Monday, May 28, 2012

Notes on Beauty and Ugliness

  1. Taste is subjective (to some extent), but that doesn't mean that taste is an illusion.  Things lie somewhere on the spectrum of tastefulness, attractiveness, beauty, ... Their placement is subjective, following an act of perception, but the placement is a fact.

  2. A sense of beauty, attractiveness, charm, exists in other species as well.  Sexual mating is always a race, and attractiveness is one way to signal a higher fitness.

  3. There are standards to evaluate beauty and ugliness in human beings.  Otherwise, for example, advertising, modeling wouldn't work as they indeed do.  There would be no use for cosmetics, surgical interventions, perfumes, skin products, ...

  4. A baby can be ugly, but it is usually impolite to express one's disapproval.  It is helpless, after all.  An adult, on the other hand, can indulge in some camouflage to hide the glaring defects.  We dislike an adult who has a strong body odor AND doesn't do anything about it.  The inaction probably says more about him than the body odor.

  5. Anyone is instantly more attractive when smiling.  The truly beautiful are beautiful even when they are crying or angry.  Most people who are generally considered pretty look horrible when in a bad mood.

  6. Lack of confidence due to a flaw in oneself can be, at times, more repelling than the flaw itself.  To accept oneself is quite an attractive trait.  If you wouldn't accept yourself, how can another accept you, or much further down the path, love you?  Out of pity?

  7. Ugly people are treated bitterly by the world, and they turn bitter in their turn.  An ugly person is usually well aware of their ugliness.  This inner bitterness, and insecurity, makes them bad companions, even if one could live with their ugliness.

  8. Beauty, sensitivity and sensuality go hand in hand.  Sensuality need not be opposed to simplicity.  An otherwise beautiful person diminishes in beauty if they do not know when to speak loudly and when to speak softly.  How to eat, how to walk.  Similarly, an otherwise beautiful person enhances in beauty if they pay close attention to senses other than the visual, say, by using a perfume.

  9. Gracefulness is to move and act with beauty.  It has a lot to do with inner peace, poise and restraint.

  10. You do others a disservice if you make them work too hard to know you.  Say, only via a deep conversation.  Let them know you a little bit by your exterior as well!  Let your being be a continuum which expresses itself in the visible and the hidden.

  11. To be too aware, to be too conscious, to preen oneself too much, while in interaction, is a sign of insecurity about oneself.  It is a fear of being judged and might have deep-rooted causes.  A person whose movements, gait and words seem contrived and artificial is seeking validation: is a taker, not a giver.  It is exhausting to be with someone like that for long.

  12. Good health and a good digestion were always aids to being beautiful.  Similarly, soundness of mind and a not too touchy disposition were always aids to affability.

  13. It is not a sin to be sensual, to look attractive, to pay attention to looking attractive, to pay attention to another's attractiveness, to admire a rose or a rosy cheek, to feel glad about seeing a smooth sand dune or a smooth forehead, to feel something within oneself after seeing a wispy cloud moving across the sky or a heaving bust.  Mere shallow sensuality will not last, a shallow one will exhaust itself and stop being attractive.  Long-lasting attractiveness can perhaps not be achieved without an inner depth.

  14. Media created beauty is unreal.  Only if people knew what enormous efforts and techniques and careful lighting angles and post-processing go into creating a somewhat pretty face on the screen and on the pages of a fashion magazine.

  15. To spend too much effort on one's appearance has the risk of making one little more than a pretty shell housing nothing.  (A great video clip from American Psycho, with Patrick Bateman getting ready in the morning.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Presumption of Guilt

More and more, the Indian state is throwing up its arms on critical executive functions.  It has already given up on infrastructure (private toll roads), electricity (install your own generators), water (install your own water systems), health (public hospitals are in abysmal shape), education (nobody, who can afford not to, sends their kids to government schools), and so on.

But I am appalled to learn that it is giving up on law and order.  The momentum is unmistakable.  With more and more murders, rapes, child abuse cases piling up in the country, and with the bottom-of-the-barrel prosecution ability of government lawyers, the government is increasingly presuming guilt and asking the defendants to prove themselves innocent.

The reasoning probably is: we can't be bothered to build a water-tight case, better ask the defendant to prove that he/she is innocent.

This is nothing but a travesty of human rights.  And as the Indian populace is helpless, frustrated, angry and desirous of quick solutions, they are welcoming this draconian direction in our jurisprudence.  Of course, as long as this direction doesn't hit them personally.

There are genuine problems of increasing crime and corruption.  But to presume guilt based on a mere complaint (which may be mala fide) is a sure recipe for a police state, especially since the act of complaining is a privilege.  Since the police registers your complaint only in exceptional circumstances (based on a bribe or a connection), to enact such laws is to give untold power of harassment to privileged individuals.  If you get into the bad books of an influential person in India, with these laws, not even God can save you.

There already exist a plethora of such laws in India.  The dowry death law, the law against possession or eating of beef (currently enacted in Madhya Pradesh), the various laws about rape, and so on.

The most recent example is the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill (2011).  Child sexual abuse is a serious issue and needs to be firmly tackled, but you cannot throw the burden onto the defendant.  It is the state's job to protect its citizens, and if a child is a citizen, so is an accused (until proven guilty).  The state cannot privilege one set of citizens at the cost of others.

The bill was passed by "voice vote" in the Lok Sabha, which makes me believe that many MPs might not even have browsed through the bill.  Of course, it is politically incorrect to rail against a bill which protects "helpless women" or children, but as a concerned citizen pessimistic about the future of human rights in India, I cannot remain quiet.

Section 29 of the bill needs to be condemned in the strongest possible terms:

"Where a person is prosecuted for committing or abetting or attempting to commit any offence under sections 3, 5, 7 and section 9 of this Act, the Special Court shall presume, that such person has committed the offence, unless the contrary is proved."

If you think draconian laws are needed in India, then we might as well invite the British back.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Don't eat potatoes, to banish casteism and other ills

Came across this request-for-advice post on Reddit:
"Posting from a throwaway... My gf is (27) , me (28) both working in high end IT jobs in Bangalore. Me a hindu (bengali) she a muslim from kerala.. Both atheists. We have been living together for the past 1 yr (relationship for 3 yrs) While we both love each other very much ,the families are completely against it. We have been fighting to convince my parents for the last 1.5 yrs. (snipped ...)
Edit: my parents are 65+ , have high BP etc so their health is one concern I always have."
The last sentence caught my attention.  Maybe I have seen too many movies, but in a lot of Hindi films, people get into bad marriages, choose bad careers, and give up on their dreams because ... their parents might die of a heart attack if they do anything "shocking".

Indian parents owe it to their children to be shock-resistant during their fifties and sixties, the age during when their children will make important life decisions.  That is, they should have healthy hearts.  And this shock-resistance can be achieved only by changing one's diet and by keeping fit.

That is what this article is really about, in case you were wondering.

I find, to my obvious distress, that lifestyle diseases are gaining epidemic proportions in Indian affluent classes.  An earlier modest proposal has been subject to widespread ridicule from feminists and their bloviating ilk.  Never mind; hopefully my present suggestions will find kinder ears.

I believe that Indian affluent classes live an unhealthy life.  Our parents' generation (those born before the 1960s) did not, in general, have exercise and a healthy diet as their priorities.  They were more focused on providing a stable and healthy environment for assholes (like yours truly) to grow and become good human beings.  Whether they succeeded in their goal is anybody's guess.

A few points to note:

  • The West did not give us junk food, even though we might like to believe it.  We already had fried nutrition-less food (samosas, pooris, dosas, pakodas, parathas, aloo tikki, halwa, jalebi and so on) which we used to consume with gusto.  An Indian sweets shop (halwaai ki dukaan) is full of junk food, and has nothing but junk food.
  • Food cooked at home is much healthier and has more vegetables in it.  But even there, rotis and rice are a major ingredient.  Salads are generally only a puny, side dish and desserts and fruit at the end of the meal make sure one can do little else but sleep after the meal.
  • Exercising for small-town folks is to take a lumbering walk in the suburbs.  For the 14th floor Gurgaon literati, it is to do "sooksham vyayam" (micro exercises) and some yoga stretching.  Nobody likes to break a sweat or to lose their breath.  
  • We like to think Yoga and Ayurveda are the word of God when it comes to exercise and tonics, but sorry, they are both thoroughly pseudo when it comes to cardiac health.  Yoga Asanas are, beyond the rudimentary stretchy ones, are useless exercises in contortion, and Ayurveda, as my dad likes to say, has just Amla (Indian Gooseberry), a rich source of Vitamin C, in its arsenal.
  • North Indian street food (Dhaba food) is not much better than American fast food.  It is in many cases, worse. Try to find a green vegetable dish in a dhaba menu.  The major dishes are either wheat (parathas, naans), cheese and fat (paneer dishes), potato (aloo matar, dum aloo, etc.), or nutritionally-destroyed and color-added spinach (palak dishes).  Salad usually means a few pieces of cucumber, tomato and onions.  
  • In the south rice is overwhelmingly the main calorie contributor in one's food.  However, south Indian thali (combo meal) is somewhat better than its north Indian counterpart, having yogurt and unfried vegetables, and sambar, chutney and rasam.
  • Indians don't drink, they get drunk. 
After surveying a lot of literature on diets and exercises, I have come to the following conclusions which I consider worthy-of-consideration by my fellow Indians who are sick of their diet and are wanting to have a healthier heart and body:
  • Do not eat out.  If you go to a party, have lemonade and some peanuts for starters, and dal (lentils), a portion of fish or chicken if available and if you eat meat, and some salad for dinner.  Everything else is junk food.
  • If you don't have anything to eat at home, try Subway 97% fat-free sandwiches (without the cheese, please, and no mayo-based sauces in the end).  They are available in almost every town I think.  If you are vegetarian, try the Veg Shammi sub.  For your own sake, please don't go to a fried fast food joint.
  • Give up on sugar, rice, maida, potatoes and soft drinks.  These will make you fat.  If you cannot give up on sweet things and like to have tea or coffee with sugar, switch to using Sucralose (Indian brands: Sugar-Free Natura, Splenda, Relish).
  • Drink lots of water.  A half-liter a half-hour before a meal works wonders.
  • At home, eat meals which are up-to 500 K-calories, having almost no carbohydrates in them, have a lot of raw food (low-sugar fruit, salads, sprouts and nuts), and eat slowly.
  • Lose your breath at least three times a week, for sustained periods.  Brisk walking is a good exercise, but it needs to be really brisk (7km per hour).
  • If you are not fond of gyms, and want to condition your body, do body-weight exercises like squats, push-ups and sit-ups.  Pull ups too, if you can manage.  Surya Namaskar is not really Yoga but is an extremely good exercise.  A western kind-of-equivalent, much harder for a beginner, is the Burpee's.  If you do ten repetitions of Burpee's, I guarantee you will be out of your breath.  If you can do three sets, bravo, your son can finally marry that Ethiopian hottie!
  • Do not drink beer.  Water is really the best drink, but if you have to have alcohol for social reasons, have a drink or two and enjoy the conversation and the social lubrication, not the drinking and the effects of alcohol.
  • Curd/Yogurt is good for you.
  • Be moderate (it is okay to eat the forbidden stuff every once in a while), and be quiet about your diet. Don't bore others.
  • Be regular in your exercise.  After a while, it will become a habit and you will curse the day when you haven't been able to break a sweat.
  • Keep standing a lot.  And up till five floors, always take the stairs.  It takes less time than waiting for the elevator, and you hear interesting stuff (elevators are usually quiet, stairways are usually buzzing with gossip).
I assure you, if you follow most of the above guidelines, you will live to be ninety, and will have multicultural grandchildren!

Of course, if you didn't have any kids, neither will they.  Logical, no?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Ruthlessness, Compassion and Leadership

Many years back, I came across a quote on Leadership which has stuck with me.  It said, to the effect, that the prime ingredient in a leader is ruthlessness.  That sometimes decisions need to be made which end up hurting someone or the other, and someone without the requisite thick skin will get too stressed over that decision.

Consider the role of a military general who knows that there will be casualties, including civilian deaths, in his campaign.  A more humane fellow will act like the emperor Ashoka and give up warfare altogether instead of hurting even a single soul.  Someone like Rommel or Patton will not bat an eyelid and plunge into the bloodbath.

Consider the role of a CEO who has to trim the workforce to remain profitable, and has to therefore dismiss many deserving employees.

Consider the role of a criminal judge, who has to sentence a guilty accused to years of suffering despite seeing tears of remorse on his/her face.

On a much smaller scale, consider a parent who cannot bear to see an infant crying but immediately gives in to its every demand and whim.  A stronger-nerved, less sentimental parent is a more successful parent.

A young person who leaves home in his twenties and enters the "big bad world" quickly learns that sensitivity, transparency and empathy that are the hallmarks of family life and of very small groups is a handicap when it comes to managing large groups and worldly success.

I am guessing that not only does a large group make it impractical for the leader to empathize with everybody, that even if he could, it would be a bad idea for his own psychological health.  He would feel paralyzed, guilty, and regretful at having chosen a course of action which caused suffering for some, even if it was the optimal decision under the circumstances.  His persona would quickly get shattered under this sustained stress of big-decision-making.

This might be considered controversial, but the preponderance of the nurturing and empathetic instincts in the human female might mean that she, as a generalization, has less capability to be ruthless in a sustained manner.

Moreover, I think that the Indian psyche, in particular, is predominantly sentimental, Machiavellian and feminine, unable to take harsh decisions and engage in direct conflict.  Instead of hurting someone else and confronting an injustice, we would much rather bear our pain silently.  Revenge and curative measures, rather than preemptive aggression, seems to run in Indian culture.

The greatest leader we have had in the last century was a man who was deeply religious and peace-loving (even if only as a show), considered meat-eating and sexual intercourse as sins, and whose main tactic was to arouse sympathy and consensus by starving himself.  Is this trait in our culture one of the factors in present India's alarming lack of strong leaders?

Universal compassion, wanting not to hurt anybody at all, giving everybody a chance, and so on, is an un-leader-like trait.  Nature rewards the ambitious and the competitive: just reflect on the fact that the fastest sperm wins the battle for fertilization.

Good leaders try not to make too many enemies, and "manage" the episodes which are painful to others by careful messaging and a show of some (perhaps genuine) empathy.

What do you think?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Two Women, Singers

Exhibit A:

Enya Brennan, an Irish singer and musician, born 1961.  Known for her lilting, soothing music.  Personal and relationship details mostly unknown (she values her privacy), except that she has remained unmarried.

Her music celebrates love, dream-like imagery, nurturing, longing, nature, beauty and joy.

Some songs:

(an interesting musical re-composition here)

Exhibit B:

SinĂ©ad O'Connor, another Irish singer and musician, born 1966.  Known for her shaved head (as a protest against "traditional views of women" (ref Wikipedia)), acerbic and militant views, feminism, failed relationships (her fourth marriage lasted seventeen days) , songs of pain and hurt, public expression of her sexual proclivities, and so on.

Some songs (that I have liked, by the way):

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Bondhu by Indian Ocean

I loved this song, even when I didn't understand the lyrics (it's in Bangla).

This is a song from the latest album, 16/330 Khajoor Road, by Indian Ocean.

The band radically offered free download of all tracks from their website, as they progressed through producing the album.

Unfortunately the download facility, though still ostensibly available, no longer works.

However, YouTube has all the songs (playlist link). I highly recommend "Chaand", and "Sone ki Nagri", those that I've listened to again and again.

Now that a couple of souls have helped me translate the lyrics of "Bondhu", I love it even more.

Lyrics in transliterated Bangla are available on the band's webpage for this song.

Rough translation in English:

Why does my heart break?
The river banks break, sea waves break...
My heart also breaks...

My broken heart is pieced together anew;

My dreams also break...

On the banks of the river, you reside;

My tears and the river water flow into each other and become one;
Oh river, you have seen and endured so much...

My heart still breaks...