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The Art of Procrastination

This post is not intended to be one wherein I describe prevalent methods of procrastination and offer advice on how to creatively improvise on the same. Nor is it intended to bring out the inevitability of procrastination and how none of us are spared of it. And least of all, this post is not intended to provide any suggestions or solutions on how to overcome procrastination and improve your lives. Instead, what I aim to do is try to understand WHY we procrastinate the way we do, and to also trace the origins and the cause for sustained presence of procrastination in our lives. I also intend to briefly mention the common traits/symptoms and consequences that come about thereafter.

In its most fundamental form, procrastination refers to the “deferment of actions or tasks to a later time.” [Wiki] Most of us would have procrastinated sometime or the other. In fact, for most of us, it has become a habit- something that is synonymous with our comfort zone. Procrastination need not refer to only the real important things such as meeting a deadline either at work or in studies. It also refers to putting off day to day activities such as not paying bills on time, missing out on a last date for attending a sale, missing out on encashing gift coupons or delaying the filing of tax returns to the last day [PT]. {It can also refer to the delay in writing this post} There are also instances when we defer the most important thing by working on something that is not as important -  like e.g. cleaning up your room instead of working on an assignment. Or those times when we feel that we deserve to take a break in proportion to the time spent studying, only for the break to extend for the rest of the day [UNC]. Deciding  to start working with full resolve at a particular time, only for the time to come and go like nothing ever happened is also not uncommon among us. The above list is inevitably only illustrative and not exhaustive in any way. Each individual procrastinates in his/her own manner and have their own reasons for it.

When I think of the reasons why so many people exhibit an inherent propensity to procrastinate, one common pattern that emerges is the influence of the atmosphere-both social and cultural- on the mindset of the individual and thereby on the ability to imbibe the habit of procrastination in them. For example, a kid brought up in a school where the consequences of procrastination is severe is likely to grow out of that habit as compared to a kid who is brought up in a school where no significant tangible consequences await procrastination. However, once someone grows up to be old enough to understand what is right or wrong, the social and cultural atmosphere can be treated as a factor which takes significance only when it works in the positive sense. It cannot serve as an excuse for continued procrastination when we are well aware of its ill effects. The effects of procrastination become more evident as and when we become aware of its presence in our daily habits.

On the other hand, one cannot totally rule out the effect that the external environment in general, has on our procrastination habits. Case in point is our journey through the education system, which forms the principal part of our formative years. During this period, the tendency to defer studying or completing the assignments right up to the previous day (or even night) of the deadline is perhaps the most significant and relevant form of procrastination. And eventually when we sit down to study or to complete the assigned work, the inability to do justice to the work at hand within the short period of time available, results in a mediocre performance in the tests or assignments.

One of the major factors that contribute to developing such a habit is the education system that is in place. The scenario in the present day education system- take Engineering for example- is such that there is absolutely no necessity for one to study or work on a regular basis in order to get a decent score in the exams. Once a student discovers this (and it doesn’t take long), he/she will inevitably resort to doing the barest minimum in order to obtain satisfactory results. And this usually results in cultivating a habit of procrastination day in and day out. This gets further validated when a student sees the people who seem to be obtaining good results also deferring their work to the end. In such an environment, the will to work on a regular basis easily makes way for peer pressure and the need to gain acceptance with the majority. But perhaps the main driving force behind procrastination is the fact that it is easy, convenient and more importantly, not too consequential in the short term.

There are many consequences that arise out of persistent procrastination. These include those that are immediate and those that are accumulated, with the latter usually being more significant and worrisome. Immediate consequences include a feeling of “could have done better” which ends up repeating itself everytime a deadline passes. Then there are those times during the exams when one realizes that just a little extra bit of effort could have vastly improved their performance and results. This realization leads to a feeling of guilt and lowers self esteem, which in turn simply reinforces the habit of procrastination, thus starting the vicious cycle all over again. In the long run, this makes us lower our own expectations and standards and in the process, never allowing ourselves to fully realize our potential.

There are also a few tangential consequences of procrastination and mainly involve rationalizing one’s own actions. Convincing oneself that he/she works better under pressure is not uncommon. There is also a tendency to downplay the impact one’s performance has on their future in order to justify their actions. There is also a possibility that one can downplay the very importance of the task prior to working on it, and utilize this to justify not putting in the required effort. But perhaps, rationalizing one’s actions of procrastination is taken to a whole new level when someone believes that they would have others think that they lack effort rather than ability [PT]. There are a whole load of other excuses or reasons that people tend to give themselves for procrastinating. But none of them are worth the consequence.

The possibilities for those who don’t procrastinate are endless. The realization of one’s potential to the fullest extent is something very few people undergo. And then there is no stopping them. Procrastination, it has to be understood, works in the other direction. Come to think of it, if you look around, almost 95% of the people are “active” procrastinators. The rest 5% are successful.

India in Slow Motion by Mark Tully: A Book Review

India in Slow Motion

India in Slow Motion

It is not so often that one comes across a book that reinforces the potential of presenting facts and situations to capture the interest of a reader in a way that the book becomes both educative and a page turner. INDIA IN SLOW MOTION by Mark Tully does just that. With his immaculately diverse  set of ten typically Indian  real life stories, he has successfully brought about the fundamental flaws in the system that is governing this country. I first interacted with Mark Tully at IIT Bombay during their fest and was impressed by his knowledge and observations. And after reading India in Slow Motion, my respect and admiration for him has grown ten fold.

Most of the book is not as much about exposing the familiar problems plaguing India, as it is about revealing the intricacies, significance and true extent of the same. Topics such as the Ayodhya issue, corruption, droughts, farmer suicides, Kashmir, the IT revolution are not unfamiliar. But the treatment that Tully has meted out to these topics inevitably makes us rethink our own estimation of the nature and significance of the problem. Be it the thrilling, detailed first hand account of the entire Tehelka sting operation which got the Defence Minister to resign, the true tale of Kashmir and why it is in its present state or a little known village in Gujarat that has declared independence from the rest of the country, Tully describes an India which exhibits  a common foundation running through all of them-the NETA-BABU Raj-which he finds to be the single most important factor why India is still a country in Slow Motion.

The book starts off by describing a small but largely representative incident in a remote village  in Madhya Pradesh, where a Cyber Cafe built by an NGO is being brought down on the orders issued by a bureaucrat of the region for not possessing a particular “Internet Service Provider License -II”. This incident is small because it never made to the papers and representative because it shows how the Indian bureaucracy is working to defeat it’s own purpose.  Other stories in the book  deal with many cultural and religious aspects including a first hand account of the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent efforts to build a Ram Temple in the same site along with detailed descriptions about the rise and present state of Christianity in Goa and also an informative chapter on Sufism and the stance taken by different Muslim leaders in India.

But the crux of the book lies in the revelation of a large number of small facts that goes a long way in choosing the correct frame of reference to look and judge this country’s state of affairs. A large many assumptions developed over years of exposure to the Indian media is convincingly set right by simply reflecting on these hard facts plaguing the country and of which, the majority of us are blissfully unaware. Sample this: In a chapter dealing solely with the farmer suicides in Karnataka, Tully describes the procedure for a farmer to obtain a low interest loan from a Nationalized Bank as per a Govt scheme. In the words of the Bank Manager:

Before any farmer can ask for a loan, he has to produce, one-land records, two- records of rights, three-no dues from the government, four-records of all land revenue paid, five-land valuation certificates, six-no dues from agricultural societies, seven-permission from court if applicant is a minor and eighth(and here is the best part!)- NO DUES CERTIFICATES FROM ALL THE OTHER 9 BANKS IN THE AREA!!!!!!”

And to procure the no dues certificate from all the other banks, a farmer has to approach each and every bank individually and get a certificate from each of them!

Another equally glaring fact concerns the structure and the working of the Police force in India. Tully quotes directly from a report submitted by a Senior retired Police Officer who says:

“..the 1861 Act passed by the British Raj still governs the organization, structure, philosophyand working of our police forces at the end of the twentieth century, never mind the phenomenal changes in our social, political, scientific, economic, and cultural spheres over the decades. The pattern adopted by the 1861 Act was based on the Irish Constabulary because Ireland was a colony at that time.”

Another Senior Police Officer says:

“..for the bureaucracy, control over the police has become an intoxicant they are addicted to and are just not willing to give up. And so the act of 1861 continues to be on the statute book even after nearly one hunderd and forty years-a millstone round the police neck”

Here is another concerning the corruption in the Indian Military:

“An Arms dealer has to bribe a Major General around Rs. 10 lakhs just so the dealer can obtain the list of equipment that the Indian Army is looking to test and purchase!”

Simple but revealing facts like these are in abundance in the book largely due to Tully’s first hand investigation into every topic he has written about. One of the best chapters in the book, I found, was the one on corruption which included a detailed first hand account of the entire TEHELKA sting operation by the very man who performed the sting with the hidden camera! The thrilling encounters with the top politicians and military leaders coupled with the glaring and inexcusable stupidity on part of the Generals for believing everything makes the chapter both humorous and thought provoking. The chapter on the Farmer suicides in Karnataka during the drought on the turn of the millenium is also very well documented with facts revealing such a lack of basic common sense among the officials, that one feels there is no hope for the Indian farmer. Like a farmer says,”A farmer in India is born in debt, lives in debt, dies in debt and is reborn in debt!” Another truly memorable quote that perfectly epitomizes  the life of a farmer comes from a farmer who is asked why he is not investing in long term gains and stability by sending his children to school. He says: “Sir, we farmers are not concerned about what happens 10-15 years from now. All we care about is being able to live through today…everyday”

The stories in India in Slow Motion do little to portray India the way political campaigns (like India Shining) do. But at the same time, the stories do not aim to bring out the harsh realities prevailing in the country such as poverty. What it does aim, however, is to give first hand information on issues that every Indian is familiar with. Though a few stories form an exception  to the familiarity aspect, the underlying objective of giving the readers first hand information on the ground reality successfully weaves through these stories as well. Throughout the book, Tully never makes the slightest effort to force his opinion on the reader. In fact, his completely objective portrayal of ground reality obviates the need for the reader to frame an opinion about India’s prospects. And so, instead, his astute observations compel the reader to develop both the positive and negative outlooks about India.

Tully’s inferences always tend to tell a tale of a car trying to move forward with its brakes on. In spite of describing stories that show the blatant inefficiency  and flaws in the governance system, Tully still displays an optimism that stems from recent and not so recent history when India did make the effort to liberate the economy, thereby easing a little off the brakes on its path to development. But the question of how long or what it takes for these changes to come about, though raised, is left deliberately unanswered. This book is a must read before anyone decides to have a say about any aspect of the present state of affairs in India.

Timmy Returns : Scene 2

SCENE 2: South Park Elementary School

Kids and their parents are in the school meeting the teachers in a classroom. The meeting is almost over. Principal Victoria, Mr. MacKey and Mr. Garrison are finishing sitting next to each other behind a table and discussing among themselves.

Principal Victoria : I just hope it gets over soon. I need to reach my book club meeting in less than an hour.

MR. MACKEY : (consults a list) Well lets see…. Kyle Browlowski-done. Stan Marsh-done. Wendy-done. Eric Cartman-thank god THATS over! Hmmm okay lets see who is remaining here…hmmm okay…hmmm okay..HA! Timmy!

(Silence in classroom. Nobody responds)

MR. MACKEY : Timmy! Is Timmy here?

(Again no response)

PRINCIPAL VICTORIA : MR. MACKEY did you inform Timmy’s parents about the meeting?

MR. MACKEY : Well actually PRINCIPAL VICTORIA Timmy has not attended school since a long time.

PRINCIPAL VICTORIA : What?? Why wasn’t I told about it? Have you contacted his parents about this?

MR. MACKEY : (Hesitates) Well I did kinda tell them sometime back….hmm okay..

PRINCIPAL VICTORIA : What do you mean kinda?

MR. MACKEY : Well I did call them, hmmm okay….but there was this communication gap you see…hmm okay

FLASHBACK

MR. MACKEY calls a number on a phone.

MR. MACKEY : Hello..is Timmy there?

Voice (at the other end) : Richard!!!

MR. MACKEY : Not Richard…I am looking for Timmy…okay?

Voice : Richard!!!!!

MR. MACKEY : Hello…is this Timmy’s house?

(thinks aloud and checks his phone directory) Did I get the right number here??

Voice: Richard!!!!!

MR. MACKEY : (Looks confused. Thinks what to do for a moment.)

Voice: (Confused as well) Ri..cha..rd.??

MR. MACKEY: Hmmm..okay

(Hangs up)

(Timmy’s father Richard is shown on a wheelchair answering the phone)

Richard: Richard…..Richard??? Richard!!!!!!

BACK TO PRESENT

PRINCIPAL VICTORIA : Well you better call them again MR. MACKEY

(Shot changes to STAN, KYLE, CARTMAN AND KENNY seated in the classroom.)

Stan : Guys, any of you seen Timmy?

Kyle : I haven’t seen him in months dude!

Kenny : (Muffled) Me neither!

Stan : We gotta find him before he gets himself into any trouble.

ERIC CARTMAN : Guys guys aren’t we forgetting the important question here??

(All 3 of them think for a moment)

Stan : What is it Cartman?

ERIC CARTMAN : Who is Timmy??!!?

Kyle : God damn you Cartman! Have you already forgotten Timmy? He was our friend who was in a wheelchair!

ERIC CARTMAN (Suddenly remembering): Oh yeah our retarded friend who was always drooling! Now I remember! Where has he been all these days?

Stan : Lets check at his home….

(Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny leave the classroom)

TO BE CONTINUED…

Anticipation of a Change in the air….

Ever since I attended my first Bloggers’ Meet organized as part of the Manipal Media Students’ Convention, where I was subjected to the nuances of serious writing, I have been constantly contemplating on changing my very mindset with which I write each and every post in this blog. My mood during my writing sessions can swing anywhere from sentimental to creepy to outright sarcastic and temperamental. Not to forget the innumerable occasions during which I have had a much “HIGHER” insight into the world around me-thanks largely to a lot of water, with some Alcohol content of course (usually around 40%). This being the case, I realized that there was never enough motivation for me to churn out a post which would possess some positive literary value.

I primarily am motivated to do some serious writing after I started reading some blogs which I personally rate very highly on the literary and informative aspect. It is another fact that these blogs that I read regularly are written either by Journalists or some freelance writers. I, being a Civil Engineer, will definitely have to tread a long, hard path to begin to churn out material which are somewhere even remotely close to their standards. But nevertheless, I can always see that there is some standard that I am definitely capable of achieving. And maybe, once I hit some improvement, I can go further and hope that it is a recursive  process. But how I go about it is a question that needs to be addressed at the earliest.

I find that most of the well written articles or essays are more opinion oriented than information oriented. Whether it comes to a debate on some prevailing policy or a review on a book, there seems to be an inherent opinion in the minds of the author/writer which is expressed, sometimes camouflaged, amidst relevant or corroborating pieces of information. When it comes to reviews- either of movies or books- it is usually found imperative to identify and communicate the ‘mood’ the book or the movie creates in the way it is written. I find that it really takes good talent and skill to be able to not only identify but to also be able to put into words, the mood that is the subconscious result of the experience of reading a book or watching a movie. It is this reason that I frequent The Middle Stage very often.

Apart from Book and Movie Reviews, the prospect of ‘Serious Writing’ extends over many dimensions which include script writing, political commentary and an objective analysis of any widely debated issue. Though I am definitely not going to try my hand at script writing, I may at sometime write some political commentary or debate both sides on a hot topic. It is also a good option to take a mildly sarcastic view of things which happen to be beyond my control to change, or to just describe quite literally, the world around me, either in my immediate vicinity or the general atmosphere in meticulous detail, explaining the contribution of each and every item to the general mood that is created!

So here is what I am going to do to put these massive plans of change into action. I will most likely be opening a new blog for this purpose so that I can continue to write nonsense unhindered in ‘this’ blog. I will post the link soon-provided I actually make the effort to open one. And in that blog, you will find me writing book and movie reviews, some political and policy commentary along with some verbose description of totally irrelevant places or events. And maybe someday, just someday, I actually feel that I can churn out a decent script.

This is one thing that I have really been wanting to do, as my passion for writing seems to be accruing at a steady rate since quite some time. And hopefully, with regular (????!!!!!!????) writing sessions, someday I can actually be in a position to be able to put into words, anything I feel or see…..

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