Being Present for the Future

Last weekend was a long weekend with 5 straight days at home. After a long time, I caught up with the movies I wanted to watch and also a marathon of the mentalist, season 6 and 7 from a while ago (don’t ask me why, no reason!). Since I am intrigued with sci-fi and hypothetical imaginary situations, I watched the Arrival, Coherence, Dr Strange(for the second time, mostly for Benedict and Marvel Comics) and Secret Superstar (new Bollywood movie, not sci fi, not based on anything hypothetical, but this was a family watch with my daughter).

I like the aspect of alternate realities and different lives in different times in different worlds, and Coherence was a great watch. I have watched Triangle a few years back and found that quite interesting as well. What if we get into that sort of a time vortex where our lives just get stuck in the present and we cannot move forward without breaking the cycle somehow? On the contrary, if we are happy and content with ourselves in the present, then probably it’s all alright. Why would I want to change my present if I am perfectly contented with it? And if the present is not perfect, I guess there is enough power in each of us to change ourselves and our environment in the pursuit of happiness. We all take different approaches, methods and preparations for changing our present and future, but the toughest and also the fastest way to get results is to perhaps change ourselves first.

In management, there is something called the SWOT analysis. A four square matrix where one can put down the Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat while planning future strategies especially for an organization. I have found this very helpful in making individual decisions too, mostly for professional choices (although I have found these equally helpful for personal ones as well). The trick is to start with a very structured question (often driven by a very unstructured emotional need, in my case, such as happiness, prosperity, family security etc) such as how will this particular job provide me good career prospects in the future or how will this career position help me in self development or what would I need to change in my career path in the next 3 years to reach a career of my choice. The strengths and weaknesses help me figure out my present status and the opportunities and threats have future implications.

Even Secret Superstar, the Indian film did portray the strength within ourselves to change our own future. The story is about a 15 year old talented singer who is struggling with her stagnating family environment to build a future for herself in singing. She finds ways to express herself and inspires her mother to take steps to change the family environment in a positive direction. Plus the movie has Amir Khan who is superbly talented and I enjoyed his role of an obnoxious rockstar of yesteryears, who otherwise has a heart of gold. I asked my eight and a half year old, one thing she liked about the movie and one thing she did not like. Children have an amazing way of summarizing things and even if I don’t appreciate children enough for being emotionally cognizant or sensitive, she did say she liked the fact that the girl got recognition for her talent as a thing she liked and the scene where her father breaks her guitar as a thing she did not like. I am sure in her own way, she can connect emotional sensitivity with life.

I understand sometimes life throws a tough shot and we feel like we will never recover from the blow. There are often circumstances which are immobilizing, paralyzing. But it is important to know especially in those periods that self strength can bring in small changes that have longer implications. During those times, I quickly do a self appraisal of the good things I have in my life which I may otherwise not even appreciate routinely. The power of being positive and strong during adversities helps in a speedy recovery, though it takes a long time to bounce back and one has to be prepared for a lot of self work.  Reaching out is important too and one will always find supporters and positive company if one seeks it. A strong social fabric helps and I cannot say enough about empowered communities even in resource limited settings. Even if we are perfectly content about our present lives, it doesn’t take too much effort in recognizing people around us who need a little bit of reassurance. My own social experiments have demonstrated that listening helps in attitude upliftment, even more than providing tangible resources.  And though I have to work a lot on myself for being patient and understanding around my little girl, I hope she realizes that she has the power to change her environment for the better, through efforts that start with her and for the goals that she is free to set for herself.

 

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RIP Ms Fisher

Our childhood is often hinged on special fictional characters that have an impact on our imagination as we grow up. Sherlock Holmes, Feluda, Jo from Louisa Alcott’s Little Women, Jupiter Jones are some familiar with mine. However, of all, Princess Leia by far had the strongest impression and even today there are moments when the Start Wars characters help me smile. My first Star Wars movie was the Return of the Jedi, which I watched in the late 80s with a group of neighborhood friends in our homely defence camp movie theater, aptly named ‘Manoranjan’ (Hindi for entertainment). For the cheapest movie tickets in town and the no frills, no balcony, close to home experience, it was a real treat to sit back relax in a familiar audience setting and lose ourselves to the world of imagination. Although it would be the last movie hall on this planet to show any particular film, sometimes after 3-4 years of its release, we still loved to watch movies in Manoranjan.

Since the 80s, I have watched the Return of the Jedi at different time points in my life and like a good book, it has been a new experience, a new understanding, each time. This particular movie was no less than any Bollywood high grosser. It had action, emotion, a great plot and lots of comedy (also a great background score). What’s not to like in a strong woman, a nation’s decision maker, fighting for her nation? Add to it a personal dimension of a lost and found brother, a controversial father and George Lucas’s exemplary project execution and of course Han Solo’s crooked charm!

Princess Leia had great leadership qualities and was skilled at rational persuasion. She was liked by all forms of creatures in the movie and her empathy bonded her people together. I also liked that Lucas had not made her out a superwoman with super powers; rather he stuck with her as a more human self, with normal physical limits, albeit with an active, thinking mind and expert in handling arms. I almost named my daughter Leia and I do hope mine outgrows her fascination with everything Barbie and takes notice of fictional characters that have strong individualism who do not rely on certain ways of physical appearance or a wardrobe filled with pink or fuchsia colored apparel, to lead a healthy, happy life.

As another year flies past, I hope 2017 will be a year for great books, great science, great movies and great examples of world peace. As every country moves towards a more nationalistic way of thinking, they don’t exit from international collaboration. Would I ever be able to watch Star Wars, sitting in a small movie theater in an Indian city without some form of international collaboration? And wouldn’t it be a form of foolishness not to invest in a global market, for any type of business?

But coming back to the Return of the Jedi, and although I am saddened at Ms Fisher’s untimely and sad demise, her portrayal of Princess Leia will live on till the end of time and hopefully, continue to inspire many more to come.

Intergenerational transmission of poverty and escaping the poverty trap

Image result for intergenerational poverty india

Last weekend I watched a delightful movie on something quite close to my heart. ‘Nil Battey Sannata’ depicted a mother and daughter’s journey through life. There were several moments which I could totally identify with. It was superb acting by a very able cast and although the subject was very down to earth, of a mother’s trials to provide a good future for her daughter, the cinema did do justice to balance all emotions very well. The teenage daughter had already resigned to the fact that her mother wouldn’t be able to put her through an expensive higher education, and had gone ahead and explored options of choosing a career as a nanny, something within her realms and ability.

A few days ago I was involved in a project dealing with intergenerational transmission of poverty and some of the dialogues in the movie brought back thoughts from work. The mother depicted in the movie was a daily wage earner, working in the informal sector. In India and many other lower and middle income countries, there is a huge section of population working in the informal sector and most survive on day to day earnings. Some don’t have enough to meet their daily needs and most do not have anything to save for the future. And this brings in another worry of a huge population of elderly people resulting from the same informal sector, without any sort of retirement savings.

I strongly feel that every human has a right to dream a rosy future and somewhere when one is consumed with thoughts solely of how they/their family can survive the next day, life is not completely justified. There is some information from research and mostly from the field of economics that intergenerational poverty is transmitted from parent to children especially in those living below the poverty line (BPL). Somewhere, there is a little mismatch, since the huge middle class strata of India, which extends from those just above the poverty line to those doing very well, often times demonstrate examples of children capable of attaining their dreams through hard work and education loans and scholarships and being able to climb from one strata to that higher. This is somehow extremely difficult for the poorest of the poor (BPL), even though many of the schools have very similar opportunities for growth. Additional aspects such as health and nutrition have been implied to add to lower school attendance in children and the reasons for being unable to escape the poverty trap become complex with multiple compounding factors.

What has been seen to work to some extent is conditional cash transfers (CCT). And more evidence from research is needed in this area. Pilot projects where cash transfers were made to the BPL families, tagged with compulsory school attendance, or availing government immunization/health programmes were seen to effect family nutrition and quality of life in a positive manner. School attendance also improved due to better nutrition and health. This would probably be a mechanism to escape the poverty trap. However, much more needs to be done in a proper structured manner. Also the process for CCT needs to be efficient without involving too many intermediaries that can raise avenues for corruption or bureaucracy or both (one stop mobile money transfer has worked well in Kenya). Community cooperatives also work to some extent, however, a strong community engagement, community participatory action methods are needed to be explored.

I am often frustrated that researchers do not come together to build sustainable projects. Grants are mostly driven with motivation for a few publications, or a PhD degree or obtaining a faculty position. Sustainable projects can be made possible only by a multidisciplinary team and until researchers stop working in silos where an economist only works with another economist and a qualitative researcher only with their own folks, it will be very difficult to achieve anything meaningful on the ground. One can generate multiple models of why things are not working, but ground level realities require tangible practical solutions and most importantly, ones which are sustainable in minimum resource settings.

Picture acknowledgement- Asian Development Bank

The Man-the Legend

13amitabh-bachchan3   bachchandeewaar  feat

I was watching the movie ‘Pink’ the other evening, and yet again, was wowed by Mr Bachchan’s effortless performance (though I must thank all actors of this movie for doing justice to their roles, however small). Although, the movie itself was more predictable and stuck to its mainstream roots, I enjoyed watching it, especially because after years, I could finally watch a full length uninterrupted movie on the television. Usually, the only thing running on the box now days is something Barbie or Doremon or Frozen. Though I like animations and Ratatouille, How to train your dragon, Bugs life are highly watchable, it is quite empowering to claim the TV remote for one evening and be its master. It did take some bartering with the remote’s seven year old owner, a few princess stickers, a bowl of her favorite ramen noodles and a promise that this Diwali, it would be alright to wear an electric magenta nail colour (eesh….absolutely petrificious!) but finally, the remote was mine.

To many belonging to my generation in India, we have grown old with AB’s movies being a part of our lives. He’s been an omnipresent force at every step of our growth.

I remember when I was in middle school, my mother meeting me halfway on my way back home from school, and us going together for early evening shows of Mr Bachchan’s films. My mother did introduce me to his movies and in those days, she was this energetic, vivacious woman full of life, running around the house and neighborhood, raising me. For most of my adult life, however, my mother has been confined to the walls of home, fighting her rheumatoid arthritis and leading a life of quite seclusion. Hence, the time we spent together laughing at the movies, at the wonderful, sometime witty and sometimes downright crass dialogues of ABs movies are very dear to me. These were the times, when I watched with joy, the sense of freedom and control my mother possessed. I hope I bond with my own daughter, the same way, and am able to make happy memories with her.

Mr Bachchan’s life in itself is very inspiring. It is true that when the mighty fall, they fall hard and the climb back to the top is steeper, second time. But he shows us that it is possible to collect oneself and reach an even higher peak through hard work, diligence and sheer strategic thinking. I do not think there is any role that he cannot portray. I often compare him with Robbin Williams and Kevin Spacey, although AB has embodied far greater versatile roles than either of the others.  His ability at seamlessly moving around from one accent/dialect to the other and his command over both Hindi and English is excellent. Paired with it is his sense of humility. Though we may be different in our private and professional lives, AB comes across as someone, who is aware of how a common man leads his life in modern day India, as much as someone who is higher up and makes decisions for the country and respects both as is very evident from his shows and interviews.

What impresses me most about him is his ability to change with the times. He has not only fit into the years well, but has contributed to every era he has been around. He influences everyone he works with, most of his costars respect him and those much younger look upto him as an idol to emulate, both in the acting profession and as a dignified public figure. His leadership skills, his talent and his life is a lesson for everyone.

It is true that many with talent, do not obtain opportunities to shine, but only a few utilize life’s opportunities and are able to maintain their hold on being at the top for more or less their entire lives.

Happy festival season!

Picture Acknowledgements:

Youthconnect, filmconnect and Rediff