Category Archives: Society

Work as an identity (Part I)

Many young people now a days engaged in busy professions like finance, business management, information technology etc., or those working as scientists in research laboratories or as technologists in large scale process and engineering industries have very little time to spare, in the course of a normal working day, either for themselves or their families. Their time frame is usually packed mostly with business, but sometimes also accommodates structured leisure elements or packages considered ‘cool’ or ‘in vogue’. All of these do not leave many windows allowing them to just look out watching the fading colour of the sky in the evening and wish they could become like a kite gliding into the distant horizon or do something, anything, that does not necessarily have any use value and call for approbation or sanctions of their peers.

Quite a few of these professions have become increasingly important in recent years and captured public imagination as pivotal for the progress and prosperity of societies under modern democracies, not just in the advanced western countries but also in the so-called third world countries with emerging economies. With an emphasis on the high level of specialised information and/or scientific knowledge as well as analytical and technical competencies we have at hand issues related to a growing army of ‘knowledge workers’ in a burgeoning knowledge society.

There is a positive impetus for such workers to buy into an identity based on such knowledge-oriented work and the consequential hubris. There is an aura of superiority, novelty, modernity and exclusivity due to their technical and managerial expertise in specialised domains such as, commerce, finance, science, technology, etc. By allowing them to play a key role in the innovation and management of the industry and businesses and, increasingly (more recently) in sprucing and speeding up governance, the kind of work they do defines their relevance to those at the helm of the business and the government, in the process providing them not only their financial security but prosperity and social standing.

This also lends them a chance and a reason to celebrate their lifestyle somewhat as suggested visually on the pages of glossy coffee table books showing walls coming alive in exquisite colour and lustre, huge antique furniture pieces, plush upholstery, ethnic décor, soft lighting, sumptuous food and expensive wine laid out on a scale befitting royalty. And of course the celebration would be incomplete without an assemblage of chic crowd with similar or higher pedigree and clout enveloped in the hubbub of good-natured banter and a sweetly nagging flavour of good and gated living.

It is as if not only are their professional life governed by parameters set by the businesses they work for, and hence ultimately, by the market, their individual life, their choices about consumption to keep their body satiated and the mind tamed, are increasingly dictated and manipulated by the omnipresent and omniscient market. Everything that they do or choose not to do must make sense in terms of a generally accepted paradigm about how to conduct life along a materially secure and prosperous path. There is this subtle subservience to a ‘factory’-produced uniformity of products and customs, a fetish for efficiency and a distaste for redundancy, apprehension about asymmetry and cultural diversity that run counter to the fundamentalism of the power elite in modern democracies, especially its neo-liberal globalising variant. They exist in a social ambience – in the family, within the community and wider cultural mileu, valuing and aspiring such a trajectory of life.

For them the work they do is probably their only identity and their lifestyle the only acceptable one. If you take out the work, and consequently the attendant assured wherewithal and the status along with it, the emptiness of a life of ordinariness starts staring at them. A sort of life they have not been accustomed to looking at except occasionally through the windows of their cocoon and ignoring it. One they are certainly not prepared to live. Work thus becomes an escape from a life which otherwise does not make much sense to them.

(This is a slightly reworked version of a post published recently in another blog of mine. A further exploration of this theme will follow)

Peace and the precipice

It is perhaps not an uncommon experience to suddenly feel thankful for the way things seem to be shaping up for you at the moment. Or the way the life is treating you, to put it another way. For the believer it may be relatively easy to feel consistent with a certain sense of symmetry that one has always hoped to achieve by joining the right dots and tracing the curve remaining, hopefully, close to the optimal. For the more religiously inclined, good Karma of following an impeccably laid up enlightened pathway across the garden is perhaps indicated. A clever agnostic will, probably, be disinclined to interrogate his good fortune!

It is but natural to look for, be happy with an apparently extended sunny interlude and quietly pray (not always clear to whom) that the reprieve continues. I am reminded of a song composed by Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet, that expressed a similar earnest wish with touching audacity of hope (I shall offer an imperfect translation of only the first line) : /Let my days spool over in equal serenity and content/. Whereupon it may become easy to let the mind escape like a bird the skeletal cage into the clouds taking shapes and colors we never thought the tyranny of logic or physics would let us perceive. This could also be one of those fleeting sequences of clairvoyant moments when our body as though it is a well tuned integral part of a majestic symphony orchestra that is universe, seems to sense an enormous fugue rising out of the ocean, dancing down the slopes of mountains, enveloping the parched environment in droplets of rain, leaves, dirt, sweat, flavors of leavened bread, fondness and hope.

Until time like an assassin waylays one into a remorseless dark hole that absorbs all light and lets nothing out. No matter how one looks at it there is an existential fragility about all of us, agnostic and believer alike, our awareness clouded sometimes explicitly and assailed with hints of rains on other occasions. In sickness and separation, debility and death we only face the masks of a faceless, senseless, self-organized and stochastically configured adversary. There is nothing particularly good or bad about it, or right or wrong. Even to call it adversarial or think of it as a benign presence are meant as a set of coloring book exercises the clever among us had invented eons ago to channel the fear, bafflement and feeling of being a derelict in time and space into some manageable ordering and sense, alternately feeling beholden and being cast away.

Are human beings capable of being simultaneously aware of the precipice and the beauty and the peace in whatever lay beyond? Can they face up with equanimity to the spatially or temporally spaced opposites not only in the physical, material world but even as members of a complex human society they have helped to devise and evolve? Who among us would not open his heart to the warmth emanating from hearts of other fellow beings in an apparently unending serenade of goodness and hope only to be persuaded later, equally convincingly, about hearts turning into stone, beautiful and the humane metamorphosed into savage? Haven’t we rained down bombs and missiles from massive machines scorching the skies on the streets and homes and hospitals and granaries in a city or town marked red on a perceived axis of evil, unerringly projected on a screen blanched out of emotion by the no-nonsense generals for the benefit of the wise leaders of men ensconced comfortably in another city or town in a distant continent, where thanksgiving is in progress or loudspeakers are plaintively calling out over the dust and the din of the bazaars to the faithful for the quotidian prayers for goodness, peace and hope to prevail?

Grace as new-age Satyagraha

Grace has become much less common than even common sense! Indeed, rude behaviour, if that is symptomatic of a graceless society, abounds in our daily social interactions, at home, in public places, offices and finally on the streets where this can easily turn into road rage incidents which sometimes lead to violent crimes.

Most people following politics in India today will testify to the fact that the quality of grace is becoming conspicuous by its absence in any political discourse either inside the parliament (or any other legislative bodies) or out of it (say, in TV studios of big national news channels). Political opponents are routinely seen to interrupt each other and blatantly usurp the debating space to voice either one’s partisan position, premise, speculative promise of an intangible beneficial fall out of this or that government policy as a foregone conclusion or, holding a contrarian view point, express apprehension of an unmitigated disaster and a dark future guaranteed to unfold from the same policy, depending on their relative coordinates vis-à-vis the political divide.

Just look at the comments people proffer in the ubiquitous electronic space, in respect of the e-paper or ezine articles, blogs and the social media postings. The proclivity to post comments is often not commensurate with minimum required knowledge about the subject, basic civility to engage in a conversation, attitude to learn and contribute to take a discussion thread forward. On the contrary, utter arrogance and extreme and foolhardy self-righteousness often characterize such responses. The more sensitive the topic is the chances are that the author has to walk a sharper razor edge so as not to offend one side or the other and invite virulent comments. To be fair, sometimes the original blogs/postings themselves are tendentious, judgmental, make sweeping statements, and include tasteless insensitive pictures, almost as if spoiling for a fight.

Intolerance of any view, worldview or even perception other than one’s own is often found in individual or group interactions, and this probably is pointing towards a fact that Indian society is becoming increasingly intolerant. Our prescription of economic development and the way its fall out has been managed has unleashed not only irreconcilable aspirations among various sections of the people but often an ugly conflict between simultaneously prevailing centuries as a part of this modernisation project. We are a divided, indeed, very fragmented society with too many identities – ethnic, caste-based, religious, regional (even sub-regional), and of course political identities, to defend from each other’s perceived pillory.
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