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The upstocked distributors of Lalaland

Inara's log: 13th November 2512

The transparisteel shuttle windows turn red hot as we enter Lalaland's atmosphere. The acid clouds must be doing their best to eat into the cockpit but the engineers have done their job and the result is we don't turn into sky barbecue.

Dhar, in the co-pilot seat, brushes his fingers over the panes, to check the temperature no doubt.

"It's cool on the inside", he confirms.

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How do I love thee? Let me count the ways

When I was wooing Tiku, I think she wondered how genuine my affection actually was and so she kept asking me why I liked her. Finally, on Valentine's day 2004, I just wrote down 101 things I liked about her.

To my shock she still refused to go out with me!

But I'm nothing if not resilient and so, three days later, I wrote and sent her a list of ANOTHER 102 things I liked about her. She basically threw up her hands in frustration, and agreed to go out with me (Ha!)

Then for her birthday a few months later, I sent her another list of 100 things, but this time it wasn't stuff I liked about her. It was the things I LOVED about her. And finally after a long gap after marriage (shame on me) I sent her another list of 100 things I loved about her.

Writing hundreds of things you love about your soulmate is one of the most powerfully creative things you can do in your life.

Because if you ever forget just how lucky you are and how special she is.

This reminds you.

14th February 2004
1. I like your giggle
2. I like the way you glare at people with your hands on your hips when you think they’re too ‘senti’ (even if they’ve flown all the way to Delhi to see you)
3. I like those black sneakers
4. I like the fact that if I had to draw what my perfect girl would look like – she’d look just like you – simple and cute
5. I like the fact that you’re smaller than a peaRead more...Collapse )

The end of the spiritual search

I spent a large part of my adult life on a spiritual journey, and when I reached the end, I felt it had been such a waste of time.

I felt I could have used that time to learn real things. As a husband, father and entrepreneur.. that lost time is going to be hard to reclaim. You have so much more time as a student or as a bachelor employee.

I foggily remember moments of tranquility in prayer during Diwali and Holi puja when I was a young kid and I remember praying to God before exams. But rituals always had me switch off and it was at 13 that I decided there was no God, and declared it to my family.

The triggering event was my parents wanting to take me to Tirupati to thank God for saving me from lymphatic cancer (misdiagnosis - I just had a lympatic virus). I didn't understand the logic of thanking a God who had caused me to become sick, and created a great deal of stress for my parents. Looking at everything through that lens on that trip to Tirupati - I saw clearly the commercialization of religion and the supersitious nature of its followers.

I was out.

My heroes from the age of 15 onwards were Physicists, starting with Richard Feynman, whose autobiography was gifted to me that birthday. The men of science, by and large, treated religion as an irrelevence and so did I, till the age of around 24.

At 24 I read the book 'Conversations with God' and the God I met there seemed to make sense. It was a new age God, stripped of mythological craziness. Other books like 'The Alchemist', 'Celestine Prophecy', etc had me open up to the idea of destiny, synchronicity, universal consciousness, even perhaps a conscious creator who could communicate with us. On one occasion I even thought I imagined him speaking to me (telling me to reuturn from the UK to India and eventually become PM).

Within a few months of coming back to India, I had done the Art of Living course and was quite impressed by the composure of the teacher (Rhea Pillai). And so for a number of years I flirted with the ideas of non-duality and enlightenment - reading Osho and various other charismatic Gurus. But magical thinking was all a bit too far for me to grasp and crazy books like 'Autobiography of a Yogi' drove me from atheist Hinduism (yes there is such a thing) towards Zen by the age of around 30.

Zen, I still think, is very cool. It has humour, simplicity and aesthetics. The whole point of Zen is that you can't explain Zen in words, but since I'm no longer into it, I can disagree. Zen is about inculcating a pre-analytic direct contact with reality. It pushes you to avoid intellectualization about life, and to live it instead. It believes that the human instinct is fundamentally good and we can learn to trust ourselves rather than being driven by societal norms. The person who best explains Zen (and Tao) is Alan Watts.. his books and audio lectures are brilliant (I downloaded 3Gb and drove my wife mad listening to them around the clock).

I had some beautiful moments, of what I would call then 'non-duality', during some of those meditative sessions. But I wanted to push for enlightenment in this life and so I started reading books about the people who had achieved enlightenment. What I found was that the interviews with all the people described very conflicting ideas of what enlightenment was. And I started realizing that there was no standard definition of enlightenment. A Buddhist might think Buddha was enlightened but not Mohammad. A Muslim might feel the reverse. So it was almost like enlightenment was subjective rather than an objective thing.

What was enlightenment?

Maybe it was being freed from your desires. But I realized that the desire to be free from your desires was itself a desire. One analogy that the Buddhists used made sense.. it said that Buddhism was like a small thorn you use to pull out a larger thorn. Once the larger thorn is taken out then you no longer need the smaller thorn - i.e. once your desire to rid yourself of desires has had its desired effect, then you can get rid of it. But by this stage it was getting confusing because when you reach the stage where the only desire you have is to let yourself be free of desires, then the next step is to desire to be free of the desire to be free of desires.

It was absurd. There was no place to go but to laugh at the entire mess.

I realized that the anti-intellectual stance of Zen was also a desire to be free of thoughts. But when I freed myself from that desire, I realized that I didn't want to be free of thoughts. I love thinking randomly and without direction. A mind free from thoughts is seen as an ideal in Zen but I realized that it's just as dogmatic as the desire to be constantly thinking. So 'no mind' wasn't the answer I was looking for.

The third option was some sort of non-duality experience but I soon realized as I studied analytic philosophy (and in particular Wittgenstein and Popper) that this was just a lack of granular definition in the concepts of 'I' and 'atman' and 'brahman', etc. One way of looking at the universe is as made up of distinguishable parts, and another equally legitimate way of looking at it is an undifferentiated whole. It's logically incoherent to say one way is more real and the other is an illusion.

Around this time (at around 34) I read the book - 'Doing nothing' that explains how cultural programming has us fit certain subjective experiences into a frame of understanding. The born again Christian will call the same subjective experience as 'finding Jesus' and the Hindu will call it 'enlightenment' and the atheist willl call it 'feeling great' but they are all just societal paths that have been laid out for us. That's when I got my own definition of enlightenment.

Enlightenment is not feeling the need to look for enlightenment.

Everyone has desires, there is no one definition of enlightenment, the whole atman/brahman non-duality idea lacks conceptual rigour, the only definition of enlightenment that counts for an adult is his or her own.

I was done.

And then I felt cheated. What a waste of time. What a cruel hoax. What an infinitely stupid society that spends so much effort on chasing its own collective tail.

I wish I had spent that time learning Physics.. actually understanding how the universe works. I wish I had spent it volunteering in education for slum children. I wish I had spent it visiting new countries and in learning how to paint or cook. Now I have to get that time back.

The real question was never 'Who am I?'.. it was always 'How do I want to spend my time living this one life that I have'

I spent nearly 13 years trying to find myself.

I was right here all that time.

Where else was I going to be?
Free speech

I've been thinking about whether free speech should have limits and if so what they should be.

As a general principle I believe in free speech because I believe it results in all relevant perspectives being examined and I also believe that, in the long term, good arguments vanquish poor arguments. But let me take a more rigorous approach and clarify my own beliefs on this issue:

Libel and slander
Libel and slander is the making of a factually incorrect statement about a person, organization, country, product, etc.

The first argument for free speech in the case of libel/slander is that the market is smart enough to decide who is telling the truth based on track record of past statements. But this is clearly not true because religious followers believe their leaders and holy books. Even if one major religion were true, it would still mean that at least 5 billion followers of other religions had been believing lies.

But if libel and slander is to be legally curtailed then the problem is that the powerful are more likely to afford the lawyers that can protect their reputations from genuine accusations. For example if Reliance wanted to sue the author of 'Gas wars' they would have the possibility of using a huge armory or lawyers to intimidate financial ruinous litigation. But if they didn't have the legal right to protect their reputation, then an unscrupulous populist politician could rile up the masses with false claims against the 'greedy rich capitalists' in a way that could genuinely cause an unfair smear on the brand (for the record, I'm more inclined to believe in Kejriwal's side of the story than Reliance's).

I think the way to ensure that powerful interests cannot silence accusations of ill doing is to allow for the expression of statement of beliefs without qualification but not on factual inaccuracies. For example Modi should be allowed to say 'I BELIEVE Kejriwal is a CIA agent' if that's what he believes. But if he says 'Kejriwal IS a CIA agent' then that should be something that he should be legally punished for if he can't prove his claim in court. Similarly I should be allowed to say 'I'm certain that Modi sponsored the genocide of 2002' but not be allowed to make the assertion that 'Modi sponsored the genocide of 2002' unless I can prove it.

The burden of proof should be on the prosecuting party and they should bear the cost of expenses of the defendant if the prosecutor does not win or if the case is declared 'Inconclusive'. If not, then we'll again have rich people using expensive lawyers to overwhelm poorer parties. This does give some advantage to irresponsible statement makers but this is required to balance out money power and it is also likely that serial irresponsible statement makers will lose credibility anyway in the public eye.

In some landmark cases, it has been held that you can say things that are factually incorrect unless you show a reckless abandon for truth or if you say things that you know for sure are untrue. So for example, if I read an incorrect fact on a newspaper and I repeat it, the court would not hold me liable for libel because I had some reasonable grounds for assuming that the assertion I was making was actually true. I can't be reasonably expected to fact check a story by a national paper like TOI on Modi air lifting 15,000 people from the Uttarakhand floods.

Opinions about a person, even insulting ones, should not be subject to limitations of free speech. So if I said that Modi fits my idea of a sociopath, this should be completely legal. As would Modi calling Kejriwal anti-national.

Obscenity, pornography and blasphemy
I think society (through elected representatives), has the right to regulate what people do in public spaces based on the 'offence' principle... not for adults but for the sake of children. I have no sympathy for an adult who gets offended if they go to a magazine stall and sees a pornographic or blasphemous poster... if you don't like it, don't look at it.

But if people feel that the mental and moral development of young children (or retarded adults) could be harmed from public images of explicit sex, violence, etc. then that's a strong enough argument, for me, to make public restrictions. The norms on what constitutes 'offensive' is currently linked to prevailing standards and this will drift with time, as is appropriate.

However I don't think there should be any restrictions on the content of material that is marked as 'adult' in content and not available to children. So any content on TV post 11pm should be sans censorship. If a private art exhibition wants to display blasphemous images of various Gods having sex, then as long as they give reasonable warning of the contents, there should be no limitations to free speech on grounds of 'offence'.

Adults can make adult decisions on their own behalf on what they want to be exposed to. They can't make decisions on what other adults should be exposed to (however I think paying for child pornography should be a prosecutable offense).

It's up to the parents to ensure that children don't access potentially offensive/harmful material. Whether through TV locks, internet controls, etc. There should be an 18+ category not just for movies but also books, magazines and videogames. And just like for alcohol and cigarettes, sale should not be allowed of these goods to minors.

Only credible calls for a violent uprising against the state should be curbed. Peaceful secessionist speech and criticism against the state and actions should be allowed. I love the fact that Americans have the freedom to burn their national flag. But again, it should be burned on private property and not in public space if that's the will of the people (I personally would vote for the people who allowed for public burning of course, not that I have any intention of ever burning a flag).

Credible calls means conversations that are backed with intent to actualize violence or that can seriously be expected to move people to actually taking violent action. Jokes, venting, academic discussions, debate, etc should not be counted as credible threats.

Discussions advocating violence (like Godse's admirers) should be still allowed because they are irrelevant (Gandhi's already dead) and too vague to link directly with murders of other political targets. Also suppressing these conversations legally is likely to lead to the conversation going underground and festering with the possibility of breaking out violently. Sunlight is the best disinfectant to these sorts of conversations.

People have the right to a conversation about how they want to be ruled and by whom (including complete secession). They need to pursue their ambitions through democratic legal means but they have the right to have the conversation without being bullied and intimidated for having the views they do.

In India, intellectuals like Arundhati Roy and Bhinayak Sen have been accused of sedition and a political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was even arrested for drawing cartoons depicting politicians as corrupt. This is all of course absurd.

Hypernationalists may hyperventilate but if someone wants to divorce you, you try to convince them to stay... you don't pulverize them so they are scared of ever raising the topic again.

Adults make their own decisions regarding self determination. That's what being adult means.

Hate speech
This is speech that denigrates a group of people on the basis of factors outside their control - race, religion, caste, sexual orientation, etc. Unchecked free speech can lead to majoritarian psychological bullying and trauma, and also create a context in which actual physical violence can flare up against individuals from the targeted communities.

The problem with checking hate speech is in defining it. If I say that 'Muslims have the lowest literacy levels of any religious community in India', that's a statistical fact and I don't see it as hate speech. But then that's only a stone's throw from saying 'Muslims don't value secular education as much as other religious communities' and that's only a stone's throw away from 'Muslims don't care about education'. At this point the statement has become a loaded statement but it's still a generalization grounded in real data. At what point does it become hate speech? As another example, saying 'Sindhis are very money minded' could be admiring, neutral, or perjorative - depending on tone of voice. The head of Harvard was recently pilloried as a misogynist by liberals for making a statement that implied women have a lower aptitude for maths and science than men. But his statement was grounded in very objective numbers showing that maths and engineering academics in higher education were overwhelmingly more male than in other fields.

The danger of clamping down on 'hate speech' is that it's so subjective that over-control can easily become runaway political correctness in which legitimate discussion on real social phenomenon are suppressed. Criticizing the ideology of Islam can be equated with Islamophobia to prevent further discussion. Saying that Jewish money power in western media stifles balanced coverage of Israel can be labeled as anti-semitism. When legitimate conversations are shut down by political correctness, I feel the suppressed conversation has a habit of bursting out in spurts of nasty violent brutish right wing violence (and left wing violence as in the case of the Maoists). There is no 'safety valve'.

Another downside of PC is of course excessive seriousness and a frowning upon irreverent and satirical comedy. At a stand up comedy store, I enjoy jokes that make fun of bomb exploding Muslims, maths hating women, psychotic ultra-nationalists, etc. I like the intellectual stimulation of a conversation where there are no filters and the assumption is that all audience members are adults and understand that it's a social commentary and to be taken with a pinch of salt.

On the other hand, people can express and propagate racist, sexist and intolerant views under the protection of the anti PC movement... including in stand up comedy.

My conclusion is that the best way to handle this dilemma is just to let the market figure it out rather than legislate it. If someone wants to say 'Muslims are trying to seduce our Hindu daughters', let's not force that conversation underground. It's just going to lead to a bunch of incensed Hindu fathers going out and torching a Muslim neighbourhood because they see their daughter's honour as more important than the law of the land. By suppressing the conversation, we've made them rebels against the fantasy world they inhabit of secular conspiracies against their daughters.

My experience is that if there is a hate argument that is made in full public eye, a liberal counter argument will also emerge in full public eye.

If a hate speech is unchallenged by a liberal argument, the culture of the country is so far behind that the laws were not going to provide any protection anyway, is my view. An Amit Shah can get away with telling the residents of Muzaffarnagar to take 'revenge' on their enemies by voting BJP. However a teenage girl can be arrested for liking a comment where a friend suggested that many people in Mumbai had closed shops after Bal Thackeray's death because of fear rather than respect. Laws against hate speech can be of little protection against an overwhelming backward majority. In fact the hate speech laws will be misused to persecute those challenging orthodoxy.

I believe, in India, that the majority has become right wing in rebellion against what they see as politically correct 'pseudo secularism' that stifles their views. So let's note legislate against hate speech. Let's debate hate speech.

Let people make all the comments they want about Muslims, women, homosexuals, etc. There will be an outraged liberal counter point and in the end the better argument or the best amalgamation of opposing legitimate points will win. And this is what is required to accelerate the liberal education of our country.

Incitement and fighting words
The place where we do need to clamp down on hate speech is where it is about to lead directly to crimes or violence. A rally in which the politician is yelling 'Pakistan ya kabristan' or 'Khoon ka badla khoon' needs to be shut down immediately. This is not the time for debate.

Public security, public order
I think if an immediate threat to safety is involved, free speech can temporarily be suspended.

If someone yells fire as a joke in a crowded cinema leading to a stampede, this should be punished. Similarly if a TV anchor is broadcasting live, the movements of commandos trying to break into the Taj to rescue captives of the terrorist attack, the police would be well within their rights to confiscate the broadcasting equipment.

The right to safety and security trumps the right to free speech in the short term. In the long term, this can be an excuse to clamp down on truthful journalism. So censoring human rights violations in the Kashmir press on the grounds of 'not demoralizing the army' is not a legitimate curb on free speech.

Public nuisance
I think a guy should be allowed to hit on a girl but if she requests him to stop then any further conversation from his side should be seen as harassment (and of course vice versa). If a guy just keeps ogling at her, he's a jerk but she should just ignore it. You can't tell someone in a public place where to look as far as I'm concerned.

Nobody should be allowed to continue speaking to a person in public after they've been requested not to. This includes tele-marketeers or mass emailers.

I think society should be allowed to set the laws (through democratic representation) on the noise levels allowed in festivals (religious or otherwise). If it exceeds the prescribed limit, people should be able to prosecute for public nuisance. If it doesn't exceed that, even if it permeates individual households... they just have to live with it.. or move to a quieter neighbourhood, city or country.

Right to privacy
People should not be allowed to obtain pictures or content from people's homes or their personal digital data and spread it. That's a crime.

However the right to privacy - telling search companies to take down search results that relates to them.. I don't think I have much sympathy for that as a fundamental right (something being pushed in Europe and, to a lesser extent, in the US). If you do something in the public eye, then as far as I'm concerned, you can't take it back from the public eye. So think carefully about what you want to tweet or post in public before you do it.

There are other restrictions on free speech that relate to copyright violations, trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements, etc which I'm not going to go into just now because those are more about economic arguments than about fundamental rights as I see them.

My limits for free speech:
1. Factually incorrect statements that harm someone's reputation and arise from a 'reckless disregard' for the truth.
2. 'Offensive' material in public spaces where it can be accessed by children. The standards for what is considered offensive will evolve as society progresses.
3. Credible incitement to violence
4. Speech that puts the lives or physical safety of people at immediate risk
5. Talking to people who have requested you not to speak to them
6. Noise above a certain decibel level in public places
7. Confidential information that has been stolen from others through hacking or trespassing.

What I think should be allowed without legal suppression:
1. Opinions and beliefs about individuals, countries, products, organizations, etc.
2. Obscenity, pornography and blasphemy that offer adults the ability to choose to engage or opt out (like my fb page)
3. Peaceful sedition and talk of violence that is not credible.
4. Hate speech that offer adults the ability to choose to engage or opt out
5. The right to ogle
6. Content about a person, even if that person has requested for that information to be deleted as part of his/her 'right to be forgotten'
What is Humanism?
"Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance that affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. Humanism stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in a spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. Humanism is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality."
- The IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism

Who determines the principles of Humanism?Read more...Collapse )

The History of Philosophy


I've been trying to understand why India fell so far behind the West. My intuition tells me that stagnation of ideas through dogma leads to the decay of civilizations and so I've been learning about the History of Philosophy to see if there's a link between our intellectual stagnation and the fortunes of our country.

One of the most important events that allowed Europe to accelerate away from the rest of the world was the invention of the movable type printing press by Gutenberg in 1450. It allowed mass production of books and dissemination of cutting edge thought. Although Islam wrested Constantinople from Christendom in 1453, the printing press catalyzed the Renaissance and, for the next 500 years, till the end of World War II, Europe never looked back.

However other civilizations would have gotten printing presses soon after and could have created their own 'Renaissances'. The Chinese in fact had printing presses before the Europeans. So the question is 'why didn't they?'

I think the answer to that question lies in the second key event that allowed Europe to pull away - the thought that hit Descartes one day "What can I actually be certain of?".

That one question has made all the difference.

But that's jumping ahead. Let's start the history of philosophy earlier.Read more...Collapse )
24th February 2014

I've been trying to finish off some of my work so I can go to the AAP office for the first time but, since I could represent India at the Olympics in procrastination, it's taking longer for me to close the loops. I'm neither at AAP nor fully at work. I finally decide to let the work slide and just take the jump. I have no doubt that when I get back in the night I'll look at my to-do list, shriek, and work all night to make my deadlines.

As I get in the car I call Siddharth, who had invited me to an AAP meeting a few days ago and introduced me to the party. He's not going to be there since he's working from home and so I guess I'll just walk in through the door and ask the first person I see how I can help. See where it goes from there.Read more...Collapse )

Diary of an AAPtimist: First contact

First contact

18th February 2014 - First contact with the AAPtimists

I have an invite to an AAP meeting through a friend, Siddharth Verma, who has taken a sabbatical from Deutsche bank to work for the party as a volunteer. I’m not a member but I had asked him how I could help and he has sneaked me into a fairly high level meeting. The purpose of the meeting is an information sharing session between Yogendra Yadav and Pankaj Gupta from the National executive team and the Maharashtra arm of around 20 people. I'm excited.Read more...Collapse )

There once lived a man...

Sailor K

There once lived a man called Kanishka. And he had many strengths. He was smart, friendly, funny, helpful and confident. He could see the bigger picture and what was possible and explain very complex things in ways that were easy to understand. People liked and respected him.

But he was also afraid of many things. Read more...Collapse )



It seems a strange quirk of fate that, in a deeply religious land, a disproportionately large number of the architects of post colonial India were atheist or irreligious.Read more...Collapse )

Overview of Hindu philosophy


Hinduism is not comparable to Christianity or Islam in that it's not a single coherent religion. In fact it would be more accurate to think of Hinduism as a civilization comparable to western civilization. Both Hindu civilization and western civilization contain multiple distinct strands of philosophical and religious thought, many of them diametrically opposed to each other.
Read more...Collapse )
Tiku and I occasionally write lists to each other on why we love each other. I've got the first 200+ things I wrote for her in earlier LJ posts but I've lost the mail which goes from 200-300. So I'm making sure I document 300-400.

Also I think she also wrote an initial list of 10 things followed by a later list of 100 followed by another list of 100 (below this list).

Great memories:Read more...Collapse )

The Indian Enlightenment

India modern

The term 'enlightenment' is most often used in two very different contexts.

One usage is with respect to the spiritual enlightenment that swamis of the orient claim to have experienced and that seekers strive to attain.

The other usage is in the context of the 'Age of Enlightenment', a cultural movement of the 17th and 18th Century that started in Europe and spread to the colonies. Its purpose was to reform society using reason, challenge ideas grounded in tradition and faith, and advance knowledge through the scientific method. It promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual interchange and opposed superstition and intolerance. This led to the Scientific revolution and ideas of liberalism and fundamental rights that have had a dramatic impact on the cultures of western democracies which are comparatively abundant in peace, prosperity and individual freedom.

I feel that it's about time India has its own version of the second type of Enlightenment. We can remain stuck in the superstitious and tribal mindsets of the past or break through them to the liberal, secular, democratic, peaceful, compassionate, intellectual India that is possible.The responsibility for helping our country through this transition lies on educated Indians who straddle both worlds and who can learn from the past, understand the present and envision the future.

Time moves futurewards and so the Indian Enlightenment will happen.

All we can do is enjoy being part of this movement at this moment. This blog is part of that movement and part of this moment.

The Upanishads vs. Socrates

Socrates vs Upanishads

The Upanishads are very different in their style of exposition from the dialogues of Socrates written of by Plato and the tradition of western analytical philosophy.

Socrates posed questions to various people and pointed out logical consistencies in their answers, if any, thereby leading the protagonist to a deeper understanding of the subject under discussion. A typical conversation might proceed as follows:

A - The Gods are never wrong
Socrates - Do the Gods ever argue with each other
A - Quite frequently, according to the legends.
Socrates - If the Gods disagree on a certain point then at least one of them must be wrong?
A - That must be true logically
Socrates - So we can conclude that the Gods cannot be infallible.

The method of exposition is therefore of doubting existing conclusions, questioning them, applying Aristotelian logic and reaching new conclusions. The advantage is that anybody who pays attention can follow the logic or spot the logical inconsistencies in the argument. The disadvantage is that the style can be experienced by some as pedantic, painstakingly slow and boring.

The Upanishads, in contrast to the 'wisest is he who knows he knows nothing' style, classify their claims as 'Sruti' or 'divine revelations'. The sages who composed them do not seem to believe that it is possible to prove (or disprove) what they are saying through logic, but maintain instead that if you are willing to follow the path they suggest then, you will experience the truth of their claims for yourself.

An analogy might be that if someone points out a very faint star in the night sky to you, they cannot prove to you that the star is actually there through logic. But if you are willing to look where they are pointing and concentrate then you may see the light for yourself and, if you do, then you will know indisputably that what they said was true.

The advantage of the Upanishadic expositional style, that assumes 'revealed' wisdom, is that it is startlingly direct and poetically appealing. For example, here's a small piece from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that predates Freudian psychoanalysis by 3,000 years:

You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

The disadvantage of this style is that, until you have experienced for yourself the truths that the seers claim they have experienced, you will have to take their word for granted. Here is an example from the Katha Upanishad that requires more faith:

Only the one-pointed mind attains this state of unity.
There is no one but the Self.
He who sees multiplicity but not the one indivisible Self
Must wander on and on from death to death.

The word Guru literally means one who points you towards the light (Gu-towards, Ru-light). The question is what happens if you squint and look where the Guru is pointing but see nothing. You can only conclude three things - either that your eyesight is weaker than that of your Guru's or that your Guru is mistaken or that he is lying.

Part of the Guru relationship is being completely devoted to your Guru and disciplined in following his teaching (hence the words devotee and disciple). But part and parcel of the Guru relationship is that you must trust his judgement more than you do your own. Some people trust their Guru enough to do that and others find it difficult to 'Pluto' their own judgement to a secondary status. I find myself falling into the second category. I'd rather trust my own judgement and take ownership for my mistakes rather than be a back seat driver of my life (unless there are extremely compelling reasons to believe that someone else's judgement is clearly better than mine in a certain area - I wouldn't attempt to wrest control from the pilot of a plane for example).

The primary claim that the mystics make in the Upanishads is that there is an individual consciousness (atman) and a universal consciousness (Brahman) and these are actually the one and same thing. All aspects of the universe are manifestations of this non-dual consciousness that is eternal and unchanging and all forms of change (such as death) and separation (into different forms) are superficial and transitory illusions that shield us from seeing the real nature of ultimate reality.

Let me break up my reaction to this claim into two pieces - the part about it that I find attractive and the part of it I find myself resisting.

The part I find attractive is that it sets forth a world view that implies we are all connected at a very deep level and I think if people truly believe this then we could live far more harmoniously with one another. In addition, if people believe in this philosophy then it would allow them not to 'sweat the small stuff' because your looks, your bank balance, your promotion, etc. would all seem relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. This way of looking at things might free you up to enjoy life to the fullest, largely free from unnecessary worrying over trivial matters.

The part I find myself questioning is the assertion that this is not just a 'way of looking at things' but it's actually 'the way things are'. Let me explain why, in a little bit more detail:

We break up objects into units of thoughts called 'things', so we can see how these 'things' fit together so that we can get a better understanding of the object as a whole. And there are different ways we can slice those objects from an analytical point of view. For example, a man could be viewed by a tailor as being composed of a head, torso, arms and legs, or he could be viewed by a doctor as being made up of skeleton, blood, organs, muscles, nerves, etc. The divisions are man made and so, in some sense, 'artificial'. Another way of looking at the man would be to see him as a whole undifferentiated being. What the Upanishads suggest, using the man as analogous to the universe, is that seeing him as a whole is the 'truth' and in some way the 'analytical breakup' is in some sense 'false'.

The Upanishadic view is that Maya or illusion occurs when we cut things up using our mind - the words 'metre', 'measure', 'matrix' all come from the root word Maya. I, personally, don't see any one perspective as being objectively being more true than the other; I see them as different ways of looking at something, each of them mutually complementary and cumulatively providing a deeper appreciation of the object under consideration. Which way of looking at the object can be considered best is contextual - it depends on why you are looking at the object. A surgeon who had to perform a life saving operation on the person, for example, would hardly be served from not being able to distinguish between the various organs. And, you could legitimately study a bacterium present in the man's body as an entity in itself no more or less real than the man.

How would a 'believer' answer me. I think he would say 'Kanishka when you have experienced what the seers have experienced then you will see that there is only one true way of seeing things. You need to transcend the artificial distinctions imposed on reality by your mind. In fact you need to go beyond your mind if you want to experience the nature of pre-analytic real truth'.

But I think that for any claim to be a meaningful description of reality, it has to be a falsifiable statement. If someone closed their eyes and said "I feel like I'm floating", I could easily prove that his subjective experience did not match with the objective reality of him remaining stationary on his chair. However if someone says "I am one with the Universe" I could not disprove that any more than I could if he said "There is a weightless purple hippo sitting next to me that only I can see". The truth validity of his statement would also depend on his technical definitions of the words 'I', 'am', 'one', 'with' and 'the Universe'. I am not arguing his subjective personal experience. I do feel however that if it is impossible to prove or disprove the objective existence of someone's claim, then the non-falsifiable statement cannot be considered a description of the way world actually is. It's simply one of many ways of looking at or subjectively interpreting the world.

The second thing that I have resistance to is the claim that our consciousness is deathless and can be delinked from our physical bodies. Just because we can make our body the subject of our consciousness and therefore distinguish our consciousness from our body doesn't mean that by logical necessity our consciousness will continue post the dissolution of our bodies. An illustrative analogy is that I can see my body with my eye and I can deduce that my eye is therefore a separate entity from the rest of my body - this doesn't mean that my eye will continue to see if I have been shot in the head or that it won't decay with time post my death. I believe that consciousness is tightly linked to life and, to a large extent for humans, the brain. It has been demonstrated medically that if the brain is damaged in an accident, various aspects of consciousness, memory, cognitive functions are affected significantly and this, to me, by extrapolation implies that, when the entire brain stops functioning, consciousness ceases entirely. There is a very tightly established link between brain waves as measured by scientific instruments and self-described subjective states of consciousness. Again, this to me implies a high linkage between subjective conscious experience and the objective measurable physical activity occurring in a living brain. I think that indicates that consciousness ceases on physical death. I don't believe credible evidence exists for life after death or transmigration of the soul. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

The only way I would be tempted to reconsider my view on these matters would be if 'enlightened' beings could demonstrably do something miraculous that 'ordinary' humans were not able to do. Apart from saying 'I am enlightened', is there anything that they can do? Read minds? Levitate? Predict the future? When there is compelling evidence that they have some truly special abilities then I will consider that they might have truly privileged knowledge.

As an Indian, part of me wishes that I could confidently say that Indian philosophy is superior to Western philosophy but, at least based on what I have learned so far, I prefer the Western tradition. I feel the focus in India is less on 'teaching you how to think' and more on 'teaching you what to think'. I wonder sometimes if this is why our education system is geared towards rote learning rather than understanding and whether this is why our best companies do low end data processing rather than creating Google or Facebook type breakthrough technologies. I acknowledge that maybe that is an inductive leap too far. It might be a bit of a stretch but I wonder about it sometimes.

I guess my conclusion on the teachings of the Upanishads is that although it's great literature, a wonderful achievement of thought from our ancestors, and that it presents a philosophy for living that could help in attaining happiness in this life, it's not a grounded description of reality. For a deeper understanding of reality, Physics is likely to be a superior vehicle of exploration. For a deeper understanding of ethics, western philosophy is likely to be a more holistic study since it incorporates a meta-analysis of many different theories of ethics. And for a deeper understanding of consciousness, meditation is perhaps a more direct route to experiential wisdom in that area.

I hope that, for me, further reading of Indian philosophy will not turn out to be increasingly semantic detailing of 'revealed knowledge'. That would be disappointing. I hope it'll be rich and reveal new vistas of knowledge and exploration.

From the Vedas to the Vedantas

Isha upanishad

The jump from the early Vedic texts like the Rig Veda to the later texts of the Vedanta (Upanishads) represents an exciting increase in conceptual and cognitive ability of our ancestors.

The worldview that is represented by the Rig Veda seems to be me very mechanistic and typical of polytheistic beliefs of early civilizations from around the world. The early Vedists seem to have believed that by carrying out rituals in exactly the right manner they would be able to appease the relevant Gods and therefore manipulate the world to produce the results they wanted. The rituals were like a computer program in that even one line or one action spoken or actioned incorrectly could result in failure. The word 'Rta' was the first conception of a universal law according to which things must function. The words 'rite' (sacrificial), right (correct), righteous (morally) all come from this root. Indeed, whether a person was good or bad seems to based less on his behaviour, and more on whether he performed his sacrificial duties. These early Vedic texts seem full of rituals and superstition - The Atharva Veda was a book of spells and incantations primarily used for warding of evil spirits and the Brahmanas too were primarily full of speculative myths that provided elaborate justifications for the various aspects of the rituals.

The Aranyakas (forest treatises) seem to have provided something of a transition. These are presumed to have been for citizens retiring from active life to one of comtemplation in the forests. Since it was not possible for them to always get the materials for the elaborate sacrifices of the earlier Vedic texts, the focus was more on meditation on different aspects nature. This may have paved the way for the more conceptual thoughts that emerged in the Upanishads. The Upanishadic teachings seem to imply that it's irrelevant whether men perform sacrifices or not. The rituals are for lesser mortals while the Upanishads are for those who want to apprehend the nature of ultimate reality itself and for those who have the capacity to do so.

The thing I like most about the writings is the tone. It's bright, direct, vibrant, confident. There is little sternness, vagueness or dullness that is often present with philosophical or religious texts. One illustrative example from the Isha Upanishad:

Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no fear
Those who see all creatures in themselves
And themselves in all creatures know no grief
How can the multiplicity of life
Delude one who sees its unity

It also feels, to me, as if the author sage of the verse is speaking from personal experience. There is an ease with the knowledge that shows up in the ease of the communication. It feels like he has come to conclusions based on his own explorations of consciousness and is not repeating verbatim from memory. I don't yet know whether I agree with all his conclusions but there is something about the communication that makes me respect his thoughts and makes me want to listen to what he has to say.

The mystery of the origin of the universe


One of the most exciting pieces of literature ever written was the 129th hymn of the Rig Veda.

Emerging from the mists of pre-history, perhaps a thousand years before the Greek classical age, we can discern a moment where one of our ancestors may have looked up from the ritualistic sacrificial fire he was constructing to appease supernatural forces out of his control. Maybe his eyes met the stars above and, just for a moment, he experienced a suspension of the primordial fear that forces us to search for patterns and answers and closure. Was it a feeling of awe, or one of intimacy and connection? Maybe it was the first time a human had felt so safe and protected or connected to nature as to be able to ask unanswerable questions. Maybe it had been the first time a human had been so brave as to bear the touch of nothingness and the hint of infinity.

At that time there was neither being nor not-being.
The atmosphere was not, nor sky above it.
What covered it all? By what was it protected?
Were there the fathomless abyss of waters?

At that time neither death nor deathlessness existed
Of day and night there were yet no distinction
Yet someone or something breathed, calmly, self-supported
And nothing else existed

Darkness was hidden in darkness
Emptiness hidden in void

Then for the first time there arose desire
Which was the primal germ of mind, within it.
And sages, searching in their heart discovered
In nothing, the connecting bond of being.

Who is it who knows? Who here can tell us for sure
From what and how this Universe arose?
And whether the Gods came from it or it came from the Gods
Is it possible to know this at all?

From what sources has this Universe arisen
And whether it was created or uncreated?
The only one who could know is perhaps an all seeing being
And maybe even he or she does not or could not know.

(Based on a translation in 'A History of Indian Philosophy' by Surendranath Dasgupta. Modified slightly to make it more accessible and contemporary)

The good now days

Nostalgia has a bitter after taste sometimes. It's when I remember the 'good old days' as the 'better old days'. It's an artefact of the way I view the world, everything looks rosy in retrospect. I have a sneaky feeling that I'll look on these days as the 'better old days' one day. But if everytime I look back I see 'better' days then it would logically mean that my life is progressively getting worse but I know that's not the case.

I think nations do this too. Americans, the British and other former imperial powers, the Arabs, the Japanese, etc. Even countries that would seem to be in the ascendancy like China and India seem to look back to the Middle Kingdom and Harappan civilization. This is creating a narrative that the world is becoming a worse and worse place to live but on objective parameters people are more prosperous, comfortable, healthier, freer, etc.

I think the reason the past often looks like a more idyllic place than our present or future is because it has one critical element - certainty. When an event is over we are free to put it in whatever context we want to that makes it most palatable for us. We can see the bigger picture that the decisions we made were part of whereas what lies beyond the choice we make today is opaque.

The only way out of this muddle is to make our actions today part of an unfolding narrative that we are authoring. It is when we take on the role of authors that we can make decisions today with playful authority.

create yourself


"I have a real problem Zuly", I told her as I raised a finger indicating for her to give me one more drink.

"What's that then?", she asked filling my mug up. Ever since the Zelton genocide, the bar tenders on Zeflot, for legal reasons, were only allowed to ask questions. As history had painfully shown... you could never be sure how a tipsy customer might interpret and act on advice.

"I can predict the future. I'm prescient", I elaborated.

"Well you already know what I'm going to ask but why is that a problem?", she asked.

"Well.. I don't take my predictions seriously. I can think of a whole bunch of situations where I've predicted the future but I doubt my current predictions because I think maybe I'm just fooling myself by selectively remembering only the predictions that came true. But the evidence is becoming overwhelming."

"Well, let's check that. What am I going to say next?"

"Hey!" I said punching her in face

"Hey!" she screamed and then recovered her customer service poise "Was that ethical?"

"What is ethical is a question I'm really struggling with now", I sighed wearily

"Well, when you find the answer what is it going to be?" she said, a little sharply

"I don't know", I said. "My prescience seems to come and go."

"Does it?", she muttered. "Does it now?"

She seemed resentful but I had sort of guessed she would be as I punched her. I can predict things like that. I don't understand why it's not working for me though.

Time travel

"I've got to finish it" Dewit explained to Hewit. "It's taken me 90 years working nearly 14 hrs a day to get here. I must finish it"

Hewit looked at the semi-complete machine. "If you could make it work where would you go?"

"I'd go back to the day I was about to start working on this time machine", Dewit replied, his voice trembling

"And what would you do once you got there?" Hewit asked curiously

Dewit smiled slightly at the possibility "I'd talk myself out of trying to invent this and convince myself to live my life instead"

Hewit nodded but he felt sad for the older Ewit. Hewit knew that what Dewit wanted was impossible. If Dewit of the future had gone into the past and convinced himself not to work on the time machine then Hewit and Dewit wouldn't have been there talking about it.

There was no other way the universe could have been than exactly the way it was right now. But he knew he wasn't the one who was going to give the news to Dewit.


The waves in her beautiful sea blue eyes sloshed about as if in the grip of a typhoon. "I have a secret", she said

"What is it?" I asked, sucked in despite myself.

"I can't talk about it. It's too painful." She looked away for a moment, swept up in the emotion. Her eyes turned to violet.

"Why is it so painful?" I asked as gently as a zephyr

"Because I don't talk about it. I know, I know... I'm crazy" she admitted and the colour turned to a straw yellow.

I saw my opportunity. "I don't think you're crazy. Why do you hold on to the pain by yourself? Why don't you share it with me?"

She laughed gaily "Don't be silly Doc", she said, "If I did that then what would we not talk about?"

That was pretty much all I got out of her that session. Note to self: I need to stop falling in love with my patients.They're all nuts and It's driving me insane too. I can spot the signs better than anyone in this galaxy.

Problem is.. who can I tell this to?

The importance of planning

Crisil put away the treasure map, brushed away the dust on the stone plaque and read the carving carefully:

"The Oracle at Triton will listen to any assertion you may make and tell you if your assertion is true or false. The Oracle at Triton will only confirm or deny three assertions before self destructing"

This seemed well worth the trip through the asteroid storm and Gepta black hole cluster. The journey had taken one third of his lifetime but he was finally here.

"I make decisions and do things that I decided I would. This means that I have choice" Crisil declared loudly.

A slightly squeaky voice with a Singaporean accent responded "That is correct la"

Crisil went on "But the choices I make are determined by the way I look at the universe which is influenced by my past experiences, many of which were influenced my numerous factors outside my control. This means that free will is an illusion and I have no choice"

The oracle burped before squeaking "That is correct la"

Crisil delivered his final statement triumphantly "But that makes no sense whatsoever. I can't have choice and not have choice at the same time"

"That is correct la". A gurgling noise ensued and the oracle slowly got sucked downwards into the ground before disappearing.

Crisil sighed. In retrospect, he really could have thought this last bit through a little more thoroughly.

Neti neti

Sehor tapped his snout impatiently on the floor. "No. No. No. This just won't do... the purple is too depressing".

The shop assistant rolled his eye as he took the turban back. Sehor could hardly fail to notice it. The shopkeeper's eye was right bang in the middle of his face and the size of a tennis ball. Sehor pointed coldly at the sign at the entrance "The customer is always right".

The assistant wearily turned around and pretended to pull out another turban but simply turned around and gave Sehor the same turban.

"What the hell are you doing? Are you insane? Do you think I'm too stupid to make fine distinctions in turban colours?" Sehor shouted. Before the assistant could answer Sehor exclaimed exasperatedly "This purple is too happy".

"It's the same damn turban" the assistant threw up his hands

"Maybe, but this time it's happy" Sehor batted back accusingly

"Why don't you just tell me what you want instead telling me what you don't want", the assistant pleaded

"If I knew what I wanted I wouldn't be telling you what I don't want!". Sehor slowly raised a finger and pointed at the sign again.

The assistant's shoulders dropped. He turned around to look for another turban.


Mother and daughter glared at each other venomously.

"What's going on?" I asked the father. He pointed his tail at the bluer one "She feels controlled and she..", he said pointing at the lighter one "... feels like she's not getting the respect she deserves. They stopped speaking to each other around two days ago and got into a staring match."

I looked back at the ladies, each waiting for the other to blink first.

"But Heshag... your race doesn't have eyelids", I ventured

"That's right", he confirmed.

I thought about it for a while. "So this is going to last for some time?"

"You can bet on it. I have... between 3 & 5 days"

I considered the ladies again. "I'd bet between 4 & 6 days. A hundred guineas?"

Heshag paused for a second and then smiled "You're on"

I settled more comfortably into my chair and he passed me some popcorn.

Don't kill the messenger

The messenger's voice quivered as he delivered the news to Zog. The stars of the obsidian night sky peeped nervously through the glass domed roof at the scene playing out below - the silence so deathly that even the court jesters looked serious.

Zog lost it. He raved, ranted, retched and finally reached into his throat to pull out one of his internal organs. This he splatted on the table in front of him to demonstrate his anger.

Somewhere in the middle of this dramatic display the messenger stopped feeling terrified and started feeling bored. He'd seen this show before too many times. He was fed up and long suppressed anger finally started bubbling within him. His green blood, for the first time in three centuries, passed its boiling point and evaporated. Nobody noticed the whistling sound as his emerald coloured vapour blood steamed from his ears but the loss of heat calmed him down.

When he finally spoke it was with a quiet that cut through Zog's noise like a gunshot through a still night. "Zog", he said silently.

Zog stopped and stared incredulously.

"Zog. That's enough."

Zog's eyes widened to four times their normal size in fear. He suddenly stood up and, screaming in terror all the while, ran from the royal assembly hall.

The messenger considered the sudden change in events. He moved forward and sat in the now unoccupied throne.

"Does anyone have any messages for me?" he asked the assembled ministers.

No laughing matter

I'd like to
I'd really like to
I'd really love to laugh
Because it's been a long time
Would you think me rude if I laughed?

I think you
My guess is you
You'd like to laugh too
Because it's been a long time
You thought your boss wouldn't approve too?

What if we
Made a new rule
That laughter doesn't
Mean we don't care about our work
Boss, can't we get your boss in on this as well?

I think we'd all like that



She's bluer than a grey day in London
Her sad eyes pierce my muscles, my blood, my marrow
Triggering a soul destroying shriek that reverberates around in my head
It's my fault. It's my fault. It's my fault.

And it isn't. But even if it isn't... it is. Isn't it?

I know this banshee song well. Draining but addictive like heroin
For the lyrics tell me that I'm needed, capable of causing pain.
What would I be without that?
Would I be free?
Who would I be without that?


2011 to 2012

2011 is over. It's been the most eventful year of my life
- Started my own company and built a partnership with Girish
- Became a father and accompanied Tiku through the changes in her life
- Virtually doubled my salary from last year
- Coached on PEP 9, 10, 11 & 12, TEP 2 & 3 with perfect ratings from every single coachee and became a preferred coach for ABG
- Became a credible trainer at HUL and ABG and moved from being a novice to having people compare me favourably to AW trainers
- Wrote a book and developed the foundations of a comprehensive model of leadership effectiveness
- Trained Girish up to become a salesman and coach
- Got a car and a driver
- Papa and Mimi are now close to settling in Mumbai and living together with us

I think I was able to do this through some pretty amazing planning and execution. The cost has been my fitness (have developed a pot belly) and stress.. near the end of the year I was pretty burned out and started breaking commitments to clients.

In 2012 I want to:
- Create financial sustainability for Stilwater
- Spend time with Tiku/Kaeyan
- Make sure we buy a place with Papa & Mimi together
- Get to peak fitness
- Pay taxes

This is going to require me to switch focus crisply and cleanly from one area of my life to another.

Should shouldn't

I just read an old post - 'The game of life', one I wrote nine years ago at the age of 25. The strange thing is all the things that I thought I had learned recently had already been explicitly covered in that seminal documentation of my worldview at the time. The thought struck me - perhaps I haven't grown at all - maybe I've just been going around in circles and have simply been experiencing an illusory sensation of motion.

But I feel different. I feel in control now. I think the biggest difference is because the word 'should' doesn't feature in my vocabulary now.

Earlier I felt I 'should' devote myself to trying to make other people happy and by making them happy I would feel happy. Now I feel that I should help people if and when I feel like it. If I don't then I don't feel guilty about it - I don't think anybody needs to be 'saved'. They're fine as they are.

Nor do I grant others anymore, the authority to assess me as not ok the way I am - IThat's my prerogative and I declare that I'm perfect as I am. I think that's enlightenment. Not feeling the need to validate myself to others or myself.

I don't expect others to be any certain way. I don't think there's any sort of person they 'should' be or anything they 'should' do. That makes me fare more compassionate of them and understanding of their actions.

With the banishment of 'should' - there's a greater acceptance and ease about reality as it shows up.

I think that's due to Alan Watts.


A few months ago I noticed that I was reacting over-sensitively to feedback and so I constructed a set of heuristics for myself to guide how I should respond in those situations. I think the clarity those rules provided me worked really well. Now when I get feedback I'm really good at listening to it without feeling criticized. In fact I think I've become almost too good at receiving feedback. Tiku told me recently that I shouldn't take any more feedback about my book and I notice with my clients - I almost immediately agree with what they're saying when sometimes it would make sense to provide stability to our way of working. But I'm content with being 'over flexible' at the moment. The greater experimentation that it will force me into will generate some learnings on what's possible and what works and what doesn't. It will also mean a higher number of mistakes even after assuming that we've done the best we can to mitigate them - and I accept that.

However there is another matter that is getting me down today and I thought it would make sense for me to implement the heuristics methodology to this issue as well. I find myself getting down when it feels like a number of things haven't gone my way and it feels like a mountain of things have piled up. In these situations rather than speed up my rate of work I actually slow down and avoid it and this compounds the feeling of guilt - feels like I'm fiddling while Rome is burning but I'm too tired to do anything about it. It feels like there's a lurking disaster that's waiting to get me and I resign myself that this might be the time it's going to get me and I can't fight it any longer. It never is the disaster but I often feel like I'm working all the time just to stave it off. And then it subsides but never really goes away..

The questions I have are therefore:
1. Should I rest or should I attack the work?
2. How can I ensure that if I rest I rest easily? How long should I rest?
3. How can I ensure that if I work I enjoy myself rather than feeling like I 'have to' do the work.

My initial hypothesis are:
1. Most of the pressure results from not pinning down exactly what needs to be done and scheduling it. I need to make a comprehensive to do list and fix a time for the various action items.
2. When I sense the depression I should stop resisting it.. go deep into it till I feel peace and allow myself to switch off. When I switch off I really need to switch off
3. When I start working I need to work with resolution and a commitment to finishing tasks. In flow state I have fun.
4. I can take a call on whether to rest or pin down what's missing depending on how I feel.
5. Remember - whatever happens - I can handle it and it's all part of the journey.

Use the heuristics above. Refine or add to them if required.

Like it or not

I'm sensitive to whether people like me or not. If someone does something that indicates they don't like me or something I've done then my instantaneous reaction is to like them less and create a huge list of justifications on why I'm right and they're wrong. Then after about half a day I slowly start shifting the burden of responsibility towards myself and end up blaming myself - I'm wrong they're right. At the end of the day I've calmed down, I'm clear on what happened and I've depersonalized the event. I mentally take a note of my learnings, take effective action consistent with my priorities and shift to an I'm ok - you're ok state. But it takes time to get to this stage and in the meantime I sometimes take hasty defensive decisions or try to desperately appease the people who triggered the stress or try to create a relationship with them which is unlikely to be reciprocated.

The questions I have are therefore:
1. What responses do I need to make immediately? What responses do I have time to think about?
2. How can I ensure that my instantaneous responses are appropriate?
3. What is the process by which I can speed up the time to decision while ensuring that I make an optimal choice and generate learning from the incident

My initial hypothesis are:
1. I can make all responses immediately unless someone is providing me feedback in which I just need to say thank you and be open to it for a while before taking a decision on whether to accept it or reject it. If Tiku ever gives me feedback I should kiss her as well. If I'm being trained or coached I should be as open as possible. Take things as true until proved wrong. I can always change my mind later.

2a. Always give the customer what it wants. It's fine if they don't want us/me. Learn from it - there'll be infinite opportunities to use that learning later.
2b. Always be empathetic and give people what they need. But don't feel you need to be everyone's friend.
2c. In my trainings I can be direct but I need to bear in mind how what I see is impacting them. Not everyone has to like the training. I should bring their attention to what they learn from their resistance (in the moment or in written)
2d. In my coaching I need to take a decision about whether someone is tough or soft and then provide challenge or support based on that assessment. Everyone does need to like me as a coach - but I need to keep track on how what I see is getting in the way of their fulfillment. If there is resistance I need to bring their attention to their body.
2e. If I make a request it should be based on what my priorities are and what my bargaining power is

3. Use the heuristics above. Refine or add to them if required. Results are neutral and every result moves me forward

Home again

It's been a long time since I posted. I went through a place where I got caught up in work and thought I might have outgrown livejournal. I told myself that I was busy, my work was confidential, I was writing other stuff anyway and I was learning so much through my coaching and training experiences that I didn't really need a blog to facilitate my growth.

If it had been one reason it might have been valid but when I use that many it's almost always a rationalization.

Seth Godin got me on track again. I was watching one of his interviews and he said that the best thing he ever did was blog because it helped refine his thinking and I was hit by a flash of recognition. I don't think I would be who I am today if it wasn't for Promotheus' Odyssey. It's allowed me to sift through my experiences and construct a narrative of where I've been, who I am and where I'm going. It's provided me the clarity that has been the generative source of my conviction and commitment.

Every major decision of the last 7 years has pretty much had its origins in my typings here and those decisions have helped me navigate a safe passage through the inflection points of my life. Leafing back over past entries I'm amazed by their prescience - almost everything important I wrote down has come to pass. All my life I've been looking forward, pressing impatiently against the future and stressing about how far I have to go. It was reassuring, in the most complete sense of the word, to look back and see how far I've come. It gives me faith in an irrational belief of mine - the words I write here conjure up an intentional force that, albeit with a slight delay, creates my experience.

I feel like I've returned to an old forgotten childhood home. And I've missed it.

Reflective clarity

I can discern the underlying patterns from the swirling blue mists that surround us
And coalesce the Platonic ideas into droplets with the strength of inevitability
All I need to do stand my ground and wait for the Universe to burst forth from the bubble
Together we'll take care of everything

Our greatest fear

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate but that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

- From 'A return to love' by Marianne Williamsom

Review - I can do this

Today I'm feeling the need to sort out certain areas of my life in particular the old hoary one - discipline. I think a part of me just hasn't felt that I can defeat it but now I feel I can. Let me start by listing the areas where I've shown discipline:

1. A-levels: I worked all night on many nights to come first
2. Guitar: I learned to play by myself which only a small percentage of people ever do
3. Newspapers: I found it difficult initially but I developed this habit as well
4. Relationships: I found marriage tough initially but I stuck it out and now I can do it as well as anyone
5. Being charismatic: I worked hard to develop this part of myself and now in most gatherings I'm able to charm and even inspire most people
6. ASM: I found being sensitive tough initially but was able to develop a great deal of credibility with my field force and inspire them
7. Sales: I found it difficult explaining myself initially but I'm now getting very good at explaining our work
8. Finance: I'm now paying the EMI for the house and am up to date with my tax payments, which I never thought I could do earlier
9. Knowledge: I found History, Geography, etc tough earlier but now I have a real grasp on the subject
10: Journalling: I found it difficult to keep a diary despite trying many times. But I've been doing Livejournal now for nearly 6 years now
11. I was very rebellious at HLL but now I've added diplomacy to my list of strengths
12. I overcame my competitiveness and now I'm much more collaborative
13. Earlier I was haphazard about my packing but now I'm very organized
14. I've only been late for one AW thingy and that was when the cab didn't show up
15. I've only missed a flight once in my life and that was when the cab didn't turn up and I managed to cancel the ticket so there wasn't any loss to HLL.

So how hard can it be to fashion a to do list in the morning and review it before end of play?

Easy peezy

16. I used to feel the need to please people or make them happy. Now I'm far more at peace with myself and I help others when I feel like it.

Does terrorism work?

I've been reading a lot of history lately and have been particularly impressed by the fact that it repeats itself. So after yet another seemingly arbitrary terrorist attack in Pakistan yesterday I had to answer the question for myself - is terrorism ever successful? What can the militants realistically hope to acheive and what does history have to say about this.Read more...Collapse )

Mind the gap

There's a space between where I am and and where I want to be
A distance between who I am and the person I ought to be
No matter how far I've traveled or how far I'll travel
Like the moon on a midnight drive or the horizon out at sea
It could be 3 miles, it could be eternity
Is it what keeps me from living
Or is that what it means to be alive

You are the same, no?

Nadal beat Federer again in the Australian Open and it's becoming clear that Federer has a huge mental block. On the surface level it's that he believes he can't beat Nadal but actually it probably goes deeper than that. Nadal wants to win. Federer needs to win. Winning has become so important to Federer and losing so catastrophic that he's unable to deal with the pressure that he's putting on himself when he plays Nadal.

And this is something all of us do to a certain extent. If we don't get a job interview or someone we're attracted to doesn't the same way about us or if we lose a bet - we take it personally. We think that who we are has been diminished, insulted, invalidated. We fail to make a distinction between the results we produce and who we are. 'Kanishka has moved the chair' is one thing but 'Kanishka is the chair' is bordering on nuts. But that is the mistake we make on a regular basis. We have results but we are not our results.

Nadal understands this well and this is why under the most intense examination (Verdasco in the semi-final and Federer in the final) he doesn't get tense. When asked after the Australian open whether he had now proved to everyone that he was the King of tennis he emphatically said no. He was no different from 5 hrs earlier.

"You have to know before the match who you are and after the match you have to know who you are, too. You are the same, no?"

Timothy Gallwey was the guy who gave us terms like 'mental toughness' and who set the foundations for Coaching with his book 'The Inner game of Tennis'. He found that when players had an internal dialogue in which they were critical of their poor shots their game suffered. But surprisingly he found that when they praised themselves... that also had a negative effect on their game. The reason was that it set up an expectation, a standard that all future shots had to live up to. When you define 'good' you can't help but at the same time define 'bad'. The answer was to observe the shot and accept it as it was without judging it or labeling it one way or another.

Federer has had so much success that anything short of being champion and No 1 has become a disaster. Anyone else who had reached the last four grand slam finals, won the US open and was No 2 in the world would have been happy but Federer sees it as a devastating blow to his self esteem, which is now inextricably tied up to his achievements.

"You have to know before the match who you are and after the match you have to know who you are, too. You are the same, no?"

Here's to hoping this wonderful champion gets to know who he is.

Barkha Dutt and the mirror

Barkha Dutt has not thought things through. You would have thought that people in the News business would have some idea of how public opinion is shaped but clearly not so. There is a law of internet that if you try to suppress any information or a point of view then it becomes stronger and more widely aired by orders of magnitude. This is so well understood by people in the social media that it even has a name - 'The Streisand effect'. In 2003 Barbara Streisand tried to suppress aerial pictures of her home being published on the internet. As a result everybody got curious and the pics were published everywhere. So if some blogger somewhere thinks you're an irresponsible journalist then you give your point of view once, ignore it, forget it, etc. Ummm... you don't bully the person to offer a public apology. Because then you really will be hated with a vengeance and by many more people.

Which brings us back to the old maxim 'What you resist persists'. If you invade Iraq or have your goons manhandle a bunch of women in a pub or deny that a Pakistani terrorist has anything to do with your country... your problems will persist and become bigger. Bad feelings are a signal of resistance - guilt, anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, shock, procrastination, etc. And what we're in resistance to externally is simply a reflection of a part of ourselves we refuse to accept or allow. I resist illiberalism in any form which is of course a manisfestation of things within me that I resist.

Illiberalism for me represents a form of control. I hate being controlled and getting annoyed is my refusal to accept that it's appropriate to be considerate of others sensibilities. I have the right to swear, curse God, sit during the national anthem and nobody's feelings has the right to sway me. I shouldn't have to go to family weddings, remember people's birthdays, make boring polite conversatino and be politically correct. What do illiberal folk say to justify their actions (burning MF Hussain paintings, clamping down on public displays of affection, etc). They will say that we should respect their feelings. And of course what I will refuse to see is the hurt that Barkha must feel from having strangers call her stupid, unethical, hateful, murderess, etc. What I will refuse to acknowledge is that I would be heartbroken if people talked about me like that. What I will refuse to accept is that there are more productive and considerate ways of communicating our opinions of her coverage.

And of course the illustration that started the post doesn't just represent Barkha Dutt ignoring the criticism of angry bloggers. It represents my choice to focus on the anger I feel towards her rather than look at the things in me that generate it.

Fascinating Australian Open

This has been a fascinating Australian Open so far. The betting shows the sudden twists and turns that have been taking place.

It started with Muray being placed as the favourite by the bookies. However few punters believed it and the bookies started offering longer odds on him and when the tournament started good old Federer was given the highest probability of winning (30%). However Nadal rising with every opponent he despatched (one was dismissed in just 1hr 19mins!).

Then suddenly Murray fell and Nadal's path became easier (see his sudden jump to 41% likelihood). Tsonga's chances also improved since Murray was in his half of the draw. Not only that but Federer was looking fragile after escaping from 2-0 down against Berdych.

Then Djokovic fell to Roddick and Roddick's chances picked up (you can see Federer's chances go up as well since he was sheduled to meet Djokovic next).

The most recent action is Federer killing Del Petro the sixth seed 6-3, 6-0, 6-0 in 1hr 20mins. This was Federer at his best and so he has jumped up to above Nadal as the favourite. Also poor Roddick, who faces him next, his chances have dropped since FedEx is so red hot. Federer has a 15-2 head to head against Roddick so in this form it's hard to see Roddick beating him.

My guess is that it's Nadal vs Tsonga semi final with Nadal going on to play Federer in the final. Tsonga hammered Nadal in last year's semi final but Nadal is much much more consistent now and Tsonga would have to play as well as he did in last year's semi-final to get past him. He played unbelievable that day. Not sure if he can repeat that level of quality on a sustained basis again.

In a Federer vs Nadal I'd go for Federer to win it in 4. Nadal may have the better record against Federer but that's skewed by a 9-1 record on Clay. On other surfaces Federer has a better record against Nadal. Nadal may have beaten Fed 9-7 in the 5th set in one Wimbledon but that's not reflective of his overall record against Federer on non-clay surfaces. On an indoor hardcourt I think Federer might be able to clinch it.

Bated breath

Why do we get married?

"Shall we dance" is an ok movie. Watchable but not something I'd watch again.

But in the middle of it is a quote that I thought was truly stunning in it's insight.

Susan Sarandon asks a guy why he thinks people get married and he replies "passion". She disagrees and he puts the question back to her "Why?"

Because we need a witness to our lives. There's a billion people on the planet... I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things... all of it, all of the time, every day. You're saying 'Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness'.

In life no matter how good our relationships our with our family and friends, at some level, we are ultimately alone. The person who gets closest to knowing the full person and seeing our entire adult life play out is our spouse and therefore their experience of us is as close as we'll get to a final judgement on how we've lived it while we're still alive.

More of the same

I used to think that the internet would solve the world's problems. I thought the problem with the world was that there were a lot of limiting ideologies and ideas that had taken root in the social market place in the absence of competition. For example women were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia because the alternative worldview wasn't allowed. My understanding was that in the borderless world of the internet where all competing ideas were allowed to smash into each other the best ones would emerge in a survival of the fittest and the world would become a better place.

A suitable analogy to what I thought would happen would be the liberalisation of a closed economy. Initially the state run behemoths and local firms are inefficient but can operate because of lack of competition. When the market opens up to foreign companies, companies are forced to provide better service and the customer benefits. I thought that the internet would be a place where the cultural 'protectionism' of national borders would disappear and the best ideas would establish themselves.

Unfortunately this has not happened for two reasons. One is that the web has developed its own forms of national boundaries and the second is basic human nature - we only read the things we already believe in.

India is 80th (out of 139 countries) in the Press Freedom index. Pakistan is 119. Which means that the press of both countries is anyway severely restricted in what they can say. The reports about the recent Kashmir elections are so different in the two countries it's almost like they're talking about two different places. Indian newspapers say that there has been peacefull polling and huge turnouts. Pakistani newspapers reports speak about vicious repression of anti-voting protestors and low turnouts. No doubt the truth is somewhere in the middle but I'm frustrated that as an Indian that I can't believe my own press. Given my own experience of the corruption and coarseness of the Mumbai police officers it's not a big stretch to believe the reports of Amnesty International that says that the major cause of death in Indian prisons is due to Police torture and that this has been taken to an extreme level in Kashmir but I never read about it in the Indian press.

When I look at the press reportings from around the world it appears hat India has been unofficially arming and supporting Afghan militants who have been carrying out insurgent activities in Pakistan to destabilise it, a role that Pakistan has been doing with the Kashmir militants in India. However Indians are kept in the dark about these activities and would never believe that our country would do something like that. We would believe that Pakistanis are conspiracy theorists for suggesting such a thing. Pakistanis on the other hand seem to think it's impossible for their countrymen to be involved in helping Kashmiri militants.

I hoped that Google news would cut through this regional bias but even the news stories that appear on the Indian page and the Pakistani page are completely different most of the time and tailored to suit the readers of that country.

The other problem is something I discovered recently. When people are exposed to debate rather than become less sure about their point of view as I expected they would, they actually become even more rigid about their view points.

In 1979, Charles Lord, Lee Ross and Mark Lepper carried out an important piece of research on attitude polarization. The researchers selected two groups of people; one group was strongly in favour of capital punishment, the other group was strongly opposed to capital punishment. The researchers began by measuring the strength with which people held their particular position on the death penalty. Later, both the pro- and anti-capital punishment people were again divided into two groups.

One of the pro-capital punishment groups was shown a card that had a statement about the results of a research project that supported their beliefs.

Kroner and Phillips (1977) compared murder rates for the year before and the year after adoption of capital punishment in 14 states. In 11 of the 14 states, murder rates were lower after adoption of the death penalty. This research supports the deterrent effect of the death penalty.

The other pro-capital punishment group was shown a card in that had a statement about the results of another research project that contradicted their beliefs.

Palmer and Crandall (1977) compared murder rates in 10 pairs of neighboring states with different capital punishment laws. In 8 of the 10 pairs, murder rates were higher in the state with capital punishment. This research opposes the deterrent effect of the death penalty.

The same process was followed with the two anti-capital punishment groups with one group receiving the card in which the conclusions of the study supported their beliefs and the other receiving the other card in which the conclusions of the other study contradicted their beliefs.

In the next stage of the research, the participants were given more information about the study described on the card they received, including details of the research, critiques of the research, and the researchers' responses to those critiques. The participants were asked about their opinion on the quality of the research. As you can guess by now, participants gave much higher ratings to the quality of research of the study that supported their beliefs and much lower ratings to the quality of research of the study that contradicted their beliefs.

The participants were then shown the other card that talked about the other research project that supported the opposite position to that they had initially seen along with the details of the research, critiques of the research and the researchers’ responses to those critiques.

Finally the experimenters once again measured the strength with which the participants held their beliefs on capital punishment. The startling finding was that after reading both the research that supported their current views and the research that was conflicted with their views, the participants tended to hold their original attitudes more strongly than before.

This really puts a damp squib on my naive assumption that in the free space of the internet the best ideas would triumph. What it actually seems to suggest is that the Saudis will be exposed to debate for and against women drivers that will actually make them even more adamant that women should never be allowed to drive.

It's all quite depressing.
Heart disease.....................4030
Lung infections...................3072
Diarrhoeal infections.............1948
Pregnancy related deaths..........1676
Car, truck, 2 wheelers.............442
Genetic diseases...................420
Liver disease......................396
Railway accidents...................71
Lightning strikes....................8

Suicides due to family problems.....80
Suicides due to illness.............75
Suicides due to love affairs.........9
Suicides due to bankruptcy...........9
Suicides due to poverty..............8
Suicides due to employment...........7
Suicides due to failure in exams.....5


Summary: Preventable - 15000, Strokes, lightning, birth defects - 2000, Terrorists- 2

If your friend suggests going to a movie then rather than talking about terrorists you should raise the statistically more valid threat of being struck by lightning on the way to the cinema (4 times as likely). Clearly by changing our lifestyle as a result of terrorists we are over reacting, driven by media sensationalism. In fact, rather than beaming live video of commandos dropping onto the roof of the Taj directly into the 500+ TVs that the terrorists had access to during their siege, the media should have more productively trained the camera and the attention of a breathless newscaster onto a fat guy eating a laddoo across the street - heart disease claims 2000 times as many deaths every day.

On a more serious note - the actual number of terrorists deaths are of course just the tip of the iceberg, the most visible symbol of much larger problems of inter-faith prejudice at the micro level. This is not generated by fundamentalist preachers, nor brutal police, nor the lack of inter-faith marriages. It's generated at the micro level by the fact that Hindus have fewer Muslim friends and Muslims have a much higher percentage of Muslim friends than their representative percentage. It's much more subtle and all pervasive than the fire and brimstone speeches of the Mullahs and VHP. I create this by not being open to other views. Not just tolerating views but being open to them.

Friends are a hundred times likelier to commit suicide than to be killed in a terrorist strike. I think all of us go through ups and downs but strong relationships stabilise us. So if this many people are killing themselves the real danger is not from Pakistan but from the fact that I haven't called so many of my old friends or from the fact that I didn't strike up a conversation with the guy next to me on the plane or the fact that I was hard on my subordinate when he didn’t do his number or the fact that I never asked my maid about her life and what’s going on with her. A positive action puts other people in a better mood which sets off more positive actions. Who knows what that ripple might create and what it might prevent.

You're 200 times likelier to die in a road accident today. What lies beneath the waterline is government corruption and citizen apathy. We certainly don't do candle light vigils for the victims of road accidents and demand action from our governments. We're much more likely to scorn the PM of India for not being more inspirational from the comforts of our arm chairs. And it starts with me not judging people (even politicians) but understanding them, working with them pushing them for their own good if required.

And as we go towards the lower income deaths - diarrhoea, tuberculosis, measles, pregnancy related, tetanus, etc, we become less and less aware of them and what lies beneath the waterline, the voicelessness and vulnerability of the poor. Even the smoking and alcohol related lung and liver deaths come mainly from the need of the poor to numb themselves from the reality of their existence.

And the number one killer - heart disease. A better representation of our psyche would be harder to find. We don't take care of our own bodies, how can we take care of our country. We let apathy and 'chalta hai' attitude rule out the need for exercise and tough action. We let short term gratification overpower us and make the wrong choices. Isn't this the same problems with our attitude to choosing politicians? If I don't even pressure my parents, whom I love, to exercise for their own health, then am I really going to change this nation? Highly unlikely!

Gandhi was right. The problem is not out there. It's not with them.

I have to be the change I want to see

Neti Neti to naughty netas

Out of the 629 seats contested in the recent elections in Rajasthan, MP, Chattisgarh, Mizoram and Delhi 40% were won by Crorepatis. Fewer than 3% of the seats were won by candidates with assets less than Rs 5 Lakh.

Other findings by the ADR (Association for Democratic Reform) are that 12 Crorepati MLAs in MP do not have PAN cards and 12 Crorepati MLAs in Delhi said that they did not own a vehicle in their asset declarations. It is possible that even the MLAs who have low asset declarations may have understated their net worth. In Rajasthan an MLA with less than Rs 1 Lakh in declared assets owns a high end car.

The study also shows that assets of MLAs increase on average by Rs 1 Crore in five years of holding office. The official annual salary of MLAs is around Rs 2 Lakhs.

The final point to note - 125 (ie 20%) of the candidates elected have criminal charges against them including murder, attempted murder and kidnapping.

Which indicates that most of our elected politicians are making huge amounts of money from unofficial undeclared sources during their time in office and the only people who are likely to get a piece of this profitable action are rich criminals who can afford to invest in electioneering.

Since as a nation we keep voting these people into positions of power it means one or more of the following:
1. We don't know what they are doing
2. We don't have any other viable options to vote for
3. We don't care

1. We don't know what they are doing
We need to get independently audited Human Development Index figures down to the district level.
Media needs to get people into the habit of measuring performance of CMs based HDI related indices
Civics should be a compulsory subject in 10th and 12th Std as well
In order to get a job, bank account, SIM card, etc you need to have a valid voter id card
Televised debates between leaders of main parties like in the US Presidential debates
Quality vernacular newspapers that are more critical of populist politics
Make an educational yet entertaining documentary like 'An inconvenient truth' and really push it in cinemas

2. We don't have any other viable options to vote for
Rs 2 Lakhs is a ridiculously low salary for an MLA. It needs to go up to Rs 10-15 Lakhs
Only then will we get educated people even thinking of getting into politics
We can only do this affordably by cutting people.
Indian Railways has 7 times more people per km of rail line than developed countries!
Corporates should 'second' a selected person to a new political party paying his/her full salary as a CSR initiative
If 50 or so Corporates do that the party will have enough visibility to garner public votes and donations
Based on superior performance the party can grow and have tough selection criteria for membership to preserve quality

3. We don't care
Opinion leaders need to get more involved - Sachin Tendulkar, Leander Paes, Aamir Khan, media, bloggers, etc.
We need to care.

On the Human Development Index (GDP, Health, Education) India is placed 128 out of 177 countries.

THE recent death and destruction in Mumbai, India, brought to my mind the death and destruction in Karachi on Oct. 18, 2007, when terrorists attacked a festive homecoming rally for my wife, Benazir Bhutto. Nearly 150 Pakistanis were killed and more than 450 were injured. The terrorist attacks in Mumbai may be a news story for most of the world. For me it is a painful reality of shared experience. Having seen my wife escape death by a hairbreadth on that day in Karachi, I lost her in a second, unfortunately successful, attempt two months later.

The Mumbai attacks were directed not only at India but also at Pakistan’s new democratic government and the peace process with India that we have initiated. Supporters of authoritarianism in Pakistan and non-state actors with a vested interest in perpetuating conflict do not want change in Pakistan to take root.

To foil the designs of the terrorists, the two great nations of Pakistan and India, born together from the same revolution and mandate in 1947, must continue to move forward with the peace process. Pakistan is shocked at the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. We can identify with India’s pain. I am especially empathetic. I feel this pain every time I look into the eyes of my children.

Pakistan is committed to the pursuit, arrest, trial and punishment of anyone involved in these heinous attacks. But we caution against hasty judgments and inflammatory statements. As was demonstrated in Sunday’s raids, which resulted in the arrest of militants, Pakistan will take action against the non-state actors found within our territory, treating them as criminals, terrorists and murderers. Not only are the terrorists not linked to the government of Pakistan in any way, we are their targets and we continue to be their victims.

India is a mature nation and a stable democracy. Pakistanis appreciate India’s democratic contributions. But as rage fueled by the Mumbai attacks catches on, Indians must pause and take a breath. India and Pakistan — and the rest of the world — must work together to track down the terrorists who caused mayhem in Mumbai, attacked New York, London and Madrid in the past, and destroyed the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad in September. The terrorists who killed my wife are connected by ideology to these enemies of civilization.

These militants did not arise from whole cloth. Pakistan was an ally of the West throughout the cold war. The world worked to exploit religion against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by empowering the most fanatic extremists as an instrument of destruction of a superpower. The strategy worked, but its legacy was the creation of an extremist militia with its own dynamic.

Pakistan continues to pay the price: the legacy of dictatorship, the fatigue of fanaticism, the dismemberment of civil society and the destruction of our democratic infrastructure. The resulting poverty continues to fuel the extremists and has created a culture of grievance and victimhood.

The challenge of confronting terrorists who have a vast support network is huge; Pakistan’s fledgling democracy needs help from the rest of the world. We are on the frontlines of the war on terrorism. We have 150,000 soldiers fighting Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their extremist allies along the border with Afghanistan — far more troops than NATO has in Afghanistan.

Nearly 2,000 Pakistanis have lost their lives to terrorism in this year alone, including 1,400 civilians and 600 security personnel ranging in rank from ordinary soldier to three-star general. There have been more than 600 terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan this year. The terrorists have been set back by our aggressive war against them in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and the Pashtun-majority areas bordering Afghanistan. Six hundred militants have been killed in recent attacks, hundreds by Pakistani F-16 jet strikes in the last two months.

Terrorism is a regional as well as a global threat, and it needs to be battled collectively. We understand the domestic political considerations in India in the aftermath of Mumbai. Nevertheless, accusations of complicity on Pakistan’s part only complicate the already complex situation.

For India, Pakistan and the United States, the best response to the Mumbai carnage is to coordinate in counteracting the scourge of terrorism. The world must act to strengthen Pakistan’s economy and democracy, help us build civil society and provide us with the law enforcement and counterterrorism capacities that will enable us to fight the terrorists effectively.

Benazir Bhutto once said that democracy is the best revenge against the abuses of dictatorship. In the current environment, reconciliation and rapprochement is the best revenge against the dark forces that are trying to provoke a confrontation between Pakistan and India, and ultimately a clash of civilizations.


After the terrorist attacks last week there has been a lot of outrage, blame, sadness and guilt flying around. Some of it seems productive (pressure on Pakistan internationally to outlaw terrorists, politicians keeping a low profile and avoiding inciting communal passions, a renewed feeling that something needs to be done about our politics and media, etc) and some seems counterproductive (alienating Pakistanis even more with talk of war, replacing one politician with another, unfocused criticism, etc). All of which set me thinking about where emotions come from and when they're useful and when they're harmful.

One of the theories about where emotions came about is as follows: About 200 million years ago the limbic brain evolved in mammals which gave them the ability to feel emotions. Positive emotions like love, empathy, helped us bond with each other and create win-win relationships. Negative emotions were activated when we perceived a 'win-lose' situation and gave us the ability to be more nuanced in our response to survival threats than the simple 'fight or flight' response we earlier used to operate. 'Negative' emotions therefore had and can have in the appropriate circumstances, huge utility. The main groups of negative emotions I can think of are fear, anger, disappointment, sadness and guilt.

Fear and mistrust have obvious survival benefits where there is a real danger. Shock is a derivative of fear in which an animal freezes when it sees a predator, an instinctive reaction that cuts off movement that the predator might notice. Panic is another derivative of fear when an animal is so threatened that is willing to try every single alternative to no matter how crazy it seems, in the hope that one of them might just work. Panic gets a lot of bad press but in situations where there is no time to think it can be better than doing nothing.

Anger - is a signal to others that we are capable of defending ourselves and will do so if attacked. It's also a signal that our boundaries have been transgressed. By responding in this way we stopped people and other animals from taking advantage of us (taking our food, etc). Punishment, revenge, rebelliousness, sarcasm, hate, frustration, the need for justice are all associated emotions.

Disappointment - might have evolved to signal to us that we had tried to achieve something that we were not capable of achieving and had wasted valuable energy (trying to catch a deer or hitting on the hottest cavegirl). The natural response to this emotion is to give up doing those things and concentrate on activities that give us a better chance of success. It would have strong links to feelings of pessimism and low self-esteem.

Sadness - this is an extreme form of disappointment. It was probably an emotion linked to loss of something more precious and long lasting that might significantly affect the daily activiities of the individual. Due to these changes the individual might be disoriented and so it was probably dangerous for him or her to go out (predators, etc). This emotion reduced the chance of that happening by strongly reducing the energy levels and thereby the inclination to undertake risky activities. It probably also served as a signal to others in the group that the individual needed support and sympathy (loneliness is therefore a derivative of sadness). Later as our cognitive abilities improved it might have had the additional benefit of creating a withdrawal from action and into introspection (maybe to figure out how to avoid that loss again)

Guilt - this is a warning signal to ourselves that we have done something against the societal norms and if someone finds out or if we repeat it we may be excluded from the group or the group may take retribution. It evolved to promote group cohesion.

Today man has mastered his environment and actual survival threats are almost non-existent. What we would expect therefore is for us to experience few sustained negative moods. If you shake a stick threateningly at a dog it will show fear or anger but after you back away it will calm down and revert to normal. We should theoretically only suffer negative emotions when there is real survival danger but, unlike the dog or cow, we experience them in mundane situations. The emotions don't help us in these situations because there is little danger to our survival.
Fear - You go for a job interview. Even if you don't get it - you're not going to starve. Even less likely to be shot by the interviewer if you give a wrong answer
Anger - Your girlfriend dumps you and calls you a jerk. You'll still find someone else one day and pass on your genes.
Disappointment - If you lose some energy by studying for an exam and fail you could try again and study harder this time and still not die due to the wasted energy
Sadness - You lose your house and you're slightly distracted when you go to work because you have to take a new route from your rented flat. It's unlikely that a sabre toothed tiger will take advantage of this by ambushing and eating you.
Guilt - If you do something wrong it's unlikely that you will get killed as a punishment or that your group will turn you out and you will not be able to survive by yourself.

The difference between us and other animals is that we have a highly developed Cerebullum - the thinking part of the brain. It evolved a few hundred thousand years ago to help us plan and co-ordinate in more complex ways but we are clearly still in the process of learning to use it effectively. Because it's not our emotions that lead us astray. It's our thinking.

Our thinking takes 'negative' emotions and sustains and magnifies them to the level that they become unproductive. Our thinking brain is a cause-effect linkage finding machine. Of course cognition and logic is hugely useful to us but the problem arises because when our brain cannot find a cause, it makes one up. Emotional reasoning is the result. The process is effectively
1. I feel an emotion for which I don't know the cause
2. I feel this way so there must be a valid reason for me to feel this way - Aha! Here is a reason
3. Now I know there is a 'valid' reason for me to feel this emotion I feel the emotion even more strongly

Our thoughts create feelings that justify the thoughts that therefore sustain the feelings. It's a vicious circle. For example - my boss tells me to work overtime. This violates my beliefs about how many hours it is appropriate for me to work and I feel angry. Logically I should say no, quit or get on with it. But I construct an entire argument in my head 'He's such a jerk. Who the hell does he think he is. He has no respect for me, etc, etc' and that thinking makes me feel even more angry and frustrated. That feeling makes me construct even more reasons for me to feel that way "I worked all night once last month and he didn't even acknowledge it"....

Negative emotions are useful because they signal something is wrong. We need to allow ourselves to experience the fear, anger, disappointment and sadness rather than try to suppresss them because we have been conditioned to believe that we should be confident, loving, optimistic and happy. But we need to couple that expression with consciousness so we can pick out the message. If we simply experience emotions with no observation then we will miss the message and be condemned to repeating the same mistakes. When we suppress our feelings then we also risk not hearing the message that our emotions are sending us and the negative emotions will continue to haunt us no matter how hard we try to deny their existence.

Alternatively if we experience our emotions and receive the message the emotion will subside, it's purpose having been served.

And that brings us to the final question - When are emotions harmful. I think the answer is that they are harmful in two situations
1. When we avoid them them because we believe it's immature to be emotional. They will express themselves in other ways (quite often in the body as psychosomatic disorders)
2. When we experience them but do not apply any awareness to what is going on. We will not learn from them and we will repeat the same mistakes.
3. When we hold onto them rather than taking effective action to diminish the causes that are generating them.

And that raises some more questions
1. How do we avoid our emotions?
2. How do suppresssed emotions manifest in the body?
3. How can we raise our level of awareness and why does meditation make people feel happier and more in control?
4. Why would we hold onto negative emotions for prolonged periods of time if it doesn't help us and makes us feel bad?

I will try to answer some of them in future posts

The Choice

There is a choice point that will take us either on the cycle of escalating violence or on the path to peace.

Smoke and fire

Arun Shanbag got a vivid picture of the Taj dome on fire (below). The image I was reminded of was of the iconic picture of St Paul's Cathedral in London surrounded by smoke during the bombings of the 2nd World War at a time when people in England felt that they might well lose the war.

At a time when our politicians seem to be struggling for their authenticity I think of Churchill's words in 1941:

"We have had a great deal of bad news lately . . . and I think we shall have a great deal more. Wrapped up in all this bad news will be many tales of blunders and shortcomings, both in foresight and action. No one will pretend for a moment that disasters like these occur without there having been faults and shortcomings. I see all this rolling towards us like waves in a storm, and that is another reason why I require a formal, solemn Vote of Confidence . . .

"We are beginning to see our way through. It looks as if we were in for a very bad time; but provided we all stand together, and provided we throw in the last spasm of our strength, it also looks more than it ever did before as if we were going to win. . . ."

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small, large or petty--never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.

Two months ago there was a massive truck bomb at the Marriot in Islamabad. 53 people died and over 200 injured. 6 British were injured including 2 children. The blast left a vast crater, some 30 feet deep in front of the main building. Flames poured from the windows and rescuers ferried a stream of bloodied bodies from the gutted building. Witnesses saw many people running out, some stained with blood. Others lay on the ground unconscious or dead. Ambulances ruhsed to the scene as smoke hovered and the carcasses of vehicles were scattered.

The parallels to the Mumbai Taj and Oberoi attacks are impossible to miss. This is a golden opportunity to bond India and Pakistan against a common problem.

There may be people who think that Pakistanis are tolerant of terrorists but little remarked in India is the petition that many Pakistani citizens have signed as part of a movement called "Yeh Hum Naheen" (This is not who we are) to mobilize Muslims from around the world to clarly state that they were completely against terrorism. The campaign asks these questions:
Are we the ones..... who turn hope into misery?
Are we the ones..... who deprive children of their father's affection?
Are we the ones..... who deprive mothers of their children.

The number of people who had signed up last time I checked - 62million. It's the largest petition in the world and the number (I'm sure there is some duplication) is mind boggling. The top Pakistani media personalities had all gotten together to boost awareness of the petition there in this amazing initiative.

There are many, many people in both our countries who want the same things - peace and harmony. Let's not let the acts of a bunch of misguided terrorists cleave us apart.

Can anybody help me get in touch with people in Media (TOI, BBC, CNN, etc) who can help link the similarities of the bomb blasts (I'm talking about front page pictures) and help unite our countries against a common problem

Rest in peace Sandy

Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan was a childhood friend of mine - a brave commando who died today after getting injured yesterday fighting the terrorists in Mumbai.

I'm feeling depressed about it.

He was the guy I admired most in my class. I think I told him once and if I did I'm so glad today. He was such a friendly, fun, nice guy, straightforward, honest. Natural is the word that best describes him. A real team player.

He sent me a facebook entry a couple of days before the attacks reminding me of the days we used to play football. Whenever we used to miss the goal we would protest that we only missed by a few inches. If someone looked at us quizzically we would say our feet missed hitting the right space on the ball by a few inches. It was our private joke. As another ball flew 5 metres wide he would look at me and grin 'damn - just two inches away' and we would laugh.

I replied to his entry by saying that I don't remember him ever missing the target. I'm sure he laughed when he read it. And in a way I feel so much happier that I had that contact with him just before he left us. I wish I'd met him once more.

My thoughts are a little all over the place but the things that come to my mind are:

It's so easy to criticise the police and the army and the commandos. So easy to say that they should use do this or do that or do it faster or do it slower or whatever. It's only when something this tragic happens that we think - he was ready to give his life for his country. He stood for something. Sometimes people forget things like that when putting decisions under scrutiny. People do the best that they know how. I'm committed to never criticising things again whether it's the army or police or the politicians or terrorists or whatever. I'm going to live life from a responsible place. From now on I will react in a way that makes a difference and with understanding, empathy and positive intention.

And the second thing I'm thinking is that life is so fragile and temporary. Sometimes tomorrow doesn't come. My friends are blessings and somehow I've allowed myself to get caught up in my own life and lose that connection with so many people. I'm going to be with them in a way that they get that I cherish them.

Rest in peace Sandy. I was lucky to know you. You always inspired me. You always will.

Into the myths

One of the many hats I have in the company I work for is that of an Executive coach. But most people don't really know what an Executive coach does so let me shed some light and dispel a few myths.

Myth 1 - Other people might need coaches but I don't
Why do Roger Federer, Tiger Woods and Sachin Tendulkar have coaches. They are the best players in the world. If there are any players in the world who DON'T need a coach it would be these guys. What could Peter Lundgren, Hank Hanley and Gary Kirsten possibly teach THEM? What these coaches do is give them external objective feedback. Just as we need two eyes to give us depth and perspective, we need someone to give us feedback on what we are doing - is the way we look at things the same way that everyone looks at them or are there considerations that we might be missing by looking at it from our position.

The best players in the world know that they can do well without a coach but by having an extra perspective they can go to levels that they would not have been able to by themselves. If someone has the mental block that they don't need a coach - that very mental block - I can do this by myself - is probably stopping them from taking help, feedback, opinions, that would have helped them outperform.

Myth 2 - Only screwed up employees get sent to Executive Coaches
Coaches are expensive and smart companies do not invest big money in employees they do not see a future in. They give them low pay rises, don't promote them or sack them. Companies generally only invest in coaches for Senior management and 'High Pots' where a change in one or two limiting behaviours could really set these guys free.

To give an insight into why such successful people benefit from coaching let me tell you about a fascinating experiment conducted by the behavioural psychologist BF Skinner. He placed some pigeons in a cage and attached a food delivery mechanism which delivered grub to the cage at predetermined times. What he noticed was that whatever the pigeon was doing at the time the food came into the cage... it continued doing it to try to get more food. The pigeons associated their actions with the arrival food and assumed that the former caused the latter. They had become 'superstitious'. Some of the weird behaviours that the pigeons started repeating:

'One started turning counter-clockwise about the cage, Another started making two or three turns between reinforcements. Another repeatedly thrust its head into one of the upper corners of the cage. Yet another one developed a 'tossing' response, as if placing its head beneath an invisible bar and lifting it repeatedly. Two birds developed a pendulum motion of the head and body, in which the head was extended forward and swung from right to left with a sharp movement followed by a somewhat slower return'

The problem with successful employees is that they maintain some bad habits because they assume that they are succesful 'because' of those habits rather than 'inspite' of them. So an aggressive sales manager may say "I don't listen to ANY excuses. I tell people to give me results and not reasons". He assumes that he gets good results because he doesn't listen to people giving news about the market. It may be true in certain situations but the reason he is so good may actually for a whole host of other reasons - he's smart, follows up, works hard, is a direct communicator, etc. An Executive coach can help question these assumptions. And if the player responds and learns to listen to his staff then it accentuates all his other strengths and takes his game to the next level.

Myth 3 - Only someone specialised in my field could coach me on how to do my job
Although knowledge of your field helps, a coach with absolutely NO knowledge of your field WHATSOEVER could dramatically improve your performance. Most people are technically competent at the senior rungs. And technical knowledge is easily available in the market. What the coach actually works on are the psychological areas of commitment, motivation, beliefs, etc which are the real drivers of results. For example 'The marketing strategy was wrong' is an easy answer but at a deeper level the player might realise it was because 'I create an environment where the advertising guys don't feel they can push back' and the coach would work with the player to consciously develop the habit of being more open to differing opinions.

Myth 4 - A coach needs to be a Freud or a Buddha
Most of us have the ability to be coaches. You don't need to be a genius psychologist or enlightened to be able to give a different perspective and feedback. You need to be commited to your player, supporting, challenging, authentic in your communication and you need to be able to trust your intuition. Of course, experience of coaching, communication skills, self awareness and empathy go a long way but at the end of the day the coach asks questions and tells the player what he sees. The player makes the decisions and takes responsibility for the consequences.

Also as a point to note - all 'honest' coaches have their own coaches. They don't need someone to show them the light. That's a Guru (Sanskrit: Gu=towards Ru=light). They need someone to shine another torch from a different angle. If a coach doesn't have a coach then what he or she is essentially communicating is 'I can coach you because I'm smarter than you. I'm so smart, I don't need one'. That's not what coaching is. Players are often much smarter than their coaches!

Myth 5 - I don't need a coach. I have loads of friends I can bounce ideas off
The relationship between a coach and a player is very different from that between friends or between a husband and a wife or a boss and a subordinate or any other relationship. The coach has a commitment to being honest even if it means challenging the player or making him uncomfortable. If you told a friend "God! My boss is driving me nuts" and he responded with "So what subconscious payoff do you get from being frustrated?" then he would not be your friend for long! Coaches DO NOT coach their own family members or friends unless specifically requested to. They switch it on and then, after the conversation, switch it off. A coach is a coach. A friend is a friend.

Myth 6 - Well that's all very fine and well for other people but I know my own strengths and weaknesses pretty well and it works for me just fine
And maybe that belief... is exactly what is holding you back from playing at an even higher level :p

Do the course!
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