Saturday, October 2, 2010

Geopolitical patriotism

Most Indians think their country is small. Or more correctly, you'd never hear an Indian elite say the following, "My country is vast and enormous." They don't think so.

There are many sources for this madness. The first is that we've been indoctrinated with stories of loss about pre-partition India. Secondly, some of us have been fed myths of "Akhand Bharat", a fictional area in South Asia which is essentially a union of the set of all historical empires that could ever be considered Indian.

The most important factor is the goddamn map. The Mercator projection, invented by imperialists, makes India look really, really small. Its a false projection, and the best way to see the world is with a globe. Here is a test for you. Next time you look at a map, look at India and then, look at Greenland. India is 10 percent larger than Greenland. Not joking at all. If the map doesn't look like that, its total bullshit.

Listen, I understand that those six bigger countries than India, are really very large. But size isn't everything.

First, lets look at time multiplexing. What I mean is, of the six countries bigger than India, all of them have gigantic spaces that are unlivable. India is the bigger country over time. In the winter, for example, the area you can comfortably walk around in Canada is very small. You can backpack around India during that time. Same for Russia. Australia has a serious, serious desert in the middle of the country. In summer, India is hot too, but not that crazy. You can still eat a mango in the middle of UP in May if you like. Its a place people live, unlike the scorpion-home and mining country in the center of Australia.

Other places have the issue of access. Brazil has rainforests that are not just inaccessible, but are filled with a variety of strange and poisonous plants, insects and animals. While that is an amazing and beautiful display of biodiversity, it doesn't really mean the country is wide open to see.

In the end, its probably just the U.S. and China that are gigantic, and still in a temperate zone where a large part of the country is accessible year round (and the U.S. still has a lot of Canada-type areas and China has mountains and deserts in Tibet and the Gobi respectively).

But thats fine isn't it? Being number three is ok.

Now I can hear you guys saying, "but its good to have land". Canada has oil in its wasteland. Brazil can exploit the genetic diversity in its forests. Australia has everything except oil in its desert.

Trust me, the answers will come if India lives up to its potential for prosperity and becomes a wealthy country. All these countries simply are exploiting whatever resources they have to stay ahead. If we have land that is accessible year round, maybe we can extend agriculture on it, grow flowers and grapes for wine. We could expand our tourism to see the ancient structures our prolific ancestors scattered across the land. We can build new cities. I won't argue against the mineral wealth of gigantic wastelands, but once you value unlivable places, how about mining the watery depths that we have access to in the Indian Ocean? Or not mining it to create giant fisheries?

My point is, once you realize India is a contender, and in the game, there are different ways to look at the facts. We are not a small country. We are the seventh largest country. Stop being a surrender monkey.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

War of words

I've never been good at sparring, bantering and snap-gossip. I like to tease folks I know well, but I try not to go for the jugular - those really weak spots of other people. Also, I wouldn't know how to subtly attack those areas anyways, without looking really crude and evil.

There are people who are really good at word-to-word combat. Its not an easy task, to diss another person in such a way that a hypothetical, objective third party would notice nothing overt about your comments. The best verbal warriors can flip what good news you are saying into bad news.

I understand the need for such psychological weapons. Competition on this planet can be pretty brutal, and people use what they can to get ahead. Its just that in the past few days I've been hit twice by such people, and that is why I'm writing this blog.

I know the weaknesses of these two people. I don't know how, and I don't want to know how, to exploit them in a quick jab of a sentence. I don't want to hurt them they way they attacked me - I want to be stronger so that when this next happens, I won't be affected.

That of course, is the much harder problem. Its easier to study how people diss each other and develop a set of verbal weapons you can just throw out. Its also easier to be turn inward, analyze the ego for soft spots and create crisp, quick, credible sentences to defend them.

I live in this world too, and I'm human. I've developed a self-defense mechanism that is based on high-quality self-deprecating humor. It works by creating a story about your weaknesses in a series of really funny comments. Sometimes you just don't have time to do this.

Because I've decided I do not want to indulge in acquiring a repertoire of repartees the only other option is to simulate attacks in the mind and just get the internal emotions in order. The key is to avoid a detectable reaction (the ultimate defeat) since you've already imagined a pretty close comment to what you've just heard.

Of course, I could just stop obsessing and relax.

Which I will do right now. : )

Monday, September 20, 2010

The devil made me do it

A strange thing about being sentient is that, sometimes, you get collections of thoughts and ideas in your head that take on a life of their own.

The rest of humanity just sees the one person embodied, and there is no legal, social, emotional or technical way to express our different selves. And that is perfectly reasonable. Total chaos would reign if people could get away with terrible things by blaming the "voices in their heads".

But perhaps we should rethink the situation. We now live in a world where its easy to control an army of flying robots from a thousand miles away, even though we are no closer to controlling our minds than the first upright apes were. I suspect there are people who can achieve discipline, who follow years of a special lifestyle. But what about the rest of us? What is it about our minds that makes it so unique to each of us, so essential to our identity - and yet, it evades our absolute command.

We can learn to fly planes, transplant hearts and deliver perfect yorkers. But if I say "elephant", you think about the animal, immediately. You don't have a choice. Your mind does not give you a choice.

In the ancient and medieval worlds, people could get away (or not) by blaming some supernatural tempting force. But in today's world, we sleepily get up from bed and log onto our brain extensions. How long will it be before the same technology that allows a drone fleet to be be piloted by a kid in Arizona, gives a human mind the power to control a household army of robots, soft-bots and their interconnected paraphernalia?

Now think of the many selves in this human mind, and how they all have on their fingertips, the manpower of a small village and the information from every encyclopaedia. The bar for disaster is low; pretty much any negative or jealous thought in your head needs to grab your mind for just a few milli-seconds, to click on something or send a message that may do the "real you" a lot of harm.

And its not just the damage you could do to others. A recession-hit world filled with scam artists, telemarketers and con guys, all potentially could talk to your undisciplined, distracted mind. This could happen from anywhere in the world and require only a small slip from you.

But I'm optimistic. I'm beginning to feel that all this concentrated social and real power may be a good thing. In the old localized days, perhaps you could start some gossip or be really mean and get away with it. Maybe the thin margin technology gives each of us will put a premium on good, responsible behavior.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What I feel about Kashmir

I hate that our government squandered the precious peace we obtained after defeating the insurgency in Kashmir. The pause in violence was earned not just by our soldiers dying in the many hundreds, but paid for by Kashmiri civilians and many other non-Kashmiris who died in terrorist attacks all over India. We were supposed to use this time wisely. We have failed. We should have have flooded the valley with an economic tsunami. Instead we are sending a hail of bullets, which starts a firestorm of stones, which creates a new hail of bullets, and so on.

I support strongly the reduction or repealing of the draconian laws that Kashmiris have to live under. But I do believe that, while the anger in the streets is real and the protests are mostly peaceful, no government in Delhi and no political party can give Kashmiris the political solution they most desire. The numerics of India's democracy are cruel: 7 million Kashmiris may want their independence, but a billion Indians do not.

My friends, Kashmir may be your home, but it is our country too.

What can be negotiated though, is how the Kashmiris can live with dignity under Indian rule. Its also clear to me that much wiggle room exists within the Indian constitution. While Jammu and Leh will probably remain as proper parts of India, the Valley itself can be offered a variety of solutions. In fact, we have precedents for most of these agreements, ranging from independent dependencies (like Bhutan) to union territories with significant cultural and ecological value (like the Andaman and Nicobar Islands).

The nationalists may hate this special treatment, and the Kashmiris may rage more against the cold mirage of independence, but an agreement which angers all parties may actually be the most just.