The Daily Khan


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LinkedIn Stalking

If there's anything that social media has made more efficient, it would be stalking people. From the comfort of your own home, now you can dive in and out of people's lives without actually having to interact with them in reality! The future is here!

Undeniably, the king of this sort of behavior is Facebook. But, if you're like me, spending hours a day on LinkedIn, you will notice that it's not too shabby a service. In fact, many times it gives you some much more valid and up-to-date information than Facebook does.

A few days ago, I was looking for jobs on LinkedIn, and finally, feeling rather fed up, began to look people up. People I knew, or had once met, or in my network. Basically people I'd lost touch with and hadn't spoken to in a while.

While doing so, I came across the photo of an old acquaintance of mine, and decided to check out her profile to see what she'd been up to (full disclosure: I find her cute). Having sufficiently satisfied my curiosity, and moved on to other things before eventually logging out, not giving it another thought.

Now, if you've used LinkedIn, you'd know that LinkedIn tells you when somebody's viewed your profile. Not only that, but it also tells you who viewed your profile. I had either forgotten about this or had stopped caring. Either way, a day later I found a message in my LinkedIn inbox.

It was from her.

Imran,
Congrats on your MBA.
How are you? How are things going?

You know that feeling you get when you think you've been doing something completely unbeknownst to others, only to have the covers ripped from your clandestine operations?

Crap.

Suddenly my stealth like online stalking was brutally exposed for what it was. An idiot who couldn't even say hi to an old contact.

I did the only decent thing I could do.

I deleted her from my list.

No of course not, what's wrong with you? I replied and came clean. Told her how utterly embarrassed I was for being an idiot and hoped to catch up with her should she ever be in town. Not just stare at her from a distance and dodge any human contact. Which is kinda what I did.

I'm sure a day will come when I'm too damn busy to even think about doing things like this, but unfortunately that day is not yet here. It can't get here soon enough.

I can't keep losing friends.

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Ghost in the Shell

I have put off writing about Ghost in the Shell, my favourite anime series of all time, for a while. And by 'a while' I mean a few years. I first saw the movies and the TV series a few years ago, and I've rewatched them ever since, each time pulling something new from it which I never caught before.

The reason I've waited this long to write about it is purely because it's not easy to talk about Ghost in the Shell without confusing the person in front of you. And yourself. It speaks at such a cerebral level that you can't gloss over areas of it without severely diminishing the story telling and overarching philosophy that engulfs the story arcs in this series. And I haven't even read the manga so I can only imagine what happens there.

Let me see if I can attempt at breaking it down for you (at least most of what I've managed to grasp); set in the future, the story follows the exploits of a Japanese security force, Section 9, and their various attempts at thwarting futuristic crimes such as cyber-terrorism, data manipulation, political espionage, corporate blackmail and the likes. Of course, being set in the future, the world is a much different place; two more world wars have taken place, leading to a highly complex redesigned geopolitical reality (the United States is now split up, China is a democracy, the Korea's are still at war etc.) and Japan is the only country to have access to technology that cleans up nuclear waste, giving them a semblance of power on the global stage.

But while all this is interesting enough as it is, the more intriguing realities of this future world is the idea of AI, androids and human cyberisation. Human beings freely swap organic body parts for synthetic (robotic) ones, making them faster, stronger and more efficient. AI has become so advanced that in many cases it is genuinely able to think for itself and ask questions. This has lead to an accelerated self awareness that some highly advanced AI have achieved. Several mundane (or even more sophisticated) jobs are handled by androids and bioroids.

So what does this all mean? It boils down to the title of the show. Ghost in this sense means the soul, or consciousness. The idea of self awareness to a degree. The Shell here is the body, or the vessel in which this consciousness presides. And what this means is that the idea of what we consider to be fundamentally human is very different in this kind of world. In a society where human memory can be stored on the cloud and replicated at will, essentially allowing a person to live forever (in a sense), what does it mean to be human? When human beings are freely swapping body parts and entire bodies, eradicating the line between human and machine, what does it mean to be human? What is the soul, and how does it exist in this kind of world? Can you create a soul in a machine, since AI is so sophisticated? 

What is the difference between a human being and a machine when the differences between the two are less physical and more philosophical?

Suffice to say, it does not work in a single viewing. It is one of those anime that demands repeat views because with each view you get a slightly better understanding of what our future, as a species, could possibly look like. We already see very primitive aspects of human cyberisation currently, could it reach a stage where people don't get man-made parts because they have to, but because they want to? Will that create a disconnect between the consciousness and the body? Is this our ultimate answer to cheating death? A synthetic body with a consciousness that's stored on the net for everybody to access, ultimately resulting in a global self of multiple as opposed to a singular being?

This is pretty much my state of mind after every viewing. Nothing else I've ever watched has made me think quite as much as this has. Of course, it does help that it is dressed up in some stellar action, intricate story arcs and some of the best animation I've ever seen. But still...

...what does it mean to be human?

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The Horse of Redmond

Something very strange happened last night. As I sat in front of my screen, live streaming the Windows 10 consumer event from Redmond, I could not remember the last time I was genuinely this excited about Microsoft products. I'm a great believer in the software giant, but I would be lying if I said that the past decade has been a great decade for them. In most cases, they kept talking about the idea of a single OS operating across multiple screens, using both touch and traditional gestures, but until last night, it was mostly a haphazardly executed vision of a rather lofty goal. It felt like they weren't quite sure what it was they were doing.

And their flagship product, Windows, was never particularly cool.

But last night, as I basked in the ultraviolet glow of my laptop screen, I saw something remarkable. Those who saw this live would've seen it too: the giant has awoken, and it's ready to play.

Windows 10 looks firmly on track to be a single OS across multiple screens. From you 3.5 inch smartphone to your 84 inch 4K TV. And the transition is supposedly seamless. Everything clicks together and works. Cortana is bringing some powerful new input capability to your Windows machine, Project Spartan is supposed to be the most advanced web browser ever built, OneDrive is going to sit at the centre of your entire online experience, and you can now play Xbox games on your Windows device. Any Windows device. From your 3.5 inch smartphone to your 84 inch 4K TV.

And then, just to prove a point, they show off (because that is genuinely what it was, Microsoft showing off) HoloLens. And suddenly Microsoft had leapfrogged into the future.

This was more than Google Glass and Oculus Rift. This was more than any Apple Watch or Android Wear. This was something else. Not a prototype, but an independently functioning, non-tethered product that somehow they've been keeping secret for so many years.

But if anything, this entire event was a testament to their close to $10bn annual spend on R&D per year. It showed. It really showed. And somehow, everything they showcased ran on Windows. An OS that will run across smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, Xboxes and HoloLenses. Pretty much everything Microsoft is building is on top of Windows.

Yes, mundane, boring Windows.

This could very well be a turning point for Microsoft. It seems to finally have seen the world for what it is, not what it would like it to be, and has come out swinging. Every single decision they showcased last night seemed to have been the result of thought, intelligence and hard work. 

There is a famous quote by Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who when asked, in 2012, if the smartphone market was a two horse race (referring of course to iOS and Android):

"There's a horse in Redmond that always suits up and always runs, and will keep running."

Looks like Microsoft is already running.

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Let's talk about freedom of speech

Note: I find it necessary to mention this as plainly and obviously as I possibly can, up front, that this is not a justification piece for the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo in Paris. Let there be no doubt about this; it was wrong and it never should have happened and there is no justification for it to have happened. This is instead what my feelings have been since the event and that thoughts that have crossed my mind since. If anything, this is an attempt at sharing ideas and starting a dialogue on big issues.

Since the event at Charlie Hebdo last week, there has been an abundance of stuff being talked about, written about and generally discussed across most media available to me. Understandable, of course. It was expected that the industrialised, incorporated media would support the Charlie Hebdo unequivocally, since it was their own people who were attacked and killed. There did not seem to be any other angle to the delivery of this story.

I instead did not choose to follow this news, or rather, the aftermath, on TV. I chose the internet instead. And, as always, there was a much more interesting conversation happening on the great equaliser that is the internet.

Let's be clear about one thing: the internet is currently the world's most powerful and influential tool of free speech. Accessible to anybody, this is mostly the result of millions of people, qualified and unqualified, using this tool to broadcast into the public their views and opinions, which can be both easily accessed and replied to. So if there was ever any real conversation to be had about the idea of free speech, I always believed it would happen on the internet.

And happen it did.

Over the last few days I've read SO MANY comments, articles, opinions and tweets about what freedom of speech means, and what it means in relation to Islam. This is a topic that is particularly close to me as the attackers were young Muslim men (when I was first informed about the incident by a friend, my instant reaction was, "please don't tell me it's Muslims who've done this!"), which is who I am. I identify myself as a young Muslim man.

My initial reaction was just sheer horror and being fed up with what people seemingly like me do in the name of my religion. This constant hijacking of my faith is not only wrong, it is also entirely exasperating. But then, as I turned to the internet to seek further knowledge, I was served up with several opinions that were most surprising for the fact that everybody was 100% sure about what they were saying. Nobody felt even slightly unsure about what they were projecting in the public sphere.

Several people wrote about how Islam is a religion of violence and should not be allowed in the more liberal, inclusive societies of Western Europe. Many others countered this, saying that condemning an entire religion and people on the basis of the crazed actions of a handful of their radicalised members is not only illogical, it is also illiterate. Others introduced a brand new branch to the conversation, that Charlie Hebdo was essentially publishing racist and xenophobic literature under the guise of freedom of speech, and were not in any way the torch bearers of freedom of speech that the media is making them out to be. Still others complained of the inherent bias of the major news networks who extensively covered the deaths of 17 people in Paris but chose to ignore the deaths of hundreds (maybe thousands) more in Nigeria.

Suffice to say, there was a lot to wrap my head around.

I had been thinking about what I wanted to write here and I wanted to wait till France had essentially killed the attackers. I'm not sure why, but there was never any doubt in my mind that the French were not going to kill the people responsible. Even if they had a chance to arrest them, my opinion was that they were going to kill them. France did not seem to be in a very forgiving, respecting civil liberties mood, and based on that judgement, it seemed obvious to me that that attackers would eventually be killed.

Of course, that is pretty much what happened, and post a incredibly awkward photo opportunity for world leaders leading a million people in a march that I believe was more for reaffirming personal beliefs rather than for making any sort of public political statement to terrorists, I begun to get a better sense on where I sat on this particular matter. I have outlined them in a list, just so that I can make sense of what I am saying:

  1. If the last few days has shown us anything, it's that for most Western democracies, freedom of speech is valued over the freedom to live. Nobody seems to want to protest the fact that people were needlessly killed, exercising their right to live. Rather, they are being mourned because they exercised their right to speak freely. Which is probably why the death of 76,000 Syrians (amongst many other needless, senseless deaths) last year did not create the sort of public outpouring the way this did. Because, for them, the freedom to be protected is the freedom of speech, not the freedom to live.
     
  2. There is no such thing as unbiased corporate/industrialised news, and I honestly believe it's about time people made peace with this reality. It's not a good or a bad thing, it's just a reality. I have always heard many say about how biased the news media is and that we really shouldn't be allowing them to police our thoughts, and yet people seem surprised and astonished when one story gets more coverage than another. Let me spell it out: the news media that is slickly produced and well funded is mostly the result of a single nation trying to project their national narrative onto the international stage. In that sense, RT is to project Russian policies, CCTV for China, Al Jazeera for Qatar, BBC for the UK, and CNN for the United States and so on. They are global in the sense of their footprint, and yes they may even cover more international stories than they would in their own nations, but their editorial policy is still highly influenced by their mother country. It's just how it is. It is foolish to expect them to give the same amount of importance to two stories when one hits much closer to home for some of them than others.
     
  3. Freedom of speech is an important tenement for all those who write or publish in any form, but I do not agree that it means you do so at any cost for any reason. I have read articles by cartoonists who found Charlie Hebdo's content racist and vile. I have also read articles by those stating that making fun of an oppressed and marginalised group is not the same as mocking those in power. And I have also read that there is such a thing as good satire and bad satire.

    Personally, I'm not sure what Charlie Hebdo published since I do not speak French and most of what was shown looked more like it was done to incite rather than to elevate a conversation, which, in my mind, is the point of satire. To make you think about a serious topic in a humorous way. Having said that, I do understand that comedy is extremely subjective, but that does not mean I cannot critique a comedically inclined piece of work. Especially when it is meant for mass consumption.

    I am reminded of the Indian painter M.F. Hussain, also a Muslim, who was chased out of India because of hurting the sentiments of a small section of Hindus by his painting. What he actually painted is irrespective, that was also a case of a member of a democracy exercising his right to free speech, and those opposed to it exercise their right to their free speech too.

    I am also reminded of Naji al-Ali.
     
  4. The conviction with which most people I read seem to support their perspective is astounding. Not a single person I read online had even a slight doubt about their opinion or what they thought was correct. Which is particularly strange, given that I have tried to absorb as much information about this entire situation as I possibly can, is that I am not sure what it is I'm supposed to think.

    Do I believe what happened was wrong? Of course I do, I always have.

    Do I believe that the news media is biased? Of course I do, I always have.

    Do I believe in the freedom of speech? Of course I do, I always have.

    Do I believe in the freedom to live? Of course I do, I always have.

So, what does this mean to me? In my head, not much has changed. If anything, it has simply reinforced the more or less overarching narratives that I know exist in all these realms of life. If in making such a public proclamation against terrorism, the French feel better (we always knew they were against terrorism, I mean, who supports terrorism? Even terrorists don't believe their terrorists.), then good for them. For the rest of us, sitting outside France, crying foul at the perceived double standards that we believe exist, well, that is our reality and we have to deal with that.

Of course, opening fire in an office block is not the way to deal with it. But neither is passing off mediocre-to-bad satire as freedom of speech the way to do it either.

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Being Sober

Every night out, from as far back as I can remember, usually ends up in either one of three places:

  1. A restaurant
  2. A bar
  3. A club

And more often than not, as such evenings meander along their course, the eternal question always pops up at the most opportune moment:

"What are you drinking?"

This is usually followed by a large and varied list of alcohol based beverages that are as expensive as they are apt to my age group and income level. And this is usually where I say something so astounding, so surprising, that their eyes bulge, their breath stops and they are genuinely left speechless, if only for a few seconds:

"I don't drink. Just a ginger ale for me thanks."

And now I stare patiently at a person who looks like they've just been punched in the stomach.

After the initial wave of utter astonishment has passed, the person usually follows up with the sort of thought-provoking, deep questions that would make a philosophy professor proud:

"Really? Are you sure?"

I have often wanted to reply to this with "no you're right, I'm lying to you. But clearly you're too smart for me and you caught me. Truth is I suffer from debilitating alcoholism and cannot function in public without consuming bucket-loads of the stuff. But you saw through my sophisticated ruse so succinctly."

Suddenly I am bombarded with questions in the style of a child tentatively putting its hand in the mouth of a lion. Because now, the person in front of me wants to know more about my personal life choices but also does not want to offend me at the same time.

"Is it religion? Is it your parents? Is it your health?"

For some reason, and I'm not sure when this happened, amongst urban, educated, well travelled people, drinking is the norm. When this was decided is anybody's guess, but I know I wasn't consulted when it was taken. Irrespective, if this is the case, as it seems to be in my experience, then I belong to a minority of people. And I'm perfectly comfortable with that.

But for some reason, people feel the need to find out exactly why I don't drink. I have never once asked somebody why they do drink. It's really none of my business. And frankly, I really don't care that they do. But such nonchalance seems to only exist in my head.

As the conversation continues, it is usually followed up with questions about my intake of weak to strong hallucinogenics and carcinogenics. And finding out that I do not partake of either, the person is in a position to take one of two actions:

  1. To let me know just how much of life I have missed out on by not sharing in the same habits that they do, forgetting instead that we are different people and what influences my happiness does not necessarily have to influence theirs. This is usually brought full circle with a friendly insistent that I do drink something alcoholic, at least once. Again, under the impression that I've never been asked this before and all I'm waiting for is for somebody to ask and I shall buckle under all this immense pressure.
     
  2. To tell me their entire life story of exactly when and where they were when they started drinking (and so on), and how this once incident changed everything and made them who they are. Under the impression that I care.

Truth be told, it was always a personal reason. I don't drink because I don't want to. It's really that simple. Yes, religious reasons and familial reasons played their part but it pretty much boils down to me not drinking because I really don't want to.

Not quite the answer people are looking for, but the truth none-the-less.

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My 2014

By all accounts, it's been a great year. Not just good, but great. Genuinely. Lots has changed for me in the past 12 months, and I would be hard-pressed to find a negative.

It is surprising how, while this is the second new year's eve in a row I celebrate unemployed, much like last year, I am filled with the kind of sickening optimism and positivity that gets you uninvited from parties. But still, I persist. Clearly, the friends I've made don't seem to mind. An indicator of the high quality people I spend my time with.

And that, more than anything else, is what made this year such a fantastic year for me. The people. Always the people. For the first time I have to start wishing people from the middle of the afternoon, and possibly late into tomorrow afternoon, just because I actually know people in all corners of the world.

Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Singapore were very kind to me. I got to see some new corners of the planet I had never been to, met some amazing people (you know exactly who you are), and reaffirmed the time-tested relationships that never seem to weaken despite time and distance.

I finished my MBA. What a great load off my mind that is. Seriously, I can tick that off my bucket list and not have to worry about it again. I wrote a lot more here. Literally. I wrote a lot more in 2014 than I ever have. Even though I feel I was probably busier this year than ever before. One of those things I guess.

So, to my friends, old and new, from San Francisco to New Zealand, I wish you the very best for 2015. I am adamant that the best is yet to come for me. I see no reason why that shouldn't be the case for you too.

Happy New Year. Here's to new adventures and old comforts. To new wisdom and old memories. To new loves and old friendships.

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Best of 2014

A year ago I wrote up my very first Best of 2013 post, because I felt like my opinion mattered when judging other people's work. So, let's jump straight into my judgmental mind, as I take you on a journey of my favourite elements of 2014 with as much grace and style as I can muster...which isn't much. 

Best movie I have seen in 2014:

This was tough. I don't quite know why, but nothing I saw this year really stood out in my mind. Overall, I think watched fewer movies this year than I have in previous years, but still, I didn't feel quite as excited exiting cinemas as I did on the way in. Edge of Tomorrow was, in my books, one of the best movies of the year. Different, new, unique, exciting, complex sci-fi that was explained very simply, funny, worth repeat watches...it had everything but for some reason I seem to be in the minority on this one.

But then, very recently, I got around to watching a movie I had heard much about. I had very high expectations, the last time I saw this actor and director together, I was pleasantly surprised. On top of this, there was already a lot of buzz surrounding this movie, it being the third Shakespearean adaptation of this particular director. And people who's taste I respected told me to watch this movie.

Arguably, I watched this movie with the highest expectations I could have.

Unbelievably, it surpassed all such expectations for me.

The movie in question, is of course, Haider.

I've never quite understood the reason why Shakespeare is so revered in the English speaking world. But Haider helped me understand that a little better. Hamlet set in the 1995 Kashmiri separatist movement. It seems like such a far-fetched, idiotically ambitious idea. And yet, this movie delivered. Every scene, every line, every single character. I have rarely seen movies where people who would be (at best) mediocre actors just uplift their craft to such an extent it elevates the whole movie from good to great. Of course, the most difficult role of the film (Hamlet's mother) went to arguably India's best, but it was really great to see everybody else doing their best to keep her on her toes.

Unbelievable.

The movie was doubly interesting for me as you rarely get to see movies coming out of Bollywood (and this was Bollywood, not low-budget independent movie making) that deal with so many Muslim characters with a focus on an inherently Muslim driven story. Add to that the setting of Kashmir, that has for years been limited to songs or terrorism driven stories in commercial cinema, and this just blew everything away.

Hamlet in Kashmir. In the hands of less capable people, it would have been a total mess. Luckily for us, they knew exactly what they were doing.

Best book I read in 2014:

I managed to best myself from last year. Six (and a half) new books this year. My attempts at finishing a seventh book fell agonisingly short (my Kindle informs me that I am 42% through my current read), but still, I have something new to aim for next year. More unread authors and unread books to explore in 2015.

For me, I finally got around to reading Susan Cain's Quiet, which was long overdue. But I'm glad I read it now than earlier, because it helped me understand a lot more about myself that I wouldn't have had a chance to had I read it in 2012. In fact, in many ways, it reaffirmed my decision to explore the Asian side of the world for the foreseeable future. The book was a great insight into my own head, which is weird since I've never met this lady. But it answered several questions of culture, both internal and external, and if anything, prepared me to better deal with myself and with others in situations where I'm usually uncomfortable and don't really know what to do with myself.

Best comic book I read in 2014:

Very few comics were read this year, and the whole year was very front loaded. I read pretty much all I could in the first three months of the year and have since not read anything in the remaining nine months. However, Criminal by dream team Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips ranks highest on my list. By no means new, but still, something I finally got around to, I realised that if there is a comic book team that I would blindly read anything they produced, it would be these two.

Best album I heard in 2014:

Once again, nothing stands out for me. While last year was all about randomly accessing memories, this year...not so much. In fact, the only actual album I thoroughly enjoyed was the Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1. A movie soundtrack yes, but made up of songs from long ago. Enjoyable, but not particularly 2014 original. But that's the kind of year it's been.

Best song I heard in 2014:

This was also quite difficult, because nothing really stood out the way songs did last year. In fact, only one song did for me. Rather Be by Clean Bandit. From it's string beginnings to it's piano driven chorus, and it's exceptionally sweet lyrics, this was an electronic track that didn't quite sound electronic, yet somehow was. Their follow ups have been a bit disappointing, but they did give us arguably the most memorable song of 2014.

Best live show I saw in 2014:

I am a big Bill Bailey fan. This year, by sheer chance, I found myself in the same city as him, at the same time, and got to see him live. Finally. Bill Bailey LIMBOLAND was a great show, but any measure. Bitingly funny (even at Singapore's expense), musically obtuse yet somehow always relevant. I want to see this man perform again.

Best TV show I started watching in 2014:

It was on a nine hour flight to Shanghai over the summer, having given up on Game of Thrones and waiting patiently for the next season of House of Cards, that I, by complete chance, started watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. And while I freely admit I'm crushing pretty hard on Detective Amy Santiago, the show boils down to a single word: funny. It's just that. Funny and consistently funny and always funny. I really hope it doesn't get cancelled any time soon.

Best pop cultural indulgence of 2014

This is a slightly strange one because saying 'best podcast' would be lying. I don't really listen to podcasts. The other stuff mentioned above, I do all the time. But this show quite possibly trumped every other piece of pop culture I consumed this year. By far.

"This is a Global Tel-Link prepaid call from...

...Adnan Syed...

...an inmate at a Maryland correctional facility."

These 17 words opened one of the most talked about stories of 2014. A story, set 15 years ago, regarding a couple of kids and the awful circumstances that life threw at them. You felt pity. Sadness. Anger. Frustration. But overriding all these emotions, one emotion stood above all those: curiosity.

Serial has been an unexpected, but deserving, success. Up till three months ago I never listened to podcasts. I didn't even know anybody who did. Now, I have a bunch of friends who have all heard Serial, and are still discussing the story. The fact that it's all true adds that little bit of gravity to what would have been a very interesting concept and story. But Serial made me devote entire hours to my little headphones. Or turn on my speakers and shut off my phone. Or park my car and wait for an extra 15 minutes before I disembarked.

How will this end? The story, not Serial. That've already finished. Now they're busy preparing for season 2. But in essence, that is a testament to the quality of the show. People are still trying to figure out what happened and are making an effort to make real things happen. Very few shows can say that about themselves. Also, let's not forget their single-handed attempt at reigniting interest in podcasts.

So that's my list for 2014. I wonder how many of you agree with me. Maybe none of you do. That's fine. On a blog called The Daily Khan you should expect to hear only once voice.

Mine.

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TCK Syndrome

Every few months, depending on the people I meet over time, I tend to end up having a conversation about identity. Not everybody mind you, just a very few people. For whatever reason, though many of us would identify with the Third Culture Kid (TCK) realm, I personally have only discussed the idea of identity with a handful of people. A conversation that I would expect to have with most people I meet in Dubai, or even other cities with large foreign populations, never seems to happen.

A few days ago I was sitting across from my African friend in a Japanese restaurant in an Arab city, and the idea of identity came up in conversation. Both of us, having spent time in Dubai and outside it, agreed that even though we form part of a group of people who would honestly count themselves as 'international', still can't seem to form those deep and long lasting relationships with them.

For example, I'm Indian. I live in a city with at least another million Indians. And in the sense of legal documents dictating my nationality, it's quite clear that my passport still says I'm Indian. Yet to say that because of this, I feel intrinsically aligned with all other Indians in this city would be a misnomer. I can pin point sub-sects of Indians in this city, split along religious, cultural or geographic lines. Not that this is in any way wrong of people to do so, it's just a reality of the situation.

Similarly, I see the same with European, American, Asian and African foreigners in this city, who very easily gravitate to their own kind. Again, it's perfectly fine to do so. But the point I'm making is that I'm still not very sure what my own kind is.

The difference between race and culture is a strong one with me. The idea is further complicated by the fact that I, after having lived most of my life in Dubai, cannot honestly say I'm Emirati. It doesn't make sense. Yes, true, I do not have an Emirati passport, but neither am I particularly Emirati by culture. I've grown up in an amalgamation of cultures in this great city, and as such can integrate very quickly into other cultures, without feeling totally consumed by them.

At the same time, if the only thing that is supposed to dictate my nationality is my passport, then I can point to at least a million Indians in India who do not have a passport yet are more Indian than I will ever be. It's true.

I often come across several people in these situations, who have grown up in a third culture and have adapted the foreign culture completely. I've lost count of how many people I've met and seen walking down the street dressed and acting completely in line with hip hop culture, yet have probably never even been to the United States. Or those that spend hours in a pub having a pint yet have never really been to England. I do understand why this happens though; it's about plugging into something that pre-exists so you can make your life easier.

The problem I have, along with a few close friends, is that nothing feels quite as easy for us to plug into. Yes I could've plugged into something pre-existing and completely realigned my personality and outlook to better pigeonhole myself. But doing so does not feel natural to me. It doesn't feel right.

Every time I meet a new person, the question of 'where are you from?' is never a one word answer with me. It's a story. And I'm proud of that story. Except explaining it to people is not always a successful endeavour. Which is probably why I never discuss such things with most people. Which is probably why, much like my friends who also have similar struggles, I tend to consume as much mass culture as I possibly can (movies, books, TV shows etc.), so that I have something to connect with another person that is easy and relatable to them, without having to deep dive into my own identity and life story.

A few weeks ago I was sitting in Singapore, discussing similar issues with a friend of mine there. The idea of 'home' came up and I told him that for me, up to now, home is Dubai. But I know, then tomorrow, when my parents leave and possibly go back to India, my idea of home will be completely changed. Will it be India because my parents are there? Will it continue to be Dubai? Will it be where I would be currently living?

The problem for me, is that living in a city like Dubai, I tend to think that most people struggle with this issue. That's not true at all of course. As Indians (and possibly Chinese), we have enough strength in numbers to create a new home and culture very quickly without losing too much sleep over something like this. Also, the cultural influence from our home countries is very strong to really be confused. I've met several Indians who have lived all their lives outside India, yet their entire world knowledge is completely tied to India and nothing else. Then there are those who are ethnically Indian but culturally from elsewhere and they have absolutely no connection with India, choosing instead to be firmly placed in their country of culture. I don't condemn this; after all, we do things to make our lives easier.

But I think with me, and with a few others that I know, making those choices is not quite so straight forward or satisfying. For us, it feels like taking the easy way out, and a bit anticlimactic. Maybe we're over thinking it, and maybe we're making the wrong decision, but for now, it's the decision we have decided to take. And if that means being confused for a little bit longer, so be it.

After all, I never get tired of hearing people say things like 'Really? You're Indian?' or 'Really? You're Muslim?' to me. I like not fitting in people's pigeonholes and stereotypes. We may be a minority, but we exist. In one sense, truly international. In another, truly lost.

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Serial-itis.

Note: This post contains major details on the podcast Serial, and I would advise you to read this after you have listened to all of season one. Essentially, this post is for the five people I know who are familiar with it.

On an overcast afternoon in November 2014, I tried to figure out what to plug into my ears for a 20 minute walk I had to negotiate to the laundry. I had spent the previous weeks enjoying the free experience that Spotify allowed me, and I was beginning to get a bit sick of Spotify throwing in random songs when I wanted to listen to one in particular. Shuffle playback is a curse when you want to listen to one song in particular.

I had heard about a new podcast that was skyrocketing in popularity in the US, and I was intrigued. I had never listened to podcasts before, thinking it more of a niche media catering to an audience that were more forgiving to amateur produced aural entertainment. But I did some quick research and learnt that the podcast was about a true crime story, and aspired to be an aural version of Game of Thrones or House of Cards. A major story arc unfolding episode by episode every week.

And, it was freely available on SoundCloud.

I decided it was worth checking out.

I prepared myself for what I thought would be a relatively entertaining 53 minutes of a story; an amusing experiment in a new medium that I may very well lose interest in after the first 10 minutes of so.

That's what I thought would happen at least.

The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the story was a murder. As macabre as it sounds, I love a good murder mystery. I've read them my whole life and I've even attended a murder mystery dinner. And then, almost as if they knew I was listening, they released the big bait. They announced the name of the guy who had been charged with the murder:

Adnan Syed.

A young Muslim boy.

What?

All of a sudden, I needed to know more. As a young Muslim boy myself in 1999, I realised this was not just a random story I happened to peruse. This was, very quickly becoming a story I, bizarrely enough, identified with. I was immediately convinced of his innocence. I knew for a fact that he was set up, and was serving a sentence that wasn't his to serve.

My internal bias kicked into full gear, and 20 minutes later, having hurriedly spoken to the people at the laundry, I marched back home, my face a picture of seriousness as I heard more and more about Adnan's story.

Episode one ended, but I needed to know more. As much as I could. Luckily for me, there were a good 6 or 7 episodes that I needed to catch up on, and I dove right in, shunning phone calls (not that there were that many), texts and emails. I lay on my sofa, staring at the ceiling, listening to Sarah Koenig narrate her investigation into this 15 year old case, that for all legal purposes, was closed. I anxiously paced around my living room, as I was introduced to Jay, Adnan's friends and the investigation tapes.

Each week since, I've listened to a story that I am so far removed from yet am so obsessively involved with. Each week since, I have tried to understand the whole case through the filter of Koenig without resorting to more knee-jerk biased conclusions. Each week, I was more and more emotionally invested in a radio show.

This was new for me. Radio was always about music and the news. Talk radio was just people sounding pompous and liking the sound of their own voice. But this...this was casual yet intricate. A story unraveling page after page, except there were no pages, but this was still hitting the same creative nerves. This was a hark back to the very ancient art of storytelling by a single person.

I finally understood the power of the radio, and how mismanaged it is in today's day and age. I understood how it must have been way back when, as a new medium, when people got not just their news and music, but all their information, entertainment and everything in between, sitting around the fireside, listening to the big boxy beasts.

And now, season one has ended and, understandably, there are no concrete answers yet. Will the DNA testing prove the killer to be somebody else? Or will it point the finger back at Adnan? Why was Adnan communicating with Jay about his murder, when they weren't really the close to begin with? Why did they spend the day together? Why did Jay change his testimony multiple times? Why did Adnan's lawyer not do a better job? How did the jury reach a verdict so quickly when there were so many holes in the case? Does the mysterious Mr. S. have larger part to play in all of this? Who is lying and why?

Is Adnan innocent?

And when will season two broadcast?

I know as much as you do, obviously, but for me, this has been an unexpected indulgence. I've never, ever, been so emotionally invested in a radio show. But this show makes a great argument that radio can be involving, cutting edge and thought provoking.

Podcasts and radio have benefitted from this success. 

Adnan's story has benefitted. So many more people are now asking questions that were never asked.

Sarah Koenig has benefitted, becoming a cerebral celebrity (in a world with a dire lack of such specimens).

But who's benefited the most? 

MailChimp.

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Panic at the interview

I experienced an actual face-to-face interview yesterday, which surprisingly, in my experience, has been a rarity. I've gotten so used to faceless Skype encounters with disembodied voices in different countries, that I realised I wasn't quite sure how to react and interact in an actual physical interview situation.

While I was grappling with this sudden onslaught on my senses, the interviewer, who was doing his best to be friendly and put me at ease, said something that completely threw me off:

"I read your blog."

To which my first reaction was:

OH GOD WHAT HAVE I BEEN WRITING THERE?

Unfortunately for me, if there is one thing I do not trust 100%, it would be my memory. I'm not sure whether this is genetic or a case of growing old before my time, but in work situations and otherwise, I depend on my little notebook. If it's not written down in a neat list with corresponding ranking and capitalisation to indicate urgency and importance, I would probably forget it even exists. I've struggled with this when it comes to remembering names of people I've met, to the extent that somebody once accused me, rather accurately, of not remembering her name, to which my feeble protest only made things worse.

When it comes to this place, I literally only remember the last thing I wrote. I guess that ties in to the nature of what a blog is, since it is supposed to be only relevant to the most recent post, but as is usually the case with such online properties, your first visit to any place makes you explore things a little more thoroughly.

All this went through my head in a split second (I'm still amazed at how quickly the human brain can function), and I hoped I hadn't written anything particularly detrimental to the current situation I found myself in. If you haven't noticed, most of what I write about, at least over the past few months, are intensely personal and relevant mostly to an audience of one (meaning me), so I was fairly sure that I couldn't possibly have written about anything offensive to anybody. And thankfully, the conversation swiftly progressed onto other topics from there.

What makes this doubly striking for me is that just the previous evening a friend of mine was talking to me about how blogging about the industry you want to work for apparently helps you to get employed in that same industry. And I was wondering if I wanted to do anything in that regard.

But I came to the conclusion that for me, this blog is a purely personal endeavour, that I do because I enjoy it. If it manages to support a career (or keep my unemployed as may be the case), well then that's just something I'm going to have to deal with. I like this just the way it is.

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