Are we living in 1984?

Are we living in 1984?


Are we beginning to live in 1984? This fear has been present in my mind ever since there has been an increased disturbance all across India, my home. Those of you who have read 1984, the classic novel by George Orwell (published in 1949), will be able to relate why it is a ‘fear’ in my mind and not just a simple thought. It is not only about the government’s new policies and the way they have been articulated, and misarticulated, that is disappointing, it is also the general state of affairs (rapes, riots, apathy) and the violent public response to everything around us that seems to be breaking the system, the harmony, and to be preventing any kind of slow healing that may have been possible in the same scenario.

More and more we see an increasing retaliation to everything, without even seeing the complete picture or without waiting for the results of the first few steps that have been taken/introduced in the name of development. While I do not understand why the Government of India failed to articulate its new policies well for clear understanding in a nation that is as diverse and large as ours, I detest the violent retaliation countrywide without giving a benefit of the doubt or inviting a debate on the matter. Violence can never be the path to peace and no dialogue can be achieved with a sword in hand.

With all the disturbance going on, my mind has been constantly drawing parallel to 1984. Seeing the way things are in the country today, at times I feel we are living in 1984 … I wish it never happens in real for it is a fearful thought. For those of you who haven’t read the book, here’s a spoiler alert: It is an unpleasant read but it is also a classic for many reasons, as you can sense from this article.

Here are some quotes from the book 1984 that, I feel, hint at the state of affairs that have been existing in the country for years, something only imagined by George Orwell in the 1940s.

“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.”

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.”

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”

“Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.”

“Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.”

“Big Brother is Watching You.”

“Winston Smith: Does Big Brother exist?
O’Brien: Of course he exists.
Winston Smith: Does he exist like you or me?
O’Brien: You do not exist.”

“The masses never revolt of their own accord, and they never revolt merely because they are oppressed. Indeed, so long as they are not permitted to have standards of comparison, they never even become aware that they are oppressed.”

“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

“Inequality was the price of civilization.”

“A loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

“Life, if you looked about you, bore no resemblance not only to the lies that streamed out of the telescreens, but even to the ideals that the Party was trying to achieve.”

“nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws.”

“The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant: the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism.”

“I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY”

“Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain.”

“The consequences of every act are included in the act itself.”

The quotes above are very contextual today in the way we and our thinking are being ‘managed’ by all sorts of politicians, in and out of power. There is a strong need for every Indian to rise above individual, and community, mindset and see ourself as a citizen of a great nation first. We must realize our national interest, our potential as a great nation, our unity in diversity, and our deep-rooted culture of acceptance of all faiths. Irrespective of who represents us in the Parliament, citizens need to unite to be able to manage who represents us than allow it to happen vice versa.

I hope that Orwell’s fiction remains a fiction, forever.

NGO, Designers Create Desk-cum-Backpack for Students in Rural India

NGO, Designers Create Desk-cum-Backpack for Students in Rural India


Most schools in rural India can’t afford basic supplies like desks, and most of the students attending them can’t afford backpacks. To address this, Bombay-based nonprofit Aarambh worked with designers to come up with an ingenious solution that can transform old cardboard boxes into a convertible desk and school bag.

The result, Help Desk, folds quickly from one thing to the other; at the end of the day, a few simple moves turn the desk back into a bag to carry books home. The design ended up costing only about 20 cents to make since it’s made from used cardboard. The designers prototyped a few different variations to test with the students, looking for a solution that would be ergonomically correct as a desk and is also easy to build. So far, the final design has been given to 10,000 students at 600 schools.

The desk-bags don’t last forever, especially since cardboard doesn’t stand up well to the rain. But the team is working on developing a low-cost material that can be coated on the surface to help it repel water. Right now, they only last about six months to a year. But anytime they need to be replaced, it’s simple to make again. Read more

The Afghan

The Afghan


The AfghanThe Afghan by international bestselling author Frederick Forsyth is definitely a superb one-time read. This was the first time I read Forsyth.

The fiction (published in 2006) is based on an Al-Qaeda attack on an unspecified location in the US and how the hero helps the intertwined US-UK government security agencies in preventing the country from being destroyed.

The plot

The novel begins in Pakistan where a joint US-UK-Pakistan security agencies’ raid against Al-Qaeda operatives uncovers documents concerning a planned, large terrorist attack in the US.

Mike Martin, a retired American secret agent, is chosen to impersonate an Afghan prisoner Izmat Khan (held at Guantanamo Bay) and enter the Al-Qaeda camp to find out the time and location of the planned attack. Martin is picked for the job as he was born and brought up in Iraq and therefore has a command of Arabic and Pashto languages.

Izmat Khan, popularly known as the Afghan at G. Bay and in Al-Qaeda, is portrayed as a heroic Afghan freedom fighter determined to have vengeance against America following the bombing of his village in the Tora Bora mountains which killed his family.

Martin impersonates “the Afghan” and from there on he travels alone into the unknown world of Al-Qaeda. He goes through various interrogations and checks by different Al-Qaeda members, including “the Sheikh”, Osama bin Laden.

As the story unfolds, Forsyth subtly unveils the general nature of the Al-Qaeda’s planned attack and leaves Martin to realize it and act.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Few things that I found interesting:

  • The descriptions—of the Afghan, Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda operations, US and UK security agencies and their operations, the Guantanamo Bay—are very detailed and interestingly put. You almost believe what the author has described.
  • The plot.
  • The in-depth research of the matter, cultures, languages, operations, and psychology depicted throughout.
  • The characters have been created with great detail and background information, making them almost come alive.
  • Different languages and cultures have been described very neatly, giving lot of exposure to the reader to adjust to different characters and their traits.
  • The momentum of the storyline, climax and the end is nicely maintained.

Things I didn’t like:

  • Few descriptions of the ship movements, security guards, and agents go on and on and that do not hold so much value as far as plot is concerned. I found them boring and had to skip a lot to read the crux.
  • The writing style goes back and forth and the shift is quite sudden at times, giving a sense of incompleteness.

In totality, The Afghan was interesting because of its subject and well researched writing, so much so that I would want to read Forsyth again.

Sprucing up Language

Sprucing up Language


It is strange how fast things change. Technology is ever evolving and so is language ¾ the change has become constant. In my school days we used to be taught that English language evolved over many years but now there were certain standard forms of words, letter writing, and phrases used in “formal” conversations and writings and denoted the usage of “good quality” language.

Now that school of thought is history. Everything has changed from what I learnt in school and the way I edit/write today. The language style, spellings, punctuation uses, and many such things have changed from the way I understood them in my childhood and used to be grilled in by the teachers. And I am not in my 30s yet!

As an editor, therefore, it has become imperative for me to keep updated with the changes in English language. I have been reading a lot past few weeks about editing lessons and what some of the forums have to say on editing guidelines. I found some good links which I thought it best to share here.

In one of my regular visits to Poynter.org, website for journalists and editors, I happen to click on News University. And that opened a plethora of lessons on editing, writing and what not. A must see.

I registered and took a course on “Cleaning Your Copy”. The course teaches everything an editor needs to be skilled with: Grammar, Style, Punctuation, and Spellings. Each section is a pack of lessons. It also teaches you things like proper sentence construction, active/passive voice, modifiers, pronouns, etc. Moreover, the website offers tips on reporting, writing, management, and everything you can imagine related with journalism and media.

Obviously books are a big help when it comes to editing. Style manuals such as Chicago Manual of Style are followed by most (non-technical) publishing houses in India. But to test yourself or for a fast access to grammar lessons you can visit Protrainco.com. I found this website’s grammar archives very useful. You can get some very good language tips here.

Wanted to provide a Youtube.com video on books editing, but there’s nobody there giving tips on that one.

Here’s one from me: It is always good to keep grooming your language skills and the best way is to keep practicing (conversing) with people who speak the language better and more fluently than you do. And sign up with some good language forums. Hope this helps. I may suggest some such forums next time.

While I go back to reading some more grammar newsletters, enjoy life!

 

Useful Links

Mayfield Handboolk

Good Grammar, Good Style Archive at Protrainco.com

Human Psyche Put in Plain Words

Human Psyche Put in Plain Words


Reading a book is not an easy task for me. Reason: As an editor I read all day long and therefore bedtime reading is mostly for getting a good sleep… in five minutes (average speed: 1-2 pages)!

Last week I finished reading Blink: the power of thinking without thinking, the bestselling book written by Malcolm Gladwell.

Well, the book is very well written without doubt. The way he has described human psyche is not only very true but wonderfully explained.

Although I don’t read much of such kinds of books because they are too loaded with examples to prove the same point, this one was interesting in the following ways:

  • It is an easy read. Its matter-of-fact tone helps an average reader like me to easily understand some aspects of human psychology and how it works. 
  •  

  • The examples cited in the book are very basic and are explained interestingly, so it is easy to understand and remember them when they are cited later in the book. 
  •  

  • There is one major argument that flows through the book – thin slicing – and each minor argument connects to the major argument, making it more realistic, grounded, and digestible.

Although I took almost three months to read the book, I liked it when I finished reading it. For a fast reader, I am sure it is a good book. For a slow reader like me, it is a good book if read in less than two months!

And since we are speaking about the human psyche here, unlike Gladwell, Mark Gungor talks about it in a funny way:

 

Watch the video from YouTube.com to understand the difference between male brain and female brain. Get a laugh!