Sunday, May 22, 2011

GETTING TO KNOW MY MENTOR: YEAR ONE


As a student up until last year, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I too would look up to an Indian politician as a Role Model. In fact the existence of an honest political figure in the Indian political setup who could connect with the common man on a public portal was novel to me. I do not completely deny the existence of pristine politicians in the past, but given the intermittent political trends that exist, the statistics spoke otherwise. I have always aspired to be a diplomat but quite frankly never had a chance or the initiative to look up to anyone until the April of 2010!


It all started with our esteemed Fourth Estate playing the role of Knights unravelling the Shroud of the IPL scandal. Given the number of scandals that the Media ‘supposedly’ unveils every day, honestly I shouldn’t have been so engrossed in it. All of a sudden though the entire world around me seemed to be talking ‘IPL’ language (can’t blame them, really!) and that got me delving for information to understand what the entire brouhaha was all about.Apparently, the Head of the IPL commission had accused the Minister of State for External affairs of using his influence to earn some easy money and so on. All this was again supposedly ‘exposed’ to the media through a popular social networking medium Twitter. Something seemed terribly amiss. The plot seemed all too easily executed.

The major problem with my generation (No offence guys, but its true!) is that we hear one fragment of the entire story and the media so beautifully interweaves its own story on that line of thought that by the end of all the media bludgeoning, we pass an immediate and biased judgment on the person concerned!

I guess wisdom had the better of me so instead of falling prey to wanton media gossip I read up Dr. Shashi Tharoor’s bio on Wikipedia. It became clear that there definitely had to be a serious lapse on the part of those accusing him. Why would someone with an unblemished international career of 30 years feel the need to sacrifice a good name for a few ‘Rupees’ more? Well, the media had their heifer and they were definitely not going to miss any chance of slaughtering his name. When we discussed it in college back then, most of my colleagues had already made up their mind that Dr. Tharoor had indeed committed a folly! Revelations of the unheard second angle however led them to understand that they had indeed been a little too judgmental.


Dr. Tharoor’s popularity among the ‘Twitterati’ is unquestionable. Most people thought he would probably quit Twitter for good, but my instincts knew better and soon after my Graduation exams I too joined this networking site with a hope that I might just be able to receive atleast one tweet in reply! Simultaneously I began to watch older videos that had been posted on the internet and learnt a lot more on his philosophy, his career at the UN and the person himself. I made sure I got myself every book that was available because I was genuinely interested to read Dr. Tharoor’s books. This came as a surprise to friends and family who know all too well that I never read an Indian author unless I have to write an exam! (Maybe I just read the wrong writers!) I loved every work both fiction and non- fiction that he has written. Reading his works helped in replacing my own cynicism with a hope for a better India.


Well, but things seemed bleak on the Twitter front. The peril of being a newbie on a networking site is that you are inadvertently confronted with impatience. I tweeted and tweeted and tweeted completely unaware that there were a hundred other people tweeting the gentleman all at the same time! Fifty tweets and two months later when I was on the verge of giving up I received my first tweet from Dr. Tharoor who readily helped me out with a couple of questions I had regarding the United Nations. Soon, this Twitterbug called ‘Me’ received help to get a topic for an International Public Speaking Exam and sure enough I had his blessings too! It was a kind gesture on his part. Conversing with him was an absolute delight and he became (and continues to be) an inspiration for me! My dad was a little taken by the fact that now his daughter had enough to talk on Politics but wasn’t very interested in talking Hollywood or MTV. I guess he understands now.


So what defines Shashi Tharoor?

Getting to know Dr. Tharoor for me has been a very enriching experience. You can meet a movie star tomorrow and return home with stars in your eyes and that’s it. On the other hand, attend a Shashi Tharoor talk and you will return with an amazing amount of knowledge and positivity that will remain with you for a lifetime. I have had the privilege of attending two sessions in my hometown and can’t wait to hear him again! Trust me, this is no hero worship, it’s the Plain Truth.


I think it would be a privilege to get a chance to achieve atleast a quarter of what Dr. Tharoor has achieved and to contribute to society and my people the same way he is incessantly trying. I am sure the Indian Parliament does not lack good members but I guess we need our Ministers to reach out to the commoners more often. In fact it would be great if all citizens were just given a leeway to express their thoughts as it were. What has most ‘Tharoorians’ like me over-awed is the fact that with all the popularity he enjoys, here is a man who exudes humility perfectly complemented by the most charming witty responses that has the audience spell- bound.


I hope that Dr. Tharoor’s work receives the recognition it deserves in our country the way it has for so many years abroad. God willing, his good work will dispel the myths revolving around him so that the youth of today have the opportunity to learn a lot more from the person I call My Mentor!

How I Define Dr. Shashi Tharoor as a leader: (I’m sure there are many quotes, but this one strikes a chord for me!)"If Your actions inspire others to dream more learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” It is this quality that sets him apart!

Please Note: The views and comments stated in this Article are personal and not subject to media scrutiny.

Monday, May 16, 2011

In Memoriam: A Tribute to My sister Ivy Abraham

WHAT IF……?

I walk along a lonely path with no sense of direction on my mind. My legs carry me through dusty roads and alleys while emptiness fills my heart as I still grieve over my sister "Ivy's "death.

Questions come to my mind when fear and sorrow encroach upon me, "What if Ivy were here with me? How would she help me at a time like this?” Furthermore the chilly winds blow on my face, forcing me to withstand the reality of life. But as the dusk always ends with the breaking of the dawn, so do I hope that if not in this world then maybe if I am fortunate I will be able to feel the joy of having my very own sister…at life’s glorious dawn

I was born into a middle -class home, in Bombay, the business capital of India. Within a few days after my birth, we had to shift to Pune. Here I have been reared in an atmosphere of serenity. My childhood revolved solely around my parents. As the only child, I have been receiving all the love and affection my soul could possibly wish to have, but that could not fill the void of not having a sibling, one I could play with, share my inner feelings with, teach me through her experiences, and be supportive of my views. Little did I know that I had a sister who was snatched away at babyhood.

An insignificant grave beside my grandfather’s sort of tugged at my attention. Many a time I almost asked about that tiny little tomb. Year after year, as often as I went to see my grand-father’s grave as I tried to raise the question my parents simply evaded the question by distracting my attention towards something else, since they did not want to upset me by telling me the truth, leave alone their unwillingness to re-live that experience. But how long could they do it? Not very long! The more they evaded this question the more determined was I to get at the facts of the matter.

I once visited the grave- yard along with an aunt of mine on ‘All Souls Day’. As we lit the candles my aunt told me to place the first candle on that very insignificant grave I was always curious about. Upon my enquiry as to why I should place the candle over there, she revealed that the grave belonged to my late sister, whom I never had a chance to meet and know. My curiosity paid me heavily.

The very thought of a sister being snatched away, came as a shock to me. For many days I tried silencing the conflict within me to think about Ivy. I kept questioning God, “Why did thou take Ivy away from me? Why am I a loner, while my friends have siblings to play with, talk and be friendly with?” It was this brooding that made me go out of my mind for quite some time.
Imagine the plight of a twelve-year old heart filled with mixed feelings of frustration, hatred, jealousy and love.

I could sense that the untimely death of my sister overshadowed my parents’ happiness. They normally avoided talking about her as it hacked their memories painfully. I, wonder, if this grief of theirs would keep them company into eternity.

Due to a quarrel with a group of fellow students I wanted to sit alone during recess that morning. As mentioned earlier, I prefer a solitary life to joining a hilarious crowd. I was really down and listless. I freaked out when a friend offered to play with me. Every little thing simply irritated me and I did not feel like talking to my friends or even my cousins. At that point of time I wouldn’t even confide with my mother. I thought it would be best that she was kept ignorant regarding her daughter’s solitude. Thus to some extent I felt calmed. But this was no consolation for a person as sensitive as me. Man is a social animal and cannot afford to lead a forlorn and miserable life.

My parents have inculcated in me love for books from a very early age. Books have always been constant companions in times of loneliness and I survive any fear of loneliness. Days passed by and my anxiety grew. I started thinking about how to tell my mother about this incident but dismissed the thought almost spontaneously.

A few days later something weird happened. It was a cold Saturday afternoon. After finishing meal, suddenly I started feeling very sleepy. I could hardly understand what was happening around me. It was so mysterious. I excused myself into sleep. Dad was surprised as it was very unlike me to rest in the afternoons.

Some unknown power seemed to have carried me over beautiful hills and dales, slowly lowering me onto the soft grass. There at a distance I saw a young girl with a childish face smile at me beckoning me to her. I could identify my mother’s eyes in her and she wore an angelic look. I was amazed at her pretty looks and I could identify my dad in her smile. The radiance of her face made me feel reassured. The very first words she uttered were, “Sister, welcome to my world!” What a joy I thought to have had that experience! (This was before I knew what the Bible says about the state of the dead.) Then she told me to stop fretting over the insignificant things of the past that seemed to mar my days and to start making new friends. Finally, as it was getting dark, I think my sister sensed the fear in me because I usually am afraid of the dark. It was time to go home, Ivy came up with her parting words “ Never feel lonely; tell mom whatever happens because she’s best fitted to solve your problems.”

Just then my mom woke me from my sleep for tea. I could not share the dream with her but I did tell dad. Dad told me to hear the inner voice within me. He further told me that God would always send his guardian angels to protect me in times of crisis. That was the turning point of my life. I wish the appearance of my sister were true. Now, I know that the dead know nothing of whatever happens to the living, and that they cannot communicate with the living.


Today, I keep my past behind me and look forward to the future. I face difficulties with determination praying for success in all my ventures. As I step into the cruel and materialistic world I strive for what I endeavor. I work hard to build a rapport with my friends and family members and in doing so I try to be enterprising so that I can win the hearts of those who dislike me. Today I listen to the voice of God’s Spirit, and do not envy friends or foes for anything. I just keep dreaming of the glorious dawn when I hope to meet my long separated sister. What a reunion that is going to be!

Monday, May 9, 2011

My Entry for the 2010 International Essay Competition On Soft Power!

WHAT IS LIKELY TO BE THE MOST INTERESTING DEVELOPMENT IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICS OVER THE NEXT DECADE?
SOFT POWER THE GLOBAL LIASION

The Dalai Lama once wrote, ‘We have been all the way to the moon and back, But have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor!’ The clairvoyant statement of this eminent individual of the world holds ground today more than ever.

Anita Borg cited that ‘Leaders of the future will have to be visionary and be able to bring people in who are real communicators.’ According to me, the word ‘visionary’ in this statement is one of prime importance. A visionary is one who possesses some fore sight regarding a phenomenon. As an aspiring diplomat and as a Global Citizen I too possess a vision for the role that the countries around the globe will play in International Politics in a decade from today. The world of politics is one very different from other fields such as economics, history, sociology, etc. It is complex and not everyone’s cup of tea. Today, politics has been highly restricted to the limits of the criticism and cynicism of the media of picayunish issues of the political arena and the judgments that the misinformed common man makes on the basis of this information. It is quite disheartening, that today each person believes that Politics on a National and International level are nothing but a stigma to the society. Politics is now perceived as nothing but a platform for Shame, Lies and Scandals.

Although many readers would agree to whatever has been stated above, seldom do we realize that it is easy to stay out of the system and expound on its gloomy side but it is equally difficult to become a part of the system and introduce reforms. Each one shrugs this responsibility on the other. Thus, it is essential that before we visualize the world ten years from today, we need to rewind to the past. It is the past that ultimately sets the course of the present and shapes the future.

The origin of politics is said to have been an off- shoot of the development in the art of warfare. Slowly but steadily the nation states felt the need for a ruler who would consolidate the problems of the people and handle the affairs of the state and abroad. The monarchy gained paramount position in the existing society and the Rulers assumed their powers as second only to God. Before long the three strongholds of Royalty, Religion and Rule of Law became the Pillars of Politics. This was true till the onset of the French Revolution of 1789 and the subsequent overthrow of the ancient ‘Divine Right Theory of Kings.’ The Art of Diplomacy became pivotal in the working of all governments. International politics has changed a lot from then. The fundamentals of International relations underwent a slow refurbishment with governments using various tactics of establishing inter-state relations through Marriage Alliances, military alliances, colonization, and finally International trade. Although the above mentioned alliances cease to exist International trade continues to be a stronghold of the political sphere. Colonization has spiraled down but nonetheless continues to exist.

Having laid the mise- en- scène of the essay, I can now delineate the framework of the World in a decade from now. Although it would be mighty easy for me to paint a fanciful picture like a ban on use of Nuclear weapons or the framing of policies to fulfill all the needs of a material world as major changes, I believe that harboring unrealistic expectations of a Utopic existence is frankly a little too much of a waste. For me we have to be the change that we wish to experience. To begin with, for me the world has moved on from the traditional Alliances to more informal ways of building strong inter- state relations between countries. This is what we term as ‘Soft Power.’ Soft power is a term coined by Joseph Nye of the Harvard University in a book published in the year 1990, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. This term was further modified by him in his 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Dr. Shashi Tharoor, former Indian Minister for External Affairs observed that countries of the world should not be judged according to their Political, Military and Economic strengths solely. He continued to say that the mettle of the country can be exhibited to the world through a combination of all this and the ‘Power of example through bridging of the gaps between citizens of the nations through Cultural exchanges.’

Soft power is capable of working with and without governments which is something that is quite different from the rather boring work of a bureaucrat working tirelessly to make ends meet between two unfamiliar lands to get friendly on paper and all this when the citizens of the same two countries maybe friends on a social networking site like Facebook or Twitter!

Connecting people through such informal means could lead to phenomenal increase in providing stability to foreign relations of countries which maybe otherwise suspicious or doubtful of the other’s intentions. An excellent example would be the Indo- US Nuclear deal which did not receive as much opposition externally as it did from within the Indian nation. The pact paved a way for India to be recognized as a Nuclear power and allowed to erase the disillusion of the country. Through the ‘Power of Communication’,
pre- concepts, stereotypes and prejudices that result in international conflicts between different countries can be effectively wiped out.

The International Diaspora would improve as International policies would no longer be summarized as a ‘Signed sealed and delivered Paper Agreement’ between two countries. Instead it would be an MOU to agree to disagree on certain issues and still maintain a strong friendship with each other. At this time I am forced to realize that all is not well with the world at large with the growing unemployment rates that has crippled millions of people. An estimated thirty per cent of the world is reeling in abject poverty today. The fact that the governments have been unable to reduce these figures depicts a less than hopeful picture. However, it is said that, ‘Hope springs eternal’ and hence these problems can be eradicated by the means of Soft Power. Although it sounds impossible, one would be shocked to know many
Non- Governmental Organizations like the Gates Foundation for example are working for the impoverished cities in Asia and Africa and are appealing to the ‘netizens’ to donate money to help these families. Even families hit by natural calamities are receiving aids through various modes of communication. In fact, many families have gained respite from the financial crunch of the economic recession.

One of the major threats that the world is battling out is the War against Terrorism. Quite surprisingly Soft Power can help in this sphere as well. What is expected right now is a unified support against these anti- social miscreants. This unified support could be promoted by having Cultural Exchanges rather than military missions.

The actual benefit of the Soft power is that it can be propagated by anyone. Whether individual or NGO or a government it can be used as an International weapon to combat almost any problem. Soft power is rapidly developing as the strongest link in world politics. An excellent example of this lies in the fact that it is probably the first time that even renowned international world leaders and politicians including President Barack Obama, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, David Miliband and many others have actually begun to interact directly with people around the globe through Networking sites like Twitter. This has brought the Politics to the people on a more personal level. Unlike Hard power which consists in using coercion and brawn rather than brain, ‘Soft Power’ believes in uniting people with each other through attraction and co-option.


My vision of International politics in the next decade is actually quite simple. I envisage the world to be united as a whole politically with no Indo- Pakistan or US- Iraq issues resulting in political estrangement. I conceive a picture of a world free from the horrors of 9/11 or 26/7. My dream is to be able to see an educated populace free from the fear of being shot down in broad daylight or losing a loved one in a fight that would bring no peace to any man living.

All I wish is to see my country and every country on this planet growing politically and allow it to be woven into a Global System that will connect every nation, cast, creed, race and eradicate the term ‘discrimination’ from the history of mankind, enveloped solely by freedom and a peaceful co- existence in every sense of the term.

Thus, according to me ‘The Development of Soft Power’ is likely to be the most interesting Political Development over the next decade.



REFERENCES:

Definition of Soft Power:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_power

Information on International Relations: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_relations

www.foratv.com – Talk by Dr. Shashi Tharoor on ‘Why nations should adopt Soft Power.’

The Paradox of Our Age – His Holiness, The Dalai Lama