Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Real Heroes

When I was a kid, don’t remember about what age, but before my class 5th/6th, I had a very simple dream about what I would do when I grow up. simply stated, first I would earn a lot of money, then I would kind of ‘adopt’ a village, put my money in there to build nice quarters (yes, I used to live in quarters!), make it a neat and clean village, everyone will be happy and I’ll be a hero! Then I’ll move onto another village to continue my heroism. Innocence is bliss! When we are kids, our problem space is generally simple and we can come up with simple solutions.

I have thought about this ‘dream’ many times after I have grown up. Let me not get into the problem that I was trying to solve or the solution either. But the mentality – that when I have money, I’ll support someone else and that will make me a hero. My ideas have definitely changed over the years, especially over the last 4 years of my involvement with Asha and some other volunteering organizations. I do volunteer quite a lot of my time and donate to charities. But at the end of the day – I have a nice-paying job, air-conditioned car, wardrobe full of clothes and many of the luxuries I can do without. How much of my salary do I really donate? It’s so easy to get into the mindset that I’m donating because I’m generous, not because it’s someone else’s right to avail some very basic needs like everyday food and shelter.

Don’t get me wrong – donating time and money to whatever extent many of us do is great and certainly very helpful. And we should absolutely be proud of what we do. But that donation or volunteering should also come with humility. We are helping the underprivileged because it is their right. They are the ones fighting against incredible odds without many of the basic amenities that we all take for granted. Think of a farmer who goes out to till her land in the scorching heat of the summer knowing that most of her harvest will go towards paying her debt and very little, if anything, will be saved for her family. She will go back home and feed her children whatever she can afford and she will go without food for days. Think of a factory laborer who became jobless because the factory got closed. But despite all odds he sends his children to school – with the hope that they will have a better future. Think of a tribal family who were evicted from their age old land because some big corporation has constructed a mine or a factory there. With whatever little power they have they are fighting a ridiculously unequal war to regain their land and dignity. These are not rare fictional stories from any imaginary land – these are real people living in the same world with us and there are millions of them. Then there are countless others who are working for poor people’s rights – not with the goal of any recognition, but because that’s the right thing to do. These are people who probably have given up lucrative career to work for a cause close to their heart.

They are the real heroes. Whether it is Raja Harish Chandra or Bill Gates, they can donate millions and billions of dollars, but very few will ever be able to sacrifice to the extent of what many hundreds of thousands of heroes across the world do every day.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fast unto death ...

I can not imagine someone fasting for almost 7 years - that is totally and sadly insane. Check out the story at:

Just imagine the kind of mental strength it takes to continue fasting for this looong stretch. Sharmila is demanding the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, which gives sweeping powers to the army in the state. Committee has been formed on this issue and their suggestion is to scrap the Act - but the state has rejected that! Can we make the government listen?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Respecting others' opinion

This is something that I had written a while back - seemed like bloggable! So here you go ...

Do you Respect Others' Opinion?

For some time I have been thinking what does it really mean to respect other’s opinions. The reason I was sort of forced to think about this was because in some subject I differ from many people and I really find it difficult to ‘respect the other person’s opinion’ (whatever it means!) – Because it sounds so stupid to me! However, as we all ‘know’ or let’s say we all hear that one should always respect other’s opinion; I started thinking if I don’t have this quality in me. I know, or at least I think I know, many of my friends have this quality, at least in this matter! Is that because they anyway don’t have a strong opinion on the matter anyway?

There few things that I’m trying to answer here. What does it mean to ‘respect other’s opinion’? Is that a virtue or a good quality to have? Why or why not?

Before we even begin, we should get the definitions straight. The answer will greatly vary depending on what one means by the word ‘respect’. Respect (according to The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language) is defined as:
A feeling of appreciative, often deferential regard; esteem.
Willingness to show consideration or appreciation
Similarly, the word ‘opinion’ is defined as: A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.

The definition of opinion I think is quite clear, not many people are very likely to have widely different view of that word. However, respect has few aspects – feeling of appreciation is not the same as willingness to show consideration. The first one is much stronger and in that sense of the term I believe it is much harder to really ‘respect’ other’s opinion especially when you don’t at all agree with that opinion. But the second one is milder, and I can definitely agree that it’s easier for people to ‘have willingness to show consideration’ for other’s opinion even when you don’t believe in them.

I brought up this question among many of my friends. What I found pretty much from every one of them is that what they mean by respecting other’s opinion is basically ‘respecting other’s right to hold and/or express their opinion’. If you take the second meaning of the word ‘respect’, i.e. ‘willingness to show consideration or appreciation’, then the meaning of the phrase ‘respecting other’s opinion’ almost becomes similar to ‘respecting other’s right to hold and/or express their opinion’. It’s important to understand the difference: in one case you ‘respect’ the opinion itself and in another can you ‘respect’ the other person’s ‘right to hold and or express’ that opinion – where respect means ‘appreciative feeling’. Let’s take these two cases one by one.

If we are talking about respecting the ‘opinion’ itself (and by respect I mean to have a appreciative feeling), then I definitely can not always respect other’s opinion. On the contrary, I can and I do have contempt (opposite of ‘respect’!) for many opinions. For example, if you take the example of any supremacist of racist opinion held by many individuals and groups, I can have nothing but contempt for those opinions. And I strongly believe this is the case for most of the people (if not all) – where they have contempt or strong disagreement for some opinions. So, in this sense of the phrase, I don’t think people can really always respect other’s opinion neither will I call it a ‘virtue’, rather quite the opposite.

Now, if we take the other case, where we ‘respect other’s right to hold and/or express’ their opinion – I personally would agree with that. For example, say even though I have contempt for the Nazi supremacist opinion, I can ‘respect’ their right to hold that opinion or express that opinion. In this sense of the phrase, I think many people do ‘respect other’s opinion’.

Now the question is whether this is a good quality to have. In the first sense that we discussed before (‘respecting the opinion itself’), as I have already expressed, I don’t think this as a virtue, rather quite the contrary. But in the second sense, I think respecting other’s right to hold any opinion and to express them, is a good quality to have. Why? There can be several reasons for that. First of all, this is a diverse world and everyone has their own beliefs and way of thinking. Without any respect for holding different opinions at all everything will fall apart, there will probably be fights and hatred everywhere. There will be less tolerance for the diversity in opinion and that can probably lead to a variety of problems. Whoever has the power, will force their opinion on everyone else.

Finally, to conclude, depending on what one means by respecting other’s opinion, it might be a virtue or it might even be an evil! I don’t know how many people really know exactly what they mean when they say that they respect other’s opinion or that it’s a good quality to have.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

STP 2007 - Journey in Pictures

Three of us who started late, none of us had a camera! The first stop on the route was Kent REI - we stopped there for breakfast. Arvind thought it was no big deal

Why take a snap when I'm busy eating? Ravi concentrates on his banana ...

Group snap before we head out after breakfast. Sree needed some squatting - biking 204 miles was not enough exercise for his strong quads.

Mount Rainier was gorgeous as usual ... this view along the route was the highlight for me for the first day.

The Whole Foods lunch stop was very disappointing - very very disappointing.

We had to start anyway with an unsatisfied stomach ...

We took every opportunity to stop, cool-down and eat, while Ankur tried some meditation

Then we entered a nice shaded trail - first time out of road traffic.

The Lake on the side of the trail reminded us of our Burke-Gilman trail that we rode many times during our training rides.

Mount St. Helens was looking amazing in the afternoon sunshine ...

Little before we reached the 1/2 point - another mini-stop. Aparajita was embarrassed that we caught her eating!

Finally in Centralia - 100 mile point! 100 more to go ... Vineet gives two thumbs up to the ice-cream Sree and I are devouring

We felt cheated when we found out that Bethel church (our night stop) was about 5 more miles along the route than where we expected it to be! But we reached just in time for dinner!

It was time to put some ice packs on the sore knees before we head off to bed.

Fueling up for the 2nd day ... however, Aparajita is little suspicious of our plan.

The second day started with the Napavine hill - it was not that bad after all.

By the time we reached Lexington, we were hungry again and had to stand in a long line for food

The Foods was much better than previous day's lunch stop. Sangeetha was very angry that we took her picture, but Sudarshan smelt something fishy

Finally we crossed Washington border and entered Oregon - we conquered the bridge you can see behind us

Climbing up gradual but very long St. Helens hill was more painful - it didn't seem to have any end to it

As we kept going .... and going ...

And then we reached St. Helens School food stop

We started count down - 10 more miles to Portland ...

I finally made it to the finish line!

And didn't mind showing off my finisher badge ...!

It takes an effort to smile after biking 204 miles!

It was time for a shower

A warm shower after a long ride is very refreshing! Getting ready to head back to Seattle - this time not on bike though!

STP 2007

I did it - on my bike, 204.5 miles from Seattle to Portland! Overall it was a great experience and a fun memory that I'll cherish for a long time. Starting from the training rides when many of us started to bike just as a few fellow riders to the point when we really became good friends until the final event this weekend - it was a memorable journey. It is a personal achievement and raising money for a cause that I believe in.

The night before the ride we were supposed to sleep by 9/10 pm. However, we ended up sleeping after 1:00 am and got up around 5:30 am when we were supposed to be at the start line at 5:15 am!! We scrambled and got ready as fast as we could. We were staying at one of our friend's place about a mile from the starting point. By the time we biked from his place to the start line, the last batch of riders had just left - the official start time for the event was already over! Anyway, we put up our bibs and started biking. The first stop was Kent REI, about 22 miles down the route - for breakfast. Even before we reached there, I started getting cramp in my left glut and hamstring muscles. That pain remained the entire ride, which made me take a streatch break every 10/15 miles - that reduced my average speed, but, hey, I completed the ride! The views of Mt. Rainier and St. Helens along the route were definitely the highlights of my ride for the first day!

We were to stay at Bethel Church at night - and for some reason all of us were thinking it was in Chehalis. So when we reached Chehalis and got to know it was at least 5 more miles down the route, we felt cheated! It was already 7:30 pm in the evening and we all were hoping to grab some good dinner after a day's ride. Finally we reached Bethel church about 8:00 pm, checked in our cycles, collected our luggage and ran for the dinner before it was all over!

The next day started with the Napavine hill - it was not as bad as we thought it would be and the banana-bread lady at the end of the hill was definitely a motivating factor! After that started some rolling hills and some more hills! First day was almost completely flat terrain other than the Puyallap hill. But the 2nd day ride was more interesting and had more variations. Our group of 15 riders were riding in few different bunches - but we were mostly meeting up in every major stop. Crossing the Lewis and Clarke bridge over Columbia river was definitely a great experience - not always do you see hundreads of bikers with colorful dresses crossing the bridge when the vehicle traffic is stopped - it was a scene to behold! Finally we made it to the finish line at around 6:00 pm in Portland. I can't describe the feeling of achievement that one gets after completing biking for 204+ miles over 2 days and getting the finisher medel!