The Democratic Process

For more than two decades, I’ve been an ardent believer of democracy and the democratic process. I’ve been eager to vote. I’ve believed the wrong people and found some pleasant surprises.  I’ve been eager to vote. I’ve been eager (more in the last few years) to be involved in the political process. But I’ve also begun to wonder, in the last few years, if the democratic process and the system is perhaps flawed and not entirely meant for progress in India.

Democracy is based on votes of the majority. The majority wants and needs.

In a country like India, majority is an illusion. We are divided by geography, religion, caste, geographical cultures, religious cultures, language. And well, some times even skin colour. There are so many divisions but some mainline ideas unite us – one of them being the want to be a part of this country.

Not everyone wants to be a part of India, or a part of the state they are currently assigned to. They don’t want to be a part of the religion they are assigned to either.

And these ‘don’t wants’ form an important vote bank, as witnessed by the whole Lingayat politics in this year’s Karnataka elections.

Identity politics are very important for vote banks. Dalits, Muslim, Other minorities who have been told to be vary of the majority wave that can trample their identity. The ‘others’ who have been marginalised for so long that they would rather believe that their identity would be trampled again in the democratic state, if they did not have someone particular looking out for them. Even among the majority wave, many tend to differ. How do we define a religion that isn’t a religion at all but a collection of ideas that a vast pool of people gave a geographical name that became synonymous with the collective idea?

Each part of Hinduism can be broken into smaller subsects and individual identities, which is perhaps the future. The Lingayats, the Patels, the vokkaligas, Patidars and so on.

Politics works on two possible factors – Fear & Need. The fear can often give rise to a need or a need can give rise to a fear.

**

Who are these people who we supposed to vote into power? Who joins politics? Certainly not those who truly want to work for the betterment of the society. And the key requirement of these politicians is a vote bank. And a vote bank, contrary to popular belief, isn’t only about good work done that could translate into winning votes. While the good work does make a difference, it seems recently that more votes can be gained by keeping various sections dependent and under the thumb. The people who can be swayed with a promise – forever. A token effort, some money and the votes are won.

The only advantage democracy has is people retain the power to vote someone out of power. But that process, too, mostly works on paper. Because that process assumes every citizen is aware and participates in the democratic process. Whereas in a country like India, most of the voters are barely aware of what is happening beyond their little village. They are concerned about their loans, water and electricity issues and believe that the guy who comes once in five years would actually make a difference. And they listen to the few people who are making a difference – the kingmakers. They are swayed by money and hope. The educated class – a small percentage of voters – are the only ones perhaps thinking. But they too are swayed by identity and caste politics. After all, everyone wants to protect their own. The deciding voters are clueless for most part.

It is to the benefit of the politician to keep this status quo. To create a fear. A cause that will force people to vote for them. Each agenda is set based on a sub-region and these typically do not meet the true requirements for progress. Everyone promises a better life, but how many are voting just on that promise? Some vote for their identity, some for their money. Some vote because someone else told them to and some vote because they don’t know what is the alternative. In the end, when the results are out, fragmented by multiple purposes, nobody remains the winner – especially not the common man.

The democratic process, which intends to bring out the wishes of the common man, is fragmented and eventually, someone else ends up grabbing the power and we are back to square one.

The only slight, minuscule edge we have in this process is that every election, a small section of people might grow aware and vote for something beyond money, alcohol, religion and caste. But with a population of billion and growing, this is a tediously slow process – which means we remain powerless for longer as the majority leaves the decision making in someone else’s hands.

If the people who want to be voted are in it for the money and power, and the people who are supposed to vote for them are clueless – how does the process succeed?

Advertisements

Personality Quizzes & The Power of Suggestion

I came across yet another app about moods and personality. Being a sucker for personality quizzes, despite having a really good idea of what my traits are, I rarely pass one without taking it up and laughing at it.

This app touted to be a “depression, anxiety and burnout” test. The app was well-designed with soothing colours and pretty light.

Except, once I entered the site, it asked me to identify what I was feeling. Was I feeling angry, depressed, upset, sad, happy, relaxed blah blah?

Since childhood, we have been taught to identify and verbalise some feelings and emotions. Happy. Sad. Angry. Basics. We grow a little older and our vocabulary expands to include a few more words – frustrated, annoyed, elated. Simple, basic emotions that can be expressed in single words.

Social media, especially Facebook, helped us train better to identify what we are feeling and break down into simple sentences. “Mark is…

Feeling sad (with emoticon)

Going to eat an ice-cream

Feeling happy (with another emoticon)”

We had to frame our feelings into simple statements, and thereby identify the main emotion we are feeling.

However, is it possible that a person feels only one thing at one time? Giddy happiness could be accompanied by trepidation. Absolute misery could be coupled with relief. Anger, frustration and misery are often bundled together.

Yet, we are taught to give priority to only one emotion at at time. Nobody wants to know that you are a bundle of emotion.

So you choose a single emotion on the app. And thereby it leads you to further questions, and simply by the power of suggestion, you become.

The Golden Cage of Personalization

As we sign up for any new website, we often click “I Agree” on a long list of fine-print terms and conditions. Some websites try to be a little ‘ethical’ and tell you that they are recording your information – either to improve their product or to improve your life.

Initially, this was great thing for most of us middle class citizens across the world. After decades of being relegated to obscurity, it was great to have something ‘tailor-made’ for us – something we thought was the privilege of the rich. Of course, it was only online but it was still something.

Except, we failed to realise that personalized experiences are nothing more than traps, locking us in a gilded well, giving the illusion of marginally new experiences that never take us out of your comfort zone.

We are circling within the same walls, with minor twists that make us believe that we are discovering something new, while never really allowing us to see the other side.

Videos are recommended based on what we have previously watched. We’re happy we are watching new content, but really, it is just slightly different words on the same context. We believe we are discovering something new, but when it is similar to what we’ve already seen, how is it a new experience?

Travel sites throw up offers and resorts based on what I’ve searched for. I get a million experiences ‘tailor-made’ for me, discovering places without ever really seeing them. We get sanitised experiences that make us believe we’ve seen the real thing. Sort of like how the white tourist comes to India, lives in a 5-star hotel, travels in an air-conditioned car, is shown a little bit of Dharavi to show the ‘other’ side and goes back believing that they’ve seen the real India. We rarely interact with the locals beyond what has been chosen for you. We rarely hear the narrative beyond what has been designed for you.

So where, tell me, do we create free-thinking, enterprising souls? Where is the innovation that is sparked by a new idea? Where is the thrill of discovering something absolutely miraculously new?

I recently decided to wipe my history on YouTube. I did have to score through horrific videos ‘trending’ in India, but I discovered some really cool comedians from Malaysia. Of course, now my YouTube is flooded with more such people.

Google kept throwing up information about a particular kind of phone that I almost missed the innovations happening elsewhere.

Let’s not even talk about Facebook and Twitter.

And this will be the future – a world of puppets.

Remember MySpace? Many Don’t.

I’ve know that I’ve actually lived about 50% of my life (at this point) in the age when there was no public internet. There were no mobile phones. Hell, home computers weren’t even a thing when I was a kid. Infact, ours was one of the first families to have a computer at home and even an internet connection. A black and white monitor, running of DOS (I think). It took quite a while to boot. And even longer to connect to a sporadic internet connection, which hit as often as it missed. And disconnected when some moron called the landline. I played Wolf 3D and Max Payne on those computers. Pacman was one of the coolest things we could play. And Prince.

It often used to give me a jolt when half the people I encounter today wouldn’t even know about what I’m talking about. Well, I am old. Sorta.

Today’s generation is all about Facebook and Farmville and Candy Crush. They were born in the era of great phone connections, and by the time they stepped into teenage, there were mobile phones with internet connections. Anything you want to do at your fingertips.

But today I met a group of people who had no idea of what MySpace was. Remember MySpace? The big daddy of social media. Before there was a Hi5, Orkut and Facebook and all that?

Looking back, MySpace was a cluttered, rough ecosystem of what is today and what is possible. But it established the idea of an internet community before anyone else began to think of it. Perhaps Facebook wouldn’t be Facebook today without Tom’s MySpace.

Actually, on second thoughts, MySpace was perhaps cooler than Facebook is today. It was truly a community for like-minded people. Great music featured on the original ‘pages’. Blogs. A mix of everything. And that little personal touch with Tom sending you a message the moment you created an account. And a little creepiness by friending you. At least, you’d always have Tom as your friend if no one else.

But it is forgotten in the deep dark space of internet. Maybe someday Facebook, Twitter and all these will disappear into the same hole, leaving behind a closer community oriented, more data-rich (if that’s even possible) mine of people in the landscape of internet.

Why is Sustainable Fashion So Expensive?!

Most of my life, I’ve been a fan of natural fabrics. Cotton, linen, silks. Except for the few years when I realised that my dry cleaning bills could easily surpass my earnings, and I discovered the lure (courtesy a friend) of synthetics and cheap clothing.

I went through a phase of buying t-shirts for 100 bucks, and that lasted till I realised I never really stopped shopping. The t-shirts lasted one wash cycle, and I had to be back at the store to find new ones. Having grown up with the ethic of good fabrics, and a dislike of shopping, I soon returned to the branded stores to find that my choice fabrics were replaced to rayons and georgettes. They looked pretty, and unless you burned a hole in one, they’d look great and last forever. Except, they made my skin itch. But since the only other choice was skimpy banian material t-shirts, I succumbed.

Finally, as an adult on the other side of 30, I figured it is time to put my foot down and go back to natural fabrics. This time around, I did find natural fabrics, but the term ‘organic’ had also caught on, making these the new ‘cool’ waves. All your cool designers were espousing the virtues of natural, clean fabrics and driving up the price.

Pure, good cotton is hard to find today. The stuff we do get is so thin that I’ve to wear multiple layers of clothing inside to fulfil the purpose of clothing.

I’ve yet another purpose today in moving to natural fabrics that will last.

The pile of clothing that we discard ends up being in landfills. They do not serve other purposes. Nobody wants my discarded trendy crop top or sexy slit skirt. Nobody even wants my old jeans. There’s been considerable amount of news about the environmental impact of fast fashion. One such interesting (and really impactful video): watch here. Or if you’re not a video person, a fantastic piece by Bloomberg.

‘Fast Fashion’ has been the trend for a while now. Brands need to sell clothes, and if your clothes last you for a couple of years, how are they supposed to make money? Zara, H&M and several other top brands retail ‘fast fashion’ – trends that change every quarter, and clothes that do not last beyond the same period.

Setting aside the hassle of losing your favourite black top that made you look perfect and having to look for something like that again in 3 months, these clothes are piling up.

I want clothes that last.  I want good fabrics. And I want clothes that cause minimal harm to the environment.

Except, when I try to put all these three in the same box, the price tag is pretty hefty. And I’m left wondering why.

 

Being a Conservationist at a Spa & Salon 

My last visit was a little different. Since I was there for a couple of hours, with just one stylist, he had time to figure out his responses. He asked me to use various products, till I finally lost it and said “A. I don’t like chemicals on my hair, and stopping the usage of such products finally helped it. B. I don’t like chemical products, since they aren’t really good for the environment as well. So if you guys switched to better alternatives, it might be good for everyone.”

I hate salons and spas. While I love the experience of being pampered, it is often interspersed by product plugs and annoying comments about how whatever the product I’m using at the moment isn’t good for me (even if these were products suggested by the same person before they got better commissions from another brand).

However, since I’ve switched to organic brands, these conversations are more awkward. Most often, the stylist goes quiet since they don’t want to comment on the organic part of it, or how they are bad for you.

They do try to still push brands on you, most of them being some version of heat protectors, anti-frizz serums etc. Depending on my mood, I’m polite, sarcastic or plain mute.

The last time, I was getting a little annoyed and decided to confuse the guy. I told him I’m a conservationist, and I try not to use chemical products as much as possible (which is true, though that didn’t start from an eco-perspective!).

If there’s one entity that’s not yet made the attempt to switch to being eco-friendly, that’s salons and spas here. They use copious amount of water to maintain hygienic conditions, or even just wash off the chemicals off the hair and body.

Well, nothing much can be done about that (yet) from individuals. A while ago, there was a mass movement about products being tested on animals, and a lot of customers would ask if the products being used were animal-tested. Some awareness, some impact. We’ve not yet got to a stage where people are asking if the products being used are environment-friendly.  They aren’t talking about alternatives to plastics.

So having one person sitting there talking about how much water you are using to wash one’s hair makes them extremely uncomfortable. This is not a conversation they want to start yet, since that means involving more structural changes (eco-shower heads, better recycling policies, LED lighting, washing policies, hygiene maintenance).

Now to be honest, I’ve never thought much about conservation in the beauty industry. I do know that the water being used here needs to be treated before it enters the sewage system. But no clue if Indian rules enforce this. There’s a tough line to maintain between hygiene and being eco-friendly, and one reason the luxurious places use fresh products – so we know that it is clean.

But for me, I’ve found my way to shut up the annoying sales person the next I want a head massage in peace.

Where Are The Young Faces of the Congress Party?

So apparently we’ve yet another institution named after Indira Gandhi. This time, it is some medical thing. It made me wonder how many things are named after our former PM, and even as I began to search, Google threw up a Wikipedia page. Yep, there’s a Wikipedia page. A quick scroll through it shows that it is no where close to being comprehensive because I can think of about 5 things just in my city (as projects and initiatives) that aren’t included in that list. Then I moved on to search for the same thing on Rajiv Gandhi, and found this infographic on Firstpost that seems to be a slightly more realistic number.

Let’s put these things into perspective.

Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first prime minister. Like back in 1947 till 1964. Much of India’s voting population today wasn’t even born then! Indira Gandhi then took over the mantle and ruled from 1966 to 1977.

Since then, there have been several great ministers & personalities from the Congress party.  P V Narasimha Rao, the guy who opened up the Indian economy. Mr. Manmohan Singh, who despite various controversies, is an extremely knowledge person, and the most recent PM. Why aren’t these people celebrated, highlighting the legacy beyond the 60s and 70s of the Congress Party?

The youth, we believe, are not really interested in politics. Which is probably true. Most often, we only browse the news and are not inclined to analyse it. However, in the age of social media, there are more people involved in the makings of our political system. In this scenario, India’s oldest political party is still flogging the ideologies & personalities of old, and failing to highlight their current strengths and philosophies.

Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi were politicians who did their bit, a few decades ago. The India of today doesn’t resemble the India of even a couple of decades ago. And the India of the 2030s will be vastly different from the ones of the 1950s, 60s or even the 90s.

Do the Congress expect us to follow what had been? Where are the new leaders of Congress other than Rahul Gandhi. There is a lot of young blood in the other biggest Indian party, BJP. Promising personalities who could be the future ministers of India. Perhaps the Congress does have younger, promising people, but they are not really visible in the public, not in terms of their work or their thoughts.