Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Paradox of Quality

I was talking to a colleague (and friend) today who would be retiring soon. I asked, "What plans do you have for your life post-retirement?" She replied, "There are so many things that I want to do... However, I haven't finalized what exactly I will do." The things that she listed were all, in one form or other, related to trying to make a meaningful difference to the world. My friend is already an accomplished academic, leader, sportsman, and contributor to the local community. So, I have no doubts that she will carry forward her excellence into whatever she takes up in her post-retirement life.

The conversation led me to reflect for some time today on how we all wish to make a difference in this world. This is a fundamental need that we all have. The nature and scope of the impact that we wish to make may vary from person to person. Some people may be highly ambitious while others may have modest goals, but the wish to make a difference in our unique way is pretty universal.

Now, how do you know that your work is making a significant difference? There are many ways to figure this out, but the most straightforward way is to evaluate the objective and subjective feedback that we receive for our work. Thus, a writer may wish that his book sells millions of copies (objective) and that his readers also rate his book highly (subjective). Similarly, a musician may wish that her music video gets millions of views and that her music is appreciated by the majority of the viewers (Because it is certainly possible to be a viral sensation for all the wrong reasons). The point is that irrespective of what we do, we all want to be successful on both objective and subjective terms. But then the big question is, "How can we make the kind of impact that we wish to make?"

Again, there can be many answers to that question. People follow different strategies based on what they believe. For example, some people may place heavy emphasis on producing high-quality output while others may focus more on marketing, and so on. Let me focus on quality in this post, because marketing (although important) will be mostly useless if the quality of output is shoddy. Thus, according to me, high-quality output matters much more than marketing, albeit quality doesn't automatically guarantee success. Stated otherwise, quality-output is a necessary if not sufficient condition for success. In simple words, if you can produce high-quality output, then it is more likely that your work will be valued by others. The obvious question then is, how to produce high-quality output?

The quality of our output is dependent on many factors. Certainly, our talent has a role to play. However, the world is filled with people who had talent but didn't amount to anything. That's because talent is just potential. Howsoever talented we may be, we will not produce high-quality work if we do not put the necessary effort to hone and sharpen our skills.

People who are committed to bettering their skills usually employ one of the two strategies: quality or quantity. By 'quality strategy', I mean that people tend to focus on creating high-quality output from the very beginning. They spend a lot of time in the preparation of activities so that the output that will produce will be of superior quality. For example, a writer may invest a tremendous amount of time researching his topic, edit his sentences thoroughly so that no mistakes are present. In the 'quantity strategy,' people are eager to produce instead of being preoccupied with the quality of output. Going back to the writer-example, a quantity-focused writer would just write a lot without worrying too much about the quality of what he writes.

So which strategy wins? Well, the answer is not straightforward. Both strategies surely have their merits, and one should not be pursued to the exclusion of the other. However, what needs to be remembered is that ultimately skills are perfected by doing, and not just by preparing. In other words, a quantity-focused approach may often be a wiser strategy than a quality-focused strategy. Let me explain what I'm saying through an example.

Jerry Uelsmann's Surreal Photography

Jerry Uelsmann is an award-winning photographer who graduated from my alma mater, Indiana University. He pioneered the art of creating surreal images in the darkroom, way before the advent of Adobe Photoshop. While teaching photography to his students at the University of Florida, he once conducted an experiment. He divided his class into two groups. One group (the Quality Group) was asked to submit their single best piece of work for their course grade. The second group (the Quantity Group) was asked to submit the maximum number of photographs they could for their grade. This group was told clearly that the quality of their photographs would not be evaluated. It didn't matter if their photographs were great, good, bad, or even horrible; they would be graded solely on the basis of the number of photographs they submitted.

Which group do you think created the high-quality output that is so essential to success? Professor Uelsmann was guessing it would be the Quality Group. On evaluating all the submitted photographs himself and also by independent raters, however, he concluded that the Quantity Group created the best images. There can be many explanations for the superior quality produced by the Quantity Group. Maybe they were less stressed about their output, or maybe this low stress allowed them to experiment more with their images, or maybe the quantity focus simply gave them more practice which ultimately enhanced their photography skill. Most probably, it was a combination of all these factors and more. Whatever the reasons,  it turns out that often the best path to achieve quality is through quantity. Let's call this the paradox of quality. This should be a lesson for all those perfectionists who get so hung up on creating their perfect product that they never create anything. Unfortunately, the world is full of such perfectionists. Even I am one of them.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Rules for Myself


The above poem is a summation of the main rules that I strive to live my life by. I formulated an initial draft of these rules earlier this year and started living by them. And they truly helped me live a more meaningful and fulfilling life. Over the months, with greater insights into myself (in particular) and human psychology (in general), I refined my draft, added a couple more rules, and composed a pithy poem for my rules so that I could easily recall and repeat them to myself.

You might ask, "Why do you want to live your life by a bunch of rules? Isn't that restrictive?" Those are absolutely valid questions. I have certainly been asked those questions before, and occasionally more as a critical commentary to my way of life than a genuine inquiry. Nevertheless, the answer to those questions is pretty straightforward:

First, rules are not automatically restrictive. Rules can surely feel restrictive when they are imposed by an outsider. However, when we choose our own rules, they can actually be liberating, because they help us get focused in life. Rules help us identify what are truly important to us. They help us not get distracted by the trivial.

Second, it's incorrect to think that you don't live by rules. We all have rules. It's just that people are rarely aware of those rules. Most of our rules lie under our conscious awareness in form of implicit beliefs. However, they still continue to influence our actions. The problem with living our life by a set of rules that we aren't even aware of is that we then do not get the opportunity to scrutinize them. While some of our subconscious rules may be working in our favor, many do not. In fact, most of our life's troubles could be traced back to those outdated rules that we ignorantly held on to. It is therefore critical that we periodically introspect and identify the rules that we have been living by. Once identified, we need to scrutinize them with the thoroughness of a skilled scientist, retain what work, and modify or discard what do not. Over a period of time, through this continual process of refinement, we should be able to formulate a set of thumb rules that help us better our lives."

It is beyond the scope of this post to elaborate on the rationale behind each of my rules. However, if any of them appeal to you, do consider incorporating them into your life. You might be surprised at how much they can help you transform your life.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Mastering Grace: Lessons from Our Ancestors

Mastering Grace


To come with grace, to grow with grace
To smile with grace, to cry with grace
To sit with grace, to wait with grace
To walk with grace, to run with grace

To speak with grace, to sing with grace
To play with grace, to work with grace
To consume with grace, to dispose with grace
To luxuriate with grace, to suffer with grace


To fight with grace, to unite with grace
To give with grace, to receive with grace
To love with grace, to forgive with grace
To laugh with grace, to grieve with grace

To win with grace, to lose with grace
To fall with grace, to rebound with grace
To pray with grace, to surrender with grace
To live with grace, to leave with grace...

For the art of living is nothing but to embrace
Both life's beauty and its inherent unfairness
And to allow ourselves to coalesce
With the boundless Nothingness.


Note: The art of living is to master the art of dying... gracefully. For those familiar with the Hindu tradition will know that we are currently observing Pitrupaksh, the fortnight during which we pay homage to our ancestors. The above poem is my ode to the departed ancestors.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Philosophy of My Favorite Movies

Little over a week ago, a good friend of mine nominated me on Facebook to identify my top 10 favorite movies..one per day. I usually avoid taking up any challenges on social media because they are rarely challenging, and worse, often self-aggrandizing. The current challenge also had the danger of being self-aggrandizing: "Look, I am so cool to have watched these cool movies that you probably haven't!" However, after a little hesitation, I did take up the challenge, because it would give me the opportunity to reflect on the movies I have watched.

We do a lot of stuff in life, reading books, watching movies, meeting people, working on our jobs, and so on. However, we do not spend enough time reflecting on them. We quickly move from one activity to another, rarely ever pausing to reflect on our actions and experiences. I think this is a tragedy because when we don't reflect, we bereave ourselves of the opportunity to learn and gain insights.

So, I decided to take up the challenge of identifying my top 10 favorite movies, but instead of simply posting the posters of my favorite movies, I also decided to explain why I loved these movies. And this process of reflecting on my favorite movies has indeed been an illuminative and insightful experience for me. In the current post, I re-list the movies I had posted daily on Facebook, with some additional comments. In the interest of readers' time, I have tried to keep my reflections short. I hope people still find some value in these short notes.

My Top 10 Movies

10. Predator

My first movie on the list was the Predator, the original one from 1987. For those who know that I am a fan of the action genre, this selection may not be surprising. However, I must also admit that there are many better action movies than the Predator. The reason Predator ended up on my list is that I had watched the latest installment of the Predator series the same day. So comparisons between the two were inevitable.

While the new movie was spoilt by the inclusion of some very unrealistic characters  (for example, a woman scientist whose physical prowess were better than that of trained soldiers) influenced by the radical social justice movement recently plaguing Hollywood, the original was not. Worse, in the new movie, many of the characters fighting the Predators did not seem to have any fear. In contrast, the first movie, despite being full of tough guys, showed them as vulnerable. Specifically, they were scared shit of the unknown danger in front of them. This vulnerability made them relatable to the audience. The problem with a lot of action movies these days, especially in Indian cinema, is that they make their heroes completely invincible.

I think another reason why the original Predator movie worked so well, despite its many flaws, was that it didn't show the body of the predator until much later in the movie. I believe this is what made the movie so scarily thrilling. When you don't see the monster, you imagine the worst. The fear of the unknown puts the imagination on an overdrive and makes the movie scary and thrilling. This is also the same reason why the first Jaws movie is such a classic, but all the later shark movies, despite their higher production values are just jokes.

9. Die Hard

Die Hard is another great action movie. It was directed by John McTiernan, the same guy who also directed the Predator. I think Die Hard is an absolute masterpiece when it comes to action movies. No wonder its formula (Man accidentally in a bad situation trying to do his best to cope with the challenges thrown at him) has been copied over and over again in the action movie genre: e.g., the other movies in the Die Hard series, the Under Seige series, White House Down, The Rock, Home Alone series, Cliffhanger, the Speed series, Passenger 57, Mall Cop, and many many more. Some of these movies were also good action thrillers. However, Die Hard was the first movie to experiment with this formula or at least the one to do it effectively.

The character of John McClane in the first Die Hard movie is not a hero with "superhuman" strength or skills. He does have some skills as a cop, but he is not invincible. He gets badly beaten and injured as he tries to overpower the villains of the movie. He just barely survives the ordeal with some ingenuity and luck. The main thing in his favor is his strong determination. He is a man who won't give up easily. No wonder we root for this very human-kind of superhero.

I think the reason most action movies don't work as well as the first Die Hard is because the movie makers seem more invested in showcasing the muscular power or the martial arts skills of their hero than his vulnerabilities. They forget that no amount of action and visual spectacle can equate the power of human emotions.

8. The Matrix

The Matrix is usually remembered as an action movie. However, I love the Matrix because:
1) It had a lot of symbolism and deep philosophy (especially from the Bhagavad Gita) seamlessly integrated into its science-fiction storyline. I think no other movie has ever presented the idea of mukti (liberation) as effectively as the Matrix did.
2) The screenplay of Matrix was also absolutely brilliant. I still remember being surprised so many times throughout the movie.
3) Most importantly, the Matrix urged men to see reality the way it is, and free themselves from the shackles that were binding them. The symbolic "Red Pill" from the movie has literally saved countless men from becoming mental slaves or giving up on life.

Coming to the action sequences of the movie, yes, it did have some spectacular action scenes. These scenes also completely revolutionalized the action-movie genre in the post-Matrix period. Unfortunately, a lot of directors (especially in India) continue to make slow-motion, gravity-defying action scenes in their movies. They don't realize that such scenes worked in the Matrix because such fights seemed logical in the world of the Matrix (the fights were happening in the matrix and not in the real world). But when directors insert such fights in stories that are supposed to be happening in the real world, they just look ridiculous. God save us from stupid imitators!

7. The Godfather 1 & 2

The Godfather 1 & 2 are among the best movies ever made. What can I say about these movies that haven't already been said? Probably nothing. So I'll just start by noting that these movies were much more than gritty crime dramas. If we strip away the crime part, I think these movies were essentially about the ethics of relationships. If anyone wants to understand and appreciate the masculine view of personal and work relationships, the movies in the Godfather series are the ones to watch.

The Godfather series also provides great insights about how to conduct business. I believe director Francis Ford Copolla had himself once said that these movies were metaphors of how capitalism operates. Unlike the other movies that I have identified so far on my list, the power of the protagonists in the Godfather series comes less from muscle or gun power, and more from intelligence. The Godfather movies are intelligent movies. They did not contain cheap twists in their stories but had the best character development that helped us realize how the power of the brain is much more superior to that of the brawn.

6. Schindler's List

The horrors of the Holocaust have inspired the creation of numerous cinematic masterpieces. For a long time, I was literally obsessed with watching these movies. I think this was my way of trying to make sense of why do people do evil things and how do the victims cope and overcome the horrifying challenges thrown at them.

As I reflect on all the movies I have watched on the Holocaust, I think Schindler's List is the greatest movie made on the topic. I admire this movie because I think it was more rooted in reality than others. Movies tend to show that the good, hardworking, brave man always wins. We like such movies because that's what we want to believe as well. However, Oskar Schindler could save over 1200 jews from certain death, not because he was the proverbial "good man". He could save these people only because he had been an asshole...a greedy, war-profiteering Nazi party member. We like to believe that good always triumphs over evil...this is certainly what I believed for a very long time in my life. However, the reality is that good usually gets trounced by evil. This does not mean that we become evil, but that realizing our inner asshole can actually help us fight and win the good's eternal battle against evil.

5. Jagten (The Hunt)

The next favorite movie on my list is Jagten (or The Hunt), a 2012 Danish film. But before I describe why it is, let me discuss the current event of US Judge Kavanaugh being accused by a woman (Dr. Ford) of having raped her some 32 years ago. Prima facie, there are a lot of holes in this accusation. However, a large section of the American population has already declared him guilty. At a press conference, Senator Mazie Hirono even asserted, "Not only do women like Dr. Ford, who bravely comes forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed. They need to be BELIEVED! ... I just want to say to the men of this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change."

Yes, according to Hirono, not only is Kavanaugh guilty without examination of evidence but so are all the men of USA for not blindly coming to the support of the accuser. Our society is such that we easily believe women accusers. The man is almost always considered guilty until proven innocent and sometimes seen as guilty even after proven innocent. It's as if a woman can do no wrong, and a man can only do wrong.

This is broadly the theme of the movie, Jagten. The protagonist of the movie played by the great Mads Mikkelsen is a simple, good human being, and works as a teacher at a kindergarten school. One little girl falsely accuses him of sexual molestation (Yes, even little kids can lie! And this is very delicately shown in the movie). Then we see how the protagonist's life crumbles because of this false accusation. In the end, he is proven innocent, but unfortunately, that is not enough...

Jagten is an extremely sensitive and brave movie! The makers of the movie touched upon a subject that is rarely ever explored in movies, except probably in cheap psychopath thrillers. My hats off to the makers of this masterpiece.

4. 1947: Earth

1947: Earth is an Indian film that was released in 1999. Similar to my previous favorite movie, this is also a disturbing movie. It brings us face to face with the fact that the threads of sanity and friendliness that hold our society together can sometimes collapse in a snap and lead to unimaginable horror.

The Indian film industry is the largest in the world, and I grew up enjoying Indian movies. However, '1947: Earth' is going to be the only Indian movie on this list, because I have come to recognize the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) Hinduphobia in these movies. In Indian movies, Hindus are often depicted as narrow-minded, prejudiced and discriminating. In contrast, non-Hindu people are always good human beings, even when they are from an "enemy nation". Professor Dheeraj Sharma from IIM-A has documented this phenomenon well.

Non-Hindu characters in Indian movies can do no wrong. On the rare occasion that they do anything wrong, the movies try to evoke sympathy for these characters by showing them to be helpless victims of circumstances or the system.

To the best of my knowledge, '1947: Earth' is the only Indian movie to show a Muslim protagonist committing some extremely heinous acts, specifically that of betraying his friends that lead to their rape and/or murder. He is certainly influenced by his personal loses during partition. However, his horrifying actions are shown as cold choices and not as compulsions of his immediate circumstances. That's what makes this movie so important in the history of Indian cinema. It is a rare movie that did not play it safe and stayed true to its source material. Deepa Mehta has to be very brave for producing and directing this film.

3. 12 Angry Men

'12 Angry Men' is a black-and-white movie that was made way back in 1957, but it is easily one of the greatest movie ever made in entire cinematic history. I saw this movie a little before my 30th birthday. I am glad I came across this movie not too late in my life because it did have a profound influence on me. According to me, if there was one movie that should be made mandatory viewing for everyone today, it would be this one. The reason I say this is because we the people often get carried away by others thoughts and opinions. We don't use critical thinking skills to properly evaluate the merits of people's arguments. This especially happens under certain conditions. I can't detail them here because that would go into several pages of discourse, but needless to say, our agreeable gullibility can have devastating consequences. You should definitely watch this movie (if you haven't yet), and you will learn a lot about critical thinking, leadership, persuasion, and more.

2. The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 movie that has won the hearts of many. This is may perhaps be true for many people, but if there is a specific movie theme that I love watching the most, it is that of people overcoming insurmountable obstacles. There is something compelling about people who succeed in pulling themselves out of deplorable conditions. They may or may not have directly caused their initial misfortunes, but I can't help admire people who by their sheer grit pulled themselves out of misery. And there are numerous great movies with this theme (e.g., the original Rocky, The Pursuit of Happyness, Homeless to Harvard, Cinderella Man, Breaking Away, and many many more). However, the movie that had the strongest visceral impact on me was 'The Shawshank Redemption'. I have only watched this movie once, and that was at least a decade ago, but there are numerous scenes from this movie that still remain firmly etched in my mind.

(An Interesting Coincidence: It turned out that this movie was released the exact same day (Sept. 23) I posted about it on Facebook.)

Contenders to my most favorite movie:

Before I share the top movie on my list of top 10 favorite movies, I must acknowledge that I struggled a lot to decide on my most favorite movie. There were several worthy competitors. All of these contenders could easily have fit into my list of top 10 movies. The only reason they did not is that the selection method of my favorite list was an organic process. While the first movie on my list (i.e., Predator) was pretty impulsive, the latter selections were more thought out. So before I share my top favorite movie, let me share some worthy contenders to that position:

  • Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump may not have the kind of high ratings as The Shawshank Redemption, but in my humble view, it is an extraordinary film. Both the movies were released the same year in 1994. It was Forrest Gump and not The Shawshank Redemption, that took away all the important Academy Awards that year. I think Forrest Gump was a better-made movie than The Shawshank Redemption. So it deserved all the Oscars it won that year. However, over the years Forrest Gump fell out of favor from the critics because it espoused a perspective that isn't appreciated well enough in the West.

The paradigm of Forrest Gump is the exact opposite of The Shawshank Redemption. In the world of Forrest Gump, you don't have to have goals and plans to succeed in life. This is metaphorically shown in the famous opening scene of the movie where the camera follows a feather lazily drifting in the wind. The character of Forrest is shown as achieving a lot of great things in the movie despite being a person of low IQ. He did not have the goal of achieving these things. He just did his best in every situation, and "God" took care of the rest. As Forrest's mother advises Forrest in a scene, "You have to do the best with what God has given you. Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest; You never know what you gonna get."

This is a paradigm that I believe most people have difficulty understanding. It makes them think that Forrest was simply lucky. However, according to me, the reason Forrest achieved what he did in the movie is not because he was lucky, but because he was completely involved in whatever act he engaged in. He didn't care about goals or plans, and just involved himself completely with whatever was in front of him. He still achieved big things in life, because that is the power of sharanagati (loosely translated as surrender) as described in the Bhagavad Gita. 

Forrest Gump could easily have been my topmost movie, but the reason it did not is that it had the implicit message that sharanagati is only possible for people who are too dumb to have goals and plan for themselves. The reality is that the real power of sharanagati comes when it is a conscious choice.

  • The Big Lebowski

When I watched the 1998 cult-classic The Big Lebowski by the Coen Brothers for the first time, I found it too weird to enjoy it well. Only when I watched it again several years later did I appreciate the symbolism and philosophy of this movie. In a way, The Big Lebowski espouses the same philosophy as the Forrest Gump: live life as it comes without worrying about the future. Since Lebowski is not dumb like Forrest was in Forrest Gump, we can say that he chose this way of living consciously. No wonder, he appears as this cool dude who abides. The character of Lebowski is so cool that it has inspired the formation of a new religion called Dudeism. According to Wikipedia entry on Dudeism, people believing in Dudeism try to live life by "going with the flow", "being cool headed", and "taking it easy" in the face of life's difficulties.

Because taking life as it comes is a conscious choice of Lebowski, I think The Big Lebowski does a slightly better representation of sharanagati than Forrest Gump. However, sharanagati is not just about accepting and surrendering to what happens in life, it is also being completely involved with life, which the character of Lebowski is not. That is why The Big Lebowski is not my topmost favorite movie. Lebowski is essentially a loser. He may be happy, but to me, his "taking it easy" approach to life borders on inertia (tamasic nature), which is not a desirable attribute. The world needs more self-disciplined and hard-working individuals, not cool lazy bums.

  • No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men is a Coen Brothers' crime/suspense movie that was released in 2007. I had watched it within the first couple of weeks of its release. I had found the movie thrilling but the ending was unsatisfying. It seemed like all the suspense in the movie ultimately amounted to nothing. I was disappointed. I had even written about it in a blog post then.

However, a couple of years ago, when I rewatched the No Country for Old Men, I realized what a brilliant movie it was. Not only did I notice the significance of many important scenes that I had missed before, but I also began to appreciate the reason behind the weird ending of the movie. Life is just not always fair. In life, bad things often happen to good people, to the extent they may also get killed meaninglessly; bad people also sometimes walk out scot-free. What the movie depicted really well is that there is no divine-justice in real life, and that's what made it so upsetting. Paraphrasing Nietzsche, it’s not human suffering that bothers us, its the pointless suffering.

No Country for Old Men is an outstanding movie, but it is not on the top of my Top 10 list because it is just too dark. The nihilism so well depicted in the movie may be very close to reality, but nihilism is still just a paradigm of negation. It has no motivational value, and is more likely to create people like Lebowski in The Big Lebowski whose acceptance is more a sign of they having given up on life than feeling motivated by their surrender.

1. Cool Hand Luke

From the poster of Cool Hand Luke
The 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke is my most favorite movie, essentially because it shows a resolution to the question posed by the extreme paradigms of the Forrest Gump, The Big Lebowski, and No Country for Old Men. The resolution is not perfect, but it is closest I have seen a movie achieve. 

Cool Hand Luke is the story of a man named Luke. [SPOILER ALERT AHEAD] Life hasn't been fair to him. He makes some wrong decisions and ends up in prison. The prison system tries to break his spirit. He decides to escape the prison. He plans and executes an escape, but gets caught. He does it again and fails. And again, and fails, this time causing him to lose his life. But the entire time that he is in the prison, escaping, getting caught, and finally getting killed, he retains "That old Luke smile." Now that is true sharanagati: You know that life is unfair, that it is pointless. That doesn't prevent you from setting goals and planning to help achieve them. As you have goals, you also take life as it comes. You have complete sharangati (equanimity coming from surrender) to whatever happens to life. So you succeed in retaining "That old Luke smile" regardless of your life-conditions.

"A man's just gotta go his own way."

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Bullshitting: Can you tell what's wrong with this picture?

Image may contain: text

Can you identify what is wrong with the above picture that is taken from the Twitter feed of The Indian Express? Several things actually, but you will probably not be able to identify them until you click on the news article (written by Shaju Philip, dated June 26, 2018) and read it completely.

If you only read the headline of this news article on some social media platform--which is a very common practice these days--you will most likely end up with the impression that five Hindu priests sexually abused and blackmailed a woman. After all India is a Hindu majority nation, so the usage of the term "priests" in the headline should most likely mean Hindu priests. Right? Even the sketch accompanying the news headline and article has been (perhaps deliberately) made in saffron color, a color most strongly associated with Hinduism. So why would you be wrong to assume that the culprits here were Hindu priests? It's only when you read the article, do you realize that priests referred to in this article were actually Christians. 

It is not just the Indian Express that is guilty of providing misleading anti-Hindu headlines. Many other mainstream newspapers do the same regularly. For example, take a look at the screenshot below from a DNA India news article dated May 23, 2018 (written by DNA Web Team):


If you only read the headline of this news story, you will be sure that this is a case of a Hindu priest raping a woman. After all, the term tantrik generally refers to a Hindu priest who practices the ancient Hindu tradition of tantra. After reading the first paragraph of the article, you will be damn sure that the article is referring to a Hindu priest, because it talks about the victims' belief in tankriks and babas, and how the culprit lived in an ashram. The term baba again typically refers to a Hindu ascetic, and ashram is a Hindu hermitage or monastery. So why would you suspect that the culprit in this case is not a Hindu priest? Only after you reach the second paragraph of the article and read the name of the rapist (Rahmat Ali Sheikh is a Muslim name) do you realize that the rapist is a Muslim priest.

Here are couple more recent examples: 
  1. Headline from The Times of India, dated April 13, 2018 (written by Aamir Khan): Delhi: Tantrik gets 10 years in jail for rape and extortion
  2. Headline from The Hindu, dated April 26, 2018 (written by Staff Reporter): Woman accuses tantrik of rape

In both these cases the actual culprits were Muslim priests, but you won't know that unless you carefully read through the news articles. You have to literally read these articles with the eye of a diligent researcher or a detective to notice the true religion of these rapists, because the authors made sure to hide that information deep within the text of articles. In The Times of India article, you realize that the rapist is a Muslim priest only after you reach the second paragraph when you find out that his name was Warsi (a Muslim surname). Similarly, in The Hindu article, you discern the rape accused to be a Muslim priest only after you have read about 60% of the article and come across the information that the accused was supposed to perform certain rituals for the victim at the Ajmer dargah (a Sufi shrine in Rajasthan).

I am neither anti-Christian nor anti-Muslim. Some of my closest friends are Christians and Muslims. However, I strongly oppose mainstream media's deliberate attempt to malign Hinduism. I had discussed this a few months ago in context of the Kathua rape case. And frankly, it doesn't give me pleasure to write about this issue again. However, the anti-Hindu onslaught of the media just seems to be getting stronger by the day. I don't fully understand why many media houses in India are so anti-Hindu. It seems like many of the media houses have been corrupted by either Marxist philosophies and/or are owned by people who are anti-Hindu. It is an irony (or perhaps a convenient deception) that some of the publications from these media houses have the word "Hindu" in their names (e.g., The Hindu or The Hindustan Times). 

Frankly, I don't mind some people harboring anti-Hindu sentiments, because there will always be some prejudiced individuals. It's difficult for people indoctrinated within dogmatic traditions to appreciate Hinduism, that is easily one of the least dogmatic and least tyrannical religions in the world. Not that Hinduism is perfect. It sure has certain practices that deserve to be critiqued. However, deliberately hiding truths and using blatant lies to denigrate Hinduism and demonize Hindus is something that is completely unacceptable.

The Illusory Truth Effect
The anti-Hindu and "Breaking India" forces are using the Goebbels principle of "manufacturing a lie so big and repeating it so often, that people start believing it as the truth." We know from research done in the field of Social Psychology by Fazio and her colleagues that such techniques do succeed in creating an "illusory truth effect," which refers to the finding that people do start believing false claims when they are exposed to them multiple times. The number of times media houses have been caught peddling bullshit is impossible to quantify here, but I am sure you must have come across many such instances.

What Can You Do?
So is there no way out of getting over the bullshit peddled by media houses? Yes there is, although it is not an easy task. Here are three things that all of us can do to counter anti-Hindu (or any other form of) bullshit:
  1. Enhance your bullshit detector abilities: This is a skill that develops over time, but at the very basic do not believe everything that you read, especially news headlines. At least read through the articles that are of interest you to verify if the headline claims are in consonance with main text of the article.
  2. Check for evidence and Crosscheck Other Sources: Sometimes even the main text of the article may not be truthful. So it is important that you critically evaluate the claims made in the article. Detecting bullshit in an author's argument is again a skill that is enhanced by training. But at basic level, ask "Do the authors provide any evidence for their claims?" If not, then it is a red flag. Sometimes authors may also provide incomplete evidence to mislead readers. So crosscheck facts from other sources by doing some web search.
  3. When you detect bullshit, don't be afraid to point it out: The only way to counter bullshit is to bring it to the attention of others. In today's age of social media, you don't have to be a journalist or author to share your thoughts with others. When you detect any bullshit yourself or come across bullshit-detection made by others, share it generously on social media. It is true that sometimes rumors get spread on social media, but social media has also helped unravel important truths to the public.