Saturday, May 30, 2015

Monday musing 230 - The tyranny of labels - 2

Monday musing 230 - The tyranny of labels - 2

A few responses on the previous blogs from readers who responded veered towards the dimension of labels as understood primarily in terms of the vice like grip of 'brands' in our increasingly possession-centric lives. It would be facetious on my part if not puerile if i said that i am untouched by its venomous fangs. There are strong voices on the uselessness and corrupting influences of the culture of brands by authors like Naomi Klien in the book 'No Logo' and subsequently by Jonathan Baskin in 'Branding works only on cattle'. However it is also clear that no body is listening because the epidemic of brands is pervading our lives in more hideous ways than imaginable. 

The last blog however was not written with brands in mind as much as it was written keeping the issue of identity in focus. Let me attempt a rejoinder.

Labels are used by us to give ourselves the comfort of identity. Like nationality, religion, caste, designation. They give us anchors to hold on to in a tumult called life however ephemeral and facile they may be. The trouble and my contention is that they start to define us sooner than we think. Most labels are man made and are made to fulfill the sociological need to 'belong' or 'feel important'. Communities of all kinds are sociological labels. Without the comfort of 'belonging' man is most likely to float.

Labels in the corporate world takes the form of designations and everything that comes along with it. As I see it and one can always disagree with this stance is that, designations which perhaps were imagined to provide a surrogate of grades of expertise have become an end in itself. It has started to become an extension of identity so much so that there is amoeba like proliferation of them. Imagine for an example the case of 'Assistant' Manager being different from a 'Deputy' manager while the incumbent does exactly the same job!! Organisations create such structures because it appears to fulfill some subconscious human need of getting a 'bigger label'. 

I was told by a colleague last week that the way Korean culture works is that they reduce the size of the cabin of a leader if he is considered to be underperforming. The implied humiliation is punitive enough! Yet one more case of label. A few years ago i know of a friend who lampooned his promotion in terms of these labels by lamenting 'does it mean that i can have the privilege of single occupancy room during conventions'. Just imagine the way human mind works.

The point i make is how labels pin us down, how labels make us think and respond, how labels binds us complex web of mental subterfuge - instead of liberating us. The more labels we need to feel important and respected the more precarious is our self esteem. It makes us fragile and susceptible to hurt. It is anything but liberating. 

Kabeer says
Jaat na poocho saadhu ki, pooch lijiyo gyaan
mol karo talwaar ka, padi rehan do myaan
(dont ask the caste of the sage, ask for his wisdom
the dagger is more important than the scabbard) 


Sunday, May 24, 2015

229 Monday Musings - The tyranny of labels

Monday Musings - The tyranny of labels

Weekends for the cubicle wallahs is a time when he rediscovers the magic of hibernation, a phenomena that is reserved for lower animals like frogs and toads. So lying in front of the television and watching a movie with the barest part of human brain engaged can be construed as a human equivalent of hibernation. It is a case of partial mental shutdown. Some also believe that complete shutdown happens during the weekdays. Partial mental shutdown can have disastrous consequences while engaging with the spouse. Try watching a movie while she is talking to you (or is it try talking to her while watching a movie?) and you will know what I mean.

It is during such a case of partial shutdown that I watched the Tom Hanks starrer “Terminal’ again. It’s the story of a person without a nationality stuck at the terminal of an airport. It talks about the travails of a person robbed of the label of ‘nationality’.Now usually we take our nationality for granted because  - it is bequeathed because of accident of birth, or ‘economics (viz migrants, job seekers) or threat (refugees, asylum seekers). The only one I know of who made a ‘philosophical choice’ around the subject of nationality was Nirad c Choudhry who I gather made a choice of dumping his Indian nationality and chose the British way of life. This however is not about nationality – its about labels. 

Imagine not having the label of nationality or religion or caste or language for that matter. (not the drawing room version of it where you know that you can underplay it but still enjoy its priviledges but that scenario where you actually do not have it at all). Closer home imagine not having a label of designation, functions, roles and perks that come along with it. (again not the drawing room version of it where you keep enjoying its spoils while criticizing it but a scenario when you do not have the perks of such labels including a cubicle, cabin, reserved parking et al)

It will not be sacrilege to say that we thrive on labels. We understand the world through labels but more importantly we derive the sense of worth through labels – at least most of us do. The lure of brands, the joy of owning a type of gadgets, the perils of driving the most happening car, the thrill of going out for the in-thing-dining experience, the off the shelf holidaying package that everyone else is going are all part of that thing called labels. To begin with the labels determine our sense of self worth but soon it ends up determining our sense of self – that amorphous thing called identity. Rob the person from those labels and you have robbed him of his self image and soon his identity. The academic point becomes poignant when we look around evidences of misery that many go through when a few of those labels are taken away from him. Some of that ends up in catastrophe. Labels are no longer benign. They have turned malignant.

So here are the three questions I have for my reflection –
    What t are the labels that have become so important for me that I cannot imagine to live without them?
2.    What will happen/How will I deal if they are no longer available to me?
3.    Do I wish to liberate myself from them – NOW

What are your labels?


Saturday, May 9, 2015

228 Monday Musings - Kindness in Khakhi

228 Monday Musings - Kindness in Khakhi

The only thing worse than a 15 hour day at office is a flat tyre welcome by your car at the end of those 15 hours. Flat tyres need not mean only a deflated day - it can very well mean an inflated and unexpected experience. 

The other day as i finish an excruciating long day at office, which might be quite different from a fruitful day at work - and difference is often not noticed, I was welcome by my beast with a flat Tyre. Thank God during the appraisal season it did not ask for a raise, all that it asked for was to be raised and be given some fresh air. I drove the Safari much against its wishes for a small distance in search of a mechanic despite one of her limbs seriously incapacitated and was mortified by the imagination of what it would have said to me had she been an employee! (I am digressing)

I search for a mechanic at that hour of the night but find all shops shut and am pleased by the fact they have working hours that end. (I am digressing again) . 
After a futile search I decide to do something meaningful for the day (I was about to digress but have decided I won't) and take out the Jack and the spanner to put to use all the DIY lessons on changing a flat tyre. Just then a policeman on the beat duty for the night in that area stops by. Something in me would have told him that there is more than just a flat tyre that I am shouldering a load off ( see I had the potential for digression but I didn't succumb). 
He offers to help me to change the tyre! 

I am sure you can identify with me when i say that we are used to many things - riots, earthquakes, floods, bad roads, bad ratings, poor raise and we also know how to deal with it. But how in Gods name do I deal with a policeman who is offering me to help me change a tyre!. I am tongue tied and all the communication skills training program lessons did not come to my rescue. I mumble something like "thank you" but I don't think he heard me because he stayed right there. Meanwhile a paan shop owner who was equally coming to terms with what he was seeing right in front of him saved the day (or night) for both of us when he said that we should check out with a bicycle shop nearby for some SOS. 

So we walk to the bicycle repair shop and make an audacious and stupid suggestion if he could fix the flat tyre of a Safari. If I would have been alone I am sure i would received an ear full but with my benefactor in Khakhi around all he said to wait for another 20 minutes. No prizes foe guessing he was not happy to meet me and i also did not try a warm " pleased to meet you either. 

My rescuer in the uniform then invites me to his vehicle stationed a few meters away and offers "cold water" - something clearly he felt was the best hospitality he could offer me in the sultry conditions. He then pulls out a chilled bottle of water amidst the crackling sound of police control room conversations trickling out of instruments at the back of his car and asks me to drink to my hearts content. He then regales me with the stories of his profession which by the way are quite heart wrenching. He talks about the horrible working conditions, cruel working hours, poor pay, force shortages, and high stress. He also laments that the fact that all crime becoming white collared and committed on phone and computer has had such an devastating effect on the spoils in his profession. "Things are not the same anymore" - i think i have heard that before! He remembers the good old days of road side betting, bootlegging and other assorted pursuits that offered a more ready opportunity to earn a honest days living. The clincher was however this - "You got to be seriously senior in the police to make money". I almost felt like hugging him. 

When the mechanic finally changed the tyre and my friend bid me goodbye, i actually hugged him because there was something seriously honest, humble and nice about him. He stopped by to ask another human being in distress and ask "Can I help you?". I don't think I do that often.