Thursday, 14 June 2012
Every great conqueror irreversibly changes the course of human evolution and leaves his undying fingerprints on the destinies of every generation yet to inhabit the planet. Alexander the Great, Ghengis Khan, Timur, Chandragupta Maurya, Hernan Cortez: this list is endless. Not only did these men bring great empires to their knees and stamp their authority upon the lives of millions of people, they changed the way these people behave and the way they think.
Some of these people have been forgotten but their influence lives on in our lives even today - we just don't think about it. Alexander still has a city named after him, not in Greece or Macedonia, but in Islamic Egypt. Cortez is almost the sole reason why the fourth largest continent is today called 'Latin America'. Without Adolf Hitler, there would be no reason for Israel's existence and Antisemitism would hardly be looked down upon even today. Maurya is said to have been one of the first people to have dreamed of Akhand Bhaarat. So each of these people have unquestionably changed the world for better or for worse... but no one has shaped the world as we know it today more than the British Crown.
Conquering is one thing, but consolidating territories and integrating people is a different ball-game altogether and the British perfected this art. You simply have to look around you today to notice the magnitude of the impact they have made. Well, I am making this post in English - if not for them, this would never have happened!
One of the most significant events in modern history is undoubtedly the shift of power in the erstwhile New World - why most of us say 'United States of America' and not 'Estados Unidos Americanos' or 'États-Unis d'Amérique'. Over time, this has ultimately come to mean that English is the language of the world - not Spanish, Mandarin or French. And language supremacy is one of the most primary measures used in achieving full and complete control.
Once the language of the land is established, you can easily say to a non-speaker, "C'mon, don't tell me you don't know English! You need to learn. And you need to learn it fast." On the other hand, he cannot tell you to learn Afrikaans, because you'll simply laugh condescendingly and say, "Fat chance I'm learning that!" He won't understand what 'fat chance' means... and that means more power to you.
A couple of years ago, I was sitting with a few friends in a canteen in Roorkee, discussing something - in cannot recall what - in Hindi. A fresher I'd met sometime earlier came up to me and asked me something in Tamil. Now when someone asks you a question in your mother-tongue, you answer in the same language. However, halfway into my answer, I found that I was speaking Hindi - a language which came naturally to neither him nor me. For a long while, it bothered me and to say that I was ashamed of that incident would be understating matters.
But then, a few days ago, in Abu Dhabi, I was talking to a friend in Hindi once again, when a few more people (mostly non-Indians) joined us at the table. This time, I was halfway into a sentence when I changed everything to English. Finally, my behavior two years ago made perfect sense! You cannot sustain a conversation in a language a majority of the people do not speak. The language of the land has long been established and there is nothing you can do about it.
And language is just the beginning. When I look around Dubai, I instinctively know that it is an extension of America, or maybe Europe. There is nothing Arab here: American bars made for American tourists who can pay American monetary equivalents. And you don't have to go to America to know this. Well, it's a brilliant business model - there is no questioning that! And the Emiratis make loads of money at the end of the day, but they remain incapable of selling their own culture.
On the other hand, you go to America to live like an American. Where you are from doesn't matter - you will become part of the culture there... People will argue that it's the most culturally accepting country in the world - a world full of immigrants; but really, no matter where you are from, you will end up accepting the local way of life. That's the most beautiful part of cultural domination - you set the rules. In Dubai and in so many other places, the tourists set the rules and the place adapts!
Cultural domination extends to most other aspects of life as well - the food we eat, the TV shows we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear... this is another infinite list. But what's more brilliant? - each of these aspects actually reinforces the dominating culture. So, while it might be seen as a criminal error when I say I don't know the difference between a Steakhouse burger and a Quarter-pounder, it's only expected that people of the international community don't know the difference between paneer and tofu.
Well, there's nothing much we people can do but to accept these changes, try to learn everything there is to be learnt and constantly try to excel at everything we do... and then one day, we'll be good enough. And then we will set the rules.
Friday, 8 June 2012
“Each person’s task in life is to become an increasingly better person.” -Leo Tolstoy
"Vote for change" - Barrack Obama
"New is always better" - Barney Stinson
Nothing is constant but change. I do not think there is a truer statement when it comes to describing the Universe as seen by Man. And we play no small role in this change, as most change perceived by us is in fact brought about by us. We have to bring change - it is our default setting.
I've often wondered if there's a single factor which could explain most of our behaviour; I don't think there is any clear winner... But boredom and monotony come close to hitting the jackpot. Think about it: you have a job and you're not happy with it. Now let's try figuring out why you can't be happy.
Option A: It's shite. It isn't something you like doing or maybe you aren't good at it... Or better still, maybe you don't want to be good at it. Perhaps, you aren't realizing your potential (whatever that means)
Option B: This is a far more interesting option. You're doing something you like, you're good at it and you're making a difference to the world around you. But you're still unhappy. If you aren't, wait another couple of months. You will be. We detest monotony, however happy it may be.
Oh, and that's why people travel: to escape the rut. It's also the reason why people always reminisce about their childhood - it's the time when you undergo the maximum change, ergo it sticks in your head. Monotony explains a whole lot of other things too... And I shall try to make a convincing argument here.
When we're toddlers, we're experiencing a world of change: we're learning to walk, we're starting to communicate and we're going through that endless list of firsts. Everyday seems like a new year. However, as we grow, the rate of change slows down and by the time we're in our teens, we've learnt quite a bit. Suddenly, new things are hard to come by. Luckily, however, we have this period called adolescence when the known world suddenly seems changed and different.
You know what I'm talking about: that stage in life when you don't know whether you're a kid or a grown-up, that stage in life when you don't hate girls any more and are doing stupid things to get their attention instead... Some folks get through this phase quickly too and things begin to stagnate: Enter booze, sex, cars, money and the real world.
Now, over the past few millennia, Man has struggled to make the world a vastly complex place. The more complex the place is, the longer it takes you to break the code... Thus, it can keep you entertained for a longer period! Sooner or later, you end up figuring out the rules and then you start reading the code... That's when it starts getting boring. It's like playing a game with cheats, over and over again. There's no fun in playing with 'God-Mode' on!
I believe that's why people get married. Because Life isn't challenging any more! I'm almost tempted to quote a highly sexist Charlie Harper here: "If you have someone to clean your house and do your shopping, and you get some action on a regular basis, the only reason you need a wife is if you have some sick compulsion to give away half your stuff." Well, I don't mean it in a Male-centric way, of course... I'm just commenting on the way Marriage changes our lives. You can go all holier-than-thou and tell me about the sanctity of love; I'll just show you a happy couple before marriage and then I'll laugh.
That's why Marriage was invented, I tell you! You have to be more responsible and accommodate a whole new person in your life. The game becomes fun again - someone has changed the cheats! However, this only brings me to the most important exponent of the theory - kids. Any family is changed when a child enters this world. And that is the brilliance of the scheme of things - this desire to change our lives keeps our race alive.
It is in human nature to change the people around us as much as we change ourselves. And that makes the game far more interesting! Changing something you do not have direct control over but can only influence and manipulate is far more challenging and hence, satisfying. I'm sure that the pride you take in your child's success far outweighs the pleasure you experience while celebrating your own.
Gradually, the children grow up and things slow down. But what do you know: retirement is here! That's change too, right? So you enjoy that for a while... and then there are grand-kids. Finally, you realize that there is only so much you can change. Thank goodness Medicine hasn't progressed far enough to let you experience this low for too long. Thank god for Death.
Who knows what change comes after that?