The inhibitions of society


Are you making an intelligent guess on what this topic could be about?

You would probably guess it right, I guess.

This post is about the historic, game-changing verdict by the Supreme Court of India on abolishing the British era Section 377 which penalized sexual acts between adults of the same gender. This was a much awaited verdict by the LGBT community.

I am not going into the moral dimensions of the issue or the verdict itself.

It is all about the society in which we live in. For a long long time, the society shunned and ostracized people belonging to the LGBT community, irrespective of any other factors. So the community kept to itself, and operated in secrecy to avoid facing the society and more importantly, the “moral” policing which occurred in many parts of India.

The main premise of the society (which happens to be largely conservative) was always that homosexuality and lesbianism were against the natural order of living. Many a time, there were religious links to the stand taken by the society – it was that God had ordained procreation to occur exclusively between man and woman, and any other form of sexual relationships were anti-religion and immoral. And so on, and so forth.

Society’s worry is about things which are unknown – which it does not understand, it does not know why a different union is required, etc., It is scared.

Obviously, as members of the same society, we had two compulsions: (a) that the society does not approve of such modes of cross-gender living together; and, (b) that non-conformance to the majority view (in excess of 99%) would put even sympathizers into grave difficulties while trying to pursue normal lives. These constructs would challenge any person even if he or she does not belong to the LGBT community, but sympathizes with their cause and right to live in any which way they prefer with any kind of sexual orientation. The society also worried about the impact of such orientation on children and teenagers of impressionable age groups.

If someone asks me straight about my support or lack of support for such societal restrictions, it would be difficult for me to respond. Obviously, I do not wish to take a stand, but that is also timid and smacks of conformance where none is called for. I cannot and do not differentiate against any such orientations if I encounter such people in my business life, as it does not matter to me. I have actually not encountered anyone belonging explicitly to the LGBT community and it is my strong presumption that they are no different from me or my other friends (the “Straight Ones”! – this will no longer be a politically correct expression!!). When there is no impact on business life or corporate situations, why should one bother about social life situations?

Introduction to such a community member in a social context or business networking context is surely not going to affect my view of that person – it should not. However, would I engage with such a person in a family get-together kind of situation – meaning would I invite him/her for a social get-together at my home?

I do not see why not. Of course, I would surely have a challenge if a same-sex couple turned up at my home or for a private function, as I have not experienced such a situation till today. How would I welcome the couple or introduce them as a couple to my family members and other friends?

I am sure I will figure a way out of such a challenge. The key thing is to invite them. Personally, it is a big challenge as I grapple with the acceptance myself. I have to convince myself that nature provides for a variation in sexual orientations amongst the citizens of the world, and there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral for two people of the same sex discovering joy in their union. I will not be able to understand such a union intimately, however, and I am not going to deny it or deny my lack of understanding. But I can appreciate.

I belong to the 99% majority I referred to above, though I am a “liberal” with open views (as you might have seen in this blog). I am a non-conformance specialist, as my opinions are usually contrarian to those of the majority, simply because I spend time thinking for myself on issues and do not just depend on others’ views or those propounded by a religion, sect, or government. When I think through issues, I discover facts or perspectives which are not truly reflected in the majority discussions. While I respect the society in which I live, I am not going to accept the majority view in matters of public importance. So, I usually look at the conclusions of the legal system, rather than at conclusions made by an elected government which could come under popular pressure. It is also true that many a time, an elected government does not bother about popular opinion and makes decisions which it thinks are appropriate or required for a meaningful resolution of the issue at hand. Hence, I cannot be blamed for running my own thought process and respecting myself for making decisions or conclusions, which I retain within myself, or publish on this blog. It does not mean that I do not respect the majority view, or the minority view, or the religious view, or the government view. But in the pecking order, my conclusions reign supreme at #1.

So, in conclusion, while I do not understand the physiological or biological mandate for same sex union, I do understand the preference and sexual orientation of one human being towards another that he or she likes or loves. That is perfectly fine, and should be fine with the larger society as well, though there will continue to be challenges as we saw in several court cases in the U.S. (recall the case of the bakery owner who refused to serve the same-sex couple). I am sure there will be similar challenges in India.

There should be no rationale to discriminate against the LGBT community members – any such discrimination should be prosecuted as per law in force. They have their own right to privacy and human rights in equal measure. As the Supreme Court of India said in its judgement “Morality cannot be martyred at the altar of social morality. Only constitutional morality exists in our country” – Dipak Misra, Chief Justice of India.

Hence, the only conclusion is to accept the LGBT community members as full-fledged members of the same society that we all live in, and not discriminate against them in any form, and slowly integrate them into the social context with open arms while educating our own family members to pursue an understanding reminiscent of the maturity that the human race has already attained.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

9th September 2018

Child Abuse


I have been influenced by various religious philosophies over the years, but the maximum influence has come about from two – Hinduism and Christianity.

I will not dwell on Hindu Philosophy in this post, and instead focus on the major influence that Christian Philosophy has had on my upbringing.

Like many compatriots from India, I was educated in Jesuit educational institutions in India, which I hold in high regard for the values that they imparted to the students (most of who were not Christians, but Hindus and other religious minorities) and the quality of education that they delivered. My parents, like many other parents, did not send me to “localized” Hindu-focused educational institutions, but rather decided that Jesuit schools were better choices for their academic standing and values that they taught.

This, by no means, demean other excellent localized schools run by various religious denominations in India. There have always been a wide variety of good schools all across India. I am referring to a time line and a place in which it was determined that Christian schools were a better bet.

I am taking time to explain the rationale, as the Hindu ideology is a dominant influence in today’s India, and there are a number of people who would, without deep thinking, jump on to the Hindu bandwagon to the detriment of established institutions belonging to other religious denominations. Such a tendency is detrimental to social development and should not be encouraged by the government of the day.

Given this background, I am pained by the reported abuse of children by Catholic Clergy in Pennsylvania and other places. Such things happen with other religions as well, but the scale of abuse in Pennsylvania wherein thousands of young children were sexually molested by Clergy who were looked upon as saviours is simply shocking. It took a long while for a Cardinal in Australia to be brought to justice recently, and there were significant abuses in Chile, if I recall correctly.

What is also shocking is that the Pope did not proactively condemn these abuses vehemently in the first place. He let the court system to take its due course in Pennsylvania, instead of sacking and excommunicating all Clergymen who were found to be involved in child abuse practices. And, the court was vigorous in its attack on the Church in Pennsylvania, pointedly hitting at the coverups by the Church in all the child abuse scandals, over a period of 70 years!

Catholics apparently are losing their faith in the Papacy and his determination to hold his own folks to account – especially in such a sensitive area as child abuse. The faith had been misplaced it appears!

I just listened to the live CNN broadcast of the Pope’s visit to Ireland, and the Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, referring to the hurt of children who were abused and the families which were broken by the practices of the Clergy in his welcome speech – he is a bold person, other PMs would not have dared to bring up the issue right in front of the Pope seated on the dais. Not only that, Leo Varadkar is openly gay in the majority Catholic nation of Ireland, which also has the distinction of legalizing abortion a few months ago.

Times have changed.

The Catholic Church needs to find its feet and carefully wade through the abuse scandal, and re-establish it credentials with specific actions – not just with words such as “we are sorry for what happened”, and “we feel the guilt” and “we will repent for such abominable sins”.

The irony is that the Church runs lots of schools for young children around the world. Hopefully, there are no more scandals involving young children at a very impressionable age, who will be forced to carry the sexual abuse trauma all through their lives. There is a huge press coverage on the Pennsylvania abuse scandal only if you care to look up on the web. It is sickening, to say the least.

This blog post is not about accusing the Catholic Religion or Church or the Christian Philosophy. The religion is above all such infractions and sins, it maintains its stature like the other religions of the world. My gripe is only about the hugely negative impact that the scandal would have on peoples’ faith, not just the Catholics, but also non-Catholics who have come to depend on the quality of the academics in Christian educational institutions run mostly by Clergymen and more importantly, on the value systems that were always imparted in these fine schools and colleges.

I hope the Church would take cognizance of such serious concerns, and address the same in an open transparent manner to reduce the anxiety of parents. Of course, the Church has to do a lot more to retain Catholics who have been departing the faith, but that is their core job of running the religion and they have to do what they believe is right. As far as I am concerned, I do not depend on any “middlemen or middle ground” for my faith – I am on my own, as I had written in several posts in the past.

Time to heal the victims, and hope the Pope will do his job on this count, and not delay justice in the future – he should not listen to his own Cardinals who could be wrongly advising him not to apologize, or not to take drastic actions. Now is the time to heal, repent and more importantly, take aggressive actions against erring Clergymen who have turned traitors to the faith which brought them up to where they are in the Church hierarchy with huge trust reposed in them by Catholics and parents.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th August 2018

Salt Mango Tree


I felt only shame after viewing this Malayalam movie “Salt Mango Tree” on NetFlix along with my wife.

While there are many positive things I can say about my birth country India, there are equally many bad things that exist even today in modern India. I feel very proud when I see global corporate CEOs from India (far outnumbering many other countries), over 100 satellites being placed successfully in orbit by one single rocket launch by the Indian Space Research Organization, the very optimistic young generation in the entire world which India has in abundance, and so on and so forth – it is a rather long list of achievements by India and Indians in a short span of just six decades.

However, the things which went wrong over these same six decades, and which continue to hamper the potential and growth of India still bother me a lot. These should bother all well-wishers of India. What I am referring to here are things like corruption, lack of guaranteed, affordable and accessible education for all, lack of universal healthcare for all citizens, lack of safety and security for women and even for very young girl children, and lack of world-class infrastructure and facilities all across the country including uninterrupted access to electrical power, potable water, proper roads, high speed internet, etc., etc., Though there have been some improvements in the past few years, what India needs cannot be met with incremental enhancements of existing infrastructure. India needs to do what a China has done in the past 30 years of relentless public investment in a non-bureaucratic manner with the sole intention of enhancing the livelihood of its people. Communist China has done a far better job than a democratic India, and I am not going to listen to the democratic nonsense that many armchair philosophers expound on the superiority of democracy. Everything in the corporate world is measured on budgeted outcomes, why not in government and governance?

The movie “Salt Mango Tree” describes one facet of India’s systemic failure in providing quality education for all children. Parents have to run around for getting admissions to prestigeous schools, and are totally stressed out in the process. They have to perform better than their children in school admission interviews. What about children of hawker stalls and poor people? How will they get admission in such schools if the criteria is based on how well the parents perform in interviews? How will they speak in English, let alone come well dressed and well groomed for such nonsensical interviews?

I was seriously embarrassed to see how the movie portrays the anguish of both the parents, who struggle to make a living and save money for their only boy. The movie strongly hints about the so-called “donation” which is nothing but a bribe which parents have to offer to schools. When parents give up on the due process in getting school admissions, they turn towards short cuts such as bribe, and this practice continues throughout the life cycle of their children, embedding and validating the need for systemic corruption. Why would anybody outside the Indian system believe that our quality of education is good and impeccable, on par with the developed countries? Making an incorrect comparison with the IITs and IIMs is wrong, as the folks who get into such schools do so entirely on merit, and they go on to change the greater world in many ways. They are focused on making wealth and very few dedicate their lives to fixing the systemic issues of governance in India (I personally know of only one such classmate).

I am not going to describe the movie here, but the message from the movie cannot be more impactful – to get quality education in India even at the primary level (starting at Kindergarten) today, parents have to prepare well, get trained, perform very well in school admission interviews, and be ready to offer donations. This is not the case in any one of the developed nations of the world. If India wishes to achieve the status of the top 5 countries of the world (not just based on GDP), it has to pay serious attention to education, healthcare, quality of living, public infrastructure, etc., and follow the model of either the Nordic countries or countries like Singapore, where public systems by government trump even the best quality of private systems (which are also available but at a tremendous cost). If India cannot invest at least 5% of its national budget on improving public Education and another 5% on public Healthcare, then the future generations will continue to suffer.

The focus outside India today has turned positive about India after a long dry spell of negative media coverage about the bad things happening in India. I have seen that over the past quarter century (most of which I have spent outside India), and it sometimes used to pain me. I am out of it now and immune to the negative coverage on India. I look for some positive news on India every day. The political news is not encouraging. As I wrote in a recent blog post, my experience in Bangalore traffic in the midst of visiting foreigners was not positive. The “East Asians” detest infrastructure problems as they have long been used to good infrastructure and environment. I make it a point not to bad-mouth India in any manner to them, and I try to keep my views to myself. I tend to talk about the positives and push the envelope for their next visit.

However, as I write here this evening, it pains me again to see that India has not changed in fundamental public services.

Looks like this will be the situation in our life time.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th April 2018

Enjoy the “Smallness” of Life


The more I think of it, the more I do – I am referring here to the small, silly things in life that we usually do not focus upon, given our general reluctance to indulge in rather “small” things and what I call as things which appear, prima facie, to be inconsequential. It is funny that we struggle to achieve the “big” things in life (at least what we think are big), and in the process, fail to enjoy what life offers to us. After achieving, or sometimes not achieving, the “big” thing, we set the goal of the next “big” or even “bigger” thing that we should definitely go after in life. And, so the life goes on.

In the process, we forget how to relish, how to enjoy the nice little things that life offers. We do not take the time (as we did many years ago) to enjoy reading the newspaper with a cup of steaming hot cup of coffee, and commenting on certain unsavoury news items to whoever is nearby, most often to our spouses. We would rather hurriedly look at the news headlines of the newspaper, decide it is meaningless quickly, and jump into the smartphone app of the most common news websites, and start browsing while walking, or doing something else. We do not take the time to talk to our own children in a leisurely manner (not just “how you are doing” and “what is happening in school”, and “how did you do in last week’s tests”, etc.,). We do not indulge in excavating the inner selves of people in our own family, while we are prepared to do it to our office colleagues, partners, and clients. We do not even spend time talking to our spouse – he or she might have clues about how to plan or execute certain things, better than we do (they usually are). We do not indulge in “small talk” with our friends who have known us for several decades in some instances. We tend to be formal, and “official”, in terms of communicating our body language to these “receivers” of antenna signals – converting what is essentially a personal relationship to a professional or formal talk.

Why is this happening? What are the reasons for such behavioural tendencies? Who do we not take people around us, those close to us, seriously, and spend more quality time with them?

The reasons are not difficult to find. In most situations, we are stressed out in our own lives (I mean in the simple execution of simple lives); in other situations, we are distracted. In very few circumstances, people find incompatibility, though it is rare after spending few decades in building a partnership with your spouse, or nourishing a friendship with your close friend. However, it is not totally unusual. Our own friends may sometimes desert us causing big pain in our hearts. It has happened to me. After all, everyone has a choice in life to follow a certain path in collaboration with certain others – the immediate ones are the family and close friends. It is understandable that very close friends move away to distant countries and lose touch with us eventually, but it is rather unusual when someone close to you completely drops you and stops responding to you, though apparently you have done nothing wrong. That causes severe pain.

I have come to realise that in life, small things matter a lot more than the big things such as financial gains, material possessions, type of car, et al. When someone connects with you genuinely, sincerely, and in a devoted manner, then life brightens. It may not necessarily for mutual gain of any sort, but rather to seek a true “connection” for lifelong companionship. It is not easy to secure that kind of connection. I have been fortunate to connect with a number of my school and college mates, and few of my ex-colleagues, and maintain those connections on a regular basis. As we all know, for sustenance, relationships have to be nurtured regularly, consistently, and with genuine affection.

In a brand-conscious, status-conscious, and wealthy society, it is often difficult to maintain a life focused on enjoying the small pleasures of life. I remember when I was buying my most recent car, one of my senior colleagues told me that I should go in for Audi, even a second-hand one, as it conveys that you are at a senior level in an organization, and secondly is compatible with the societal expectations. Given the socialist I am, I chose a Nissan which is almost faceless, though I could have gone in for the Audi. Apart from my social ideology, I also realized that in a small city one would need a car only if it is really needed for the family. And all cars take you from point A to point B on almost the same route, under the same road conditions, in similar comfort. So, why bother about more expensive toys?

Another person asked me if I tailor my shirts – I said no. Most of my shirts cost SGD 29, sometimes SGD 39, but I did not tell him that. It is rather puerile that people indulge in such talk, or evaluate you by the shoes you are wearing.

In any case, life is made up of a series of small things which need to be examined and enjoyed. It always is – unless you want to shake up things in a rather big way, affecting people around you. Nothing wrong with that, life can be pursued in many different ways for sure, but do not ignore small things as taking a walk to the nearest coffee shop with your spouse, or going to buy groceries, or fruits and vegetables, or assisting your children to purchase a good non-fiction book and combining that with a nice chocolate cake. In a nutshell, life is small and forgettable for most folks, however we can make it unforgettable by focusing on the small yet important things in our lives. Go for it!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

21st January 2018

Drop Everything and Take a Walk (or a Ride)


This post is in continuation of my earlier post of 19th November 2017 – here it is The Simple Things and Pleasures of Life.

Sometimes (nowadays, oftentimes), it is very helpful to drop whatever you are doing and take a walk around (may be within the house, otherwise people might forget that you exist, or you are at home now, or just that it would be good to interact in a physical sense with others rather than messaging the person in the next room). Whatever you are doing at this moment is very important to you, but may not be relevant to anyone else. The importance that you assign to anything you do/are doing tends to be very high, and you assign lower importance and lower priority to what others do, even at your own home, and surely with others outside. This is nothing but male chavinistic thinking, however.

Giving up something (even a temporary giving up) is tough for a possessive character like me. I always had and continue to have a slightly superior complex about my being – my skills, capabilities, intellectual capacity, talent, outlook, analytical prowess, literary knowledge, temperamental stability, and what not. Coming “down” to terms with others is tough. When I form a “profile” of someone I have come in contact with, my “analytical” box advises me on whether I should engage further deeply, or just keep superficial contact, or drop the contact completely. So, as we grow older, we tend to get incredibly complex on all matters, even the simple ones.

If we drop what we are doing and take a walk, we can learn something from others we come in contact with. This is the case at home, and also outside. Observation skills increase substantially when we take a casual walk around. During my weekend intensive walks, I see a lot of things on the way, and subconsciously these things are recorded in the brain to sort through later. Learning and imbibing and grasping things all the time are also critical activities as one ages – such things keep the brain very active while you are also exercising your body by walking or jogging.

While getting out of one’s shell is absolutely an important activity (I do this at least 10 times a day, given that I tend to spend a lot of time with my iPhone and Laptop), which will be recognized by your folks at home. Your wife who has so far termed you an “anti-social” might give you a smile if you invade the kitchen or the living room frequently, though she thinks that you are a complete waste of time when it comes to helping her around the house. Your kids might wonder what happened – why is dad knocking on my door. Well, all this might look nothing out of the ordinary, but we must consciously attempt to do all these things consistently. I used to play a random game of table tennis with my son or my wife sometimes, and I miss those days. Now, you go and ask them to come and play some game, they are going to demur.

It is also important to have an exploratory spirit, like when I persuaded my wife to accompany me in driving 25 KMs for a cup of rose latte (I have written about that experience). It is just that we are trying to get more “face” time with the people who matter in our life – not that rose latte is the most important drink that you are going to have. Identifying places, experiences or restaurants on your own and throwing a surprise around the house, or to your close friends, is a very enjoyable and important activity which endears you to the people around you. It does not just reflect your knowledge of the place, it shows a certain propensity on your part to take the trouble of researching on what could be the best experience that you could genuinely discover and offer to your family or friends. It will not go unrecognized.

Given the complexity of an otherwise simple life, it only goes to show how important simple things can be as we navigate our lives. No big gifts, no expensive stuff, no five star dinners, but simple gestures such as the above go a long way in instilling a certain respect, a certain love, and a certain affection, and these are exactly what you look for as you grow older and wiser. Now you realize all this requires efforts on your part, and it is the most valuable investment you will ever make in your life. The investments in simple pleasures of life are indeed the most valuable, with the highest rates of return.

Yesterday, I dropped my daughter at her boxing class, and decided to press the accelerator towards the Woodlands Causeway. It was a good ride from Orchard Road all the way up north (I did not see the Odometer of the car, but my guess is that it would have easily been a 30 KM ride at the minimum). There was not much traffic, and I switched on my favourite radio station (92.4 FM) and drove at a constant 90 KMPH while listening to some Beethoven classic which Andrew Lim plays on 92.4 FM channel. On the way back, I switched the music to my iPhone song collection and played The Carpenters. It was an amazing musical experience, and I loved every minute, and I think my car also liked it as it does not get to drive this much distance on any given day. I think my car’s mileage apparently improved!

I did my morning walk today 6:27 AM to 8:27 AM (exactly 120 minutes) and did 12,300 steps, and I did this at the MacRitchie Reservoir. I saw hundreds of people after 7:30 AM. I saw many folks who were more than 60 years old doing the tough trail walk. I said good morning to almost everyone who crossed my path, except when I was looking down to avoid slipping from the wet soil/leaves. It was a pleasurable experience (I did this yesterday as well), and these are simple things in life which make you more human and less book-centric, and less phone-centric.

I can go on and on, however the essential learning is to step away from whatever you are doing, mingle with your family members, and do this several times a day. Also, smile and wish at people when you go out, as even the “reserved” people of Singapore return the greeting (90% of the time), though they receive the greeting only around one-third of the time from strangers as I witnessed during my walks.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend by walking around. And, smile please.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

26th 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

 

 

Against Evil and Darkness


Today is Diwali or “Deepavali” as we call the most important Hindu festival in South India. It is a very key occasion when Hindus all over the world celebrate the victory of good over evil, and lights abolish darkness for ever. While it is a religious occasion, it is also a time to celebrate time with families and friends – a time for acquiring a “feel good” feeling which kind of emancipates us from the clutches of daily routine and frustrations, and brings a strong whiff of good will and smiles all around. Of course, we eat a lot, specifically sweets and savouries, which add to our waistlines and continue the long-standing Indian tradition of diabetic influence in our lives as we chugg along.

Not very different from Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or any of the other major religious festivals around the world.

We are fortunate that Singapore (and Malaysia) celebrates Diwali like a national festival, and has a public holiday today (like India), considering a significant population of Singapore are from Indian ethnicity. Other ethnic compatriots like the Chinese and Malays wish us “Happy Diwali” when they see us in public places like condominium lobbies, and that greeting enhances the bonding that we all have towards Singapore. The “Little India” area of Singapore has been lit with “Happy Deepavali” LED lights for nearly a month now.

For the first time ever in my career, I became an avowed Diwali enthusiast, and declined business meetings on the eve of Diwali and during the Diwali holiday (which is today). I realized that it is time that I respect my own private time during this auspicious occasion, and avoid taking calls in temples (of all places!). Calls came, of course, on Tuesday evenings, but I politely declined. The world needs to understand that Diwali is celebrated by almost a Billion Hindus, and the festival needs to be respected. Even the White House celebrated Diwali! President Trump read out a statement and then lit the lamp adorned by bright flowers, surrounded by key Indian officials.

I also declined calls during the day today (most of Asia works today), and did not look at my laptop all day. This was an unusual departure from my usual practice over the years, when I treated Diwali as any other working day (though it was always a public holiday in Singapore and India), and continued to transact business. Now, I am of the opinion that all religious festivals of national importance have to be given the requisite space and attention, whether one has any faith or otherwise. It is the sheer number of folks who follow the faith(s) and the festival(s). I also realized that the crucial message of the festival would not percolate down to our children, if I continue to be nonchalant about its importance and its place in our life.

As I sit down this evening with a glass of wine and contemplate the times when I was very young (less than 15 years old), I feel an overwhelming sense of self-pity and gloom that I have missed out a lot. May be it is true, but for me it is an emotional recall of my younger days in the city of Madurai in South India where I grew up. I am able to easily visualize the Deepavali noise and celebrations in front of my house in Palace Road and Mahal Vadambokki Street in the 1960s and 1970s. My eyes are wandering down Palace Road and making a turn towards my famous school – the St Marys’ High School of Madurai. I remember most of what was going on during some of those years, though not able to correlate the specific year with a specific event.

It is a far cry now where I am sitting in the Thomson locality of Singapore, but I believe my soul never left Madurai. Though I have not gone back to Madurai since the year 2000 (my India base is now Madras or Chennai), I still have those Deepavali and other connections to Madurai tugging me, asking me to visit the place. Some of my school mates are still living there, and I have been in constant touch with them through the magic of WhatsApp.

So, now I am thinking about Deepavali and its critical annual role in providing me with a sense of relief and liberating thoughts. I did not go to temple today as we as a family decided to stay away from the crowds. We went to the temple Monday evening, and I was so happy to make a quiet visit to the Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon area of Singapore with very little crowd at 6:30 PM. Apart from the temple visit, I also enjoyed the free “prasadam” or temple food paid for by a devotee, which in my opinion is a lucky occasion. If I am able to stand in the queue and receive the temple prasadam, I am fortunate as I then totally forget that my family was supposed to go elsewhere for dinner! The food was so delicious that we decided to eat the same and dropped the dinner plans. Such is the simple beauty of utter simplicity in thoughts and deeds. There were others who had driven their Mercedes and BMWs into the temple parking lot who were also queuing to receive the temple prasadam. We all do not need it, but we relish the important fact that the temple cooked the simple food, and we have to sit down on the temple floor to eat it on a piece of “butter” paper!

When I am able to come down from my elitism to the simplest common denominator of a guy walking down Serangoon Road, then I have become a Socialist craving equality among the masses. In essence, that is who I am. While I am not saying no to the comfort of my savings, it gives me more pleasure when I am one among the people who are commoners doing things which 90% of the world’s population does on any specific day. No one else does anything for me at least. If I am able and willing to do things on my own, then I am a Social Animal and unlike what the Rich folks say, I am willing to work hard for myself and my family and earn my worth. The Rich Republicans (I am using the U.S. example here to ease the understanding of the readers) always point that the “Left: or the Socialists are weak and poor, and do not deserve subsidies or handouts, and do not work at all”. It kind of aggravates me – that is utter nonsense. Most people want to work and earn. Sorry, I am distracting you into a completely different topic, but the essence of what I am saying is that being an elite removes you from the sufferings of the masses.

So, that is the conclusion of my Diwali holiday today, and back to the office tomorrow. In the meanwhile, enjoy your respective fatty foods and sugars and drinks today. After all, we have driven out the evil darkness from our lives, and the life ahead is full of light.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

18th October 2017

Charlie’s Counsel


I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.

He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.

Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.

He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.

It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?

If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.

Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.

May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?

What are you going to do with that money?

We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.

So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?

A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.

Have a good one.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 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

The “Magical” Kingdom


I was taking a walk along the MacRitchie reservoir this evening along with my wife, as part of my weekend walking exercise regimen.

While discussing about the global economy in general and Singapore economic situation in particular, my wife mentioned that it is highly likely that the U.S. Federal Reserve would increase its interest rates 2 to 3 times next year. Given the recent increase of 0.25%, this might lead to somewhere around 1.0% in total over the next 12 months or so. The stock markets have taken a hit around the world as a result of the U.S. Fed rate increase earlier this week.

Given the growing strength of the U.S. Dollar, the drop in the price of Gold, the increase in the price of Oil, etc., it is apparent that the global economy is headed for more shakeups than ever in the coming 12 months. Combined with the uncertainty of the Trump Presidency, all this adds to the growing concern in Asia of the future of the world economy. Currencies in Asia are taking a major hit, the SGD has dropped to 1.44 to the USD already and is projected to hit 1.50 by the end of calendar 2017.

I made a remark to my wife that the Singapore economy is going to face major headwinds as a result of these developments, and the real estate will be a big loser. There will be auctions and loan foreclosures looming in the coming months and a drop in real estate values which will be a boon to folks waiting to buy an apartment (Singapore real estate is one of the priciest in all of Asia, second only to Hong Kong). Interest rates are set to climb up after a long sojourn of very low rates. Rental values have already been dropping over the past couple of years and recently took a further downturn. Given that the Government has been quite tight on employment passes, the demand is dropping from foreign population.

So, my conclusion was that the “magical” economic kingdom of Singapore is all set to take economic knocks in the next 12 months after significant performances over the past several years. The real estate had doubled between 2009 and 2013 and remained more or less at those inflated prices over the past 3 years (with minor drops of 5 to 10%). This obviously cannot continue for ever and finally the situation is all set to change for the worse for home owners who are planning to sell. The buyers are going to sit tight, despite some annual increases in the takeup rate of apartments.

However, Singapore has always found a way out of economic challenges due to the firm guidance provided by the Government. While real estate market prices are  something that the Government does not directly control, it has put in place some innovative policy mechanisms to curtail speculation and these seem to have, at least partially, worked.

So, if I were a home buyer, I am rather inclined to wait out for the next 6 to 9 months, see some interest rate increase, some significant price drops, some wait and watch games, before actually seeking out bargains. On the national economic fronts, there are going to be some big pains for the next couple of years before recovery can be made. The U.S. economy is bound to make gains, while the China economy is expected to decelerate. Singapore economy is highly vulnerable to external shocks due to its openness.

See – how much a walk around a reservoir (lake) can generate in terms of economic and real estate discussions! I enjoy such “active” walks which help to accomplish some brisk physical walking combined with energetic discussions with the most important person in one’s life – your spouse!!

Enjoy your walks with your spouse and talk economics, health, household matters, and what not. These are very important for relationships as well.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th December 2016