Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Diminishing Advantage

A few weeks ago I met R, my old neighbor whose boys attend the same middle school and J does. Her oldest goes to high school next year and the youngest is in sixth grade like J. We were chatting about the transition experience and how things went for her oldest; she mentioned how peer pressure worked differently for boys than it did for girls at this age. 

According to R, the girls had it a lot harder than the boys. I have heard variations on this theme from other parents have to wonder how J will fare. Many women I know have told me that middle school was the worst part of their school years. Reading this David Brooks op-ed piece on why men fail made we wonder if the advantage boys seem have in their adolescent years fades over time. Particularly interesting is the idea that men have become victims of the superior position in the social totem pole :

This theory has less to do with innate traits and more to do with social position. When there’s big social change, the people who were on the top of the old order are bound to cling to the old ways. The people who were on the bottom are bound to experience a burst of energy. They’re going to explore their new surroundings more enthusiastically.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Red Poppies

Red field of poppies,
linen in bloom.
More metal same
feeling you smiled.
And the ravages of 
time came undone.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Sharing Things Loved

J's Art teacher has assigned the class an interesting activity. Each student will choose a partner and a poem for this project. They will each create a visual of the poem they have selected. The partner will read the poem while the they hold up their visual and then they switch. I thought this was a great way to introduce poetry appreciation using art as the vehicle.

She asked me to help her choose her poem and I took the opportunity to share some of my favorites with her. Most she did not quite understand yet or thought would be hard to depict visually - but Derek Walcott's Midsummer, Tobago clicked with her right away. It was a moving experience for me to able to share something so close to my heart with her. We talked about my favorite lines and the how Walcott evokes nostalgia ever so magically

Days I have held,
days I have lost,

days that outgrow, like daughters,
my harbouring arms. 

Ten years from now, when J is all grown up and out in the world, I may remember the day we first  read Walcott together and how it was a fresh strand in our bond.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Desire Modification

This article about desire modification technology  has to be the most interesting thing I have read this week.

There are many hypothetical technologies that have the power to transform the human experience even more profoundly than any that have gone before. Fusion power and self-replicating networked nanotech are two popular ones, but there are others that have the potential to be even more transformational. For example, personality upload (also called "brain emulation"). Why spend all your wealth rearranging the world we live in, when you can just create your own? An even bigger one is desire modification. Why spend all your wealth creating a better world, when you can make yourself like the one you're in?

I hope I live long enough to see some of this come to fruition. Buddha taught that desire was the root of suffering. When desire is modified to where it coincides what we already have, then suffering would logically turn to exuberance. Such technology could then have humans live in state of permanent blissfulness. Would such a state of mind then count as "real" or "induced" happiness and would the subject be able to tell the two apart. And then there are the infinite ways to abuse such a thing to coerce and brainwash people who are cannot protect their desire from being modified against their will.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Marriage Type Fit

Watched this TED talk on arranged and non-arranged marriages in India. The author cites the statistics gathered during the course of her research to make her case and draws some interesting conclusions.

Unfortunately, I do not have the vantage point of witnessing the social changes in India first hand during the last ten years - but I do see the what happens when the Indian marriage comes abroad. 

The couple in an arranged marriage tends to be a little awkward together when they are starting out. The party that has been abroad longer, guides the new arrival around until they get more sure-footed. The families tend to play a big part in their lives, where the support system would have been more physical and logistical back home, it turns into an emotional prop while abroad. Without having full knowledge or understanding of the dynamic between the couple, the respective families arrive at their version of the truth and often advocate that passionately to the detriment of the new marriage. The couple having met through the families, may feel like they do not fully "own" their relationship. But every once in a while, the counsel of the family elders does help the new couple.

When the marriage comes about without the involvement of the families, the couple is a lot more comfortable with each other - having history together, they have the ability to make independent decisions and are less in need of approval or validation from their families. If estranged from their families due to their decision to marry, chances are that the couple is forced to nurture inter-dependence which serves the marriage very well. They have a vested interest in making the marriage work to earn the respect of their families.

In a  good marriage the couple is able to thrive irrespective of the role their families play in it. When things are not going so well, the outcomes end up being quite different. A couple from an arranged marriage is quite likely to find their families fighting a proxy war on their behalf and even when they are well intentioned, the results may end up being very unpleasant. For a couple who married for love, difficulties in marriage are problems they are required to solve on their own. - they sink or swim based on the strength of their relationship and decisions only they were involved in making. A functional adult takes this kind of responsibility in every other aspect of their life so marriage should not be the lone exception.In the end, the fate of a trouble marriage hinges on the determination and maturity of the couple - the role (or the lack of one) of their families being the additional challenge they have to contend with.

The crisis with the traditional Indian way of marrying is the lack of compatibility of that framework with the world that the couple is required to inhabit after marriage. The premise of the arranged marriage is a good one and works very well where the infrastructure and the personalities involved supports it. For the tradition minded, who wish to live around extended family and actively seek their guidance and support, an arranged marriage could work quite well. They would find comfort in the cocoon of familiarity and not seek to create an identity separate (and different) from the larger family unit they come from. 

If the couple is hungry to experience life outside the dictates of tradition, such a marriage could set them up for failure. They would find the expectations of the extended family too irksome to fulfill and limiting of their personal freedom. Instead of being a source of sustenance the family becomes dead-weight their marriage has to lug around. Being a a society in transition, we want to hold on to the old and familiar ways - just a little bit -  even as we experience pre-marital sex, dating, living in before marriage and such. We wish to have our training wheels on so we can explore safely. In the process, we mix things that just do not belong together and the results are volatile and unpredictable. 

Both kinds of marriages can work or not - based on who we are and what our relationship aspirations are. Being desi, we have the unique opportunity to pick one of two ways to go about marriage - that is a benefit and not a problem. The alignment of goals and mentality is very important - pairing a traditionalist with a freedom seeker would never work well. Neither way of marriage can guarantee this does not happen. When in love, a couple's judgement can get clouded and the obvious red flags could be missed. In an arranged situation, a couple's view may be biased by those of other family members involved in the process. 

I don't agree with the Trivedi's thesis on the subject - it might have been more apropos to segment the population and arrive at insights on marriage-type fit for the modern day desi couple. That is help they are really in need of.