Sunday, May 29, 2011

Don't work. Avoid telling the truth. Be hated. Love someone.

Written by Adrian Tan, author of The Teenage Textbook (1988), was the guest-of-honour at a recent NTU convocation ceremony. This was his speech to the graduating class of 2008.

I must say thank you to the faculty and staff of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information for inviting me to give your convocation address. It’s a wonderful honour and a privilege for me to speak here for ten minutes without fear of contradiction, defamation or retaliation. I say this as a Singaporean and more so as a husband.

My wife is a wonderful person and perfect in every way except one. She is the editor of a magazine. She corrects people for a living. She has honed her expert skills over a quarter of a century, mostly by practising at home during conversations between her and me.

On the other hand, I am a litigator. Essentially, I spend my day telling people how wrong they are. I make my living being disagreeable.

Nevertheless, there is perfect harmony in our matrimonial home. That is because when an editor and a litigator have an argument, the one who triumphs is always the wife.

And so I want to start by giving one piece of advice to the men: when you’ve already won her heart, you don’t need to win every argument.

Marriage is considered one milestone of life. Some of you may already be married. Some of you may never be married. Some of you will be married. Some of you will enjoy the experience so much, you will be married many, many times. Good for you.

The next big milestone in your life is today: your graduation. The end of education. You’re done learning.

You’ve probably been told the big lie that “Learning is a lifelong process” and that therefore you will continue studying and taking masters’ degrees and doctorates and professorships and so on. You know the sort of people who tell you that? Teachers. Don’t you think there is some measure of conflict of interest? They are in the business of learning, after all. Where would they be without you? They need you to be repeat customers.

The good news is that they’re wrong.

The bad news is that you don’t need further education because your entire life is over. It is gone. That may come as a shock to some of you. You’re in your teens or early twenties. People may tell you that you will live to be 70, 80, 90 years old. That is your life expectancy.

I love that term: life expectancy. We all understand the term to mean the average life span of a group of people. But I’m here to talk about a bigger idea, which is what you expect from your life.

You may be very happy to know that Singapore is currently ranked as the country with the third highest life expectancy. We are behind Andorra and Japan, and tied with San Marino. It seems quite clear why people in those countries, and ours, live so long. We share one thing in common: our football teams are all hopeless. There’s very little danger of any of our citizens having their pulses raised by watching us play in the World Cup. Spectators are more likely to be lulled into a gentle and restful nap.

Singaporeans have a life expectancy of 81.8 years. Singapore men live to an average of 79.21 years, while Singapore women live more than five years longer, probably to take into account the additional time they need to spend in the bathroom.

So here you are, in your twenties, thinking that you’ll have another 40 years to go. Four decades in which to live long and prosper.

Bad news. Read the papers. There are people dropping dead when they’re 50, 40, 30 years old. Or quite possibly just after finishing their convocation. They would be very disappointed that they didn’t meet their life expectancy.

I’m here to tell you this. Forget about your life expectancy.

After all, it’s calculated based on an average. And you never, ever want to expect being average.

Revisit those expectations. You might be looking forward to working, falling in love, marrying, raising a family. You are told that, as graduates, you should expect to find a job paying so much, where your hours are so much, where your responsibilities are so much.

That is what is expected of you. And if you live up to it, it will be an awful waste.

If you expect that, you will be limiting yourself. You will be living your life according to boundaries set by average people. I have nothing against average people. But no one should aspire to be them. And you don’t need years of education by the best minds in Singapore to prepare you to be average.

What you should prepare for is mess. Life’s a mess. You are not entitled to expect anything from it. Life is not fair. Everything does not balance out in the end. Life happens, and you have no control over it. Good and bad things happen to you day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. Your degree is a poor armour against fate.

Don’t expect anything. Erase all life expectancies. Just live. Your life is over as of today. At this point in time, you have grown as tall as you will ever be, you are physically the fittest you will ever be in your entire life and you are probably looking the best that you will ever look. This is as good as it gets. It is all downhill from here. Or up. No one knows.

What does this mean for you? It is good that your life is over.

Since your life is over, you are free. Let me tell you the many wonderful things that you can do when you are free.

The most important is this: do not work.

Work is anything that you are compelled to do. By its very nature, it is undesirable.

Work kills. The Japanese have a term “Karoshi”, which means death from overwork. That’s the most dramatic form of how work can kill. But it can also kill you in more subtle ways. If you work, then day by day, bit by bit, your soul is chipped away, disintegrating until there’s nothing left. A rock has been ground into sand and dust.

There’s a common misconception that work is necessary. You will meet people working at miserable jobs. They tell you they are “making a living”. No, they’re not. They’re dying, frittering away their fast-extinguishing lives doing things which are, at best, meaningless and, at worst, harmful.

People will tell you that work ennobles you, that work lends you a certain dignity. Work makes you free. The slogan “Arbeit macht frei” was placed at the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps. Utter nonsense.

Do not waste the vast majority of your life doing something you hate so that you can spend the small remainder sliver of your life in modest comfort. You may never reach that end anyway.

Resist the temptation to get a job. Instead, play. Find something you enjoy doing. Do it. Over and over again. You will become good at it for two reasons: you like it, and you do it often. Soon, that will have value in itself.

I like arguing, and I love language. So, I became a litigator. I enjoy it and I would do it for free. If I didn’t do that, I would’ve been in some other type of work that still involved writing fiction – probably a sports journalist.

So what should you do? You will find your own niche. I don’t imagine you will need to look very hard. By this time in your life, you will have a very good idea of what you will want to do. In fact, I’ll go further and say the ideal situation would be that you will not be able to stop yourself pursuing your passions. By this time you should know what your obsessions are. If you enjoy showing off your knowledge and feeling superior, you might become a teacher.

Find that pursuit that will energise you, consume you, become an obsession. Each day, you must rise with a restless enthusiasm. If you don’t, you are working.

Most of you will end up in activities which involve communication. To those of you I have a second message: be wary of the truth. I’m not asking you to speak it, or write it, for there are times when it is dangerous or impossible to do those things. The truth has a great capacity to offend and injure, and you will find that the closer you are to someone, the more care you must take to disguise or even conceal the truth. Often, there is great virtue in being evasive, or equivocating. There is also great skill. Any child can blurt out the truth, without thought to the consequences. It takes great maturity to appreciate the value of silence.

In order to be wary of the truth, you must first know it. That requires great frankness to yourself. Never fool the person in the mirror.

I have told you that your life is over, that you should not work, and that you should avoid telling the truth. I now say this to you: be hated.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Do you know anyone who hates you? Yet every great figure who has contributed to the human race has been hated, not just by one person, but often by a great many. That hatred is so strong it has caused those great figures to be shunned, abused, murdered and in one famous instance, nailed to a cross.

One does not have to be evil to be hated. In fact, it’s often the case that one is hated precisely because one is trying to do right by one’s own convictions. It is far too easy to be liked, one merely has to be accommodating and hold no strong convictions. Then one will gravitate towards the centre and settle into the average. That cannot be your role. There are a great many bad people in the world, and if you are not offending them, you must be bad yourself. Popularity is a sure sign that you are doing something wrong.

The other side of the coin is this: fall in love.

I didn’t say “be loved”. That requires too much compromise. If one changes one’s looks, personality and values, one can be loved by anyone.

Rather, I exhort you to love another human being. It may seem odd for me to tell you this. You may expect it to happen naturally, without deliberation. That is false. Modern society is anti-love. We’ve taken a microscope to everyone to bring out their flaws and shortcomings. It far easier to find a reason not to love someone, than otherwise. Rejection requires only one reason. Love requires complete acceptance. It is hard work – the only kind of work that I find palatable.

Loving someone has great benefits. There is admiration, learning, attraction and something which, for the want of a better word, we call happiness. In loving someone, we become inspired to better ourselves in every way. We learn the truth worthlessness of material things. We celebrate being human. Loving is good for the soul.

Loving someone is therefore very important, and it is also important to choose the right person. Despite popular culture, love doesn’t happen by chance, at first sight, across a crowded dance floor. It grows slowly, sinking roots first before branching and blossoming. It is not a silly weed, but a mighty tree that weathers every storm.
You will find, that when you have someone to love, that the face is less important than the brain, and the body is less important than the heart.

You will also find that it is no great tragedy if your love is not reciprocated. You are not doing it to be loved back. Its value is to inspire you.

Finally, you will find that there is no half-measure when it comes to loving someone. You either don’t, or you do with every cell in your body, completely and utterly, without reservation or apology. It consumes you, and you are reborn, all the better for it.

Don’t work. Avoid telling the truth. Be hated. Love someone.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Compulsory Attendance: Thou Art Not Needed

Compulsory attendance seems to be the ‘must have’ for colleges. It seems that nowadays colleges are concentrating more on keeping the students inside the classroom rather than on imparting quality education. The reason given for this is that if the student is inside the classroom he/she will be forced to listen to the lecturer and hence will definitely learn something. Sounds great, doesn’t it?!

The attendance rules are very strictly implemented. Students are sometimes not allowed to give exams because of lack of attendance. If not that then internal marks are affected. Parents support this wholeheartedly because there is a preconceived notion that quality of a child’s education is directly proportional to the number of classes he/she attends. Also, they believe that once they’ve paid for the classes the students should attend as many as he can so as to get maximum benefit.

The problem arises when you see the actual consequence of this rule. Students do attend more classes but only because of fear. The actual passion for studying in class is lost. Anything which is forced upon someone will lose its charm. Students don’t come to college because they want to; they come to college because they have to. They are only physically present. They are mentally somewhere else. What is the use of un-interested students in a classroom? This is not education.

The main reason for that is the scarcity of quality teachers in colleges these days. If a faculty is not good, no one will pay attention even if all the students are forced to attend all the lectures. On the other hand, if a faculty is good then all the students will voluntarily come to the class even if it’s an extra lecture or an optional paper. Contrary to popular opinion, students like to study. They want to learn new things. Students are curious.

When a student is forced to attend a lecture which is given by an incompetent or even a boring lecturer, then the curiosity in him dies. The college does not have to force a student to do something he/she likes. It just has to facilitate it. A decent classroom, a competent faculty and the faculty’s ability to teach are the only things required to get students to the classroom.

Colleges in the Western part of the world do not have compulsory attendance, yet because of the quality of the classes, students attend them voluntarily. The classes are interactive. Students are given freedom to choose their subjects and sometimes even given options in the method of evaluation.

Compulsory attendance rules kill the student within the child. It breeds incompetence as faculties are not worried about the number of students attending their class. They can teach in whatever manner they want to and get away with it. The mark of a good teacher is to attract students to the class and keeping them engaged for the entire duration of the lecture. Students pay a lot for tuition fees. They don’t need draconian rules. They just need a congenial environment to study. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and Social Entrepreneurship

I woke up in the morning to the news of Ratan Tata accusing Mukesh Ambani about his lack of concern for the poor around his billion dollar house, Antilla. This is front page news in the Times of India Ahmedabad edition.

I personally don't like Ratan Tata so this post might be biased. The man is the biggest sham I have ever seen. Scams have caught up to him though.

Now coming to the point.

I don't think any person who has earned money one his own should have any kind of social pressure to give it to charity. Why give money when you can create jobs? I think that entrepreneurs are the ones who do their bit for the society everyday. Employment is a big thing. It gives money to people who deserve it and who are willing to work for it. Charity is sometimes controversial as not all NGO's are reliable. Sometimes the people who benefit are not exactly the ones that need the help.

Mukesh Ambani has earned a right to stay in a posh apartment. He has worked for it. Why should he give up on his luxuries because people around him are not as rich as him? He is giving jobs to people. He has built infrastructure near his factories. Just like Ratan Tata has almost adopted Jamshedpur, Mukesh Ambani has adopted Jamnagar. So many people work there. The entire city has been uplifted because of the factory there.

Mukesh Ambani is already doing his bit for the poor. He is giving them jobs and that according to me is the best thing that a wealthy person can do.

My last words to Mr Tata will be : "Social Entrepreneurship is not a sub topic of entrepreneurship. All entrepreneurship is social entrepreneurship."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to survive the 'Indian Education System'

This is in relation to a Facebook note by Asmita Mishra.

We have all heard and read a lot about how the Indian Education system, well, for the lack of a better word, sucks.

Everyone has different views on how we can improve it. A lot of good ideas have come up. We have even advocated copying the American System. All this because it’s more practical. 3 Idiots highlighted that fact. F.A.L.T.U. did the same. Hell, even our parents thought so when they were young. However, somehow something changes when people grow up. Our parents are now staunch supporters of everything that helps in getting good marks. Extra classes, tuitions, a plethora of tests and even compulsory attendance. Good marks are supposed to be directly proportional to success in a person’s life.

So, all the people who are studying, agree that we need to change the system. Absolutely. I agree. The problem with that is that there have been no major reforms in the way students are taught. We have failed to make changes. So what do we do now? Well, if you can’t beat them, then join them. But what about your views you say? You don’t have to let them go. Keep them. How?

Why can’t we be both, the student who works hard to get marks and the student who works hard to learn and understand?

I try to do it. Here’s how.

We know that parents have expectations from their children. They have like a level of marks that they expect from them. Try to achieve that level. Keep them satisfied. It will be difficult but try to stay at a level where they are not ecstatic about your marks but neither are they disappointed. It’s a thin line. I know. Still make sure you keep spare time to do the actually learning.

Now to the part which matter. Read as much as you can. Implement it in real life. Relate it to things you do. That’s how you learn things. Don’t restrict yourself. Learn whatever you want. It’s okay as long as you like it. Try to include the real learning stuff into the syllabus. Choose project topics wisely. Choose internships accordingly.

It’s not that tough. You just have to learn how to juggle between the two. It will become simpler as time passes.

When the frustration with the education system reduces it will make you happier, smarter and more curious. It will make the wait for the reforms more bearable. Try it.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Window Seat

Before you start reading this post, keep one thing in your mind: I. Love. Trains. I love travelling in them. I even like to just stand in one place and watch the railway station do its thing. 

I had to go to Baroda [Vadodara] yesterday for some work. It was a one day trip. Train to Baroda in the morning and train back to Ahmedabad in the evening. 

I woke up at 5am. I usually don't get up early easily but then it was for a train journey, I was not complaining. Armed with a backpack, Kane and Able- Jeffery Archer, a packet of chips and a bottle of water I left home. The level of energy at the railway station so early in the morning is always inspiring. The feeling that you are a very small part of the world and that very few things will be affected by your actions and/or living/dying might be scary to others but I like it. It reassures me that I can do whatever I want to without worrying about the consequences it will have to the world. It's a liberating feeling.

Yea so I sat in my train. Gujarat Express. Summer vacations are on so the train was jam packed. I had a reserved seat but while I was going to my compartment I saw that even at 7am, lots of people had already picked up small fights with people around them. Uncles fighting, Aunties arguing and children jumping here and there. Ah, India! 

I had taken Kane and Able with me. It turned out to be a great idea. The sight of fields, the breeze and the book turned out to be the perfect combination. My journey to Baroda lasted for 2 hours. The day had started well. I had reached Baroda by 9am. The beauty of a relatively smaller city is that the mornings are more peaceful. The city had still not woken up. 

I completed my work by 5pm and then headed back to the railway station for my return journey. Inter-city. Yes that what the train was called. I had to outrun a kid to get the window seat. Yes I am bit obsessive about a window seat. Call me a kid but I should tell you, its worth it and hence it is a big deal. If you ever want to enjoy a sunset, you should either be on a beach or in a train's window seat. Music in my ears, wind blowing on my face and the sunset, I calmed down after a long day's work. It's the best feeling in the world. 

Another kid sitting opposite to me was looking down when the train stopped at the station. He saw black mucky water below in the drain and asked his mom,"Is that petrol? If they waste so much then the prices are bound to go up." Kids sometimes say the most amazing things. 

I finally gave the first kid my window seat. Yes it was only because my station had come. Is there any other why you give away a perfectly good window seat? So instead of Ahmedabad Jn. I got off at Maninagar. BRTS bus service zindabad!  It was going to take me within walking distance of my house. I was famished. I cold close my eyes and see mom's pulav. 

So I got into a HUGE line for the BRTS bus. People don't understand simple things. If two buses going to the same destination come together then all you have to do is let the mad crowd get into the first bus and then enjoy the extra space in the second bus. Dinner was postponed by 5 minutes but atleast I got a place to sit. Yes, window seat one more time. 

The bus started getting crowded really quickly. I offered my seat to a relatively elderly uncle. He asked me to give the seat to the 'ladies'. Who says Chivalry is dead? An old grandmother was unanimously chosen for the seat by the people around my seat. She smiled after sitting. The entrance was choc-a-block. This was when I decided that I needed to start moving towards the exit gate 3-4 stops before my stop to have any realistic chance of getting out. It was madness. People kept pushing. I pity girls who got sandwiched between guys. The guys had no intention. It was the effect of the brute force exerted by the people who wanted to get in. I somehow managed to squeeze out at my station. A small walk and I was home. Exhausted but smiling. It was 9pm. I had a bath, had pulav and decided to sleep early. 

As I lay on my bed. I thought about the day I had just experienced. It made me think about India as a country. We are good people. We are fun people. We fight. We quarrel. We care. We travel. We live. 

I never thought a to and fro train journey could make me feel patriotic. 

Feelings sometimes are inexplicable. It's their best feature. 

Keep Smiling :)

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Whistle Blowers Bill

Hello everyone,

I am taking part in a blogging competition organised by a website called They have a prize for the post which gets the most number of facebook 'likes'. I want to win the prize and hence I am asking for help. 

Kindly go to the article. Scroll down. There is a box which says 'press the like button to vote for this post'. Just click on it.

That's it.

It would be a great help if you could do it. 
If you really like the article then you can share this note with your friends. 

I can use all the help that I can get. 

Just let me know once you've voted. :) 



Keep Smiling. :) 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What does Osama's death mean to Me!

Well, to be very very straightforward, nothing.

Before anything, we have to start with an assumption that Osama Bin Laden is actually dead. It's a big thing to assume considering we have no evidence. All we have is Barack Obama's word for it. Now we know how reliable that is, don't we? :)

So we assume he is dead.

So what?

How does it change things around us?

I read a tweet by a journalist which said  something like this 'The joys of journalism. I thought it would be slow Monday but woke up to Osama's death.'  The media has found something they can go on and on about. Good for them.

It's a win for the fight against terrorism you say? Well, you killed just 20 odd people. Some of them innocent. That'll solve everything now, won't it?

Osama was not even the operational head of the Al Qaeda. He was just a name which people had learnt because it was easy to pronounce for people of all accents. How many people can  say Mahmood Ahmadinejad? He's the President of Iran and was in the eye of the storm till very recently. I am telling you, its all in the name.

Indian government is very happy now. They said that now they can put even more pressure on Pakistan. Pakistan was under pressure? From India? Are you sure you are not talking about the World Cup 2011 Semi-final?

Obama is happy. He'll be re-elected. All his speeches will now end with the line, '...we killed Osama Bin Laden.' and the votes will keep tumbling in, just like the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.

Get ready for a lot of Osama jokes from people. This one's going to last a month atleast.

On a more serious note:

Just killing one terrorist isn't enough. It's just a start. We have to continue our anti-terrorist activities. Terrorists are not limited to Al Qaeda. Although, the US government will want you to believe otherwise.

So well, basically, its the same old world for people like me. We live. Just like the pre-osam-ic times.

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