Adiós Facebook

I have a confession to make: I  was an addict, a social-media addict. I was so used to mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed without registering any information, or at times, remembering insignificant details of others’ lives. I found myself remembering random irrelevant people (destroying the natural progression of life where people and friendships fall by the wayside ) and during the last five years, found facebook nothing but a glorified wedding album of sorts.

I remember creating my account sitting in my college library upon hearing about this new facebook website that seemed so much more fun than Orkut, the social media craze of its time. (Gosh, it feels old typing this). I missed the Myspace wave but was firmly latched on to Orkut. Orkut testimonials felt like an electronic slam book with conversation threads and groups. Slam books were all the dope in high-school and it felt nice to immediately convert the slam book filling experience to an electronic one bolstered by the sadness and uncertainty experienced at the cusp of college life leaving one’s home and school behind. But Orkut wasn’t addictive and the dull blue and purple color gave it an old-fashioned feel. Facebook, with its clean white and blue page structure and “poking” options was a fun thing to do in college. The influence and power wielded by the social media giant today and its content and feel are nothing like what they were 10-15 years ago. To be honest, I think it lost a lot of its “fun” feeling converting itself from a college hobby to one of the largest media outlets in the world ( Even though Zuckerberg might insist on calling it a tech company, I think he should just accept that it isn’t just a tech company anymore).

With advancements in AI, algorithms, big data, social media evolved into time black holes and emotional manipulators, tapping into basic human vulnerability and emotional depravity. I read about tools such as SDK which spy on you all the time, algorithms and features deliberately designed to make one addicted and about how the facebook model has turned users into products with targeting advertising. The look and feel of the website has changed so much not just superficially, but in its ability to control people’s minds as well. Targeted posts, so much advertising, ability to log and post every single detail of our lives started out as interesting at first and now feels rather scary. For me, the final straw was fake news – the true black plague of the cyber era.

Fake news is poison and clickbait is like mold that threatens to infect any lesser-vigilant user. I needn’t mention the ramifications of fake news at all – just look at the Presidential elections in the USA in 2016. As legal authorities clamp down on what actually transpired leading up to the national debacle, Facebook’s name gets thrown around frequently. Indeed, as the largest distributor of (fake) news and targeted advertising, it brought to light the algorithms and psychological tricks used by the giant to draw users and keep them hooked.

I am not qualified to describe these algorithmic inventions and uber successful psychological warfare unleashed on the unsuspecting users by facebook. But I definitely was one of its victims. As studies upon studies come out  revealing why this social media platform captured the public’s imagination and time, one thing is clear – it clearly worked. I found myself opening the app and wishing to “check-in” during my activities or scrolling through profiles of people I have no contact with or have no intent to contact. It was unnerving to know what my friend from kindergarten ate for dinner yesterday without a conversation in over two decades.

It isn’t without its benefits. For people from the older generation who are now slowly settling into retired life, it is a second chance at re-establishing their friend’s circle and reconnecting after decades. When I hear my mom or dad talk, I can envision Zuckerberg’s lofty, well crafted and seemingly innocent vision of having the world more connected come to life. The first few weeks of being on facebook are indeed exciting – you  get to see how your friend’s lives shaped up and view photographs of them and their families. For the generation that grew up with facebook however, the thrill and excitement is long gone.

So I quit. I quit cold turkey one morning when I decided I no longer needed to see and debate if news articles were authentic or click on useless videos that were trending. I realized at the risk of losing out, I would get back my peace of mind, restore sanity and read news articles from their trusted origins and forego the requirement of leaving behind an electronic trail of my life for data scientists at facebook to pore over and decide to push out advertisements tailor made for me.

The surprising part is I don’t miss it. Not one bit.

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The supporting cast

Any success story will tell you that the supporting cast is as important as the leads. Be it film production (the most literal analogy) where hundreds of supporting cast and crew function in the background to make cine-magic happen or corporations where the leadership is held aloft by an ably trained and managed work force. In the case of individuals, several popular sayings exist, such as “Behind any successful man/woman, there is a successful man/woman.” In today’s times, when a large part of the young Indian workforce emigrates to the western world in search of career opportunities and wealth, the supporting cast comes clearly into view. I am referring to obviously – parents and spouse. Each having their own roles to play, let me shine light upon the parental crew first.

This was the generation of Indian parents who sacrificed their comforts and faced restrictions of a semi-socialist, closed economy to uplift their economic standards to form the largest middle/upper-middle class in history. Indian middle-class, comprised largely of such hard working folks forms the foundations of a society that is deeply entrenched in a conflict of tradition, culture and modernity and placed the burden of its progress solely on education. Education proved to be its salvation and millions of youngsters flew out to seek greener pastures, higher education, improved standard of living and wealth. Owing to our rigorous education system (debatable and is a lot more nuanced than this simple description) and various other societal pressures, a large number of Indians found their education and skills desirable and functional in the western world.  With fear in their heart, hopes and dreams in their eyes, hundreds of parents hid their tears as they waved goodbyes to their wards from airports all over the country.

Fast-forward a few years and now their children have settled into their new lives, owning homes, driving fast cars, working for big companies and earning comfortably enough to be well within the upper echelons of the western world as well. They now invite parents to spend time with them in their new surroundings and experience the life they have built. Parents fly in willingly, to experience the joys and fruits of their hard word and persistence. Vistas or places heard about in books, news reports and mentioned once by the very rich, are now within reach. The parents also get to partake in a version of the ‘American Dream’.

Once the initial joys of visiting and experiencing the USA dies down (maybe in 2-3 trips spread across many years), the finer nuances of living in the US come to the fore. American culture is a far-cry from the very-involved, familial and interwoven communities existing in all societies that have evolved from ancient civilizations – Oriental, Arab, Persian, Greek and of course Indian. Loneliness raises its ugly head as parents, left alone after their children,children-in-law are off to work and grand kids are away at school, face an excruciating 6-8 hours of being alone, in an alien land, far away from their stomping grounds. Faced with responsibilities of mundane tasks such as cooking, cleaning or babysitting, without the freedom of their own place, the mind begins to rot. Now before you go all nuclear on me by quoting exceptions of how parents are now very well adapted to this life – driving, shopping, heading to temples and trying to form their own mini-circles, I speak for a large part of the population that still hesitates to call this place their own. Children rely on their parents restarting their life in a way to help them out with babysitting, childcare, cooking and raising grand children while they are away slaving away in cubicles night and day. Now, Indian culture is very accustomed to having grandparents be very involved in these activities, but bringing them across the seven seas to do it seems a tad exploitative to me .

Even though most Indians who make it here are proficient in English, their parents might not be. They often struggle to deal with the heavy accent (having watched none of the sitcoms or heard the music that their kids did),  battle nerves as they go behind the wheel and deal with fast-moving traffic as they never have back home or when they live in suburbia in the states, feel trapped by the lack of accessible shops or things to do. They have to ask the children to drive them everywhere and depend on the weekend for a chance to break out of the routine and do something fun. It feels like  entrapment for someone used to his/her own freedom in the comforts of their own people and land – bouts of anger, frustration and irritation begin to appear among both the parents and their wards. They feel disconnected with friends and family back home due to the time-difference and general lack of internet awareness. Did I mention that this is the generation where millions struggle with the tech revolution and fumble with buttons trying to see faces of their children/family/loved-ones once a week? Yupp/Sling TV and the occasional ride to the mall to watch that Indian movie becomes their sole connection to a life on hold. Purchasing power, where your hard earned money is downgraded in terms of value and your children buy things for you might also feel wrong for someone who has led a life of self-sufficiency and has saved enough to live the life of their dreams back home. Forming a social circle of parents has a huge initiation barrier and feels forced upon for want of other alternatives. Imagine, if you work your whole life expecting to retire comfortably, meet long-lost relatives and friends who have been left behind in the hustle-bustle of life and enjoy the joys of being with your grand children and being able to pamper them with goodies and treats on your own terms but suddenly being denied all of it. Most parents I know, contemplate never returning for the aforementioned reasons.

My point here is that, we, the first generation immigrants here are an entitled bunch. We rode on the sacrifices of our parents in India. They willingly led carefully planned lives, skimping on extravagant vacations and material comforts for themselves but built their lives around educational (best schools, coaching, sports lessons), cultural opportunities for us (dance classes, music lessons) and opened doors for our careers and encouraged us to live our dreams. With heavy hearts, they accepted our decision to live thousands of miles away and were content with annual or bi-annual short vacations to meet us in person.  Sadly, that wasn’t enough for us. They continue to sacrifice their retired dreams and lock the lives they have painstakingly built for months on end, for us to continue living ours. They transform themselves into cooks, baby sitters, drivers so our lives can go uninterrupted and we enjoy the best of both worlds. Next time, spare a thought for their sacrifices, for this supporting cast will never dare complain.

Wet restarts

It is the hurricane season and true to its word, gigantic, powerful storms have slammed the south and south-eastern United States. I am a distant observer, perched in the ash-covered, wildfire ravaged Pacific north-west, but I have had experiences of dealing with weather-related floods (twice) and an unfortunate sprinkler flooding. Watching the soggy images on TV and reading news reports makes me reminisce about my own experiences with water damage and restarting life afterwards.

It isn’t pretty. Water, the benign liquid we take for granted, is way more powerful than it looks. Anything that touches water is gone – damaged forever and needs to be discarded. As communities focus on rebuilding, these measures are easier said than done. The first time I experienced floods was in Kota, Rajasthan. Yes, flooding happened in the desert state. I am painfully oblivious to the watershed and other natural drainage systems of that area, but I can vividly recall the hysteria and panic I faced when my one bedroom rental room was threatened by floods. Our landlord who lived upstairs, rushed downstairs early morning to tell us the water was here. I was sleepy from a late-night study session and woke with the worst shock of my life. I remember stacking all my books and notes on my chair which I then put on top of my table. I remember clearing out the last three shelves of the cupboards, rolling my cotton bedding and stuffing it on top of my chair. I saw the water flow in from under the doors into the room and prayed that my bizarre contraption held its own during the flooding. Thankfully, all my prized possessions (my coaching notes and textbooks, nice clothes and bedding) could fit on top of the table which turned out to be higher than the water level. I left for upstairs in a hurry, barefoot and scared.

We spent the day watching the flood waters climb from the second floor (first in Indian terms). Roads turned into rivers, pigs swam in the muddy, dirty waters. Shocked and confused students living in houses nearby tried to salvage their possessions. After a while, it turned to fun. We watched the incessant rain and grey skies dump water into the streets that had turned into rivers. No power, no classes for the day and food was thankfully provided to us by our landlord. The day or two that followed weren’t as bad, it was the aftermath that caused the greatest grievances.

The water had caused all the wooden doors to swell up preventing them from shutting properly. Anything left on the floor or touched by the dirty waters had to be discarded. The room reeked of fungus and mold and would feel moist for months later ( I developed the worst kind of fungal cold for months afterwards). No amount of new paint or whitewashing or bathroom cleaning could remove 100% of the smell or mold. Fungus would grow in anything that touched water and was forgotten. I found fungus on clothes that barely touched the water, inside the walls, between the door frame and any notebooks that remained remotely wet. My cycle needed new wheels and chain from all the corrosion.  I don’t think my room ever recovered from the water damage. Thankfully, I left the place within 6-7 months of the event. But that was the first time I experienced flooding and the grimy, moldy aftermath of it.

My second run-in with water damage was no weather phenomenon but a man-made one. Never the one to have any  luck when it came to room-mates, I suffered the biggest setback of my graduate life when my then room-mate started a kitchen fire. I used to occupy the hall (bigger, more spacious with balcony access) with direct access to the open kitchen. The fire triggered the sprinkler system which poured water over everything I had, my books, bed, laptop, plants until there was 3-4 inches of water in my hall. I lost everything ( thankfully, my most important notes and research findings were electronically backed up) and had to navigate through the renters insurance system to recover costs. I can clearly recall my room-mate’s voice asking me to come home since there had been a “minor” incident. That was my second restart in the three short years I had spent in the USA. The first had been caused by bed-bugs. That story is for another time.

The most recent run-in with flooding happened in 2015 in India. I have blogged about the floods in Chennai – a mix of unprecedented rainfall, shoddy management, absent rescue efforts, zero communication and government conspiracy, that shocked the city. I must consider myself supremely lucky to be at home with my parents when it all unfolded, in addition to water not entering our house at all. Our apartment complex built on higher ground was marooned but the presence of mom and dad, along with 50 other families helped our small community navigate the crisis flawlessly. Yes, we saw boat-rescues, had no power for over 8 days, no internet or phone connection and had to rely on some creative recipes by mom who fed us delicious, hot meals made in the glow of 10 candles. We spent quality time together, narrating stories, hanging out in the same room burning the scented gum (sambrani) to keep mosquitoes and moisture at bay, slathering copious amounts of bug repellent and tracking our inverter charge to determine which room to sleep in. We slept on the floors (the beds were too warm), forgot what refrigerators were used for and charged our phones during the one hour power we got from the apartment’s common generators. For months, I saw trash-piles that were several feet high (not unlike those one can see in Florida and Houston) as people discarded all their belongings. The city decided ultimately to burn it all, to prevent diseases and curb the emanating stench which threw up smoke and acrid odors from all the burning materials. Recovery isn’t pretty. Not one bit.

So, three times being affected by water and it hasn’t become any less scary. Today, I live in a place not commonly affected by floods but as the TV showed heartbreaking images of hurricane devastation in Florida, I couldn’t help but wonder if I could evacuate at a moment’s notice like I did 13 years ago in Kota? I have furnished my home painstakingly, brick by brick and it would absolutely crush me to lose most of it to catastrophic water damage. After three restarts, can I deal with another?

The non-secret keepers

As a kid, secrets were fun ( and mostly harmless). They involved discussions of secret crushes, observations ( I saw her eating chalk near the blackboard ew) or a book club that knew the ending of that favorite movie months before it came out. Chinese whisper was the only socially acceptable way of speaking in hushed tones into your neighbor’s ear which if done at any other time drew stinky looks and angry eyeballs from everyone else.

In the Harry Potter universe, secret keepers have a pivotal role to play. The premise of the murder of Harry’s parents by Voldemort revolves around this concept. The person entrusted with the secret of their whereabouts turned himself to the Dark Lord. As a kid reading Harry Potter books, the concept of such high level secret keeping (the sort that can lead to murder) was thrilling and novel. Peter Pettigrew, the secret keeper who was the disloyal friend that caused the murder was loathed and hated. When I revisited the books recently, the concept didn’t seem unfamiliar anymore and atleast a dozen Peter Pettigrews of the real world came to my mind. Ah, the agonies of adulthood!

To me, society functions in concentric circles of people. There is an innermost circle of the closest people in your life and grows outward. The degree of affection decreases and the level of secret keeping increases as you venture into the outer concentric circles. People move between inner and outer circles but often, in a lifetime, the inner circle remains the same. As you go through life, more people are added to each circle as one sees fit. All this is completely normal, except when one finds themselves in the outer circles all the time. I like to call these people, the non-secret keepers.

This is the group that gets the late invitations, the hesitating dinner calls, more cancellations/no-shows to a party and is often the last to hear of important news. As a result, the lives of this particular group of people who constantly flit from one outer circle to the next, is a string of surprises/bombshells. You hear news from people who moved to a new place months after they actually did or found a new job after they finish a year at them. They are the kind who hear about secret dinner parties/ movie viewing nights over lunch the next day. They are not completely ignored (whatsapp messages do count and replies do come, albeit weeks later) but not included either. This is the group that never gets to be the secret keepers, although, by now, it must be a relief to many (including me).

Jokes aside, with the penetration of social media, the fear of oversharing has led to forming these secret-keeping societies with different levels of information provided to each circle of people.  Sharing important events like buying a new house, car or landing a new job, is no longer considered the norm.  It is strange that in this era of connectivity and instantaneous global audience, people choose to form tighter offline groups in secret while providing superfluous content like memes and jokes ( and annoying Buzzfeed lists) for the outer circles to consume. More difficult, is figuring out which circle of importance you have landed on, with no prior clues whatsoever. Navigating social groups was tricky as is, with now the added complexity of secret keeping.

If you are still reading this column and are scratching your head about what my point is, here it is: I don’t think today’s society is any closer due to social media/internet than what it was 30 years ago. If anything, it is become a society of secrets. Atleast in the pre-social media days, physical distance was an actual reason to lose your spot in the inner circles. Today the mentality is different. One might be a friend on all social media platforms, but that just means you get to see favorite baby elephant videos and discover, as your “friend” did last week, if you still remain in Gryffindor. (by taking the quiz they shared, of course). As for actual relevant personal developments, good luck, my outer circle “friend”.

Secrets lead to secrets and I have had to force myself to do this as well. Maybe this is called growing up? I wish it didn’t.

 

A life outside the ordinary

My childhood was spent outside civilian life. Often located tens of kilometers away from a large city or town, factories that build and equip our armed forces and the private housing they provide their employees form mini-cities and develop a culture in themselves. This extraordinary setting was my home until I completed my college and moved West for higher education.

I remember large mansions, thanks to the British origins of our homes. I have memories of running from room to room, identical and adjacent to one another with boarded up fireplaces and sloping tiled roofs. Space was never a constraint and I had never heard of eliminating anything just due to lack of space. We had two kitchens, an outhouse, a long corridor that spanned the entire length of the house with grilled windows (grills were later added to keep the monkeys from entering the house with ease). Our garden was full of trees and a large collection of potted plants curated lovingly by my mom. I remember even a flagpole with a tiny circular dias around it in the center of our garden and endless carefree evenings spent twirling around it. I remember the marigolds that came alive in the early spring and the bougainvilleas that adorned our fence turn to lush pink during the late summer. I saw shepherds gather their goats and sheep walk past our home with our dog Blackie snarling at them. I recall their efforts to pluck fresh tamarind that grew in plenty from the giant Imli trees or stone the mangoes to get some fresh fruit. Roads around our home were private, with complete freedom to walk, run, bike with abandon and summon friends for evening play. I recall buying milk on my own since I was six from the nearby milk booth on my tiny red bicycle. I remember gaping at the depth of the just-drained swimming pool at our local club and accompanying my mother and our help to the weekly vegetable market twice a week, my teddy bear in tow.

Jabalpur is special to me in more ways than one. Though my recollections are tiny compared to my family members who have lived there considerably longer when they were much older than I was, I always remember the place with rose-tinted glasses. Trips to the local ice cream parlor and watching the buffaloes in the diary, counting the pigs and buffaloes wallowing in the naali on the way to the school, the rare city trips that would involve a trip to the bookshop and a bakery to eat hot puffs or watching the fountains in the community garden come alive after being broken (and fabricating stories about how it might be haunted), are all my fondest memories from a place that is often overshadowed by its more important and historically influential neighbors such as Bhopal, Indore and Gwalior. But Jabalpur firmly retains a special love, not just by me but by all who were blessed to spend many years of their life there.

Chennai was no different. We call our private estate as being in Chennai, since the closest city was Chennai. But we lived far from the hustle-bustle of the main city. Whisky and I have spent countless humid evenings rustling the touch-me-nots, biking through the local rowdy group of dogs to irritate them, avoiding thorny bushes and running like headless chicken on the local roads. We have seen cobras do their mating dance, run away from scorpions, escorted so many leeches and snails to safety, waded through ankle deep water during heavy (and rare) monsoons, heard month-long frog and cricket concerts, watched baby-toads swimming in the drains and watched meteor showers from the luxury of our house (thanks to the very dark sky). We had the best of both worlds where we lived in peace and in-sync with nature but had the luxury to venture into one of the largest metropolitan cities of India to eat at a restaurant or very rarely, watch a movie. I loved my home in Chennai that boasted of two floors with large balconies sheltered by tall trees. All I needed for entertainment was my dog Whisky and a big staircase at home on a holiday. Chasing street dogs, watching the birds eat his food and his fear of cats entertained me no end. Birthday parties were simple treasure hunts, memory games and homemade cakes and goodies. Traffic and pollution were never an issue and the facilities to play any sport were just a five minute walk away.

I spent lesser and lesser time at home and more at hostels after Chennai but our place in Dehradun was memorable for its long driveway, portico, abundance of litchi trees and giant voluminous rooms (heating and cooling bills would have been gigantic!). Plants love the chilly Uttarakhand winters, the pleasant spring and fall, producing plenty of vegetables in our tiny patch resulting in delicious pakoras from freshly picked greens and infinite steamed dumplings. Watching the lights of Mussoorie from our home or watching the tiny but fierce Dulhani flow was enchanting, just as having a huge mountain right in front of our home.

As I integrate into the civil society as an adult, with no such luxuries to boast of in my career choice, I reminisce with wonder. I realize today that the things I took for granted were indeed the rarest to find in today’s cities or  in a bustling metropolis. I plan vacations that take me to pristine mountains or lakes, that show me a million stars with fresh air and long to have gardens with tons of flowers and vegetables, but also with the choice of venturing into the heart of the city in under an hour. As spring awakens the slumbering vegetation around me, I cannot help but recollect my childhood homes with utmost fondness.

One might argue that moving frequently has led to no permanent sense of belonging or an established group of friends. The inconvenience of relocating and moving a home can easily overshadow the obvious upside of gathering experiences and creating memories that would otherwise take multiple lifetimes to assimilate. As The Wonder Years rightly pointed out, “Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day, you’re in diapers; next day, you’re gone. But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul”.

Rain rain, go away

After 5 months of gray skies apart from the 10 minutes of sunlight in January, I am jaded by rains. Sometimes, I find myself oblivious to it, with me not noticing the rain drops, the soggy jacket or the puddles on the street anymore. My last three winters have been textbook cases of the phrase – “Too much of anything is a disaster”. Also, “Be careful what you wish for”.

My latest stint in the Pacific northwest has been full of new and delightful geographical experiences. Watching a snow-clad mountain from my office desk took a good 6 months to become routine and the beauty of gigantic fir and spruce trees in my backyard lasted a whole year before it became mundane. The cascade mountains, that flank the city, were an unknown mountain range to me (blame it on the geography textbooks that stopped with the Sierra Nevadas -technically, they are an extension, but the climates and greenery surrounding them are so distinct!) Surrounded by such natural beauty and the untouched Pacific coastline, it was a joy to live and explore the region all summer, spring and fall.

Then came the winter.

Now, with a stint in Buffalo, NY that automatically elevates your tolerance to colder-than-Mars temperatures and gigantic piles of dirty snow, the winter here is extremely mild. I didn’t even take out my actual winter jackets. However, it does rain. A lot.

Rains are romanticized to death in Indian literature, movies, books and I had an extreme love for it too. Watching dark, cloudy skies after relentless sunny summer days and oven-like temperatures elevated my mood and made me so happy. But having 5 months of it, almost without a break, shows you how so much rain can actually bore you too. I was told when I moved here that I will dislike rains once I live here. I couldn’t believe them. I don’t hate it, but sure, my fandom has sure decreased a few notches. For one, you can’t wear nice shoes. Dogs are wet all the time leading to non-stop colds, coughs and hours of blowdrying and toweling. No outdoor sports, no biking, no casual strolls without umbrellas or rain-gear. Skies remain gray and cloudy, albeit warm and mild. Plants don’t do too well either, my herbs died because I delayed transferring the pots indoors and the dryer runs on overtime every week. Mud rooms are muddy and soggy and heavy vacuuming is essential to maintain general hygiene. A rainy weather routine is fun if the rain lasts for a week, or two. But once the season extends to a couple of months, you long for the sunshine already.

I stopped checking the local weather. How different is it going to be afterall? Only a 85% chance of rain, down from 100%? Oh well, guess what, it is raining. For the next 3 weeks.

The north-south divide

Part one of a multiple part post – there are so many aspects to it that I want to  do justice to it.

Disclaimer (as usual): Everything here is my opinion alone. I am open to discussion and debate and remember, we can always agree to disagree.

As I watch viral videos on social media networks of a famous RJ from Chennai, sarcastically object to a high-court order and make completely invalid arguments, I get agitated, and then sad. Off-late, I have begun to notice the north-Indian hating brigade in the southern parts of the country go from strength to strength. I have watched a distastefully done stand-up comedy that is getting wildly popular in Chennai and the Tamil settlements around the world, base all its laughs on criticizing people living north of the Vindhyas, their film industry and rallying their audience to continue hating them even more.  Having had the privilege of living in both very different parts of the country, I get defensive of the north, even though personally, I have no preference. India is one and wonderfully different, I have thought to myself all these years. But off-late the simmering hate is slowly rising to the surface due to the freedom of polarizing hate speech being afforded to us by the anonymity of social media.

In my opinion, language is central to this difference. The establishment of Hindi as a national language angers the native Tamil speakers and I see lots of commentary extolling the virtues of this ancient language and emphasizing its importance over Hindi. To me, this in itself is a sign of insecurity. No one can take away the beauty and history of an ancient language and both the southern region and language thrive in the area in the form of books, periodicals, dramas, movies, dialects, scholars and all the instruments indicative of a very active language. Why then, openly hate and criticize a newer language spoken much more widely just because it is different? Tamil sounds very different from a farsi-Persian originated Hindi because its roots are so distinct. I am no language expert but commenting on why one language is more important than the other and basing all your hate on it is a sign of weakness. One must introspect at what exactly Hindi language is threatening ? Doesn’t learning another language open portals to a whole new world? The hate of “Hindi” is something I find extremely absurd and irritating. I am a fluent Hindi speaker and I am a self-taught Tamil speaker and I relish the joys of being able to explore two wholly distinct cultures and their literature. Although I must add, the formal register (news) of the Tamil language is alien to me, but sounds so rich! I hope that someday, I can understand what they say without resorting to pictures and/or English translations!

Cuisine is central to this vast difference in opinion. Here, the situation is a bit more complex. ‘Chapatis’ or ‘Rotis’ are now very popular as healthy alternatives to low-starch diets in Chennai. Cooks in Chennai with limited culinary skills, who are more a necessity in homes with older family members or busy couples, are also now adept at making them. My mom recalls periods of time where people ate them as delicacies in Chennai. But that is no longer the case. While people are embracing the idea to add a wheat-based item in their culinary palette, they are so sensitive to being told about the inclusion of coconut in everything. The comedy troupe I mentioned earlier in the post, they were wild about the ‘Lungi-dance’ song that pointed out how south Indians add coconut to their lassi. And pray, why get riled by that? Coconut grows in abundance in Tamil Nadu and Kerala and is delicious and nutritious and by default is added to most dishes. Why suddenly point out how North Indians eat “Chapati” all the time? That is because wheat typically grows there. I have begun to notice south-Indians avoid food/snacks labeled as ‘Punjabi’ or ‘Marathi’ despite their deliciousness since they are from the “North”. This, despite them being highly educated, with multicultural education and travelling the world on a daily basis. The subtle signs of dislike and hate, slowly creep into the generations to follow despite the connectivity, communication and accessibility to one another. It really is a shame, that we are trying so desperately to shut ourselves off from each other, when science and the social media are actually meant to connect all of us together and bridge our differences.

PS: I am not being specific to the people that immediately surround me when I mention my observations. Superficially, you might dismiss these arguments and observations as stemming from an unfortunate mix of society I live in, but underneath that shiny exterior, these old feelings of dislike and the tendency to isolate and cocoon ourselves from anyone different, continue to thrive. If you comment that my comments are from the point of view of south-Indians alone, I tend to write other viewpoints in the future installments.