Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
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Saturday, August 30, 2014

A new world order and a global war in the 21st century? The predictions by George Friedman

Some of us love predictions. People tap a variety of sources to get to know about their future. Some seek the help of Tarot card readers. Some go to the Astrologers who interpret the horoscopes. Some look at your palm and reveal the past and predict the future. There are a few who approach numerologists. In southern India people rush to see the ‘naadi palm leaves’ where everything about them is written.  Some are eager to find about the prospects of their business, some would like to know the problems of a property purchase. There are many who want to know about a perfect match. One can see many road side experts who predict your future with the help of the parrots!  There are even ‘online love calculators’ that predict whether your lover would ditch you and if yes when! So, everyone is in search of the answers about the future. At least here, the science and medicine have failed miserably!

Just like one is eager to know about one’s future, some of us might be interested in knowing about the future of the world!  May be that prompted me to pick up this book from the airport vendor: ‘The next hundred years: A forecast for the 21st century’ written by George Friedman (published in 2009). About the author a few words: He is the founder of STARTFOR, a leading private intelligence and forecasting company located in Texas. He is considered as a leading expert in geo-political intelligence. He is the author of many books. He was an academician for over 20 years before joining the business sector.

Now, about the book: The book is about his predictions about the world in the 21st century! The attempt was to explain where, how and why future wars will erupt and they will be fought. He also wrote extensively which nations will gain and lose economic and political power.

Many wrote books predicting the future of the world. There are many non-fictions and movies that ‘predicted’ new technology and lifestyle. George Orwell created a disturbing picture of the future in his novel ‘1984’ published in 1949. ‘Future Shock’ by Alvin Toffler (1970) warned of a society that would suffer from what he called the ‘Information overload’ that would result in isolation, depression, and impermanence and transiency in relationships. Friedman’s work was more direct. It focused exclusively on predicting the future.

George Friedman never claims he had a crystal ball. His task was to try to see the order underneath the disorder of history. His attempt was to ‘anticipate what events, trends, and technology that order will bring forth’.

According to him the inherent power coupled with its geographic position makes the United States the pivotal actor of the 21st century. He said, there will be coalitions trying to contain and control the United States. And the United States will act preemptively to prevent an effective coalition from forming. The twenty-first century will see even more war than the twentieth century, but less catastrophic. He predicted that Russia, though try to reassert power, will collapse.

Friedman did not consider China as a threat either. He said China is inherently unstable. Its political economic environment is marred with inefficiency and corruption. He expects three countries to become powerful and assertive over the next few decades. They are Japan, Turkey and Poland. He considered Turkey as a stable platform in the midst of chaos. He said that Germany is declined and Poland would emerge as an important player to face the Russians. The relationships among United States, Japan, Turkey and Poland will greatly affect the 21st century which ultimately would lead to the next global war.

He predicted that, by 2050 advanced industrial countries will be losing population at a dramatic rate. There will be a shrinking population even in underdeveloped countries. United States will depend on Mexicans to migrate there for labor. By 2080, the author expects a serious confrontation between US and an increasingly powerful and assertive Mexico. (One can’t imagine that now!)

Basing his arguments on his ‘geopolitical forecasting’, he has stated that ‘it is possible to think about large numbers of human beings, linked together through natural human bonds, constrained by geography, acting in certain ways’. He says in the book that the twenty-first century will be extraordinary and it will see a new global power astride the world. ‘European Age has ended and the North American Age has begun’! He argues that United States is only at the beginning of its power and the 21st century will be the American century.

Freidman has predicted that China does not represent a geopolitical fault line and it will have far greater internal problems and therefore little time for foreign policy adventures. His prediction about Russia is stronger. He said its military will collapse shortly after 2020. By 2040 the relationship between US and China will grow closer as a defense against the emergence of Japan.

What about India? The author says that India will help Tibet break free! He wrote about the 2040s:

 “ The United States will have had a long relationship with India, dating back to the US-jihadist war of the early twenty-first century. While India, internally divided, will not have managed to become a global economic power, it will be a regional power of some importance. India will be disturbed by the entry of the Muslim Turks into the Arabian Sea, and will fear further Turkish expansion into the Indian Ocean itself. India’s interests will align with those of the Americans, and so the United States will find itself in the same position in the Indian Ocean as in the Pacific."
Then, George Friedman continues to write about the preparation for war, the world war, the golden decade of 2060s, US-Mexico relationships etc. Describing them in detail would amount to injustice to the author as every writer wants his book to be bought and read by people rather than leaking the contents and predictions to everyone around freely!

So let me stop my review here. But a few points as conclusion:

It is very difficult to believe what he says especially about the emergence of countries like Mexico and its potential to become a challenge for the US. There is no mention of the status of many other emerging countries that will play a crucial role in the new world order in 21st century, apart from Japan, Turkey and Poland. The power and influence of countries like India have been underestimated: May be as he said, ‘common sense almost always betray us’.

He, though an advocate of geopolitical forecasting, has caught in the web of rigidity established for centuries by the notion of ‘pure’ economists that actors (players) are rational beings and every individual is driven by self-interest. He has equated the nations in the same way. I feel that there cannot be any basis for a theoretical assumption that leaders, leadership strategies, and leadership goals are based on scientific, logical and rational decisions by the actors in society and politics. By giving a view that ‘geopolitics is about broad impersonal forces that constrain nations and compel them to act in certain ways’, the author also fell into the trap of ‘invisible hand’ phenomenon of the rational economists.

In spite of all its limitations, the book is an interesting read for not only political scientists and specialists in international relations, but also for anyone who is eager to know about the future of the world. Just like someone goes to a new astrologer after realizing much later that the earlier one gave incorrect predictions, we can keep exploring every prediction, prophecy and claim about the future. It is good fun. Those who are blessed to see the entire 21st century can verify the predictions themselves. Most of us won’t be alive to witness the fulfilment of these predictions! But at least we can visualize a world where we may not going to be there!

You can order the book HERE  

Views are personal                                         © Sibichen K Mathew

Friday, August 29, 2014

Story of a pigeon family and the message for the 'enlightened' humans

Murphy, an eminent sociologist wrote in the British Journal of Sociology that ‘by focusing on differences between humans and other animals, sociologists have lost sight of all that we share with them'* . Noske shared a different view**: ‘the social sciences tend to present themselves preeminently as the sciences of discontinuity between humans and animals’. Corwin R. Kruse of University of Minnesota after analyzing the views of above scholars wrote: ‘those who study animals in human society have a potential truly to influence sociology’. 

See below, what Shri Madhavan Nair, a former member of India’s Revenue Board and a very distinguished civil servant shared with me.

“7th April: Two pigeons start a survey for locating a nest between the glass sliding window and air conditioner base unit on the sunshade on the 7th floor. Caressing each other, combing each other’s feather, tidying up their own feathers, teasing and running around in princely gaits, spreading wings stylishly in mock fights, walking with eyes right as in formal parades , many a filmy scenes get enacted.
 9th April: Twigs carried and preparation of nest starts. One, probably the mother is always on the inside of the nest arranging twigs in a round formation and the father flies in and out supplying twigs. They go in rounds, pulling and pushing the twigs between them to put them in a satisfactory engineering arrangement. The nest needs to hold together in a round shape to prevent the eggs from rolling over and to accommodate the mother and also the chicks when they are small. Quite a list of requirements: the same criteria you adopt for your house plan. Both birds leave the twigs on lunch breaks. Everyone needs a break. 
15th April: Two eggs found, and nest fully done. Nest high enough to hold the eggs from rolling over. The mother stops her lunch sojourns, stays in the nest to incubate.

21st April: The male still bringing twigs to fortify the nest and the female in the nest incubating
25th April: (May be the eggs are hatched, that even when I go very near, almost to touch the bird, it refuses to fly away, not willing to take the slightest risk of endangering her chicks.
27th April: The chicks try getting out of the protection of mother’s belly feathers, not allowed by the mother, insisting on giving shelter and warmth 
30th April: I find the chicks inside. Another pigeon tries to disturb the chicks (or the female), fought off by the father and mother together. Eyes of the chicks not yet open... white bundles of wool with pink shades underneath!Feeding by both to chicks from own milk starts. The “milk” is produced by father and mother in a gland located on the neck and fed by regurgitation. Interestingly it is understood that the in the case of penguins only the father can produce milk. Quite advanced in the matter of gender equality in those icy terrains!

 5th May .Brown colour appears on the body of chicks, showing their true colours slowly!
8th May:  Father feeding alternatively the two chicks by rumination.
 12th May: The parents not around all the time, the chicks grow to be half size or more, well formed feathers found, flapping wings and feeble noise asking for feeds. Cleans own body.
13th May:    Flapping wings before mother for food,  cleans own body with beaks. The activity rate of two birds differ much. The difference in basic nature becomes obvious.
15th May:   A stray outsider coming and trying to eat the food found near the nest. The scared birds scream in low voice. When I stand near the glass window the new bird is not scared. But maybe hearing the sound of the chicks though quite low in volume by our standards (pigeon spectrum may be different) one of the parents arrive to drive away the intruder. The healthier chick flaps wings for exercise. Parents, not very keen to feed through mouth. Refuses feed in spite of cries, probably wants them to eat from the feed on the floor. Whenever feeding from beak, pushes the chicks’ beaks down to ground to give them practice of eating from ground. Somewhat like human babies being taught to use straw glass to drink instead of the feeding bottle. The biggest of the chicks is the most active one too. The bigger one easily learns to eat from the floor, the small one trying to eat from the beak of the bigger one as he has not yet got the cue to eat from floor. The bigger one combs the feathers of the small one, caressing it, sibling love being expressed in animal kingdom. 

19th May: The quills on the wings get black in colour. The chicks differ much in size. Mother regurgitates food, sometimes drops it down so that the chicks can eat from the floor. Difficult to snap a picture, as she would run away when I go near. Chicks still  don’t move out of nest area to follow mom. Flaps wings along and call by voice. 

21st May:  Parents try to goad the chicks out of the nest.  Exercising wings and whistling softly the chicks express their fears and refuse to follow parents outside the safe territory of the nest. The parents try to lead them out by feeding from the fringes of the nest and walking farther as if to demonstrate how to walk. The chicks are still afraid to get out. Parents walk past without feeding to force the chicks follow. Makes a show of picking food from outside the nest to encourage them to follow suit.
22nd May: Another family scouting to get the same area to set up nest. Parents trying to woo the chicks out of the nest area. Both parents and chicks together on a rainy day cuddling together and combing the kids feathers... quality family time!
23rd  May: The smaller one treks out of the nest briefly. Parents  feed him outside to draw the bigger one out of laxman rekha, but he does not. In the afternoon same day the smaller one moves to mom on her cooing call from outside the nest area, the big one still not getting out of the nest area.
24th May:  The big one also moves out and eats from new zones. The mother’s feeds are unfailingly alternating .The bigger chick trying to flap wings strong enough to lift itself up. Are parents trying to take them to the edge of the floor..on this 7th floor? The smaller one seems more adventurous now to explore beyond the nest.
26th May: When I come after two days holidays only one chick found.  No information on the other whether he flew off or was preyed on by some predator. Seems that the smaller one is the one that survives. Parents both sitting with the one left an cradling and petting it, combing the feathers and also pecking each other as if to comfort on the loss of the other. Cannot click a pic as they go away  when I approach for a picture , but coming back immediately…mourning time ?, not venturing out. No more coaxing the baby to come out .Both parents mimic the egg hatching sitting position, as if to remember and share the old days. 
27th May: Both parents comforting the baby and each other in the morning, polishing the other’s feather especially  on the head. Later in the day the baby alone found sleepy outside and away from the nest and parents sitting in the nest as if to lay eggs again ? Parents come out to comb the baby outside lying , enjoying sun therapy? Having evicted the baby out of nest, are the parents trying the next set of eggs?                                                                                            28th May: Nest is re arranged to order to lay new eggs. Baby chick stays few yards away, not yet  flying off but being fed and fondled occasionally. In the afternoon the chick is seen near the edge of the parapet, the father trying to goad him to take off by himself demonstrating the taking off and landing moves.
29th May: The baby chick is not seen it has been probably taught to fly off. The parents settle down to lay the next set of eggs. In the afternoon I get the nest area cleared so that no more nesting takes place there. But there after in the evening an egg is laid even though there is no proper nest.
30th May: One trying to sit incubating and the other trying to bring twigs to make a nest around the egg .2nd June: After holidays now   it is two eggs again on a thin nest .still adding strength to the nest ....

What a beautiful narration of fine demonstration of love and care! Very well written indeed! A wonderful documentary could have been made on the scenes.

While writing this blog post, I got a call from my friend Sindhu. When I shared what I am blogging on, she instantly keyed a few lines on what Madhavan Nair sir would have thought!

“I'm sorry that I stare at you still
Though your home is on my window sill
There's much more warmth in your nest
Than all the comforts on which I rest
I make my world inside my home
When the whole wide world is yours to roam”

The other day, I saw a short 30 min documentary film on the Indian River Tern bird at the River Tern Lodge in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve Project area. The movie was professionally made by the Forest Department. The events in that movie were exactly like what was narrated above. (Click to see another short film on River Tern bird by Amoghavarsha here)

The roof above my study cum balcony area in the residential quarters is a favourite place for pigeons. They disturbed my creative work so much when they move. The roof of balcony is made of a thin sheet by the employer’s contractor. The sound when the pigeons walk, play and fight on that have strong impact on the ears and the mind. I tried to hit at the sheet with a long stick. Initially they flew. But now they are not scared even with my 'hits'. I went to the flat above mine, from which there was direct access to my balcony roof. I threw several buckets of water to remove all the 'construction materials' so that they will find another place. (I didn't harm any pigeon). Nothing happened. The balcony roof still continues to be the favourite 'prosperity' place of all pigeons in the vicinity. And their sound no longer disturbs my creative work.

From the ‘Diary of events’ of Madhavan Nair Sir and the story in the River Tern film, I understood one thing. Human beings are not endowed with any superior emotions, love or empathy more than what is endowed in animals and birds. So, human beings (parents) who do not take care of their children (and vice-versa) and the siblings who do not care for each other are worse than animals. One can see biological altruism that is much more intense and sincere among animals than the men in the modern world. Scientists at the University of Adelaide recently found that unlike what was thought of and claimed by humans for centuries, animals have ‘cognitive faculties that are superior to human beings’. 

The moral of the story: It is time the humans learn from the empathetic, altruistic and cognitive abilities of animals! So let us stop taking the name of an animal to rebuke, insult or humiliate someone! They are better creatures than the modern human beings. 
*(Murphy, R. (1995).  'Sociology as if nature did not matter: An ecological critique'. 46 (4), 688-707)
** (Noske, B. (1990). 'The question of anthropocentrism in anthropology'.  Focaal, 13, 66-84)

Views are personal                               (c) Sibichen K Mathew

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Have you met The Ugly Indian? Do you want to be one?

He is anonymous. The team is anonymous. The groups spread across the country work anonymously.

They are in the dirty Indian streets. They clear the filth that covered our perceptions of society. They heard people say that ‘when India becomes a super power, it will become the filthiest in the world!’ They also heard that ‘putting an Indian in the moon is easier than keeping an Indian street clean’. But these statements didn’t amuse them so much. Their philosophy is this: Kaam chalu mooh bandh. (Stop Talking, Start Doing). They mean action-- concrete and focused action. They look at the dirt and not at the media lens, public eye or the garland. They are like you: Students, employed, retired....But find time to do much greater things on weekends and holidays! 

They were reluctant to be part of the TEDx Bangalore. But they agreed when it was told that their participation can inspire many to follow their path. I was very glad to meet Mr Anonymous, the representative from The Ugly Indian at TEDx. He remained anonymous by covering his face and body with only his lips and eyes visible. Yes, the face is not important but the words and actions are!

He asked certain thought provoking questions:

 ‘Why do we keep our house clean but streets dirty?’
‘Why entire Singapore is clean except the area called the ‘Little India’?’

The social experiments started in the Church Street of Bangalore in 2010. Slowly, The Ugly Indian team radically transformed the way people looked at the dirt around them. In Bangalore, they cleaned up dirty footpaths, paan stains on the walls, cleared the open dumps, covered the death traps on the roads, cleaned up subways and done many other similar acts. They found that even VIPs continued to live in palatial bungalows surrounded by filth all around. But those powerful persons didn’t care a bit on what they saw every day.  It took only a few hours for The Ugly Indians to clear all the filth.

In India, the public urination of men is a common sight. In a lighter note, the judges of the Delhi High Court recently said that ‘every man's zipper be locked and the keys left at home, there is little it can do to check the menace’. The Ugly Indians found a solution. They created a ‘wonder-loo’ in a place used for open urination by men!

In a few months, The Ugly Indians, fixed more than 400 ugly spots in the Bangalore city. They changed the slogan of Mahatma Gandhi  from ‘Be the change you wished to see’ to ‘See the change you wish to be’.

The Ugly Indians busted three myths about social change and social movements:

-that there are not enough people to initiate positive changes
-there are not enough resources to do it ourselves
-there would not be any support from the government agencies to such people’s initiatives

The Ugly Indians got all the above in plenty to complete each task they initiated. There are more than 30 teams in the city. The concept has spread to other cities as well. All groups work in anonymity. Names and designations are not important. There is only sincere and silent work everywhere.

The guidelines of The Ugly Indian are:

1. No lectures, no moralising, no activism, no self-righteous anger.
2. No confrontation, no arguments, no debates, no pamphlets, no advocacy.
3. Don’t step on anyone’s toes, don’t take sides in any ideological debates.
4. Support existing systems and improve their effectiveness for the greater good.
5. Treat everyone with sincerity, respect and dignity first, and the greater good will be an outcome.

When I write this, there are 1,76, 039 likes in their Facebook page. It is increasing every day. But that is not enough. In fact, that is of no use.

Stop pointing fingers! Join The Ugly Indian! See the change you wished to see all along!

Mail them if you want to collaborate anonymously:
 (Thanks to TEDx Bangalore team and salute to TUI)

Views are personal.                  © Sibichen K Mathew

Monday, August 4, 2014

When trust is sold

Secrets continued to be the bestsellers always and everywhere. It is a human tendency (if not weakness) to tap every available source to know about the secret of their ‘significant others’. Even a celebrity or a national leader can also be a significant target. Authors or the would-be authors and their publishers know what sells in the market. So, they source the valuable data through laborious archival work, less laborious ‘purchases’, very exciting chitchats or by throwing cocktail parties. American author Kitty Kelley is popular for her bestselling unauthorized biographies of celebrities and famous persons like Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Nancy Reagan, Oprah Winfrey etc. While Oprah Winfrey dismissed the book as untrue, Kelley claimed that she ‘confidentially’ gathered data from employees and close associates of Oprah Winfrey for the book and the data was genuine.

You get the best (and the most valuable) secrets through the first hand contacts. Here we come across the breed of writers who share to the public domain their past encounters with ‘people who matter’ or to put it straight, ‘the people in whom the public is interested’.  Authors who go to the extent of selling secrets might me engaging in the deal for various other reasons as well. Some do it to express their excitement to be out of an iron cage for too long where their tongues were tied. Some others do it to relieve their tension in keeping secrets for long time. There are a few others who want to settle scores.

When it is from the horse
When someone starts sharing something that only he is exclusively or substantially privy to, there is a lot of attention from the interested persons. There are three broad categories of secret ‘publishers’ (not the publishers of those secrets) here: First category consists of persons who accidentally heard or experienced certain things that were supposed to be secret. The second category is those who were inquisitive and took deliberate steps to hear and understand the secrets. The third category is those who are part of the ‘secret’ deliberations in their role as secretary, advisor, executor, aide, assistant, colleague or conduit. (I exclude all secrets revealed by estranged partners in marriage or closely held partnerships from this discussion)

The third category I mentioned above is the subject of discussion in this article.

Let us view the subject from the angle of the ‘subject’ of the book. He (She) reposes complete trust on the person selected by or assigned to him as an adviser, assistant, collaborator, associate or in any other similar role. By virtue of the position and the role assigned to such adviser or secretary, he becomes a party to much information that is not ordinarily known to outsiders. It could be personal opinions and attitudes, moods and emotions, habits and lifestyle, informal conversations and formal communications and actions contemplated and executed. Some hyper-intelligent ones would assume themselves with divine skills and claim that they could even read the ‘thoughts’ of the men for whom they worked! There are hundreds of biographies worldwide written by such men who were in the ring surrounding those great men about whom they wrote.

A few days back a jury of a US court awarded $ 1.8 million dollars on a defamation suit filed by Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who was earlier served in the US Navy under water demolition team against Chris Kyle who served four tours in the Iraq war and was awarded the 4th highest commendation awarded for the acts of heroism in a combat zone. After discharged from the US Navy, Kyle wrote the New York Times bestselling autobiography, ‘American Sniper’. It was claimed in the book that Ventura had made derogatory statements about fellow members in the Military while in the bar. (Kyle was shot dead by a person in Feb 2013).

The following recent works from India could be without any hidden agenda or ulterior motives. But it is likely that readers or public wonder whether there is any possible breach of trust though the authors might have had certain good intentions in revealing the secrets.

Available here

Available here

Available here

First is the book ‘The Accidental Prime Minister’ written by Mr Sanjaya Baru, the former media advisor of the Prime Minister of India Shri Manmohan Singh. He talks in detail about Mr Manmohan Singh in this book. Most valuable secrets are hidden in the lines and there is no need to have any superhuman skills to decipher what he tried to convey. This is evident not only in the book but also in the series of interviews he has given to the media on the controversies surrounding the book.

Second is the book, ‘Crusader or Conspirator’ written by Mr P C Parekh who is a former IAS officer and secretary to the Government of India. The author mentions how Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shared his helplessness in certain situations while performing his role.

The third one is ‘One life is not enough’, a book written by Mr Natwar Singh, a former bureaucrat and cabinet minister in the Government of India. Mr Natvar Singh’s  book focusses on the attitudes, aspirations, lifestyles and thoughts of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, the President of the Indian National Congress and the widow of Rajiv Gandhi former Prime Minister of India.

All the above three persons are achievers who have done exceptional work for the society. However, the sensationalism surrounding the above mentioned books, though unintended by them, has raised an alarm about the appropriateness of the ‘timing’ of their respective publications and also about certain contents.

There are two theoretical views on the trust that one reposes on the another person. First is the social contract view and the other is the rational view. In the social contract view, there is an element of reciprocity based on social expectations. It is based on the normative foundations. But in the rational view, there is a perception of risk emanating from an apprehension of breach of trust. Therefore the person tries to get guarded while trusting the other person. This is actually a misnomer. How can one call it a trustworthy relationship when there is a perception of risk?

Trading book without trading trust
One can’t live and work independently especially when he or she assumes a role of very high stature and responsibility. None can function without an intimate circle of friends or assistants to share, discuss and seek advice. This is equally relevant for every person at any level or circumstance. Aristotle has said that a person who has no need for friends is either a God or a beast. 

The trust associated with intimate and close association is something that is permanent. Even when the relationship has been broken, government has fallen, association has been dissolved, or the persons have disappeared to oblivion, one thing shall remain forever: That is the moments spent in trust with each other. There cannot be any justification whatsoever for divulging anyone of these viz. the  personal opinions and attitudes, moods and emotions, habits and lifestyle, informal conversations and formal communications and actions contemplated and executed of and by the other person in confidence UNLESS that directly or indirectly adversely affects the reputation of the other person (unless used to protect oneself from a lasting damage, as a last resort or as a response to a legal proceeding).

Anything can become a best-seller, be it a book, film or a mere tabloid. But let it be through a content that upholds the truth, protects the privacy, safeguards the reputation, and by respecting the sentiments and expectations while one was in a relationship or association.   Let us not trade the trust.

“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of prosperity” ( Ulysses S Grant)

Views are personal and purely of academic nature. 

                                                                         © Sibichen K Mathew

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why do I yawn during shopping?

Dear Doctor,

I wanted to write this letter to you for a long time. I am suffering from a chronic disease since last several years. Whenever I accompany my wife or my mother for their shopping, I get continuous yawning. All the sweet conversations of the sales people do not amuse me. Rather I get irritated.

I get to escape from this ordeal very often by giving the excuse of some important engagements. But I do get trapped sometimes. One such occasion is when we go for any outstation tour where I am under my wife’s exclusive captivity.  Another occasion is when we decide to go for a movie or a coffee-chat  when she suddenly changes her plan and enters a shop seeing the big posters mentioning ‘40%, 60% 90% off’ etc. These days  I have put a full stop to my sermons on the psychology and the economics of discounts as I could never convince my  wife on that. She always got a better deal for the best quality.

My mother lost her faith in my ‘purchasing power’ as early as during my teenage years. She used to throw the rotten vegetables and stale fish that I bought from the market. I am sure she has briefed my wife about my shopping skills.

Whenever I accompany the ladies of my house who enter any shop, the first thing I look for is a comfortable chair. I get severe pain in my legs within a few minutes of entering.  But these days, most shop owners do not keep any seats for the customers or their escorts. I don’t know why; may be they want to save the space. (I understand that every square centimeter is worth several lakhs in cities. I read recently that someone has purchased a  site for Rs 65000 per  square foot in Bangalore city.)  Or the shop owners might have thought that if seats are provided, the customers will take more time to decide on the purchase. I wonder why they won’t provide seats at least for the sales staff who stands for more than 12 hours!

Thanks dear Sajjive Balakrishnan, a gifted cartoonist, for sending this after reading the post

One day, I got very annoyed and felt insulted while I was shopping with my wife at a shop in Lajpat Nagar, on a very hot summer day. I found a small stool (the only place to sit) in the small shop which contained highly priced dress material. I sat on it comfortably with a stream of air from the blower of the cooler and continued my yawning. Within a few minutes, the sales boy came to me and asked me to get up. I thought he is going to seat me on a better chair. I got up and waited. The boy quietly took the stool and put it under the table of the owner and continued his activities, like, fetching water for the owner and arranging the stock etc. I didn’t know the reason; whether he didn’t like me enjoying the seat near the cooler or he found my wife’s hard bargaining unbearable? I convinced my wife to get out of that ‘petty’ shop which does not give even a seat to the customer. My wife reluctantly followed me, though she muttered that the vendor had some rare piece of clothing!

I can pick up a shirt or a trouser in a couple of minutes. But my mother and my wife can spend an entire day before finalizing a sari. I sympathize with all those sales girls who have to take out almost every sari from the shelves before they finally give their green signal.  Even after selecting, there is a risk till they make the payment at the cash counter. They can change their mind anytime to look for a better one. I do not have any say in either selection or payment as both of them are independent decision makers and income earners. Many times I found at the billing desk that she has replaced my choice of shirts with hers. But let me admit that her selection was better than mine (My wife would be reading this post!) My job is to carry the big polythene bags to the car.

Sorry Doctor! I got deviated from the problem as I wrote this, sitting on a chair in a shop, yawning all the while. And I must stop this here as I can see someone coming to take off my chair.

With regards,

Views are personal                                   © Sibichen K Mathew

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hey Doctor! Why are you in a hurry? (Part-II)

I was having a ‘dull’ headache for the past few weeks. People suggested me to reduce my use of laptop and I did that. The head ache coupled with the ‘writer’s block’ is the reason for not writing any blog posts in the month of June. I met a physician and a series of specialists to find out the cause of the headache. The headache is reduced considerably now. But the ordeal with doctors made me think about why and how some of them are frantic to reap as much within their ‘allotted time’. I wrote about this couple of years back also. (Given at the end of this article)

I used to ask my doctor-wife why she spent so much time with each patient. She said, ‘Half of the pains and agonies of patients and the consequent physical disorders can be solved if the doctor patiently listened to them and talked to them’. I found it right as many of her patients showered praises for the time she spent with them in understanding their problem and the way she gave them advice.

Let me mention about one of the specialists I met at Delhi. Because there is no system of ‘attendant’ (as part of the cost-cutting measure) in the internationally rated super-specialty hospital, the specialist himself comes out to call each patient to his chamber. Before I sat on the chair, the doctor asked me the problem. Before I completed two sentences, he asked me to open my mouth. While I opened the mouth, he was checking the sms in his cell phone. He asked me to move my eyes to left, right, up and down. While I was sincerely doing that, he was busy writing my name in the prescription sheet. I thought he will ask me questions like which time of the day or night I get the headache, since when I am having this problem, which part of the head throws up the pain, what is my health history, what is my routine etc. He never asked anything. He didn’t check my BP or pulse.  He said there is no serious problem, but suggested an MRI. He suddenly got up and opened the door for me to get out so that I won’t waste his time asking any questions.

There was a long line of persons for the MRI. Most have booked many days in advance to get a slot. After spending a huge sum, I got the report along with the film and the CD. When I went to show that to the specialist, he didn’t look at the film or CD and concluded that everything is fine by just seeing the brief report.


Doctors’ time is very valuable. At the same time, is it unreasonable for patients to expect the doctor to spend a reasonable time with them in understanding the ailment as perceived by the patient and explain the medical reasons and remedies? After all, he has paid huge consultation fee and also spent money and time for travel to reach the hospital and waited couple of hours to meet the doctor.

Fixing a minimum time for consultation may not be practical. But doctors should not forget the professional ethics and underestimate the service expected from them in this divine profession.

Article written by me on Dec 27, 2009 is given below.

Hey Doctor! Why are you in a hurry?

  One profession where every millisecond matters is the medical profession. Doctors run against time, saving millions of lives. They can afford only very little sleep, little socializing and leisure. Commitment to work and the pressure from the organization force them to be in their coats for almost 18 hours a day. Society should thank not only them, but also their spouses and children for letting them away from home. But what worries us is that many of these doctors are too much in a hurry, creating anxious and depressing moments for patients and their relatives.
Recently, I read about a bereaved wife who went through an ordeal in a hospital. She was beside her ailing husband for several days. They were a well-educated couple with a fair social standing. Husband was hospitalized with a chest pain. The doctor visited their room just for a minute and never found time to interact with the patient’s wife. Enquiries and doubts from the wife and children got monosyllabic answers. The elderly husband, not fit enough for a surgery, was made to undergo a heart bypass. He suffered a heart attack and died even as the surgery was being performed. The woman believes that her husband would have lived on for many more years, if not for the negligence of a busy doctor.
When at least a smile can give a healing touch, some doctors portray themselves as busy and restless, as if that symbolizes the genius of their rare breed. It is not a very pleasant experience to be in a hospital, either as a patient or as a visitor, even if the hospital is endowed with the most-modern ‘five star’ facilities. All patients and their relatives go through depressing moments because of the pain their loved ones going through, anxiety, financial strain, loneliness and helplessness. They obviously look for empathy, transparency, concern and gentleness from the hospital management, staff and doctors. But, in general, hospitals are perceived as establishments with the sole motive of making money through a concerted effort of various stakeholders – the management, doctors, and pharma, medical, diagnostic and insurance companies. Of course, hospitals do need money to provide quality service. But what upsets patients and their relatives is a sheer lack of transparency and absence of communication on pros and cons of different options.
Doctors don’t have the time to explain. Managements are keen to collect advances before even the patient is admitted. Other staff members are too ill-informed to guide patients or give suggestions. Social workers, counselors or relation experts are either non-existent or perform their roles superficially and mechanically. All these definitely affect the healing process.
It is imperative to train the doctors on professional ethics, emotional intelligence and communication intelligence. It is also necessary to inculcate a change in their mindset and apprise them of the need for empathy in a hospital setting. Doctors should understand that patients and their relatives put their trust only on them and not on the management, staff, diagnostic service providers or counselors. They need to spend more time with patients and their relatives and give that much-needed human touch that is lacking in many hospitals.
 Medical Council of India (the self-regulating body)- Are you hearing? Or, are you waiting for another  statutory regulatory authority to be established?

Views are personal. Share this on Facebook by copying the link in address bar. You can also use the buttons at the end of this post to share it with others. Send your views at sibi5555{gmail} or post your comments below.

                                             © Sibichen K Mathew

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A mother who learnt from her teenage daughter

The abuse of a six year old child in a Bangalore School by the gym instructor sent shock waves across the country. Not only the gym instructor, but the security guard and many others were involved in similar incidents in the private school run by a leading group in the business of education.

"He touched my body. But destroyed my soul" Hilal in 'Aleph' said several years later about the abuse she faced as a child. In my review of the above book (read it here)  by Paulo Coelho, I reproduced an extract of a letter received by me from a lady who was abused when she was less than 7 years old! After reading the review my inbox flooded with responses from many who shared their horrendous experiences in their childhood. Paulo Coelho posted my review in his blog and it received similar responses from hundreds of hapless women across the world who live with the trauma. I remembered it again when I heard about how a 6 year old kid was abused by the school gym instructor in Bangalore the other day. Read the letter in the link. 

There is so much written and talked about the abuse of children by individuals. But very less has been discussed about the institutional child abuses. It is worthwhile to mention about two types of abuses on innocent children by institutions: first, about the direct exploitation of children by the institutions and second, about how institutions nurture conditions and circumstances that are favourable for abusers.Please read my article on the Institutional child abuse here

A mother who learnt from her teenage daughter

The other day, I got another comment via email from a mother of a 16 year old daughter after reading my article, 'Stop this harassment: A cry for deschooling India'. I thought it is better to share the contents with all the readers of Cyber Diary (with due permission from the sender). Please read it below and share with me what you think about it by posting a comment or through mail ( sibi5555  (gmail))

"Your article on institutional child abuse has been very thought provoking. At every stage in the child’s schooling there has been an influence of abuse at different levels. Yes like every parent I have also sown the seeds of a good education in my daughter’s mind. But I keep reiterating to her the sociological importance of family. The family is an institution by itself.  We learn how to adjust with elders and children and balance trying situations at home. I would like to share with you certain interesting conversations / arguments / debates we have at home that ultimately culminate to being good humans than being a double graduate from Harvard or Oxford.
Me  to my daughter: “Dear, you are constantly glued to your smart phone all the time.....when will u study?...I cannot tolerate anything below 80%....get it”  
Daughter:  “Enough Amma let me breathe pleazeeeee you wanted me to get a 90% in class X, I procured 92% to make you feel proud of me.....but at what cost Amma? the cost of my growing years... my school screwed up my freedom, my creativity all through only to make a mark on the school’s chart of ‘hall of fame’. 
I patiently listened to her.“At the kindergarten level when I could barely hold my pencil I was forced to write cursive alphabets..then reeling under the pressure of tongue twisting languages...1st 2nd and 3rd confusing. Then comes pre high school on the threshold of high schooling. Then tuitions for maths and science.. all come with conditions.”When she sees my brother’s son who is just 4 years old bending all over the book just to write “CAT” “MAT” “BUT” “CUT” who then cries out load to say,  ‘my fingers pain akka’ daughter feels so bad. While my daughter was a single kid throughout her growing years with no one to play with and with working parents, she took to her books mostly. But today when she sees her little brother writing cursive alphabets and words of which he doesn’t even know the meanings properly, she feels why so much pressure on a four year old. 
When she sees his school diary, it reads “homework in English 3 letter words, homework in Maths – counting, to be completed by Monday”.   Sad but helpless again. Every person right from parents to grandparents pressed into action to cooperate and woo the child into writing and completing his homework with special perks if he does so....To our surprise we saw that the child was brilliant in building blocks, identifying illustrations of different kinds, naming different naval ships and war planes with ease and extremely demonstrative in his behaviour, very articulate – but all of it at home.  Because we have a so called institution which turns a blind eye and a deaf ear towards a child’s creative mind. 
As you rightly said it, my daughter says half the education is wasted if you are not educated mentally.  We need to be educated in our behaviour in our acts not just academically.  She  was very clear that she studied Science in school only to get good marks to get into a good college but she wanted to pursue commerce because it offered less stress compared to those drilling CET and COMED-K exams and vying for medical/engineering seat.She tells me, “Amma let me grow as a person....given a chance I want to do theatre, I want to learn the guitar and parallelly  Iwill study to be a graduate. Let me first understand as to what I want from life and pursue what I like to do. I would like to progress gradually and steadily and persistently in life.’I ponder over what my daughter said. All along the school at all levels focussed only on studies, marks, and percentage. While I agree that an institution is needed to certify these qualifications for a child, the actual qualification is when you have achieved what you desired.Institutions have become very commercial these days. Unlike those days where schooling was equal to life’s grooming for a child in all spheres. We are what we are because of our schooling and upbringing not because of education and a degree alone.  Unfortunately today’s children have lost out on good things in life, lost out on creativity in life, lost out on the actual innocence of a child.She tells me “Amma I don’t want to be on the top of a Company’s chart of successful people. I want to be on the top of the world of individual leaders, want to be an entrepreneur seeking and sowing the seeds of individuality, creativity and harmony”. 
I think as parents we must slowly tune into our child’s likes and accept the way the child is, give her the freedom to think, to speak, to act, to behave with a touch of respect too. Be aware of her surroundings, be alert, be foresighted and support their moves in the right manner.Institutions, schools or colleges and universities may or may not change their way of functioning but as parents we can change and mould our way of thinking and the way we up bring our children.Already due to pressure from all sides, our children are saddled with burdens of all least we must be protective and support them and allow them to breathe so that they grow with pride and add flavour in their lives. 
Deschooling may not be possible in our country, but we must try to work towards good schooling at home for our children by understanding them and allowing them to think independently under our guidance."        Latha                              

I read the above mail and it gave me fresh insights on parenting. Though we would not like to totally surrender the thoughts and conceptions deeply ingrained within us, we need to break the cultural barriers that prevent us from being flexible to accept the views and aspirations of our children. Please share your views on this.

 Views are personal. Share this on Facebook by copying the link in address bar. You can also use the buttons at the end of this post to share it with others. 
                                                  Sibichen K Mathew

Read the following articles on the above topic, in case you missed.

My son! Don't watch the news


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Are you an opportunist or an opportunity 'utilizer'?

While introducing me to a gathering of young and aspiring managers, the speaker said: “He used the opportunities before him so well in his life and that is the secret of his success. One needs to be an ‘opportunist’ like him”. The first sentence amused me and the second one bewildered me. Knowing the ‘language proficiency’ of the speaker, I understood what he really meant! But the word opportunist lingered in my mind during the entire session and I pondered over it to comprehend how important it is for a person to be an opportunist in this world to be successful.

The word opportunist has a very negative connotation. The MS Word has a stock of synonyms: Freebooter, Speculator, Buccaneer, Swashbuckler, Chancer, Carpetbagger, Fortune hunter etc. There is only one positive meaning given there. That is ‘entrepreneur’.

An opportunist grabs an opportunity aggressively. He is ready to snatch it from other potential competitors. In its negative sense, the person uses all possible means, including unethical ways, to get what he wanted. They become unpopular and their greediness will not have any end.

But in its positive sense, an opportunist is a person who is an opportunity user or 'utilizer'. This is a better term than opportunity seeker. He is always alert to discover the ways and means that can take him closer to his goals. For this purpose, he does not bypass someone deliberately. He does not thwart someone’s effort to reach the same goal as his. He explores the ways that can facilitate a quicker movement towards fulfilling his goals. He looks around and finds that life has given diverse opportunities in a platter for him to excel.

Our creator is just and there are enough ways open before every human being irrespective his ascribed status or current circumstances provided there is a will to pursue that.  The strides in the pursuit of utilizing the opportunities are small, simple and easily replicable. In this article let me focus on one of the many stepping stones. That is the utilization of our time.

When we travel in a nonstop vehicle called time, we encounter several opportunities on our way. It is our decision to take the vehicle through the best or worst opportunities that determines our comfortable early arrival at the chosen destination. The vehicle runs automatically in a constant pace for everyone in the world whether he is a Prime Minister, fastest sprinter, or a farmer in a remote village. But it is we who drive the vehicle of time decide on its course.

I practice successfully for many years a process called ‘time audit’ every night before going to sleep. The audit starts with an exhaustive recall of the moments of that day and what I did in those minutes.  I evaluate how much of the available time I was creative, how much of the time I was re-creative and how much of the time I simply wasted. One could categorize them as creative, re-creative, and destructive.

Examples of creative use of time could be a) helping someone, b) applying creativity in work and producing something new, c) completion of a long pending domestic work, d) setting in order the cluttered stuff in the virtual and real realms, e) writing an article, f) reading a book, watching a high quality program or a movie that motivates us to be creative, g) doing physical exercise properly, h) going for a refreshing walk with your partner or family etc. Even taking a short afternoon nap (some people call it power nap) after many hours of creative work can also be a creative activity as that would revitalize the body and mind. A creative person spends most part of his time on similar activities as described above.

Examples of re-creative activity includes enjoying entertainment programs created or presented by others, long activity sessions in social networking sites and instant messengers, watching live or recorded matches etc. These are not creative utilization of time unless we derive any skill, knowledge or experience or gain a positive attitude from the above activities or such activities soothe our mind and make us enthusiastic to do creative work. A creative person spends less time on the above.

There are many examples of what we can call ‘destructive’ activity. (The word destructive is used here in comparison to the word creativity.) The first and foremost one is the activity of listening or sharing gossips or negative comments about someone else. Spending considerable time with toxic people- those who are cynical, sarcastic, pessimistic and cunning would be destructive. Lazy, lethargic and laidback attitudes and consequent behavioral patterns would convert us to perennial deadbeats. Such type of people indulge in long sleep (also extended hours of day nap), unnecessary and aimless wandering, repeated indulgence (like watching the same movie or match again and again, continuous parties without a break, attending events or functions that do not require the presence etc.)

One should devise his or her own strategies to spend more time for creative activity, less time on re-creative activity and least time on ‘destructive’ activity. After every creative work, you will find that your batteries are recharged faster and you enjoy more peace and happiness. You will instantly carry a positive vibe and the confidence and satisfaction you gain from a creative activity would result in better behaviour with people around you. On the contrary, after spending too much time on a re-creating or ‘destructive’ activity you will feel guilty and your behavior with others become petty and less impressive.


We should try to utilize the time even when we are on the move. I catch up with my reading and writing work while travelling in a train or flight. If the official travel during the day is to a destination that can be reached in less than six hours, I opt to travel by train rather than flight. I always felt that I am more creative in a moving train as my thoughts take a comfortable pace along with the train. Most of my articles are the products of train journeys and long waits at the airport lounges (this article is an example!). I avoid sleeping during the day time travel. I used to see some people sleeping during the entire travel. What a waste of time! They could pick up a few books, magazines or a reader device like kindle and read rather than wasting time in sleep. Even watching a good movie in the laptop during the train journey or spending time in prayer or meditation would be better utilization of time during a day-time train journey rather than sleeping all along.

Mobile phones are ubiquitous now and people can’t live without it. People spend substantial amount of time on the smartphones. One needs to evaluate how much of that time is used for unproductive purposes. Apart from using the internet in smartphones just for messaging and social networking, one could engage in creative reading, writing and planning even when we wait at salon, restaurant, clinic or transport stations. But that should be done only when we finish with enjoying the nature and surroundings and interacting with people around us. We should not become an inanimate object wired to the smart devices with scant regard to whatever happening around us.

More on other stepping stones later!
                                                               © Sibichen K Mathew

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