able to navigate our way through not just one system, but multiple systems, during our lifetime. This may be because of the early experiences that many of us have had in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which had made most of us rather matured for our time. The ability to navigate the world in an equitable and non-offensive manner, while keeping our heads firmly on our shoulders, has been a key characteristic of our generation who are now in our fifties.

But, what about the next generation and the one after it?

My worry is that the next generation who are in their teens and twenties are not yet experienced the way we were – probably they will never get our experience because they have grown up mostly outside India. The conditions are vastly different and meritocracy is the norm rather than the exception, and societies have matured rather aggressively towards equal and equitable treatment in a conscious way. This did not happen overnight of course, but took several decades of enlightened governance with the interests of citizens at heart.

However, as we move towards our twilight years, we need to be concerned about how our future generations will shape up and react to the world at large when it comes to the articifical divisions caused by religions. I always believed that we should set an active example, by following our own religion in a light manner (not with a lot of religiosity) without too many rituals which segregate us even from our own people (meaning other Indians in my case), and have an inquisitive mind on any subject matter thrown in front of us as an “accomplished” fact or a done deal. I wrote recently about thinking, and it is an extremely critical concept. If we do not think for ourselves and the world, then we would be doing what our ancestors had been doing over centuries without questioning their larger impact. If I am not considered as very religious, that is by my own design. I do not wish to be “special” in any category that divides me from others. I go to temples, but I also visit churches and mosques occasionally. We should look not for conformity, but for unity in what unites us all. I have communicated my thoughts to my family members, and sometimes to my close friends. I have not always received a positive sync, but I thought there indeed was a sense of appreciation on my thinking for myself. I do not of course, wish to indoctrinate anyone!

Coming to the conclusion, it is my earnest submission that people should look for similarities while maintaining their individuality. Non-conformance to a tenet or philosophy does not mean any kind of insult is proferred. Every individual has a right to his or her own thinking. It is most important to shape the thinking of future generations accordingly.

Let us all think! It is the most important thing to do today!!

Cheers, and Have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2017

The Smartphone Life


When I go for a walk, I invariably run into folks who (a) do not keep to their lane (!); and, (b) are totally immersed in the screen of their smartphone. There are also folks who are lost in music from their iPhones (which is fine), but keep to their lane and are not looking at their smartphones, which is fine.

When I run into these kind of people, I wonder what they do. If going for a walk in a nature reserve or a park means something to an individual, he or she should focus on that activity and not continue to be enslaved by digital devices. If their focus continues to be on their smartphones, then they will lose the advantage of enjoying the natural surroundings while walking or running. The ability to see and imbibe one’s surroundings is one of the key benefits of going for a nature walk as compared to the usual gym treadmill run.

The number of youngsters who remain engrossed with their smartphones or keep talking to someone they know over their phones, surprises me. They are all completely oblivious to their surroundings and are taken in by someone at a distance. They miss out on the glorious sunrise, the lake view which unfolds right in front of them, the wooden walkway which opens up ahead of them, the other folks who run side by side and say “good morning” sometimes. Is it not a pity?

Yes, it is.

I believe that we have all become slaves to our smartphones, and are dependent on the same for news, messages, facebook posting, instagram, chats, email, calendar, facetime, skype, and what not. Since the applications are universal, it does not take much effort from a third party to be able to reach out to an individual walking or jogging in a park. I have often seen people chatting over facetime with their friends or children while I went for a morning walk.

Even older generation is susceptible to this fad, as their children sync up with them better if smartphone and apps on the same are used as a preferred method of communication.

No wonder that social media has become a rage across the teenager and twenty something communities around the world. We are all forced to partake, as no one wishes to be left out.

However, as I alluded to above, it is sometimes better to leave behind the phone and get connected with other people in a fact-to-face fashion. There is more meaning to that kind of interaction, than just a simplistic chat message, or a facebook post. People react more warmly and with lot of candour when there is a direct physical conversation, with eyes locking with each other.

But then the world has changed, right?

It is no longer a simplistic world, it is a much more complex world. There is no time for a casual sit-down coffee chat, which is more healthy and open.

Well, we have to deal with the new world for sure, but let us make an attempt to do what we all did in our young age – go to a park, run around, swing on the swing, laugh, and interact with other kids or people around. Don’t keep looking at your phone all the time. Sometimes, it is better to leave the phone behind at home, which is what my wife does all the time when we go for a joint walk.

It is infinitely better to have a face-to-face conversation with a continuous eye-lock. Think about it, and you will realise how much you miss it these days – whether with your spouse, friend, relative, or office colleague. Everybody seems to be so highly “automated”!!!

Let us go back in time. And see how much more meaningful life was.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

4th February 2017

 

 

 

Winter in Wartime


This is an amazing Second World War Movie from Holland.

I continue to be fascinated by the heroism of young men (in this case a very young 13 year old boy) depicted in real life against the German Nazis. Whenever I happen to chance upon a good wartime movie, I have grabbed it and watched it non-stop. There is no other way to experience the worst catastrophe which befell the twentieth century.

“Winter in Wartime” is one such movie. Powerfully directed by Dutch director Martin Koolhoven and acted fabulously by Martijn Lakemeier as the young boy, the movie shows how such a young person matures during difficult war times faster than he would during normal times. I loved the acting by Martijn, who has delivered a phenomenal performance – I almost thought that the movie is for “real” and the happenings are true-to-life in all aspects of movie direction.

When Martijn’s father was dragged by the Nazis and shot dead by them in the town square, Martijn is shown running towards the place at a great speed, and the emotions and the anguish that he depicts on his face are something that the movie viewers will instantaneously perceive. I almost wept when Martijn just arrives at the town square and the bullets from the heartless Nazis hit his father’s chest and he falls down dead. The agony of a child is unbearable and I should commend the director for this fabulous piece of cinematography.

But, I think – why and how could Germans be so bad, vengeful, reckless and heartless? How can they be so ungodly? What made them into sheer animals who could take others’ lives – even those who were not fighting against them? After all, Holland was occupied territory and the Nazis were just governing the same ensuring that any resistance could be foiled. How can a nation like Germany allow its soldiers to murder (not kill in a battlefield) not only the innocent citizens of its own country, but of other occupied countries?

Nazis showed no respect for human life.

And, I also wonder what converts people into turncoats? In the movie, “uncle Ben” is shown as a good person, a guy who works for the underground resistance, but ultimately turns out to be a Nazi collaborator who could have potentially stopped the murder of Martijn’s dad by the Nazis. If extreme situations under war time can apply extreme pressures upon the human soul, may be it becomes weak and not able to take the pressure, and agrees to give up one’s own family and friends. I cannot believe that this can be the case, but apparently such situations have happened in Nazi occupied countries. People save their skin (for the moment), acting as informers on their own family and friends. How ridiculous can that be?

The movie also shows that how Europe has suffered during the wars, and how scars remain even to this day. The movie was released in 2008, a full 63 years after the end of the Second World War, but still resonated with Europeans, especially with the Dutch.

The war’s harsh realities hit Martijn quite hard and he also discovers that he should not be trusting everyone around him. The induction of the bad qualities of adulthood at the age of 13 are clearly demonstrated in the direction and acting. While I keep thinking about bigger issues involving the inhuman actions of the Nazis, and trying to “feel” what the indefensible people those days must have felt, the movie still manages to leave an indelible impression on me of a young boy whose normal growth into adulthood was accelerated by the war in a very unusual manner causing deep scars in him.

Do we “feel” the impact of this historical scar caused by Nazis and Nazi Germany? Can we ever even get close to the happenings of Second World War which caused so much untold sufferings to normal human beings at the hand of a cruel dictator and a country without a soul? Only people who suffered those days can tell. We are only seeing the movies and writing about the same.

I hope such a situation never arises again on this planet.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd January 2017

Merry Christmas with Blog Anniversary


Dear Folks:

Today is Christmas Day.

A day of peace and tranquillity. A day for prayers and repentance. A day for celebration.

It is also the completion day for my blog’s 11th year in operation. Yes, it has been 11 years (December 2005) since I started my blog during my stay at the Raffles Hospital for a back injury. That day is still vividly clear in my mind. I started to think more seriously about my life, my impact on other folks around me, my future, my childrens’ future, my friends, et al. I came to the conclusion that I can better contribute to people around me and improve myself and my thinking by starting to write regularly.

After some 1,356 posts (as of last weekend) over the past 570 weekends or so, I believe I have accomplished something to approach my goals of starting the blog. Still someway to go before my blog becomes more easily readable and accessible around the world. Still miles to go before I can become wiser to contribute my gray hairs (now it is still black, albeit with some treatment!) to the betterment of society.

I am contemplating on a Sunday morning (25th December Christmas Day) about my walking trip this morning during which I covered more than 10,000 steps (by the Fitbit measurement) and I am searching myself now whether I thought about anything substantive during that fairly long walk for 81 minutes. Nothing much I realized. I was so focused on my gait and speed and the minor traffic along the walkway and the occasional look at my smartphone to see how much I have walked, that I did not think of anything else. I realized that concentration and intense focus are absolutely necessary ingredients for accomplishments of any sort.

Now, I am thinking about Christmas (I am not a Christian) and its message of peace. I am thinking about how beautiful the Sunday morning looks across the lake (reservoir) that I am seeing through my home window. I realized that we do not take time to enjoy the small beauties around us – we just carry on with our lives like a robot, going from one activity to another without deeply thinking through what we are indeed doing. Is life just a chore? Or it is more than a chore? Are people around us just do the same things in their lives? Is there something better we can do with our lives? Can we help improve society and the condition of the poorer folks in society? Are we even sparing 5 minutes in our daily lives to think about anything serious apart from making more money?

Well, well, you are detecting the budding socialist, I would say. Not really though – I believe that all people in this world have to think through what they are doing every day. Simply going through the motions to get through another day is completely stupid and makes one irrelevant in society. After all, we are here in this world to make a good contribution to ourselves and society, right?

Making money is not immoral but hoarding it is surely an indication that you are selfish and only interested in yourselves – after all, you cannot spend all the money you make in your lifetime (even after giving away to your near and dear folks), and some percentage of it (let us say 10%) will be better spent to improve the quality of life of impoverished people around you.

This is exactly what the great religions of the world teach. It is not necessary to be religiously inclined in order to help other people. You can even be selfish to a certain extent (say to an extent of 90%, ha ha ha!!!). As long as you realize that there are a lot of folks out there who do not have the chance of getting a full meal, then you would realize what to do. It is also your duty to educate your kids as to the importance of helping others (not all people, only those that are in real need of a meal, or a dress, or some education). Helping another well-to-do guy is not counted here.

It is Christmas day, and it is a good time to contemplate your life going forward. Forget the past. What are you going to do in 2017 – every month of the coming year? How much time can you allocate for others every month, if not every week? Think and decide.

Here’s Wishing you and your families a Wonderful Christmas, and a fabulous New Year in 2017.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th December 2016