Inaugural Blog Day ends, and I’m off the mark

Inaugural day of my blog comes to an end. Meant for an assignment but planning to take it up seriously, was long overdue anyway. Just realised how complicated wordpress looks like. Which further makes me realise how much time I’ve wasted on things that I could have instead invested in understanding this portal and authored more posts.

Better late than never, though.

Hello, WordPress. Looking forward to many encounters with the hot coffee beneath the cool froth.

Beneath The Froth

This happens almost every time. I sip onto the rich, thick foam of coffee and gracefully acknowledge it as my first encounter with the romantic journey that would last one cup (at a time). After a couple of subsequent sips from the creamy layer, my tongue is met – to its burning surprise – with the hot liquid coffee liquid. The tip of my tongue goes numb, and quite so to my advantage for if it could then speak, it would remind me of the numerous times it’s cried out to be careful and not be misled by the lukewarm texture of the forth. 

The steaming coffee after the creamy froth is like a jolt to my sleeping thought. It reminds me of how the surface of any situation – despite the rich, creamy and gentle countenance – has a lot to more to offer. The depth of this situation is multi-dimensional and it should be approached with ease and calm lest you get carried away with the creamy froth and burn your tongue before you can even enjoy the coffee. The first sip of the hot coffee is always critical, and more often than not, this inaugural sip is the difference between the joy of your receptive tongue or the numb sensation of a repulsive one. Quite to our disappointment, the depth of our situation can at times be contrary to its froth. How often have we left our coffee unfinished despite slurping onto a delectable froth?

I believe the same is with the world around us. There’s a lot to be mined and learnt from the elements of society. Scratching the surface can only be a start to an endless quest to understand more about a situation. In every failure could be a story of vanity, and in every success a legacy of disappointments. Every new concept ever propounded could have remnants of what we already know, and everything we know could have a surprise of the unknown. Everything that seems comfortably predictable could have an unearthed reason for uncertainty. Everything that makes you unique could have a connect with me, and everything that’s peculiar to my life, could surprisingly be peculiar to yours too.

Beneath the gentle froth is hot, steaming coffee. And if the temperatures of both match perfectly according to your tongue, something’s really wrong. Heat the coffee again…look for new information.

The Mirage of Money

Image

I stare at the still frame of what I believe was my early indoctrination into the concept of money and wealth. The memory of this photographed moment is rather fuzzy. I was told that I’d have to drop a coin or two every day in this little ‘piggy bank’. (And till date, I never quite understood the significance of this little box shaped as an animal)

And there I stood with a coin almost half-way into the slit of the porcine back, but still held gently between my fingers. It seems like I was hesitant to drop the coin into the box. What I don’t remember is the sound of the coin meeting the base of the metallic bank. It’s like a frozen moment. There’s an air of uncertainty in this monochrome image clicked by my mother, the fear of unknown.

Money has created a world of its own and mankind has made it an integral part of his universe. But the question that many people have asked and to their dismay, have always had to be content with unsatisfactory, and sometimes an abstract answer is – “What is Money?”

Money – the cause of both material pleasure and anxiety. It is the driver of most arguments and the agent of many settlements. We hoard it in case we don’t die, or sometimes, we spend it all knowing that we eventually would. There’s variety in money too, going beyond the usual differences in colours and denominations. There’s good money, black money, blood money, booty money, hush money. It has managed to boost sentiments of the general public, and at the same time has brought their dreams crashing down.

What is it in this instrument of paper – the currency that usually represents money- that has been detrimental in deciding as much as the leadership of nations? What is apart from the complex and often argued irreplicable chemicals in use that gives money some intrinsic value, something of its own to cherish. Is there anything called value that could justify this sensitive relationship we have with money?

We are married to money and we fear to divorce it. The trust we have managed to put into this mysterious lover is insurmountable. Money has never managed to assign itself some value and it has always been at the mercy of individual perceptions and validations. Like the character of Gekko said in the 1987 film ‘Wall Street’ – “Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred – from one perception to another. Like magic. “ So if we tried to define money, it would be something ‘X’ that buys us something ‘Y’, with that something ‘Y’ having an implicit value. So a commodity vouches for the worth of the money that has bought, thus proving its innocence in this quest for merit and a rational assessment.

But think of this – are the stacks of jeans in a Levi’s store or the gleaning MacBooks lined up in an Apple Store devoid of any value till we assign it a monetary backing? The money that exchanges hands for these commodities does little to support the worth of its construction, engineering and labour in its entirety. And to be fair, the fact that pieces of paper adjudge the value of such wonder products is, to put it humbly, a little demeaning of sorts.

This intriguing nature of money elevates in criticality when the entire macro scenario of a country is regulated with a money generating mechanism. The sub-prime crisis, the credit crunch, cash-strapped banks lobbying for bailouts, and today, entire nations demanding for the same altogether has led to a phenomenon called Quantitative Easing, or QE. It is a tool used by Central Banks to increase the influx of money in the market. As arbitrary as it sounds, it is indeed simply printing more currency, and voila, the result of such printing gives us another member to the family of names – Fiat Money. This controversial mechanism pumps billions of dollars into the economy annually. Once created, it dissolves in the market like magic. But it does all this not without entering the realm of sensitive economic variables, like inflation.    

So much for being devoid of any implicit value, money fails us on any ornamental worth as well. Pick up a note of any denomination and you read a text “I promise to pay the bearer on demand a sum of (denomination)” It has a historic context and it means that upon producing  this currency, the holder is promised to be redeemed Gold of the same value. So that no one is left baffled by this revelation, the previous statement started with the words ‘historic context’.

This scenario of exchanging gold for money would prevail in the Gold Standard System. But after several tries of revival, most importantly through the Bretton Woods Agreement post World War II, the Gold Standard System was abandoned in early 1970s. It now remains inked on the notes as a rhetoric statement that would never make sense. If we took the Gold out of the question, like we rightly should today, an inquiry could sound funny. If the bank promises to pay me a sum of Rs. 100 for a sum that I already have, why do we even need or have this promise? It’s a paradox of its kind – a promise that cannot be kept because it has already been fulfilled.  

Citing these very elusive aspects of money and also to combat the pressing problems of the global economy, some economists now argue that a return to the Gold Standard would be a worthy alternative. We couldn’t know if this return is the answer to the pressing problems of the economy, but what we do know is that this would help the Central Banks of all countries make sense of a statement that has lost a direction it was never headed for.

I try to recollect those hazy moments from my past. I probably don’t remember listening to the sound of the chink of coin because it never made any. After all, I was yet to grow up in a world where money quite comprehensively reigned over sentiments, mood, success, failure, celebration and dismay and where money made the loudest noise. I was yet to grow up in a world where the difference between value and materialism would be bridged by money, where people placed their undying faith in an instrument. And in a world where people, apart from carrying their own identities and the pictures of their loved ones, would carry a few inexplicable promises in their pockets.

Everybody Has An Ayatollah

Ayatollah Khomeini Returns to Iran During Iranian Revolution

Iran’s theocratic system is marked by one of the most simplest (simplest only to the layman’s tired mind) form of rule – though there is democracy where the population votes for its President periodically, the final say with regard to countries most important and strategic decisions resides with one man who basks in probably the most envious titles in this world – The Supreme Leader of Iran. Also a spiritual leader of sorts, he is known as an ‘Ayatollah’ – which means the ‘Sign of Allah or God’ in the Arabic language. The final dictate resides with him and to appease him and guard his happiness is an obligation every citizen of the country promises to bear in thoughts and actions. It’s a form of salutation and respect he enjoys because of the rare position he is bestowed with. The significance that this individual enjoys in the highest rank of national and political affairs is sometimes dismissed as absolutism, and sometimes held as proof to state the redundancy of any affiliation to democracy in the country. And often this political structure is seen as the paradox of modern Iran.

What matters to me at this moment, for a change, are not the implications of this theocracy and the challenges it could pose to the strategic functioning of a country. Rather, I’ve felt a queer urge to peep into private lives and observe what looks like possibly a similar sort of arrangement. It wouldn’t surprise anyone, it did not surprise me. But the slightest possibility of making this interesting connect fascinates me, and at times this explanation could help to fall back on when accepting a few unpleasant realities of life. And even if one cannot accept them, the unbreakable pattern and arrangements that come out of such explanations may make sure that one’s personal aspirations reveal the impossibility of a situation and corner him away from a peaceful and happy scenario.

Like it or not, but my surroundings scream out that everybody has an Ayatollah. If not the same as the one from the theocratic set up, then a more refined version – the Ayatollah he should be. Each one has that one person in life that is critical to his or her daily functioning. The Ayatollah doesn’t merely witness higher presence of people around him, but their minds and their thoughts tug along to the well-being of the Ayatollah. The rate at which this happens is constant, which only increases with time as the Ayatollah’s expertise in dealing with the person’s private matters increases over time contributing to the greater significance of his presence. Placed at a pedestal that is highest in stature, the Ayatollah of Iran is not disconnected with the dynamics of the Iranian economy pertaining to agriculture, trade, power generation and other such elements.

The Ayatollah of the man is at the pulse of his endeavours and constantly in check of the vagaries of his life. Often the first one to receive important information, he is the most experienced to analyse and use this information to improve the person’s life. People live by a single minded dedication and affiliation to their respective Ayatollahs. Largely insulated from developments from the outer perimeters of this strong relationship, they are intrinsically driven to worry about the Ayatollah in times of distress. Their support for the leader is vehement and leaves little room for challenge from those who may seek an occasional chance of stealing some of it. And if the others do manage to fathom the support, they’ll realise it wasn’t the support they ever aspired for, it would never be a support marked by robust vehemence.

The care and concern for the Ayatollah is clearly a reciprocation of what they duly receive – anything divine is a blessing, and blessed is the Ayatollah and his people. All thoughts, strategies and plan revolve around the combinations of how acceptable it would be to the beloved Ayatollah. The person feels a sense of solitude and calm with the Ayatollah’s presence in a noisy crowd, and the person feels at ease with his mere memory without his physical presence. And all this, while others silently strategize their next move to inch closer to form this blessed relationship, only to find their ambitions playing a prank with their minds. Discouraged, they retreat to mull over the present situation and plan their next move, while the blessed ones have seen another layer of bond blossom in their shared space.

Referring to them in their absence becomes an added task which the men beautifully execute. This constant reminder becomes imperative for others to hear lest they may feel they’ve spotted an outside chance of getting closer. Their place and roles in the lives of these men is duly defined at that moment, and their role in this world is best never discussed about. Any form of opposition to or criticism of the Ayatollah by the others is instinctively resisted with an arsenal of love, affection, reverence and an unwavering concern for his happiness. His happiness is made to be impregnable over time and not be susceptible to any form of discomfit that may arise through an unpleasant remark – be it rhetoric or a substantiated opinion.  Any strain in this relationship – genuine or trivial, between the Ayatollah and his men is a cause of deep concern. A touch of sadness is visible in their demeanour. Fixing this strain becomes top priority to avoid the possibility of a decision delay from the supreme command, or perhaps simply to avoid the desolated feeling one would get of not being with your go-to man. Though not formidable, an air of incompleteness reflects in their eyes and stays on till they realise that long and warm greetings were not exchanged for two days too many. A few wider smiles towards the end of the day, the country has been fortified ever more strongly.

With the kind of role played by the Ayatollah, one may find himself guilty of being envious of the position. Envious because eyeing the position of Ayatollah is tantamount to challenging divinity’s grand plan of events and desired roles to be played by individuals. The devout would rather accept the scheme of events as they are and push grand ambitions into the darker recesses of his mind. Or, for consolation, prep up to become the Chief Nuclear Negotiator of the country, and of the man – a position that maybe isn’t half as decisive, absolute, vehemently supported, or noted in the eyes of people. But it’s a position that assumes much significance while dealing with the volatile situations of power generation. The Chief Nuclear Negotiator takes the brunt of questions from influential and powerful entities and his answers reflect the preparedness of the country in handling situations of complex nature. Though less prominent in the lives of people and barely manages to salvage care and concern, he is someone who people can do without only in short spurts. Kicked from his sedentary state, he is constantly reminded to work harder each time and never forget to turn away before his heart hopes for a kind gesture from someone. The Chief Nuclear Negotiator cannot be the Ayatollah, and perhaps never will. For the one who helps generate power cannot be the same who exercises it.

In a world that doesn’t exist, if we were ever given a chance to choose from either of the positions, what would that be? This is a question I’ve asked myself too but never been able to convincingly answer. You can either be an Ayatollah to one or the Chief Nuclear Negotiator to many. I would ask my ambition to feign an injury and sit back than regret later on. I would choose to become the chief negotiator with its limited and diluted capacity. Because to me it seems like there’s nothing to pick from. Perhaps because non-Ayatollahs never have a choice – and that is the paradox of life.