Posted on 27-03-2011
Filed Under (POLITICS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit sen gupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

It’s so refreshing to see bright, trendy saffron-white-green painted faces cheering India at World Cup Cricket matches. That young Indians are proudly patriotic is admirable. During our young days, for those of us underprivileged, leaving India for a better life or job was a requisite drive. Today, using the national flag in varied events to express pride is a growing trend. But isn’t the horizontal display of saffron, white and green creating confusion between India’s flag and Congress party’s flag?

Taking advantage of our pride in being the world’s biggest democracy, let me touch on our flag’s history. Historians must pardon my not being an official historian; my observation is related to authentic symbolic expressions of political parties as branding is among my expertise domains. My comments are not criticism but about democratic code, we need both ruling and opposition parties for democracy’s perfect balance. Can the political party that front-ended India’s political independence bequeath its party flag to become the national flag? Was it done to fuse the idea of Congress with the idea of India to become the idea of the Nation?

Congress volunteers in Nagpur, commemorating Jallianwala Bagh massacre, hoisted the Swaraj flag on 13 April 1923. Pingali Venkayya, an agriculturist from Machilipatnam, designed this when, in 1921, Mahatma Gandhi proposed the Indian National Congress (INC) have a flag. The flag had red for Hindus, green for Muslims, and a manual spinning wheel (charkha) to symbolize Gandhiji’s call for India’s economic self-sufficiency. To include other religious communities, the design was modified with a central white stripe, and later red changed to saffron.

Before Independence Day, a committee headed by Rajendra Prasad with Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Sarojini Naidu, C Rajagopalachari, KM Munshi and BR Ambedkar deliberated to find a national flag. They recommended the INC flag after replacing Gandhiji’s charkha by the chakra to represent the 3rd-century BC wheel of law of Mauryan Emperor Ashoka. Was this a quick-fix solution for lack of time or lack of ideas? Or was it a deliberate, forward-looking strategy of freedom fighters to transcend Gandhiji’s legacy into the future? With or without understanding the consequences, have they imposed the Congress party to becoming the nation’s representative?

Indian and Irish flag colours are the same, but Ireland’s in reverse vertical green-white-saffron order. Is there any connection? Apparently not, but the fact is that Annie Besant, INC President in 1917-18 was proud of her Irish origin. INC, founded in 1885 notably on AO Hume’s initiative, didn’t initially oppose British rule.  When Britain needed its Empire’s support in World War I, Annie echoed the Irish nationalist slogan: "England’s need is India’s opportunity." As editor of New India newspaper, she attacked the colonizers, demanding India’s self-rule.

In 1916 Annie launched India’s Home Rule League using the model. The League became India’s first political party to fight for change through public meetings and agitations. In June 1917 Annie was arrested. To show defiance, she flew a red and green flag in the garden of the house she was interned in. Both the Congress and Muslim League protested her arrest, which created an opportunity for them to come together for India’s independence movement. Such joint agitations forced the British government to free Annie, and announce Indian self-government as their ultimate aim. It’s paradoxical that both Ireland and India had nationalist, anti-British feelings, and same tricolour. Could it be that Pingali Venkayya was inspired by Annie’s red-green flag of 1917? Could it also be that Annie’s flag-flying act of protest was borrowed from Irish separatists’ anti-British reactions?

No democracy other than India has the national flag similar to a political party flag. Only in Communist China does red dominate both country and party flags, although with different symbols. Erstwhile USSR, where Communism originated, had a single red flag from 1922–1991. When Mikhail Gorbachov dissolved Soviet Union 1991, Russia returned to its 1883 flag of white-blue-red, although Russia’s Communist party flag remained red.

India’s large majority is unlettered, and generally people only register colours for political parties. When the masses see the Congress tricolor, they can believe they are being patriotic, recall those colours when casting a vote, and consider they’ve voted for their country. This is unfair benefit that one party is lapping up over others. Breaking away from INC in 1967, Congress (Indira) had to perforce change its symbol from the charkha. The national flag colours were retained, but was the change to a palm considered breakthrough?

Gandhiji had always called for change. Following his ideology, shouldn’t the Congress radically modernize the party? When you write INC in any Internet search engine, you invariably get the charkha flag. What’s the sense or economic growth associated with charkha today? It was a tactical idea fit for a passive movement during the freedom struggle. It was not meant to be visionary or encourage innovation. Only drastic, visible change will clear the confusion of what the real Congress flag is, and cleanse its image of taking undue advantage of the tricolor from the legacy of Gandhi to Nehru, Indira to Sonia. Such difference from the past will attract the youth.

Let’s not tamper with our national flag, it builds our pride. Our people own those colours and symbol, and are happily flaunting them inside cricket stadiums. Just as India’s Government has enacted laws on flag usage, they should prevent political parties and other brands from appropriating national symbols and colours to encash those accompanying sentiments. An appropriate timeline can be given to make the change-over. With their own different ideologies, other political parties too can find powerful identities that are not dependent on the national tricolor. Then ‘Brand India’ can proudly promote its tricolour while racing to become the world’s No. 1 economy in 2050, as reported by financial services group Citi. India wants to invite the young generation into politics, that’s essential for nation building. This calls for fundamental change in promoting and constraining national symbols and colours in today’s digital technology era that’s driven by globalization.

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Posted on 20-03-2011
Filed Under (CRIME) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit sen gupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

“Do you really want to die today?” asked the nurse, a small glass of deadly barbiturates in her hand. Michele Causse on her 74th birthday on 29 July 2010 was lying in bed dressed in a white suit, complete with a rose on her jacket buttonhole. In the backdrop of classical music, she replied cool headedly, not a trace of hesitation or regret in her voice, “Yes, it is my wish to die.”

My hair stands on end every time this incredible preparation of death flashes through my mind. I call this murder, killing someone even though they are asking for death. Do you think it is mercy killing? Just see how it happened with Michèle who went from France to die in Zurich. A French radical lesbian theorist and author, Michele’s criticism of heterosexuality is well known, "As long as a woman wishes to please a man, she is inauthentic… She does not have the integrity, the un-corruptibility that comes with not wishing to please." Accompanied by her girlfriend, Michele enjoyed a boat-ride at a Zurich lake, sat on a park-bench chatting, laughing, drinking coffee. Looking elegant with Dior dark-glasses, Michele then entered a home where a white-haired woman greeted her like she was welcoming a friend home. In reality this was Erika Luley, a nurse from Dignitas, an assisted suicide organization in Switzerland. Suffering from a non-lethal but incurable and extremely painful bone disease, Michele was here because she decided she had “the liberty to die.”

A video recording of her last minutes showed her voluntarily coming to bed, while Nurse Luley prepared the poisonous potion. The way the little glass exchanged hands, it appeared like Michele was accepting a stimulating shot of Cognac. Perhaps to obliterate pity and help Erika do her job, Michele asked, “Are you again going to remind me this will be my last drink? Of course, I know it.” Erika Luley smiled, warmly kissed Michele on both cheeks, Michele reciprocated. “How long will it take?” Michele queried with no anxiety on her face. “Two to five minutes. It will make you sleep, but I’ll give you some chocolate to sweeten your mouth.” Swallowing the fatal drink Michele chortled, “I want another chocolate, this is bitter.” She then chatted with her girlfriend, the official witness of Michele’s suicide act, hugged her goodbye, the nurse too, and closed her eyes. About 30 minutes later Erika took Michele’s pulse to ascertain her death, called Ludwig Minelli, the Swiss lawyer who founded Dignitas in 1998, and informed the police. As has happened for the over 800 suicide cases that Dignitas had assisted, the police, prosecutor and coroner opened an investigation that concluded with a dismissal.

In early March 2011, the controversial subject of euthanasia made headlines when India’s Law Commission decided to recommend that the Government allow its passive form. This joggled me back to when I first read about it. In my initial career in Paris I’d sought and got advice from famous Russian artist Maitre Arte. But more than that, I owe to him the big idea of reading a few classics all at the same time, but keeping an economic viewpoint, to develop a wider perspective of the world in different areas. I’d rush to FNAC at rue de Rennes and WH Smith, and will never forget their kindness in allowing me to pour over books for hours in their bookshops. I simultaneously read Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Sigmund Freud, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, Victor Hugo, Bhagavad Gita, Koran and Bible. My biggest learning about life and business came from these nonstop readings. While doing so, I was shocked to find the devil’s workshop of euthanasia was crafted as early as 1924 in Mein Kampf: “He who is bodily and mentally not sound and deserving may not perpetuate this misfortune in the bodies of his children. The völkische (people’s) state has to perform the most gigantic rearing-task here. One day, however, it will appear as a deed greater than the most victorious wars of our present bourgeois era.”

In 1939, the German parents of a severely deformed child wrote to Adolf Hitler seeking his permission for their child to be put to death. Hitler approved, obsessed as he was with “racial purity.” He then used this as precedent to establish euthanasia, his euphemistic term for systematic killing of the mentally and physically disabled in a clandestine Nazi murder program called Action T4. In Hitler’s words, such people were “unworthy of life.” The Nuremberg Trials after World War II found evidence that upto October 1941, about 275,000 people were killed under T4.

Greek word euthanasia, meaning “painless, happy death,” raises questions today of the morality of killing, whether a pain-suffering person’s consent is valid, what are the duties of doctors. Euthanasia is a pressing issue because advanced medical technology such as dialysis, intravenous feeding and respirators can sustain and extend life. Active euthanasia means assisting in the direct act of ending life, while passive euthanasia is discontinuing life-sustaining medical treatment for the terminally ill. But can helping people to die be a profession? With the motto, “To live with dignity, to die with dignity,” Dignitas charges patients €4,000 for preparation and suicide assistance, or €7,000 for funerals, medical costs and official fees.

Switzerland’s mountains and lakes conjure up everyone’s dream vacation. At the same time Switzerland also maintains a kind of hypocrisy. It’s the only country in the world that allows foreigners to come to commit suicide or to launder their ill-gotten money. Somehow staying profitably afloat by being neutral in the 2 World Wars, Switzerland became a haven for refugees, revolutionaries and espionage by Allied and Axis powers alike. Everyone banked with the Swiss, including the 6 million Jews that Hitler exterminated in the Holocaust.

Personally, I believe in the importance of human breath. Nobody can give life at will, human beings have human value. You may or may not agree, but I don’t believe any person has the right to cold-bloodedly take the life of another, whether in mercy killing or death sentence. Let’s hope India doesn’t take a decision in favour of euthanasia. That’s because, aside from moral, religious or human rights issues, there’s likelihood of it being misused.

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Posted on 13-03-2011
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit sen gupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Stimuli make human beings act differently; thinking is mere fuzz. That’s what I wrote last week. A few readers have asked me to demonstrate this with personal experiences, if any. All of you, my valuable readers, have plenty of examples of spectacular stimuli in your life too, you just need to open up your past and savour them.

My examples of stimuli are nothing exceptional, but from the beginning of my life they emanated from art and became turning points. In my childhood of extreme poverty in a Bengal village, living just 500 meters from our bamboo-hay-mud house was Subhinoy Kaku (uncle in Bengali). A graduate painter and artist, he worked as a clerk in the Electricity Board. Since I was 5-years-old, he had been my biggest attraction as he’d paint and sculpt. I learnt art from him, but he always cautioned me against following his footsteps. Art was his bad addiction, he said, it earned him no money. Incidentally, my father did once mention in passing that he’d seen an English film of a poor Dutch painter whose painting became bright after he migrated to France. He didn’t remember the artist’s name, but knew that his paintings fetched no earnings in his lifetime; he became famous later. Subhinoy Kaku’s powerful artistic expression has been my exceptional, propelling stimulus till today. Well-wishers in my neighbourhood could never understand why I entered Kolkata Government Art College, they called it “zoo.”

In 1971 our art college professor divided the class into groups for sketching outdoors. My group had a student from an affluent family. I needed mental preparation to converse with her, but her appreciation of my artwork broke the ice. She allowed me to work with her imported Winsor & Newton artist colors, brushes, something unimaginable for a refugee colony resident like me. I owe her generosity a debt. One day she wanted to take me to the American Library. I refused, saying I couldn’t afford it. She insisted it was free, but I couldn’t make her understand my intimidation to step into such a sophisticated place. In that plush, air-conditioned library, the first glossy art book I picked up had Vincent van Gogh’s gloomy “Potato Eaters” painted in Holland, 1885. As I turned the page, the brilliant “Sunflowers” van Gogh painted on reaching Paris, 1888, stared at me. I immediately recalled my father’s words. Witnessing this dramatic change in painting style kicked a big stimulus into me. From that day I became desperate to go to France.

This unreachable dream, with circus-like trapeze and tightrope-walking, somehow materialized with my mother’s help. She also scraped up $8, with which I left India without finishing college. Reaching Paris on a shivering winter day in 1973, I had no idea where I’d spend that night. I knew nobody, spoke no French. My only faint hope was an office address of a Bengali scientist I’d heard of.

Crossing the hurdles of leaving the airport, I arrived at his research laboratory, 103 Boulevard Raspail. The French receptionist didn’t understand my accent, so I wrote PYNE. She squinted at the paper and beamed, “Ah Pinn..!” When Dr. Pyne arrived, I started to narrate my story: I’ve come to be an artist in Paris, I’m ready to work anywhere, how can I stay on after my 3-month visitor visa expires? He looked totally at sea, didn’t know how to respond. But first he scurried me away from the reception to his lab. I quickly dipped into the big handbag I was clutching, and pulled out my sketches and paintings. That’s when my art buffeted me with the next big stimulus. The moment he saw my paintings, without hesitation, he announced I could stay with him until I found a job. His spontaneous munificence is my life’s unforgettable stimulus. Looking back, late Pyne Da’s (in Bengali Da means elder brother) largesse that was prompted by my paintings, has been the stimulus that’s chiseled me today.

After two months I met Jacques Gourdon, and sought a job at his famous lithography printshop 10 km from Paris. But the world oil crisis happened in 1973, and there was no question of immigration. So without a work permit I couldn’t be recruited. By instinct I’d carried my big black bag of sketches, water colours and paintings. When Mr. Gourdon saw my art, he seemed astonished, and wanted to give me an opportunity. Paying 500 francs per month from his own pocket, he hired me as a sweeper. France’s minimum salary then was 3500 francs, but in my dire straits, my art was my savior stimulus. Artists who frequented the lithography studio buoyed me up as a fellow artist, bought my paintings, so I could attend studies in fine art and graphic design schools. In 1976 the printshop closed. Renowned painter Yves Brayer, whom I’d met at the printshop, gave me the address of Navarre & Associates. My sudden showing up surprised Patrick Navarre as it was unexpected in those days to see an Indian looking for an ad agency job. Giving me no chance to open my art portfolio, he started talking of a cultural gap between India and France. Suddenly the phone rang. As he took the call, I dared to reach for paper and pencil from his desk and drew his sketchy portrait. When he finished, my sketch took him aback. His commented, “Incredible.” He hired me on-the-spot at 4000 francs. Art as stimulus gave me entry into the communication world, and increased my earning from 500 to 4000 francs.

Since then art has been my driving stimulus in corporate work projects globally. I’ve used art as a central pattern and stimulus to strategize corporate culture change, brands, industrial design and retailing. I’ve established that execution and activation will make my clients achieve their objectives. Art as stimulant paved my onward path from Shohidnagar refugee colony to Paris. Without thinking, I pursued Subhinoy Kaku. It was not thought but gentle nudging that made me enter American Library. I didn’t think of where I’ll stay, what I’ll do, flying into Paris equipped with $8. Dr Pyne didn’t think, but spontaneously welcomed me with no reference check. Nor did Jacques Gourdon think of legalities when he compensated me. Patrick Navarre gave me a break as a paste-up artist without thinking of my capacity in communication arts. So today, should I think, or should I act on stimulus impact?

To download above article in PDF i am indebted to stimuli

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Posted on 06-03-2011
Filed Under (PARADOX) by Shombit

The Financial EXPRESS article

Thinking, does it exist? Is it not infinite hazy vapour? Being a metaphor of an intangible human aspect, it’s very difficult to realize the corporal material of thought. Could thinking be the escape of intellectuals to place selected people at a higher societal level? The birth of a human being is probably the most valuable instant happening in the universe, but the exact time and date of conception is mysterious, and comes from “Don’t think.” Nobody can predict life’s end. So life’s beginning and termination are within a boundary beyond control and thought. So don’t think, push the act, and let imagination take over.

The towering thinkers of the world we eulogize materialized their thoughts very rationally in forms such as writing, painting, singing, designing, drawing, playing music, writing music, inventing. What made them do what they did is a big question mark. People often analyze a famous inventor’s ingenious thinking process just to rationalize it, but it’s simply an interpretation without truth or tangible base.

When you say “I’m thinking” in reality you’re getting impacted by stimuli that you physically react to. By default people absorb happenings around them, bounce with stimuli, get conditioned or are stimulated to imagine. Unlike animals, people act with conscious or unconscious judgments that shape them. Can thinking exist without stimulus from society, nature or the universe? Closed in a box with no stimulus whatsoever, would someone be able to think? Will he not become a vegetable? An inspiration spurs you to act, but thinking not being a stimulus, may be frigid.

The higher up in society we go, the more people talk of thinking. Does the problem of underprivileged people struggling for their next meal get solved by thought or by action? If inspite of poverty they hit the limelight, it’s because they chose to respond to stimuli to reach what’s unreachable within their means, not by thought but by friction provoked by stimulus.

In 1984, I encountered a big predicament. Should I continue to work successfully for others or should I create my own enterprise? Thinking, scribbling, thinking, thinking was stifling me. I wanted to break away from Parisian life for a few days, think about my future. I would often loiter around the beautiful Loire Valley 204 kms from Paris, weave into villages, castles, farms without any travel agenda, with unrestrained thinking. Sometimes sitting by Loire River’s beautiful pictorial French countryside, I’ve watched people cycling hurriedly, being intimate, old people playing the typical French petanque game, others just walking, kicking up dust. The serene landscape and vibrant action before me has filled many a drawing book with sketches as brushes, colors, palette and canvas are my constant companions.

In this thinking tour, as I was crossing rue Victor Hugo, from the river bank into the narrow Amboise Village lane where the road sharply takes an L turn, I saw a small old castle which had an old man’s gravure poster. Written on it was “I am a genius.” This intrigued me; I recognized those words uttered by Leonardo da Vinci when he was 39 years old. Somehow, inspite of being well versed with art in France, I’d ignored this place. With goose pimples running through me, I suddenly realized that I’d stumbled upon Leonardo’s home. This incredible shock was the stimulus that kicked me hard. And what did I discover? In 1516, King Francois Premiere had invited Leonardo to Amboise, providing him Clos Lucé to stay and work in. A famous painter, engineer, medical scientist, inventor from Italy, Leonardo arrived with three of his paintings, Mona Lisa, Sainte Anne and Saint Jean Baptiste, and lived here until he died on 2 May 1519.

Visiting da Vinci’s mansion, I found powerful stimuli that stopped me in my tracks. Framed on the wall were his words: “A day with a full load of work gives better sleep; only a life totally covered with work gives a tranquil death.” People refer to Leonardo as the Master thinker, but his personal statement put action above everything else. This made me understand that thinking may just be sophistication to distance the elite from the masses, but in actuality, the world moves with stimulus-action. So on my return to Paris, I resigned from being among the highest paid creative directors in France in the most famous design consulting company there, to founding my own company from scratch. Da Vinci’s 600-year-old words were my life-changing stimuli. If you go into his mansion you will see his kitchen, living room, bedroom which can really bring you closer to the Master. This experience revealed to me that the right stimulus at the right atmosphere and time of life makes you act to take breakthrough steps.

Thinking is considered an intellectual pre-requisite in the world of business. It probably means buying more time to get impacted by multiple stimuli. It’s possible that people choose to get wedged in with varied incitements to create something new. Perhaps how, using stimulants, you prepare your imagination ingredients is more crucial than thinking. You may need different types of stimuli at different times of life according to your individual character.

If you’re recognized as a genius, your brilliance was not nature’s endowment. You’d have chosen to instill strong stimuli that transformed you exceptionally for society to distinguish you. Not everyone can receive extraordinary stimulus. The common person’s life may be boring, with no stimulus that allows imaginative juices to flow. The mastermind generates provocative stimulus that whirl into his mind’s eye. Responding to incomparable stimulus will obviously empower his unearthing of new dimensions, creating something perceptibly different. Without analyzing this, people say he’s a thinker. But that’s no compliment, as mere thinkers contribute nothing to society. So don’t think, choose stimulus, act!

Was the twice Nobel prizewinner for physics and chemistry, Marie Curie, a thinker or a hard worker confronting laborious stimuli? For four years she and husband Pierre boiled, stirred, poured and distilled tons of pitchblende to produce a tiny amount of radium, which became among 20th century’s best discoveries. Leonard da Vinci’s contribution is not fuzzy thought but actual engineering models, scientific anatomical drawings he’d done that still propel us today.

"Don’t think" is all about endless imagination beyond thinking. When you don’t think, imagination fills up your mindspace, thrilling you with free-flow connect-to-connect-to-connect. Aren’t people tired of thinking? The more exceptional the stimulus that stimulates your imagination, the more creative, industrious or uniquely differentiating your resulting act will be. So don’t think. Get hit by stimulus, act to create shock-of-the-new to change the world.

To download above article in PDF Dont think choose stimulus

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