To be, or not to be… What is the question?


The phrase “To be, or not to be” is the opening phrase of a soliloquy in the “Nunnery Scene” of William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. It is a popular soliloquy in the works of Shakespeare – probably, even, the most famous soliloquy anywhere. The phrase is truly intriguing as Shakespeare deals with insightful thoughts and complex philosophical ideas to communicate with an audience with a wide range of intelligence and emotional quotients.

In the speech, upon being spurned in love, “a despondent or feigning Prince Hamlet”(sic) contemplates death by suicide. He bemoans the pains and unfairness of life but acknowledges that “the alternative might be still worse.”(sic) as he is unsure about what death would bring or whether there is life after death (that he would then surely spend in hell since suicide is a cardinal sin).  Shakespeare urges the reader to contemplate whether it is better to simply endure and suffer life passively in the face of adversity and crisis rather than actively trying to end that suffering.

Wikipedia states that “‘To be, or not to be…’ is one of the most widely known and quoted lines in modern English, and the soliloquy has been referenced in innumerable works of theatre, literature and music.”(sic). Most of us would vouch for the popularity of the phrase and it is very likely that we have found ourselves using the phrase at various junctures in our lives.

Delving a bit deeper in to the origin of the phrase requires us to understand Shakespeare’s frequent use of soliloquies in his writings. It is generally accepted that Shakespeare used soliloquies to convey some of his deepest insights in to the human mind specifically the way in which we deal with our inner conflicts under pressure, often failing to perceive the flaws in our own reasoning.

This article, however, is neither about Shakespeare’s writings nor about the various insights that he gathered in his studies of the human mind. Instead, we shall try to focus on just one aspect of this “inner conflict” highlighted by the words “a despondent or feigning Prince Hamlet” in the paragraph above. Shakespeare leaves it to the reader to determine for themselves the sincerity of Prince Hamlet in dealing with his inner turmoil and therein lies the true entertainment value of his works. Subsequently, the question that we will explore is whether we are fooling or indulging ourselves by engaging our mental faculties in trying to resolve the myriad inner conflicts that we typically are confronted with in our lives. The instinctive response would be “It depends…”.

First and foremost it depends on the context in which the conflict has arisen. For instance, suppose that a person has a boss who he believes is a tyrant. He may delude himself into thinking that he is the injured party and is wronged by having to work for a tough boss.  Whether his boss is truly a tyrant or not is something that is his perspective and may not be correct. So it may happen that while this person considers his boss to be a dictator another colleague may feel this same boss is not only professional and easy to work with but also friendly and approachable. Office politics and a demanding boss makes the first person wonder whether it is better to change his job and probably opt for a less lucrative option. Or he may wonder if it is better to simply keep his head down, put up with a demanding boss, and continue with his present job. 

Let’s see another example where one is confronted with inner turmoil and conflict. Suppose that a particular woman is suppressed and harassed for dowry in her martial home. What should she do? Put up with the harassment or face social stigma of being a divorced woman? The fear that she would be socially looked down upon as she is a divorcee is her perception and may not really be true. In such a situation she would often ask herself whether it is better to live a life of torture or a life where she is looked down on for being a divorcee.

Ironically, these days, most of us tend to lead dual lives, our physical lives where we encounter face to face interactions with people as well as a life on social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and the like. So, we may encounter conflicts while interacting with people face to face or while we are online. Many of us also might feel a bit conflicted every time we need to post or share something on social media. Like, for example, you got that Best Performer award at work! So what do you do? Should you post a status update on Facebook, boasting about the same? Or do personal and professional ethics force you to play down your professional achievements on social media?

From the examples above we can all agree that the context determines the severity of the impact of the conflict, possibly on our very existence. If the consequences of the actions to be taken to resolve the conflict can make a difference of life or death then it is safe to say that we are neither fooling nor indulging ourselves and the resolution process demands our complete and total attention. So for the sake of this article lets exclude such conflicts from our consideration.

But it is equally important to realize that in certain situations we have a preconceived notion of the “morally” or “politically” right choice but somehow we are unable to proceed with making that “right” choice for various “selfish” reasons. Maybe the choice of the word “selfish” is unwarranted at this juncture and, borrowing from Shakespeare once again, we can consider the case of Brutus from his play Julius Caesar whose character is best described as “a self-critical and honest man struggling to do what’s right in unpropitious circumstances”. So let us give ourselves a bit of a concession in this regard and proceed with conflicts the resolutions for which could be across the entire moral spectrum between white and black, with possibly some other colors thrown in for variety.

To summarize, with the constraints and assumptions stated above, the question being asked is whether there is a fine line between fooling versus indulging ourselves while agonizing over certain conflicts or can we establish “suitably rigorous” guidelines to help us choose our battles against our inner demons. Furthermore, given the social animals that we are, energies devoted to our inner struggles do deprive others around us of the same. Hence, it behooves us to be cognizant of the consequences of our actions at all times especially whilst giving in to our indulgent desires.

So where how do we proceed from here? Should we fool ourselves in to thinking that we can find the answer or should we indulge ourselves in some Sunday morning rumination in to philosophy and psychology? That is the question!


The human condition: What should we really be afraid of tomorrow?

Today fear has become the main emotion that drives all the major decisions in our lives: We need mobile phones with better functions because we are afraid of not getting the most out of every moment; we need newer cars because they have better safety ratings than the one we have at the moment; we need to send our children to new fancy schools because we are afraid that we would otherwise compromise on their future; and so on and so forth. Simply speaking fear rules!

So then was does the future hold in store for us? A number of authors have painted vivid pictures of the dystopian society that we would find ourselves being a part of in the near future. While most of them are fairly bleak such as George Orwell’s version in his seminal works The Animal Farm and 1984 and of course the machine ruled futures depicted in Terminator and Matrix movies; there are a few depictions that may be more in line with the present state of affairs. One such depiction that we shall use as the basis for this article is as shown in the movie Her.

The protagonist in this case is still recovering from a broken marriage and finds the ideal companion in the form of an operating system driven by artificial intelligence! The gradual increase in intimacy between the hero and the operating system mimics the typical human to human relationship to an amazing extent. So then, although totally unexpected, the end makes perfect sense: the operating system dumps the human hero and moves off to live its life somewhere in the cloud with other similarly sentient operating system instances; the hero then meekly ambles back to the only other option: a human friend!

So what is there to be afraid of in this vision of the future? The answer: the way we try to address our need for a companion. Although this need is rooted in the biology of every living being, in humans it manifests in a quest to find a “perfect” companion in the form of a lover or a soulmate. It might thereby come as a surprise to many that in the hyperconnected world of today we are actually diverging from the “natural approach” to fulfilling this need: a series of physical interactions with other humans governed by our instincts. Instead we are relying on what people have to say about our virtual lives being played out on the stage of social media to decide who our companions should be.

It is very easy to appreciate why the later mechanism is so popular: it allows us to evaluate a larger pool of candidates within a shorter period of time while taking fewer risks than those associated with getting to know a person through physical intimacy. And, of course, we are still trying to find a human companion instead of placing our bets on a different species of sentient beings! Nevertheless the approach is inherently flawed.

It is flawed because it limits our perception of another person to a non physical dimension wherein our natural instincts are completely suppressed leaving us handicapped. It is also flawed because it allows us to hide our own shortcomings far more effectively thereby lulling us in to a false sense of acceptance from the other person. However, we are no strangers to real life encounters gone sideways wherein all decisions were based on instincts alone because biologically we are hardwired to act on certain instincts more than others! Therein then lies the dilemma that leads to a state of paralysis that we should really be afraid of.

Today we can neither give in to the unabashed optimism offered up in the virtual world of social media nor are we equipped to deal with the consequences of our actions in the real world that are driven only by unbridled passion!

This human condition of analysis paralysis will only be exacerbated with our growing dependence on the human-machine interface in the coming future and may lead to a society wherein we either give in completely to the machines such as that depicted in the movie Surrogates or to a society wherein the machines give up completely on humans, hopefully in a benign manner, such as that depicted in the movie Transcendence and Her. We should therefore strive to strike a balance between leveraging the virtual world to avoid certain risks and trusting our instincts in the real world to take the right amount of risks so as to retain our humanity!

Lust, Love, and Loss: The stuff the leads to real happiness!

In a previous blog post we talked about the three axioms that one can adopt in order to not limit enlightenment to the spirit alone. Let us now delve into some practical aspects of applying these axioms, specifically the third axiom, in our day to day lives. Here is the third axiom again:

The sole purpose of life is to propagate itself.

Leaving the obvious biological aspect of propagation of the species aside let us look at a different context in which this axiom is relevant to human beings: the state of mind required for existence. The state that immediately comes to mind is “Happy”! It would be interesting to note at that this is rarely the de facto state of the human mind and the pursuit of this state is what this blog will try to address.

We shall start by making a clear distinction from the school of thought that claims that happiness of the mind can be decoupled from the state of existence of the body. While one would agree that material luxuries for the body cannot guarantee happiness for the mind it is unconceivable that the mind can be happy unless the basic necessities of the body are satisfied. Biology would not permit it! Instead, let us look at a way to achieve happiness that balances the material and spiritual needs of a human being.

George Carlin, by far one of the most talented comedians of our time, did a piece on “Stuff” as a part of one of his standup acts. Catch it on YouTube here. In this piece he talks exclusively about the material things that we make a part of our lives and how we prioritize them over other peoples “stuff”! There have been many more such discourses about other baggage that we tend to carry around with us but one in particular that address both the material and non-material baggage is from the movie Up in the Air: at a convention the character played by George Clooney, Ryan Bingham, delivers a speech titled “Whats in your backpack?”. Catch it also on YouTube here.

While such discourses talk about how to deal with the baggage that we carry about, both material and spiritual, they fail to address the life experiences associated with the collection of the same. Our lives, after all, are the sum total of our experiences shaped by our choices. Let us then talk about the life experiences that shape us and define us and in turn are the ones that we tend to reminisce upon the most, i.e. carry around in our backpack.  The origins of majority of these experiences would be based in three basic human emotions:

Lust: Leaving the sexual aspect aside we shall refer instead to the meaning of lust as per the Oxford English Dictionary as: “A passionate desire for something”. We surely remember the things and the people for whom we have felt this kind of want; especially the people with whom we were lucky enough to share such a feeling with and the things that we managed to acquire for ourselves. The feeling of happiness that follows is what burns these memories in to our brains!

Love: Beyond a doubt we remember our first love, our true love, and all other loved ones that fall in between those two extremes. Excluding the unrequited love that only led to fleeting misery and suffering, we can all agree that being in love is certainly way up there in our list of experiences that were a source of happiness more enduring than the rest.

Loss: Again out of the various meanings of loss as per the Oxford English Dictionary let us understand loss as the feeling of grief after losing someone or something of value. Surely any experiences of loss are not easily forgotten especially of losing someone that we have truly loved or something for which we had experienced wanton lust! But how can we find happiness in such experiences? Are we not better off by suppressing them never to be discussed again with any other living soul?

The words of the great poet Khalil Gibran from his seminal work The Prophet can help us achieve this magical transformation: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding…”. The full text of this particular chapter can be found here. The poet encourages us to look upon the cause of our pain with bewildered awe and appreciate that we were lucky to have experienced the happiness that preceded the pain. Needless to say that this is easier said than done but is certainly worth a try lest you find there are fewer and fewer experiences worth remembering being added to your life.

In conclusion pursue every opportunity for an unique life experience no matter how unconventional the source  but do not let the outcome deprive you of happiness. Instead, find happiness in acknowledging that you were brave, or in some cases foolhardy enough, to have seized the opportunity in the first place.

The Padma Bhushan award winning Marathi poet, Mangesh Padgaonkar, best summarizes this aspect of pursuing love in his poem “Akherache Yetil Majhya”. Catch it on YouTube along with English translation here.

The lonely pilgrimage to the land of spiritual enlightenment – Do we really need to bother anymore?

It would be safe to say that for all sentient beings there is no escape from Plato’s Ghost. We, the members of the Homosapien species and the newest entrants to the class of sentient beings, are subject to no exemption. Well, maybe a few amongst us are lucky enough to let their daily lives be dedicated to attending to our needs as living beings, but let them be in peace for the moment and focus on the dilemma the rest of us face everyday if not every waking moment of our lives: What’s next?

Leaving the long list of usual suspects that typically result in the dilemma aside, i.e. food, money, sex, entertainment, and so on and so forth, we arrive at the one aspect of our existence that is the hardest to address: The very purpose of existence!

The reason that this is the biggest contributor to the “What’s next?” dilemma is actually very easy to state and understand: It has been addressed by everyone with a full stomach and a shelter over their heads since the begining of civilization itself! Just as the old saying goes: All roads lead to Rome; so do all the choices for the purpose of existence point to one goal: spiritual enlightenment. And to top it all, the plethora of proposed solutions to achieve spiritual enlightenment are all easy to adopt for even the most food and shelter challenged members of our species, since the only requirement to adopt any solution is the magical five lettered word: faith.

Even though it is a noun, the Oxford dictionary has multiple meanings for faith. No wonder then that the dilemma is the hardest to address. For the sake of brevity we shall not digress in to a discussion regarding the meaning of faith itself and instead let us simply reaffirm that faith is the primary means of achieving spiritual enlightenment. Let us then look at the nature of the journey to be undertaken to achieve the said goal.

This is where we can make an interesting observation: all proposed roads to spiritual enlightenment are for an individual to walk alone! Even the route via religion requires you to rationalize the existence of the corresponding rendition of the concept of God through a personal experience that inherently cannot be shared with anyone else. It is best explained in a manner similar to figuring out whether your experience of Love is the same as someone else around you. In the end all you can settle for is that you just “know” that you are in Love and that life from that point on is all downhill… but that is for another post.

The route via science brings you face to face with concepts such as Quintessence which is apparently how even Einstein re-discovered religion as a quick search on Google will reveal. One of the best book that addresses the parallels between modern science and eastern mysticism is The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav and eventually we end up with spiritual enlightenment via his next book The Seat of the Soul. Mr Zukav’s own life journey as described in this Wikipedia article had its lonely moments spent in a cabin in Mount Shasta along the lines of the time spent by Thoreau at the Walden Pond. Thus again you are likely to find yourself all alone in the quest for spiritual enlightenment via Science.

And finally of course we have the new age spiritual leaders such as Dr Deepak Chopra whose latest book The Future of God proposes a route via God without the unwanted baggage of religion. Again the proposed path is undeniably lonely and evokes mixed responses from the believers and non-believers alike!

Might it be the case that we actually have now reached a point in time wherein we are afforded the luxury of turning the question on its head? Thus instead of proposing yet another route to spiritual enlightenment we can instead frame a new question: In this world of Social Media do we really need to undertake the pilgrimage to the promised land in the first place? Does spiritual enlightenment even matter today? This article on Wikipedia which talks about the meaning of Enlightenment in the context of spirituality offers an amazing time and world view on the matter. Consequently, today we can instead look at a simpler option: eliminate the conflict between the body and the mind but without the rigors of religion or science.

In order to do so we can start by borrowing the three basic axioms from yet another school of philosophy, Objectivism which are as follows:

Life exists – There is no denying the difference between a living being and an inanimate object.

Life requires Life to survive – Any living being has to consume other living beings in order to survive. Even the nutrients in the soil that trees need to survive are derived from other living beings.

The sole purpose of Life is to propagate itself – In fact the very definition of life is “matter that can reproduce itself and evolve as survival dictates”.

Without getting in to a debate about Objectivism it is worth noting that within our social circles we can apply these three axioms to achieve a seamless union between the body and the soul and in doing so achieve an higher form of enlightenment than the impossible to reach spiritual enlightenment preached by so many. And the best part: We do not have to bear the burden of our failures all alone and neither do we have to settle for enjoying the fruits of our success by ourselves! Thank God for Social Media!

Grow up Mr Chetan Bhagat – this is real life and not one of your novels …

Just the day before yesterday one of my closest friends pointed me to the following blog from Chetan Bhagat in the Times of India:

Let me start by saying that given his writing skills, that I very much respect, this is certainly a well written piece. But in my honest opinion maybe he should just stick to writing fiction instead of insisting on continuing with political commentary. His blog title says it all “The Underage Optimist”. So my advice to Mr Bhagat – GROW UP!

Just as the usual caveat I will say that these comments are relevant in the context of this particular blog and looking back on some of his older blogs I must say that I do NOT in general reject everything that he has ever written about.

My immediate reaction to the blog was that people who really understand the diamond business are always more interested in rough uncut diamonds and its only the suckers, self included, who buy the polished end goods. If India actually had a source of rough diamonds and we wanted to do business with people in the diamond business they would not be interested in buying over priced cut and polished diamonds from us!

Instead if we could get our act really right then we would offer the whole package consisting of supply of raw uncut diamonds and services to help convert them in to over priced made to order end products and have them delivered to the end users. We can let the middle men just be that: providing us branding so as to be able to drive up the value of the end goods.

But then why stop at that? It is interesting to note that the brand owners make the most amount of margins in the entire supply chain! So why can’t we aim to be the brand owners ourselves? I love the high end stuff made in India: clothes from ColorPlus, leather goods from HiDesign, coffee beans from Kalamane, to name a few. So what I would like to see is these brands on Rodeo Drive or on the Magnificient Mile or on Fifth Avenue! Where is the agenda for that?

Make in India is easy to sell: steal land from farmers who are committing suicides in ever increasing numbers anyways and give it away for dirt cheap prices to the MNCs to setup factories and fuck up the environment even more that the Chinese did!

Millions of jobs created in the process – to be replaced by ever increasing automation within the next decade or two!

Really? Are we all that easy to be fooled in to drinking the koolaid or sweet lime soda, we are Indians after all, and be drunk on it!

The reason, as explained to me by a lot of near and dear ones, is that this is the low hanging fruit so why not grab it and get going from there! Makes sense except that do we then understand what we are signing up for? As the legendary Zen master said “Only time will tell.” Except in this case the damage will be irreversible and there wont be a time after that!

Why this degree of pessimism you ask? Au contraire my dear reader this is history repeating itself time and again all over the world ever since the start of the Industrial Revolution. And let us acknowledge the simple truth that we are where we are due to the systemic issues inherent to the Indian culture! In that regard I do agree with the comment in Mr Bhagat’s blog from the billionaire industrialist about how Indian families treat their daughter-in-laws.

So whats the alternative you ask; and I ask in return: Are you really ready for it? Well then read on:

Here is my manifesto in ten simple points: 

1. Reduce population growth rate to start with by offering financial incentives to couples willing to have just one kid and more specifically long term incentives to couples willing to adopt kids. 

2. Eliminate low skilled jobs by adopting high end technology where ever possible including GM crops, especially eliminate low skilled jobs in urban areas. 

3. Make an undergraduate degree in science or commerce mandatory for all kids whose family income is below a certain level and offer financial incentives to ensure that they avail of this facility. 

4. Make military service compulsory for anyone who fails to comply with the minimum education requirement. 

5. Simplify tax code and make it easier for the middle class to consume imported goods while of course upping the ante on the quality control required on made in India goods. Make the ISI mark mean something!

6. Promote high end manufacturing in India, i.e. limit Make in India to high tech. Also promote brand creation and export.  

7. Strengthen IP protection laws across the board and get rid of govt subsidies on life saving drugs. Instead focus on generics and let insurance companies drive healthcare costs with close objective oversight. 

8. Improve the education system to focus on “Why” rather than “What” and “How” right from primary education; e.g. Why is multiplication different than addition? 

9. Abolish caste systems and all reservations across all religious and social boundaries. Meritocracy must be enforced. 

10. Focus on unification rather than division. Limit division strictly to improve government administration and governance.

I also have some more tactical items such as make real estate ownership mandatory after X years of residence in a particular city/state and give special tax breaks to people who qualify for this, i.e. do away with MHADA style lotteries and instead promote housing based on location stability. 

This can also be reflected in terms of employment policies wherein you have incentives to hire from the vicinity but nothing to stop you from hiring from outside subject to additional taxes  This is like taking the concept of immigrant visas and applying it at a local level.

Now that is some grown up thinking if I may allow myself to say so! Any comments Mr Bhagat?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – What a load of BS!

In continuation of the theme of my previous blog lets take a look at how some of the other old sayings fare in the age of Social Media. The one that immediately jumps to mind is what is usually referred to as the Golden Rule. Of course I will put in all the usual caveats that I am not interesting in hurting any religious sentiments so for the faithful amongst my readers please DO NOT think so and instead try and read on with an open mind. So lets look at why the Golden Rule fails most of us in this day and age!

To start with its a “Dog eat dog” world today more than ever in every aspect of our lives. One of the biggest consequences of the demands of Social Media in terms of being “In the know” and being relevant is the unavoidable bonfire of one’s vanity! Reminds me of the ending sequence in The Devils Advocate wherein Al Pacino goes “Vanity.. definitely my favorite sin”! Catch it on YouTube at

So what’s this got to do with the Golden Rule you ask? To answer that please forgive me for posing a question in return: “What do you do to quell this burning fire inside of you?”. If you ask me I help those around me to participate in the bonfire of the vanities. Instead of referring to the classic movie I would rather like to point you in the direction of the meaning of the phrase as published in the Urban Dictionary: “An old tradition of burning of any objects that are regarded as sinful or immoral, as if a bonfire fueled by the condemned objects would erase the social problems associated with them.” and voila now the reference to Social Media makes sense!

If you are still confused then here is the simplified version: We purposefully, aggressively, and shamelessly promote our beliefs and dogmas within our social circles so as to gain acceptance and more importantly a sense of belonging so that we may be spared the most disturbing task of trying to determine for ourselves if we are right or wrong. As long as enough people around us agree then we are absolved of all responsibility! In return we are more than happy and willing to help others within our social circles achieve the same objective so that our collective vanities are well taken care of and are on the level. So in fact when it comes to Social Media we break the Golden Rule so often that me might as well have it struck off the record for good! Amen to that!

What do you care what other people think – Redux!

Most of us have enjoyed the antics of the Nobel prize winning physicist, Richard Feynman, and a few of us may have actually had the pleasure of learning to love Physics through his writings as well. What is interesting to think about though is how his antics would have fared in the social media age?

Most of the extraordinary people tend to be introverts based on most of the studies conducted but every once in a while certain events in ones life such as falling in love with the wrong woman, divorce, kids, death of a loved one, result in a profound change. An extraordinary person is reborn as an extrovert! But to their dismay they find that their extraordinary abilities are now more of an hindrance to adhering to the new prime directive in their lives: Taking an active interest in the lives of those around them!

The extraordinarily challenged people almost immediately resent the intrusion for reasons ranging from: “Everything is too easy for you but not for me” to “Stop being such a condescending jerk”! Instead of appreciating the insights being provided and utilizing them to address the trivial challenges (at least to the extraordinary person) in their lives they choose rather to either simply ignore the advice or in worst case they ostracize the adviser causing unwarranted misery and grief.

One of the main reasons for such a reaction is that lot of the advice given is in the form of recanting an experience in the advisers life: this is what happened to me and this is how I dealt with it. While it makes perfect sense to use some context to give advice it should be noted that in the age of social media everyone is hell bent on believing and proving that their own life experiences deserve more attention and merit than those of anyone else. Hence, any reference to personal experiences immediately puts you on a competitive footing with the very person that you are trying to befriend and help.

Thus, if Mr Feynman were blogging about his exploits in life today it is dubious that his work would be as revered by so many today. Obviously, since as a species we love iconophilia, if the same words were to come after he had already won the Nobel prize then it would be a different matter completely. Needless to say that the importance of those events to Mr Feynman did not change from the time the events occurred to the time that he won the Nobel prize.

Thus the true losers are the people who fail leverage the wisdom of those around them given that the words of those select few are washed away by the white water rapids that are the countless updates flowing through the social media channels. Hence the title of this blog! Stay tuned!