Tuesday, March 24, 2009

From Jae Hind to Jae Ho: ‘Ma tujhe salaam!’

Destiny wins! I salute thee Mother! The movie Slumdog Millionaire has been one of the hot topics being discussed for the last couple of months. Incisive criticism from many quarters continued to pelt, as the film picked up a lot of other awards before finally making it at the coveted Oscars. All this culminated in a climax that ended with eight Oscar Academy awards on the night of February 22, 2009. And what a night it was! As so many newspapers across India have gushed. Indeed, all is well that ends well.

Congratulations flowed now across the country. The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conveyed the message to the Millionaire team. There have been reports that President Barack Obama wants to watch the movie. Hope he does! Amitabh Bacchan too came out with praise. Amir Khan has already done it before. But recently is reported to have said something opposite. Makes me wonder whom to believe, the press or the filmstars?! Danny Boyle publicly acknowledged on stage and made up for not having mentioned the name of Longines Fernandes, only proving his greatness once again. AR Rahman came out on top with his great music. Parliamentarians reportedly shouted Jae Ho.

As much as it has been said that it is not an Indian movie, the fact is that it has been filmed in India, has an almost entirely Indian cast with child actors who actually lived in those slums till they were picked up by the Millionaire team, and an ambitious music director from India who dared to dream. Vikas Swarup, the author of the novel on which this film is based, is an Indian diplomat. Loveleen Tandon is the co-director. (How much more ‘Indian’ can it get!) Apart from the liberties given to art and fiction, this movie has no other drawbacks and shows up the poverty in India that is very real.

This is a movie that deserves praise despite all the fault lines in the story that many critiques have tried to single out. My advice to them is, “Don’t pick your nose in public. It is a bad habit.” Some newspaper articles did hit the nail right on the head when they mentioned that many Indian movies are shot abroad and show a kind of affluent lifestyle that is but an impossible dream for millions of Indians. No one has prevented filmmakers in India from making movies about reality, and life as it is in most parts of the country. Satyajit Ray did it without the fancy cameras that are available to film directors today. Most Hindi movies depicting big houses, sports cars, rich heroes etc. portray a kind of lifestyle that is as much alien to the bulk of Indians as the poverty in this movie is to the affluent West.

Amartya Sen, in his book The Argumentative Indian (p. 127), has written:
“There is, for example, nothing false about Indian poverty, nor about the fact – remarkable to others – that Indians have learned to live normal lives while taking little notice of the surrounding misery.”

In the previous page, he has written about the ‘love of the false-exotic’:
“It is not obvious whether the imaginary scenes of splendour shown in such ‘entertainment movies’ should be seen as misdescriptions of the India in which they are allegedly set, or as excellent portrayals of some non-existent ‘never-never land’ (not to be confused with any real country).”

This is a film that (I hope) will help break many myths. One of them is that poverty ‘sells’ in the West. It does not as much as it is being made out to be. The affluent countries get to see so little of the seemingly unreal world in poverty stricken areas that these rare efforts must move some of them at least a bit. Of course, people get to see poverty even in developed nations. There are documentaries made on them. If Indians want to see them write to the national television and ask them to telecast such programs. Indians are the ones who are used to growing up with desperate squalor around them. They are more likely to develop ‘immunity’ to the problem than foreigners. Not that all Indians are like that! The second are the myths that are made by Indians themselves and those propagated by foreigners about India. Foreigners who do not live in India or those who come to visit for only a few days, are likely to have distorted views about the country. That is not the real problem. It is how we Indians project our image that matters. I have heard Indian’s proudly claim that 90 percent of Indians know English. In a country that has a literacy rate of 64.8 percent? (That means almost a billion English speakers!) Are you kidding! What kind of mathematics is that! Admitting it does not take away the fact that India has excelled in certain fields, has remote sensing satellites orbiting the earth and is dreaming of a manned mission to the moon, and due to a burgeoning middle class rocketed by the exploding population is soon to become the country with the largest number of English speakers in the world.

It also does not take away the fact that some Indians can actually write excellent English. WB Yeats, a great poet in his own right was woefully off the mark when he wrote in a letter to his friend shortly after writing the introduction for Gitanjali (the collection of poems that won Rabindranath Tagore, arguably one of the greatest poets and writers, the nobel prize for literature), “Tagore does not know English, no Indian knows English.” That was when India was not yet independent. Things have changed now. In the year 2000, a British company which recruits teachers for UK schools, started recruiting English teachers from India with the conviction that the accent may be different but Indians could be good English teachers all the same. Indian English writers like Amitav Ghosh have proven that their cult owns the English language as much as the native authors. Professor Roger Pulvers wrote in The Japan Times about bringing more English teachers from India to Japan. Craig Storti wrote in his book Speaking of India that the problem about Indian English was more about the different speeds with which Indians usually speak English more than grammatical mistakes that makes spoken Indian English hard to grasp. The mountain is slowly being reduced to the size of a molehill. And you will agree that not many people in the US had much of a problem understanding Anil Kapoor’s Indian accent!
But I am sorry to say that I am not too proud of the kind of English that some Indian English teachers in Japan speak and there are many English teachers in schools in small towns in India who could do a far better job if only they were "discovered".

There is nothing to be ashamed about poverty. Mark Tully, former BBC correspondent in India for 25 years has often been asked by visitors to India, “How do you put up with the poverty?” I would like to quote his answer here.

Well, I think it’s a rather stupid question because whether I put up with it or not isn’t going to really affect the poverty. But I think there is one answer that can be given and that is, at least one can try to respect the poor.”

Mark Tully is speaking about Kolkata here in particular, the city in which he was born. He also says (about India), “… I tried to show the poor as people, not as objects of pity. I wanted to demonstrate that they retain their dignity inspite of the hardships they suffer…” Let us not lament about the poverty in the film.

As my Economist friend (Dr. Rajarshi Majumder) wrote to me, “I liked SM. It is a story of Hope amidst Poverty, of optimism amidst anguish, and of Love in troubled times. I really appreciate the way the movie showed that life's varied experiences, which during the time they are experienced seems so dark, also leads to a high moral confidence and capability to face problems and never loose hope. Watch it.”

The real heroes in the movie are the kids like Azharuddin and Rubina. While the former reportedly said that he was very, very very…. Happy, and the latter’s neighbor who watched her grow up commented that it was like happiness falling from the sky. There can be no doubt about their happiness. Now they are getting government flats too. I do not know whether they have become ‘millionaires’ but they have really made it out of the black hole of poverty. That is their destiny and let us rejoice.

India has never lacked talent. Here is the gauntlet for all those people who want an ‘all Indian win’ at the Oscars (if there can be something as hundred percent as that!) Since no one has ever stopped them, let all the famous filmmakers and actors/ actresses in India unite for once and make a project that wins such an ‘all Indian’ Oscar rather than cribbing about it! Jae Ho! Victory be yours!

1. Ma Tujhe Salaam are the words of a Hindi song composed by AR Rahman. It means, “I salute thee Mother.” Mother in this case is Mother India.
2. The quotation about what Mark Tully said has been taken from the audiobook Mark Tully’s India. (punctuation mine).
3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/999985.stm ‘Indian teachers for UK schools’ (Tuesday, 31 October, 2000).
4. Sadly, the movie is yet to start showing in Japan. It will only start in the later part of April 2009 though all the other movies made last year (including super flops!) have been screened in movie theatres here. It would be interesting to see how people here react to the movie here. May be dubbing it into Japanese is taking a lot of time? Efforts are being made by NHK, the national television in Japan which produced a series of programs on India, and some Japanese authors who have started showing and writing about India with fresh insight. A welcome change maybe?
5. Unlike what is being said by many critics, this movie has many elements of popular Bollywood Hindi movies too, albeit in more refined, subtler and newly repackaged form. It has the hero, the heroine, the villains who trouble the heroine, a thriller plot, and truimph of the hero as he wins his heroine in the end, with dance and music. And, unlike many Bollywood movies, this movie does not project breaking the law as something heroic. Think about it!
6. Even Satyajit Ray was accused of ‘selling’ poverty when he made Pather Panchali in 1955. His movie was based on a novel written before independence (1929). The novel was Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay's first as a novelist and the film was Satyajit Ray's debut as a director. Five decades after Pather Panchali the film, the critics are being shameless because we still seem to have enough abundance of poverty to ‘sell’ for probably another five decades!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

It's A Small World

Written by: Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

It's a world of laughter
A world of tears
It's a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all

There is just one moon
And one golden sun
And a smile means Friendship to ev'ryone
Though the mountains divide
And the oceans are wide
It's a small world after all
It's a small world after all I
t's a small world after all
It's a small world after all
It's a small, small world

To listen to the tune click on this link:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Good quotes

The eternal child speaks:
"You understand, Teacher, don't you, that when you have a mother who's an angel and a father who is a cannibal king, and when you have sailed on the ocean all your whole life, then you don't know just how to behave in school with all the apples and ibexes." The teacher said she understood. Pippi speaks in Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren.

On knowledge:
"Knowledge is not a direct means to good: its action is remote. An exact knowledge of the dates of the Kings and Queens of England will put no one into a flutter. Knowledge is a food of infinite potential value which must be assimilated by the intellect and imagination before it can become positively valuable. Only when it has been so assimilated does it become a direct means to good states of mind; but without this food both intellect and imagination tend to grow stunted and wry, are in danger even of starving to death." From Civilization, An Essay (The Sense of Values) by Clive Bell.

A little food for thought ...

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Bystander Non-Intervention Theory

When I was a student at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India, in the year 2001, one day I was on my way to class at eight thirty in the morning. I had a small presentation to make that day, so after preparing late into the night, I got up early in the morning, had a prolonged bath, put on my best ironed clothes, had a bite of breakfast and was on my way. It was then it happened. I felt a sharp object penetrate into my flesh somewhere at the back near my spine at waist height where I was wearing my belt to keep my trousers in place. Instinct told me I had been stabbed by a knife. It must have taken a fraction of a second as I “slowly” wheeled around to face my attacker, hitting out blindly with my students’ rucksack that had a couple of heavy bricklike paper dictionaries in it. My attacker, stunned by this sudden blow, crouched low and prepared to spring straight at my throat, and at the same time I realized that my assailant was a huge stray dog that was drooling with saliva and baying for my blood. The knife had been dog fangs. Mortified with fear, I held out my bag as a shield to protect my Adams apple that the beast was aiming for. Meanwhile, I was screaming for help at the top of my lungs, clutching my bag in front of me with all my strength, and aiming hard kicks at the rabid brute with my leather shoes. In JNU most students used to wear chappals or rubber flipflops/ sandals. I used to do the same, but on that day I had my prized shoes on because it was a “special” day and I have never thanked God any less for the coincidence of me wearing the sturdy leather shoes that was such a great weapon compared to bare skin as for saving my life. Scared to death, my kicks luckily found their target more often than not and once I managed to deal a smashing blow right below the chin of the animal (the sound of the crack of bone confirmed that the right spot had been hit). That made it yelp in pain and widened the distance between us enough for me to make my escape. I must have broken the Olympic hundred meters record that day as I rushed back through the gates of my dormitory. Unfortunately, people do not get gold medals for running for their lives.

The incident happened on a clear patch of land surrounded by the in-campus residences of professors teaching at this famous university. It was a short cut way for students just outside the gate of the students’ dormitory. I was in the clearing being attacked by that dog and shouting for help as the professors and their families watched me through their windows. I heard something like: “The dog is mad. Hit it! Hit it!” That was all! None of them came out with a stick in hand to help me as the dog took away chunks of my flesh and meat from exposed areas. If only someone had come out running with a stick, the dog might have been scared away. But it did not happen. “The anonymity and alienation of big city life makes people hard and unfeeling.”[1] We are talking of the families and professors, the educated elite, of one of the best universities in India. We are also talking about India, the country that produces the largest number of movies in Bollywood, that show individual heroes fighting twenty armed men single handed and bare fisted and winning it! An on screen hero can win with a colt revolver against a battery of semi-automatic light machine guns. Unfortunately, life is not a movie and no hero was there to save me except my own clean pair of heels.

Later, when I went to the medical clinic inside the campus with my roommate after shocking him out of his sleep, I learnt that I was the last of fourteen people who had been bitten by the dog since early that morning.

Psychologists call this the bystander effect/ problem. Wikipedia defines that the bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon in which individuals are less likely to offer to help in an emergency situation when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely proportional to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help.[2]

This is not unique of India as some of the following cases will show. What produces this effect? One of the reasons certainly is fear. No one wants to be in the same position as the suffering victim. No one wants to be hurt in the process of trying to save someone else, especially if it is a stranger one does not know. It could be about ‘saving face’. No one wants to look foolish in front of other people while trying to attempt helping another person in front of others. “They may also be afraid of being superseded by a superior helper, offering unwanted assistance, or facing the legal consequences of offering inferior and possibly dangerous assistance.”[3] People are also afraid of being involved in embarrassing legal situations with the police or having to face liability lawsuits. This is as true in the United States as in Japan and India. An individual seeing the inaction of others may judge the circumstances as less serious than s/he would if s/he is alone. There is also diffusion of responsibility. When many people are around that could make an individual less liable to act. These are the theories behind the problem.

Yet both Hollywood and Bollywood make so many movies of heroes who save thousands of lives. And actually, there are thousands of people who even sacrifice their lives to save people in distress in real life. They are the exceptions rather than the rule and that is why governments of nations have honors and medals for such acts of bravery. Such people show unique calmness and exemplary heroism in crisis, and are a rare species that exist probably in all countries in varying numbers. The president of India honors children and adults for acts of bravery on January 26th every year celebrated as Republic Day in India. School books teach us stories of valor and how to help people in need. In India there is a local proverb which means that a person who allows a crime to happen in front of his eyes is as much a sinner as the person who actually did the misdeed. We are taught that it is bad and cowardly not to help someone in need. But how many people actually do that? Many do and many don’t is the right answer. Some people take initiative and a lot don’t. And many dither and in that time of indecision, the incident is over. The situation in this case could have been different if fellow students had been there to help me. No sooner had the news of the dog attack spread in my dormitory than a group of students armed with sticks rushed out in search of the dog to prevent any more casualties. And there were none after that.

Given below are various cases taken from different sources that show this kind of apathy. And the argument here is that, such behavior could be partly overcome with training and reform of the education system. The ambiguity in bystander apathy lies in the judgment and interpretation of the situation, i.e. whether the bystander perceives it as an emergency enough to take law into his own hands and act, or not.

Jesse Sokolovsky’s case, Cultural Clash on the Kyoto Subway, is a typical example of this kind of apathy which is what the bystander effect is about. [4]This happened in Kyoto, Japan, while three Americans Tom, Dick and Harry were boarding a subway train. Dick and Harry got on the train ahead of Tom, and Tom tried to board a different car where it seemed likely that he would get a seat. But he slipped and his leg got stuck in the gap between the train and the platform. Speechless with panic, he looked around for help. People just stared at Tom as he struggled to free his leg and just about managed to board the train before the doors closed. Tom could have been in serious trouble if the train started moving with his leg still stuck. In the book, the author and the discussants have analyzed the case from a cultural point of view and about the technicalities of ‘fool-proof’ safety of the subway system in Japan. In the absence of statistical data, it is difficult to analyze this case in technical detail and cultural allusions alone may not be the formula for an answer to the problem. Nevertheless, it is another typical case that portrays the bystander problem, which may or may not have to do with the difference between individualism and collectivism. (We will come to this later).

The Genovese effect started serious research on this issue. Kitty Genovese, a young woman, was stabbed to death in 1964, in the middle of a street in a residential section of New York City. It was originally reported that 38 people witnessed the incident but failed to raise alarm. Newspapers at that time claimed that the US of A had become a cold and uncaring society. Decades later, it was claimed that those newspaper reports had been exaggerated, there were fewer than 38 witnesses and police had been contacted during the attack.[5] It was also presumptuous to assume that the entire nation had become cold and indifferent when the incident occurred in New York.

The time factor or the duration of the incident is important. The Genovese case involved thirty minutes. But though no one measured the time period of the Kyoto case or the case of dog bite, we can safely say that they were short duration cases. The dog attack must have happened within a minute’s time though time seemed to stand still and it looked like five minutes. In Japan, train doors usually open and shut within a few seconds though the station staff and conductor wait to make sure that all people have boarded and no one is near the doors before shutting the doors. This often makes for extra seconds or even a minute before the doors are shut. The trains are made in a way that they will not move unless the doors are properly shut. The time factor determines whether a response from the bystander can be elicited or not. There are those who react instantly to situations, but most of the people are actually taking time to make up their minds. This is what creates the time lag in a response though by and large most of the bystanders are mentally concerned and affected by the incident. Darley and Latane wrote in their paper about their experiment, ‘Subjects who failed to report the emergency showed few signs of the apathy and indifference thought to characterize “unresponsive bystanders.”’ (p. 381-382). Even the participants who did not report the emergency were nervous and asked about the welfare of the victim when the experimenter returned to the room to diffuse the situation.

The danger levels of the cases are different. In the stabbing incident, bystanders were in danger of being harmed if they tried to get directly involved. The Kyoto case has no direct danger to the onlookers. Tom was in grave personal danger of ending up as a cripple for the rest of his life. The dog could have killed if it got to the throat. But there was the bag as a shield and the people watching the scene could have thought that a young man could keep a dog in check. There was a chance of the dog biting people coming out to help, but if they came armed with sticks and in large numbers, there was a chance of it being scared off too. Personal danger is high in all the three cases but bystander danger has different levels in the three different cases respectively. Also, fear is the added element for bystanders in the Genovese and dog bite case, whereas, apathy and reluctance to get involved in an incident concerning a foreigner that could bring up unpleasant legal formalities is predominant in the Kyoto case. The Genovese case and Kyoto case have high legal risks in terms of possibility, while the dog bite case is low on that aspect. But in all the cases raising an alarm would have helped even if no one got personally involved.

The fear factor is important both in the case of the victim and the bystanders. Optimum arousal occurs when the heart beat rate of an individual is between 115 to 145 beats per minute. Sportsmen have been reported to have a heartbeat at the top of this range when performing at their best. After 145, complex motor skills tend to break down, and after 175 there is absolute breakdown of cognitive processing. [6]

Little research on the gender factor has been done regarding the bystander problem. As males and females are brought up in fundamentally different ways in most countries, their reactions under stress could be different. This is not made clear by the few experiments that have been done and needs further exploration. Also, in predominantly male societies, men may be expected to take the initiative in emergency situations. This also requires much debate and deliberation. Size of a person, skin color, gender, etc. do play a part, big or small, though there is a tendency to deny it as obsoletes in this ‘modern’ age.

In developed countries, the matter is sometimes best left to specialists in some rare instances. I was staying in an apartment in Japan. One summer evening I was having tea in my room with the window open to tempt in some breeze, when there was a sudden squealing of tires, the loud sound of a bump and a woman’s voice shrieking like crazy. I rushed out into my verandah and found that a small boy had been hit by a car on the road outside. The mother was screaming over her child and hurling abuses at the driver of the car, and the driver visibly shaken, was trying to make a phone call with his mobile phone and asking the mother not to touch the child. A Japanese young man had stopped his bicycle and was voluntarily guiding oncoming vehicles out of the way. A doctor from a clinic down the street soon reached the spot and was giving first aid. It was twenty minutes before the ambulance arrived and a few more before the police reached the spot. Onlookers had gathered around but no one tried to meddle. As the medical staff told later, that had been a good thing because in case of head injuries, moving the victim could sometimes be fatal. It also shows the presence of mind of the driver of the car that hit the child, who kept the panic stricken mother from moving her child in any way. Some elderly people living in the vicinity helped clean up the spot after the police had finished their investigations.

Highlights of this case:

・ Not moving the child had been important. Any “help” in that direction could have been dangerous.
・ The child was hit when the mother and the child were trying to cross a road from behind a bus that had stopped at the bus stop. Why was the mother not holding the hand of her child while crossing the road right in the middle when the signal was green for vehicles?
・ Too many cooks spoil the broth. One person was enough to control the traffic. Someone had the brainwave to fetch the doctor at the local clinic nearby. Someone had informed the ambulance and police. Other helpers would have been redundant and only an obstacle.
・ Even in a country like Japan, with hospitals quite near to that area, it took twenty minutes before an ambulance arrived. What are the logistical problems?
・ The ambulance staffs were expert in putting the child on the stretcher without moving his head. This was a specialists’ job.
・ Elderly neighbors cleaned up the spot rather than wait for the municipal authorities to do it. The police had done their job and given them permission. Waiting for the municipality would only have obstructed traffic for a longer period and lead to more chaos.
・ Unlike the Kyoto case and the dog bite case, there was time for bystanders to react. They had a full twenty minutes to take initiatives before the ambulance finally arrived.
・ There were the unconcerned too, who did not have the time to stop and provide moral support, or just hurried out of the spot to avoid getting involved. It did not matter in this case.


In case of split second incidents, one person taking the initiative could change the whole scenario. Hollywood and Bollywood serve a purpose too. The positive side is that they give hope over despair and ambition to some people to do things differently and try and save people from threatening situations. Prior training and education can help people react better to emergency situations as is evident from the positive results obtained from earthquake training or disaster drills.[7] As Professor Yamaoka, a specialist on earthquakes at Nagoya University said, a severe earthquake is an emergency situation that happens only once in several decades or a hundred years. So the experience being passed on through generations or the lack of it is not the main factor. But mental preparation and participation in actual drills could make the situation much more manageable. During the Kobe earthquake many people helped others. Similarly, creating more awareness and an education system that trains response to emergency situations is important in solving the problem of bystander apathy.

We have discussed the following causes of the bystander effect, like diffusion of responsibility, pluralistic ignorance/ ambiguity in an unfamiliar situation when people tend to look out to others for instruction and often mimic their inaction, and, the fear of blunder in front of a large crowd. There are other factors like social appropriateness/ privacy (as in case of hostilities between married or unmarried couples; people including the police usually do not interfere unless asked to), blind faith in a system as in Japan where everything goes smoothly in order (the train will not move and the authorities are certain to do something about it; the factor of human error is forgotten), misinterpretation of the Genovese case (a. exaggeration of initial reporting; and b. social factors like the feminist critique of male violence was yet to be established), erroneous interpretation of the situation by the bystanders, etc.

Stereotypes, especially in the media, magnify this problem. The New York incident drew news columns that talked of a cold and indifferent nation. When it happens in Japan, people tend to view it as a problem of ‘instruction awaiting Japanese’. One case of dowry or wife torture in India is enough to condemn the entire population and make foreigners think of India as just another backward country.

The bystander effect should not be categorized as a clash between individualism and collectivism as this problem has existed in both individualistic and collectivistic societies. In a globalizing world, there is lot of overlapping of both individualistic tendencies and collectivistic traits in the same nation, society or individual. Such societies are too complicated to be simply classified as one or the other. It is mostly a big city problem though rare cases may exist in smaller towns. The circumstances and causes could be very different from that of big cities. Uncontrollable fear, vulnerability and inability to make decisions are part of the problem. Awareness is the solution. This is a social problem and more versatile research is needed by manipulating social influence as suggested in the abstract of The Bystander Effect and the Passive Confederate: On the Interaction Between Theory and Method by Joseph W. Critelli and Kathy W. Keith.

The bystander effect can be avoided. The following information from BBC is relevant.[8]

Notice something is happening.
Interpret the situation as an emergency.
Assume personal responsibility.
Choose a form of assistance.
Implement assistance.

To avoid being a victim of the bystander effect:
1. Talk to people directly.
2. Make eye contact.
3. If possible, use people's names; if not, point.
4. Tell exactly which people to do what.
5. Do not yell indiscreetly for help but do let people know that it is an emergency situation.

Experts in various cultures could modify these rules keeping the local culture in mind to make them even more effective in that particular culture. And above all, it requires awareness and training not only to be able to take the initiative to act in an emergency situation but to be able to overcome ones panic and be able to point a finger at someone and shout for help (which is easier said than done).


1. Darley & Latane 1968 Bystander Intervention in Emergencies: Diffusion of Responsibility, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 8, No. 4, 377-383. http://www.nd.edu/~wcarbona/darley%20and%20latane%20-%20bystander%20intervention.pdf
2. Levine, Dr. Mark Rethinking Bystander Non-Intervention
3. http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/latane_bystand.html

[1] Gladwell, Malcolm 2000 The Tipping Point. p. 27
[2] Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect (Aronson, E., Akert, R. D., and Wilson, T. D. (2006). Social psychology (6th Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall).
[3] Wikipedia: Social psychology research.
[4] Sokolovsky, Jesse 2005 Cultural Clash on the Kyoto Subway, ‘Different Cultures Different Interpretations – Incidents and Reflections with Focus on Japan,’ Edited by James Lassegard, Rajdeep Seth, Jesse Sokolovsky, Kayoko Takagi, Kyoko Tanaka, Nagoya University. p. 17
[5] http://www.psych.lancs.ac.uk/people/uploads/MarkLevine20070604T095238.pdf
[6] Gladwell, Malcolm 2005 Blink p. 229-231.
[7] How to Survive a Disaster http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1810315,00.html
[8] www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A585362

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Balbir Singh Seechewal

The water problem in many countries has become a terrible menace. No one seems to be writing much about it. Jessica Williams, in her highly informative and mind changing book, "50 facts that should change the world," wrote that future disputes and wars will be about natural resources and water in one of the chapters. There are people who travel miles for water daily. In India, twenty four hour water service is a dreamlike luxury the majority does not have. The rivers are getting polluted and water supply is restricted. Ground water is pumped out 'mindlessly' in the face of despair at the lack of tap water. I remember in my childhood that water supply used to be restricted to twice a day (morning and evening). Sometimes red muddy water would start flowing out that was useless and had to be thrown away. In summers that served to water the plants in the garden but in long rainy monsoons, all of it had to go down the drain without any use.

Time magazine honored Balbir Singh Seechewal as one of the Heroes of the Environment 2008, in its October 6, 2008 issue. This man with his followers is doing voluntary service to clean up rivers with his followers, teaching locals and creating awareness about waste disposal, and even reviving traditional methods for such disposal and treatment. Though there was intial mistrust among the people, according to this Sikh holy man, it is the community participation that is making this task a success. He stresses that rivers and streams are natural assets that should be preserved at all costs. As reported by TIME, Seechewal said, "It is time to do that on a bigger scale." It couldn't be truer and the faster people realize it the better.

Evian exports delicious water from the French Alps. Wishing Mr. Seechewal all success and hope someday, India not only has clean drinking water for her entire population but can export high quality bottled water for the palates of people in other countries too.

Poems by Susan Polis Schutz

1. I Love You More than "Love"

It is impossible to capture in words
the feelings I have for you
They are the strongest feelings that I
have ever had about anything
yet when I try to tell you them
or try to write them to you
the words do not even begin to touch
the depths of my feelings
And though I cannot explain the essence of
these phenomenal feelings
I can tell you what I feel like when I am with you
When I am with you it is as if
I were a bird
flying freely in the clear blue sky
When I am with you it is as if
I were a flower
opening up my petals of life
When I am with you it is as if
I were the waves of the ocean
crashing strongly against the shore ...

When I am with you it is as if
I were the rainbow after the storm
proudly showing my colors
When I am with you it is as if
everything that is beautiful
surrounds us
This is just a very small part of how wonderful
I feel when I am with you
Maybe the word "love" was invented to explain
the deep, all-encompassing feelings
that I have for you
but somehow it is not strong enough
But since it is the best word that there is
let me tell you a thousand times that
I love you more than

2. I Love You

I can not promise you that I will not change
I can not promise you that I will not have many different moods
I cannot promise you that I will not hurt your feelings sometimes
I can not promise you that I will not be erratic
I can not promise you that I will always be strong
I can not promise you that my faults will not show

But -
I do promise you that I will always be supportive of you
I do promise you that I will share all my thoughts and feelings with you
I do promise you that I will give you freedom to be yourself
I do promise you that I will understand everything that you do
I do promise you that I will be completely honest with you
I do promise you that I will laugh and cry with you
I do promise you that I will help you achieve all your goals

But - most of all I do promise you that I love you

Susan Polis Schutz

Quote: “This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

What is LOVE?

October 7, 2008

“The truly unbreakable, eternal, unconditional attachment alone can be called Love.”
- JK Rowling (The Tales of Beedle the Bard)

Some say love is the purest form of friendship (a lady poet said this). Some say real love is something absolutely unselfish. Some say it is someone or something you give everything in your life to, with devotion and without a word of complaint, without any expectations in return. Mother Teresa said: “We cannot do great things; only small things with great love.” She also said, “You may give the poor all you have, but if you give them without a smile, you give them nothing.” May be a smile is the simplest thing that shows you can love. Love can be tested by time and the greatest sacrifices in life can be made for love. People sacrifice their lives daily for people they love dearly since times immemorial.

Love has many forms. A mother loves her child. A child loves his/ her parents. A father loves his kids. A good friend loves his/ her friend. Brothers and sisters love each other. We love our grandparents and they too love us. We have aunts and uncles to pamper us with affection when sometimes our parents don’t. Lovers and married husbands and wives love each other. There is platonic love and physical love. Some people love their country. Some people love the whole world and do a lot of good to many people and leave their footprints in the annals of history. Some people sacrifice their lives doing good to people around them or for their country. All these are love in different forms. There are also deeply religious people. They love God.

Someone anonymous wrote, "Love is like a butterfly. It goes where it pleases and it pleases where it goes." Kahlil Gibran wrote, “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don't, they never were.” Rabindranath Tagore wrote, "Love does not claim possession, but gives freedom." Shinichi Suzuki said, "When love is deep, much can be accomplished." Love poems and stories have been written all over the world in diverse cultures in all different languages. Immortal songs have been composed and people sing or hum them for generations, over and over again without getting tired of them. Love can make you feel on Top of the World (Carpenters).

If you read about the great lives of Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Norman Bethune or Florence Nightingale, to name just a few, you will know how great their love was. Or you can learn about love and selflessness by watching movies like Life is Beautiful, Forrest Gump, A Beautiful Mind, The Sound of Music, Patch Adams, Sunset on Third Street ALWAYS, or, The Apu Trilogy. There are thousands of books and movies that epitomize love, and most of all, so many human beings great and small, are doing the same in their own definite ways every day. Dictionaries definite love but can the boundless infinite feeling called love be confined to certain definitions? I wonder!

Edmond Rostand's famous character Cyrano makes up the following lines for his beloved Roxane. 'All those, all those, all those that blossom in my heart, I’ll fling to you—Armfuls of loose bloom! Love, I love beyond breath, beyond reason, beyond love’s own power of loving! Your name is like a golden bell hung in my heart; and when I think of you, I tremble, and the bell swings and rings—“Roxane!” ... '

These days many people talk about liberty, about the freedom to love anyone of their choice. They think that people around the world who still practice arranged marriages are barbarians. But people forget some things very easily. They forget that freedom means responsibility. And are all the people in liberal countries that practice free love happy? In stark contrast, many people in the so called backward countries practicing arranged marriages may be blissfully happy. I have never respected the idea of romantic love as it exists in present society. This form does not simply fit any definition as we have seen above. You can look at it in two ways. It is such a ‘unique’ form of love that it defies logic and definition. Or, if you realize that this concept is a relatively new one, yet untested by the majority in the world, selfish and disrespects all the great women and men in history, who have loved before in ways we would find hard to emulate, let alone outdo.

Psychologists are yet to explore the Amazonian depths of the dangerous domain that is created by people who preach that there is a special someone for everyone somewhere. It is good in part, but in this age when we do not have time to give, there could be a possibility that while we chase that someone special s/he could well be the person whom we meet everyday but just did not have the time to know them well enough. Even The Alchemist could not predict where his treasure lay (courtesy Paulo Coelho).

Allow me to tell you a little story.

A certain famous lawyer in India married his current wife when he was a young man. He is 82 years old at present and still married to the same person. When he got married, it was an arranged marriage, according to the choice of his parents as is the usual custom in India, to a person he did not even know. After getting married, it turned out that his wife was a physically weak and sickly person who often fell ill. She would remain bedridden for days or weeks or even months. As the years flew by, she was completely bedridden and paralyzed, she slowly lost her sense of hearing and later she even lost the ability to recognize people’s faces. She had to have an operation to get a defective lung removed as fluid was collecting in that lung. So now she is with one lung. All these years her husband, the lawyer, worked harder and harder to make enough money to cover his wife’s enormous medical expenses. He worked with a smile and never complained. And who could he complain to? His wife was bedridden and could neither hear him nor recognize him! At 82, he is still working hard, and almost flies everyday by plane to different parts of India to fight law suits. He has a case on his hand almost always. He does not have children to take up his profession and help him or inherit his accumulated monetary wealth. But every morning he gets up and carries on, his happiness that his wife is still alive and not dead. The great Sobel, pounding leather for the woman he loves (courtesy Bernard Malamud).

Love is like a rainbow that does not fade even when the sun comes out, and is visible in a thunder squall. Nature, unfortunately, has not blessed us with such rainbows. But She has endowed us with the colors to make some. We try to paint rainbows in the hearts of others. So we forcibly try to open their hearts that we may be allowed to use the seven colors. What of those who waited with a rainbow in their own hearts, leaving the door open for visitors who may just drop in?

1. The First Seven Years, a short story by Bernard Malamud, is one of my favorites. Sobel is the character who works for his master making shoes for a pittance. He loves his master’s daughter who knows of his love for her. Like all fathers, Sobel’s master dreams of giving his daughter away to a learned man who could potentially give her a ‘better’ life so he is shocked at the discovery. Finally he gives in, but his daughter is still not of age to get married. So Sobel continues to pound the leather for his love.
2. Author JK Rowling defined love with remarkable clarity in her book The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Brevity is the soul of this definition. And as Clive Bell wrote to Virginia Woolf (dedicating his book ‘Civilization’ to her), I am borrowing her (Ms. Rowling’s) name not only for those wonderful words but for the magical spell she creates to charm readers. Accio!

3. Here is a poem written on love:
Love is.....
listening to each other with the heart, hearing what is often unspoken.
Love is putting another's happiness and well-being ahead of our own, and doing so cheerfully.
Love is giving your best to someone else....
Love is a gift that never ends.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The magic books

This is a very personal post about some books I have read. When I was fifteen or sixteen I read For Whom The Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway). All the scenes are etched in my memory as if I finished reading it this morning and had just fallen asleep for a few hours. Later in life I came across The Grapes Of Wrath (John Steinbeck), Twenty-Four Eyes (Sakae Tsuboi), and then again, The Rainbow And The Rose (Nevil Shute). Two years back I read The Shadow Of The Wind (Carlos Ruis Zafon). These books have mesmerized me with their eerie miracles. I have not read them more than once each. I keep forgetting parts so many wonderful books I like, but these gluey books are like stickers on my mind. I have an uncanny feeling about what could happen if I read these books for a second time like I read favorite books so many times over and over again. Will the magic outlast another reading? Some day, when I am older and crankier, I may try and find out, though not yet. I remember them too well for the present.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Japanese Schools: The Temple Where Attitude To Work Begins

The title of this piece could well have been: “A Difference in Attitude: Why India is Lagging Behind,” but it sounded too bombastic and negative to me. I believe we can still learn if we can shrug off our laid back attitude towards our own selves. I have been visiting Japanese schools to play with the kids, interact with them, teach them Indian games or cook Indian curry with them, talk about India, teach them simple words or greetings in Hindi or Bengali, or just talk about the differences of the two lands in English or Japanese. Sometimes they too teach me Japanese games or about their school and daily lives. Japanese students learn their subjects in the Japanese language and not English. The few classes of English that they have begin from middle school. Though there have been proposals to start English from an earlier stage, it is yet to be. This is also the reason why so many English language tutorials have mushroomed all around Japan even though some of their methods of teaching are too dubious to trust any sort of improvement. That is a different story and we may come to it later.

How are Japanese schools’ different from Indian ones may be the first question. Well, most of them are quite spacious with a playground but many of our schools have that too. The only apparent differences are a swimming pool, which means compulsory swimming lessons for primary school students, music lessons, and, lunch that is provided by schools at noon. School hours are much longer and into the evening. They have more activity sessions compared to our instruction based form of learning. But if one stays on in school even after lunch, you will notice that there are other things as well.

A Problem of Attitude:

Allow me to start with a question: What would your reaction be if your son or daughter was asked to stay back after lunch in school to clean the corridors and his or her own classroom before going back home? How many parents would feel comfortable with the idea? And how many parents would at least not feel that their children are wasting time doing menial jobs that should be done by the workers in school? Japanese school children have to do it every week, every day. (They even take turns in distributing their own lunch and tifying up later.) They are keeping their own school clean. Mother Teresa once remarked that if everyone swept their own doorstep this world would be a clean place!

Well, that is one of the things which goes into making the Japanese people so diligent and hard working. During the period of economic boom in Japan, people literally worked till they would collapse. Death due to over work was common among the middle aged. People would keep working long after their office hours were over and show no signs of wanting to go back home. I do not claim it to be model for us but we are just the opposite are we not? As far as our attitude to work is concerned! (We will discuss the problem of work life in Japan later).

People all over the world have similar psychology. Allow them to live dirtily and they would pile up mountains of filth outside their own home. Why is Japan spotlessly clean? The reason is simple enough. Rules are rules for everyone. You will find it hard to believe that even in Japan there are people who spit on the street and throw cigarettes on stairs and on the pavement. I had to see it to believe it myself. Yet we find no piling up of garbage or waste strewn around everywhere. Of course, at times garbage is seen strewn at exactly those places with a forbidden sign hung up. That is another different problem. If the strict laws were not in place, Japan could become a commonplace country overnight as far as being dirty is concerned.

My own experience of participating in campus cleaning activities at my university here has been good. Students and professors and other office workers gather to collect rubbish that has accumulated at certain corners or bushes over time. There is no strict compulsion to participate though it is strongly recommended. This builds camaraderie between various people, gives you a sense of belonging to the place, eases the workload of the elderly folks who are engaged in keeping the campus clean throughout the year, and a host of other benefits together with the image of a clean university.

Garbage disposal in Japan is strict. Trash cans are there at many places and garbage has to be sorted out into plastics, combustibles, non-combustibles, raw and leftover foodstuff etc. Rules of sorting are different in different places in Japan and the city council or prefectural body mainly determine them. If you think garbage disposal rules in Japan are too strict, visit Singapore.
The wonderful thing is that even in a small town like my birthplace in India, garbage disposal has become more organized than it was a few years ago. I got a video of the whole process to show my friends in Japan about how great a garbage disposal system we have there now. The first morning I was at my home during a short visit, the tinkling of a bell at about eight o’clock in the morning surprised me. What vendor had decided to call so early? But it was the garbage disposal van. A cycle-van pedaled by a human being but very effective. Garbage has to be kept in two separate bins at your doorstep for the garbage man to collect. One for plastic waste and the other for other raw or perishable waste. The bell lets you know that your garbage is being collected. I was amazed at the development and the whole process was so quick that I did not even have time to get my camera. The next day of course, I was ready.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A little 'color' in life

There were 3 packs of detergent. One in a blue pack, the other in a yellow one and another in a multi colored one. Users found that the one in the blue pack was too mild, whereas the one in the yellow pack was too harsh on the clothes. The remaining one was found to be good.

Actually, all the packs contained the same detergent!

That is how colors affect our lives! Personally, I have always opted to use detergent powder that is blue or white in color. When I have juice or soft drinks, I usually avoid blue colored drinks. It gives me a creepy feeling. I have never tried the blue colored Pepsi for one thing!

Note: I read this in a newspaper ages ago about a research conducted on how colors affect the way we think.

The Frog ‘Prince’

A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time. It was born there and brought up there, and yet was a little, small frog. Of course, the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost it’s eyes or not, but for our story's sake, we must take it for granted that it had it’s eyes, and that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived near the sea came and fell into the well.

Dialogue between the frog from the sea (SF) and the frog in the well (WF):

WF: 'Where are you from?'

SF: 'I am from the sea.'

WF: 'The sea! How big is that?
Is it as big as my well?' and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.

SF: 'My friend,' said the frog of the sea, 'how do you compare the sea with your little well?'

Then the frog of the well took a bigger leap and asked, 'Is your sea this big?'

SF: 'What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!'

'Well, then,' said the frog of the well, 'nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; you are a liar so get out.'

This is a simple story and you may have heard it before. Narendra Nath Dutta, better known as Vivekananda in India, told this story as part of his Chicago address. It was meant to show the audience why we disagree with other people. I have often thought about this story from time to time and how I end up in my own well more often than on the seaside.