Birth of a Tattoo!

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What is your initial reaction when you think about tattoos ?

“Gross”.
“Never for me”.
“Weird”.
“Brave”.
“Crazy”.
“Scary”.

I am sure the reaction ranges from good to bad to ugly. My first encounter with a tattoo happened when I was eight years old. I had gone to my ancestral village in Thanjavur,India. My cousin took me to the banks of the river Cauvery where I saw several small shops selling various kinds of snacks. We entered one of them where an old lady was frying some delicious “Bhajis”-Vegetable fritters. As she handed me the hot Bhajis, I noticed a beautiful green-colored peacock etched on her forearm. Seeing my curiosity, she told me the story of her late-husband whose name was “Mayil-Rajakumar”, which literally translates to “Peacock-Prince”. He died fighting for the country in 1971 Indo-Pak war. She etched his name-symbol when he died and it gave her enormous strength to lead her life without missing him. My cousin later explained that folks in her village actually have it as a custom to get tattoo-ed when they get married or when a significant event happens in their life.

I became a city-boy and completely forgot about tattoo’s for most of my life. I came to US and was literally scared of many folks with tattoos. It was one thing to see a small, elegant tattoo but whole other thing when you see elaborate, full-body tattoos with intricate art work. I could not understand those people or the reasoning behind their expression until my car broke down in 1999.

The mechanic who fixed my car got into a nice, long conversation about India, what I plan to do, what my goals were. I noticed he had one of those full-body tattoos. As I asked him why, he explained how he had grown up in the foster care system and he got one as he left each foster home. My fear of tattoo-ed people immediately vanished. Everyone gets a tattoo to reassure themselves. To remind themselves. To prove themselves. There is always a story behind a tattoo. Even the stupid ones. A stupid tattoo represents a period of their life when they were impulsive and rebellious. I was no more a tattoo-fearing person after that. In fact, I look forward to understanding people who are very different from my lifestyle. It is part of growing up and maturing. My fears were just a by-product of what I didn’t understand.

Years later, the final hurdle to my getting a tattoo was removed when my lovely wife got herself a beautiful double infinity symbol tattoo last year. I loved her thoughtfulness, aesthetic design with deep meaning associated with it as she etched her Parents initials to honor her memories of them.

As I started my search for my first tattoo, I had to dig deep to find out what matters to me. What do I want to be reminded of? What will be the meaning of my symbol ? What qualities I want to imbibe through it ? What will not make me regret ten years from now ? What is Eternal to me ?

One of the recurring, constant, spiritual theme over the past two years in my life has been, “Be Present“. I attended an insightful training last year that helped me close several of my past open loops. I became a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now” and “A New Earth”. My friends suggested etching “Be Present” in Italian or Latin or Sanskrit. As I thought more about it, I realized that being literal is not as powerful as being symbolic. A symbol is personal, powerful and can mean multiple things to many people but what matters is what it means to you. As I started my meditation practice, it became even more clear that I needed a symbol to represent my spiritual side.

I chose the above “Eye” symbol to represent this spiritual yearning.

Being present is being awake. Being awake is to open your eyes and see things as is. There is a deep need within us to see things the way we want them to be, ignoring, neglecting, masking, filtering, the actual behavior and actions that happen to us. I am a dreamer by nature.I believe my will can change anything if I put my whole heart into it.I was reassured of this fact many times but as I grow older, I also realize, that this wholehearted-filter blinds me. It makes me not see things as they are. It doesn’t tell me when to retreat and approach things in a different manner. It doesn’t make me a river that contours itself to the realities and rocks in its path and moves forward. It doesn’t make me a grass that bends to the strong storms instead of fighting it. My rebelliousness makes me fight than let things happen.

If I am awake, I will see that I don’t have to fight so hard. I should enjoy the good things that happen and when things I don’t want/like happens, I should accept them. If I am awake, I can see why they happen and take measures.I will have better reflection.Introspection. I can’t be present without being awake to my own faults and part in the misfortunes that occur to me. I can’t find my way out of a situation if I am hijacked by my reaction to it.

It is easy to get carried away by our reaction and feelings but they also blind you to the situation at hand. I have to be awake to see it as is. It’s not easy but it’s a worthy goal in life. It doesn’t make me a robot without feelings but it makes me accept my feelings and accept the situation that is dealt to me.

This is my spiritual eye that tells me to take my ego away from the situation. It tells me that “Life always exists in the present” moment. Focus on it. Don’t get carried away by past regrets or future worries. It tells me to open my eyes to the abundance in my life. It tells me to open my eyes to my fears and confront them. Don’t close your eyes and think the world is dark. Be aware of your self. And if you can’t see,trust the opinion of the one who treats you like their eyes.

Open your self!

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Costco Cost-perience!

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“Honey, can you get some Milk and Chips from Costco ?”

Yes. That’s just two items to pick from Costco since it is on the way to my home. No big deal.

As you enter the grand but simple layout of the store, you know from your past experience that they always have something new on the left side of the entrance. Last month it was 20 bottles of colorful, vitamin rich sports juice and it was just 10-bucks. Today, it’s corduroy Calvin Klein Jeans for just $24 bucks. You tell yourself, “Why Not ?”. You drop it in your big shopping cart.

You are patting yourself on your back for *not even looking* at the large screen TV section. You are proud of your self-control. You think about browsing the watch/Diamond section since your wife has been so nice to you these past few months while you pursue your “hobby”. But then, her birthday is not for another three months. It can wait. Another act of self-control, well, *selfless-control* since that item wasn’t for you.

You move past the camera section and notice the Canon 6D package and make a mental note. Not today. They are shiny and tempting but you are here for *just two items*. You browse the Blu-ray, DVD-collector series items and wonder, “What’s the point of all these when you have Netflix, Hulu, AppleTV and worst-case-scenario, Bit-torrent! And right then, the stainless steel Keurig Coffee Maker catches your bespectacled eyes.

You love Coffee. You actually make 4-cups a day. And when stressed, there is no count. It does take about 3 minutes to make one cup in the microwave. Imagine all the time-savings(4*3 – 4mins using Keurig = 8-mins for the curious) during your day? Of course it is a critical, life-saving device. Put it in the cart!

Ka-ching!

Move on to their seasonal furniture section. What’s the use of all the coffee if you don’t have mocha-colored tiny coffee table for your Home-office ? That too for just $99? That’s literally daylight-robbery. Moreover, Costco doesn’t have these furnitures all the time. If you don’t buy it now, they will be gone forever! Shove that big cardboard box underneath the cart.

On to Fruit section. Health is critical. Apples, Cherries, Grapes, delicious Mangoes. Very essential. You don’t count money when you are investing in health.

Ah! The lovely old ladies making sure my sugar doesn’t go down by handing me those cheese-dipped salsa. “Sizzling Salsa” for just 4.99? Imagine all the money our family will save by not going to “On the Border” ? Drop that salsa in the bag.

You always wonder whether you have enough bath tissues. Why risk? It’s just $13.99. You can never have enough of them. What about the Kleenex next to it? Fall is almost here and you know you have that nasty antihistamine problem. Let’s get a small 14-pack.

After a brief browsing of toothpaste, Body-wash, Razors and vitamin tablets, you are all set.

The courteous cashier rings you up as you hand her your Green-Costco-Amex card and $472 flashes before your eyes! Before you can react, recoup, re-sort and return any item, the smiling cashier says,

“Charge it to the Costco card sir ?”.

“Of course” comes conditioned response.

Now you convince yourself that all this money will get converted to points and come back to you at the end of the year in a “Big” check sent by Amex-Costco. Moreover, you visit Costco only once a month.

As you drive off the Parking lot, reach home and put all the things back in the shelves to impress your wife, she calls and asks an important question.

“Honey, did you get Milk and chips from Costco ?”. Damn!

Blindness of Color – Part Two

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I often wonder how hard my life would be if I was born a Muslim, or Black, or worse-a Black Muslim. On the other side of the spectrum, how easy my life would be if I was born White, with Blond hair and blue eyes? As much as we would like to believe in ideals of equality in justice and opportunities irrespective of your skin color, reality sets you straight pretty quickly as you grow up. Even if you are lucky to be in a good environment, you realize there is one thing you can never control-the perception of your race.The collective societal scorecard against your color.

I had an epiphany about race four years ago when I wrote this piece,Blindness of Color-Part One, about the perception meter determined by our inherent pattern database in brain and how we judge a race by our experiences,both direct and indirect(public behavior, media, friends,hearsay). As I read the verdict of Trayvon Martin case, you realize how the collective prejudice of five white women(and one black woman) about wandering black teenagers at night allowed them to let go of George Zimmermann without any repercussions. Not even a manslaughter charge. And it was the same perception and fear that made George Zimmermann shoot the boy in the first place. An impression. A stereotype of how a criminal looks. A hoodie and black. A life lost when you know in your gut that it would be a slap in the wrist if that boy was White or even Asian.

It is during moments like these that every race has to take stock of their perception-meter in society without getting lost in emotions and anger. The true racial score card in US Society.
Asians-> Nerdy, Blue collar jobs, Passive, submissive, worker-bees and stingy.
Whites-> Logical,mostly right,well-behaved,soft spoken,preferred candidates for Management.
Blacks-> Violent, Angry,Lazy, Strong and Stupid.
Hispanics/Latin -> Illegal, Low-level jobs,Hard workers,More spanish less English.

The above stereotypes are pervasive and forms the default setting in many people’s minds. You have to prove otherwise that your whole self can’t be boxed into these easy to tick-mark categories. The fact of the matter is that every community has all kinds of personalities but the most skewed one here is blacks. In fact, it is the ‘being black’ stigma that has led to another injustice. The hurtful truths buried in these perceptions has to be faced with strength and all of us, irrespective of our colors, have to come together to rectify it. After all,the choice of color, parents, economic status and religion are made for you when you are born. How our future score card looks depends on our will. Our will to adapt, maneuver and come out stronger by these very factors that drag us down. The other race, though not of color but of religion that faces this skewed perception is Muslims. Over a billion of them are peaceful but every one of them faces the hassle and wrath of injustice in some form because of their religion.

What can a Black man or Muslim woman do as ordinary citizens to dispel these perceptions ? And what can we, all non-black and non-muslim folks do to improve our understanding?

Here are my suggestions.

Have conversation about race and religion.
Debate about racial and religious behaviors.
Unearth the symbolism behind each others beliefs.
Understand where the other side comes from.
Agree to disagree and be tolerant towards their rights.
Agree to common law without any exceptions based on religion.(Yes.Remove that headscarf for Licence photo).
Behave appropriately in public and when someone from your own race misbehaves, have a talk. Get involved. Interfere.
Don’t raise your voices but raise your arguments when you are discriminated without anger.
Channel the injustices and anger towards battling perceptions and stereotypes.
Condemn and ignore racial based media reporting. How about a crime report without mentioning the race?
How about not making the black man always the villain in TV serials and movies?

This is not a task for just this generation but has to be carried for the next few ones. We have to attack the perception monster in our day to-day dealings with others.The perception monster that led Hitler to genocide. It is time for the Black and Muslim leaders to rise above the petty racial/religious politics and address the violence, anger and bad-behaviors within their own communities. They have to condemn their own kind strongly in media and work with everyone to fix the negatives about their communities. Not finger-pointing about injustices but actually working with solutions. And it is not just the responsibility of Blacks and Muslims, but each and every one of us to fight for equality and justice,irrespective of race and religion. The new America is here where all children born under 5 is 50% non-white as of latest census, 2013. In the next two decades, US will become truly global with over 50% immigrants. It is imperative that we rise above our fears and prejudices about our fellow human beings race,religion or sexual orientation when it comes to opportunities, law and justice in society.

Isn’t that the true American Dream ?

Raanjhana -Movie Review!

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Is it her beauty or her smile ?
Lost I was in her charming guile.
Her face with sparkling nose ring,
Forever erases my silent suffering.
I rowed my fantasies in her friendship,
Her spirits soothing my every hardship.
Why does this heart beats for her ?
Why do I lose my dignity over her ?
Perhaps it’s obsession,
Or a perennial addiction,
Why search for reasons,
When I come alive in her presence,
Raanjhana, Raanjhana, Raanjhana,
I can never answer why,
But my love is true until I die!
—– Kundan

Raanjhana is the story of Kundan’s undoubting love,an undying belief, that if you love someone giving yourself completely, she will love you back, irrespective of the reality. It is also a story of how people change with their experiences while some still hold onto theirs. It’s a story of unsuspecting consequences and unintended accidents of the heart.

Kundan, son of tamil-Hindu priest falls head over heels for Zoya,the rich-Muslim girl,living few blocks away in the holy city,Benares. Dhanush fits like a glove as Kundan with his puny body and funny dance moves. His energy and charm is infectious.The contrast between dark,dangly, South Indian boy and gorgeous,white-angel North-Indian girl-next-door is immediately forgotten in first five minutes as Anand L Raj and cinematographers-Natarajan Subramanian and Vishal Sinha,sets up both the characters with spirit, excellent showcase of acting and beautiful Holi colors that you identify with instantly. Added to these, Rahman weaves his magic subtly with his dhols and synthesizers as the master makes the audience tap their legs with “Tum tak Tum tak” to smooth flowing choreography.

Dhanush speaks Hindi fluently with an accent and the dialogues never seem contrived. Sonam Kapoor does her job adequately. She had to take her emotions through a roller coaster between first and second half. She aces the first half and just about makes the cut in second half. Nevertheless, Dhanush is the heart of the movie. He becomes Kundan. You can feel his innocent love for Zoya, his anger at her for using him and stringing him along. His guilt at her suffering because of his actions and his sacrifice without expectations. He remains consistent throughout the movie and holds the pieces together even when it falls off the track in second half.

The director paints both the protagonists with grey shades without judging them. The posse of Kundan are blind in their allegiance to his ways as Kundan is to Zoya’s.The parallel pining between Kundan-Zoya relationship and Kundan-Swara Bhaskar friendship, showcases the maturity in writing. It has been ages since multi-layered characters with faults and flaws yet true to their intentions appeared on Bollywood screen.

Abhay Deol makes a decent cameo although the chemistry between him and Sonam Kapoor could have been amped up a lot. It felt more like brother/sister relationship than two lovers passionate for each other and fighting to take on the big-bad-political world.

Overall, Raanjhana is uncompromising and unflinching in the journey of its characters. Redemption is overrated and also shows cowardice in a story like this. Anand L Raj needs to be patted on his back for his courage to stick with the natural arch of these characters without sugar coating them for audience satisfaction.

Love is messy. Love is full of faults. Love is the ray of sunshine in a dirty white linen cloth.You don’t look at the dirty cloth but ache for that ray of sunshine through it that spreads joy in a tiny beating corner.

Raanjhana delivers on deluded love! Watch it for Kundan and Zoya!

Birthdays to BirthWords!

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What if we gift ourselves a word that encapsulates the essence of the past year on our Birthday ?

Every birthday, you gain a new word that defines your past year. You are not measured by a number but enriched by the collection of words that charts your journey. A mile marker that reminds you of your evolution. Numbers are cold. Clinical. Without art. Without soul. Words on the other hand have life. They smell. They sweat. They wrap your spirit like strawberry dipped in chocolate, melting your memories as you taste them slowly. In fact, we should get rid of the traditional birth day cake and replace it with birth word delicacy.

Birth words can happen anytime. Any moment. True growth is measured not my the number of years but by the number of insights about our selves. Awareness about our environment. Understanding our limitations. Attitude towards our successes and failures. Disappointments over our expectations. Our hurt over our losses. Our joys over our accomplishments. These are the only real shifts in our life. The proof of existence of our heart. The real progression of our life.

At 7, my birth word was “Discrimination” when I was rejected because of the color of my skin. At 9, it was “Separation” when I had to stay at my cousins place for a year. At 13, it was “Acceptance” when I swept the Inter-school competition. At 15, it was “Bonding” when I spent weekend with friends in video-parlors, cricket grounds and the big tree near the school. At 17, it was “Leadership” as I took over the hostel dining room and waged a mini-war against the seniors. At 19, it was “Love”. At 21, it was “Survival”. At 25, it was “Uncertainty”. At 30, it was “Loss”. At 35, it was “Freedom”.

The events of your life drives the birth word that shifts your consciousness forward or backward. Words that emerge when you have to stay away from family for first time. Words that emerge when you lose a friend in an instant after years. Words that emerge when you do something against your moral code. Words that emerge when you give up. And in some moments, words that never emerge as you struggle to define what you see in her eyes. And in some other instances, words that unhide themselves from buried layers that you weren’t ready to see the truth and accept them until then. Moments that create a birth word causing a paradigm shift about your own self.

“Illusion”.
“Exhilaration”.
“Numbness”.
“Ecstasy”.
“Free-fall”.

Sometimes a subtle shift. Sometimes drastic. Sometimes black. Sometimes white as pure but most of the times, stormy grey. One thing is inevitable.

The constant evolution of YOU. With every birth word, there is a death of an older self. The experience of your dead self never leaves you. They linger. They escape to a layer deep within you, only to rise up when certain people or places reappear but you can view them with a new lens equipped by your birth word.

We are constantly washed away by our experiences. Some of them we control but most of them, we don’t. All we can do is, dare greatly and open our hearts to collect more birth words.

In this struggle, somedays we stand resolute. Somedays we stoop. Somedays we fight. Somedays we give up. And one day, we will be swept away by the storm forever. And in that moment, we will have our own life-story written by our own birth words.

Start collecting your birth words and stop counting your age!

Man of Steel – Movie Review!

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What does a great movie experience mean to you ? Is it the feeling that you were not even aware that the movie has ended as you are still sitting there dumbstruck as people are standing up to leave ? Or Is it the questions that haunt days after the movie that makes you want to get another glimpse ? Or just pure entertainment that gives you visuals that are better than any of your imagination ?Perhaps a combination of these or many other reasons that are not mentioned here. Whatever the reasons maybe, the best indicator is always how you feel as you are walking in the theatre parking lot after the movie.

By that barometer, Superman is just superb!

The story begins with planet Krypton in dire danger. Russell Crowe as father of Superman,showcases his Gladiator-times acting chops. The first act of the movie plays like a mini-scifi-episode where the survival stakes of Krypton and intentions of General Zod is revealed. Watching planet Krypton, you get a sense of how much effort team ZDN has put into this movie. ZDN is ofcourse Zack Snyder-Director,David S Goyer-screenplay & Story and the Master,Chris Nolan,Producer and Story. Never in the past five superman movies we have seen Krypton in such detail and the characters that existed in that planet. You even get an Avatar-Banshee like flying-pet in those first few minutes.

As the titles roll and you wait for the second act to follow with young Superman, the genius of David Goyer-Chris Nolan style of storytelling unfolds. It is completely out of sequence like every Nolan movie, yet, makes perfect sense in its rhythm,strumming a new melody out of old tune. We all know the Superman story very well but here, the interludes are completely different. We know what Superman can do and have seen and read his accomplishments from childhood, but the motivations, struggles and sacrifices of this character is rarely explored on screen. It’s easier to make Batman as Bruce Wayne because he is not Superman. However to make Superman look real like Batman, you have to tone down the movie to sub zero levels to feel it genuine. Team ZDN accomplishes this high challenge by tying Superman with emotional anchors of Kevin Costner, Diane Lane and Amy Adams. And lets not forget flop-machine Henry Cavill. After watching him in Immortals, I had no hope for his redemption. However he has convinced this skeptic ten times over by his acting, grace and quiet assurance, even going a bit farther by under-acting as he is Superman. He doesn’t have to prove any character on-screen by being aggressive.

Lois Lane in all the previous superman movies has been the dumb redhead who says more words than she thinks and most of those words reminds you of an annoying car salesman than an authentic journalist at Daily Planet. Here, Amy Adams brings out the bold, brave, National Geographic kind, Pulitzer winning journalist who is ready to take the risks to get her story. She doesn’t waltz around in tiny skirts and waits for a man to rescue her,unless ofcourse, when she is attacked by an alien:)

Perhaps the most important character in this movie, which is released two days before Father’s Day, is Kevin Costner. I can’t remember the last movie where I could say,”Kevin Costner was great!”. Maybe I have to go as far back as “Thirteen Days”. Here he walks the thin line between being real and being Dad to Clark Kent. The scenes between him and Superman form the emotional core of the story. And Diane Lane does the Mommy act with equal panache.

The movie moves at breath neck speed setting us up for the big action sequences. How do you top action scenes after watching Avatar,Avengers,Batman and Iron Man ? Is there anything to be surprised anymore ? Zack surprises us with broad daylight shots of Alien ships hovering over New York City.I won’t disagree that tall buildings crashing down reminded me of 9/11 but I guess it’s okay to show them after 12yrs onscreen. The Superman fighting with his own people made for some redux of Matrix Neo-Agent Smith fight scenes. Did it matter in the context of the movie ? Not a bit although I can see some of the viewers tuning out during it’s length.

There are enough surprises in the movie including a glorious scene in Church. One of the key component of the movie that makes every scene grounded in reality is cinematographer, Amir Mokri. If you don’t know him, just watch the title sequence of “Lord of War”. I can still remember the bullet being spit out of the gun scene in that movie. Amir paints each scene in natural colors with earth tone, almost polaroid-like quality that captures the essence of the scene. His little observations in each scene like the swing outside the house, clothes flying in clothesline, a toy truck overturned in the backyard, makes us forget we are watching a superhero movie. The shots of rain drops, frozen ice, deep water immersion elevates the viewer to experience the spiritual power of being a SuperMan who can sense the beauty of our planet than any human being can ever feel it. Credit goes to Zack and Amir for grounding this movie than making it a special effect festival, which it eventually does in the final action sequences.

To judge any movie, like any relationship,the outcome is always inversely proportional to our internal expectations. Higher the expectation, the less we like the movie. Lower expectations, we love the movie(or the person). I did not expect Superman reboot to be this authentic, original and surprisingly fresh. Going in,I knew unlike Batman with personal loss and Spider-Man with strong love story, Superman was always flimsy in terms of character depth. Team ZGN puts that to rest by raising the stakes of Superman character and bonds him to Earth forever.

The only thought I had when I walked out of the movie was,”Should I go tomorrow or day-after to watch it again ?”.

Don’t miss it!

Prism Prison!

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How much are you willing you give up in the name of “Safety & Security” ?

That is the overriding question that I have been mulling over for the past few weeks. Are we surprised that there is a Prism program that monitors your every cellphone call, all your google search terms, every Facebook entry, all Amazon purchases or app downloads ? Your digital life is not hacked by some low-level programmer in China but loyal, patriotic employees of US government. As far as your offline-life is concerned, there is traffic cameras, millions of CCTV’s, credit-check agencies, Air marshalls and random black/brown security checks. This is the current reality.

Coming from a country where many of the rights are denied,it is not only astonishing but also heart-warming to see the amount of freedoms enjoyed in US.You can wear your national pride in an underwear. You can call your President a gorilla and still not be arrested. You can actually get a lawyer to sue the shop for bad service or bad quality product.I have often admired their free speech and staunch support of 4th and 5th amendment. Being in America and following the American dream for an immigrant is like living in an utopian land where freedom and justice will be served if you work hard and follow the rules.You get used to those freedoms after living here for 15years. Freedoms like you won’t be discriminated openly at workplace or college admission. Subtle, passive discrimination is inevitable but no one can reject you openly saying, “Sorry, we only allow Brahmins in this Apartment!” Or “Sorry! We don’t allow non-vegetarians to rent this house!”. America has been the beacon of freedom-values for couple of centuries now. Granted they poke their nose in areas where they don’t need to at rest of world but majority of the people of the world still see this as the land of the free.

So, to see this land of free being held hostage by fear and the rights of it’s citizens thwarted by secret programs is scary and hugely disappointing. Perhaps to live in a safe and secure society, we have to sacrifice our freedoms. In fact a recent survey clearly shows that 62% of Americans think it is okay for the NSA to tap all forms of communication in the pursuit of terrorists. This goes to show the amount of trust in the social and administrative systems in this country. I get wary just hearing that my credit card details are being looked at by someone in a call center in Banglore.The reason is my lack of trust in the checks and balances in the Indian system.

However, one of the key components that came to light in this leak is that if an NSA agent/analyst assesses someone as a potential threat above 50%, then he can tap your entire life without any due process. So, if John Doe thinks my name is 25 letters long, and I spoke to a guy with a turban for more than thirty minutes and purchased a strange looking item that started emitting smoke slowly in front of a statue inside my house, then even if I am an American citizen, he can tap my entire life without proving to a set of authorities his findings. Now, during the course of his authority to look back at my entire life, he may find I was standing next to a “real” terrorist in a public Holi festival and even spray painted him with colors. There it is. The connection he was looking for. Now I can be renditioned to an unknown place and be locked up forever without any due process. You might say that’s one cooked-up imaginary possibility. The trouble is there are many such cases in the history of US. The American Japanese were locked up without any due process during World War II. There are several cases of innocents being sent to Guantanamo Bay after 9/11 and later released. Like everything in life, it is not an issue until it happens to you. When someone starts looking at your activities with the filter of fear and suspicion, you will find something to make him guilty.Try that exercise in your office. You think one of your employee is slacking off. If you don’t need to go through your Human Resources department to snoop all his activities, I bet you will find something to prove your point.

We are fallible humans. We need more than a pair of eyes and one set of opinions to prove guilty. That’s why I love the jury system. It balances out the prejudices and biases. The argument that we don’t care about privacy because we are not doing any wrong doesn’t hold up in scrutiny. I have curtains and shutters in my house because I want privacy to certain things in my life. Just because I trust my neighbor and know am not doing anything wrong, doesn’t mean I don’t need to put up curtains and lock my door.The assumption that we need privacy because we are trying to hide “bad” things is completely ridiculous. We need privacy so we can control the dissemination of the information close to us, personal to us, the way we want. If I get cancer, then it better be my decision to tell someone that I have it rather than someone finding it and spreading it on Internet. I need privacy because it is none of your damn business to snoop through my stuff without my knowledge. Also, we all have seen enough Law&Order shows to know that our information can be used for purposes other than finding terrorist activities because the people who implement the rules are humans.And to give all this power to one analyst or one agent is too dangerous.

I thought Google had the ultimate secure system until they got hacked by the Chinese. So did Apple. So did Amazon, multiple times. There is no completely fool-proof system in the world, even if it is NSA. When there is no set process and procedures to store and destroy data periodically, your life can be exposed as long as you live and even after you die, when someone leaks or hacks.

As a concerned, trusting citizen, you can’t argue with the notion that these tools help us prevent terrorist attacks but when you consider the amount of money spent in trying to snoop everyone, the cost of data centers, big data, analysis and thousands of employees to sift through this data, how many patterns are really revealed ? How many terrorists attacks have we really stopped ? The government need not divulge the details but can we have an independent panel give us just a number and lives saved? The main difference between democracy and other forms of government is transparency.When programs like Prism is transparent in their benefits and open to auditing by independent panels, it strengthens democracy.

The Prism program currently is in early stage Skynet. It is early stage Cylon. And it is more than the “Clean Slate” program that Selina Kyle was looking for with Batman. Yes. I am a Sci-fi fan. We might think all this technology is for protecting us but it doesn’t take long for it to be used “against” us. We live more and more in an open world with tools that makes it easier for anyone to hack your life, tap your conversations and use it at their will. We can’t put the genie called Internet back in the bottle but we can put due processes,checks and balances,lawful recourse and punishment for those who violate them. We need to constantly ask the question, “Who monitors the monitor ?”,to prevent our society from tyranny and oppression. If you look at history, they all started by curbing small freedoms in the name of safety and security before being used against them. The day we invent new technology to read your thoughts and feelings, possibly in the next thirty years, we won’t be having this conversation about privacy! The pre-crime division of Minority Report is not far-off.

Protecting our information and determining how it is used should be our birthright. If the government knows your every move, every one of your action, are you truly “free”? Freedom is the essence of our spirit.The animals in the jungle may not be safe but they are free. Let’s protect what’s most vital to our spirit than surrender it for fear and convenience!