Long Winding Road


As I sit down to write this post, I am influenced by the vast expanse of bluish-green water body surrounded by a green forest that looks at me everyday. It is a rarity in the concrete-dense Singapore that you get both a huge lake (reservoir) and a forest just in front of your building. I guess people will pine for such a view, though there are many seaview apartments in Singapore, or even ones overlooking a hill or greenery. But the combination of both water and greenery just outside all our windows and balcony mesmerizes me regularly, and throw in the beautiful sun setting in the evening into the water, and there you go, the poet in you will come out. In my case, I am no poet, so my blog post writer comes out!

My rumination today is about life – the long and winding road that we had crossed, and more such road ahead of us. I am thinking on what constituted my life and its long road till now – it has been a good journey, though there were plenty of surprises and some disappointments, like everyone else must have endured. I was shown the path to the main road by some very important people like my parents and one of my teachers in secondary school, and I followed that path. But once I hit the main road, I was in full control of it all by myself, with occasional guidance by some other important people who kept popping up along my “own road” – these are your guides and might include a variety of folks : your own family, your relatives, your classmates, your friends, your business colleagues, your bosses, your peers, your subordinates, your remote acquaintances, and so on and so forth. In my own road, I have been lucky to receive guidance and counsel from a few people who I cannot forget under any circumstances. There were detractors too, and I cannot forget them either.

But one thing I am clear in my head – it was just me who drove my own car along this long winding road. Nobdoy even taught me how to drive my own car! I figured out how to service my car, at what speed I should travel, who should be my car companion(s), and where to load up on petrol – if you see what I mean. Sometimes before my wedding, my car was empty, I was the sole occupant, and that is the time I gained my independence, individual thinking, acceptance of my own “self” as I was, and my own moral compass. I led my own life, and refused to be drawn into any kind of stereotype. Of course, I had the big challenge when someone understood where I came from just purely from my name: that is a tough one to crack as I was expected to behave and perform in a particular way, which I did not do most of the time.

If you do not fall into that behavioural pattern, then sometimes your “own road” could get longer, as you are outside the mainstream and too individualistic. I had this problem early on in my career and had to develop a response mechanism based on how well I did in my work. This carries on through your life, and your ability to steer clear and keep the head above generic conformity required to maintain a specific pattern actually increases and eventually makes you a deep thinker.

In my life, I had to change my “car” and take a “different road” once in a while, and that requires courage. The thing which requires a big courage is of course choosing your life companion. A wrong companion will derail your life for sure, but a good companion can make the journey a pleasant happy one while enhancing your ability to deal with steep curves on the life road. When I had to make a decision to move from Singapore to Mumbai in 2006, I depended a lot on my wife’s advice – it made the difficult shift a bit easier and allowed me to reach a level in my corporate life which I was looking for. You also add companions as you travel further – I mean your children. They will be your companions for quite a long while, but eventually will get down and choose their own set of car / road / life companion. They may proceed on an entirely different road, as is to be expected.

So, each one of us have our own vehicle, companion(s) and road. Sometimes our roads intersect and we happen to meet. Such meetings are essential especially when it involves an old friend, a classmate, a distant yet good-minded relative, or even your own children. You should ensure that such meetings continue to happen and cherish them for the memories they bring along as you continue your journey towards the end of the longish road.

Is there an end to your own longish winding road?

What do you think?

If you have lived your life well and have not committed any harm to others, there is actually no end to your road.

Am I blabbering? No. You are thinking death signifies the end of every individual’s road. Not true.

As a person loved by your own family and friends, as a human being who contributed in a positive sense to this world, as a life companion to your spouse, as a companion to your children, as a mentor to many colleagues in your professional life, your soul will linger on. For the soul, the road never ends, and it is permanently “marked” as your road with your name on it. Other people will remember you for many things, but most essentially for the good things you did.

So, your road goes on. On and on. Forever. And, your soul keeps travelling on it.

You just need imagination and a serious sense of purpose in your life to visualize what I am saying here, and I am sure you do. Think about it. Do good things to others. Contribute to the well being of all your “life companions”, and persuade them to follow their own conscience.

At the end of the day, it is our conscience and soul which matter to this world.

Your road never ends friend. Keep going, and Do good.

Have a wonderful week ahead,

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

21st October 2018

Value of Human Life


It is a shame to see how worthless your life can be, if you are born and living in a Third World country.

In this context, as you rightly guessed, I am going to mention Africa, India, Middle East, some Asian countries, and China. May be there are plenty others, but as examples the above will do.

If you are born in a Western country, you can more or less rest assured that your country will fight to save you if you are incarcerated in any other country. If you are in your own country, you can be sure that no one is just going to take away your rights and your own right to your own life that easily (of course, here I have to mention rather strongly about how easy it is to take away a life in the most developed country on the planet – I mean the U.S. where the proliferation of guns has led to anarchy in most down town areas of large cities and elsewhere as well – like Churches, pubs and most of all, schools). However, notwithstanding such occurrences, the Western nations protect their own citizens wherever they are living, in general, at least by representing the case in a foreign court of law, and persuading foreign governments in the cause of their citizens.

Contrast that with the absolutely indifferent attitudes that governments of Third World nations depict towards their own citizens, specifically those still living within the respective borders. Human Life is simply worthless, and can easily be sacrificed in thousands of situations, which in general, won’t be tolerated in Western nations.

Look at the casual manner in which a Saudi journalist was murdered and dismembered in his own country’s Consulate in Istanbul couple of weeks ago, because he did not toe the line of the Saudi ruler. Look at the way in which China arrested a leading, well-known actress and the President of Interpol on the pretext of tax evasion or corruption, without a public hearing. Look at the way India treats its journalists and TV channels. Look at how easy it was for a train driver to kill 60 people celebrating a festival with fire crackers in North India couple of days ago – where lies the responsibility and where is the accountability?

Middle East and Africa have a whole lot of human rights violations, and that includes Israel’s unacceptable actions against unarmed Palestinian civilians. I like Israel as a nation with incredible human talent, but the way it treats non-Jewish folks needs urgent remediation. It has to think about the larger human tragedy at its borders which is not going to disappear. The tribal nature of many Middle East and African countries is hampering their development and integration into the global society. Economic integration might happen, but social connectivity will be very hard if they do not mend their ways and approach towards the critical importance of human life, human talent, and human contributions, irrespective of cultural angles and long-held customs. You can see some of these same tribal culture in North India in several states.

Look at how Myanmar has treated its Rohingya ethnic Muslim minority (I have written about this very sad situation) and is now struggling to take them back from Bangladesh, which demonstrated incredible humanity by hosting the Rohingyas in temporary camps and provided them with food.

Look at how President Duterte of the Philippines has tried to eradicate the drug menace in his country by simply choosing the option of murdering the drug addicts, drug peddlers, and innocent bystanders by brute police force. No elected official is a god, and remember, he has killed more than 12,000 citizens in a short span of 30 months or so in a highly religious, Catholic country.

The international community is weak in its protestations and actions against most of the above atrocities. What can it do, when sovereign nations make unfathomable, illegal and non-humanitarian decisions? Not much, you may think.

There is of course, a lot the international community can do, with the support of the Western nations. However, if the U.S. does not show strong commitment towards firmly eradicating some of the more egregious actions, then the world will continue to discount the value of human life.

The right to life needs to be strongly enshrined and promoted irrespective of political or sovereign affiliations. What is the difference between one human life in a Third World country and another in a Western country? None, in my opinion. No dollar value can be ascribed to any human life.

Well, that might sound moralistic, but it is not. The idea that someone’s life is only worth USD 20,000 in India at the bottom ladder of society, whereas that same life is worth USD 300,000 in another country doing similar work with similar family situation, only cries for a better and more non-judgemental view of life on this planet.

Looks like the pen is not stopping – I can write another couple of pages, I guess. This is a topic which has come to my mind quite often, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you also start thinking seriously. If the famous MBA schools cannot address this generic problem of evaluating and assessing the value of human life, then do you think that the MBA students are getting a real education for running their own lives?

THINK!

Cheers

Vijay Srinivasan

20th October 2018

Networking Neurons


As we grow older, we tend to keep our wisdom to ourselves nowadays, unlike our predecessors who pushed us when we were young or even middle-aged with their pearls of advice and wisdom from their own lives.

As the modern age progresses super fast in the 21st Century, our post-50 generation is losing its relevance rapidly as we are bothered that we might be out of touch with modern realities of life on the planet. Our children sometimes communicate that sense to us when they think that our ideas are old-fashioned or our words of wisdom are totally out of place. That is not surprising, as our children are obviously much closer to experiencing the reality of the lives of their generation with their classmates, friends and colleagues.

However, I certainly believe that there is a lot of factual advice that can be gleaned from our lives and our minds, as we are not exactly “old generation”. We form the link from the 1950s/1960s to the 21st Century, and have experienced the marvels of technology and what it feels to be in a digital world. Our lifestyles have modernized and changed for the better.

Yes, we do not wish to nag our children and their friends with unsolicited advice for sure. I am sure they will find their own way, while “at least” looking at how we have built our lives and currently living our dreams.

This thought process leads me to an existential question: if we are not talking that much within our households about the lessons of life, and focusing more on the mundane things of day-to-day life, then how does our brain build up to the next level of complex thinking? If sophisticated and analytical thinking goes out from our daily life, then what happens to our brains? If our brain is not able to provide a consulting service to even the folks around us, do you think we can sell its capability to external parties easily?

The potential decay in brain power can only be arrested if you network with a variety of people outside your usual circuit. My job affords me that capacity in which I meet at least 5 to 10 strangers every week. The development of your brain to be in a position to network with strangers and extract their mental capacity into your own thought process is strategic to your existence. We should never let our brain to fend for itself – we are no longer in an individualistic society of the 20th or 19th/18th/17th centuries when an individually capable scientist or philosopher conceptualized a discovery on his/her own. Things have changed a lot over the past 6 decades or so – now teamwork leads to bigger and better discoveries or theories.

So, in a nutshell, my theory here (!) is that the neurons in our brains need to keep growing. And, at a fast rate. The neurons cannot just grow if you just read or write (like this blog!!!). You need to get out and meet strangers who are more likely to infuse the neuron growth that you want.

That now brings me to the essence of networking fundamentals. Most of us are shy when we walk into a room full of mostly unknown people (this happens to me a lot), or attend a big conference. We mostly tend to ourselves, keep looking at our big smartphone, acting busy, et al……….we generally refuse to voluntarily connect with someone we don’t know.

Imagine you walk into a group and introduce yourself to a group of, let us say, 3 people chatting with each other. You can see a hint of surprise, but quickly they smile, shake hands, and become willing to exchange business cards. Once you introduce yourself and what you do, they sound more interested. May be a potential business meeting could come out of it in the near future – it has happened to me many a time.

I cannot emphasize more the critical importance of networking to your business and more importantly, the development of neurons in your brain!

Sounds fascinating?

Network more and keep a diary of who you met on your calendar. Try to recall the faces of the persons you met after a week. Try to think of the meeting or conference or lunch you attended. Try to think of the topic you discussed with a particular person.

You will see quickly that this “brain food” of networking works, and you can train your brain to flourish on it. Daily nurturing is needed for the brain. It is like going to the “brain gym”, so to say!

As our brain cells in the hippocampus areas start to “network” and constantly form “associations” with things and people, you will discover you not only recall peoples’ faces but also their names and the places where you met them. You will be able to recall the name of the restaurant wherein a dinner party was hosted by a business partner, and who all attended from either side of the table. And so on, and so forth.

So, if your wisdom cannot be articulated in a family environment, so be it. Unleash your brain’s networking neurons on strangers that you meet. They will be impacted positively, and so will you be.

Try it today!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

14th October 2018

Laughing Stock


The widely covered and reported saga of Brett Kavanaugh for appointment as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has become a laughing stock for all the world to witness as an example of things which have gone wrong in the U.S. democratic system of governance.

It was apparent from the beginning that the FBI had not conducted a thorough check of the background of Judge Kavanaugh. At least it was clear that the FBI had not dialled back even up to his Yale college days, an investigation of which would have provided grist upon his bad drinking habits and sexual exposition.

While what happened at age 17 or 18 should not be of major concern after 36 years have passed (though disturbing if you had seen the testimony of Dr Christine Ford in the Senate Judiciary Committe hearing), the key aspect for any public appointment, and more so for a judicial appointment, is integrity, and it was apparent that Judge Kavanaugh lied in his testimony about his drinking problem. Lying is clearly a non-starter in pursuing public office, and apart from this, it was also clear that the Judge was a wild adolescent and then a wild adult during his Yale college days. I cannot recall any other appointment which has caused such a major controversy, partisan split, and serious doubts about the adequacy of the candidate (not his competency).

In India, the Judicial Collegium shortlists and recommends judicial nominees for the government to approve. While there has been a serious disconnect between the Indian Supreme Court and the government on the last such appointment a few months ago, the government had to ultimately yield to the Collegium. There is no public hearing for public service appointments in India.

I am not suggesting that the Indian system of selecting judges is better, but it is important to recognize alternative systems are in place around the world. Not that there is no controversy – we know that the last judicial appointment led to a tough public fight between the Supreme Court and the government, represented by the Law Minister (India’s equivalent of Jeff Sessions).

Of course, the whole world looks up to the example of the U.S. democracy in full action, as it played out in this case in a totally public fashion. Every day, right through all of September, the world witnessed the intense testimonies and the tough questioning of Judge Kavanaugh at the U.S. Senate.

There is one long-standing and widely respected (though now widely adopted) principle in public service life in democratic nations, and that is simply the following: even if there is an iota of doubt about a nominee for high office in the minds of the selectors, as to his/her complete suitability, competency, integrity, and commitment, then that nominee needs to be thoroughly investigated, and in most cases the nomination should be withdrawn for the greater good of the larger public. The loss of faith in the ability of one to discharge public duties and service cannot be sustained if there is a slight doubt on one’s integrity.

The argument that the nominee’s reputation and future are irreversibly damaged by unsubstantiated and unverified allegations, and so these accusations should be dispensed with forthright, is not amenable to a logical and rational interpretation on how nominees should be prepared for a totally open and transparent yet risky interrogation and investigation.

Given what has transpired, especially the emotional outbursts of Judge Kavanaugh against Democratic Senators who questioned him vigorously and his explicit allegiance to President Trump and the ideals of the GOP, it would be rather interesting to carefully watch how Justice Kavanaugh plays out and leverages the conservative majority in the Supreme Court in the months and years to come. Don’t forget the fact that the Supreme Court appointments are for lifetime, and so what happens to the decisions of the Supreme Court now tainted by overt partisanship is no longer anybody’s guess – it will hit Americans in a way they would not have imagined till now.

Well, the idiosyncracies of democracy are well known. Unfortunately, there are significant negatives and inefficiency in the system of checks and balances.

Let us see how this drama unfolds in critical legal policy issues confronting the U.S. Supreme Court.

Have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

7th October 2018

Deep Insights and Thinking Process


When we fiddle around with something like a smartphone, or a TV remote controller, our mind is not going to think on any big topic of importance. You are struggling with something, or you are searching for something, or you are wondering why the TV remote is not working in the manner it should. Nothing beyond those very mundane things.

Not surprising, right?

So, when do people really think?

I have been thinking about this fascinating topic for the past few days, after my wife asked me to look out of the balcony into the inspiring skyline with absolutely nothing on my mind, which I did.

When I did that, I could see some kind of calmness descend on me, my mind became clear, and I start to think of things which are critical to me, such as my family matters and how to resolve some issues, et al. I even thought how to resolve the Palestinian conflict, can you beat that?

The difference that I understood lay in the way our mind perceives our distractions. When you are messing around with some technological marvels, talking into your Alexa asking it to forecast tomorrow’s weather, playing around with your car’s controls, etc., our mind is pre-occupied. It is not allowed (by you) to think on more important matters. You are constraining the immense utility of your powerful brain. Your mind is thinking through smallish issues that you are forcing it to tackle.

However, things and our perspective change when you do nothing. Yes, do absolutely nothing at all.

This means exactly what it means – just sit there and look out of your window or balcony, or stare into space. You are not seeing anyone, or talking to anyone – you are with yourself, and you are striving to be at peace.

Then what happens? A lot of things happen when you do nothing. Am I taking you for a ride? No.

Just think. Yes, just look out and force your mind to think.

It is not difficult. It might sound like nonsense, it might sound like some mysterious exercise.

It is not.

Just try doing this right now – first close your eyes, while being seated near a window or a balcony or a chair in the nearby park. Keep your eyes closed at least for a minute. Now open your eyes, while keeping your head tilted looking up.

What do you see? Either a blue sky or the sun setting at dusk, or horizon full of green tree tops – something like that, right? Do not look at peoples’ faces, and for this reason, place yourself in a calm quiet place with no traffic.

Once you have seen the serene sky for instance, the next step would be to ask your mind to think about some matter of personal importance to you or your family. It could be the upcoming family vacation, or it could be some wedding in the family, or it might be a great investment opportunity. Or, it could be a political conflict, or a war. It could be problems between countries, etc.,

Your mind now starts to think in a quiet, unimpeded manner. Outline of the problem statement, people involved, issues surrounding the problem, the central issue to be resolved, how to go about resolving the problem, what are the repercussions, etc., You are able to visualize the whole problem in almost a figurative, diagrammatic way. If you keep your mind focused even for a few minutes, you would be surprised of the outcomes – you have had the chance of coming across a variety of ways in which a specific problem can be addressed and resolved in a quiet calm manner without distractions of technology or for that matter, chattering people.

So, now you see the value of thinking in an undistracted, calm manner. It is some kind of meditation as you start with keeping your eyes shut. Keep the mind calm and “ready” to think.

I have decided that this appears to be a better way to think about important things, and so you can now find me gazing out of a balcony or a window oftentimes, looking at the sky or the horizon, and then intensely trying to think of some issue or problem. If my eyes are not focused on anyone, then it could be because of this effort silently going on within my mind.

So, it is time for you to stop meddling around, or fiddling around. It is time to start training your mind to think, not at intervals between tasks, but on a dedicated pattern whenever you feel like taking a “down” time. Do not sleep off! This process is guaranteed to deliver deep insights to yourself. On things of critical importance to you. Try it.

Have a great weekend, folks, and look out of the balcony or window right today,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th September 2018

The Unusual President’s Brash Initiatives


When I look at the continuous drama going on in Washington, D.C., I cannot but fail to appreciate the unusual nature of the White House incumbent. Never before had there been a President of the U.S. who has flouted all public norms of decency, all diplomatic protocols, all trade agreements, and whatever has so far formed the foundations of American Democracy.

Some of the President’s, sorry, most of his actions border on incredulity, what else can I say? It is simply unbelievable that so many things that the President says are things which have never been stated publicly (I am including his tweets, obviously). America is changing dramatically during this Presidency, and the America which will exit at the end of this Presidency is going to be vastly different from the one that existed in 2016.

Of course, I am not going to fault this President for some of his “actions”, which are apparently what he promised to the electorate and let us not forget that he got elected via a public election process in the U.S. One cannot hide behind the fact that Hillary Clinton won 3M more public votes than Donald Trump, that is not the way the U.S. Electoral System works.

Let us see what President Trump has accomplished in the past 18 months:

  • The first ever major Tax Reform signed in 30 years
  • Lowest unemployment in 20 years
  • GDP rapidly growing at over 3%
  • More than USD 5T wealth created

There are many actions that President Trump took which have put fear into the most important trading partners of the U.S., such as Canada, Mexico, the U.K., the E.U., China, and India. His “America First” philosophy is now deeply ingrained in the psyche of the U.S. public, and in fact, in most countries around the world.

There are many negatives spawned by President Trump which have impacted the world in the wrong manner, and he is facing several personal scandals as we all know well. The “fake news” media (his term for the mainstream media comprising of liberal news channels and publications) have kept all of us very well informed. I look at Fox News everyday to see how is their version of the news unfolding, and the dichotomy is greatly interesting.

Coming back to my rationale for writing this blog post (I think this is my fourth post on Trump), I cannot disagree on his economic or trade initiatives. I will not cover his immigration and border security initiatives in this post. It requires an American President made up of an entirely different fabric to contest the long-held notions on free trade. But I think he is executing his trade strategy brilliantly, while the U.S. economy is chugging along well and wage growth has started trickling in. The U.S. is the biggest buyer of most goods in the world, and runs a big trade deficit with most large countries, which is simply untenable. I cannot understand why trade parity is so difficult to accomplish – it need not even balance entirely, what the U.S. wants is some kind of parity – not a very lopsided one such as the one it has with China. The U.S. cannot be importing over USD 500B of goods from China, while exporting just around USD 130B to China – highly untenable.

It has become very difficult to gauge President Trump and forecast his next action plan. It is apparent that most of his ideas are actually stemming from his brain, as he hardly trusts his own cabinet. He has seen a continuous exit of his cabinet team members who could not see eye to eye with him on apparently random ideas or actions. It is also very clear that President Trump does not like to wait to take action on his random ideas – he wants almost immediate action. If the Congress does not play along, he will even go to the extent of threatening his own party members!

So, the world is in for a continuous random adhoc ride the likes of which it has never experienced. I am now almost sure that President Trump is going to be re-elected, simply because there is no other contender from his own party, and the Democratic Party is in a state of disarray with no strong personality emerging with less than 18 months to go for campaigning to start for the 2020 Presidential Elections.

Who will the U.S. public go with? A guy who has delivered on his economic and trade promises, though he has misjudged on many other initiatives, and plagued by sleazy scandals? Or, a relatively unknown candidate who is yet to be tested though he might bring new ideas to the table? The jury may be out, but it is my considered guess that President Trump will win a second term, at the end of which the U.S. will be an unassailable economic and military power, though not liked around the world for its exclusivity in global affairs.

If I were an American citizen, my vote will have to be cast for President Trump. There is not much to argue against such a vote as I stand to benefit in a variety of ways – lower taxes, better wages, more economic growth potential, and more demand for American goods.

If I am an Indian or Chinese citizen, my vote will obviously go against President Trump. I would like a pro-trade, pro-immigration candidate.

If I am Singaporean, I may not give a damn, though an inner voice is asking me to stay involved with the U.S. – but, it is not a choice I have, and as a small nation, it is better to manage the middle ground extremely well. There is no point in rocking an already shaky boat. We realize the world is forever, unstable, and it is our duty to demonstrate rationality in decision-making.

That’s it folks, have a great week ahead,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd September 2018

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

Secular Life in Turmoil


I have written about secularism in the past.

Some of my previous blog posts are listed here:

Secularism under threat

The Debate on Secularism

Spirituality departing from the land of discovery

The rising intolerance

I am adding on to the above posts with some additional thoughts on a bright Sunday morning here in Singapore, as I gaze across the expanse of a water reservoir which is serene and calm. I am disturbed with the onset of these thoughts, so the calmness around me is surreal.

I believe no religion owns a country or a people, around the world. Religion is the creation of man and woman. For thousands of years, the religious faith of a group of people had provided to them a solid hold on their lives as well as guidance to lead their lives. Religions, unfortunately, had been the cause of wars between people and untold millions of deaths.

Religion is not a necessary prerequisite or condition for sustaining a faith on things which matter to you. It is nice to have a system of faith which is what a religion should provide to its followers. A religion cannot dictate what someone should do or should not do. Of course, these are my personal views (as always).

So, my point of view on secularism is rather simple – since no religion should own a sect of followers or people, no one religion can control a country. This surely and firmly applies to democracies (theocracies are not being discussed in this post as I have not understood their rationale for existence in this multi-religious, multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan world). This would mean that democracies should disown ALL religions, irrespective of the majority affiliation to any one religion.

What does this mean in practice? A Catholic country with majority of its people Catholics, cannot have Catholicism embodied in its constitution as the “state religion”, as long as it remains a secular democracy. The same applies to other religious denominations. Coming to the example of India, it is enshrined in the Constitution of India that India is a secular democracy, though over 85% of its population are Hindus who generally follow Hinduism as their religion. The founders of India did this with a clear purpose in mind – that India is a very diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious country even at the time of its Independence in 1947. A Hindu theocracy would have seriously impacted the emergence of a peaceful India as a nation-state.

Think about the wisdom of the founders and original thinkers of Indian Constitution. They were not ordinary folks, they were serious people who contributed to the formation of India. Were they wrong? Absolutely not.

The racism and the attendant violence that the U.S. witnesses every day is because the government and law enforcement are discriminating on colour of people and their ethnicity. European countries are having huge problems on absorbing new immigrants because their social integration into European societies has not been possible due to the differing customs and religious practices. India did not have many of these issues for several decades. In India, law enforcement did not shoot at people they do not like.

“Untouchables” – the class of people that Mahatma Gandhi tried hard to integrate into mainstream Indian society – are in a far better position today than at the beginning of the 20th Century. I would argue that they are in a better situation due to strong affirmative actions than the African-Americans in the U.S.

Given all this complexity in various large nations, the only solution is to maintain a religion-neutral, race-neutral, ethnicity-neutral, and colour-neutral system of governance and law enforcement. The argument that the majority religion is being neglected and more importance is being paid to minorities is not appropriate, as majority population can always elect a party that they want to run the government. Religious sects across a large country cannot easily integrate election voting, that is just a dream. Individual people vote according to their conscience mostly (at least the people who understand partisan politics which is dominant today everywhere in the world). Religion can never integrate a society, it can only disintegrate it.

So, in a nutshell, secularism is the only way forward for the world, at least for the democratic nations of the world. If a party or government is formed on theocratic principles, then that is doomed to fail in the medium term as the majority electorate would realize their folly in electing them in the first place. No religion can run a government, and no government can operate a people as though they are religious levers to be pulled up for convenience.

I am absolutely sure that many folks may not like what I am writing here, nevertheless I believe that it is very important to express one’s thoughts and discuss the same with folks who are interested in the global development of the world. Anger against a particular religion, majority people, or minority people is not going to solve any issue. Every one is equal in this world and secularism ensures that as far as religious faiths are concerned.

Have a wonderful weekend, and see you next weekend,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2018

 

The Key to World Peace


There was a time when the rest of the world largely depended on the U.S. for maintaining world peace and order, almost expecting the U.S. to behave like a policeman for the world. That was not too long ago. At least the Western Allies depended heavily on the U.S., if not all of the rest of the world.

Even the opposition camp, comprising mostly of Russia and China, expected the U.S. to maintain the balance of power in the world. They did not want troubles in their neighbourhood. They also desired peace, as world peace helped world trade and economy. It was, and is a no-brainer. Businesses and business investments thrive when there is peace and tranquillity, and the prospects for free trade without tariffs and artificial barriers are bright.

All these expectations have been nullified by the President of the U.S. Donald Trump.

He has been an erratic president, the likes of whom the world has never seen. Fortunately for him, the U.S. economy has been doing well with a fantastic 4.1% growth in the second fiscal quarter of 2018. However, the world is suffering because of his random and erratic behaviour. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, the U.S. remains the main destination for exports and if U.S. imposes tariffs, it will cause huge problems for the exporting countries.

President Trump has still got 30 odd months to complete his first term. Yes, first term. He is most likely to win a second term of 4 years, given the disarray in the Democratic Party, and his ability to swing voters with non-fact based emotional persuasion and appeals.

So, there you go. President Trump may get emboldened to launch a war against Iran (not against North Korea with the rapproachement starting to yield some results). Israel is surely pushing him to consider a strong response to a potential oil blockade by Iran. There are many things that can go wrong, but the Middle East surely cannot afford another catastrophic war. And, Iran is not Iraq or Syria. They have a well-equipped army which will wage a war, and it is going to be very difficult for President Trump to cobble together a coalition of allies.

So, who is going to take over the maintenance of world order and peace?

Is it the U.K.? No, the Brits are entangled with their Brexit imbroglio.

Is it France? No, the French have many problems including immigration and serious crime.

Is it China? May be, but China’s position on world peace has not been articulated well except the usual platitudes we hear from their news agencies and media. Further, they are causing disturbances in South China Sea which could one day lead to a conflict with other claimants to the sea.

Is it Russia? Yes.

Don’t laugh.

Russia is well positioned to become the arbiter of world peace as it is fast realizing its power on the world stage. In the aftermath of the successful and much praised conduct of the FIFA 2018 Soccer Games in an impeccable manner, President Putin has regained much of his confidence which was probably somewhat lost after the Crimea acquisition and the Ukraine conflict, which were followed by sanctions. Further, Russia just launched some amazing weaponry which appear to seal its superiority for some time to come. President Putin has demonstrated his hold on President Trump during the Summit held at Helsinki on 23rd July. Countries are paying attention finally. Respect for Russia is on the rise.

If President Putin is able to convert this new-found respect and power into a strong diplomatic push, then the big countries of the world will have to work with Russia instead of imposing sanctions on it. China is already a close partner of Russia, and there goes 2 of the 5 U.N. Security Council veto-wielding members.

Russia is realizing that subterfuge is not the way to go forward in creating a framework for world peace. It has to work very closely with large countries such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Germany, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, etc., to align the thinking behind the strong necessity of maintaining world peace and not launching another destructive war which would be a catastrophic disaster for millions of people.

For the time being, the U.S. cannot be counted in any such new coalition, as it would be a logical dissenter to any such effort on the world stage. The U.S. has already walked out of the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this month. The U.S. may even be stopping its financial contributions to the U.N. The U.S. Congress is very much against President Putin’s purported spying on U.S. Elections, and so on and so forth. Concrete evidence is yet to come by, let us wait and see.

So, in my opinion, Russia has a unique position in the world today to be able to influence peace and order around the world. It cannot walk away from its responsibilities, and leave the task to the ineffective U.N., or to the confused U.S.

President Putin has a golden chance to demonstrate that he is a statesman-par-excellence, not just a spy or trouble-maker or war monger or election meddler. All that may not matter if he can bring about stability to the world in which trade, economics, business and investment can flourish. He might even be able to influence President Trump directly(!).

Welcome to a potential new world order. As President Trump plays around with the world, let us see what President Putin can and will do……………

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th July 2018

Right Wingism


Once upon a time, I had a personal opinion that if the majority of the population belongs to one religion, caste, creed, colour, or ethnicity, then they would have to have a say in how a government is run and how minority populations have to behave under a majority dispensation. A kind of “right wing” orientation with an attitude of “my way or highway”………

But, luckily, I had that view only for about a year or so.

I was forced to change my view under the glaring reality of what could potentially go wrong under that scenario.

Examples of what could happen to a minority people under the force and pressure of a majority rule are everywhere to be seen. In China, we saw what could happen to the minority Muslim population in the western part of the country. In Russia, we saw what a majority dictatorship can do to minority people in the southern part of the country. In the U.S., which is a major democracy, we see human rights violations against the Black and Latino people and other minority population almost on a weekly basis now – whether they are legal or illegal immigrants.

But these countries never had the background, sophistication and diversity of India, which remains even today as the biggest and most impactful civilization ever. In thousands of years of successful and peaceful co-existence, many different religions have flourished in India, even Judaism! India continues to have Chinese speaking people in Kolkata (Calcutta); it has over 200 minority communities speaking their own languages, and existing peacefully along with the majority Hindus.

The beauty of Hinduism is its “pacifist” nature – a peaceful and non-dictatorial religion which recognizes the existence of other religions and philosophies, and is always open to assimilation of different ideologies while not giving up its core thoughts. Hinduism spawned Buddhism, and that has spread throughout South East and East Asia as well as China.

It is critical not to disturb the hallowed reputation of Hinduism under any majority rule. While it is not necessary to kowtow to the minorities or minority religions, equal treatment of citizens and their affiliations is absolutely necessary to sustain a peaceful co-existence, especially in a very diverse country with multiple minority groups. This also means respect for each other and each others’ religious practices.

The recent wave of immigrants to Europe has changed the debate, because most of these immigrants are from the Northern regions of Africa and Syria. European countries worry about the integration of these people into their mainstream, about potential crime, and other socio-political issues. India never bothered about such issues over the past hundreds of years, because it has always been open to foreign influences and cultures, as it is today, with foreigners eventually adjusting and integrating into society.

With the unique amalgam of various kinds of people in Indian society, one may wonder how the governance and societal systems work out in India. It may surprise people elsewhere that India has been able to manage such a huge diversity in a peaceful manner over the years, and remains as a beacon of hope for the world.

Hence, it is my view that nothing should disturb this very unique diversity of philosophies and peoples. Any government that is running India should recognize the critical importance of this diversity and ensure the safety of all its people irrespective of where they come from or what they profess. If such a complex country has survived millennia of foreign influences, then it can continue to survive with less turbulence than the other large countries. In the next decade or so, India will overtake China as the most populous country in the world with over 1.4B people, so the continued peaceful management of the country assumes critical proportions.

It should be every political party’s responsibility to support the above existence and management of the country. Every party should support the governing party’s mandate to enhance the well-being of all of its population without distinction. This would mean all parties sign up for a common cause to benefit all people. It might be wishful thinking, but a serious evaluation of the ground situation in the country could lead sober people at the helm of affairs in various parties to conclude that cooperation is a must to eliminate societal disturbances and any kind of violence.

There should be no pre-judged or predicated mindset to support only the minorities every time. Majorities also could be right. A tripartite system of Parliament – Executive – Judiciary in India is so mature that it should be able to handle the systemic disturbances without clash or conflicts, and reach peaceful and meaningful resolutions. There may be confusion elsewhere in more mature democracies on how to handle difficult scenarios, for example, gun violence against minority Blacks. India does not and should not have such situations, and even if such problems arise, the tripartite system of governance and justice should take timely decisions to alleviate problems.

I am not taking any extreme view or position on matters of governance and justice. It is for any country to figure out the issues and resolve problems which affect its people. However, I am confident on the resilience of the India story.

It is my sincere hope that India will find its way ultimately and reach its goal of economic upliftment for its people – moving confidently towards USD 5,000 GDP per capita (a USD 7T economy) and then on to USD 10,000 per capita (a USD 14T economy) by 2030 and 2040 respectively. That should be the focus and not on any kind of class conflict. Any and all governments should respect peoples’ wish to pull themselves out of poverty.

Hope this happens for India!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd July 2018