Do I get fooled in some QnA sessions?

There are these colloquium lectures organized by our college at regular intervals which I try to attend, with much curiosity. The lecturer/panel delivers the talk and a question & answer session follows – the interactive part of the session.

I also try to ask questions in these sessions. However, it is difficult for the hosts to accommodate all the questions, from the large number of people who raise hands for that opportunity after the lecture and after each question is answered from the dais. What I find very interesting is the way the people who ask questions are chosen.

Suppose the hall is organized into three blocks of seats. What I have often observed is that one person is chosen from each block successively. Then if time permits, a person is chosen from the front/back/middle of the hall, depending on where the previous questions and especially the last did not come from. Sometimes, the speaker insists on having a male-female alternation, which is rare.

The people who actually get the microphone to ask a question are often flocked by other ‘aspirants’, who almost never get the chance to ask (sometimes they do if they can snatch the microphone from the previous person after s/he’s done). This has happened to me too sometimes (I try to get the microphone immediately after my neighbor has asked the question – often this doesn’t work as I have to yield to the politeness of volunteers). Sometimes, no person in my vicinity gets an opportunity to ask a question. That’s when I feel very little regret but the process seems unfair. However, when someone in my vicinity does get to ask (and I don’t) I feel more regret – because my neighbor who got the opportunity could just have been me. However, it doesn’t seem to be unfair to me.

Recently, I read about the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – behavioral scientists who have explored the quirks of human thinking. They set out a theory of regret.

The researchers write, ‘the general point is that the same state of affairs (objectively) can be experienced with very different degrees of misery’, depending on how easy it is to imagine that things might have turned out differently.

Logically, the odds of getting an opportunity to ask increases only slightly as the number of persons who haven’t asked a question decrease one by one…no matter my location in the crowd. However, the further I am from the chosen person, the less regret I feel. There is that sense of having come closer to getting that opportunity when my neighbor gets an opportunity.

When I can observe that not all areas of the hall have been covered, I feel that the process is unfair. Especially so, if no one from my vicinity gets an opportunity.

I wonder if I get fooled by my feeling of having come close. I wonder how the way of choosing questioners can be made fairer, or is that just a stupid ask?


Whose Patna is it anyway?

I wonder how a Patna-ite would respond to if I told them I was writing about Patna. Would they think I am crazy beacause the city is so hysterical? Would they think I am being patronising because I don’t live in Patna? Would they start to suggest me, indefinitely, things or places to write about, that would describe the city? Would they suggest me better things to do with my time?

A few questions that come to mind that they might ask.

Why are you writing about Patna? Aah… which newspaper do you work for…the elections are over…so it is curious that you want to write about Patna now…let me guess…it is because you live here… but you don’t seem to…Oh, you used to live here… then you certainly try to live here a bit before writing…because you are so young you probably won’t remember much from childhood about Patna…and don’t tell me you feel nostalgic…Oh and don’t do it for fun because we are already made fun of by outsiders…we don’t expect that from you who say you lived here…

Which part of Patna are you writing about? You said this is a city…but is it really?…your limited venture in the city will definitely not suffice its description…and from looks of you, it seems you haven’t seen much poverty…Since you are constantly replying in Hindi, I am sure Bhojpuri or Maithili isn’t on your tongue…and the streets – do not think Boring Road and Bailey Road represent Patna…neither the people who never miss a chance to go there…or shiny new malls coming up…come to the vegetable market near railway station late at night and you will see what living can be like in this place…the life that is not as glamorous as elections or as scandalous as scams…

Whose Patna are you writing about anyway? There is the student who rushes everyday to a coaching institute to become like you…the aspirant of a job that no one seems to get…the shopkeeper who seldom forgets to spread this shop onto the road…the group of youngsters who regularly visit the malls…the kids who sell food on the road nearby…the people who work in those shiny new offices…the sweet-seller who returns home with much of what he came with…the rickshaw-driver who doesn’t miss a honk…the rickshaw-puller who has to haggle in the deepest even in rich societies…the driver who always finds a way put of traffic…the construction worker on these ever flowing flyovers…the couple hiding in the park among many like them…or me idling my time with you…or you who seem to be idle enought to write about this place you call a city…

Whose Patna is it anyway?

Patna is the capital city of Bihar, a state in the eastern part of India. I lived, rather reclusively, there for eleven years as a school-going child.


We shall some day be heeded, and everybody will think it was always so, just exactly as many young people believe that all the privileges, all the freedom, all the enjoyments which woman now possesses always were hers. They have no idea of how every single inch of ground that she stands upon today has been gained by the hard work of some little handful of women of the past.

– Susan B. Anthony

What will you say to him?

What will you say to him,
Who died without a hym,
Who is dead but telecast live,
On whom flies swarmed from their hives?

You who butcher another being,
With much more regard for a thing,
You who doesn’t even cloak a dagger,
And roam around rinsed of swagger.

Did you feel your blood,cold,
When with pride, the story you told?
Were you still hot with hate,
Many others still to eliminate?

What will you say to him,
To your nephew who recorded the film,
When he grows a bit trim,
Or in your image, will we find him?

A Muslim migrant worker from West Bengal was killed in Rajasthan by a man who made his nephew record the murder while ranting against Islam (here). Both West Bengal and Rajasthan are states in North India.


It keeps going down,

It refreshes, still stale!

I think it will ruin me…

The Limits of Tolerance

Tolerance has become a quite divisive political word in India these days. After every lynching, mob-violence and murder, we are asked by our supposed thought-leaders to be tolerant of others. After every aggressive collective outburst on social media, there is a call to become more tolerant. More tolerant of the other religion, more tolerant of the other political side, more tolerant of the other point of view, more tolerant of the other gender or sex – so forth and so on. Whatever its philosophical connotations, tolerating someone or something, in a colloquial sense, seems a pretty low bar to have set for ourselves.

But tolerance is ‘bearing hardship, or the ability to bear pain and hardship’. It is inherently an individual character of a person in that it is psychological hardship that an individual faces while tolerating someone/thing else. It asks of us to control our religious, gender, cultural or political morality that we might otherwise impose on others if we were to be ‘intolerant’. It does not even go so far enough as to acknowledge the violence of that morality, much less address it in any positive meaningful manner. It just says, if you cannot respect the other, at least tolerate him/her.

Tolerance is a brilliant management tool out of a long list of ready-made ones, to ‘manage’ difference in society. But it shifts the politics of the violence and micro-aggression into the realm of individual psychology. It does not ask of the ‘intolerant’ individuals to accept a share of responsibility of the oppression committed by their peers and ancestors. It just asks them to turn a blind eye to what they still see as acts of very visible violations of majoritarian code. It says nothing of, nor does it bring positive changes to, cultural-socio-economic-political conditions that have historically been colored as suspicious, deviant or provocative, with the sanction of the law and society.

In effect, it depoliticizes the very basis on which the politics of identity, inequality, injustice, exclusion, oppression, and conflict, is fought regularly – all of which a result of cultural, religious, economic, social and political factors that have worked historically to the detriment of those who the we now seek to tolerate. It reduces that very brutal oppression to a mere misunderstanding among individuals, acquitting the majority of any responsibility. The readily available tools of cultural knowledge – TV and social media (since we are reading lesser each day) and its army- that preach this tolerance do nothing to sensitize us to the spectacular violence. At best, they desensitizes us of the oppression we cause and at its worst, it propels paranoia, fear and violence in all its thrill and grandeur.

What use is this ‘tolerance’ of when the tolerant still view and observe the present conditions as natural order – as pre-existing, which should not be changed. While it is laudable to make society more hospitable for others through tolerance, it will be an exercise in futility if this stops there and does not address the reasons why it had been historically inhospitable for a vast population. Tolerance alone cannot be enough. The point of tolerance is not to address the injustice and violence but rather to mold the mindset of individuals to tolerate others even though they still view the other as suspicious, deviant or provocative. Unless those legacies of oppression are meaningfully addressed, tolerance will just be a line in the sand.


From stillness to motion,

Silence to sound,

Cries to laughter,

Earth to sky,

Strangeness to acquaintance,

Chills to warmth,

Indifference to difference,

War to peace,

Air to breath,

Routine to passion,

Order to disorder,

There is a road I hope to find someday.