Something about me

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The pursuit of idleness

The dictionary defines Idleness as:
1. A lack of action or activity
2. The quality or state of being lazy
Now, just think: how long ago was it that you were really, truly and gloriously idle? I don’t mean the idle watching of a TV show, idle web-surfing, or even the idle people-watching while lying on the beach in a hammock on your last vacation. I mean the kind of idle which you see sometimes in children; the kind where a kid is lying on the couch fiddling aimlessly with a toy and when you ask him what he is doing, he truthfully says “Nothing”.
That’s it! I mean that state of doing absolutely nothing. Modern society has made a virtue of hard work, and in doing so, created a Satan out of idleness. Haven’t we all heard a thousand times about how an idle mind is the devil’s own workshop?
And yet, think about it, how many Eureka moments, how many inventions and discoveries and brilliant works of art, how many path-breaking companies, books and movies have come into being precisely because the mind was idle? When you consciously take a break from facebooking, googling, working, or even meditating; when you let the mind wander into pastures new and old, some interesting things happen. Not all of them desirable, mind you. You might start thinking of how your marriage stinks, or how your boss hates you, or how your kid seems to have speech delays, or that nagging pain in your left wrist. Equally possible, you may notice that cloud in the sky which is shaped exactly like a turtle, how your baby has a barely discernible but oh-so-adorable dimple on her right cheek, how each and every petal of that rose is shaped and coloured to perfection. And in doing so, you open your mind to the beauties of the universe.
Now, chances are, if you do this idleness gig long enough or often enough, you’ll get B.O.R.E.D. T.O. D.E.A.T.H.
Now, bear with me here. I argue that even this boredom is a good thing. Cast the silvery tentacles of your mind where they will go….allow yourself to think about that article you never got around to writing, that puzzle you promised your son you would construct together, that dream house you wanted to build, that business you wanted to start (just don’t start making a “To-do” list in your mind!). Who knows what you will end up visualizing or creating?
The scientists say – allow children to be bored. Boredom begets creativity. Why isn’t that applied to adults too?
I don’t argue for enforced idleness (what could be worse?). But I argue for a few moments in every day which are devoted to the pursuit of idleness. Shrug off technology and shut off the cacophony that accompanies our every moment. Breathe deeply, open your eyes and ears and just be. Who knows, the next big idea that will allow you to work just a couple of hours a day and retire when you are 50 may be just an idle brain-stop away!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The end of nationalism - or not?

This blog post originally appeared in Prayag.

As Tom Friedman has said, the world is getting hot, flat and crowded. I’d like to propose that the flatter world spells the end of nationalism.
The concept of nationalism is extremely complex, and one would have to dive into the murky depths of history, going back to prehistoric man, to understand its origins. But here are two indisputable facts. One, nationalism involves the belief that one’s nation (usually associated with some sort of racial or ethnic identity) is of primary importance. Two, nationalism is inherently divisive because the perception of a nation-state with a unity of purpose goes hand in hand with a negative perception of other races and cultures.
Witness the sentiment of Aryan superiority (read national identity) over all others which was a prime reason for the last two world wars. Can there be a better example to bolster the case for ending nationalism once and for all?
Science and technology, immigration and capitalism have united the world to such an extent that (one hopes) national borders will be reduced to mere lines on a map. Isn’t it possible for people to maintain their cultural beliefs and traditions, and yes, even that wholly undefinable yet distinct sense of “my country, my home”, without having to also forge a national identity which is confrontationist? When we can say “We are not Hindus or Muslims or Christians, we are just Indians”, can’t we take this one step ahead and say “We are not Indians or Americans or South Africans, we are just humans” and make the world a better, less fractious place to live in?
Or so we wish. I wish all of the above were true. I wish the Earth was truly a planet without borders. But the reality is that politics is dictated by the burning issues of the age. This era has been characterized by the redrawing of economic battle-lines, the increasing clout of emerging economies, climate change, global recession, and a continuation of the wars for oil, gas and water. In this context, it is highly likely that nations will resort to sabre-rattling jingoistic behaviour to further their interests.
Let me also not forget that nationalism has a long history, dating back to the small nomadic communities at the very beginning of mankind’s sojourn on this planet. An institution such as this, will not die an early (or easy!) death.
The end of nationalism – may remain just an idealistic dream.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The best age to have children

Cross-posting what I wrote in my other blog.

All that buzz around Disney

This blog post originally appeared in Prayag.

We don’t have cable in our home. My 4-year old goes to a school which frowns upon the commercialization of childhood, which means that students aren’t allowed to wear or bring any item with cartoon or movie motifs. Talk about superheroes or cartoon characters is similarly discouraged. My son therefore, is singularly and refreshingly unaware of the whole wide world of Ben 10, Power Rangers, Dora, Elmo and so on. But who has time for all these when there is Disney Pixar?
Yes, the Disney movies are ubiquitous. A stroll down the aisle of any large toy or clothing store confirms my initial suspicion that Disney aims to take over the entire universe, or atleast my son’s little world.
I admit - I am an unabashed fan of the Disney marketing juggernaut. For juggernaut it is; they start with their movies. They follow it up with live shows, toys, clothing and other accessories, the Disney theme parks and tons of other merchandise. And the one thing that makes the Disney machine work so beautifully is just great, compelling content.
Disney is the prime example of an effective integrated marketing company. Exposure to one kind of product leads naturally to interest in another. No wonder Hewlett-Packard hired Disney’s marketing whiz to be their Chief Marketing Officer! If there is anything to be known about consumer marketing, you can be sure Disney has it covered.
In early 2009, they even started merchandising on food products! (Alright, I know this is a little too much). They released Disney-branded eggs to two test markets in Florida and New York. These eggs were packaged in a carton that was plastered with Mickey Mouse’s face, and each individual egg was stamped with the face of a different Disney character, ranging from characters from Toy Story to those in Winnie The Pooh. Many marketing experts argue that Disney’s short-term marketing gimmicks dilute the brand in the long run. What’s next? Furniture? Liquor? Oops they beat me to it - they’re there already!
I do worry about Disney over-saturating the market when I have to head off my son who absolutely needs the latest toy from the Disney stable. Thank God for YouTube, atleast we can watch the movies online for free!