Saturday, 6 December 2014

The hypocrisy conundrum.

My friends and I enjoy discussing pretty much everything under the sun. These banters are special for four reasons- 
1. They are a great platform to express our opinion.
2. No one judges anyone else for what they say or how they feel about things. Personal opinion is valued and there is mutual respect and openness. 
3. Some of us love putting ourselves in the shoes of the opposite camp just to get an objective feel of how one might approach the same issue alternatively.
4. It is easy to have an opinion but very hard to form one without bias. Hearing many people out increases one's tolerance for diversity. At best, it hardens a person enough to accept that people will be different.

I digressed just a little bit there. 

I was born into a family that is bound by societal norms to vegetarianism. It is not atypical for a child exposed to such culture to view the antithetic dietary camp (read "non-vegetarianism") with biased eyes. Some children go to the extreme of ridiculing other children who eat meat. Usual behaviour involves retching and other related noise making. Let us, for a minute, ignore the fact that the very same children later grow up to realize that they were, all the while, part of the minority. Oh, and they eventually start eating meat. They all do.

Did I say "Ignore this fact"? I ought not to have, considering that this fact forms an important basis of my post. As a child, my curiosity killed no cat. I, very liberally, defied this expected norm and sampled a piece of meat and to my intrigue, enjoyed the taste. This one-off jaunt did not develop into a lifestyle for a very long time to come (although I did compensate by watching shows involving meat being cooked, sizzled, beaten and subjected to a million other culinary techniques). 

As I grew older and my opportunities of visiting different countries expanded, I realized that it was becoming harder to find vegetarian food. I would go mostly hungry due to my reluctance to eat sticky rice, fruits and boiled vegetables. For a decent while, the thought of eating meat never crossed my mind. 

It was during one such holiday that I, very suddenly, made up my mind to eat meat during travelling. I started enjoying trying out local cuisine (which mostly only involved meat) and with each passing trip, my guilt started ebbing. While I was still wary about trying out exotic dishes (read octopus/ squid/ fried grasshoppers), I found myself growing confident about trying other "acceptable" taboo dishes.

Concurrent to all of this, I would have regular discussions with a good friend about the whole idea of eating meat. Our long discussions evolved from "I don't want to eat meat for ethical and personal reasons" to "I want to eat meat because I feel like it." Suddenly, I felt guilty about a whole new thing- depriving myself of experiences which I could have, if only I had an unfettered mind with no pre-established constraints and sentimental bonds. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like it was the right thing to do. Survival with experience. Fight temptation by succumbing to it.

All this while, I remained only an honorary carnivore. There were no second thoughts about eating meat only once in a while. Things seemed to be going well until the hypocrisy started raising its ugly head way too frequently.

When I watched parts of "The Cove", I was filled with outrage and burst into tears at the sight of thousands of dolphins being butchered for meat. It appalled me that people would have the heart to kill these beautiful creatures for food. Did they not have beef, mutton, chicken, pork and fish to survive on? Why dolphins? This depressive outburst lasted all of two days. I want to say that by the end of that week, I had, perhaps, had chicken wings or a steak. Guilt is transitory. 

Eventually, I found myself signing online petitions to stop seal hunting, bear poaching, tiger killing and twenty other causes. I want to blame Ricky Gervais for half of these signatures (I'll leave this for later, though). And while I was signing petitions, I was also being exposed more and more to the horrors of animal testing for cosmetics. I found myself searching for stores and brands selling cruelty- free products. And all this while, my occasional meat-eating persisted.

The hypocrisy conundrum presented itself in its most magnificent form when I discussed (yes, with the same friend) an article that I had recently read that time on the unethical treatment meted out to dairy cows ( I was more determined than ever to completely give up dairy and join the cause of suffering cows. Then during our talk two questions cropped up- would I give up curd (first love of my life)? And would I give up beef (almost the second love of my life)? To my horror, I realized that my answer was a knee-jerk "No" to both questions.

I have not understood the reason for my opinion, to this day. While I have gone meat-free for a substantial period of time now, I'm still unsure about whether this will continue for the rest of my life. How does one develop selective empathy towards living things? How does one develop a "biased objective" as a rationale behind certain actions? While I want to reason out my behaviour based on a "Rebellion against the system Vs. Compassion for life" hypothesis, I do not have sufficient ground or substantiation to validate my case. Have we/I lost sight of why the "system" came to be, so much so that it only serves to be a vestige without meaning? The train of thought that has been huffing and puffing for long in the corridors of my cranium has derailed on this screen and lies in wait for a self-induced reasoning to put it back on its wheels. Until then, what works works.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

That customary 'Hmm...' post.

I love thinking to music. I also like remembering nice things to beautiful tunes. It's lovely to see that kind of a complementary relationship materialize in the head. It's almost as if some memories don't exist without an aural catalyst. Specific songs evoke very specific images in the mind. 

The album I'm listening to at the moment brings back vague flashes of a blue beach, cycling with friends, midnight walks in the rain, innocent friendships, harmless giggles, silly tears and the warmth that accompanies the feeling of extreme happiness. I'm glad for such reminiscences because it is highly unlikely that I will experience those beautiful moments again. But I know the music will always take me back to those days and the people who were with me for the briefest eternity. 

Close enough.  

Sunday, 9 March 2014

'Who speaks for Earth?'

When I first heard that 'Cosmos' was being given a new avatar on television and Neil deGrasseTyson was going to step into Carl Sagan's formidable shoes, I was very excited. A worthy successor to bring the story of the universe and mankind to a new generation of children (and existing generations of faithful followers!). While I did not get the chance to watch Sagan take us through the magic of space, his book was a great influence in my formative years. The wonderment has stayed over the years and I still carry my worn copy with me. "The pale blue dot" speech still moves me. To have champions of science who can reach the living room of a home in the middle of nowhere is a thing to be truly grateful for.

I have a simple love for Physics. It is nothing fancy, there is no elaborateness to my fascination. I cannot rattle off equations in my sleep or comprehend discussions on quantum theory. I make no bones about my amateur understanding of the subject. But it is a love and fascination that has endured since my childhood, when I was gifted a 10x telescope, through which I would gaze at the sky while lying on my back on the roof of my house. When I was 15, I wanted to study Astrophysics and work in a space agency. I had a poster of Neil Armstrong taped over my study table. I cried when 'Columbia' shattered upon its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. Slowly, I developed a fascination for extraterrestrial life and what its existence would mean for humanity and Earth as a whole. All these things give me a bunch of memories from my childhood and adolescence.

I did not end up studying the skies. While I like to think that my engineering degree offers me a ray of hope to establish a 'space connection', reality tells me it will be harder than I would like to imagine. So, I still seek happiness in books that make me feel the same way that a child looking at stars and seeing patterns for the first time does. The magic of science and the impact that it has on a young mind cannot be explained. Once you are smitten by this enchantress, your life will never be the same. The sight of a shooting star will bring tears in your eyes- even if you are an 80 year old with worldly wisdom under your belt. The mesmerizing colors of the Aurora will stun you into silence and involuntary contemplation. The photograph of the Earth sitting in a sunbeam like a mote of dust will dissolve grandiose illusions of no consequence. While this feeling makes you feel weightless for a while, you will be brought back to reality and you will snap out of that beautiful experience. But, you will also know that this experience will keep coming back to you for life and remind you of things that most of us take for granted- gratitude, compassion, love, and most importantly, the feeling of childlike wonder.

I cannot wait for Tyson to make me feel like a child again.