Here’s To The Underdogs

What is it about us that makes some of us root for the underdog? We love to see a good upset. Your heart jumps when a team like Bangladesh upsets Australia or when Ireland pull one over Pakistan in cricket. Or when Wigan Athletic pulls off an unlikely victory over Manchester United.

But why sport? Even a story of a lone man winning a hard court battle against a mega corporation makes you smile. It is because deep down, we see ourselves as that lone man. Like that small team or that lone ranger – doomed to fail 9 times out of 10, if not 99 times out of a 100, you live in the hope of that one elusive win, for that day your heart soars high above. Nothing can stop you.

It is what being human is about. Always on the verge of being crushed, you fight back and throw off the world and claim your place under the sun. Here’s to the underdogs. They remind us daily that life is worth fighting for.

 

 

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All About Teamwork

On a glorious, sunny Sunday morning, I finished my first half-marathon. I ran a time of 2:09:56 and in-spite of a niggling neck sprain, I managed to beat my previous personal best.

Long distance running is not about competing with others. First and foremost, it is about competing against yourself. The first mile is relaxed, the second is where reluctance sets in. The daunting prospect of 12 miles looms ahead large and should a hill approach, the urge to stop running and walk up the hill is almost overpowering. But you  have to let the mind tell the body what to do.

After the 2nd mile, it is usually smooth sailing till the 10th. Then you start thinking,”Come on. You have already run 10 miles now! That’s a lot. Why don’t you just relax now?” Again, at these moments, slowing down or stopping is best avoided.

The best part about running an organized race rather than going on a run alone is the people around you. When the first hill hit, I started to buckle under the pressure but voices encouraged me from either side. “Good going!”, “You got this!”. And it kept me motivated. At various points during the race, we kept shouting out words of encouragement to each other when we showed signs of tiring.

There is no gloating involved as you speed past someone. Because you want everyone to finish. You want everyone who is running with you to show off that shiny finisher’s medal. And it feels like you are part of a team. A team of odd members from every age-group. It’s a like a wolf-pack where the survival of the pack depends on everyone doing their bit. And it helps.

It’s not just your fellow runners who are part of this team. It’s also the volunteers who direct traffic away from you, offer water at the hydration stations and constantly shout out to you about how great a job you are doing and how this is the last hard bit and it’s smooth sailing ahead.

I ran for almost 10 miles alongside a middle aged gentleman today. And in spite of all the stress we were under, we shared some light moments together. We groaned in agony during the hills and flew while going downhill. A veteran of several marathons past, he had  some fantastic tips to share.

But the best moment of the day was somewhere near the 10 mile mark. A bunch of 5 year old children were standing on the curb and cheering on the runners and as each runner approached, they gave him a high-five. And as I heard the hoots and claps and cheers and as I high-fived my way past the kids like any professional athlete would, I smiled. They were part of my team too.

 

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City In Sunshine

You never appreciate something unless you spend time away from it. It may be a friend, your parents or a collection of books. In Seattle, where the weather usually nine months of cloud, the thing I miss the most is sunshine.

To be honest, Seattle is not as depressing as people make it out to be. It does rain every so often but I have no reason to go crazy or kill myself. Sure it could use a little warmth but that only applies to the weather. Seattle is warm and welcoming. After spending time in the deep South where every state is solid red, it feels good to come to a liberal state.

When it’s sunny outside, the city comes to life. The shorts are out, people mill about taking walks, biking or simply take in the much needed UV radiation. It is a gorgeous place and it’s a crying shame if one has to remain indoors on a day like this.

Another one of my favourite sights is the imposing Mount Rainier. A dormant, snow-covered volcano, it is easily visible from anywhere around Seattle and looks intimidating. It has become a familiar sight but it is only visible on those rare cloudless days and this makes it all the more special. To prove my point, I will leave this right here

 

Tomorrow is another sunny day out. Perfect weather to complete my first half-marathon. See you at the finish line.

 

 

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Of Rights And Responsibilities

I have several conversations with friends where we discuss various issues concerning India. One theme I usually find myself constantly returning to is the question of rights and responsibilities.

I have often bemoaned the lack of acceptance of personal responsibility in our country. We all desire freedoms of various kinds but in a democracy, rights always come with responsibilities. And what saddens me the most, is when we complain about law-breakers and corruption in India, we often indulge in it without realizing the inherent hypocrisy of it.

To give an example, we can recall Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption of 2011. Waves of people rose up in support of what was at the core of it, a group’s struggle to bring some accountability to the system. Now leaving aside all arguments of whether his plan was well thought out or not, he had support.

But support is not limited to sharing a photo on facebook or retweeting something. This activism of convenience is what we have become used to. We give ourselves a pat on the back and convince ourselves that we have done all we could. But when it comes to translating words into action, most of us fall well short. I personally know people who would pay 100 Rs. to a policeman as a bribe when they are caught driving without a seatbelt. And the same individuals are vociferous in their support for all anti-corruption movements.

And we have a habit of bending the rules and outright breaking them when it is convenient to do so and where there is a reasonable certainty that we won’t be caught. If we want to really to take a stand against corruption, why don’t we start by doing simple things like obeying simple traffic rules and not using our cities like garbage dumps? Surely this doesn’t call for anyone to risk life and limb.

The only way to bring accountability to the system is to bring accountability to ourselves. A friend is fond of pointing out that the times are changing and people are improving slowly but surely. The fact remains that people improve because individuals go out of their way to improve things. If things are to be changed, it is necessary that we become agents of change and not rest in the comfort of knowing that someone somewhere is exercising his responsibility. We have to do it ourselves.

 

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Cheers To The Queers

For the homosexual community in the US, this week has been significant for two conflicting reasons. One, the ridiculous vote in North Carolina to amend the state constitution to make gay marriage unconstitutional. This, in a state where gay marriage was already illegal.

Whether marriage itself is a necessity or not is a discussion for another time but what is undeniable is that when two people are so deeply committed to each other, it is entirely up to them whether they would want to get married or not. While I believe that religious organizations have a right to decide whether their bronze age myths permit same sex weddings or not, the state has no business in regulating marriage.

The religious right wing in America and many conservatives reveal their hypocrisy when the issue of gay marriage is raised. While they want little or no government interference in their personal lives, they themselves have no qualms about invading the personal lives ofpeople whom they do not even know. And it is even more shocking when the likes of Newt Gingrich, he who left his first wife when she had cancer and who asked his second wife for an open marriage, says that gay marriage will destroy family values. Bristol Palin, the unwed single mother talks about the sanctity of marriage while never bothering to take the steps herself.

An undeniable fact of marriage is that there are several state subsidized benefits that go along with it. Married couples are eligible for certain tax breaks, they pay less insurance and a person can have his spouse on his or her health plan, which reduces overall healthcare costs for the family. But monetary benefits aside, this is a deeply private matter for two individuals. When you love somebody enough to make a commitment to one another, why should any outsider decide whether you are allowed to make that commitment or not? And even more flabbergasting is the argument that social conservatives use while preaching their moralistic nonsense. “What’s next?” they ask. “Would we see a man wedding a dog now?” The obvious point that a dog cannot give consent is overlooked by all.

And consent here is the key word. A child cannot give consent, hence pedophilia is a crime. A woman who is raped has not given consent, hence rape is a crime. But when two consenting adults express their love for one another, why should anybody be anything but happy for them?

Then comes the argument that homosexuality is unnatural. It is a well known fact that several animals display homosexual behavior. It is even more shameful that in India, a legal battle is still raging following a court order that decriminalized homosexuality. I am happy that I reside in a state where gay marriage was legalized and intend to do my best to defend this personal freedom when the religious right tries to put this on the ballot.

The second reason is much more cheerful in nature. After Vice President Joe Biden affirmed his support for gay marriage last week, President Obama gave it his support as well. It was probably the worst kept secret in Washington but it is hugely significant for several reasons.

No president of the United States have ever voiced his support for equal rights for homosexuals. And it is even more significant that President Obama chose to do so this year. To anyone who thinks this was unplanned or a gaffe, think again. Facing a tough re-election, no president would make such a statement unless his campaign team sensed which way the tide was turning.

More than half of Americans approve of gay marriage according to recent polls and endorsement from the President himself will give a major fillip to the gay rights movement across the country. And it might help the re-election campaign as well. It is clearly an appeal to independents and younger voters and following revelations about rival Mitt Romney’s homophobia, it seems a little too well planned. But what I am confident of is that a generation from now, people will look as strangely at the ones who opposed gay marriage as we do on those who opposed marriages between black and white people a few decades ago.

Whatever the reasons, to my gay brothers and sisters, here’s some love and good wishes. I hope that you also, in time, come to realize the happiness and general misery that marriage alone can bring. Live long, and prosper.

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Philosophy…… Well, About That……..

When I am getting desperate for ideas to write about, a dear friend asks the question, “Do you belong to any formal school of philosophy?”

A difficult question to answer for most people. For one, I am not well versed in formal philosophy. I am not aware of the various branches of philosophy that exist. I am vaguely familiar with a few philosophical ideas but to group myself into one distinct school is difficult.

The best I can do is elaborate on certain ethics that I at least to live by. I am a libertarian in some aspects. I strongly believe that personal freedoms must not be infringed upon by other people or governments or societies. I put freedom of speech, freedom of expression and thought above all others. nothing is sacred to me. Everything is worth questioning. I would like to see a society where artificial distinctions do not exist. Nations, races, religions are human constructs and the differences that are created between members of the same species because of these are harmful for humanity and in my opinion, these constructs infringe on personal freedom in the worst possible ways.

To some extent, I am also socialistic. I believe that society has a duty to help those who cannot help themselves. Selfishness, to me is not a virtue like what Ayn Rand supporters would like to believe. To be only conscious of oneself and uncaring of others is a repulsive philosophy to live by because I want to contribute to the progress of humanity, not merely the progress of individuals.

In some ways, I am materialistic. To me, there are some joys that possessions can provide you with. Though not a compulsive buyer, I would not be minimalistic either. Materialistic knowledge is very tangible. What can be seen, touched, tasted, smelt offers the surety of existence and at times, this comforts me more than the solace that formless thoughts provide.

I am a rationalist. I prize reason and logic above blind acceptance of ideas. Following the roots of thoughts brings me great satisfaction. The repetitive cycles of cause and effect at endlessly fascinating and appeal to the rationalist in me.

Above all perhaps, I am a skeptic. I cannot accept anything as fact without verifying it for myself. I live by the statement, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. And as the same friend puts it, I am a “knowledge obsessor”.

Too long, didn’t read? NO, I do not belong to any formal school of philosophy.

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The Ocean Beckons

I have always been fascinated with water. Growing up in Bombay meant that I would make a trip to the beach every weekend and looking upon the water always makes me think about the vastness of it all.

Oceans are awe-inspiring. Water covers 75% of our planet but we have hardly explored the oceans. To think of the mysteries it hides from us. We look at the stars and wonder about life out there, but we don’t know much about the life that the oceans hide from us. I have always wanted to spend time on a ship, perhaps one day that dream will come true.

Till then, I leave you with this video that shows just how insignificant we really are when the ocean decides to come alive.

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