A Faraway Land

I once rode in the sky
on the wings of an angel
she took me to a land which
was quite unlike ours
where cars didn’t honk
for an inch or two of space
or dogs bark at each other
for no reason whatsoever
or rats play hide and seek
in the dead of the night
on the pavements
the filthy pavements
garbaged with people’s half-eaten food

No, no
it was a beautiful land
oh so beautiful
with high hills and wide lakes
flowered gardens and breezy wind

A land of plenty, truly
where no one starved
nor for food, or love
where no one felt the need to
invent swords,
guns, or bombs
where there were no concepts
of rich and poor
or distant and dear

My angel
who took me to a faraway land
a land of plenty
and a land of beauty
I wonder which child
she is carrying on her wings now

Reading and the Distractions of Hyperlinked Web

I am an avid reader. But I need a perfect setting, quiet ambience to read. I cannot read if I am famished. I cannot read if there is noise. I avoid reading in a moving bus or train (it’s not good for your eyes). On weekends, I pull the card out of the set top box and hide it somewhere so that no one can switch on the TV at home. So many potential distractions I need to take care of. But guess what: internet is not one of them.

Many people blame the internet for disrupting their reading, including scholars and journalists, whose livelihood depends on the very act. They cite social media and hyperlinks as two main distractions. Sure, the notification bar that sites like Facebook and Twitter have, can act as a constant source of agitation. Facebook’s red balloon demands instant attention, and when there is no new notification, we subconsciously await its appearance, causing mild anxiety and loss of concentration. On the other hand, hyperlinks lure us to go on a clicking frenzy and to hop from one page to another. And sometimes hopping is all we end up doing.

But there is a major difference between distractions such as your family members talking while you are reading and the distractions like social media and hyperlinks. The first is an external distraction, the latter is not. Social media and hyperlinks are psychological distractions; in other words they test your self-control. You can easily avoid these distractions if you train yourself to do so.

Here is what I do. When I open my browser, I first check all my social media feeds. Then I complete other tasks on my list, like mailing ebooks to a friend or paying phone bill or ordering pizza. After all this is done, I get on to the act of reading. Actually it’s social media sites like Facebook and Twitter which most of the times point me to interesting articles. But I keep their tabs closed when I am reading a long article. And while reading on my Kindle, I keep the internet on my mobile phone off. I end up reading a lot more on web than on paper, and as attentively. There is no loss in retention or comprehension, contrary to what the findings of umpteen surveys carried out in the US say.

I am not saying it’s entirely your fault that internet is making you a less efficient reader. But the web is not a newspaper or a book. It is not designed solely for passive reading. So it is grossly unfair to compare paper with screen without understanding their nature. If we understand what causes us to get distracted, it’s much easier to counter it — be it while reading on paper or screen.

Reservations and the Argument of Meritocracy

Maharashtra government recently approved 16 per cent reservation for Marathas and five per cent for Muslims in government jobs and educational institutions. This decision has rekindled the debate around the polarizing issue of reservations. Whenever the issue of reservations comes up, many people raise the point of meritocracy. According to these people, reservations undermine meritocracy and therefore they are unjust. I find this argument grossly ignorant.

Frankly, I am ambivalent about caste-based reservations. (And I for sure do not approve of government’s recent decision to give quota to Maratha community. This Indian Express article has a strong argument against the decision.)
I somehow feel the current system of reservations perpetuates caste instead of making it irrelevant as a social construct. Very few people raise this point. But the point, that reservations are against the principle of meritocracy, is mentioned frequently; not by serious commentators, mind you, but mainly by people on social media.

It is very easy to identify these people. They are convent-educated, urbanites, speak English fluently, own smartphones and have broadband internet connections at home. Their main problem is, they do not understand the concept of “privilege”. They do not understand what role this privilege plays in them scoring 85 and 90 per cent marks in their board exams. They think it’s all their hard work or their talent or their brain’s superpowers. Well, that may be true but the thing you need to understand is, all this would have been irrelevant without your privilege.

There is a reason urban/ upper caste/ rich students score higher marks than rural/ lower caste/ poor students. That reason is privilege. The superior grey cells in your brain can take you only so far. French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is very relevant here. He says

Success in the education system is facilitated by the possession of cultural capital and of higher class habitus. Lower class pupils do not in general possess these traits, so the failure of the majority of these pupils is inevitable.

Also, I do not understand why only high-scorers should be entitled to good colleges. Does an academically bright student need a good college more or a dull one? It is a no-brainer that a good college helps a pupil learn better. And all those who are relegated to bad colleges suffer enormously.

Reservations are a way to bridge the gap of inequality. They are a means to correct the historical injustice and oppression that certain communities had to face or are still facing. Reservations have not been very successful in achieving these goals but we still need them till a better alternative is found.

Guest Posts Series #3: Texting

This is the third installment of Guest Posts Series. You can read the posts from previous two installments here, here and here. This time I have decided to change the format a bit. Instead of publishing all the posts on the same page, I am going to publish each post separately. Thus the readers will be saved from the trouble of scrolling endlessly as well as each post will get equal prominence.

The topic that I have decided to explore this time is texting. I myself have written about this topic in the past (here and here). From letters to email to now instant messaging, the means to carry written word for interpersonal communication have only got better. The world is on the verge of achieving universal literacy and the adoption of mobile phones has been exponential too. As a result the use of written word for interpersonal communication is at its highest in human history. In this backdrop, three of my friends talk about their fascination (or not) with written word and their flings with texting.


Texting and Me

“Then, there are people like me who are more comfortable in expressing feelings via written words. Putting them into words is easier when you get time to think, frame correct sentences and when certain situations do demand an impersonal touch.” Janhavi Kulkarni writes…


Digitally Yours

“Texting as a communication facility has been kind to the human race, but it has taken away more than it has given. Texting has brought me closer to people whom I don’t see every day and made me indifferent to people who are around me. Ironic much?” Apoorva Nanjangud writes…


Why I Started to Text and Other Stories

“Texting is not just a convenient way of conversing with people, it’s also the simplest and the most manipulative. I can choose how much I have to reveal over a text – a convenience not available while holding a face to face chat. I can lie through my teeth and the person I am having the conversation would have no clue. Conversely, I can form a deep bond and talk about my deepest secrets and bare my heart to a person while I text, knowing perfectly well that they can’t see my face turn a perfect shade of beetroot red or that I am anxious for a reply.” Utkarsha Kotian writes…

Texting and Me

Guest Post by Janhavi Kulkarni

JanhaviSince Homo Sapiens learned to write, since the invention of languages and since the era of communication (not in that order necessarily), there have been letters. Ways to communicate. From writing on the cave walls, papyrus scrolls, even from sending smoke signals to writing on paper and mobile screens, humans have only upped their game on how to convey messages. Of course, how qualitatively — remains a question.

When I was asked by a friend to write my personal view on this topic, it gave me the opportunity to evaluate consciously and actually form opinions about texting. It has become such an integral part of our lives and we hardly stop to ponder on how much of a difference it has made. Of course, when I say difference I don’t necessarily mean the good side only.
Surrounded by so many gadgets and devices of getting in touch with the world, I often wonder why people are not truly bonded to each other yet. Mobile phones come with this beautiful facility called SMS, short message service, allowing us to ‘talk’ to each other without physically being there or calling each other up. But, then again, it just adds up to another silly excuse of not having to call up people. There is a beauty in vis-à-vis conversation that SMS fails to fulfill.

Another irritating, and I don’t use that word lightly, aspect of the texting is the SMS lingo. Ya, exctly tht! I understand the need to convey more in less, but using fewer alphabets in the words isn’t really serving the purpose! Moreover, I fear, if this trend prolongs, coming generations may not even know how to spell correctly anymore. Of course, that is, unless they introduce a new subject of ‘SMS Lnguge’ in skuls and clgs.

Since almost everyone has a mobile phone nowadays and everyone knows how to text, it has proved instrumental in booming the commercial use of SMS. Most reality shows, TV quizzes, public opinion polls encourage people to send SMSes to voice their opinions. Of course, how much of their view gets individually counted is doubtful. At least I am pretty skeptical about such TV gimmicks.

I feel texting is impersonal and lacks all the expression that voice harbors. It is easy to hide behind written words than the ones spoken. Of course, this isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. However, you cannot make a correct judgement about the person you only text, for you never know how much truth those words hold.

Okay, enough of the cons. I do agree there are a few specific advantages connected to texting. Sending urgent and short messages, the original purpose of SMS. You cannot expect the person you are trying to reach to be always available to attend your call. In such cases, SMS helps. Also, when you have just become friends with someone and want to get acquainted better, texting and exchanging a few words before going on to calling them is appropriate.
Then, there are people like me who are more comfortable in expressing feelings via written words. Putting them into words is easier when you get time to think, frame correct sentences and when certain situations do demand an impersonal touch.

Despite everything, I do believe that man is a social animal and channeling this instinct through such small windows will only make him a captive, even if he doesn’t realize it. So, the next time you want to ‘get-in-touch’ with that old friend, or ask how a relative is doing, or want to tell someone how special they are to you, call them up! Better yet, meet them. I am sure those moments won’t be a waste of time and they’ll appreciate the effort.

(Janhavi is an undergraduate student at Ramnarain Ruia College. She likes to meet people, learn new things, read, paint. Good conversations, classic taste and elegant manners are a few things that make her drool. She blogs at http://theinsidiousthingcalledlife.weebly.com/ ).