Sunday, June 24, 2012

Les communiqué…. Bridging the online divide.



In the last few weeks I have gone from ‘Conversationalist’ to ‘Controversialist’ in a matter of a few short hours. To be at the receiving end of online un-pleasantries is never appealing. However neither I have an inclination to recount nor do I intend to re-visit the episode. Those facts are inconsequential to my purpose in writing this post today.  I did have a rather good learning lesson from the entire experience. It is this facet of the episode that I want to share with you. My post today is aimed at deciphering online behaviour. 

What is online behaviour?
When individual/group interactions occur online rather than face-to-face, the computer-mediated context paves way for a discourse between individuals. The study of this discourse could be termed as Study of the Online Behaviour.

So what is the reason for this online divide? 

To begin with it is imperative to understand that to a large degree, the nonverbal channels associated with face-to-face interactions are absent in online communications, a condition which presumably places greater responsibility on verbal messages for feedback, affect, and nuances of meaning says Susan Herring in her Journal on Online Behaviour.

You will probably be a better judge* (here read as evaluator) if one is saying something and implying the opposite in the case of real world communications. 

Now consider online communications. Internet conversations are subject to wanton Assumptions, Presumptions and Hearsay. What you think, what you share, what you write and ultimately what is understood are 4 stages of online communiqué that work like the pearls in a necklace. One miss and the entire conversation can fall to pieces. An email, a tweet, a Facebook update may at many levels be misconstrued. Make no mistake this does not happen with any one person, in fact there are many perhaps who have probably dealt with the worst case scenarios. Sometimes an innocent line written, a silly confessional shared may become a cause for gross misunderstandings. It is rather unfortunate but sadly very much a reality of life. 

Sans non- verbal gestures it not only becomes difficult but impossible to gauge a person within two or three emails or messages. In fact it is disastrous to think you could know a person in three or four online exchanges. In the case of speech, the success of a verbal communication would depend on the fact that speaker has conveyed his message. That is the essence of the spoken language, which is also why ‘Pidgin’ English would work just as well as fluent Advanced English (in some cases even better!) This is not so in case of the written communication. Hence it is best to avoid any ordeal in future. 

Reading between the lines: 

One, it generally depends on the Age factor. Someone in their early teens could be easily enticed by online stalkers into sharing their personal identification, location etc. So it is essential to be cautious when you’re young and naïve.

In case of a wider generational gap you need to be calm when dealing with a situation that includes someone older. Chances are quite high that if you lose your cool the way the person on the other end, you’re never going to understand what went wrong. Instead keep the anger aside for a few minutes and contemplate on what has already ensued. 

In my personal experience since I was dealing with diametrical points of views I had a rough idea of what I was in for. It took me about 3 emails of understanding what was happening before it actually dawned on me that if I didn’t reply I’d probably prove a wrong ‘assumption’ right. So did I get mad at the person?  No! On the contrary I preferred to find a solution.

Now, unfortunately my innocent statements made were grossly overrated.  So for every statement I made I was met with a reticent reply. I took it in my stride because the minute I got down to an argumentative mode I would be endangering cherished relationships which I frankly could not afford. Which brings me to my second point: You have to decide how important your relationship is with the person. If it is merely an acquaintance you needn’t be rude but you needn’t be too mild either. You can be forthright. But if you are endangering relationships that you would otherwise want to continue, you have to ensure that no innocent person gets hit!

The curious case of ‘Hearsay’

Given the fact that I have had the opportunity of sharing a pleasant camaraderie with people from various fields, various age groups and as a communications Teacher, I do realise that it is quintessential that people talk. For better or for worse making an opinion is but inherent in humans. The question is are you going to fan the flames of hearsay or blow it out? 

Now this is if you are the victim. What if you are in doubt over the intentions of the person at the other end. How should you react?

Computer mediated conversations are prone to be misunderstood because of these communication challenges that we encounter. You read something, perceive something and finally your mental make-up makes you picture the person as very ‘good’ or extremely ‘bad’. This is nothing but a pre- mature hastily arrived at conclusion.

But I have a doubt, what should I do?

As a victim you take a call based on the level of camaraderie you share with the person, but as someone who has a doubt, how should one deal with situations like this?
Before you get there, here are a few questions you need to ask yourself:
1. Who is this person? Why has his/her behaviour upset you?
2. Have you regularly interacted with this person?
3. Are your calculations based on trivia or hearsay or are these your own conclusions? Have you carefully read the entire communication or are you reading between the lines too much?
4. Are you being too hasty in arriving at a decision? 

Keeping in cue with these questions here we presume you know the person. Instead of opting for the offensive stand, why not talk to them directly? Text is an indirect evidence of what people know feel and think. Instead of being harsh with the opposite person why not search for a milder middle ground which will give you a better understanding of the person. If you know the person well enough, call them up or have a live chat. Be frank not rude, be forthright in your questions. The person at the other end will not only go out of their way to clarify your doubt but will appreciate you for bringing it up!

Our real world correspondence cannot be incorporated in the Virtual world in toto. Small wonder then that it is the ‘Un-real and impersonal world.’ In most online arguments, there is never a consenus because a lot gets exchanged, in some cases when the fly is off the handle things take an ‘ugly’ turn. 

Having given you both sides of the discussion I come to the final lap: 

Finding Solutions:

I cannot guarantee you that you will never find anyone unpleasant, but as an optimist I prepare for the worst and hope for the Best!

Here are some Tips to allow you to enjoy a better rapport with everyone in the Virtual world.

1. Clarity : Ensure that your message to the person on the other end is so clear that it doesn’t leave any space for ambiguity. This I realised from my own personal experience. I was too carefree when I communicated. I should have stuck to good old formality. 
2. Observe Netiquette at all times: Whether you are in doubt or you are at the receiving end ensure not to lose your cool and maintain civility at your end. 
3. Do not drag too many people in a conversation. It’s always good and preferable to have one- to – one communications when there is doubt. 
 4. If you’re at the receiving end, never resort to silence. In case of face to face communications you can probably walk away but in the case of online communique its always good to straighten things out. If a clarification will help you and others stuck in the rut then I suggest you take the route, unless of course you have a better idea to pull yourself out of the mess.
5. Exercise Caution: Like I mentioned before perhaps it was my carefree attitude in real life that hit my virtual life. My statements were grossly overrated and mis-interpreted. So its always good to keep step 1 and step 5 in mind at all times. 
6. Frequency of communication: If you know the person well enough to be communicating frequently, go ahead. However, media networking sites do not take too kindly to people who communicate frequently. So, you end up being branded as a troll or a stalker despite the fact that you aren’t. 
7. Choice of words : When dealing with strangers, acquaintances or friends both the syntax and semantics play a vital role. So even if you have the best interest of the person at heart your sharp words could possibly damage them without really helping them at all.

Last but definitely not the least is the simple five letter word ‘TRUST. You need to trust yourself and the person at the other end for your camaraderie to grow pleasantly. Be bold, strike a conversation, place your trust. 

This is perhaps the essence to any fruitful relationship or friendship. You need to have your senses functioning. My conscience was crystal clear and hence I did not lose a dear one. Not all get lucky.
A policy of caution must be exercised at all times. As the Old saying goes, 

BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Life, My Blessing!

Its half past midnight and I just found the space in my head to write this short piece. It’s been quite a while since I wrote something which is not related to politics or current affairs, so here's my little attempt.


What if somebody told you that today was your last day alive?

What if somebody told you that this was the last time you’d see your loved one?

What if you lived a life fearing the inevitable and it happened?

Would you first check if your insurance policy was still valid? Would you check if your wife/husband and children had the best amenities and luxuries after you were gone or would you just say four words, “I will miss you.”

The past few months have been a great learning lesson for me. You may ask, “What happened?” Simple answer: NOTHING! I did not win a Jackpot, nor did I get a new job. So what made me realise that Life is special? One simple word: ‘Realisation.’ The New Year 2012 brought in nothing but bad news. I lost my Godmother (also my mom’s sister) and my Great Aunt both on New Year’s Eve both within a few hours of each other. This double- tragedy occurred a few days before a major event I was entrusted to handle by myself. Sleepless nights and early college only ensured that I fell ill and things seemed pretty bleak. I tried to put up a brave in front of my mother who was fighting her own personal battle to come to terms with the loss of her youngest sister. My godmother and I shared a relationship that was extremely special. She was as close to me as my mom. She ensured that I was never hurt; she encouraged me and taught me that it was in the Giving and not in the Receiving that made Life so incredibly special. Her passing away was completely unexpected as compared to my Great aunt who had been ill for quite some time. For me the earth had spun more than once that day.

So, New Year’s Eve was an unhappy event but I ensured that none knew till the festivities drew to a close. Soon, the condolence messages started pouring in. I was still in shock having lost only two other people in this little life of mine, my own elder sister and my grandmother. So, the pain of the termination of Life was more of a numbing feeling. Three nights before the event, I was still fighting to be able to get a decent rest, but all my attempts were in vain. Memories of all the time I spent with my aunt haunted me to even try to be able to sleep. I began to pray. It brought me temporary comfort but still no rest. In that period, every day at twilight I’d wish for the night to just fly so that dawn would arrive. Since I am an only child I can confide only in my parents. But this time I couldn’t. As the day for the event drew closer I was one short of becoming a complete insomniac.

The event was a grand success. Our prayers had worked. It was a miracle in itself. I had survived on 4 hours sleep in two days and on the day of the event I had to run helter skelter, covering a distance of almost 30 kilometres in a matter of three short hours. I wondered from where a weakling like me could even manage the event. Perhaps somewhere beyond the blue my aunt was pushing me to give it my best shot.  

In all of this where’s the lesson you may ask. After all I am not the first person who has lost someone dear. Well till my aunt’s passing away, I led life that included the mundane academics and sometimes if I found the time a little piece on the piano or the guitar or my books. My life was restricted to these confines. I hardly looked beyond the next moment. All I knew was that I have to study and achieve my goals. This changed with my aunt’s passing away. I began to appreciate every minute of my life. In the midst of the agony, I realised, “To the question of your life, you are the only answer. To the problems of your life, you are the only solution.”


It is around this time that I realised that it is easy to be cynical and critical about one’s own life but it is extremely difficult to smile and find inner peace in the midst of the storm. When I look in retrospect I can only say, “Thank God for all the little blessings, the little joys that make my world so Perfect.” I understood that you have to try and find pleasure in the smaller and more inconsequential things life has to offer you: a smile, a message, a gentle pat on the back. I am often criticised for romanticising Life but that is how I perceive Life to be. I can’t expect everyday to bring me joy, every moment to bring me comfort and every piece of news to bring me peace. Its just not possible. But what I can do is to ensure that I spread happiness to those who come in contact with me. 

Most people young and old look at me with amusement whenever I say I am blessed; but that is a FACT, not a FANTASY. Unlike many young people my age I can still communicate with my parents freely without any inhibitions. I am blessed with the Perfect person to look up to as My Mentor. Most kids don’t know what it is to even have an inspiration to guide them. My best friend is as dear as a sister would be. And my family and friends make my little world special. Believe me, each of you with a few additions and/or subtractions are as Blessed as I am. You only have to start realising it. It took me a loss to gain the wisdom that Life comes with an unknown expiry date. I don’t know about tomorrow, I can hardly predict what will happen in the next hour so I want to ensure that every minute I live I appreciate my Life for what it is rather than mourn for what it is not! For me My life is a Blessing and I intend to use it to help other people to believe that they too are a Gift, they too are Special!

My aunt always had a dream for me. She wanted me to give everything my best shot and use my life to help others  and be a blessing. I don’t know what the future holds for me but yes one thing is for sure: I will ensure that I try to fulfil both her dreams. 



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tackling the Enigma of Indifference.


German bakery : Two years on : Some lessons to be learnt.

Today marks the second anniversary of the German bakery blast in Pune. It was on the 13th of February, 2010 that the tranquility of my city Pune was blown to shreds. Staying a few minutes away from the site I re- visit the horror everyday as I pass the incomplete construction. What is striking is that a lot has been said but the practicality is far from the reality. Apart from the fact that people have been raving and ranting against the ineptitude of the government almost everyone has forgotten the important lessons that this incident taught us. The truth is no one even talks about it.

Now to be fair yes there have been lapses and there have been shortcomings. So, should we have a cop stationed at every café and shop (Yes, that would create jobs! ) or should every MP and MLA or member of the Cabinet be held responsible for what I'd like to call 'plebeian imprudence.'

A very important revelation in this case was the fact that the bomb that was set off on that fateful evening had been left there by a commoner like you and me in a bag and not one person even noticed it. This in itself is a red alert for us. How often do we keep a watch for an unclaimed article or a bag that may have been left at a public place. How many times have we reported any act of commission or omission that would have made a difference? Do we as citizens not owe that much to our fellow men? Are we so full of ourselves that we forget the obligation to our own?

The inevitability of what happened that horrific evening can neither be questioned nor reversed but I do believe that the crime in this case may have well been averted if someone seated there that evening or even those working there had raised the alarm. Can we afford to forget that the majority of those who lost their lives were in the age group of 20 -35? But this could only have happened if there was sufficient awareness created. That in fact is the core issue here. A responsive member of a society cannot afford to overlook such details especially since we have already had several instances of similar nature in the not-so distant past.

This is the harsh reality. The more we run away from it, the more it will chase us in the form of similar or even more heinous acts of crime. What has me astonished is that we are still trying to figure out 'Whose liability is it anyway?'

So where did the authorities falter:
I have intentionally used the term authorities not as a synonym for government because of one very simple and understandably misconstrued concept. The fait accompli of what took place that evening and what ensued was the primary responsibility of the local authorities. Although not a Security Expert, I do believe the local authorities practiced an orchestrated attempt at passing the buck. What is more surprising is the inane move of the local police who stationed themselves for weeks after the incident took place at the blast site. What were they expecting? No terrorist has attacked the exact same spot twice (atleast none that i know of!) I would definitely appreciate if any of you readers could enlighten me on why we would need to guard a place that was battered to an extent that people stopped traversing there. It just didn't make sense. The question of due care and caution in terms of security was of quintessential importance before the incident. If the overall security of Pune as a whole had been taken care of it probably would never have happened. If an alert citizenry is the need of the hour, the onus of protecting the citizens is not diluted for the guardians of society.

Lessons that we should learn:
Lord Byron once wrote: 'Nothing is so difficult as the beginning' The past is the past. Innocent lives have been lost. But we have to ensure that there isn't an encore la. Let's start afresh and stop playing the blame game and shirking our own responsibility. Due diligence is expected of every person who forms a part of society. History bears witness that experiences of the past are valuable lessons for the future but this is impossible until we accept that it isn't the Government that makes a society, it is we the People who do. Lets not wait for the government, let's not wait for authorities, let's pledge to work ourselves, let's awaken from this deep slumber of hypocrisy and indifference. Its time we use the remedy of 'Awareness' to cure the sickness of taedium vitae that we all seem to suffer from. As far as the authorities are concerned, it is essential that the police work in sync with the members of society. It is even more essential that awareness must be created even if it means right from school level. If schools can have lessons in Disaster management why can't they have awareness camps to avert them? After all, how long are we going to blame someone else for our own tardiness?

Apathy practiced so blatantly prevents us from the pursuit of justice. Posters, candle light marches are all futile attempts for ensuring the speedy delivery of justice.

It is my strong belief that like charity, 'Awareness' must begin at home. This will render it impossible for any social miscreant to spread terror and fear in our hearts and in our lives.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

DOES INDIA NEED AN OBAMA?

In the year 2009, Martin Luther King’s dream was fulfilled when Barrack Hussein Obama became the first African American to become the President of the U.S.A. He has ever since been epitomized as an icon of change.

I hail from a country that is 64 years ‘young’ and constantly being challenged. From the stormy sessions of the Parliament to individual movements, prevalent circumstances prove that India unlike the United States is still in a period of transition. This is why a 74- year old like Anna Hazare posed a challenge to the supreme democratic institution, the Parliament; the questions that he posed vital. And although I may not be in agreement with his methods, I concede to his proposition that we all need a clean and functioning democracy.

In a country that is home to one- sixth of the entire world’s population, India yearns for redemption of a different kind. It is waiting for a solution that will obliterate rigidity and embrace positive modern values.

Democracy is not limited to values embedded in the Preamble to the Constitution of India. It is the practice of these values in letter and spirit that will empower our country. It must be reiterated that even under an alien rule, India did not beg for freedom; instead it demanded Freedom. The members of the Constituent Assembly did not know what obstacles lay ahead of them but prepared one of the most comprehensive documents in World History that sought to find a remedy for every eventuality.

We need the same today. We need to envision our future. Unfortunately the growing cynicism and apathy towards politics and political institutions shows that the country is slowly succumbing to social and political stagnation.

Khalil Gibran once famously wrote: “Reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.” It is vital that the passion to make a difference converge with the reason to effect this transformation. A definite balance between passion and reason must be struck. This is why we need a concrete plan, because change is not a political fantasy.

Simple steps that can trigger a positive change include the introduction of Political Engages to be organised by various political parties and expose the youth to all kinds of ideologies thereby creating liberal yet pragmatic thinkers. Establishing a direct contact with people is the second important factor. Lincoln won many hearts not through speeches but by a simple gesture of growing a beard to please an eleven year old child. We may not have a Lincoln, but we have a Shashi Tharoor, Naveen Jindal and Sushma Swaraj who try to build an alternative platform for contact and political accountability on social networking portals. As an avid tweeter, I often encounter fellow youth members dwell on cynicism and criticism of various political figures. Media villains are created almost every day. What we all need is an ability to weigh the facts in with logical reasoning rather than speculative apprehension.

India doesn’t need a foreign icon for change. She has gifted the world some of the finest International leaders. They may have faced criticism at home but continue to be remembered as the world icons. We have the best sources of Soft Power, from a rich and varied Indian culture to Bollywood which promotes cultural diplomacy elevating India’s image on the Global front. Indian Pluralism needs to be celebrated. After all, how many countries have the privilege of a firm but united foundation that is based on ‘Diversities’ be it language, religion, class or creed?

The concept of ‘True Freedom’ can only be completely understood when we possess the earnest desire to free ourselves from the ramshackle of old- fashioned and narrow minded thought processes.

It is a sorrowful sight when one is subjected to one- sided media views. It is worse when a politician is reduced to a caricature. It is unfair to generalise that the view of one politician is the view of the entire party and things become worse when the media blows things out of proportion when personal views are divergent from the party making it look like there is severe dissent in the party. India is in need of a certain degree of political maturity. The ground rule is that as long as the members within a party remain united and loyal to the party in totality, minor differences are inconsequential. We must learn to respect individual views with objective rationale than succumbing to subjective reasoning that clouts the mind.

Having said that, it also becomes necessary to highlight that just as how it is essential that the Media imposes some self- restraints, we ourselves are in need of transformation. India deserves a reformist, broad minded citizenry whose sole focus is a Progressive India.

For young defenders of a democratic society, the answer is simple, “In each of us, there resides an Obama. In each of us, lies the potent to transform this Democracy into an intellectually forward, pragmatically sound and culturally strong country.”Development of a social and politically mature society, will serve as a positive political stimulus to attract the youth, the harbinger of hope in this country and Mahatma Gandhi’s words, “Be the change that you wish to see” will come alive.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Rendez-vous with Dr. Shashi Tharoor...


MY MENTOR: AN INSPIRATION FOR YOUNG INDIA

If someone told me that within a year of meeting My Mentor, I’d have the privilege of interviewing him one- on-one I’d probably have laughed. But as they say, Miracles happen! This blog though is not written for ‘Tharoorians’ but for those critics who have been raving and ranting that India lacks good leaders.

The first and perhaps the only recurring question that I have been hearing ever since Dr. Tharoor agreed to come over to the Adventist Media Center (AMC) in Pune was how did a Member of Parliament, (a V.V.I.P in colloquial English) agree to a college student’s request to come over and grace the occasion. After all, I wasn’t a V.I.P’s daughter, from an influential business family or a relative. This sad misconception that most people are afflicted with comes from the belligerent media portraying only the negative aspects of politics and politicians.

When the AMC approached me to conduct the inaugural event for them, I readily consented. Now the Adventists are actually taking baby steps in the field of broadcast media. They were taking a step forward to be a part of India’s ecumenical whole rather than restrict themselves to only religious programs. As a free- thinker myself personally I welcomed the decision. When asked as to who would be the perfect guest, I replied Dr. Shashi Tharoor without thinking twice. Most people asked me, ‘Will he come? Would he be free? After all he’s not your regular politician. He’s an international personality you know!’ Of course I knew. But one point they did get right, Dr. Tharoor is definitely ‘not’ your everyday politician and he’s not a political fantasy either.

Although I was given the green signal most of the people were sceptical. Then started a series of email communications to find out when Dr. Tharoor would be available. Soon the program was chalked out and all was working out smoothly. I seemed the only one who was 100% sure that there wouldn’t be any cancellations. The Director however was a little worried till the day of the event obviously because he knew Dr. Tharoor’s importance but didn’t know that he is a man of his word unlike some of the other politicians who cancel last minute.

Dr. Tharoor’s entry in the field of politics comes as a welcome relief for those who believe that Indian polity is beyond redemption. I have been reading the cynical, sometimes aspersive comments, especially on social networking sites that all our Politicians are corrupt & snobbish.

So here’s a glimpse of a busy MP’s life in the little time I was fortunate to share.

11th January, 2012: the lucky day I meet my Mentor Dr. Tharoor again. He’s just finished with a televised interview and a meeting. Surprisingly he doesn’t seem tired at all. My much awaited thirty five minute car ride begins. As we sit in the car, Dr. Tharoor’s Blackberry is out within seconds and he messages rapidly quick to apologise that this is the only time he gets to reply to messages. His dear wife is unwell. We’re both saddened that she isn’t able to make it to the event. He speaks to me on almost everything from politics to family. Silently I’m sitting there drawing parallels between him and some other politicians I’ve read about.

In no way is he the pompous ex- UN official that people talk about. I wonder why people dwell on speculations! He expresses his views frankly and speaks without reservations, never once treating me like I was just another awe-struck college student. He talks about his frustration of a dysfunctional Parliament session, confessing that he hardly finds time to read and is barely managing to write his book only when there’s little time to spare. He wishes he could sleep more (That’s not happening with 20 cups of tea unfortunately.) Soon I find myself discussing a little about the Seventh Day Adventists. Although a vast history, I try and explain a little about the basic principles that our faith is based on. As I finish, he messages again…. It is then that I realise that India has a great multi- tasking politician. I wonder how many of his comrades at the Parliament conscientiously cater to all that needs to be done while sitting miles away from Delhi or their constituency. There may be more but definitely not enough.

As we reach, I introduce Dr. Tharoor to my Dad and the others. The audience is eager to see this handsome, light eyed, simply attired diplomat turned politician grace their program. As much as I want to be there and hear him speak (Dr. Tharoor’s oratory is the one event I wait for with eager anticipation.) I leave to get things ready for the second part of the program.

A little while later my friend comes rushing in to tell me that the gentleman is addressing the crowd. (Gosh! I am jealous!) Fellow ‘Tharoorians’ are enthralled by the way this Master Orator speaks. Finally, I do get a chance to speak to my Mentor, this time as an amateur interviewer. My only thought before the show is I might freak, flip and pass out. But, the minute I start the Interview like the audience I am spell bound by his candour and almost forget that the cameras are around. His answers are honest and unbiased. Soon, the interview draws to a close and the evening comes to an end.

However, for the audience this is their moment. Despite the delay, Dr. Tharoor does not leave a single person unhappy, graciously consenting to photographs and autographs. Everyone is thrilled and later I get to know that he was the only topic for discussion for the rest of the evening. I am a little gloomy that he won’t stay for dinner.

Before he leaves Dr. Tharoor is quick to bless me and that is definitely my most 'Special' moment. That day Dr. Tharoor left me memories that have been engraved as some of my best ever.

I have heard of fussy politicians who carry the ‘I couldn’t care less’ attitude choosing to sit alone least bothered about those around and to one extent it is their presence that mars the name of all others. They prefer to stay as V.I.Ps. Here’s a V.I.P who is far from fussy. After all why would he spare few hours of his precious time for a college kid whom he has met briefly twice? Dr. Tharoor’s humility and his easy- going attitude has left me lost for words.

I believe that it is this class of politicians that India needs for a better and brighter future. And I do not say this only because I admire him, but I truly believe that the future of the Indian democracy can be shaped and moulded to join the race of super-powers in future if we have the class of ‘Shashi Tharoor’ in the majority. There is no perfect democracy but there is hope when there are thinkers like Shashi Tharoor, who is an intellect with a reason in politics, an idea to cherish, an inner will to execute and the fundamental belief in the ‘common good.’ Truly, he is a man on a mission with a vision!

The only person that Dr. Tharoor reminded me of the day I met him was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln won the heart and mind of a nine year old. Dr. Tharoor did something similar only for someone a little older. These are leaders in truth and spirit.

My advice to all those who have been speculating about Indian politicians please ensure to meet Dr. Tharoor, you’ll know for yourself. I definitely can’t wait to meet him again, this time hopefully ILS Law College will have the privilege and honour to host him.

My Dad now realises the reason for my fascination. You will understand too, but first you have to meet him. Before I end I mustn’t forget that earlier that day Dr. Tharoor spoke of “Where is India’s Obama?” at the 2nd Indian Students Parliament. My point: India does not need an Obama when we have a Shashi Tharoor!

So am I lucky? YES! Am I blessed to have Dr. Tharoor as my Mentor? YES Again!

Monday, November 7, 2011

OPEN LETTER TO ALL NETIZENS

Dear Friend,

"You are a cheat, a nincompoop and a coward!"

Did that sting? Apologies, but I mean well. For the past couple of days I have been a silent but vigilant observer of the increasingly obnoxious behaviour of fellow netizens. The opening line was only one of those remarks. In the past, I have had friends who have been innocent victims of the aspersions of others in the virtual world. Perhaps, I would have held my silence if I myself wasn't victimized by not one but two netizens on two different networking sites Facebook and Twitter in one week. As they say, you don't know the pain until you face the music.

I have come to realise that within a gap of few days one can go from being a 'conversationalist' to a 'controversialist'. When the first incident occurred, like most others, I gave the person a piece of my mind (sans any abusive language) and blocked him. I considered the case closed and wanted to let the matter rest until the whip cracked again, this time in the form of a 140 character tweet. I was questioned by a complete stranger for 'maintaining' my etiquette while speaking about an elder. It was this comment that made me realize that Social Networking has now transformed radically from a mechanism promoting a healthy exchange of thoughts to personal battles with complete strangers.

After a long and useful chat with a couple of fellow internet users, here's what most concluded:
  • Retort, Rebut, Forget
  • Ignore
  • Answer and if the problem persists then block
  • Promotion of the 'I don't care' attitude.
However one friend did make a useful observation: "Give a man a mask and he would be fearless and shameless in this case. It is a masquerade party you see!"

These lines resonante my thoughts, but how long are we going to discount the kind of behaviour of these nameless, faceless individuals as immature? Internet users are not illiterate. But the attitude portrayed is that of the 'Educated illiterate'. Society seems to be spiraling downward on both moral and ethical fronts. I do not imply every user is worthy of blame but someone needs to raise a voice against this injustice too!

Disagreements are common but does it cost much to be civilized in our argument? Is it incumbent that one must end a losing battle with a demeaning statement or with an abuse.

With the increasing number of celebrities on social networking sites, these portals have now been converted into forums of venting anger and frustration towards the individual rather than the issue/problem itself. Politicians are probably facing the brunt of this open medium to the maximum. What started off as a vehicle of connectivity is now turning into a catastrophe. Character assassinations are common because of misinterpretations coupled with a narrow mind. No wonder then that trite expressions are blown out of proportion and we do not see too many of the tribe keen on connecting with the people in this fashion. Journalists come a close second in the list of celebrities to get abused.

It is unfortunate that with all our education and experience we are unable to maintain our tradition of common courtesy. Criticism without cuss words works well! It is farcical to respect people in the Real world while simultaneously abusing others in the virtual one under the guise of exposing them. Your abusive language may be encountered by silence but don't gloat that the receiver accepted your argument because they haven't. If anything, you have successfully exposed your mentality to the world.

Our gift of free society and free speech is best used with sizable self restraint. It is after all a person like you and me who is at the receiving end; a human being whose beliefs may concur or differ with yours, but at the end of the day possesses feelings like you and me.

Just a few pointers before I close: Research your facts before making an accusation, make your point without being derogatory, cut the use of cuss words and just know that you won't earn a gold medal for this but you will enjoy your camaraderie with different people.

With a hope that before 'Netiquette' is forced to make its way into classrooms and better sense prevails in the Virtual World,

A concerned fellow netizen
Katie_Abraham

@katie_abraham

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Man I Never Met

My Tribute to A Missionary, Father and above all a cherished Grandfather….

In the early 1900’s was born a son to a prosperous Kshatriyan Zamindar in Pacode district, Marthandam. He lived in the lap of luxury for the most of his boyhood until one day as all things come to an end his good fortune too came to an end.

Very less is known about my Grandpa’s early childhood. However, we do know that when he was still in the prime of his youth my Grandpa made a difficult and courageous decision to join the Christian Faith.

Around that time Christian missionaries flocked to India with the idea of spreading the Gospel in an alien land. A few Seventh Day Adventist Americans reached our hometown and it marked the turning point of my Grandfather’s life. As a practising Hindu; a Pujari’s Grandson and a zamindar’s son, things did not look too bright. Being the eldest son, it was a rude shock for the family, which continued in its beliefs. More than the family it was the societal pressures that could bog down a man. Although he knew the problems he would face, Grandpa converted to the Christian faith at a time when those who primarily converted were mostly those who belonged to the lower rungs of the Caste hierarchy. A switch of faith especially for a young lad of the Higher Caste spelt trouble more than you and I can ever imagine. But, if there’s one thing that we ‘Abrahams’ are proud about, it is our willingness to fight against the tide. Some may call it obstinacy, we call it Persistence. Grandpa not only completed but aced his Teacher’s Training in both Tamil and Malayalam which was commendable for the circumstances he was going through. Fluent in all three languages of Tamil, Malayalam and English he was an asset to any organisation he was associated with. Apart from being a Tamil Pundit, he was well acquainted with natural remedies and Ayurveda, a boon that has now passed on to his grandson and my eldest cousin.

Soon, Grandpa was married to a beautiful lady, my grandmother. She was blessed not only with external beauty that was worth a person’s admiration, she was blessed with a beautiful and a loving heart. She too was a devout Hindu and you are right in imagining an old- timer with her ears sagging under the weight of her gold.

Coming back, my Grandpa, Mr. Yovan Abraham began to serve as a Tamil Pundit at the Adventist school. Grandpa gifted a portion of his land to the Adventist Mission to build a church. He broke the tradition by opening the family well to all -people irrespective of their caste. He studied Theology in detail at the Training Centre at Bangalore. Soon, he was appointed as a Tamil Teacher at the Boarding School at Prakashapuram.

A capable Teacher, the American Missionaries recognised my Grandpa’s talent of Teaching and inducted him into Preaching as well. He was assigned his first job as a Church Pastor and Teacher at Karianandal. His beginning was not a smooth sailing one even in the Faith. When he reached Karianandal he was faced with stiff resistance from the Natives who did not want him to establish a Church there. For them an alien Church and faith entering the village was equal to a colonisation in itself. It took a sick child of the Sarpanch (village head) to bring these people to their senses. The twelve year old daughter of the village head was very ill. The family tried every natural remedy available. There was not a single vaid (village doctor) that they did not approach just to cure their daughter. Hospitals were a rarity and hence out of the question. Grandpa, was an unwelcome guest in the village, but out of respect was allowed to reside there till the time he did not interfere in the affairs of the villagers. But, he could not resist. Grandpa went to the Panch’s house and prayed for the child. By this time the child’s family had given up all hope. Grandpa sat near the child’s bed and prayed. While he prayed the stunned family members wondered at his chivalry to even step into the Sarpanch’s house. When he finished praying, Grandpa assured the child’s mother that the child would indeed live. As he was leaving he told the family that he would return to check on the child the next day. The family warned him that the wrath of the Sarpanch could cost him his life. That evening, the Sarpanch reached home and was told that this Christian man had come and prayed for his daughter. The anger of the Sarpanch was kindled to the extent that he sat sharpening the knife the whole night so that he would kill my Grandpa the next day, if he did come.

Grandpa arose the next morning finished his daily duties and later that evening reached the house of the Sarpanch. A few well- wishers informed him of the fatal plan that the child’s father had in mind. Undeterred by their pleas to return, Grandpa reached the house of the Sarpanch. Call it faith or a miracle, that evening, my Grandpa not only prayed for the child, he was not harmed by the Sarpanch. The moment of epiphany came when the child began to respond to the treatment and soon was as fit as a fiddle. Grandpa stayed in this very place for six long years where no Missionary stayed beyond three to six months. His preaching led many to accept the faith.

My Grandfather’s life was in danger as a lot many people attempted to kill him. Each time it was God’s grace that he miraculously escaped. But these incidents did have repercussions on my Grandmother' health. Tragedy struck hard, when my Grandfather lost his first and second born. But, his faith continued to be as strong as it had been. He accepted it as a part of the Divine Plan for him.

Soon, Grandpa returned to Prakashapuram, this time as a Church Pastor. He continued his mission service here till he was assigned to go to Lowry Memorial School, a prominent Adventist institute at Bangalore. Petty politics and his adamant attitude not to suffer injustice often- times brought him in cross roads with the authorities. My Grandpa neither succumbed to the incorrigible authorities nor did he give up the two things he loved, his ‘Faith’ and his ‘Family.’ He was blessed with six healthy and loving children. The five lads with my aunt as their only sister and the apple of her father’s eye brought my Grandparents joy even in tumultuous times. My grandmother too had by then accepted the faith whole- heartedly.

The reason I have carefully refrained from mentioning my own Dad’s name anywhere is because he is one of the youngest members of the family.

Misfortune struck the family again when my dad a young lad of twelve was struck with double pneumonia. The family had already lost another son, dad’s first cousin, earlier that year. He was dad’s best friend too. It is said that his death could have been the reason for my dad’s illness. The already bereaved family was now on the verge of losing a second son. Everyone, this time including my Grandfather believed that his life was slowly fading. However, jut a how King David prayed incessantly for his child, Grandpa too prayed without ceasing. It was a miracle that my Father survived.

A few years later, Grandpa got in touch with Pastor Skau another Adventist missionary. It was then that my Grandparents were sent to Salisbury Park, Pune. Soon, Grandpa was appointed as the Assistant-Editor of the Tamil daily Nallavalli and continued to serve as a Preacher at the SDA Church, Pune.

Soon, my aunt began to work for the Voice of Prophesy and my uncle too left for Singapore. Petty politics was something my Grandfather completely detested. In the mid- 1950’ he left Pune.

My dad was just sixteen when, one Sabbath morning my Grandfather passed away.

Apart from his preaching, this amazing man spent his time in comparative study of The Bible, The Koran and The Bhagvad Gita.

In his last sermon, Grandpa’s words resonated in the Church,

“God’s finger is ready to write, are our hearts prepared?”

I am one of the unfortunate ones to never have met this noble- heart but I am thankful to him because I have his clone in my Dad. Today we have a school established in Kanniyakumari, dedicated to my Grandpa.

His entire life my grandpa imparted Discipline, Dedication and Faith to all. These values were, are and always will be the three pillar foundation for our Family.

Most of what I have written today would have been impossible without the chronicling of the events by my Uncle and currently the Abraham family Patriarch, Mr. Jeyasingh Abraham.

Each family is rich in its history and heritage. It takes a little effort on our part to return to our roots and this is the product of my miniscule attempt.