& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Idea of Canada

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence

2012 ends on a sombre note in India and in Canada.

India stood still in the last two weeks as the 23-year-old girl battled for life, eventually losing it in a Singapore hospital. A nation of billion plus is shamed like never before. Although I’ve been away from India for four-and-a-half years, and I can’t claim to know and understand what’s going on, I’m optimistic (perhaps unreasonably) that the tragedy will force a change led by the urban youth – a small and basic but much-needed change in the attitude toward women.

Canada is on the edge as Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike enters third week.

It is this development that has touched me in a significant manner. 

As a newcomer to Canada, I voted with my feet. I chose to come and live in a country that I think is better than my former homeland. Not merely because of the economic opportunities it offers, but because it is a more just society – a society that celebrates differences and treats everyone with the same respect.

Spence’s hunger strike shatters that belief. It tells me that I’ve been na├»ve in making such assumptions; that, in fact, the Canadian system is deeply unjust, even if the society is not.

As a newcomer to Canada, I’m hesitant to take sides. But Spence’s fast for the rights of First Nations people strikes a chord and takes me back two decades when as a journalist I covered environmentalist Medha Patkar’s hunger strike fighting for the rights of India's aboriginals.
Chief Spence says “she won’t back down until the Canadian government agrees to address First Nations’ struggles.” Mahatma Gandhi's legacy lives on in the 21st century, too.

When I had first read A Fair Country Telling Truths about Canada John Ralston Saul a couple of years ago I felt it was a wishful, romantic view of both the First Nations and Canada.

Saul contends that Canada is a Metis nation shaped by the First Nations’ concepts of egalitarianism and negotiations. However, in the context of Spence’s fast, the central thesis of Saul’s argument acquires a new resonance for me.

In the book’s chapter Learning to Imagine Ourselves, he says:

Canadians carry both the Aboriginal and the European tradition. We have become rich in part because of that Western Manichean drive. And ideas of exclusivity and race were certainly introduced here with a vengeance. Yet those tendencies have been limited by our other tradition. And today the delight we take in our non-monolithic society suggests that our Aboriginal foundations are rising to the surface. At the same time, the sense of discomfort in the country over environmental and economic policy shows that much of the tension between our two basic forces remains unconscious.

And so we work hard to fit our non-monolithic culture into a revised version of our European liberal monolithic inheritance. But that requires twisting ourselves into a knot in search of Western justifications for non-western actions. Of course, there are European liberal elements in our way of life, but our deep roots are here not there; they are far more indigenous than liberal. The source of our non-monolithic – and for that matter our egalitarian – sense of ourselves lies in the structures of the Aboriginal maze the Europeans found here and into which they eased themselves over hundreds of years. You have to work hard to avoid this argument. And you have to turn your curiosity away from our local reality. Both parties were changed. Both gained. Both lost. But our deep roots are indigenous, and there lie the most interesting explanations for what we are and what we can be.”

Click here to read more about the campaign: Idle No More

Listen to CBC’s Jian Gomeshi’s essay: This is Q

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The ACE Principle - Murali Murthy

A good teacher is not necessarily one who knows her subject well; she’s one who is able to engage her students into the learning process by making the dense and the dull exciting and accessibly. Often, the distinction between a brilliant and a good teacher is the ability to communicate.

Murali Murthy is a communicator par excellence. His felicity at transforming complex ideas into simple factoids makes his ACE Principle an immensely readable book. What Murali says in the book may not be new but the way he says it is completely unique. He brings diverse ideas together and organizes them into a cohesive action plan to change one’s thinking and approach to life and living. And he illustrates every idea of his with plenitude of examples.

The ACE Principle is a life guide to 15 Success Principles to Absorb Comprehend Excel in Every Area of Life.  For each of the 15 principles, Murali gives a three point action plan. Together, the principles and the action plan form a comprehensive strategy to evaluate one’s life and try to reorient one’s thinking to achieve success. Each principle is illustrated by a biographical example that illustrates success in achieving that particular principle.

The simplicity and the effective way in which the message is conveyed belie the complexity of the structure of the book. It also reveals the multiple levels at which the author has marshaled his arguments, weaving a myriad web of ideas.

The book (re)introduces us to simple principles that we have known all along, but didn’t really think of putting them to form a strategy. I haven’t read a book that is as useful as the ACE Principle in a long time, and I don’t say this because Murali is a friend. It’s a genuinely good work guide to success. I also strongly recommend it to newcomers to Canada, who have to restart their lives and careers from scratch.

The book is published by Friesen Press. You may buy the book here:  ACE Principle

The 15 principles with their action plans are:

Be hungry – desire success
Staying focussed on the end reward
Creating more opportunities
Practicing self-discipline

Be focused – set goals
Committing to a specific goal
Taking action
Believing failure is not an option

Be proactive – Take initiative
Staying in control
Building momentum
Vanquishing fear

Be disciplined – Master habits
Loving what they do
Making it happen
Being patient

Be tenacious – build resilience
Impossible is nothing
Building the will power muscle

Be responsible – take charge
Taking 100% responsibility
Knowing what they want
Productive actions

Be imaginative – dream big
Dreaming big long enough
Exercising the power of the spoken word
Excuses versus results

Be moneywise – control finances
Living within their means
Focusing on net worth
Planning ahead

Be choosy – associate right
Being around the right people
Getting a mentor
Excelling at networking

Be sharp – stay teachable
Ability to be a sponge
Aligning with a pro
The ABC of success

Be assertive – display posture
Moving fast on opportunities
Keeping a positive attitude
Building a credible personal brand

Be high quality – deliver excellence
Constant self development
Managing time efficiently
An attitude of gratitude

Be leading – exercise influence
Thinking like one
Acting with prudence
Servant leadership

Be bold – demonstrate courage
Acting to impact
Stepping up and claiming it

Be happy – celebrate life
Believing that it’s not what happens, it’s how we react
Building a healthy mind and healthy body go hand in hand
Identifying a life purpose and celebrating life

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Prosperity & Peace for the 21st Century: APJ Abdul Kalam

APJ Abdul Kalam

I’m reading a compilation of APJ Abdul Kalam’s speeches in Canada graciously gifted to me by S. Kalyansundaram of Canada India Foundation.  

The book – Prosperity and Peace for the Twenty-First Century – covers three broad areas – Vision, Culture and Spirituality and Education. The editors – V. Ponraj, R. Swaminathan, and V. I. Lakshmanan – have wisely broken down the speeches and clubbed them into these three themes.

When one thinks of APJ Abdul Kalam the image that comes to mind is of an activist. He redefined the ceremonial office by being a knowledge activist.

There is a rising disquiet to the process of economic and cultural homogenization that globalization seems to be imposing especially on the non-western world.

Two distinct approaches have evolved to deal with this – the assimilative and the contrarian.

There are activists both in the categories – assimilative and contrarian, although the mainstream often fights shy of acknowledging the assimilators as activists.

In the mainstream, the term activist is often used pejoratively, and this has to do with the perception that an activist is someone with head-in-the-cloud opinions but without a viable alternative.

The contrarian questions the concept of development and upholds the traditional rights of people – rights that they have enjoyed for generations and are inalienably linked to their land and their way of living.

The assimilator believes in an encompassing approach that aims at bringing everyone together to achieve greater good. There is no doubt that the assimilator is also an activist.

Kalam is an assimilative activist.

In a world where knowledge economies are reshaping the new world order, India has a fighting chance to emerge as one of the leading nations if it is able to retain and build upon its lead in the knowledge sector.

India’s post-liberalization surge in the knowledge sphere in the late 1990s coincided with Kalam’s term as the President.

Kalam epitomizes the best of what India stands for and what it offered – a scholastic mixture of the science and culture, heritage and progress, inclusive ethos and forward thinking.

Kalam – the soft-spoken and the unassuming scientist – has given India and Indians a vision for the future – something that the country and its people could aspire to achieve if Indians put their mind to it.

In a large measure, India has seized Kalam’s vision for its future. Indians are working in a myriad different ways to bring to fruition a grand dream.

The slim volume is rich in Kalam’s knowledge of the Indian society, and his vision for the world. I found the section on Culture particularly appealing, and in particular his lecture at the Sringeri Community Centre on 26-09-10 on Tolerance has universal relevance.

 “Tolerance is the foundation of sustainable development and peaceful society. It will be appropriate to have introspection by all of us about the social awakening needed for the national and international development. Every civilized society exists not for day-to-day, but with a clear perception for the future and the generations to come. Such a situation would pre-suppose that each individual in such a society would cherish and translate into practice noble ideals of constructive tolerance, positive fellow-feeling and a total commitment to live and let live. Albert Einstein could not have expressed this better, when he said: “Laws alone can’t secure freedom of expression; in order that every man presents his views without penalty, there must be a spirit of tolerance in the entire population.

“We have to evolve a society that will respect differences and celebrate differences. What are the various issues on tolerance?
  1. Tolerance for people’s opinion
  2. Tolerance for people’s culture
  3. Tolerance for people’s belief system
  4. Tolerance for people’s styles

In fact, such an attitude, be it that of an individual or a collection of them i.e. society, is the hallmark of civilization and that is what characterizes and differentiates life from sheer existence. Honesty and integrity – both in thought and action, independence and inter-dependence – in their wholesome and positive manifestations, would distinguish a civilized society in its true sense. It is for each individual to strive to inculcate these external values in him or her, and that alone would be the surest path and unfailing guarantee for a civilized society and its future.”

Many such vignettes pepper this treasure of a book. 

A word on V. I. Lakshmanan, one of the editors of the book, and someone I’m privileged to know personally. Lakshmanan is an academician-turned-entrepreneur. For someone who has lived in the West for four decades, Lakshmanan is quite the antithesis of what is supposed to be the accepted norm of social behaviour here – he never projects himself and remains extremely humble despite his considerable achievements. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dickens' Women - Miriam Margolyes

Miriam Margolyes

Considering that CharlesDickens enjoys a reputation that is second only to William Shakespeare, it isn’t surprising that his bicentenary has passed by with the usual hagiographical homage staged mainly by the British establishment – the British Council and the BBC.  

These feel-good programs are what they supposed to be – giving us a glimpse of the man’s greatness, and his undoubted excellence.

Then, yesterday I saw MiriamMargolyes perform a series of women characters from Dickens’ novels.

It was a stunning revelation about a writer who the world admires for nuanced portrayals of characters and situations that retain their originality and immediacy since he first began to write in 1836-37.

Margolyes says – and with well-researched evidence – that there is “an important gap in (Dickens’) repertoire of females – I would argue that he never portrayed a woman whom we would recognise as a mature sexual and emotional partner for his heroes. And I venture to suggest this is because his own relations with women were all damaged, incomplete or destructive. As his daughter, Kate Perugini, remarked: ‘my father never understood women’.

Margolyes then analyses Dickens’ women characters into stereotypical archetypes – “the pre-pubescent child, usually described as ‘little’ (Emily, Nell, Dorrit, Dora, Ruth Pinch); the unattainable sexual object (Estalla, lady Dedlock, Edith Dombey); the grotesque, sometimes evil (Madame Defarge, Mrs. Squeers), sometimes comic (Mrs. Clennam, Mrs. Nickleby); the spinster longing for a man (Rosa Dartle, Miss Tox), but never was he able to draw a complete believable, fully realised female – because the women in his life never offered him the opportunity.”

All this is in the book, and reading about it isn’t half as enjoyable as watching Margolyes perform on stage.

Margolyes brings to life Dickens’ women with a range of emotions that are at once enthralling and yet strangely disturbing.

You laugh with her as she entertains you, but you’re also simultaneously changing your deep-rooted perceptions of one of English language’s pre-eminent men (persons / people) of letters.

It’s an unending series of virtuoso enactments. Her voice is unsure, child-like when she is Nell, impervious and almost arrogant as Estella, bitter and ironic as Miss Havisham, hesitant, submissive and yet coy and coquettish as Mrs. Corey. The list is endless, and two hours slip away quickly and before you know it, it’s curtains.

I saw the performance at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, which is in Toronto’s Distillery District.

Yesterday was my first visit to what is unarguably a unique – albeit touristy – Toronto location. Coincidentally, the district is celebrating Christmas by holding a traditional European Christmas market. 

I was alone in a place overflowing with people, and the place exudes old-world warmth.