Apr 4, 2012

On Obsesssion

Obsession derives from Latin 'Obsessus'
that meant
occupy, posess
Obsession is a powerful and profound experience. The complete and utter consumption of one's thoughts or feelings by an image, idea, person, desire, motif or phenomena... imparts such an intensity to one's state of being as to render ordinary life, that follows in its aftermath, a thoroughly stultifying affair.

If the object of one's obsession happens to be another person, as opposed to an abstract idea or a material artifact, the experience can elevate itself to a constant and intense meditation on an absorbing countenance. One's entire personal universe is invaded by countless internal representations of the other person. The imaginations of the other person, with exaggerated affectivity, swarm the conscious and the unconscious alike. Even in the rare moments of relief from the obsession... a visceral undercurrent of madness lurks beneath every experience, promptly drawn to the surface upon the slightest possibility presenting itself.

Retiring every night with your mind enthralled, waking up into the same thralldom every morning... the locus of experience helplessly fixated on the one person, life becomes an intoxicating feast of thoughts, ideas and feelings dominated by the internal presence of that one person. Soon the myriad apparitions of that person assume their own seemingly independent existence (and behaviour) in one's mental landscape.

Once overcome by obsession... a glimpse into the 'theater of self' returns an enchanting spectacle, that of many living images of the 'imagined other' engaging with one's desires, hopes, fears, fantasies.... comforting when (one is) in need of comfort, caring when in need of care, loving when in need of love, admonishing when deserving of it, indifferent when miffed, angry when offended ... and being and doing all else they possibly can in the 'wish-fulfillment version' of one's imagined world.

The experience of an obsession, while it lasts, enflames the inner world and illuminates the otherwise inaccessible possibilities of an intense, authentic and passionate engagement with life. It disestablishes the mundane everydayness of life and in its place establishes a pattern of progressively increasing fascination.

In letting oneself plunge into the vortices of a powerful obsession... one becomes, even if only for a spell, utterly deeply alive.

Nov 27, 2011

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (Winner of the Man Booker Prize for 1999): Book Review

UK Edition Cover
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee is a story of the relationship between man and history. Set in post-apartheid South Africa, it explores how the forces of larger historical change often translate perversely, at times antithetically, in the lives of particular individuals. Also, through the first half, the book dwells on the state of mind of an individual, who has been thrust upon with a pervasive sense of obsolescence in his personal and professional life by sociopolitical and personal events.  

The protagonist of the story is the somewhat inscrutable David Lurie, a professor of Communication at a South African university who perfunctorily undergoes the ritual motions of teaching to a generation of students disinterested in his subject – Romantic Literature (the alien character of classical European studies in the African context is the subtext). He is twice divorced, has no intimate personal relationships and is sufficiently aware of his status as a reject of the changed circumstances of his life (personal and national life). He has an essentially pessimistic view of the corrigibility of man beyond a certain age and he persistently questions, both in soliloquy and through his conduct, the nature and effect of the Repression of instinctual desires, upon which the moral foundation of civilized society rests.

Oct 26, 2011

Sanjit 'Bunker' Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement

In Rajasthan, India, an extraordinary school teaches rural women and men -- many of them illiterate -- to become solar engineers, artisans, dentists and doctors in their own villages. It's called the Barefoot College, and its founder, Bunker Roy, explains how it works in this fascinating TEDtalk.

The Barefoot College has one mission: to provide basic services and solutions in rural communities with the objective of making them self-sufficient. These “barefoot solutions” can be broadly categorized into solar energy, water, education, health care, rural handicrafts, people’s action, communication, women’s empowerment and wasteland development. The Barefoot College education program, for instance, teaches literacy and also skills, encouraging learning-by-doing. (Literacy is only part of it.)  Bunker’s organization has also successfully trained grandmothers from Africa and the Himalayan region to be solar engineers so they can bring electricity to their remote villages. As he says, Barefoot College is "a place of learning and unlearning: where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher."

Sanjit 'Bunker' Roy (born 2 August 1945) is an Indian social activist and educator. He was selected as one of Time 100, the 100 most influential personalities in the world by TIME Magazine in 2010.

Sep 28, 2011

Democracy vs Republic - Essential differences & Speculations on Future Politics of the world: Part 1

Signing of the US Constitution: A great political milestone in Human History
I have, by now, come across enough people innocent of the difference between Democracy and Republicanism to conclude, with justified confidence, that the two terms exist entangled and enmeshed in the political imagination of most ordinary folks.

(What follows is a slightly discursive foray that might help contextualize the crux of the article)

Upon some reflection it does however become obvious that such an obscure and hazy understanding of the finer points of distinction between the two is, in fact, a contingent relic of modern history. It (the confounding of democracy and republicanism with each other) is  a part of the normative 'common sense’ in a period of world history where the dominant form of political organization is supposed to be both - republican and democratic. 

Indeed, except for the odd Kingdoms, Principalities and Emirates almost every polity in the world today officially calls itself a Republic and a majority of those also append Democracy to their formal names for good measure.
Surely, much of that is just political posturing, an attempt to legitimize the status-quo by those who benefit from it. In the Economist Intelligence Units’ Democracy Index, only 26 countries are characterized as Full Democracies and just another 53 as Flawed Democracies… meaning thereby that the rest of them are less democratic than whatever measure of Democratization is conveyed by the adjective Flawed when used to adjectivize the noun Democracy!!!!

It is even more problematic, to categorize a polity in terms of its Republican character as such a characterization would be utterly dependent on how expansively (or narrowly) we conceptualize a Republic. We run the risk of trivialization in attempting to frame it too broadly, say, if any polity governed by limited power is supposed a Republic then it could imply that ALL the polities in the world today are Republics, as even the Kingdoms, Emirates and Principalities are NOT (and CAN not be), as a matter of practice, ruled by unlimited unrestrained absolute power.

Sep 13, 2011

Yasheng Huang: Does democracy stifle economic growth? (A fresh comparative analysis of China and India)

Economist Yasheng Huang compares China to India, and asks how China's authoritarian rule contributed to its astonishing economic growth -- leading to a big question: Is democracy actually holding India back? Huang's answer may surprise you.

MIT and Fudan University professor Yasheng Huang is an authority on how to get ahead in emerging economies. The China and India Labs he founded at MIT's Sloan School of Management specialize in helping local startups improve their strategies. His book Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics (2008) chronicles three decades of economic reform in China and documents the critical role that private entrepreneurship played in the Communist nation’s “economic miracle.” Huang believes that China is moving away from Marxism (public ownership) but not Leninism (ideology of state control) -- and that strong social fundamentals are the key reason for its growth.

Aug 30, 2011

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2008): Book Review

The First Edition Cover
‘The White Tiger’ is a compelling story compellingly told. It picks up, from the unyieldingly vast socio-political mosaic of India, a fragment that has more-often-than-not been airbrushed beyond recognition in the popular imagination and sidestepped, on account of moral inconvenience, by the  mainstream cultural commentators.

In his debut novel Aravind Adiga anatomizes many of the subterranean sociological contradictions of the ‘rooster coop’ that is India (for most of its citizens anyway) in a hard-hitting mind-expanding manner. 

He renders readily comprehensible, the fabricated made-for-television character of the ‘India Emerging’ narrative that has painstakingly been manufactured, propagated and re-enforced in the cultural consciousness of urban middle class India (and indeed in the minds of media reportage-dependent international ‘India Observers’).

One can’t help but suspect that Adiga had in mind to subtly embody a revolutionary manifesto for the subalterns and the oppressed of India in this book. The whole book is suffused with philosophical irony and replete with tragicomic references to the daily subjugations that the countless Indian underclasses are inflicted with, as a matter of culturally sanctioned custom.

Jul 31, 2011

Scandinavia: The Best Place on Earth - What Emile Durkheim Never Knew!!

The empirical fact, easily  and freely accessible to anyone who can do as much as a goggle search, is that the Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark and for all intensive purposes Finland, Iceland and Netherlands) ARE...

...at the top (or the top category) of pretty much EVERY meaningful metric of human well-being LIKE...

Jul 30, 2011

Paul Bloom: The origins of pleasure

Why do we like an original painting better than a forgery? Psychologist Paul Bloom argues that human beings are Essentialists (as in Essentialism) -- that our beliefs about the history of an object profoundly change how we experience it, not simply as an illusion, but as a deep feature of what pleasure (and pain) actually is.

Paul Bloom is a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on language, morality, religion, fiction, and art. Paul Bloom's latest book is called How Pleasure Works - which is indicative of the kinds of questions he looks at, the big basic ones:  Why do we like some things and not others? How do we decide what's fair and unfair? How much of our moral development, what we think of as our mature reasoning process, is actually hard-wired and present in us from birth? 

I strongly recommend Paul Blooms' introductory course on Psychology (Psych 110 - delivered at Yale) available as a serial webcast on youtube. I've done it and its awesome!!