Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
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Cauliflower and Lockdown Inspiration

I bought a big Cauliflower the other day with the desire to have my favorite Aloo Gobi sabzi (dry). As we do not have the luxury of the cook (who is an expert in the preparation of Aloo Gobi) these days, I was absolutely at the mercy of my wife for cooking the dish. Everyday since the majestic vegetable was bought, I opened the refrigerator and found it continuing its whimper for salvation. My wife had other priorities for cooking!

Yesterday, I announced that I am going to make the sabzi for lunch. I googled the recipe of ‘Aloo Sabzi’ and picked up at random one out of hundreds of recipes. My only criteria for the selection was that the recipe should be from a man (Sorry if I sound a bit male chauvinistic). I presumed that men would be extremely sympathetic towards men and they would narrate every little task and explain things like a patient tuition teacher who tutors a student who failed Grade X thrice.
(Like explaining complex words like ‘simmer’/‘stir’/‘saute’ and help in distinguishing certain labels for which I do not have any clarity: eg. a. Tablespoon/ Teaspoon/ Serving spoon, b. Slice/Dice/Chop/Mince/Shred c. Deep fry/Pan fry. d. Grate/Grind etc.)

I followed the steps given in the recipe religiously. Thanks to the lock down, I was not in a hurry for anything (Nothing worth left in Amazon Video and Netflix; Corona analysis in TV makes me further depressed (Everyone is an expert); Fed up of seeing WhatsApp which is full of tiktok videos from everyone (from the priest to the maid).
There was no multi tasking. I gave my complete/undivided attention (except when my wife entered to snoop or to smell a danger). Though the recipe said the total time as 45 minutes, I took double the time. But the result was amazing. And I used just one spoon of oil (don’t ask me which spoon) and I did not pour a single drop of water (‘Raw cauliflower is 92% water’). Perfect outcome for my first ‘completed kitchen project’ (I know I am praising myself too much). The above fact was substantiated by my wife and daughter as they liked Aloo Gobi (semi dry) sabzi (On merits and not out of sympathy – they clarified). We had it for lunch (with rice) and dinner (with garlic bread made by my wife).
I have been an advocate of creativity. I gained tremendous personal satisfaction every time I achieved something or created something. I felt the same when I did this.

The lessons I learnt:

a. I took more than 90 minutes for making a simple sabzi. But, how did my wife or my mother or the cook made over half a dozen items within couple of hours? Cooking is really a marvelous art!! It is real hard labour too! They are definitely successful multi-taskers!

b. How many times I had criticized the dish without realizing the efforts behind its creation? (I regret..I repent...)

c. How rich and healthy are Indian dishes – with so many spices, condiments and herbs go into the making of a single dish! I never realized this before!

d. Even if cooking was easy, the cleaning up and washing the utensils take double the time. Our kitchen managers need an applause every day, for every meal! And a standing ovation before and after every special occasion feast!!

e. Last lesson (to men): I am tempted to say this: “Don’t repeat this so often. Declaring ignorance would give you plenty of time – to sleep, to watch movies, to read and to do nothing.”.
BUT..I would tell instead: “Get inside the kitchen to cook, to clean and to crack jokes”.

Life is tough. Life is painful. Life brings us so much miseries. Each of us have our own share of happiness and sorrow. But, there is no other way…we have to face them…

A Cauli Flower or a cabbage crying in your refrigerator can help you to be humble creators of happiness all around, at least for sometime! Rush…to your kitchen my dear brothers!

© Sibichen K Mathew Image: alamy stock photo

A Good Friday Nightmare

It was Good Friday night last year. I was in deep sleep after participating in an outdoor ‘Stations of the Cross” procession and subsequently hogging the left over bread (Appam) of the Maundy Thursday Passover meal. Past midnight, In the early hours, did I get a precognitive dream? I am not sure.
Heard a loud sound of a trumpet. I opened my eyes and there stood an old man!
I asked. “Who are you?”
He said: “I am Father Abraham”
Definitely not my school principal.
The song I learnt during Sunday School summer camp reverberated in the ears:
“Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham
I am one of them and so are you
So let's all praise the Lord.
Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot,
Chin up, Chin down, turn around, sit down!”

I got up. ‘Are you the Yamaraj who came to take me?’.
‘No, but I can tell your past, present or future, if you wish.’, he said.
‘No point in telling about my past or my present. Tell me something about my future’. I said.
“Yes, your wish is granted”. He continued.
“I will tell you about your next Good Friday. Is that okay?”
“2020?”. I asked to make sure he follows the Gregorian calendar.
He said, “Yes. 2020”.
I said fine.
He started in a serious tone.
“On that day you will get up and brood as usual. Because, for many weeks you had not gone out of your home. You will continue to be in hiding for long. You will not know where you kept your watch for long time. You will not have shaved your face and you will not have combed your hair for long. You would not allow anyone to visit your house. If anyone rings the bell, you would run inside the bedroom and hide there. You would stop reading newspapers. You would have already stopped taking the daily packet of milk from the vendor.”
I became scared about my future after hearing him. What would happen to me?
He continued:
“You would keep the doors and windows of your house closed for weeks and months. You would be scared of the flies, the ants and even the air entering from outside to your house. One day you would come out to the balcony and start beating a steel plate with a spoon. Another night you will suddenly switch off all lights and lit a candle and stand in darkness!”
At this point I realized, I am going to be a lunatic by next year.
He did not stop predicting my misfortune.
“You will forget to take bath and brush your teeth. But you will stand near the wash basin and will wash your hands again and again and again. You will end up spending more time washing utensils and cleaning the floor again and again and again”
“OCD. Is it?” I asked Father Abraham.
He didn’t say anything. He continued:
“You will keep counting every grain stored in the cupboard and will consume even the last broken rice on your plate. You will frantically search all around the floor for that little chick pea that dropped from the grocery basket. You will never throw the first and last piece of bread in the packet. You will relish the thick black burnt toast.”
“Will I be in utter poverty? I lost my job?” I asked. He didn’t answer.
“You will spend more time in your bed. But you will be asked to work. You will work wearing a full sleeves shirt but without your pants and sit before a screen. You will be asked to hide your face and go for work, but you will refuse because you are frightened to be out of your house.”
I was in a shock. What would happen to me? Am I going to be mad, sick, poor, or a criminal in hiding? I don’t have a clue.
“Can I escape from this impending problem?” I asked.
“No”, He said.
I started weeping.
Then he said: “You are not alone. All human beings will be like you. All of them will undergo the same ordeal”.
I heaved a sigh of relief!
But I asked him: “Can you help us? Can you – the supernatural beings or messengers of God save us?”
He said: “No I can’t. Nor anyone from the place I come from can help you. ‘And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “
I begged and cried again: “Can you send someone to teach us and guide us how to prevent the problems or how to sail through this impending calamity?”
“You have scientists, policy makers, doctors, researchers, priests, nuns, sages, gurus, thinkers, healers, magicians and prophets. They have machines, patents, weapons, robots, prayers, prescriptions, cures and short cuts. If they don’t do what they are supposed to do, even if someone who died and reached heaven can't come down and save all of you!!” He said.
I couldn’t say anything. He disappeared.
I went back to sleep. I forgot everything when I got up. I hurried to get ready, skipped the breakfast cooked for me, rushed out to work place, to achieve my target, to have fun and to have a little pleasure and then came back home tired and watched TV, browsed the net and slept. But I prayed. ‘Lord, don’t give me nightmares anymore!’.
(The nightmare is personal and fictional.)
© Sibichen K Mathew. Image: iconspng.


Mind Without Fear: The wisdom from a white collar convict

It can’t be defamatory or slanderous if one calls a person convicted for a white collar crime, a criminal. But, as the saying goes, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future.

As Rajat Gupta, former McKinsey & Co chief, who worked in the Board of Goldman Sachs and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Advisory Board and served as the advisor to the United Nations, the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Economic Forum, shares his wisdom in his book “Mind Without Fear” (Released on March 24, 2019), one can possibly get convinced that only a sinner can be a successful preacher.

Victim of prejudice?

Rajat Gupta is back this week in Indian School of Business (ISB) Hyderabad, which he co-founded and led for many years, to tell the budding business leaders about the goodwill he generated and ultimately lost, which resulted in his exile for almost a decade for ‘no fault of his’.  There could be several eyebrows raised on the message his audience comprising mostly the future business leaders would derive from his futile defense, having served the full term of conviction for the crime. Irrespective of what his words are – in his speech or in the book, there could be a certain inference that the same would be perceived as a message of decriminalizing a white collar offence. Based on his words of rationalization, would the young minds conclude that white collar crimes are products of circumstances rather than outcomes of criminal minds? Based on his narration of how unfair he was treated after the charge, would there be an apprehension that white collar crime trials are marred by primordial prejudices and therefore unfair?

Victim of circumstances?

Though Gupta’s book, as he admits, is neither aimed at defending himself nor an instrument to to redeem himself of the unpleasant past, its purpose is to demonstrate his innocence.  Gupta tells the readers that he was a victim of circumstances. Here, one would get reminded of the  famous “Fraud Triangle” theorist Donald Cressey who identified ‘rationalization’ as one of the key elements of fraud behavior as perceived by the fraudster. Gupta is grieved by the way someone whom he trusted cheated him and put his entire career and the long lived reputation into jeopardy.  He is also saddened not only by the trial which he thinks was prejudicial, but also how McKinsey with which he had long relationship with uncompromising commitment and hard work, reacted to his insider trading case.

Rajat Gupta, was charged by the prosecution of insider trading on Wall Street with hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam. After 4 years of investigation, as against the prosecution’s demand of 10 years of imprisonment, the Senior District Judge for the Southern District of New York imposed a sentence of 2 years. Court appreciated the past good work of Rajat Gupta and found it to be a mitigating sentencing factor. He was imprisoned in June 2014 and was staying in Federal Medical Centre Devens, a federal correctional facility in Massachusetts. Around 5 months before completing the prison term, he was allowed to spend the rest of the sentence at home after receiving credit for good behavior.

Redeeming the moral credits

When Rajat Gupta, who was already extremely financially affluent played a crucial role in aiding Rajarathinam, the motive may not be money. While conducting the trial, the Judge Rakkoff was puzzled why a successful businessman, a philanthropist  and a mentor for many senior leaders in the industry committed such an offence? Mr. Gupta had catalogued all his philanthropic activities to demonstrate that he was always a good person. He submitted character certificates from several famous persons including Bill Gates, Deepak Chopra and Kofi Annan. It is reported that he had filed letters from his own family members about his acts of kindness! As Todd Haugh, a scholar of white collar crimes, rightly observed, there was an attempt to apply the “metaphor-of-the-ledger neutralization” technique originally propounded by the criminologist Mark M. Lanier. The attempt was to project the good deeds as a mitigating factor.

Questions to the business schools

Image: poetsandquantsforexecs 
A few questions emerge from the above discussion for further pondering: When several good deeds overshadow one bad deed, can that be condoned? When a person demonstrates his inherent goodness and states that a momentary aberration was seen as a serious crime because of certain prejudices, is it amounts to decriminalization of an offence? Will the above position would influence the young business minds to trivialize the need for uncompromising adherence to the standards of corporate governance and business ethics? May be, the professors and mentors in the area of business management, are the right persons to answer the above questions and decide whether the experiences shared by people like Rajat Gupta are warning signs or justifications for white collar crimes. But, one can't write off Rajat Gupta - a person with exceptional managerial competence and leadership skills! His life and achievements are inspirational too!

--> © Sibichen K Mathew    Views are personal. -->


When you SPIT on your (their) wall

Image: adweek. com

Imagine, you have a big white painted compound wall for your house. And you express your sub-human level intellectual views emanating from your ‘cultural’ consciousness in the obscenest, violent, hateful and filthy forms in thick black font! You also spit (comment) venomously on other compound walls in your vicinity. Whether you blame it on the inebriation triggered by dangerous stimulants (in solid, liquid or vaporous form) or on a momentary blood-boiling moment, everyone who passes beside your wall would see your nauseating literary acumen immediately. By the time you realize your folly, people would have captured them and circulated. You erase your wall in vain!

A Malayalam film director, well respected by me for his outstanding creations, recently quite unfortunately, jotted something of above genre in his wall! He was given a cow-dung bath by someone who is of equal or worse ‘cultural’ sentiments as a response to the inebriated FB post!

Similar excretions in vernacular language by a large number fellow mallus could be observed since the days of internet chat rooms more than a decade back. The paradoxical Malayalis were quick to indulge in infotainments of all sorts much ahead of several linguistic collectivities. They also make their unique ideological impression on such activities in their own typical way. The moment we logged into these rooms, some of us used to immediately keep the voice chat in the off position. Otherwise one would hear all sorts of highest degree abuses in Malayalam between anonymous chatters. In the comfort of a mysterious obscurity provided by the dubious user name and misleading disingenuous profile, they conversed crossing the boarders to vulgarity and offence. The moment a lady user name (not necessarily a lady, as many fake their gender for reasons known to them) appears, entire desperate crowd frantically pounce over that user with very intimate questions. If the gender of the victim is genuine, she would disappear from the clutches of the ‘empathizing’ counterparts and their filthy conversations. Obsession to external cleanliness is often marred by pseudo morality. 

In the age of Facebook, where every other person has either a real or fake (or both) account, fights in cyberspace with the aid of obscene and nasty verbal weaponry is common. Most admins are  either irresponsive or inactive. Reporting to FB is rarely fruitful. Even the groups created for laudable purposes and for decent conversations are infiltrated by such sub-standard commentators and ‘impostors’. But, what is more disturbing, is the unbecoming posts of so called day light “cultured gentlemen”!

© Sibichen K Mathew     Views are personal 


Dear Cameraman, Beauty is only Skin-deep!

I have seen still cameras, especially those attached to the smart phones, with auto option which clicks on its own when the person photographed is smiling. I find that there are many video cameras doing such ‘great’ jobs by continuously focusing on “pretty’ faces. We can see this in the video clippings aired by the news channels and in the TV shows and also in the videos of marriages and other functions.

Why do the video cameras focus only on the fair, “pretty” ones? We can be charitable to the underemployed neighborhood video guy who has been chartered to cover the marriage function focusing only on those who are naturally gifted to be of wheatish complexion or those who looked pretty in his eyes or those who are attired well!  But even mainstream media when they air entertainment programs or functions, one can see the camera suddenly stopping to capture when it sees a fair skinned person in the audience!

Live coverage of matches
This is obvious when we watch live matches. The cameras in charge of capturing matches live, zoom more on the “attractive” skins and curves in the audience than even the players, bats and the balls! Of course, people love to go in their most attractive attire, sometimes with a passion for rigorous ‘reductivism’ or clothe minimalism. This is fine and nothing wrong in it. But why those cameras have a momentary bias towards the whitish surfaces?

The White Obsession
The skin-color obsession of the world has promoted a multi-billion-dollar cosmetic industry. Media look for fair skinned presenters. Airlines look down upon dark skinned candidates as crew even when they are well natured and qualified. Matrimonial advertisements solicit grooms and brides with fair complexion. My dermatologist wife vouches the frantic attempts of people - young and old - to become fairer by experimenting all latest skin procedures. Professional treatments like peeling, lasers, facials etc. are not bad if that are tried to remove the scars, acne, sun burns, skin tags etc. and not exclusively aimed at whitening the skin.

Whenever I was invited for long TV interviews, I was subjected to a rigorous makeup prior to the program in the in-house beauty parlour at the studio. I felt embarrassed to see myself when the program got aired. I do apply moisturizer or mild cream to cover up dryness or the under eye darkness mostly after a sleep deficit night due to late night work and not because I am ashamed of my natural colour. 

The No-Make up Movement
‘No Makeup’ hash tags are becoming popular these days among some enlightened women who post photos in social media, especially Instagram. Many got inspired by Alicia Keys, an American singer-songwriter and musician, who started the No Make-up movement. She said that she does not want to cover up:  "Not my face, not my mind, not my soul, not my thoughts, not my dreams, not my struggles, not my emotional growth. Nothing,".

Alicia Keys

Fathima Lodhi, a Pakistani woman started an anti-colourism movement named “Dark is Divine”. She wrote: “I never got a chance to become a fairy in my school plays because fairies are supposed to be fair-skinned!”

The First Step
Hope our video cameramen of the TV channels and the live matches will take the first step not to focus only on the ‘pretty’ and the fair skinned people in the audience, but zoom on people irrespective of their skin colour or their physical appearances. We would also like to see more of people who are good natured rather than fair and pretty among airhostesses too!

Let us remember the words of Martin Luther King (Jr) that “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

“Good, is a fairer attribute than White,
Tis the mindes beautie keepes the other sweet:
That's not still one, nor mortall with the light,
Nor glasse, nor painting can it counterfet,
Nor doth it raise desires, which euer tend
At once, to their perfection, and their end”

(Sir Thomas Overbury, “A Wife”, Originally written in 1614 –Old English)

© Sibichen K Mathew      Views are personal


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