Monday, April 28, 2008

Slow down, enjoy every moment of life

We always say technology has made our lives easier. How true is that? Look at it this way: has technology made life less complicated?
We say life is now easier with technology, because the time we used to take to do various chores has got shorter. What used to take 1 hour now takes a few minutes; what used to take a few days, can now be accomplished in a few hours. Where we had to put in a lot of effort, we now need to put in much less.

But I think, the ease with which we are able to do things, has ironically, only made life more complicated. Since various activities now take less time to complete, many of us -- for whatever reason -- have ended up taking up more work.

For example, let us assume that to travel a particular distance X takes 2 hours. Thanks to quicker modes of transport and better roads, X travels the same distance in 1 hour. In the one hour that he has gained, what does X do? He takes up some work. Since it not an easy task, he soon relies on technology. It helps him: he used to take one hour to do it; now with modern technology, he can do that work in 40 minutes. He has saved 20 minutes. What happens next? He finds that the 20 minutes gained is taken up by some new work.
The end result: during the two hour stretch, earlier X just traveled. Now, he not only travels, but also does two other bits of work after reaching the destination. Soon, X goes in for a wireless laptop, which he would use to do some work while travelling as well!
Who said life has become only easier with technology? It may be has, but we have  also used technology to make life more and more complicated. Did at any one point, X think, "Okay, let me relax during that 20 minutes, instead of taking up some stressful activity. Technology has made my life easier, let me enjoy life better..."

Two characteristics of this tech-driven life are speed and volume of work. Many of us are just zooming through the day; if while sleeping also we could do some work, we would have done that... This could be one reason why we feel that "time is now-a-days flying by very fast". We are "already" nearing the fifth month of 2008; and in "no time" it will be 2009.

The second aspect is technology tempts us to take up more work. We often do this without considering whether we can actually do a fair job. It's a case of "biting more than what we can chew". The volume of work that we handle on a single day has increased manifold. Any work involves human labour; technology is only a help. And all around I can see severe undervaluation of human labour. Somehow, there is a feeling that machines will do everything.
The result of this is two fold: one positive and the other negative. The good side of all this, more work is getting done. Each one of us does today many things we couldn't do a decade back. No doubt this is a huge plus for the entire humanity. Technology has been a great enabler.   
But there is also a flip side. In the mad rush to do more number of things in less number of time, quality has taken a beating -- quality
of the end products, and quality of human life as well. I guess, one Not all mass-produced goods are necessarily of great quality. On the human side, a number of us are stressed out, given to temper tantrums, and suffer health-related diseases. Many of us have also stopped enjoying life.
This mad rush can be seen in many places. One catalyst of high-speed tech-driven life is commercial interest. Everyone -- corporates, various institutional organisations and even individuals --  are looking at the financial results and wallet more often than they actually should.
This world is as much money driven as much as it is tech-driven. Your guess on which came first, is as good as mine.
I have consciously begun to slow myself down, where ever it is possible. Let me tell you, it's worth trying out. It gives a very good feeling. It's very relaxing and it helps us to recharge ourselves. I guess the principle is like that of yoga. I have also begun to ask myself before I take up some work, whether I can do justice to it or not. Again, if I had planned for 10 things, and I could do only 7, I am no longer upset or disappointed. What should matter is that I could do 7 things much better than if I had done all 10 things, hurriedly.
I recently learnt about the "Slow Movement". It's all about slowing down the life's pace. It's about reconnecting with food, with people, with places, with life – because these are the things that give life meaning. Here is a website that gives a lot of details on this movement that seems to be catching up.
It is also true that as we use technology more often, we lose human contact. One example. I prefer to pay my electricity bill at a nearby counter, instead of opting to pay from by bank account by electronic transfer. I have switched to electronic method, in a few cases where it's difficult otherwise.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Trip to Mekedatu

One of the getaways not too far from Bangalore is Mekedatu: about 100 km one way, just right for a day's outing. And that's where we decided to head for on April 7, a holiday. There were nine of us and we hired a Tata Sumo.

When it comes to outings such as this, arguably the best guides are the bloggers' accounts. There are quite a few, and from them we got a fair idea of what awaited us.

Mekedatu (translated in Kannada as "goat's leap") is a rocky terrain where river Cauvery flows. There is a deep gorge, and the gap between the rocks at a particular spot is where a goat is said to have made a leap. (An elaboration on the legend is welcome.) This spot is some 5 km from the Sangam, the confluence of Cauvery and Arkavathy rivers. Direct access by road is only till this Sangam.

After reaching Sangam to reach Mekedatu, one needs to cross the river -- carefully walk across during summer or use a boat when there is lot of water -- and either trek up the wooded slope or hop on to a bus.


Though we decided to leave at 8 am, the vehicle arrived late. So it was 9.45 am when we left. None us, not even the driver, knew the way; we only had a rough idea of the direction; and we headed straight on the Kanakapura Road.

Being a holiday, there wasn't much traffic. After some 25 km, the vast stretches of land, the greenery and the unobscured view of the blue sky gave us the unmistakable and refreshing feeling of being out of the city.

The road was the best relief: but it also left us puzzled as to why the globally renowned Bangalore city has to put up with potholed roads.

But as we neared Kanakapura town we ran into a horrible stretch. To our bad luck, it proved too hard for even the Bangalore-hardened tyres of the Tata Sumo. About half an hour was spent there in replacing the flat tyre.

We then travelled through rural areas bareft of any signs of modernity. We saw many huts and cattle; and some stretches gave us a feeling of being in the midst of some rustic hinderland. As we went ahead, we nursed a regret: of not getting the flat tyre patched up. It worried us as well: what if another tyre gets punctured?

We even conjured up adventurous scenarios of staying over in the village huts and calling up the office the next day to say we aren't reporting for work since we are stuck in a remote village!

Some 10 km before the Sangam, we saw signs of human life, and without losing time we asked where we could get the puncture fixed. We were lucky to find a place. The guy there said it would take at least 30 minutes but we were ready to wait longer.

After some 45 minutes, we resumed our journey. It was almost 1.45 pm and we were hungry. Seeing the road, we felt we took the right decision to get the tyre fixed.

In another 20 minutes we reached the Sangam. We had our food, and then got into water. The water didn't look deep, and we held each other's hands and crossed the river.

Close to the other bank, we splashed water on each other and had good fun. Quite drenched, we ventured to explore the other side. Some 5 km ahead is Mekedatu. It was close to 3 pm,and since we were already running late, we almost abandoned the idea of going ahead.

Just when we about to return to the river, we saw a ramshackle bus revving up. That was the shuttle bus which takes passengers to and from Mekedatu.

Some quick enquiries about the time we would be back, and we clambered on to it. One rickety contraption called bus, it rattled its way ahead. Sitting or standing, one had to struggle to keep from falling. The to and fro fare is Rs 40 per person.

One could see the deep gorge and Cauvery river flowing by the beautiful rocks.

Around 5 pm we were back at the Sangam. There was another round fun in the water, when all of us got completely drenched head to toe. At 5.45 pm we called it a day. We rounded off the trip with a chilly bhaji and omelet party.

At 6.15 pm we started our return journey. The sky at dusk presented a spectacular view. We noticed that much of that village stretch had no street light. We saw an accident - a motorcycle had come under the wheels of a bus.

We were in Koramangala around 9.15 pm, and we got into Anand Bhavan restaurant for dinner. A customer-friendly place with a warm ambiance. With lots of space, friendly staff, and quick service, it was a great way to sign off the Ugadi outing.

Though we started off late, and lost time due to the tyre problem, on the whole it was a fantastic trip.


It pains to see the place is crying for attention of the tourism corporation. The nature's beauty is marred by bottles, paper plates and other litter scattered all over. There is no good restaurant: only roadside eateries; no hospital or first aid facility for emergency; no communication facilities: mobile phones go dead; no petrol pump or automobile workshop.

Indeed there is a sense of adventure in missing out on these; but the complete lack of an institutional support mechanism to face an emergency is a serious shortcoming. The scope to develop the area by keeping the natural tranquility and roping in local people is a lot. The hundreds of tourists who come to this place deserve a better deal.

Will the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation do something?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Identity crisis

It is all over the place. Like any crisis there'sn't anything quite likeable about it. In fact, many problems around us -- those that are grave enough to make it to news headlines and those trivial ones that we don't want to make an issue of -- can be traced to it.

The underlying motive of many of our actions have some link to our perception of our identity. There is conflict when the perception -- of our own and that of others -- clash. The best indicator of this perceptional conflict of identity is seen in the altercation that emanates.

A lawmaker who has been democratically elected to a state legislature arrives late to board a plane. The pilot makes it an issue and orders him out of the aircraft.

''You run the country, I run the plane,'' says the pilot. To which the lawmaker retorts, ''You are just a glorified driver." Here each is trying to stamp his sense authority which he deems to have been conferred on him by his identity.

Often one hears about run-ins VIPs (very important persons) have with security personnel who ask for identity card. Refusal to show the identity tag to someone who asks for it is a very common phenomenon.

Personal complexes are closely associated with identity perceptions. So too attitudes like arrogance, ego etc.

The whole issue of nationalism is nothing but one of identity. So too the racket one hears about language.

How important then is our identity? For that we need to know what defines our identity. Is it our name, or is it our nationality or is it our designation or is it defined by the power we have over others?

There is no definite answer, because identity is like a reflection: partly it depends on what is reflected (we) and partly it depends on the reflecting surface (others).

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Confusing surveys

I used to be a great fan of survey results. Not any more. At least not a great many of them, wherein the results are dependent on far too many parameters. Of late I have begun to view them more like "What the stars foretell" column in the media. I guess for many readers too these survey results serve more to reinforce existing beliefs than dramatically alter them.

The ones most suspect are those relating to food habits and health. I am tired of reading these results; and the frequency with which these studies have been held. The vast differences in the conclusions confuse rather than enlighten any reader.

Take consumption of water for example. We have always been told that we should drink lots of water, ideally it seams at least 8 glasses every day. (Source: Parent Jazz.) Day before yesterday, there was this bit of news that quoted a study by scientists saying drinking lots of water may not of any use. (Source: BBC and Rediff).

Another is sex surveys, and these come out at very frequent intervals. And, quite understandably command high readership. Again day before yesterday, AP put out this story quoting sex therapists, which was picked up a number of media outlets, saying "the optimal amount of time for sexual intercourse was 3 to 13 minutes". (Source: AP feed on Yahoo News). Here is another one: Italians prefer football to sex. (Source: PTI story in DNA.)

The problem is that all these surveys and studies sound very conclusive, there is a ring of certainty at least for a casual reader - very much like the astrological predictions column. What is missed by most of us, is that a number of parameters determine the conclusions. The findings might be right only for the sample examined.

The validity of a survey largely depends on the how well the sampling has been done. Contrary to popular notion it's not the size of the sample that matters, it's how representative the sample is what matters. And, most of these surveys hardly elaborate on the sampling details.

Matters of health are very individualistic. What science give us is broad guidelines in idealistic situations. What is okay for one person need not necessarily be okay for another; and vice-versa. So, let's not jump to conclusions reading these random surveys, mistaking them for universal application. We should take a call on how well or not the findings are applicable to each one of us.