Friday, February 1, 2008

All or Nothing

Human beings are hardly rational, and here in lies our funny tendency...we like to go for broke, we like to have things in totality, or we won't have anything at all.

To an outsider it may seem queer, but neither years of education not bitter face-offs with reality seem to temper our mindset. We tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. I recall a funny incident. I was very young then, very raw, and very instinctual. I had a quarrel with my kid sister, and insisted she show more respect towards me by addressing me as "Aap" in place of "Tu". After much bickering, she agreed to address me as "Tum", which, as I think of it now, is acceptable any day. But, I wouldn't have any of it then, and in my own silly, arrogant, haughty and cute way, said - " Dont even call me "Tum" if you don't think its worth it!". Both of us knew that our words didn't reflect the exact way we feel for each other. But alas! Things have a way of spiralling out of control.

Any given day, a robot would have made the right decision. Or for that matter, any other day, I would have made the right decision too. But somehow, in the heat of the moment, on the cusp of time, one doesn't. Little nothings assume gargantuan proportions, and the work of a lifetime is put on a wager, and as is the case most times, the bet is lost.....and the heart feels empty.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Pygmalion Effect

Studying a course in management has its own share of “fun” subjects. We had a couple last term, and thankfully, we have some true “beauties” this term. One of them goes by the name MPPO – Managing People and Performance in Organizations. So much for the regal sounding name. Its basically Organizational Behavior repackaged, and the students can’t care less. Most of us, me definitely included, use the 1.5 hrs twice a week to catch up on lost orkutting and surfing, while the professor rambles on in his dream world.

I wouldn’t have bothered to mention the subject though, had it not provided me with the topic for my current blog. Buried in the professors words, was a gem called the “Pygmalion Effect”, and I was impelled to ponder over it a bit further.

Also known as the “teacher-expectancy effect”, it says that students perform better when teachers expect stellar performances from them. This effect is all around us – sportspersons perform better when the crowd cheers them, workers perform better when they have the support of their boss, and we all feel strengthened when we have the well-wishes of our near and dear ones with us. I distinctly remember an incident in 7th grade. My 'Hindi' teacher admonished me for poor performance in a class test, and informed me that she expected much better from me. As if on cue, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, my performance and interest in the subject improved dramatically.

But alas! Over the years, I believe that an “inverse” Pygmalion effect is taking hold of me. Living up to expectations is not easy, believe me, and sometimes I have been forced to rue thus – "The weight of expectations is hardest to bear". As time goes on, and the mind gets muddled with all sorts of doubts and insecurities, even the most hardened pros can wilt under pressure. And these are the occasions that this 'weight' of expectations pulls one down. Strange! The same thing can work for you and against you, and the people who care for you can actually do some unintentional harm.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Method or Madness

Yippie! After such a long hiatus, I am back, and back to what I do best ;)

The past one month was quite tumultuous, not the least because of Summer Placements, and the never ending drama surrounding it. Many a times, on observing the circumstances and the people around me, I was forced to ask - Is everything that is happening by design, or just pure chance.

While these thoughts were still lingering in my head, I came across this interesting piece on a Carnegie Mellon professor named Randy Pausch. The sad part is - he is dying! But this has led him to ponder a bit more on life and its meaning, and when words come from a person who is short on time, one better pay attention. Among many other things, this is what he had to say on Life - "If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, and your dreams will come to you."

Though he had much more to say on other aspects of life, including romance, this particular statement struck me. It reinstated my belief that there is a Divine Omnipresence around us, and that meant that other values like justice, fairness and compassion exist in his realm.

The worst part of the Placement Week was the self-doubt that emerged amongst the candidates. Questions like "Why is this happening to me?", "What on earth can I possibly do?",
"Is there a way out of this?" made me all the more sad. However, it just whetted my appetite to think about it at length, and come up with an answer, atleast for myself if not everyone else.

The fact of life that I have come to believe now is that everything that has occured, is happening, or will occur in life is for a reason ( call it Karma if you will ). And nothing is absolute. Circumstances, situations, emotions, thoughts keep changing and this whole menagerie can work either for you, or against, depending on your faith and perception. And last but not the least, give your best shot. Trust Him to enlighten you in your thoughts and deeds.

To summarize, no one knows what life has in store for us. And if I were to lead my life in a way that is "optimum", I have this to say - have faith, acceptance, and perseverance.

P.S. : Those who wish to listen to the Prof's speech -

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Maya and the four demons

All of us are striving endlessly to achieve something or the other in life. But the greatest irony is that we never bother to ask ourselves clearly – What are we after and much more importantly, WHY are we after it?

It may seem silly to some to even ponder over such ponderous questions, but I can’t help myself. I always think - If there is no end to what all can be achieved in life, then what should I go after and when should I call it quits? There is also the seemingly undebatable truth that everything is in fact ‘Maya’ or Cosmic Illusion. So in effect, we are just playing our parts in this cosmic drama, responsive and pliable to the cues that we perceive as real – happiness, sorrow, anger, bitterness and so on. Hence, why try when its all just an illusory rhapsody.

Well….I do have a theory about it. I believe that the only way to come over this ‘trap’ is to overcome it. There are in effect four major manifestations of Maya – Moh (Craving/Desire) , Krodh (Anger) , Bhaya (Fear) , Eershya(Jealousy) . I believe that deep down, each of us is striving to win over these emotions. To explain it a bit further, all of us crave for money so that we may satiate our Moh or desire for other goodies – expensive food, clothes, luxurious lifestyle etc. And as my friend from Bihar explained, he is pining for IAS to attain the sense of power and authority which eluded him in his childhood which he spent angry, frustrated and somewhat afraid of all the misery and hopelessness around him. And lastly, we all are slightly jealous of the rich, smart and good looking guy/girl we know, and consciously or otherwise try to go one better on him/her.

So that brings me to the denouement. It is a truth that ‘One has to get In to get Out’, or in other words you have to undergo the rigours and riches of life to understand the futility of it all. I think I know how I can be satisfied and blissful, and I would count my life as a success if I can slay these four demons, even if it takes my life’s worth to do so.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lost in Translation

One thought that always rankles in my mind is - 'Could I have done this better?' - or its variant - 'What would have happened had I not done what I did?'. Thankfully for me, after some moments of moping and self-pity, I do come to the comforting conclusion - 'I did the best I could, and things couldn't have been better'. There is nothing wrong in thinking like that, save the fact that my argument is specious.

I have come to believe that things don't pan out the way we expect because we dont heed the warning signs early enough. Digressing slightly to bring in a metaphysical perspective, I do indeed think that we are playing a part in the drama of life. That means that we are not completely free-willed ( though libertarians may think other wise ), and do get affected by our milieu. I think we need to look for cues provided by some supreme-being ( call it God if you like ) in order to play our part well, akin to what an actor does in a play.

Alas! It all seems a nice bit of thoery, but what am I getting at? The sad part is that we all look for signs, right or wrong is altogether a different matter though. An interesting tradition comes to mind. Many moons ago, I heard that in a village near Goa, arranged marriage is conducted by tossing a leaf ( a special kind, of course ). If it does land on a specific side, the marriage is propitious; otherwise, doomed. This seems a rather extreme example, and I should clarify that I don' t want to hint at superstution here. What I do mean to say is that we all can do a lot better in our lives, if we know what to look for and do keep on the look-out.

I would propose, that we might even think of life as a 'Controlled Experiment'. We all have our wishes, our dreams, our aspirations. We might as well go about them in a rational manner, and with an intensity and patience befitting a research scientist - pick and choose the conditions that favour us and replicate them for life. The most important message is that we should persevere, and do enjoy this process of analysis and synthesis if we wish to improve our lot.

I seek comfort in Mr. Einstein - "God doesn't play dice with the world". Seems true to me, and there is good justification for it. Maybe, its just because we do not have perfect information. Maybe, we do not extract the 'signal' from the 'noise'. Or maybe, it is all 'lost in translation'.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Uncanny Valley

I will start with the theory first to put to rest speculation about the seemingly incongruous title. In 1970, Masahiro Mori, a Japanese roboticist, described a phenomenon known as the 'Uncanny Valley'.

The discovery had to do with human response to a humanoid robot. He postulated that a contraption performing human feats evokes highly emotional responses from people. However, as one strives to make the machine more human-like, assigning facial features, and advanced mobility abilities, the response flip-flops and degenerates into one of repulsion. But the best part is, on working even further, to the point where the robot and human seem indistinguishable, a person begins to show enhanced empathy towards the robot, gradually accepting it as part of his own life.

The 'valley' phenomenon may be slightly hard to accept, but it is not without rhyme or reason. We all experience such pendulating mood-swings with regard to our dreams, our aspirations, endeavours and relationships. It all starts with a desire, a blue-print. Wouldn't be nice if I prepare for CAT and crack it, wouldn't be great to find a suitable mate, or for that matter, wouldn't be smart to write something and make the world read it ;)....the list goes on. Well, these are the sparks that fire our imagination and give us sleepless nights. Everything seems so rosy, so hunky-dory, when we even don't know where to start!

Then comes the crash. We start to realize our dreams, put a skeleton on a spirit...and that sure is scary. Little by little, the problems trickle in, the pressures and demands seem insurmountable. The more we strive to actualize our vision, the more distant it seems. So near yet so far. Disappointment, despair, desperation, apathy, revulsion...we all feel something or the other during this journey. We move through this dark valley and many of us are left stranded at the trough.

But a few of us are survivors, and as they say - "There is always light at the end of a tunnel" - we find that light. When we devote our all to our cause, and fulfill it in all its beauty and spirit, we feel one with our creation, our conception. And that is the most uplifting and satisfying feeling of all.

But the million dollar question is - Are we ready to make this journey, and complete it...Ask yourself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Rashtrapati

Reality is at best relative, and this is the realization made by those of us given to compulsive introspection. I mean, there are times when we all think - Do we really feel what we say?
Can we do what we say? Is what we do that defines us and our persona and mindset? And the biggest of all - Are thoughts and actions a cause or effect?

Actually this abstruse rambling is inspired by an article by Nehru, which he wrote anonymously and titled it "The Rashtrapati". It goes thus -

" The smile passes away and yet again the face becomes stern and impassive in the midst of the emotion that it had roused in the multitude. Almost it seemed that the smile and the gesture accompanying it had little reality behind them; they were just tricks of the trade to gain the goodwill of the crowd whose darling he had become. Was it so?"

"....Is all this natural or the carefully thought-out trickery of the public man?....Whither is this going to lead him and the country?What lies behind this mask of his, what desires, what will to power, what insatiate longings?"

Whoa...what breathtaking intensity of thought!! Surely one is compelled to think whether its applicable to our lives. Whether we do actually put on a facade of make-believe, goodness and altruism just to please. Whether all our high-sounding proclamations are just bluster and rhetoric. Whether we truly believe in what we say. The trail of answers would surely be enlightening.

I thought about it myself, and to my slight amazement, I found that I too was guilty of this skulduggery. But, horror of horrors, or should I say, fortune of fortunes ;), I found that there is much more to it. Infact, Nehru is said to have indulged in such introspection as a sort of catharsis. The idea being that when we are aware of our faults, we are more wary of them. In this case, the more acutely aware we are about our predisposition to deceive, the more likely we are to refrain from it.

Soemone can try it as an exercise. The more we ask ourselves whether we truly believe in what we think and act, the more is the likelihood that the parallax is resolved, and our thoughts and actions coalesce into what we truly are.