Three Faces

The Japanese say that you have three faces. The first you show to the majority of the world, the second is reserved for your loved ones and the third is the one that no one will never lay eyes upon. The last face is a reflection of your ‘truest’ self. A curious concept, though one that I think a lot of people may find familiar, for when was the last time that anyone really felt secure, confident or comfortable enough to unapologetically be themselves?

Apart from the unity, (relative) security and order that society comes with, the norms and regulations that enforce these desirable qualities also come at a price. The structure of society comes in the form of norms and etiquette that both standardize and limit human expression and interaction. A very recent example would be the Indian Constitution’s Section 377, which until very recently grouped sexual interaction between people of the same sex “against the order of nature” and deemed it illegal. While it is fortunate that it has been abolished, society itself largely remains judgemental against what it considers “unnatural”. The scars you may have on your arms, the tattoos you may bear on your neck, the career that you choose, the clothes you choose to wear, almost every single part of you that can be seen is placed under the misplaced scrutiny of society and its views.

With this scrutiny in place, we often set standards of “acceptance” that we adhere to so that we aren’t condemned for our external appearances. Similarly, we have internal stopgaps that censor our behavior in public and with our families. In this way, societal views are allowed to control how much you express, how much you say and how much you openly feel, views that have been conditioned gradually. While I do not condemn this conditioning, I do feel that as sentient beings, those who have the “sixth” sense, we must evolve our society because of the negative implications these archaic views may have.

What are the implications of such societal views, you ask?

  1. “Self” – The sense of self that we all have is something we do not give much thought to. Introspection, the key to knowing ourselves, is seldom used to open up and find ourselves. Our priorities get muddled as we lose sight of what and who is important to us. And all of this goes back to simply understanding our sense of “self”. To bring to light how important it is, the “self” comprises of what you have experienced, as well as what you like and dislike. And all of these things influence what you want, what you wish and what you hope for.

All of these essential parts of our lives and their clarity are often muddled and distorted by the limitations society’s views place upon us. The “faces” we wear to be deemed acceptable by society are so often placed on our true selves that they may get stuck. And we let these “faces” influence us, or rather, we are influenced by them. It is not just our mannerisms and our speech, but more the integral parts of our being that are shifted towards more conventional or socially acceptable directions.

  1. Apart from this, societal views could impact your mental health. Making a constant effort to bite back your words, to change who you are and to continuously wonder if you are accepted and liked by the people around you is taxing on the body and the mind. This constant struggle may lead to depression and identity crises, especially when you doubt whether it is okay to keep so much repressed inside.

And in the process of trying to change yourself to be socially acceptable, you may begin to question yourself and the small things that you may have once doubted about yourself will grow into things that you are very insecure about.

Ask yourself this: how long will you maintain this facade? How long will you be someone you’re not, simply because society does not approve? I only ask because I need to know if we have reached the next step; if we can accept humanity for its diversity, its individuality and its beauty. Or will the unbridled freedom of expression bring about a repeat of the Salem witch trials?

Change starts with an individual, an outlier, a person who knows what they want the world to be and what they want to be in the world. Take some time to get to know yourself. Find out where you draw the line while interacting with others. Determine just to what extent you want others to influence you. Discover your third face, the one that depicts who you truly are. And once you have, will you be the first to show the world your third face?


Literature, the Arab spring for eccentric “ethno-nationalists”?

It is Friday afternoon, Jumu’ah prayers have begun, and the muezzin’s prayer time calls have come to an end. My Muslim brothers recite “Allah Hu Akbar” – (God is great), little did they know that all don’t consider them, their brothers and sisters.

An MSSA rifle then tears down their skin at a rate of approximately 100+ rounds a minute and all that remains of the prayer is a ghostly silence.

Was this an extreme act of callousness? What was the sadist shooter inspired by?

The “Great Replacement” as he calls it, a seventy-three-page manifesto referring to a right-wing conspiracy theory. Since time immemorial, we have always looked up to literature as the few means of diverting our thoughts into something original, conspicuous and personal to us. Little did we know that works of legendary poets like Dylan Thomas, Rudyard Kipling, and William Ernest Henley could be used as part of a manifesto to promote bigotry. The very lines of Kipling’s poem “The Beginnings” where misused in order to promote Neo-Nazi sentiments.  The lines of the poem “Where the English began to hate”, refers to anti –German sentiment in Britain during World War 1, which have been misused to promote and glorify Nazism.

It’s quite surprising to see that literature is able to ignite such deep thoughts amongst all of us, and allows our imagination to flow in all possible crevices whether those lead to light or infinite darkness. We can never afford to forget how literature has helped shape our thought process. People often quote, “what we eat is what we become”, on similar lines “what we read is what we become”. When I was eight, I had an affinity towards R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” which would infuse fear in me overnight as I would have eerie dreams. According to the ongoing research at Haskins Laboratories for the Science of the Spoken and Written Word, reading, unlike watching or listening to media, gives the brain more time to stop, think, process, and imagine the narrative in form of us.

This implies, that reading literature is a much more powerful form of assimilating information as compared to viewing or any other form of information input, the reason being that reading actually gives the brain an opportunity to imagine the narrative in form of us. How many times have we imagined ourselves as part of the elite CIA’s national clandestine services after reading novels by David Baldacci? or for that matter being able to taste all those chocolates while reading Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”? I think we all know what the answer to these questions is.

On the contrary, in order for the beauty of literature, not to be misused by sadists and fascist’s alike, I would recommend readers to follow the epigraph as below:

Read literature not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider. Some literature is to be tasted, the rest to be swallowed, and some to be chewed and digested; that is, some literature is to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some to be read wholly and with diligence and attention

Keeping this in mind, I truly pray for the victims and their families of the unfortunate attack in Christchurch and hope that not a single soul, in future, misuses the timeless beauty of literature to spread terror and bigotry.

Picture by Annie Spratt

Huawei: Are you in, for Political Theatre?

Have you ever got into dinner table arguments on politics and politicians? As much as these socio-political happenings effect and shape the world as we know it, do we really understand them?

Opinion is often touted to be facts while facts evade some of the most literate people I know. Secondly, aren’t facts juxtaposed to the narrative, anyway? Let’s use the arrest and extradition of CFO Meng Wanzhou, of Huawei as a case study. It is ultimate political theatre!

Huawei breached the 100-billion-dollar mark in revenue earned in 2018, confirming its status as a telecom giant. But its growth has been threatened by sanctions placed on it by western countries, on the grounds of international policy violations and security threats. Countries like the US, Australia, and New Zealand have banned the use of Chinese technology to build 5G infrastructure. What’s more, other countries are being asked to follow suit.

The arrest of Wanzhou, who happens to also be the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, and the sanctions, are against the backdrop of a trade war between the US and China. In fact, the arrest materialized on the same day as diplomatic talks between Chinese president Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump. The arrest was made, as per reports, due to Meng’s involvement in bypassing US sanctions on Iran, to supply the supposed rogue nation telecom infrastructure.

Huawei’s growth does not happen in isolation. The more it grows, the more it challenges western telecoms for global markets. This is very much a geopolitical problem as much as it is painted a security concern. In the ’90s China opened its doors to western companies like Microsoft and Intel but forced them to work in conjunction with local R&D centers. China first played catch-up and then take-over.

Painting Chinese companies as violators of foreign policy and as security threats, gives the US and other western governments the political capital needed to ban Chinese products within their markets. Is Meng’s arrest, a political facade? Is it a part of a greater western narrative? Only time will tell.

But for everyday people who have limited access to information, these events happen in isolation to their greater geopolitical contexts. At the end of the day, we are just an audience in theatre. Its script and its actors are not in our layman hands.

Painting by Francis Hamel




Singapore: Can?

5 Years ago, I received an email confirming my admission at Singapore Management University. My excitement was palpable. For someone who had experienced it through the lens of a tourist, making it to the Merlion city was a dream come true.

The broad roads, the well-laid pavements, efficient integrated transport systems, skyscrapers, and malls; all added to the city-state’s magnanimity. I was ready to shed the chaos of a developing country and embrace the privilege of a developed one. Unlike the demons of race and religion that plague the west, Singapore seemed averse to discriminate based on the colour of your skin or the place of your worship. From temples that lit lamps during Diwali or mosques that sounded prayers during Ramzan and churches that sang Christmas carols, Singapore was and is home to all.

I must admit, I still feel the privilege of cycling through well-lit pavements in the wee hours of the night, without a hint of fear. But, Singapore is no longer the same to me. At 9 am, I board the MRT, both out of the compulsion of routine and the demands of work. Once there, I witness the most bizarre sight, I have been privy to. Hundreds upon hundreds of people, with their heads pointing south, some with earphones and others going commando, but all mesmerized by their phone screens. Not a word exchanged, even friends by one’s side, spoken to, by the finger taps on mobile screens.

Singapore, can boast of culture and still persists with tradition. This is evident in its celebration of diverse cultures and festivals. But it is very much guilty of having the trappings of a developed pseudo-western Asian country. The order that substitutes the chaos, starts right from school, tuitions, and borderline cruel academic requirements. Rules and order breed discipline and good conduct but also trade off the semblance of a free spirit. Asian tiger parents get access to the necessary education and state infrastructure to satiate their appetites. Having such an organized system, that advocates a particular path to success also prevents one from deviating from the norm or colours one’s intention of doing so.

I hate to complain, but if you choose this safe haven, make that choice if you have accepted the rat race. You need to earn the big bucks to enjoy its many gifts. You must accept that on occasion the skyscrapers that generate awe can be the prison that obstructs your view of the seas. Perhaps, this very rat race can be attributed to Singapore having the highest rate of depression in Asia, in the year 2015, as reported by Channel News Asia.

Singapore will give you an unobstructed efficient and proven routine but if you’re someone who needs the chaos to break the monotony of life, this might end up being your beautiful prison.

Painting By Goh Chye Kee

What is the biggest problem with the World?

I must confess, identifying a single evil that plagues society is a difficult chore. Having spent many a night, listening to documentaries on prostitution, gang violence, corrupt regimes, and refugees, I have plenty of options to choose from. Perhaps, I must talk about the boat people from Myanmar or repeated school shootings in a country that spends over 700 billion dollars in defense or maybe indulge in my gripe about rape culture in India. These are all good options to choose from but if there is one thread that links all these seemingly isolated phenomena together, its Apathy: our inability to care.

But before I go on a spiel about how people do not care, neatly packaged as an essay, I must try and unpack apathy in society. What causes apathy? Why don’t people care about the safety of women or school shootings or a never-ending refugee crisis?

Thousands attended Jamel Dunn’s funeral. Sadly, all the man needed was one of the few teenagers who were recording him as he drowned in a lake, to show him mercy. Lawmakers in Arizona and Florida scampered together to come up with some law to punish these individuals above and beyond branding them ‘Bad Samaritans’. These were people who could see the direct repercussions of their inaction and yet chose to do nothing. What about the billions of people around the world who wake every morning and operate in a world run on fossil fuels, that pays women substantially lesser money than men for the same job and turns a blind eye on the millions who are displaced, hungry and running out of hope?

These people cannot even see the direct consequences of their inaction.

They are plagued with thoughts such as there will always be someone else to raise discourse on women’s safety or how can one person’s consumption of fossil fuels really impact the environment? Therefore, any action is simply an extension of their charitable pursuits or a cost to their already burdened life rather than a responsibility they are expected to fulfill. When we award someone for saving a drowning man, we recognize his/her deed an extraordinary effort and that’s why we are left scratching our heads when asked if bystanders during a crime should be prosecuted?

Confused? Let’s expand this analogy and bring in more meta issues such as environmental conservation, lighter immigration laws to help refugees or tougher regulations on the sale of assault weapons to civilians. Most people will agree that these issues are important but most people consider their involvement in the pursuit of these issues as acts of charity or social justice, making them charitable people or social justice warriors. The problem with this train of thought much like awarding a good Samaritan for helping a drowning a man is that these actions are viewed as extraordinary. Therefore, being unconcerned or being apathetic is the norm rather than an outlier. If the converse were true, being charitable and empathetic to the plight of people and the environment would be the norm and doing otherwise would be the anomaly.

But it all starts with visualizing the direct consequences of our inaction. These consequences need to be as visceral as watching a man drown to his death. But why is this not possible? Because by the time we get around doing just that, the media cycle has changed, there is yet another refugee crisis; yet another woman that has been raped; and possibly yet another school shooting. So, now we need time to grieve and think about what we can do later.

When and how do we break this vicious cycle? How does the world refrain from remaining apathetic? When do we start placing more emphasis on our inaction?

Maybe we can start by having this conversation.

(Picture Sourced Externally)

Projective exaggeration – A career mirage?

If I were to take you back to your childhood days, do you remember watching that one character on TV or in a movie and wanting to be just like him or her? As a child, my first thought of ambition was to be a pilot. This was in the late ’90s, and I was truly inspired by Top Gun’s Lt Pete “Maverick” Mitchell and his charisma. Little did I know that eighteen years down the line, I would be managing assets as part of a private bank.

It is of utmost importance to understand the psyche of families nowadays.
Take for example your parents; your dad comes home late at night, excited about something he heard during the day at his seminar. He meets his son at home and discusses his day with him, “Artificial Intelligence and Fin-tech is the future, my son” he says. Fourteen-year-old Jared is amused by these fascinating phrases and wants to know more, with his dad giving him a brief explanation accompanied by examples about payments and suggestive applications on his own phone. He also mentions as to how several people working within this domain are very successful and extremely rich.

Fourteen-year-old Jared pauses his work and tries to understand these complicated and captivating domains as he is met by several news articles and websites, trumpeting the success stories of various ideas and associated individuals who have made a living out of this space.
An opinion begins to form in his mind and he chooses to pursue these domains, albeit with an incomplete understanding of the realities of this industry.

Similarly, majority of millennials quickly form opinions about prospective career paths at a very early stage, falling into what we could refer to as a “career mirage”.

What are the effects of a career mirage?

  • Personally, I feel that it leads to tunneled vision, analogous to glaucoma when choosing future career paths. This is a direct consequence resulting from a lack of exploration of the various options and industries. Only 30% of global workers earn a living from their childhood dream job or related field.
  • Unhappy employees – A major percentage of unhappy employees aren’t necessarily unhappy because of their working environment, but also because they didn’t choose to pursue what they love to pursue, or alternatively, could not figure where their passions lie. Apparently work is a source of frustration rather than fulfillment for 90% of the world’s workers.
  • You may form a strong belief in the projective exaggeration of your current or future career, which means that people will start to believe that their career paths are far more satisfactory and superior than they really are, especially in comparison to divergent career paths and industries.
  • It may cause a stagnating career curve during the twilight years of your career, a causal effect of being straitjacketed by the market, due to a lack of career growth and diversity over the years. Wages for 40+-year-old remain stagnant unless induced effort/skill causes daily wages to rise.

In recent times, with career trends changing faster than ever, young individuals and experienced employees alike, have started succumbing to the trap. Education systems and university bodies should aim to help students explore diverse industries, take informed career decisions that are based on active practical experience. They should look forward to being more resilient towards preconceived perceptions about career choices based on trends, remuneration and other factors.

Needless to say, an informed and researched career choice could lead you from falling for a career mirage to discovering an oasis of relevant career opportunities.

Painting by Michael Corr


Link for the first point

link for the second point

link for 4th point


Narrative to Character: Sympathy to Empathy?

I am a connoisseur of English and Hindi language films. Bring me to a theatre, buy me some popcorn and keep me blind folded until the opening credits roll. Irrespective of the genre, I won’t complain.

What drives good movies, much like any story across any medium is a good coherent narrative. But off late, I have been exposed to mainstream Hindi and English films that have abandoned well-constructed detailed narrative for character construction and study. These films don’t revolve around the construction of circumstance and the adjoining reactions characters provide but instead use circumstance as a backdrop to study character predispositions, internal strife and therefore explore their human condition.

Look at the popular mainstream Indian film ‘Gully Boy’ or Netflix classics such as ‘Soni’. These Hindi films have one line narratives (Slum boy struggles to become hip-hop artist or two women fight against gender based discrimination in the police force). What they focus on instead (Spoilers) is constructing character conflicts. When Ranveer Singh’s character simply watches on, as he chauffer’s his wailing employer, without diving into the why, who and when of the situation, the story-tellers juxtapose two characters based off the backdrop of their circumstance. Similarly, in Soni, assault, societal perception of gender roles and treatment of women in power in comparison to their male counterparts are not narratives weaved by circumstance but issues discussed solely by the strength of the characters perceived emotions and the cinematographers frame. This is fairly common amongst English language, so called ‘Slice of Life’ films. The cinematographer is as much a part of the story telling process as the script writer. I can’t possibly explain what Roma is about. It’s an emotion not a narrative. As common as this phenomenon is, it’s now mainstream.

What are the implications?

  1. I think mainstream acceptance of this form of storytelling, especially in India, a developing country, is a sign that we are ready to look at poverty or other such issues with a deeper lens. It enables us to categorize and sympathize with a whole spectrum of emotions rather than just giving them broad labels like sad, happy or angry. So, when we think of poverty on the streets, the way we process this stimulus goes beyond the economics of the situation. We start thinking about self-worth, what people on the streets perceive about social mobility and how that influences their actions and activities. Or, we look at gender disparity, beyond legislation or regulation but through a social lens. How does gender based expectation or treatment effect way we engage with men and women?
  2. Social campaigns or even advertising can now focus on character study which bleeds into experiential marketing or consumer identity based marketing. Psychographic consumer segmentation, which involves how a particular consumer’s personality, given his or her, socio-economic status and demographics engage with a particular product or service, can be the forefront of consumer outreach campaigns.   

The narrative still exists but the character is in the forefront. We have learnt to sympathize by deconstructing how a particular circumstance should make us feel but story tellers possess the ability to make us empathize by putting us in the shoes of their characters.

By Anirudh Dalmia