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Saturday, 22 February 2014

FUN

Having fun is very important for us (our family, I mean). And it is so for many people we know, for almost every child in the world. In fact, it can be argued that it is the purpose of life!
We also enjoy company. Fun can be had within oneself, within the family or with a larger group. All forms of fun are necessary. But ever since we’ve stepped out of the so called ‘mainstream’, our interaction with friends (from the erstwhile mainstream life) has reduced to almost zero. I get a feeling that they don’t want to interact with us. No casual phone calls, no comments on facebook / blog, no replies to e-mails. The initial feeling was that of depression, nearing betrayal. But it is not as simple as that. I've been trying to figure out the reasons for this change.

There may be other reasons, but one reason is that when we moved towards a life into a village most of our friends, colleagues, relatives looked at it as moving away from fun. It is quite obvious. Leading a simple life, being environmentally conscious, inculcating and preserving good human values are not associated with having fun. Monks, social activists, gurus, honest politicians & bureaucrats are not associated with fun. On the contrary, they are seen as people who have renounced fun. Renouncing fun is equal to being boring. Exercising regularly is equal to not being able to sleep late, eating healthy is equal to not eating out, and sleeping on time is equal to no late night hang-outs.

The notion is also supported by the fact that most people, who have moved to such a life are burdened with a host of moral values, which has indeed taken the fun out of their lives. Reducing the use of plastic, using public transport instead of cars, eating red rice instead of white are some common characteristics. These don’t bother me much. What I find alarming is that they don’t watch masala movies, don’t go on treks or vacations, don’t eat sweets even occasionally, and keep pestering their children not to fight, share toys, eat without spilling and talk politely all the time!

So, my friends are behaving inline with the generally accepted norms. It is quite likely that they are missing me as much as I’m missing them. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Breaking News!

Concern for relatives (outside immediate family) seems to have reduced considerably. Of course it varies, but in general, we've become more 'practical'. Our reaction to news from relatives is perhaps similar to news one gets through TV or newspaper about people in general. 

For example, when we get informed about a sudden death or detection of a terminal illness at young age, the likely reaction is "Oh! What is the impact on family? Are people financially dependent?" Almost zero time is allotted to 'feeling' the grief (or even joy). It different in different communities. Rekha feels that among South Indians, the bonding between family members is not very strong, unlike Marwaris or Gujaratis. People would rather keep the doctor’s appointment or not disturb the schedule of children than to comfort a cousin in deep grief. 

The issue on hand is quite fundamental and very important. Have family members & relatives also become distant enough that their joys and sorrows have become just ‘breaking news’? Is talking to friends and relatives akin to channel surfing? It seems so. Not just amongst certain sections, but quite widely spread.
                                                                                     
So, what? This is how life is evolving. True, this is how life is evolving, but are we conscious and do we feel this or is this too just another issue to be discussed over tea and get back to ‘being practical’? Given this background, why would people be expected to be sensitive to the ecology or unknown fellow countrymen or other living organisms? Let's be 'practical'.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Walking the Talk

Land price is a major factor governing my decision to buy land. My concerns are thus:
1.   There is no economic rationale for price of any agricultural land to be valued beyond a threshold. How does one arrive at this threshold? Let us say that one family of 4 can manage not more than one acre of land. If a person can earn a gross revenue of 1 lac from an acre and net revenue of 80 thousand, the net revenue should cover his cost of living (including a reasonable saving) and the cost of capital (interest cost on investment in land). If his cost of living is pegged at 60,000 pa, he cannot service more than 20000 of interest pa. The land price for an agricultural land then cannot exceed 2 lac per acre. One may re-calculate this threshold by modifying the assumptions of how much land can a family manage and how much gross revenue can one make from the amount of land he can manage.
There may be other methods of arriving at the threshold. But, this has to be a factor in price determination.
2.   Senseless rise in land prices are pushing people away from agriculture and even further from natural farming. At the market prices, in most areas, a farmer cannot even cover the interest cost through farming revenues. Given the market prices, it makes sense for almost every farmer to either sell his land or use it for non-agricultural purposes. This will result in everyone monetizing all the land and there being no food to eat. Quite a scary scenario.
3.   Non-farmers buying land at market determined prices is only pushing up prices astronomically. If I buy land at such prices, just because I can afford to, I’m directly causing a rise in future deals, thus aiding the systemic catastrophe directly.
These are macro concerns. Agreement at macro level is quite easy to get. More so from people who’re not involved and even more from people like me for whom agreeing to the rationale saves money.

At the level of individual decision making, the thinking process is quite different. Plastic bags choke drains, thus aiding the possibility of floods in cities. But plastic bags offer a convenience and I think that just by my refusing to use a bag will not avoid floods if others continue to use. Similarly, if I’m a seller of agricultural land, I will agree with the rationale above, but think that my singular contribution to the systemic catastrophe is insignificant. But if I am a buyer, I will vehemently support the theory with a complete conviction that I’m fighting the cause of saving humanity from a disaster.

There is a phrase in hindi / urdu, “Sau chuhe khake billi chali haj ko.”I’ve sold real estate at market prices and am sitting in possession of real estate, which is valued very high at market prices and at market determined prices, it is sure to rise astronomically as well. I’ve contributed to the catastrophe as a seller and am opposing contribution to it as a buyer.

Rise in all kinds of real estate (agricultural, residential and commercial) without any relation to its productive utility is one of the biggest causes of an eminent systemic economic catastrophe. This is leading to a social, cultural and environmental destruction. It is resulting in dilution of values amongst younger population. Quite conveniently we blame the education system, western countries and philosophies, but refuse to look within. All this damage is directly impacting me and I need to stop contributing to the systemic mess, whether I’m buying real estate or selling it.

Therefore, I must reverse the unfair gains I’ve made on real estate and also refrain from making unfair gains in times to come. This is what I can possibly do to reverse the unfair gains. I give myself the liberty to earn 10% return on investment in my real estate. This percentage can be debated. It can also be debated that if I’m staying in the house, I should not earn capital gains. After calculating, it works out that half of my networth needs to be reversed. This is a real test. 

How do I reverse it is another question. Not easier than accepting the fact that half the networth is unfair. One option is that I buy land at high market price, since I’ve gained due to high market prices. But this will still aid the systemic catastrophe. The other is that I buy agricultural land from someone at fair price and sell my house at fair price. I can think of more options. What I must consider is that if I need to create a systemic impact, I should create a fair system and not an isolated fair deal. It is far too important to address the core issue of fear we’re facing today. Fear manifested as greed, exploitation, degenerating values, widening gap within the society. People like me, who have been on the benefiting side of the unfair exchange are the only ones who ought to act.  


There is a dire need for creating a fair exchange mechanism and a fair price determination system. I'd like to invite comments on this subject. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Education, Modern Schooling, Culture, Development, etc.

Last week, we saw a documentary titled ‘Schooling the World’. It was about how modern education is aimed at and has substantially succeeded in destroying the ethnic cultures, ruined the lives of many for the gains of few individuals and nations and distorted children from the path of natural growth and lured them to a much inferior materialistic life. It states that the genesis of the degradation of education lay in the colonial domination, which treated the subjected nations as resources meant to fulfill their dream of ruling the world. It goes on to state that many well intentioned efforts are accelerating this degradation because they are blinded to the real effects of modern schooling. Overall, it is the story of evil western forces using their power to destroy the cultural treasures of eastern tradition by way of reforming the schooling system.
The audiences to the movie were 5 couples, 3 of who have completely pulled their children from modern schooling, one family who schooled their daughter in their own alternate school till age 12 and one couple, who’d taken their child through regular schooling till graduation. There seemed a consensus regarding the evil effects of modern schooling. The course of action for the future was however blurred. I was convinced by the powerful communication, which reinforced my view that modern schooling is indeed unnecessary and harmful for children.
Later, when Rekha and I were discussing, she indicated that it was quite a one-sided communication. As we thought through more, we felt it was quite audacious to attribute every possible modern day problem to the modern schooling. Poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, loss of cultural values and ethnic practices, drug abuse, disregard for human lives were all inferred as effects of modern schooling and the blind faith in it.
I now realize that the subject deserves far more thought before one arrives at a judgment. After all, my enquiry in this subject is not academic alone; it has an application. I need to review my own bias which is probably shaping the lives of my children. Following questions & logical inferences can get me started.
1.       It is true that we’ve lost much of the traditional knowledge, skills and way of life and replaced it by ways, which are destructive (to health, environment, values and more), degenerating and inferior. But, there must have been something amiss in our older way of life. We are not known to buy into a new way of life so easily. Did we yearn for more fun and/or more recognition of our individual selves? It would be quite unfair to say that it was the white man’s coercive ways, which forced people to modern schooling. It would be insightful to slowly, without any bias, relive the process, which led the common man to mend his ways.
2.       Is modern schooling a completely wasteful package? Or can we pick useful aspects from modern schooling, which are better than traditional practices and can now be blended in a newer approach?
3.       When we think of ideal education methods, can there be one approach for all? Obviously not. When we consider the population in question, it may be possible that scores of different approaches are required for different kinds of children and their role in future. Is it then prudent to put the current system in such bad light that anyone sending his children to a modern school is burdened with guilt?
4.       Again, is it fair to attribute so many social problems to modern schooling? Bulk of the problems can be attributed to erosion of values, lack of concern and single minded pursuit to earn more money. Is parenting not to be questioned? Are values a function of the quality of living or quality of schooling? Are schools today not a reflection of what parents would want them to be? What is the complaint about, then?
5.       If extinction of species of organisms is natural, is extinction of traditional practices, languages and knowledge not? Does everything becoming extinct need to be protected?

The point is quite well made that modern schooling has a number of serious lacunae. Certain forces may also have used it to their advantage without a concern for those subjected to it. But unless an alternative is proposed, drawing conclusions may be incorrect, even irresponsible. And we know it well that there are enough number of well intentioned people, who are well acquainted with the flip side of modern education and have been trying to develop an alternative for years. Simply sensitizing people about the ills of schooling will only end up creating angst, guilt and despair. 

Adversity and Prosperity

Watching what interactions, events, thoughts do to you is quite interesting. Imagine a calamity; suffering people, shortage of basic needs, uncertainty and hopelessness. As if to defy the adversity, one witnesses love and concern, selfless service, generosity without an expectation of reciprocation. Innumerable instances can be recounted. Now imagine prosperity. Almost inevitably, one witnesses fear of loss, discontent, greed and insensitivity.


The same person is capable of exhibiting these contrarian behaviours. Many in our generation have spent years sharing a single room with the entire family, who are now intolerant to the same family members staying in a separate room under the same roof. May be, adversary kills the ego and prosperity feeds it, and a well fed ego in turn causes adversity. My sense is that this cycle is a natural process and cannot be broken however much one wishes or hopes. Not in every case, but as a rule.