Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I am not the 99%... Occupy Wall Street Protests

"I am the 99%" is a new slogan that has caught on with New Yorkers. All of America, some claim. They say that the 'Occupy Wall St' protest is a manifestation of the frustration of the 99% Americans who feel like they have been forsaken by the system in favor of the 1%. In principle, I agree with the protest against big bonuses with bailout money, but, when seen from closer quarters, I somehow felt that the real message had been lost in translation.

So when we walked into 'Liberty Square' as some choose to call Zuccotti Park in the wake of the protests, it just seemed like we had walked into a small crowd assembled in a flea market of sorts. For me, it was as if I was walking through Colaba Causeway in Mumbai, scrounging for junk jewelry, except that instead of random shopkeepers asking me to come sample their merchandise, there were a few bedraggled people mouthing protests. Instead of flashy store signs, there were scribblings on psychedelic signboards. And just a handful had anything to do with Wall Street. 

One spoke of bailouts, one spoke of corporate bandits in Wall Street or some such story and one just said 'Goldman Sachs hates America'. And while I looked at these posters, A band of people walked by chanting 'Less Greed, more Green'. And a little further on, someone started off screaming 'Fox News, we hate you'. And there were signboards slamming Monsanto and GM food! There were some making a statement with painted hair and faces, and the signage said 'Kill Turkish dictatorship!' There was a heavyset man with a Templar helmet and a sign that said 'Class Warrior'. I am sure he got photographed a billion times, not for his message, because I am sure very few would have grasped what he was protesting about, but rather for his getup. Early Halloween, maybe. Relevance, anyone? It looked as if there was a gross lack of theme in the whole movement, except that anyone who wanted to protest about anything could congregate there. And anything was almost anything! 

People holding out signs hinting at anti-capitalism were more than happy to smile into digital cameras. So, everyone was much too busy protesting against capitalism, on signboards made using psychedelic ink on shiny paper, or using LED lights for their signage. But without innovation and free markets dictating innovation, could we have imagined paper, ink, why even the jeans worn by people?

America is capitalist, believing in the concept of survival, and maybe flourishing of the fittest. And this model has served them well. Free innovation, knowing that he who survives will succeed has stood them in good stead and has led to the US being a pioneer in everything from life sciences to defense. There have been excesses in the recent past, no doubt, but power has been known to corrupt and history has shown excesses at all levels. But free enterprise and financial innovation cannot be done away with. One cannot fight Big Pharma just because they are big and therefore wrong! Had it not been for Pfizer, we would never have had penicillin! And had it not been for Wall Street, the iPhone 4S might have ended up in the grave along with Steve Jobs. 

And while big bonuses for bailout firms is an irony and perhaps needs to be done away with, t-shirts with 'Occupy Wall Street', that were selling by Zuccotti Park, perhaps captured the true essence of it all. The system is built in a certain way, and this system has been seen to succeed for all these years. Suddenly, if some feel like the overhaul of the system has thrown them out, and so want the whole system to be done away with, they perhaps have to realize that while they are protesting their heart out, someone somewhere is cashing in on the situation. He alone is perhaps the 1%. And if that is the message that comes out, I am so not the 99%.....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A brilliant edifice needs a passionate foundation - Part 2

Continuing from part 1, speaking of Steve Jobs on the eve of i-Phone 4S shipping day. So following his dream and starting Apple, growing the company on the basis of his vision, getting publicly fired from his own company, starting NeXT computers, a failure which proved to be the basis of today's web servers, starting Pixar which made Toy Story, A Bug's life, Antz and numerous others which have been thrilling children and adults alike over all these years, only to get back to a floundering Apple with his repertoire of i-Pods, i-Pads, Macbooks and of course the i-Phone to turn the company around, Steve Jobs is the kind of entrepreneur everyone aims to become. His artistic touch can be seen in every Apple product, to date and that's why, even if the i-Phone 4 came out with antenna issues needing a casing to be able to function, people bought it. After a while, they even paid to buy a casing that was essential to cover a true folly in the product. And soon after i-phone 4S' release, critics and tech analysts declared that the product was mediocre, and would just about catch up with the Androids that exist today. Yet, when the announcement of his death came out, it was but obvious that everyone wanted to own Steve's swansong product. Not because they wanted the technology, but because they wanted a part of Steve, his spirit, his passion. So people, even ones I know, stayed up till 3 AM to order their products online and i-Phone has seen record sales this week!

I remember his commencement speech at Stanford in 2005 when he addressed the students on 'connecting the dots', 'love and loss' and 'death'. He lived his life along those lines, and he is a man, who managed to do good for the company even through his death. There is an old South Indian story about a nobleman who was known for his generosity, who apparently even performed charity after he died. The story goes as thus - thsi nobleman would give away some money to any artist who came to his door. Hearing his fame, a poor poet came from afar hoping to get some money for his art and when he reached the village, he came to know that the man had passed away. Upon hearing this he started crying, whereupon the dead nobleman's fist fell open and a ring came running out to the poet's feet. That is essentially what even Jobs has achieved - magic when he was alive and success even when he died. 

If one were to look closely at these lives, one would realize that what defined these lives, was the passion and love for what they did. Be it Shammi Kapoor and his acting, Pataudi and cricket, Singh and Ghazals or Jobs and technology. When the passion is present, the brilliance comes through. And this brilliance lives on, long after one is gone. Each time I'd look at an i-pod or i-pad or even the i-phone, the only face that would come in front of me, would be that of Jobs.  While alive, Jobs had the tag of being ruthless, arrogant, a severe taskmaster and what not. But no one today will ever remember these aspects. If anything, all they'd care would be what he left behind in the world. 

 So, if I could wish, I would wish for the attitude of these people, towards all that I do, while asking for the ability to find out soon, what I would truly like to do with my life. For that alone would define what I would be remembered a. Perhaps not on a scale as grand as those I spoke of above, but at least among those I like to call as part of my circle.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A brilliant edifice needs a passionate foundation - Part 1

Name and fame during one's lifetime is not the real deal. What truly matters is how one is perceived and remembered after one is gone. These past couple of months alone have seen several people, Shammi Kapoor, Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi, Jagjit Singh and Steve Jobs, in particular, leave a void in our generation as we know it. And each of them will be remembered, and remembered well, for all that they have done in their lifetime. They perhaps were known in a certain way when they were alive, but their passion for their art or their profession is all that will define them in all the years to come.

Expectedly overshadowed by his elder brother, the legendary Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor had to carve out a niche for himself in the market, given that his contemporaries were Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar and all such big names whose movies would run just because they starred these people. And so he created this niche for himself as a bumbling, clumsy at times, romantic hero whose antics were more or less inimitable! Songs of his movies are still huge hits when played, and 40 odd years on, they continue to offer a light-hearted afternoon, a welcome break from the thought-provoking cinema of today. When asked what he would have done with his life, if not an actor, he said that he could conceive of no other profession!

MAK Pataudi, well, was in the news always for being the Nawab who married the then reigning supreme Bollywood actress Sharmila Tagore. But he will always be respected in the cricketing world for being the youngest Test Captain at 21 and being impeccable in the sport despite having just one functioning eye! And despite all the luxury that birth in a royal household could afford, he chose to spend hours on a pitch practising, leading the country and carving out a niche for himself. And he will be remembered as one of cricket's greatest by record-holding greats like Tendulkar as well. The underlying feature here - passion for the sport.

Jagjit Singh. Well, Indian Classical music has churned out stalwarts by the hundreds over all these years. But Jagjit Singh can perhaps be credited with the laurel of making Ghazals appeal to the mainstream audience. An audience that even comprises youth that cringes at the very mention of classical music. And with a voice as sublime as his, whether he was singing 'Woh Chandni ki raat thi', or 'Kaagaz ki kashti' as part of his ghazal performances or even songs like 'tum itna kyun muskura rahe ho' and more recently 'hoshwaalon ko khabar kya' in the movies, he could evoke any emotion in the minds of the listener. Again, passion for the art.

And finally Steve Jobs. I guess the internet is replete with eulogies and anecdotes and people expressing their sentiments about the short but completely meaningful life of a man who has managed to thrill many a life through his own endeavors! And his story would need a post of it's own to do him justice.... in part 2.