Friday, December 30, 2016

The journey of Reena-from a shy village girl to an independent woman.

Reena and I got married 18 years back, ours was an arranged marriage, full of all uncertainties and concerns which any arranged marriage brings along with it. The journey was not an easy ride, we had our ups and downs, went through our own struggle to understand each other and adjust with each other. I learned a lot from her and I am sure she feels the same. I lived most of my life in patriarchal society in India where the status of women was not equal to men, I must also mention that in the USA situation is much better, but still, a lot of work is needed even in the USA so one can imagine the situation in India. I was raised in the environment of male superiority, but fortunately, it had an opposite effect on me, it made me a feminist. I realized the importance of making a woman an equal partner in any relationship. I realized that in modern world women are an equal stakeholder and they need to contribute like that.

Reena lived in a small village in Uttar Pradesh until her sixth grade and then she moved to Varanasi. Varanasi is one of the biggest city of UP, but the situation of women is not that different compared to other parts of UP. Definitely, it is better than many villages, but the difference is not that much. So when we got married, my first task was to make my wife independent of me. She came from the culture where the husband had the status of a demigod- the provider for her needs, the protector of her honor and dignity, the controller of her life and destiny, and what not. I needed to break all these myths, this was not an easy task for me as well as for her. It was confusing for her and very complicated for me. There was no easy way for both of us to maneuver through the maze of cultural mess which arranged marriage and patriarchal culture brought in our lives. When I told her that she is an equal partner in our relationship, which means she has equal rights and has to share an equal responsibility. The second part was more confusing and complicated for her (about the responsibilities). Rights without responsibility is a useless endeavor. But I must say that she responded with a lot of courage and responsibility. She took on this challenge head on after initial hesitation. Initially, she thought her responsibilities are limited to traditional household work which women were expected to perform, this was the way she was raised. But when she realized that her scope of duty involves many tasks which she never thought were women's job, she was little hesitant. There was a struggle, I witnessed that struggle, I refused to help on many occasions, but that was necessary for her to realize her own potential. She overcame many obstacles on her own, with no or very little help. I was just her companion, once she decided to take on this challenge, she did things on her own, she deserves the credit for all her success and failures.

When we moved to the USA, it opened many more new doors for her. She was free from all the social and familial constraints which were present in India. This made her embark on an exciting and rewarding journey. Today, I live with a totally transformed person, she is much more confident and independent person. We both support each other, our relationship is more balanced now compared to what it was at the time of our marriage. She is a very confident person and an independent woman who don't need her husband's support for her survival, and I am glad to see that she can manage her life on her own. She is a pillar of strength and support for me along with rest of my family and friends. We both compliment each other as a husband and wife rather than having a typical husband dominated marital relationship. It is not easy to write about your partner or parents or for that matter any person in just one blog post, but I want my readers to get an idea that it doesn't matter who we are or from where we come, if we decide and get enough support we all can achieve many things which may look impossible.

Reena's journey so far is not only a success story in its own way but also a source of inspiration for me. She still has many more challenges and many more obstacles to cross, but now she can do these things on her own. There are many successful people around us, but we fail to notice them. Normally we only recognize the success or failure based on media reports and very often ignore many inspiring stories of people around us. Many times no one bothers to tell these stories of common people like us. Many times we fail to notice some inspirational struggle or success story happening right in front of our eyes. We ignore just because these people don't become celebrities, they don't end up making millions of dollars. I am fortunate to notice and appreciate many such success stories around me. My family members, friends and colleagues faced many challenges and fought hard to overcome them. For me, all these struggles and triumphs are very inspiring. All these stories along with many others provide me the required self-confidence and optimistic outlook towards life, and Reena's journey is one such story. We all have someone around us who is making progress day by day and if we learn to recognize that struggle and draw inspiration from their struggle, life will be beautiful.

Thanks for reading.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The real meaning of American citizenship.

Citizenship of any country can be obtained either by birth or by being a resident of that country for certain period of time mentioned in its citizenship act. This policy is an important aspect of many immigrant friendly countries like the USA, where many immigrants choose to become a citizen, mainly to avail many benefits which these countries offer to its citizens. For me, citizenship has much deeper meaning apart from just a legal status, especially when someone chooses to abandon one citizenship and accepts another. Citizenship by birth is a right, but citizenship by naturalization is somewhat different. To choose to become a citizen of any country is a conscious decision. It should be done after a lot of deliberation and serious thinking. Because a citizenship is not only a privilege or right offered by the constitution of that country but also a big responsibility. Any person gets attached to his or her place of birth emotionally for various reasons, that place always remains special to him/her. But, if someone acquires a citizenship by naturalization, he or she has to develop a similar love, concern, and sense of belonging to that new country. If this doesn't happen then the benefit is one way, like it happens in an extremely selfish relationship, where one side gets all the perks without giving any commitment or loyalty in return.

According to me, the USA is one of the best places to live, it offers the best set of civil rights in the world among the countries which have a population more than 200 million (I am talking about rights like freedom of expression, practice or not to practice religion, etc.). The American citizenship comes with many benefits, but at the same time, it also comes with some duties. One of the major duty is to give up loyalty to your previous country of citizenship and be loyal to the USA. I have seen that some naturalized citizens fail to understand the importance of this duty. They feel that being a US citizen means having the right to avail all the benefits, but loyalty to the US is an optional requirement. This loyalty does not only mean support the country when it's under attack by outsiders but also being loyal to its constitution, and its values. Being American doesn't mean only to possess an American passport but also understand and promulgate American values and culture. If more and more people fail to understand these things then I feel the gap between various sections of this society will keep on increasing and this is not a good sign for the health of this great country.

The USA is an extremely tolerant country, it has accommodated various cultures and values gracefully. When I mean one needs to respect American values I don't mean a certain set of rigid rules, I mean the spirit of respecting individual liberty and right to choose. These two are the most prominent feature of American society which helped this country to achieve the status of superpower. The real meaning of being an American citizen is not just to hold an American passport but to understand and practice American values. Understand the reason behind the phenomenal success of this country, which it managed to achieve in such a short span of time compared to many other countries in the world. It is a duty of each and every citizen to continue to work towards making this country better than before. Being a citizen doesn't at all means surrender all you previous values or beliefs, this country gives a right of freedom of expression to every resident. Constructive criticism, political activism, opposition to the government and its policies, demostrations, and protests all are part of efforts to achieve this progress. The sense of duty to protect American values is important and I feel all current and future citizens as well as residents of America realize this. This country is a unique and one of the best places to live on earth and let's keep it that way. The real meaning of being an American citizen not only means being eligible to enjoy the benefits offered to its citizens but also perform all the duties expected of its citizens.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, December 23, 2016

Is it possible to be politically independent in today's world?

The current political environment in most of the countries is very polarized. I can speak about the USA and India as I follow political scenarios in these two countries more than any other country in the world. Both these countries are vibrant democracies, but the current political atmosphere is so charged and polarized it is almost impossible to remain an independent and try to have a balanced and rational political discussion with any political party or ideology supporter. Most supporters of any party or leader are so passionate and blindly in love with their leader that they are not willing to hear anything even remotely against their leader. These people are very eager to brand their opponents anti-nationals, communal, secular (term secular used in a derogatory way), racist, islamophobic, misogynist, or by any other tag which they can think.  Because of these two things have happened, political discussions have become either like fist fights, where two parties fight against each other blow by blow without having any fruitful exchange of thoughts or it has become an almost devotee like the singing of praise of their demigod leader, where every good thing happening around is attributed to some action taken by that leader.

Politically independent people, who can throw light on both sides of the issue, or can debate over the good and bad aspects of the same policy, political party or a leader has disappeared from these discussions. I understand why they don't want to participate in any such political arguments. But, these debates are so predictable and boring because of an absence of any sane voice among all political devotees. Such devotees are required, there is no doubt that all political leaders and parties survive and thrive due to the presence of such devoted supporters, but the presence of such supporters only make that party gain or lose elections, it doesn't help in moving political discourse any forward. In such a politically charged atmosphere, very often there is a possibility of political deadlock, where both sides try to block even good policies from each other just to display their political muscle power. The interest of the country or its people takes a back seat and that leader's ego or interest of that party's  core voters becomes a most prominent factor. These things used to happen in past also, but now it is happening even after an increase in the education level of people and increase in accessibility of information due to the rapid spread of internet related technology (cell phone, computers).

I am a politically independent person, I don't support a single political party of a leader. In an election, of course, I have to choose one from the list, and I make my decision based on the important issues of that time and solutions presented by different parties, but at the same time, I know the weaknesses and drawbacks of my choice. I am willing to accept that the party for which I voted might have some terrible policies about certain economic and social issues, but in an election, you can vote only for one party and not voting (if I am eligible) is not an option for me. If the party I voted wins the election, then I should be ready to oppose any policy they try to implement which was either not on their agenda or which is obviously harmful to a certain section of society. I am not obliged to support whatever they do, just because I voted for him. This is how I deal with the politics, I don't think political parties would like to have voters like me, but this is how I protect my political independence. I am not bound by their core ideologies or their leader's demigod like status. Current politics has become so personality centric that it has become like a war between two cults.

Whenever I discuss politics in any group, I can see the desperation of people do defend their choices at any cost and their frustration when someone exposes weaknesses of their side or starts asking some uncomfortable questions and I can ask many such questions. I am a republican sympathizer in a democrat group and vice versa, I play a similar role in India also among BJP or Congress supporters. The politics is supposed to be there for the benefit of people, it was supposed to create healthy debate and discussion where something better for nation comes out from such debates. It was not supposed to create a war like situation within a country or a deadlock where the nation is stuck in policy paralysis, where nothing moves forward except vicious verbal attacks on each other. None of these things are healthy for any nation. Political differences and strong opposition should exist and no government should get an absolute right to do whatever they want. Every democratic country needs to have some checks and balances to curtail the absolute power. The presence of single ideology is dangerous no matter how good or rational that ideology sounds. I hope people understand the value and importance of dissent. I hope they understand that expressing dissent against the government doesn't mean that they are aginst the country. If a country needs to progress all of its people need to contribute, political opponents have ideological or policy based differences they are not enemies of each other, their existence should not be mutually exclusive. Politics needs healthy and efficient dialogue not monotonous, and vitriolic monologs.

I cherish my political independence and I am really proud of it. It is becoming a very rare trait day by day. I hope people understand the importance of constructive criticism and healthy dialog, until that this drama will continue and people like me won't find any difference between some news channels and channels who telecast dramatic soap operas. Protect you political independence if you can, and even if you become a supporter of some political party become a sensible supporter, not a blind devotee.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My fear of needles and my blood donation experience.

I am not that comfortable with needles. I dislike the feeling of getting a flu shot or whenever they draw blood for testing. I am sure many people don't like to get poked by a needle, especially during a medical exam. Some don't like it because of some past bad experience, some due to pain, and some are just not comfortable with that feeling being poked with the needle. For me, it's not about the pain, because it doesn't hurt that much, many other injuries hurt way more than the pain which I feel because of needles, and normally the encounter with the needles is just a matter of a few seconds. I am also not scared of needles in general as I use them in the lab almost every day to transfer or add a variety of reagents in my chemical reactions. I just don't like that feeling, but it won't be wrong to say that I fear needles, this why going for a blood donation was a big challenge for me. I donated blood for the fist time in India when I was in the college, I don't recollect that I was worried or scared of needles that time, may be the presence of friends, a very young age or some other emotion took care of this fear. Since I came to the USA, I wanted to donate blood, but didn't get a chance to because Red Cross doesn't accept your blood at least for one year if you visit any country like India. For the last few years, I visit India almost every year, so I was not qualified to donate blood.

This year I was qualified as I didn't visit India. I went for donation and passed all their initial screening tests. Then the time came to go for actual donation. I was worried it was not going to be very easy for me to tolerate a needle into my arm for so long time. The needle was going to stay in my vein for at least 20-30 minutes if not more, and it was not a very comforting thought for me. The lab technician found the vein from which she wanted to draw the blood easily, but when she inserted the needle somehow she missed it and then she tried to search for it by moving the needle. It was a really uncomfortable feeling, it lasted for 1-2 minutes, but that process was the worst part of the entire blood donation. Eventually, they did find the vein and I could donate the blood successfully.

The nurse turned out to be a Trump supporter, she voted for Mr. Trump and initially she was hesitant to talk more about that. But when I told her that it was her right to choose the candidate, which she thought was suitable for the job and she should not be hesitant to talk about it just because she is living in a democrat state. We discussed quite a bit about the election and I told her my point of view about this presidential election. I clearly told her that I also liked some of Mr. Trump's proposed policy measures, and from the beginning, I thought that he was a dark horse of the presidential race. I even wrote a blog post about him a few months back. But for me that so called 'locker room' conversation was a deal breaker. She agreed with me that it was bad, but said that Hillary is also not that clean, she had her own mistakes which made her equally bad person. She also said that all these people have some skeletons in their closets. It was a fair counter argument, and she did say ultimately that she was OK with women being a President, but she was not OK with Hillary. Actually, many people have used this argument to justify their choice after this election and I fail to understand the real rationale behind it, but it is their right to choose the candidate which they like. This conversation was very helpful to me as it diverted my attention away from the pain of that inserted needle in my hand. We ended our conversation on a very positive note and I told her that I am looking forward towards presidency of her candidate, and I hope that Mr. Trump will honestly try to implement his policies for the benefit of citizens of this great country. She gave me thumbs up for this as well as for successfully completing my blood donation.

I felt a big sense of achievement after finishing the process of blood donation, that feeling was not just because I donated the blood, I know that many people donate regularly, but because I overcame my fear of needles and survived those 30-40 minutes without having a panic attack that too when no one who I know personally was around me. I did this by my own choice. I was not compelled to do this for any other reason other than my own desire to do it. The feeling of not allowing my personal fear or phobia to control my desire to do something good was great, and I think we all are capable of overcoming such fears or mental blocks. We all or most of us have some sort of fear or mental block, which forbids us from doing many things which we all can do for the benefit of society or people around us. If we try to take one small step at a time to overcome those fears, we all can conquer them. I understand that it is not going to be easy, but it is not impossible. 

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, December 2, 2016

My parent's and I.

Our parents (or guardians or caretakers if not biological parents) are the first individuals who cast some influence on our lives. Our first social and intellectual interaction start with them, they teach us how to walk, talk, eat, and many other relevant physical and social skills. Parents normally have a significant influence on their child's life, many times they can shape up the thinking of the child. I think this is the reason why we see the continuation of same religious and political beliefs running through generations in the same family. Like everyone's parents, my parents are special to me and their influence on my life is significant. First of all, I am thankful to them for bringing me into this world, I know that my birth was not any divine incident. It was just a biological phenomena like every other birth of that time, born out of physical attraction between a male and a female, but still, this interaction was special to me as it resulted in my birth.  

My parents migrated from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra few years before my birth. My father came to Pune (a city in a state of Maharastra) to work in a factory. It was a new place, new culture, and completely new language. It was especially difficult for my mom to adjust with this new surrounding as she came from very protected environment to this new world where she has to take care of her family plus learn a new language and adjust to totally unfamiliar surroundings. There was a social and economic struggle, but they managed to tackle all these problems. As far as I remember I always saw my dad working very hard, I never saw this man resting or relaxing, even today he never feels comfortable in sitting at home. Now his body can't cope up with his enthusiasm to work, but still, he goes out and contributes as much as he can. He worked as a machine operator in a gas cylinder valve manufacturing company (Vanaz). When his company gave an option, he took a voluntary retirement in 1989 and started his own business. I was in a high school when he took this bold step, with three kids to feed, this guy took this brave step to invest all his retirement money into a dairy and sweet shop business. He established this business from scratch. He used to do all the work, he was the owner as well as the helper in shop kitchen, whatever work was required he did it without any complaint. We never even had a two-wheeler that time, he used to go on a bicycle to bring milk every day and also to market to procure other stuff. I know the reason why he suffers from a knee pain, he pushed his body beyond its physical limits for many years. When I look back to those days, I can't stop myself from getting impressed by the amount of hard work this man did to support our family. This all was not possible without the support of my mother, they both really worked hard, seldom they had any time to enjoy. We never used to have any spare money to go to a restaurant or watch a movie. The only movie we watched as a family was Sunny Deol's debutant movie "Betab," this movie has a special place in my heart just because of this reason. Going to our native place during summer vacation used to be our only picnic. They both dedicated their lives to establish their family in a new place. They worked really hard and established their business, built their own house in Pune, and paid for the education of their three kids.

They both taught me the value of hard work. Our many problems were related to money, this made me realize the importance of money very early in my life. I am thankful to my parents for countless things, but, I am most thankful to them for not insisting their beliefs and values on me. They never forced me to follow their religious or political beliefs, this allowed me to develop my own independent views about these things. I am really grateful to them for this, I am their son, but I am very different than them in all these aspects and I thank them for making this possible. I can see the amount of influence parents try to put on their kids as far as their religious, social, and political beliefs are concerned, fortunately, my parents never did that. They taught me all the necessary values like respect people around you, work hard, be honest and sincere, the importance of education, and many other things. Apart from education and some social etiquettes, nothing else was forced. We were not allowed to play cards as gambling was very rampant in our neighborhood. My dad never had a drink in front of us, even though many of his friends used to drink regularly in their homes and even tell their kids to fetch the bottle from the wine shop. They were really strict about some of these things and I really applaud them for this. These rules protected us from bad influences of our neighborhood. I don't know the exact number of kids going to school with me that time (must be around thirty), but only three or four successfully graduated from college, and two of them were from our family. These numbers say a lot about their efforts.

They both couldn't go to college, but they made sure that each of their kid got a chance to enter the college. My education and freedom to think are tow biggest gifts to me from them. Their support was very pivotal during my education, it was their decision not to allow their kids to enter the workforce to support their family was very important, this allowed me to complete my college and then my Ph.D. Many of my friends started working at very young age and couldn't finish their college. My education changed my life completely, it allowed me to question many things which I would never have done without the power of knowledge. Their reaction to many of my objections and protests is also admirable, I never expected that they will take my objections so sportingly. Not only they listen to my outrageous (according to them) views patiently, but even changed their views on certain topics after having a lengthy chat with me on those matters. It is not that we don't argue, we do it a lot, my concept of respect is not absolute obedience, no matter who the person is. I challenge their actions wherever I feel I have to and we argue, sometimes we agree and many times we don't, and this is what life is. Our disagreements so far didn't put any cracks in our bonding, it is as strong as ever. Our journey so far is really enjoyable, with some ups and downs for sure, but I do share a special bond with them and over the years that bond has become only stronger. Actually, one post is not enough to say everything about our parents, but I wanted to share something about them with readers. We all love and respect our parents, but rarely share our feelings with them. I think it is better to express our feelings, I learned this after coming to the US, in India rarely people express their feelings to each other in some relationships, especially son-father or daughter-father relationship. It is a personal choice, but I feel it is better to express them and have a very friendly relationship with our parents, it is a very rewarding experience.
Thank you मम्मि (mom), thank you पप्पा (dad) for everything, love you.

Thanks for reading.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Burqa and mini skirt-Symbols of liberation or oppression?

Symbolism is of a great importance for any civilization, various symbols can convey messages about our culture, habits, traditions, and values. The clothes we wear are one such symbol, any society where people are free to wear whatever they want based on their own needs and taste can claim to be a free and tolerant place. Societies, where the dress code is strictly implemented against the wish of people, and they are forced to wear a certain type of clothing can not claim to be a free society. Our clothing is a type of self-expression, may of us try to express ourselves using the way we dress, actually, this is one of the reasons why we wear different dresses for different occasions. I am not a supporter of a dress code (school uniform is a different ball game, it has a special purpose). I like to wear clothes in which I feel comfortable. I hate the idea of being forced to wear a certain type of clothing against my own wish, wherever possible I have resisted these things. Social pressure or peer pressure can be considered as other two important factors which force people to follow certain clothing habits.

Many times Burqua (or a veil) is propagated as a sign of oppression of women. It is true that forcing women or for that matter anyone to wear a certain type of clothing against their wish is wrong, but what if they are doing it out of their own choice? Can then we call it as a freedom to choose or we need to look deeper? I think, it is not that straightforward, we need to ask, under what circumstances that choice is offered? Is there any indirect pressure to dress or appear in a certain way to satisfy social norms? Is there a peer pressure or serious social and professional repercussion if they don't dress in a certain way? These questions might help us to understand the situation in a better way, rather than concluding anything based on dress. I have seen women wearing dark burqas on extremely hot summer days and mini skirts and high heels on extremely cold days, their clothing totally defied the need for weather conditions around them. I always wondered which one of them can be considered that she was free to choose her dress? Maybe none of them. Just because someone is wearing a burqa doesn't mean that person is living in an oppressed culture and just because someone is wearing a mini skirt doesn't mean they are living in a free society. The real freedom means people make informed choices, they chose what they want based on their own needs and requirements, not based on what society expects from them. One lady mentioned to me that it is not easy to be a woman even in developed countries as there are very high expectations about the way they should look or dress. She told me that most people think that women should not have any body hair except on head, eyelids, and eyelashes, I was shocked to know about this expectation. It is very natural to have body hair, it is a natural part of being a living organism, but to force a someone to get rid of them just because of some ridiculous beauty standard, is ridiculous, but it seems there is such an unreasonable expectation and many women subscribe to this. The reason offered is also a very serious one, it seems that if they don't then the social and professional penalty is severe. 

Women need to fight this stereotype on their own, this is one way of subjugating them by putting the burden of unreasonable expectations about external appearance. Forcing a burqa is as bad as forcing a miniskirt, there is no difference. Wearing a bikini or jeans doesn't make you a forward or liberal, at the same time wearing a burqa doesn't make you a backward or oppressed. A person's character should not be decided by the type of clothes they wear. Our clothes should be one of the ways to express ourselves, they should reflect our choice and should be based on our own decisions and needs. Our dress is not the true reflection of our personality only when it is our honest choice, based on free will. Burqa or miniskirt, they both can be symbols of oppression or freedom depending on what circumstances people wear it.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Woman president-no thanks, we would rather prefer a sexual predator.

Like many, the result of the US presidential election was surprising for me. It was not shocking as the contest was very tight, but the result definitely surprised me. Politically, I consider myself an independent; I don't subscribe to any political ideology as I find some good, bad, and terrible points from both sides of the political spectrum. I support some of Mr. Trump's immigration and economic policies, but this man lost all my support the day that disgusting video came out, and he pathetically tried to justify that conversation as a "locker room talk."  He literally sounded like a sexual predator in that video, it was horrifying to watch a presidential nominee talking like that not very long ago. It seems for many his self-confession of sexual assault was not an issue at all, they are completely fine with the lame excuse of locker room talk. Now, I know the difference between the dirty talk and sexual assault. The released conversation was not just a dirty talk; he can do as much dirty talk as he wants, but this was a confession of a sexual assault, and there is a huge difference between these two things. But it seems American voters were hardly bothered by this, after all, aren't women expected to go through all this? Aren't rich, powerful, and charismatic people entitled to do such things?

The two choices presented by both parties were not perfect, Hillary's CV was much stronger for that job, but just having a strong CV doesn't guarantee you any job, the interview panel should like you and then only the job is guaranteed. Hillary failed to impress the interview panel. There can be several reasons for election defeat, but this election was special and the question is, how much her gender played a role in her defeat? According to me, her gender played a quite significant role. As per polls and opinions, it seems that Americans don't mind having a woman president; yeah, they don't mind. They want the rest of the world to believe that they are OK with a woman president, but so far this amazing country where women are so talented, qualified, and hard working, couldn't find a single qualified woman to lead this country. Dearth of such talented women is so bad that for the first time some woman made through primaries to get a major political party's nomination. It took more than 200 years to find a black person to lead the country, and no one knows how many years it might take to find a woman to lead this country. 

So, why I think that Hillary's gender played a role in this election? Was she judged with stricter standards just because she was a woman? To understand this, I want readers to imagine a hypothetical scenario, just switch the background or gender of candidates: imagine Hillary as a successful business person with undisclosed tax returns and extremely lavish and flamboyant lifestyle. Imagine release of her "locker room talk" video, where she is bragging about her attempts to sexually assault some man and how she loves kissing young men, grabbing their crotch and she can do whatever she wants because she is rich, powerful, and famous. Do you think she would have had any chance to win any election or even a nomination? If your answer is "no chance," then you know what I mean when I say that her gender played a major role in her defeat. Yes, emails mattered, FBI directors sudden statement mattered, her image mattered, Bill Clinton's infidelity mattered, her time in government mattered, but her gender played a BIG role. This is what made me disappointed, I was not sad that a democrat lost or a republican won, I hardly care about their party affiliation. I was not sad that Hillary lost, as I am not her fan, I was sad that a qualified woman lost to a man of questionable character just because she was a woman.

To explain why this loss was more bothersome, let me give an example of India's parliament election of 2014, there also Mr. Modi, with a questionable attitude towards his own wife won the election with an impressive majority, but his victory was not unexpected as his opponents were really weak. He at least looked like the most competent person among all who were competing for that job. His total disregard towards his wife was not even an issue, no one bothered to think that if a prime minister can treat his wife like this, then what about other citizens? He didn't even bother to give her divorce, just ignored her as if she didn't exist. It showed society's total disregard of women's rights, but I hardly expected that Indian voters will even think about this issue, and as expected they didn't. So, it was not an unexpected result, but I didn't expect something even remotely similar to happen here in the USA. I know that resentment against immigrants or minorities is a very strong feeling and I wrote a post regarding this issue just a few days before the election. In that post I mentioned that use of this emotion can result in huge political dividends, it happened in India so there was no reason why it can't happen here in the US. I would not have been surprised if Hillary would have lost the election to any other republican candidate (even a celebrity candidate) on anti-immigration rhetoric, but Mr. Trump's victory even after the release of that video is surprising to me and it puts a question mark in my mind about society's attitude towards women. Maybe they are not going to be good enough in front of men; no matter how qualified they are or how hard working they are.

Women played a significant role in Mr. Trump's victory. It seems the majority white women voted for him. Obviously, the race was not a factor as both candidates were from the same race, this again proves that gender was the factor. The effect of patriarchy is so strong that even women think that men are most suitable for any leadership position. This thinking is inculcated since childhood and each tradition or custom is designed to validate this thinking. It becomes so embedded in our minds that we don't even realize that we are proponents of patriarchy. The glass ceiling about which many women leaders talk is not just created by men or patriarchy, but women are equal contributors to make sure that ceiling remains intact. Hillary was not an icon for me until November, 9th, but she became one on that day. Her win may not have impressed me that much as much as her loss made me sad. This is not the first time some Hillary has lost to Donald, this has happened many times before and may happen in future also. But that doesn't mean women should stop trying. It is true that she couldn't break that glass ceiling, but definitely she made it crack, and now it is up to others to break it. It is not going to be easy, but it is possible.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing.]

Friday, November 4, 2016

Resentment against immigrants. Why?

I have lived my life as a part of an immigrant family in India and I am an immigrant in the USA. I have experienced build up of resentment against immigrants, but I never suffered any harm because of it. This problem is very real and I want to share my perspective on it. My family migrated from one state of India to another in search of better opportunities (from Uttar Pradesh to Maharashtra). In India, each state is like a different country, with its own language and culture. It is not that easy to adjust, especially if the native language is totally alien to you. One can cook their own food or eat whatever is available, but it takes quite a bit of time and some efforts to learn a new language and get to know a new culture. My parents went through this struggle and I witnessed that. The good part of this struggle was, they never forced any of their kids to learn their own native language (Bhojpuri), I and my brothers learned to speak Marathi instead of Hindi or Bhojpuri. I give total credit of this to my parents, I don't know if they did it on purpose, but this is how it happened. We used to speak three languages simultaneously in our home, Bhojpuri, Hindi, and Marathi. Until recently my parents used to speak with us (their three kids) in Hindi or Bhojpuri and we used to answer in Marathi. It happens even now, but not that much, because now they are very comfortable with Marathi. This system worked very flawlessly, it was so smooth that we didn't even realize that we were using three languages simultaneously. The point here is, they didn't stop us from learning the local culture, language or customs. They allowed us to mingle with our surroundings, form friendships, get into trouble or do whatever other kids from the neighborhood were doing, as a kid, I never felt that I came to Maharashtra from some other state, Maharashtra is my home state and Marathi is my mother tongue. So we grew up and became a proud Maharashtrian in a family migrated from UP. This does not mean that we were totally disconnected with our native place, Uttar Pradesh. We can speak Bhojpuri quite well, love food and visit there whenever possible. I feel lucky that I belong to two states in India. Maharashtra now has a sizable population coming from northern states like UP and Bihar. And as normally happens, some resentment got built against these people among native Maharashtrians, some parties tried to encash these feelings. But, we never felt that this anger was directed towards us as we or at least I never had any doubt about me being a Marathi. But, I also got curious why there is such a strong resentment against immigrants? This feeling is so strong that some political parties and leaders owe their existence to it. Who support such political parties and why? Why this feeling of resentment, which almost like a hatred becomes such a powerful political weapon? It is so powerful weapon that even in a developed country like the USA, this issue is one of the major issues of presidential election and it is one of the major reasons for Mr. Trump's popularity.

Why immigrants go through this phase in any society? Why doesn't it happen when they start immigrating, but only when they become a sizable minority group, and their presence can be seen and felt by the majority? I tried to get answers to these questions based on my own experience. Maharashtra or the USA are very cultured and civilized societies, these places are not alien to the presence of immigrants. Why a country like the US, which is known to be very freindly towatds immigrants is facing this problem?

There is no doubt that the cultural clash is one of the reasons for this problem. When immigrants become a sizable minority, they start registering their presence on various platforms and this disturbs some native people. At the same time, native people start feeling that their culture is under attack or threat, as immigrants start asserting their own culture and traditions. Native population starts feeling that one day their own traditions will disappear. Now, no one cares or bothers to think whether these concerns are real or not, they don't bother to check their validity, but these fears start creating some feeling of resentment in some part of the native population. This fear slowly builds up. Bad economy or poor employment rate fuels more insecurity among people and these feelings start showing their ugly effect by some stray incidents, where some immigrant gets attacked for no reason. Some political leader takes advantage of this fear and makes it a political issue. This is what happened in Maharashtra and this is what happening in the USA, and unfortunately I am a witness to both of these phenomena.

Who is right and who is wrong? Who should be blamed for this situation? Are immigrants responsible for not adapting to their new place and appreciating the new culture and values which has given them so much? Are native people responsible for not being flexible enough and accommodative to include new values and cultural norms in their existing culture? I think the problem is from the both sides, remember, it takes two to tango. If you wanted to create another UP in Maharashtra then why did you migrate from UP? If you wanted to create another India in the USA, why not to live in India itself, after all, the original is always better than the duplicate, right? What's the point in creating another Mexico in the USA? On the other hand, why not to welcome and adapt some great values from all these cultures into the US culture and make it more diverse? Why can't we respect each other without threatening the existence of each other?

All people who think that this resentment against immigrants is unreal or is totally misplaced feeling, are themselves living in a denial mode. A presidential candidate like Mr. Trump or leader like Mr. Thackerey doesn't get support for no reason. People may feel that these leaders are not qualified to hold any public office, but they should not make a mistake to ignore the issues which their supporters raise. They all are not deplorable people, labeling such a big part of population stupid doesn't help. If any mainstream politician doesn't address their concerns, they will choose someone who they think is best to handle their issues, and then we really can't complain, it will be too late. I don't think Mr. Trump is their solution for their problems, but he is their answer to political class for ignoring their concerns, for ridiculing their fear. Now they have someone who can speak for them, he is far from perfect, but at least he is recognizing their problems, and this is enough for most of them. The current political class is trapped in too much political correctness, they prefer ignoring difficult issues. They prefer to wait and watch rather than tackling the problems head-on. The point is, someone should listen to these concerns and try to find solutions, ignoring or ridiculing is not going to help.

I am not here to judge whether this feeling of resentment is justified or not, one can debate about it. Maybe they really feel threatened about their culture or jobs. Maybe they are really concerned they will become a minority and their kids will face problems. Maybe all this fear is totally misplaced, but someone needs to discuss these things, these people should feel that their concerns are also being considered as a mainstream problems. The country is not only facing problems related to guns, abortion, terrorism, and unemployment; but illegal immigration is a serious problem and should be discussed. If not, then someone will take advantage of this anger, today it's Mr. Trump, tomorrow it may be someone else, and please don't make a mistake of thinking that elections can't be won or lost on such issues. I have seen it happening in India and it can very much happen in the US. Discussing such sensitive issues openly is good for both sides, after all, I believe that everyone living here wants this country to be a great country. It is already a great country and let's make sure that it remains one.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The difficulty of being GOOD.

The difficulty of being good is the title of a book by Gurcharan Das. It is a philosophical book which discusses various moral issues humans face with reference to characters from the great Mahabharat. I read this book few year back and found it very engaging. The topic of the difficulty of being good, came to my mind while chatting with one of my friends on the issue of gender discrimination which is present in every religion. I was trying to convey the point that, we all have our own biases and prejudices, many times we don't even realize that, but we all need to introspect and analyze our own thinking to get rid of these things, and it is a very difficult process. It is not that easy to be good at all times. We all speak passionately about the issues or problems which we care about, we all speak in favor of some political figure or celebrity who we love, and against some who we don't like. However, many of us change our stance instantly if we come across the views from the other side. We are normally not that welcoming of the criticism directed towards people we love, we are not that welcoming about the alternate views about the issues about which we care. I am not saying that we need to agree with all those things which opponents say, but many of us get mad to see that people can even think like that. One ideal example is when Hilary supporters can't understand how come anyone can support Mr. Trump and Trump supporters can't tolerate the fact that people are supporting Mrs. Clinton.  This is one simple example to demonstrate the point which I am trying to make.

By "good" I don't mean nice or not mean or tolerant here, I am using this term for being impartial or reasonable or someone who can recognize the differences and still try to look for commonality. I mean someone who can agree to disagree, someone who can see and appreciate that every issue can have two sides and sometimes there is no right or wrong. Someone who can appreciate ambiguity and uncertainty of life, someone who can understand the point of view of an atheist as well as the theist. I understand that I am asking an ideal behavior, but we don't want to give this title of "good person" for doing trivial things, right? There should be some challenge associated to reach to the point where we can call ourself "a good person."

It is not that easy to be an unbiased person or to be a really politically neutral person and criticize or praise all political options which are out there only based on their stand on various issues. It's not easy, especially because we don't get the protection from any camp, we don't feel that we belong to any herd where there are people who exactly think like us, with no arguments and disagreements, and this is not a very comfortable situation for many of us. To avoid this discomfort and insecurity, we choose our sides, we either love or hate some political leader, we get associated with the certain political party, no matter what we try to defend or attack them. We try to show that our religion or country is the best in the world and others are not that good, drawbacks of our own religion are trivial, but other religions have terrible shortcomings. We expect other's should not offend us, but we should be allowed to say whatever we want (personally, I support absolute freedom of expression). When in a majority, we think that minority should respect majority's views and behave accordingly (beef ban in India is an ideal example of this), but the same if group when in minority, expects that their ideas and values should be protected and respected by the majority. This last behavior pattern I observed clearly among Indians living in the USA, many of them supported overwhelmingly Mr. Modi and his call of nationalism and majoritarianism during last general elections of India, but got very apprehensive about Mr. Trump when he said very similar things, but in the American context. These people feared that because of their minority status, they might come under attack or suffer some angry reactions from the majority, but the same group was totally dismissal about similar fears expressed by the minorities of India. I am not trying to say that after Mr. Modi's victory in India minority is in very perilous state or they are suffering at the hands of majority, but his tone during the election campaign was not that different than Mr. Trump's tone, and I can see the different response by the same group of people, just because of their different strength in that society.

The desire to be good, is very common and natural, but the willingness to take conscious efforts to become good is not that common. We all want to be good without taking efforts to become good, and that is why it is very difficult to be good. It is tough, but we all can try to achieve it. I hope readers of this blog will try their best to be a "good person." We need more good people in this world, I don't think anyone will disagree with this statement. Let's first recognize the difficulty of being good and then try to overcome those very sincerely. I am trying my best, are you?

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Saturday, October 1, 2016

No means NO.

Recently I watched a Hindi movie "Pink," it is a courtroom drama dealing with sexual assault and battery related incidents. I liked the movie, it is very well made and all actors have performed brilliantly their respective roles, but this post is not about the movie. It is about the importance of willful "consent" in any relationship. I watched this movie with my kids, they both are teenagers and will face a situation of dealing with their or their partner's willful consent in their relationship and I wanted to make sure that they get this message right; when someone says "No," it means "NO." It doesn't mean yes or even maybe, it doesn't matter what that person said just a few minutes ago, it doesn't matter if that person was drinking or very friendly and seems to agree to your advances, NO means NO.

Any relationship needs a very strong foundation, and to treat our partner equally can be a first crucial step towards building that strong foundation. I know it is not an easy task for many, our culture and patriarchal society never treated all genders on an equal basis. One can include any kind of discrimination to point out the inequality in our society, but here I am talking specifically about gender discrimination. Many cultures never gave women a chance to have control over their sexual behavior as they gave to their men. Rather every time some sexual misconduct happens, many societies try to find the fault in victim's behavior. Many try to hint that victim might have provoked poor boys (or men) and forced them to commit this crime. Now, before I move on, let me clarify that I know that men are also victims of sexual harassment many times, but data shows that still women are main victims of this crime, that's why I am focussing on it specifically. This victim shaming is one of the reasons why many such incidents even don't get reported, as many victims fear for social backlash or humiliation. It is still very common to comment or judge the character of women based on their sexual behavior, the clothes they wear or some of their social behavior (like smoking, drinking, etc.). Only women can stop this, they need to claim their freedom to express themselves without any social prejudice, they need to make it clear that it is their life and they are free to choose their path, same like men. They must demand equal rights, no more-no less.

After watching the movie, during our discussion I told my kids that they should understand on thing very clear, whenever other person says "no" it means NO, and they should respect that under any  situation. Always respect other person's right to decide for themselves, it is a minimum courtesy we all can offer to each other and especially to our partners or friends. Please go and watch Pink if you like courtroom dramas, but even if you don't, just remember that NO means NO, it is a sentence in itself, it doesn't need any explanation or justification and only humans can understand this denial, wild animals don't have the capacity to control their natural instincts, but we humans do have it and it is one of the major differences between our and wild animal's social and personal behavior. So if you claim to be a human, you should understand when someone says NO, just get this thing right in your mind, NO means NO.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Friday, September 23, 2016

My visit to Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in New Jersey.

Visiting temples is not and was never a priority weekend activity for me, but that doesn't mean I don't visit temples. Most of my family is very religious and prefer to visit famous shrines and temples. I have visited many places out of curiosity or to enjoy the architecture and the general feel of the atmosphere. I really liked when I visited Ganga ghats of Varanasi, temples in that city are also good, I personally feel that they can be maintained in much better way and turned into very prominent tourist attractions of that city, but somehow state and local governments don't think like me. Even without much support and management many of these temples attract millions of visitors every year and help the economy of that place. A few days back I visited Shri Swaminarayan temple of Robbinsville, NJ. My wife really wanted to visit this place as she heard a lot about it from some of her friends and also saw some spectacular pictures of the temple on social media. 

Temple is really beautiful, situated on very spacious land, with ample amount of parking space. There is still a lot of construction going on, so I think they are still in a process of building more structures there as there is a lot of empty land around and I am sure temple authorities would like to use it all. People at the temple are very nice and polite, they allow photography everywhere except inside the central part of the main temple. If you are wearing shorts or sleeveless or something like that they will give you a cloth (something like lungi and shawl) to cover your body, I was happy to see that this rule was not just for women, but for men also. I didn't understand the logic behind this rule, but at least it was not a gender discriminatory rule. I wonder what will happen if someone enters the  temple in shorts or sleeveless top? This rule was not applied to kids, which made sense as parents would have struggled to explain to them why they have to wear lungi or shawl inside the temple. Inside temple right in front of deities, there was an empty space for devotees and visitors to sit and pray. The area was divided into two sections, front section belonged to men and back section to females. My daughter was not happy to see the females were given a back seat, she was (and even I was) wondering, why didn't they divide the section in tow halves which would have allowed each side get a chance to sit in front of the deity. There was no prasad after aarti, I couldn't believe it, such a posh temple and no prasad after aarti? I love the taste of prasad food offered at many temples, and most of them give it free after their pooja or aarti, but here it was different. It seems one has to buy prasad from temple cafeteria, I liked this business idea, after all, whether it's temple, church or mosque or any other religious place, they all are also business centers and have to generate income to maintain themselves. If you understand this simple basic thing, many of their policies make sense.

Our visit was short and sweet, we attended aarti and left for our next destination. My wife was really happy to visit the place and it made me very happy. Kids were also happy to see a beautiful structure, learned some mythological stories while we were at the temple. In general, it was quite an enjoyable trip.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Links:

Saturday, August 20, 2016

India at Olympics- always waiting for some miracle.

Since I started watching sports on TV I always loved to watch Olympics, for me, it is a symbol of ultimate human struggle and triumph symbolized in the form of sports. We get to witness epic struggles and ultimate triumphs, old records are broken and new records are set.Sometimes it is enthralling to watch and sometimes it is heartbreaking to witness an athlete missing a medal by a whisker. Today, I have a luxury of rooting for two countries in Olympics (India and USA), but I never watched Olympics for supporting any one country. For me, it was fun to watch spectacular performances of athletes all over the world. Maybe, I developed this attitude as India rarely used to win any medal in Olympics, there were some like P T Usha who came very close to winning a medal but there was nothing worthy of mention.

India started participating in Olympics in 1900, since 1920 they are sending their players regularly to Olympic games. India's first Individual Gold medal came in 2008, by a shooter Abhinav Bindra. Last Olympic games (2012) was the most successful event so far when India won six medals, two silver, and four bronze. India has won total 28 medals in Olympics so far (out of which nine are gold, eight for field hockey and just one individual gold), not a spectacular achievement for one of the most populous countries of the world. Just for the sake of comparison, we can compare India with the most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps of USA has also won 28 medals in just four Olympics, and 23 of them are gold medals! What can be the reason that such a big country can not match the achievement of an individual? Definitely, large population or lack of resources and money cannot be the only factors responsible for this, because even countries more populated than India (China) or poorer than India (like Kenya, Ethiopia or North Korea) also win medals at Olympics consistently. It is also not true that Indians are not passionate about any sports, India is considered as a superpower in cricket, it is one of the most lucrative markets for this game and Indian Premier League (IPL) is the most successful league for cricket all over the world. Is cricket responsible for killing all other sports? Many love to blame dominance of cricket for pathetic infrastructure for all other sports, but then how come all other sports flourish in countries like USA where basketball, baseball, and American football dominate so much? India even has a dedicated sports ministry to look after countries sports activity, I don't think in US there is even a position called the secretary of sports.

The major difference I found between both countries is that in US kids start playing competitive sports at very early age and there are professional private facilities available to them for almost any sport. Sports is a part of culture as well as school curriculum, and most kids are either directly or indirectly involved with some sports activity. For many sports earlier you start better it is, in India many primary and middle school don't even have their own playground, playing is often considered as a waste of time. I remember that we used to get punished if my dad caught us playing cricket instead of studying,which according to him was much more essential activity than playing any game. I don't think my dad was an exception as many of my other friends also used to get a similar treatment.

During every Olympic games, a question pops up that how come country of more than billion people cannot produce even few Olympic gold medalists? It is fiercely debated, cricket and government are blamed, but if some athletes win any medals because of their own hard work and efforts they are hailed as heroes and saviors, they are showered with gifts and rewards from all over the country and everything else is forgotten until next Olympic games. This is going on for last so many years, so regularly that this activity has become a regular drill for many Indians and they all perform so mechanically. Whether it is Sindhu or Sakshi or Abhinav or Sushil, they all won their medals, not because of infrastructure and sports culture, but despite that. They defied all odds against them and triumphed at international level, but how long a country of more than billion people can depend on the efforts few brave individuals to bring ultimate recognition in sports? During every Olympics entire country expects some miracle to happen and at least one of their athlete wins some medals. If USA can do it, China can do it, Brazil can do it, why not India? Something needs to change if India wants's to compete with these countries in the medal count, sports should become a regular activity, only then talent can be recognized at an early stage and can be groomed to compete at intensely competitive international level. Lots of perseverance, dedication, and hard work is required to achieve success at international level in any field and sports is not an exception. Let's hope that achievements of Sindhu and Sakshi act as a wake-up call and not as an opium dose which makes entire country high and forgets about ground realities. Let's celebrate their achievements with an intention of making it a regular event, not just a pleasant surprise for which entire country depends to celebrate.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Superstitions- Being possessed by diety

Being possessed by some deity, devi (goddess), evil or God is one of very common superstition. Once I was very rampant all over the world, many women got killed because people suspected them of being a witch, this belief is still present in some parts of rural India (as well as in some parts of cities also), Andhashradha Nirmoolan Samiti (ANS) defines this act as follows,
 "Being possessed by a ‘Deity’ ‘Devi or ‘Dev Angat Yene’ (in Marathi): During this condition, the individual completely transforms his or her expression and behavior (personality) to resemble some abnormal individual or a deity. The person is then supposed (pretends) to be possessed by a deity during that period he behaves in a convincing manner making appropriate actions and sounds to appear as if he is in a trance and pretends to know answers to all questions posed to him or her by gullible devotees."

As I mentioned before, it will be very wrong to assume that this superstition was only present in parts of India, but I personally witnessed it only in India that's why my views and opinions are exclusively based on these incidents. I used to see some women behaving in a very weird way on some days of the year, those days used to be some special days as per Hindu calendar and it was believed that some goddess used to possess these women, transforming them into some sort of proxy of those entities. Many people used to visit their home with lots of queries and grievances. These people used to ask questions and this possessed woman used to provide answers. These questions used to cover a variety of topics, personal as well as social: will my son get a particular job, when will my daughter get married, will there be enough rain this year to get a good crop, my daughter in law will give birth to a baby boy or a girl? People use to ask anything and this possessed person used to give very brief answers. This question-answer process was very interesting and entertaining for me. I am sure no one bothered to check the accuracy of these answers, but they came every year to ask these questions. I have no idea how this superstition started, but I saw it in UP as well as Maharashtra (the two states where I lived in India).

My own grandmother also used to get possessed by some deity once a year. I mostly saw women being possessed by some deity, I am sure there were men also who suffered from this problem, but at least I didn't witness any such incident. As a kid, it was really scary for me in the beginning as these women, when possessed, really used to behave in a very strange manner, but slowly I realized that they are not going to harm me and I became more curious about these incidents. When I started doing some research about this I realized that this is a type of psychological problem. This problem can be cured with proper counseling and medical treatment, but hardly these people get any medical attention to manage this issue. The victims (like my grandma) and people around them all believed so much in divine nature of this incident that they refused to accept that this is a medical issue. The victim used to get so much attention and importance that they also didn't feel that there is any problem and they should seek some medical advice to address it. After knowing all this I really started feeling very bad for all these people (including my grandma). I also realized that many people used to do these things knowingly or unknowingly to seek that extra attention and respect which they never used to get during their normal life. I think this is why I saw mainly women suffering with this problem as their status in the family or in society hardly gave them any authority, but this phenomenon used to give them a chance to be a dictatorial authority at least for a day every year. I am glad to see that now these incidents have reduced significantly, there are still some isolated incidents but largely this practice is gone for good. I hope that if anyone finds someone in their family or friend circle suffering with this problem they seek proper medical help to address this issue as this is a curable condition. Superstitions should be challenged and eliminated not respected and preserved as a part of culture.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Links:
1. http://antisuperstition.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=145

Friday, July 29, 2016

Where are the true liberals?

I consider myself an ardent supporter of liberty. Liberty, which means freedom to choose, express myself the way I want and live the life the way I like is among the most important things which I value. I consider myself a liberal, not the 'liberal' in a way people understand in political terms,  but a true liberal. Actually, I find the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' quite misleading as far as their political usage is considered, they don't make much sense to me, they are used as an alternate names for major political parties without any meaningful association with the real meaning of those words. Recently I had the following conversation with one of my friends.
He asked me, "You must be a supporter of illegal immigration and socialism, do you want US to open its borders?"
I said, "What makes you think that? Why will I support illegal immigration?"
He seemed to be surprised by my reply and asked back, "Aren't you a liberal?"
I replied, "I am a liberal, not a moron to support illegal things".
This is the level of conversation between so called liberals and conservatives now a days. It is really amazing to see what type of impression they both have about each other. I can't associate myself completely with any of these groups, I found some really good and some really bad ideas coming from both these groups. I choose to call myself a liberal because, I am open to all new ideas, nothing is sacred or unquestionable for me, I am willing to listen to all ideologies and for me only the good ideas matter not their source. Unfortunately, I don't see these characteristics in many of these so called liberals, these people have made the term 'liberal' so restrictive and narrow that it has almost become a sort of organized religion, it is no more a description of an emotion or a trait which liberates you from barriers and makes you a free thinker. That's why I ask 'where are the true liberals?'.

Being a true liberal is not easy, that is why there are very few true liberals around, most people like to associate themselves with a certain religion or political ideology or even a cult, they all love the comfort and warmth of that community as it gives them a sense of belonging and provides a safety net which most of us need. This feeling of belonging to some group is a very important part of our social behavior. Actually, we all belong to some group or other, some of these groups are very huge (like country, city or religion) and some are small (like school, friend circle, our workplace, etc.). This feeling of belonging is not wrong or bad, but to accept everything propagated or taught by that group without questioning it is something I don't like or can't do. A true liberal will never reject or accept an idea just because it is coming from a political group which he or she supports or doesn't support, They will never bother about the source, but treat every idea or thought based on its merit, it is not an easy thing to do as we have to first acknowledge and then eliminate as much as possible our prejudices and think objectively. 

True liberals will always be fair to others, especially to people who they criticize, they will support the freedom of expression for everyone, not just for themselves, no matter whether they agree of disagree with that group or person. They will never get offended by anyone's remarks as they will know that freedom of expression comes with freedom to offend. They don't discriminate or judge people based on their food, dress, sexual orientation, religion, race, color, age, gender or any other thing. They also know that any type of bigotry cannot be curbed by silencing bigots, but by allowing them to express their stupidity and countering it with rationality and logic. They will not support or demand ban on any book, movie or speech. Any type of discrimination will not be acceptable to them, they also acknowledge that rights come with responsibilities. They support equality, not just equal rights, but equal responsibility and equal accountability. They also accept that their views can be rejected, challenged or even ridiculed as these things are part of any debate or argument. They question or challenge opinions or ideas, not individuals. They understand that freedom to choose is the right of everyone. I would love to see these so called liberals try to do justice to the real meaning of this word, until then I think I have no choice but  continue my search for true liberals.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Friday, July 15, 2016

Immigration is not a human right, but a granted privilege.

Immigration is becoming a very sensitive and controversial issue in many developed countries, it is a very important issue during this US presidential election for sure. Many countries like US, Australia or many European countries are favorite destinations for many immigrants from Asian countries as well as from other parts of the world. Actually, many of these countries get benefitted by the presence of immigrants, many immigrants work really hard to become successful in whatever field they choose and in that process help the country in which they reside. But this is not a one way process, in return immigrants also get benefitted immensely financially as well as socially. They get a better opportunity, fair treatment, many of them escape troublesome social and political environment of their birthplace to find a peaceful dwelling in their adopted country. This process works very well as long as it is beneficial for both the parties involved, mainly this happens when the economy is doing really well, there are enough job opportunities for everyone and in general country is in very good shape. But, does this process of mutual benefit can go on endlessly without having any side effects? Based on the current scenario, it doesn't look like that.

I am an immigrant to USA, even in India my family migrated from one part (Uttar Pradesh) to another (Maharastra), so I have a first hand experience about the issues which migrants within the same country or immigrants who move to different country face. There is no doubt that me and my family got immensely benefitted by the places where we lived. We got better opportunities, better education as well as better social and economic environment. In turn I am sure places or cities where we lived also got benefitted by our presence as a law abiding, responsible and hard working residents. We learned local culture and language, adapted to our surroundings and contributed to the diversity and rich cultural heritage of all places where we resided. This mutually beneficial and harmonic relationship is the main reason that I have so much culturally diverse thinking in my own family. Three generations of my family can claim to have three different languages as their primary language (often referred as mother tongue). Immigration is a beneficial activity for the immigrants as well as the country or city where people are immigrating. But, I feel appalled when I see this ugly fight over the issue of immigration, I don't understand how come both sides can be so ignorant and adamant about their arguments?

Whether we like it or not, but the truth is that in today's world immigration is a legal process, you have to come follow a legal process to immigrate to any country. I agree that it is cumbersome, lengthy, often very frustrating and expensive, but it is illegal to enter any country without any proper documentation. So anyone who has respect towards law of that country should follow this process or be ready to face the consequence for their illegal actions. Now I also understand that many people immigrate due to various reasons, many times they don't follow these legal requirements, but even after all this it is an illegal act and if there is no law which takes into account all these factors then all these people can be in big legal trouble. One thing should be very clear to everyone, to immigrants as well as to citizens of that country, immigration is not a human right but a privilege granted by the host country. It is a special privilege, not a favor or help or kind gesture or charity, immigrants come with certain rights and responsibilities, they need to be a law abiding residents and contribute towards betterment of that society otherwise this privilege can be taken away any time. Once both sides understand this simple thing, then I don't think there can be any issue which cannot be resolved by mutual discussion. Law of the land needs to be respected, any act encouraging violation of the law can result in long term social and political crises which can affect the entire country. I hope better sense prevails from both sides fighting over this issue and they come to some mutually acceptable solution, because once you make any issue a political hot potato it is almost certain that it will never get resolved. Political parties can use it to emotionally polarize their vote banks elections after elections without making any sincere efforts to resolve it. People also get emotional about these types of issues and give that opportunity to politicians to make fools out of them.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Saturday, July 9, 2016

When life gets busy...

There are times in everyone's life when a person gets extremely busy, there is no question of so called work-life balance (if anything like this exists) as your professional work completely takes over your daily routine and everything else gets a back seat. This is not a bad situation as such, but because of some perceptions many people don't enjoy it. I personally have no problem if this happens once in a while as being busy is always better for me rather than having no work at all. Presently I am facing one such phase, things are so busy that I didn't find time to write a blog post, this never happened since I started writing this blog. But I can't complain, work is as important as anything else in my life so it gets the attention it requires and I try to do it with best of my abilities. I see sometimes people complain about their work, talk about the myth called work-life balance. This mainly happens if you consider your work as a not integral part of your life. According to me our professional life (which we all call work) is an integral part of our life, so when we separate work and life that means we consider our work as something not part of our life or something which affects our life adversely. Actually our professional work is a very important part of out lives, sometimes it creates our identity so we should not look at it as something separate from our rest of life. So ultimately, when things get busy we need to prioritize the stuff as time becomes more valuable, this is the best strategy to deal with this situation, complaining doesn't help at all.

This post is going to be very brief as I have some other things to do :) Writing the blog, playing cricket, reading, exercising, spending time with friends and family are among many things which I enjoy, at the same time I enjoy my work also. No matter what I try to find some time to do most of the things which I enjoy, this is why I am writing this post today. Now a days I am having a great time with my colleagues in the lab, the same way I enjoyed playing cricket at east rock park. Keep on reading and sharing.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

If you don't love it, then please leave it.

Actually, I never thought that I will ever write a blog post with a title like this, I am saying this because I am nobody to tell anyone to leave any place except my private property. No doubt that this line is a very catchy phrase and this is one of the reasons why I am using this as the title of this blog post. The intention behind using this title is not to hurt anyone's feelings or to warn anyone or to threaten anyone, but just to express my feelings about some incidents happened or happening around me both here is US and India. Specially in US, I see some people (including many who are citizens of this country) constantly criticizing USA, they also criticize the culture of this land and I always wonder why they have so much problem with this country and its people? I am specifically talking about US as this is the only country apart from India, where I spent significant part of my life. I am sure such things happen in many other places, but I can only talk about US or India. Another reason to select US for this topic is that it is a very immigrant friendly country and many people come here willingly in search of better opportunities, so the situation here is totally different than situation in India. I noticed that many people blindly criticize the culture of this land without even bothering to understand it, they just go by perception created by some biased reporting of media or some hearsay gossips or worst some imaginary misconceptions and base their ill informed opinion about many things associated with this country. I can understand that people living outside the USA might have some wrong perceptions about it as they don't get the chance to interact with people here or get to experience what is it like to live life in the USA, but I am always amazed when people who get benefited by their presence in this country spew hatred about it. Here my intention is not to say that the USA is an ideal country, free from any drawbacks or problems. Like any other country of this world, it has its own strengths as well as weaknesses, it has its own social and political issues. This is not the perfect place and I don't think any such perfect place even exists anywhere in this world, but definitely this country is one of the best in the world.

I am a supporter of complete freedom of expression (except the threat of violence), so in that sense, everyone has total right to say what they want about any person or country as long as they are not threatening to incite any violence. I also understand that criticism is necessary and should be encouraged, but there is a huge difference between criticism and hatred. I don't object to any criticism, rather I feel that it helps to improve things if taken in a positive way, but when people spew venom blindly criticizing something without any rational or logic I feel pity on them. Initially I used to get angry or used to think if they are so unhappy with this place and so dislike it, then why can't they leave it, after all US is not forcing them to stay here. In today's world immigration is not as difficult as it was a few decades ago, one can easily get a visa or even permanent residency of many countries and emigrate there.  But many of these people stay here or even migrate here from many countries from all around the world for better living, they enjoy far better and superior quality of life here and still hate this place, maybe this is the best explanation I can offer why I chose this title for this blog post. Today we all have many choices as far as a city we want to live or country we want to live are concerned, many of us are even capable of going anywhere in the world and make a decent living. Wherever we go to make living in this world, there will be some advantages as well as some problems, we should be able to make use of those advantages for our good and honestly try to fix whatever problems exist so that that place also gets benefited by our presence.

If anyone is so unhappy about any place that they can't tolerate its culture or people living there, then it is best for them as well as that place to get separated from each other. They should try to choose a different place which matches with their way of thinking and whose culture they like, it is as simple as that. Criticize all you want, offer as many alternative solutions or ideas as you want, participate any political debates and discussions, challenge whatever is wrong and try to make it right, raise your voice against any injustice, any liberal and free society will encourage any such behavior and feedback, but please don't abuse any country while getting benefited by its kindness and resources. If you don't love it, then leave it alone, please don't abuse it or hurt it. This is true for any relationship, including our relationship with a country or city of our residence. Please don't be so ungrateful that someone has to say something like the title of this blog to you, believe me this is not going to be a pleasant experience for you as well as the person who says this, that's all I have to say.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

[Copyright : Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing]