In our race to succeed and excel, we often forget what is truly important. In the chase for glory and glamour, the value of simple and elementary pleasures are forgotten. They say that you realize the true value of something only when it is lost. They say that our most valuable possession is not our house, not our car and not our most expensive gadget, but it is life itself. Unfortunately, the value of life is realized only when we are confronted by death itself.
On January 11, 2013 a life was lost. While many other lives were lost on the same day as well, I’m going to highlight just one today. One life that wasn’t truly lost, but was taken. The end of free content on the internet sends shivers down many a spine. For all our intelligence, power and connectivity, the most that we could do as individuals when faced with this possibility a few months ago was to share meaningless photographs across social networks and sign baseless petitions on websites that would amount to and achieve absolutely nothing. For many, the end of free content on the internet and censorship was a myth. It was incomprehensible that websites like Wikipedia would no longer exist and that we would have to pay to seek out information online. For many, these events went unnoticed and eventually, were deemed inconsequential.
Not for Aaron Swartz. At the age of 14, he achieved more than what many of us will achieve in our entire lifetime. At that tender age, he co-authored RSS, a family of web feed formats that are used today by the likes of Google to accumulate information from various websites on the internet and present it to you in a simple package or stream, like on their news page. While still in school, Swartz created an online encyclopedia that allowed people to add and edit information in it, long before Jimmy Wales came up with Wikipedia. Swartz was instrumental in the fight against SOPA last year and believed in the concept of free information for everyone.
The world isn’t kind to activists. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in the streets or behind a computer screen. They’re either neglected by those very people for whom they seek justice and a better world, or they are shunned and thrown behind bars by those that they oppose. JSTOR, a digital library that stores issues of academic papers, scientific journals and books, claimed that Aaron Swartz had hacked into their network, downloaded close to five million files with the intent of freely distributing them on the internet. Swartz wanted information to be free, and JSTOR was a trove of scientific information that was very useful for students worldwide. He was looking to make research material and scientific information easier for everyone to access, for free.
On reclaiming the articles from Aaron Swartz, JSTOR decided not to press charges. However, in July 2011 U.S Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz charged Swartz with computer fraud in addition to a number of other charges that racked up a total of 35 years of jailtime in addition to a million dollars in fines. In spite of JSTOR not pressing charges, the U.S Attorney decided to go ahead with the trial. If found guility, Aaron Swartz would spend pretty much his entire life in jail. And all of this not for crimes against humanity or for terrorism, but for trying to release academic information for free online.
Aaron Swartz faced decades in prison, simply for attempting to make the internet better. At the age of 26, on January 11 2013, Aaron Swartz took his own life.
They say that suicide is an act of cowardice, but in the case of Aaron Swartz, it is most definitely not so. The human brain is wired to fight for survival, it is our basic instinct to live. Many of us cannot even fathom the hopelessness that Swartz must have felt after being told about the potential sentence he faced. A 26 year old faced with 35 years in prison, for a “crime” as trivial as this is more than just ridiculous, and to be the one to carry out that sentence after striving your entire life for something as essential as the freedom of information and then being sentenced to life in prison for it, is daunting to say the very least.
The system is broken. It’s depressing how murderers, rapists and terrorists get away without facing any jail-time due to minor technicalities. Yet, in the eyes of the legal system, individuals like Aaron Swartz are Public Enemy #1.
The death of Aaron Swartz was not suicide, and it is not murder. It is something much greater. The death of Aaron Swartz is our failure as a species.
Rest in Peace Aaron, God knows you deserve it.
It’s a common trait in all of mankind to make absolutely ridiculous promises. Most of the time we make promises to others, but each new year gives us the opportunity to make a couple to ourselves. New Year’s Resolutions are, at best, a to-do list for the first week of January. There is a not a single person on the planet who has ever made a New Year’s resolution and actually gone through with it, apart from maybe Adolf Hitler in 1939. And everyone knows how that worked out. The problem with resolutions is simple, we make too many of them and they’re too grand. They’re often impossible feats that we hope to accomplish through sheer willpower and motivation, something that the dawn of the new year makes momentarily seem possible but in the long run turn out to be beyond the bounds of possibility itself.
I’ve never been keen on resolutions, and I’ve never made any. Primarily because I feel that if you’re truly looking to change yourself, you won’t wait for the turn of the calendar year, a transition from one month to another to do so. It’ll happen automatically through an internal sense of a need for betterment if you truly feel it’s something worth changing. If we’re going to stick to making resolutions, here’s how it should work. For everyone to truly better themselves, they shouldn’t make resolutions, they should ask their friends to make resolutions for them. That would make things a whole lot more interesting and would probably cause a couple of public cat fights as well, something we really don’t get enough of. It’ll also give everyone a true sense of what they should be changing about themselves, rather than what change they perceive will be better for them. If you want to find out the truth about a person, that person should be last one you ask.
I’ve been told I’m a cynical person by nature. That I don’t believe there’s an inherent good in people. From the tone of this article so far, that should probably be something you think about me as well. I’ll accept that. I’m cynical, I see the worst in people and I believe that Man is the most ruthless of all species. We’re the only species on the planet truly capable of faking an emotion to get a situation to swing our way and we’re the only ones on the planet who can be shamelessly deceptive and take pride in doing so. We feed off lies and manipulation and pretty much everyone in the higher echleons of society or of an organization is a master manipulator and prizes his core values of savagery and remorselessness. It’s a desolate outlook to have of the world, but it’s mine through experience and deduction and I’ll take it.
I’ve been discouraging everyone I know from making resolutions and scoffing at every Facebook status that talks about the new year being better and bringing with it a sudden magical shift in their lives that sees them prosper in every avenue of life. I found it absurd, foolish and downright inane that a change in the calendar year, a mere progression from one month to another was the very foundation of all these wishes and dreams. It dampened my faith that people would learn to be more objective about life and accept that it’s a continuum. Troubles carry over from one year to the other, no one gets a clean slate moving from one year to the next.
And then, there were the fireworks. A tradition, if you will, followed world over on the eve of the New Year. A spectacular display of light, sound and colour in the sky for everyone to see, for everyone to look up at and for a few moments, get lost in. To break away from reality. To escape the continuum. It was then that it suddenly hit me. While everyone’s eyes were trained on the fireworks, I scanned the sea of faces around me and saw in them not absurd wishes, not unreasonable dreams, not magical desires for a year to escalate them to the top of the world, but just plain and simple hope.
The simple hope of having a slightly less stressful time ahead, the slight desire that this year isn’t too hard on them and doesn’t take too much out of them. It is Man’s concept of time that allows us to take in life one year at a time. Birthdays, major festivals, anniversaries, they’re all celebrated once in a year. One point, in each year, for us to celebrate something that means so much to us. One point in a year to celebrate our birth and the gift of life and one point in the year to celebrate the bond we share with loved ones. Life’s hard on everyone. Everyone’s facing lies, manipulation and trouble each day of their lives. People get battered, bruised, but they get up and face another day. And at the turn of the year, they say a silent prayer in their heart that the next year brings with it a few less bruises.
Escape the continuum. Take it in a year at a time. I hope this year is abundant with moments that make you smile, fill you with pride and give you a sense of accomplishment.
Happy New Year.
I am a proud Indian.
I come from a family of patriots, a family of true patriots. My blood relatives have served, and continue to serve in the Indian Armed Forces. There is never a prouder moment for me than when I see the the tricolor flying high in a world event such as the Olympic games. I’m proud of our nation’s history and I am proud of its heroes. I take pride in thinking and believing that our nation is one rich with culture and one with a heritage unmatched throughout the globe. I take pride in the fact that young children are taught about morals and values at a young age and that we are taught about culture and respect for elders from the day we are born.
I think that’s what sets us apart from the rest of the world. We respect other people’s culture, we listen to the history of their country and even when they proclaim their nation as the greatest in the world, we smile and nod along with them. We’re not ones to start a tirade about how India is better, for we don’t need to. In our heart of hearts, there is only one greatest nation that the world has ever seen and that is ours. And because we truly believe so, we don’t need to force our opinions onto others and convince them of it. For they have not experienced an Indian life, an Indian upbringing and they have not heard stories about the hardships that our ancestors went through. They will never be able to relate to our stories and they will not understand that a truly great nation does not take pride in its technological advancement and scientific knowledge; it takes pride in its values.
After spending two years abroad, I’ve heard all that there is to hear about Indians. I’ve been told they’re messy, they’re cheap, they smell and that their cooking reeks. I’ve seen advertisements for apartments that clearly state “No Indians” and I’ve been refused entry to nightclubs and been looked down upon in upscale events simply because of the color of my skin. I’ve been physically attacked for being Indian by an ignorant drunk and I’ve felt unwanted on more than one occasion. I’ve wanted to lash out, to portray extreme rage that I often feel when faced with such circumstances, but the reasonable side in me always beckons me to overlook the ignorance and shortsightedness of others. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned a world where people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. These people have failed him, I should feel bad for them.
After having gone through all of that, I am still a proud Indian. It’s going to take more than the ignorant and the uneducated to get under my skin and question the belief I have in my culture and heritage. And then I woke this morning. My Facebook newsfeed was overflowing with information on a Delhi gang-rape, about a harmless young girl attacked in a moving bus who is currently in the Intensive Care Unit. Digging into news stories revealed that 572 rapes were reported in Delhi last year compared to 635 this year. And then I was informed that out of the 635, not one has got justice. Not one.
My heart broke. The first line of the Indian National Pledge states, “India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters.” Is this how we treat our sisters? In a country with a widely celebrated festival called Raksha Bandhan which celebrates the relationship between a brother and a sister, one in which a brother vows to protect his sister, you’d expect things to be different, a whole lot different. Women are being treated as objects, they fear for their safety as soon as the sun has set and they constantly look over their shoulder. They live in fear in a nation that takes pride in its freedom.
I will not tolerate this. I can overlook being called cheap, I can neglect being called smelly and I can tolerate being called a curry-eater. I can discount an apartment listing that says “No Indians” and I am willing to take no notice of people who claim to hate Indians for their long-winded ignorant reasons. But being called a citizen of a country of rapists is something I will not tolerate.
Our values are greater than this and our upbringing has taught us different. Women in my nation deserve to travel freely without having to worry about their safety. The ambitious ones deserve to work into the long hours of the night and not worry about being mauled on the way home after a tiring day. Those who work out and strive to stay fit and look beautiful deserve to wear the clothes that compliment them and not worry about them being ripped off the moment they step out into the open. They deserve to be protected by their brothers when in need and they deserve to have crowds stand up for them instead of turning a blind eye.
For everyone waiting for a miracle, it’s not coming. Change is not easy and it’s not going to happen on its own. We all must play a part. For every Indian male reading this: Tomorrow, do a random act of kindness for an Indian woman who is a stranger to you. Stop your car to let her cross the road, help her with a heavy bag, pay for her lunch or just smile and open a door for her. While this might seem trivial to you, it will be your part in trying to make them believe that good men still exist. To make them believe that an Indian man still thinks of them as a sister, still respects her as a woman and still takes pride in her for having the strength to live in such trying times.
In fact, why do it tomorrow? Do it today. And why do it just today or tomorrow? Do it everyday.
India Against Corruption can wait, India Against Rape is the need of the hour.
I am a proud Indian. All Indians are my brothers and sisters.
Saena comes to life with the Earth. The first few rays of the sun streak across the vast grassland, bringing it to life. There are a few rumblings already in the herd, Saena isn’t the first, but she is among the first to wake up to the glorious sight of an African sunrise. With the shake of her head and a soft grunt, Saena ambles along the thin tall Savannah grass, making a soft rustling sound. Saena is forty two years old, and if times had been simpler, she would have been sure to live for another thirty odd years. But times are no longer simple and Saena is wise enough to understand that. She is one of the roughly 600,000 African elephants that remain on the planet, and while Saena hasn’t been informed so by experts, thousands of years of evolution have given her the instinct to know that her kind is endangered.
Saena is not the matriarch of the herd, but she commands a lot of respect from the younger elephants, primarily due to her heroics three years ago. Her herd remembers the day well, for elephants are cursed with the gift of a very sharp memory. Saena wishes she could erase some memories, but nature will not have it so. A few dark memories should remain within us for us to truly understand the value of good times perhaps. Saena moves further along until she reaches her two calves, one male and one female. They are still asleep, still in their childhood years and Saena looks at them lovingly for a moment. A rustling to her left reveals another advancing adult female elephant, Saena’s sister. Saena angles her body to face her sister, and inter-twines her trunk with her sister’s.
Having said hello to her sister, Saena is glad she has family around her. Family will protect her and her young ones from the new threat that is picking up pace along the grasslands. She strokes her young calves across their backs with her trunk, urging them to wake up so they can join the herd and head to the lake for their first drink of the day. The young elephants of the herd move their feet quickly to keep pace with the larger and wiser ones of the herd. Saena is seven and a half feet tall, about an average size for a female African elephant. She weighs a little over five thousand pounds and moves swiftly with the herd. The matriarch leads them to the large lake, a little over a mile away. Through her grunts and soft rumblings, the matriarch is able to direct the herd in the right direction if they go astray, but most of them are now familiar with the path they take for the lake every morning, what with the razor sharp memory and all.
Saena moves briskly along the right periphery of the herd and on reaching the lake, nudges her two young ones into the lake and sprays gallon after gallon of water on them playfully. She is able to store two gallons of water at a time in her enormous trunk, but does not need to fill it to full capacity just yet. The water reaches halfway up Saena’s tree trunk like legs, and with a little effort she is able to move within the like. As her young ones play, Saena slowly moves away from the lake after getting her morning’s worth of water. She slowly walks away from the lake and stops, scanning the horizon. The world has changed fast in the last few years, Saena and her herd have been introduced to a new and unusual kind of threat. Read more…