Americanah

6 04 2015

americanah

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a story about a Nigerian woman – Ifemelu, who has immigrated to America for higher studies and then after more than a decade stay, goes back to her country. I first came across the author through her TED talk on Feminism. I was impressed by her confident voice and her firm stand on gender related things.  As I was reading Americanah, I saw her in her protagonist- Ifemelu. This novel mostly talks about racism and raises many important questions. Ifemelu says that she discovered race only once she is in America. That makes complete sense and shouldn’t be a surprise at all given the multi-cultural and multi-racial population of America, in my opinion. Back in her country, where there is only one predominant race, there is no question of racism. I believe that discrimination is at all levels and everywhere, Be it based on gender, or race, or economic status.

We, as human race, are social beings and operate in groups in order to increase our chances at survival. I believe that each of us identify with one group, in a given context. Maybe our primal instinct is to beware of anything or anyone different from us/our group. Every time we encounter someone, we assess whether he/she is an opportunity or a threat. We need to know and understand our place with respect to our surroundings. We need hierarchies. If the other is different from us in anyway, we want to be clear about whether we are superior or inferior to them. I think it’s related to our innate nature to seek patterns and order even in randomness; our fear of unknown and our compelling need to make sense of things. I wonder about how the exact hierarchies came into place with respect to race and color as to which is superior or which is inferior. I’m in no way condoning discrimination but only making an observation that may be given our natures, it’s inevitable.

We have come a long way from our wild, primal existence.; long way from the jungle law in which success and thereby survival favors the more powerful and/or more intelligent. Of course, we still see that now to some degree but we don’t live our day-to-day lives worrying about protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the more powerful neighbors. We have built societies and systems that would provide basic needs and safety. Of course, we are far from perfect but I truly believe that I feel much safer now than if I would have lived in the past. But that could be because I’m in denial. 😉

We have made so much progress so far to get over our differences and truly perceive each one of our species as same that I believe that we should continue our efforts in that direction. We need not be limited by anything. I like to believe that we are evolving. 😉

The novel is honest and the writing is impressive.

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The big eye

7 02 2012

It’s for all to see and experience the phenomena of social network media and blogs which gave each one of us wings of expression. It’s amazing to discover how much we have to share with others – both trivial and otherwise. But the picture is not all rosy. With the amount of time people spend on such networking increased to substantial amounts, people have to realize that whatever they say or do online leaves a print that others would be interested to track.

It’s common knowledge that companies do track the behavior of users online to better target their marketing campaigns. Google reads our mail: though this raked a bit of alarm, it quickly died down as users are so hooked on to it that in a war they can’t afford to lose it. We also know about the commotion and sensation created by the now almost legendary tweets by Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi. It stirred up a hornet’s nest and they are still facing the consequences of their unguarded expressions online.

But these are big shots either involved in some inappropriate  practices and/or are in a respectable position in the government. They have every reason and need to be extra careful about their choice of words. But what about others – normal people like you and me? Can we get away with any derogatory or offending remark? Can’t say about India but we do have to watch out and guard ourselves if we ever want to say or do anything related to America.

Here is an incident that happened a week ago in Los Angeles:

US deports two European tourists over ‘destroy America’ tweet

This sure gives a rude jolt and sends an unambiguous message to world that America is watching each one of us and with utmost seriousness. The big eye sees it all.

It’s eerie and scary to realize that none is anonymous online. Each and every action can be tracked to the person responsible for it. Next time you want to say anything about America, you would really want to pause and think before hitting the button.

Let’s think a little futuristic. Now it’s only America, as far as we know. What happens when many other countries have the capacity and interest to do the same? Well, it’s always a good thing to watch out one’s words, be it on the Net or otherwise. But only in the case of “online”, the reach is practically unlimited. One can’t talk behind anyone’s back online anymore; one will be caught. 🙂 Text mining rocks!!!





Eat, Pray, Love

4 12 2010

I have little talent for writing book reviews. In fact, it is apt not to regard them as “reviews”.  As anyone who reads my blabbering about the books I read, can tell, I just try to pen down certain, often incoherent, thoughts. And presently, I do just the same.

I have put off reading this bestseller by Elizabeth Gilbert for quite a while but in the end I gave in. I believed that one western woman’s personal journey wouldn’t interest me much but the book surprised me.  The author’s colloquial and witty expression impressed me. Above all, I was smitten by the honesty, which the woman has put forth into the words.

The first part of the book- being all about pleasure (of food and language) – had been a pleasant read. I was struck by the urge of the author to learn Italian for no other purpose than to feel the taste of those magical words on her tongue. I appreciated that a lot.

Being an Indian with ideas about spirituality of my own, the “Pray” part was not entirely unfamiliar to me. But reading a westerner’s perspective on the subject was a novel experience for me. I especially liked the way she explained complex spiritual concepts – in a simple and straight-forward manner.

The final part of the book is the one which I considered least captivating but it was fun to learn things about Bali.

Unfortunately, I found myself unable to empathize with the author. Frankly, I could neither understand her need to not have children nor her misery in her marriage. I felt many a times while reading the book that she is a very self-centered person – who always thinks only about herself and only from her perspective. It also struck me that in the modern western culture, it’s largely that way in relationships: each person cares for only what he/she gets out of a relationship or the other person. As long as everything goes right and their needs are met, the relationship flourishes. But as soon as some calamity occurs, the relationship ends.  I don’t want to sound as a bigot but it’s just my general perception. (I may be wrong too!)

This selfish nature was evident even in her brief affair soon after her marriage ended. Both she and her boyfriend were looking at only the reflection of their own needs and desires in the other person. No wonder they had to end their relationship.

Whenever two people are in a relationship, they need to treat that relationship as a third entity and nurture it.  There is nothing called a perfect match, where none is required to make certain adjustments.   To my knowledge, every relationship requires certain degree of compromise on the part of its entities. There is always – ” give and take”.  I safely assumed that it’s obvious to one and all that once you are in a relationship, you think and decide for your partner’s happiness too in addition to yours.

I was baffled to know that even people who are in their thirties, with enough life and experience behind them, fail to understand such a simple concept. But such was the case with this woman. And no where in the whole book, did she realize this.

I know I’m not being fair with this woman – who is from a different culture and background than myself. And given my own cultural stereotypes, I admit that my judgment might be a bit skewed.

And then I started reading Elizabeth’s next non-fiction work: Committed, in which she talked all about Marriage. I was relieved to find her more mature in this work.  In addition to admitting to her narcissistic nature, she even talked wisely about relationships. While “Committed” might seem less attractive a read compared to her “Eat, Pray, Love”, it does have many pearls of wisdom. None of them are new or groundbreaking but still are invaluable. Again, I was bowled over by her honesty. She is one hell of a brave lady.





Shopping – here and there

18 11 2010

I always disliked the discount/sale system which rules the buying habits of the people in US. I don’t know whether  or not there is a term for what I’m thinking, but I despised the way people  (need to) time their purchases based on sales and discounts. It’s one aspect of the modern culture there, which I found very inconvenient and odd.  Of course, there are sales and discounts even in India, but I don’t think they determine the buying patterns to such an extent.

Also, in US the buyer is usually forced to put a lot of effort in order to a make a wise purchase, hunting for deals and dealing with coupons of varied kinds. The more you work, the better the deal you might find. Even in the grocery stores, customers are to use the coupons from the local Sunday paper  in order to avail certain discounts or offers. In short, in US shopping is not for the lazy. You are required to spend some extent of time and energy to explore the deals, if you don’t want get bankrupt :-), or less dramatically – get your dollar’s worth. Of course, I’m speaking for the general middle class there.

Somehow, I feel that shopping in India is easier. True, there are coupons, discounts and sales. But never in the 24 years I’ve been in India had I felt the need to go out of my way to avail the discounts. Anyways, in most cases, all these sales are just a gimmick with no real benefit to the customer. Just increase the price and then offer a discount; or charge for accessories etc.  Though this is true even in US, it is only so to some extent.

There in US, one is most certainly to be perceived as impudent to purchase something without first looking for deals, or so I learnt. 🙂 I remember the kind of uncomprehending stares people used to give me when I tell them about my impulse purchases.  😀

It doesn’t mean that I don’t care about my money, but in India I don’t feel the need to hunt for coupons or browse for deals every time I plan to buy something. Some general idea about the prices in various outlets (to decide which one suits my taste and purse) will do for me.

But sadly, like everything, even this culture is slowly getting downloaded from the US to India. These days, I’m seeing a lot of the same type of marketing over here too. I feel like even the people are changing and imitating their counterparts in America in this aspect. Of course, change is inevitable. Westernization is inevitable. I guess I should resign myself to just witness this “development” mutely.





Overthrow

24 12 2009

When I first read in some Indian sacred text that one of the duties of a king is to expand the boundaries of his empire, I couldn’t help think about the destruction that results from the wars that are waged to fulfill that duty. I admit that there are advantages for a unified empire as opposed to small independent provinces like efficient management and use of natural resources, for instance. But how much destruction or violence is justified in the process? I fail to impart any greatness to rulers and conquerors like Akbar and Asoka when I read about or visualize their numerous battles and wars.

The powerful oppressing or controlling the weak is a natural phenomenon we see everywhere – be it a playground or a house or markets or world in general. But of course, the fact that something is omnipresent doesn’t make it right. However much is the temptation of the powerful to dominate and control the weak, they must display certain restraint. The powerful should need to recognize and value the individuality – the right of freedom and independence for everyone. When just morals or ideals don’t work, rules and processes are established and there is a need for an overseeing body to enforce them.

Having been from once-a-British-colony, I perpetually get heated up over all those oppressing and ruling nations. Some argue that India has benefited from its rulers in the form of technology, education etc, but in my opinion the loss they caused by looting the resources and amassing wealth at the expense of the country and its people far outweighs any progress they have brought to India.

It’s not with pride that I admit that I don’t usually follow the world events closely and I have no knowledge whatever about the Gulf War of the nineties or any similar happenings elsewhere. But it’s hard to miss the proceedings of the recent Iraq war. So, when I came across the book “Overthrow” by Stephen Kinzer, which is about the saga of regime change brought by America in foreign nations, I was instantly drawn to it owing to the raise in my curiosity level.

From the book, I came to know in a period of little over a century, America has played indirect and often direct role in overthrowing the governments in 14 nations, starting with Hawaii in 1893 to Iraq in 2003. The author honestly exposes the psychology and motivations of American leaders as well as a nation on the whole. In almost all of these operations, economic and business advantage/benefits played the decisive role. Access to natural resources and markets has been the main motive. Fighting against communism or spread of communism was also claimed as a driving force. Of course the sense of being on top, of being powerful is another significant factor. Other less selfish reasons propagated by America are:

  • America has a genuine duty to help the citizens of an nation under dictatorship towards achieving freedom
  • America as an advanced nation has a duty to bring less civilized or uncivilized nations into light aka development/civilization
  • America is fighting for the good – of the world at large, against communism and terrorism

Some of the leaders really believed these Good-Samaritan proclamations and so are most of the citizens of America. But if you inspect closely, all these are just a cover to the underlying real motives.

A striking observation made by the author is that almost all of these regime changes eventually caused more damage, both to USA and also the concerned nations. If America hadn’t acted in certain way, hadn’t taken certain decisions at certain times, things would have been lot better. (You’ve got to read the book to learn about them.) And this is because, Stephen opines, that America doesn’t know what to do after it wins a war. He says that the psychology of America isn’t cut for ruling other nations. Unlike the British or French, it typically refuses to take responsibility for the nation it uprooted and bring peace among chaos, to set the path for development, stabilize the nation, and bestow freedom as per its claimed motives. But America is only concerned with the commercial benefits involved and is just content to put in place a pro-American regime. This inappropriateness on part of America has resulted in greater instability, violence and anti-Americanness around the world.

Overthrow gives an astounding description of the events preceding and succeeding these regime change operations, coupled with observations and analyses of notable historians and of course his own conclusions. At some points, I couldn’t help twitch at the aggressiveness, conceitedness of America. Also there is scheming, dishonesty, arrogance and manipulation. It’s a fast paced book with narrations involving spies, intelligent agents, business people, monarchs, military officers, white-house leaders and lot more. A definite five star book.

Here is the list of those 14 nations whose governments America has overthrown in three eras:

Imperial Era:

  • Hawaii
  • Cuba
  • Puerto Rico
  • Philippines
  • Nicaragua
  • Honduras

Cold War Era:

  • Iran
  • Guatemala
  • South Vietnam
  • Chile

Invasion Era:

  • Grenada
  • Panama
  • Afghanistan




Nobel Peace Prize 2009

9 10 2009

I must say I was genuinely surprised to see in today’s headlines that Obama has won the esteemed Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.  I didn’t understand why.  I can’t say I have good knowledge about what it actually takes to bag the prize – the worthiness of work done and qualities possessed. Clearly there is a large information gap in my mind. 🙂 So, though I couldn’t quite comprehend the rationale behind this selection, I don’t have any reasons with me to doubt the inappropriateness of it.

From Obama’s acceptance remarks, it seems he himself was a bit surprised.  I really felt lost by his concluding words  –“… men and women across the world who sacrifice their safety and their freedom and sometime their lives for the cause of peace. That has always been the cause of America.  That’s why the world has always looked to America. And that’s why I believe America will continue to lead.

My immediate reaction was kind of – “is it? Really?”

Peace of what? Of America? That’s something I can vouch for. 🙂

Well, I can only say that different people have different perspectives of looking at and interpreting things…

One thing is sure – that America is powerful enough to affect the peace of the whole world. So, it might be good idea to award it’s promising president the Nobel Peace Prize as an advance incentive or motivation.

Congratulations Mr. President!





Social psychology literature

8 10 2009
The other day when I was browsing through the book shelves in a store, two books – The Mirror Effect (about the effects of celebrity narcissism) and The Dumbest Generation – caught my attention.  Clearly, these were books on the current socio-psychological trends or issues in America. Immediately a few more similar books came into my mind – Decoding Love (on the dating scene), What do you want from me? (about managing in-law relationships) Etc. All these books discuss issues more specific to the American society and they draw heavily on various research studies made by universities or independent research institutions in relevant fields.
I tried to come up with similar books in Indian context, but my attempt was in vain. I just wondered why there are no such books in India- not at least I know of. When I thought about the non-fiction products of India, I could only come up with self-help books like You Can Win, Mind Magic, Positive Thinking, How to pass your exams etc. I could find some with academic flavor on subjects like politics, economics, psychology etc, but none with commercial touch. I feel like the field of social psychology hasn’t been studied much in India, at least not in a systematic way. And howmuchever it happens, it’s locked away by the academicians and doesn’t usually reach the general public.
Anyways, upon intense googling, I found two books which talk about the social picture of India – The Great Indian Middle Class (by Pavan K. Varma) and The Indians: Portrait of a People (by India’s foremost psychoanalyst and cultural commentator Sudhir Kakar and anthropologist Katharina Kakar). And I was pleasantly surprised. Of course these are not exactly what I hoped for but at least these set the direction. If there exist others like these, I am hopelessly unaware of them.
Another thing that bothers me is that such books are really not very popular and hardly ever come into limelight. I guess this is mainly because of the reading habits and preferences of Indians. In India, reading is neither cultivated as a habit since childhood nor generally encouraged later. Consequently a very small proportion of the literate population is serious readers. Well, nothing can be done about this outright to reverse the scenario but I just wish good books are really more accessible and more widely marketed.

The other day when I was browsing through the book shelves in a store, two books – The Mirror Effect (about the effects of celebrity narcissism) byDrew Pinsky & Dr. S. Mark Young  and The Dumbest Generation (affect of the digital age) by Mark Bauerlein – caught my attention.  Clearly, these were books on the current socio-psychological trends or issues in America. Immediately a few more similar books came into my mind – Decoding Love (on the dating scene) by Andrew Trees, What do you want from me? (about managing in-law relationships) by Terri Apter etc. All these books discuss issues more specific to the American society and they draw heavily on various research studies made by universities or independent research institutions in relevant fields.

I tried to come up with similar books in Indian context, but it was a vain attempt. I just wondered why there are no such books in India- not at least I know of. When I thought about the non-fiction products of India, I could only come up with self-help books like You Can Win, Mind Magic, Positive Thinking, How to pass your exams etc. I could find some with academic flavor on subjects like politics, economics, psychology, business etc, but none with commercial touch. I feel like the field of social psychology hasn’t been studied much in India, at least not in a systematic way. And howmuchever it happens, it’s locked away by the academicians and doesn’t usually reach the general public.

Anyways, upon intense googling, I found two books which talk about the social picture of India – The Great Indian Middle Class (by Pavan K. Varma) and The Indians: Portrait of a People (by India’s foremost psychoanalyst and cultural commentator Sudhir Kakar and anthropologist Katharina Kakar). And I was pleasantly surprised. Of course these are not exactly what I hoped for but at least these set the direction. If there exist others like these, I am hopelessly unaware of them.

Another thing that bothers me is that such books are really not very popular and hardly ever come into limelight. I guess this is mainly because of the reading habits and preferences of Indians. In India, reading is neither cultivated as a habit since childhood nor generally encouraged later. Consequently a very small proportion of the literate population is serious readers. Well, nothing can be done about this outright to reverse the scenario but I just wish good books are really more accessible and more widely marketed.