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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For inspiration, don’t always look up. Look down too!

We often hear the speakers and life-style gurus talking of gaining inspiration from people who have reached top echelons. We have great leaders, saints, spiritual masters, achievers-who are dead or alive- to be our role models. But, occasionally one would find such popular reference models too idealistic, impractical and out of context.

There is a possibility that one would no longer get any excitement on repeatedly hearing about the great achievements of these role models. We tend to judge these great people as endowed with unique virtues, brought up in unusual circumstances and blessed with infinite potential to succeed. And we conclude that either they are not ordinary human beings, or the eulogy that they succeeded against many odds is too embellished and hard to believe.

This judgment results in making us believe that they are not people one can easily emulate. And we tend to justify our attitude that certain things are impossible for us and then satisfy ourselves with our achievements and limited goals.

That is why, the sermons, speeches, inspirational stories and biographies of great persons do not motivate people to an expected extent.

But, there are several ‘ordinary’ persons around us and most often 'below' us from whom we can draw inspiration. It could be our children, employee, servant, or any other person. When we directly see, certain achievements or unique traits in others around us, we get convinced that such thing is possible for us also.

I have come across several such ordinary persons during my daily interactions, whose actions, habits or lifestyles have influenced me.

Manjunath is one such person. This young man, who is in his twenty’s started a pharmacy in a small room in the residential colony where I stay. That was when two shops in the same line of business closed down in succession because of poor turnover. I was amazed at the way Manjunath single-handedly ran his shop, with just one part-time assistant. He stacked all types of medicines, dietary supplements, toiletries, cosmetics systematically in that room. He could cater to the need of every person, unlike many other pharmacies where we don’t get some of the medicines mentioned in the prescription, instantly. Though there are several other medical stores within the colony, one can see people thronging only in Manjunth’s shop. This is the only shop in the area that functions continuously for about 14 hours, from 8.30 AM to 10.30 PM. It is very inspiring to see how he responds simultaneously to several customers, checks the medicines in his sleek system, gives medicines from the neatly arranged boxes, collects the amount, swipes the card, gives the change, records the orders for home delivery in a book etc. Apart from this, he also recharges the simcards of the customers of various mobile operators and also books tickets, online.

What I found unique in him was his alertness, enthusiastic response to everyone, swift action, numerical skills, and awareness of customer needs. And I saw the results: how such hard work, awareness of the requirements of people, intelligent application of resources, positive attitude and enthusiasm improve not only one’s social and economic status, but also physical and mental well being. I am sure; every visitor in his premises gets inspired by him.

Our part-time maid, Kalpana, who comes to sweep and swab in our house teaches us the need for punctuality. We always had the experience of house maids who were not always on time. Usually, it used to be like this. If it was agreed to come at 7 AM in the morning on all the six days of the week, on the first day the maid will come at 7.05 AM. Next day, it will be 7.15 AM.  The third day, 7.30 AM, and so on. After a few weeks, the arrival time will be around 8 AM and there will be several days of absence in a month. We got used to this schedule with most of the maids. But Kalpana surprised us with her punctuality. She works in several houses. The agreed time to work in our house is from 2 PM to 5 PM. She came on the first day at 2 PM sharp. We thought she would delay her arrival in due course. Her discipline in her job is inspirational. She continued to come at 2 PM, almost every day. In exceptional circumstances, if there is delay, even if it is just 15 minutes, she would call us in advance and inform about the delay. She gets into the assigned work systematically every day. We don’t require any Management Gurus to teach us Time Management. Kalpana, this part-time house maid teaches us through her life. Are we, the so called ‘educated elites’, punctual like Kalpana, in our respective workplaces?

Vijayakumar, the man who irons my dress, also has something unique to teach. He works in a School as Lab Assistant. He leaves home at 7 AM and reaches back at 7 PM. His salary was not sufficient for maintaining his family. He decided to do some odd job to get an extra income. With just an investment of less than Rs 500, he started his ironing business. He comes to our residential colony every day around 8 PM to collect clothes for ironing. In the late night, he irons all the clothes and delivers them to the respective houses next evening. He is very well-mannered, fluent in English, and prompt in his work.
Vijayakumar has proved that every job has dignity, and there should be professionalism in every job. He says, “Instead of wasting my time watching Television at home, I use it for this productive work. My wife helps me in this and we derive extra income for making our life a little easier”

There are many such ordinary people we come across everyday who can teach us important lessons in living. A successful person is one who absorbs the positive traits of others. Like a magnet that attracts all metal objects towards it, one needs to draw all the positive traits around towards oneself. And repel all negative vibes around!

Sometimes, we learn even from our kids. I was not much inclined towards outdoor games during my childhood. It was my son who inspired me to get into the swimming pool. And it was my daughter who pushed me to the tennis court. And I enjoy both and am thankful to them for removing my inertia.

Motivation comes from all around. We may not know sometimes who influenced us. But we should realize that bulk of the credit for the virtues we have, goes to some ordinary individuals with extra ordinary lives. They are not 'below' us. I feel, they are much above us!

Sibichen K Mathew
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Dancing with Maharaja: An Inspirational Novel for the Civil Services Aspirants

2625, Kerala Express from Kottayam to New Delhi, used to carry not only my bag full of cut-mango pickles, dry coconut chutney and banana chips, but also a lot of dreams. For any young man or woman, the period immediately after graduation is an important stage in life. Realization that one should come out of the comfort zone and try to secure a meaningful career disturbs the entire routine. On the one side the urge to enjoy life without taking any responsibility, and on the other side the sudden awareness about the need for getting into a role that would give sufficient social recognition and livelihood. At the same time one is also disturbed by the high expectations from the parents and relatives and hundreds of suggestions, benchmarks, advice, warnings, and reprimands showered liberally by all and sundry. The youth is really confused and agitated and sometimes loses his morale and creativity. 

   Following words were neatly scribbled on a yellow sheet on the wall in front of the study table in the Room No. 123 E, Brahmaputra Hostel, JNU

Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

‘Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes,
the swing in your gait,
The grip in your hand,
the irresistible surge of will,
and the energy to execute your ideas’ (HenryFord).

   Those words on the wall of my room used to inspire me during my times of loneliness and anxiety, and propel me forward to achieve my dreams. Getting into the top echelons of Indian Civil Services was one of them.  For many young persons, the inspiration would come from far away parents through their long-distance calls or from their friends and relatives. Cracking one of the toughest examinations of the country require much more than hard work and perseverance. One needs to be sufficiently motivated.  

Dancing with Maharaja

   Above memories and thoughts vividly reappeared within me while I got to read ‘Dancing With Maharaja’, an exciting fiction written by Sundar. The book is a story of a young man from a small town in Southern India who was forced to undertake a journey to a much disliked destination. He was forced to pursue his businessman father’s dream to make his son an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. 

   His father, a rich liquor shop owner wanted his son to be respected, be on the front pages of newspapers and television, have control over many people, have a lot of power and succeed in life. For all these ambitions, he found only one way: Make him an IAS officer. But the son was a lazy, naughty, aggressive, undisciplined, and disobedient student all throughout his school and college days. He never liked to be in the Civil Services. He enjoyed the company of his school dropout friends with bottles of Kalyani beer, scrambled eggs, lots of cigarettes and wild thoughts. Satish, the young man struggled amidst conflicting aspirations, and took the train to New Delhi to satisfy his father, though he himself was not convinced a bit about his mission. 

   Satish disliked the life in and around Old Rajinder Nagar, ‘the mecca of IAS preparation’ where thousands of ‘mad’ civil service aspirants flocked, slogged and discussed about everything under the sun. Entire life of those young men and women were centred around Civil Services Chronicle, Yojana, Coaching Centres, Dholpur House, and book stalls that carry tons of materials to satisfy their hunger for current affairs. He didn’t want to shed his rustic personality and throw his own unique dreams and aspirations for the stupid and crazy UPSC examinations. He continued to live like the son of a liquor shop owner from Madurai, who is more interested in settling the street disputes. His blood boiled seeing injustice around. And he was convinced that to help others in their dire needs, one need not possess a position in the Civil Services.

    But his father continued to send letters to him:

 ‘ Try to be at least one per cent sincere with your preparation, I will be happy’.

‘ My dear Satish, best of luck. I am really proud to be your father. Love, father’.  

    And Satish, a student with a below average performance all throughout, dreamt to own and manage a one-of-its-kind high class bar-cum-discotheque in Madurai city. The author continues his story creating excitements all along as he introduces many characters and their lifestyles. 

    The book very simplistically unravels the sociology of a youth from a semi-urban background, his aspirations, and experiments in life. Entire novel is spiced up with unadulterated humour linked to real life incidents the readers could easily link. This can be a motivational sourcebook for any person who aspire success against all odds. I am sure, all readers, especially the youth would not close the book till they reach the last page. And all civil services aspirants should necessarily read this book to derive the much needed inspiration as they prepare themselves to be the leaders of the society.

     Author, Shri Sundar has done his Engineering degree and MBA and currently in the Indian Revenue Service. The book is published by Srishti Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi. The book is priced at just Rs 100 so that anyone can afford. (So students, please use your pocket money!). Book is also available online at Flipcart

Sibichen K Mathew
See below a few other book reviews by Sibichen K Mathew

Julian Assange: A Criminal or a Champion of Open Society? 

Aleph, Paulo Coelho and my Friend: The Journey Within


Knowing History through Great Speeches

Choose the book and start living



Julian Assange: A Criminal or a Champion of Open Society?

An analytical review of ‘Julian Assange: The Unauthorized Autobiography’

Sibichen K Mathew

Sociologists and Psychologists say that a person’s early childhood experiences have a bearing on his personality as he grows up as an adult. This is found to be very true in the case of Julian Assange, an organized full-time hacker who has institutionalized ‘hacking’ and ‘leaking’ classified and confidential information of individuals, entities and states. He calls it ‘ethical’ and considers it as truthful and in the interest of public.

Unlike other children who uttered 'pa' or 'ma' as his first word, baby Julian cried 'why?'. And the parents (the mother, father and the stepfathers in his life) weren’t shy of his ‘why?’ He preferred books to toys.  Had to stay in more than fifty towns in Australia and studied in more than thirty schools, mostly in the suburbs. So he was always labelled as a ‘new boy’ in every school. He found the school to be an agony of boredom and a place of slow learning. He was subjected to corporal punishment by one of the school principals based on a false accusation. He hated the school system.

Was he deviant in his teenage years? May be, if we compare his lifestyles with others', of the same age, of the same time. He started keeping his hair very long in spite of injunctions not to. He was often been ridiculed or judged on account of his hair. He defied the instructions of both teachers and his mother and the stepfather. He refused to tie his shoelaces in the normal way and devised an elaborate system of wrapping the laces round the ankle and tying a knot rather than a bow, and began to teach the method to other kids. Later he dispensed with shoes altogether. 

Young Assange keenly observed how his activist mother participated in the protests against war, uranium mining, harmful fishing practices, logging in rainforests. He thus gained firm education in the arts of political persuasion. But the life of the mother and son were like fugitives, as the mother experienced the trauma of repeated marital break down. All these childhood experiences have very deeply influenced the personality of Assange.

Influence of the invisible father

Many Sociologists (Nature-Nature debate)   are of the opinion that about 80% of one’s personality is influenced by the ‘environment’ and just 20% is attributed to Heredity. In the case of Assange, though the childhood experiences and the family background have greatly influenced his personality, there is a clear genetic influence. That is what Assange also believes. The book speaks about Assange’s discovery that he, in fact, was following his father’s footsteps as far his literary interests were concerned, without knowing him and his interests. He was amazed to find out on his father’s book shelves, the same set of books he had purchased and read. He says with pain: ‘I suddenly realised I had started from the bottom of myself, on the first rung, and built myself up via many trials and tribulations, when, all the time, if I had only known him, I might just have picked his books down from the shelf.’ He regretted that if he had known him, he would have built faster.
The hacking adventures of Cypherpunks

  A man from a socially marginal family grew tall to be a well-known person across the globe through the most unexpected route. The Commodore 64 computer which he saw in a shop window transformed him to the world of cyberspace.  While Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were acclaimed for their creativity in Information Technology, Assange became popular (or infamous) for finding holes in the systems created by them. His team, comprised of either eccentric persons or persons with anxiety disorders and mostly from dysfunctional families, started their hacking adventures with the computer network through which most of the countries ran their classified computer sites. These ‘cypherpunks’ thought that information derived from these locations, just for the sake of fun, can be a major tool in the fight for social change. They wandered through the corridors of US Air Force in the Pentagon, tramped through Motorola, padded through Xerox, and swam down into the US Naval Undersea Warfare Engineering Station.

Tax evasion and money laundering by global financial institutions

Assange believed that his treasure hunting projects are a synthesis of a mathematical truth and a moral necessity. And he claimed that they can nip corruption scientifically rather than through street riots, human rights struggles or electoral reforms. He investigated the international money laundering and tax evasion rackets. Information gathered on perusal of a confidential report prepared by a company commissioned by Kibaki regime to find out what happened to the money embezzled by formerpresident Moi, indicated that many globally reported financial institutions were involved  in maintaining or laundering stolen, dirty money. It showed exactly how much money had been routed through other jurisdictions, wearing a new disguise at each stage, often ending up in tax havens. They found how these institutions based at tax havens facilitated asset-hiding and tax minimization (tax avoidance), and they believed that for public interest, they should reveal what these people were doing and to what extent they were doing it.

From Guantanamo Bay to Bhopal

Wikileaks released over half million US National text pager intercepts relating to September 11, 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. It used anonymous sources of information and leaked details related to Guantanamo Bay, US Military equipment in Iraq, Confidential Congressional Reports, Confidential Climate Change Agreements, Frauds within Multi-National Corporations, Internet Censorships in countries etc.  Wikileaks released a database of hundreds of documents from as many as 160 ‘intelligence contractors’ in the ‘mass surveillance industry’. On February 27, 2012 wikileaks published what they called ‘Global Intelligence Files’ which are about 500 million e-mails (of the period from 2004 to 2011). It was claimed that these e-mails revealed confidential communications of various companies, indicating the dubious role played by the Bhopal’s Dow Chemical Company

Act in public interest or sheer crime?

How can a person who claims to be the champion of freedom of information thwart the privacy of individuals and institutions? How can a person who claims to be engaged in ethical mission commit the crime of unauthorized snooping and stealing secret information? How can a person disseminate information that seriously damages the security, peace and reputation of states and global institutions? These are some of the questions that emerge in this context.

Assange and his team believe that they are spearheading a movement that is just, equitable and  ethical. Though started for fun, their activities, they feel have exposed the abuse of power by authorities, corruption by the mighty, and opened up the truth to the world. Assange team preferred to leave it to history to judge what was in the ‘public interest’ and what was not.  They proved that a few individuals can wield power through knowledge (‘clever mathematics’) to threaten even the most powerful state.

Assange said in an interview:   

 ‘….so if you and I agree on a particular encryption code, and it is mathematically strong, then the forces of every superpower brought to bear on that code still cannot crack it. So a state can desire to do something to an individual, yet it is simply not possible for the state to do it – and in this sense, Mathematics and individuals are stronger than Superpowers”
An incomplete book

The biography is an unauthorized one. Obviously, it has to be incomplete and marred by errors. The ‘subject’ can justly accuse the ‘author’ for every damn thing in the book, and escape any possible defamation suit or any criminal case on the basis of what is written or and about whom. Do you smell any conspiracy in this?

This could be the first ‘unauthorized autobiography’ (strange combination of words indeed) in history, though Assange could pay off his lawyers with the help of the advance from the publisher. Assange clearly stated in his interviews: “I am not the writer of this book’. The ‘ghost writer’ Andrew O’ Hagan prepared his first draft after conversing many days with Julian Assange. And Canongate did not have the patience to get it ‘corrected’ or ‘fact checked’. They shipped the books to stores all over the world in haste, and the critics (of wikileaks or Canongate?) laughed declaring that only less than 500 copies sold in the first few days! He wrote in the wikileaks website: ‘The entire book was to be heavily modified, extended and revised in particular, to take into account the privacy of the individuals mentioned in the book’. Certainly, money would pour in even if this is an incomplete work. But as the accounts of Assange are under attachment and monitoring, Canongate is ‘justified’ (any wise publisher in similar circumstances would) in deciding to declare the book as unauthorized. 

Though the book is a narrative and literary interpretation of a conversation between O’Hagan and Assange, it could be seen that it is a ‘work-in-progress’. The story of Julian Assange is incomplete on two accounts. First, the book itself has not captured him and his life in its entirety. Second, his agenda and mission are still incomplete and unfinished. Probably, we may have to wait for an authorized autobiography in the near future.

In spite of all its defects and incompleteness, this ‘part-memoir, part-manifesto’  clearly and interestingly unfolds the journey of Julian Assange and the Wikileaks. Julian Assange , undoubtedly, has become an icon of the century. An icon of what one would call the ‘open society’.

Some interesting excerpts from the book are given below:

“No longer a case simply of Big Brother watching you, but of Big Brother controlling your fingers, the movement of your mind, and keeping you from finding the world and its information on your own terms. Big Brother is home. He is installed in the item you just dragged home from the apple store.” (p.97)

“In order to examine the way that information moves around the world you would have to be interested in the whole pipeline: who makes the pipeline, who pays for it, who maintains it, and whether it is blocked anywhere or whether the flow is hindered.” (p.113)

“We cannot trust newspapers alone, as they have proved again and again to be both censors and partisans. We cannot trust broadcasters, who show, in most cases, that the value of advertising is more compelling to them than news values. … We work with them because we do not wish to be rivals: we wish to pool resources, but they, …struggle with the notion of their own legitimacy in the computer age, and with the machinations of their own egos” (p.120)

“Vanity in a newspaper man is like perfume on a whore: they use it to fend off a dark whiff of themselves”

    [Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography (2011), Great Britain, Canongate]

(Above review and analysis are purely academic in nature. The author does not necessarily subscribe to any of the views mentioned in the above book or in the links given in this article. The authenticity of the data in the links cited is not verified. ) [Thanks to Sajjive for the caricature]

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Why I start loving March!

Last year, this time I wrote ‘Why I hate March!
I got several responses to that article.
When I look back, I realize that March went off pretty cool!
All Virgos, people say, are hurry worry warts!

As I face another March, some of my friends enquired: ‘How is this March treating you?’
I said, it is wonderful!

I am saying this not because this March is not without its attendant difficulties. But my own introspection and the responses from many readers and friends have taught me one very important lesson:

The need to understand that the problems we face in our daily lives are very trivial when compared to the countless blessings that we have!


Life can be compared to a basket of fresh fruits and vegetables - With various shades, shapes, flavors, and taste. Some are bitter, some are too sweet. The bitter ones would ultimately prove to rejuvenate us. Some may look colourful from outside, but could be stale within. If we don’t use the bounty on time, worms would slowly settle within and we would not be able to consume. There could be thorns, which we need to remove carefully. There may be a very tough outer covering that would refuse to get peeled off. But patience, perseverance and timely response would make us relish the platter that life brings, in the most satisfying way.

Wishing a happy March to all of you!

In case you have missed, click here to read the article >>>  ‘Why I hate March!’ 

Click here to read Why I dare March?


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