Saturday, August 24, 2013

Article in Forbes on happiness

Money and happiness have been married and divorced umpteen times by economists. A recent study by University of Michigan professors Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers united moolah and mirth after Richard Easterlin, an economist and professor at the University of South Carolina, separated them in 1974. While the Easterlin Paradox stated that rise in income does not necessarily increase happiness, the new research refutes it by proving that the higher the income or the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), the more happy the person or the country is. No conditions apply.

Between the two polar studies, several researchers tried to bring money and happiness together by establishing a threshold till which they hold hands before parting ways. For instance, in 2003, British economist Richard Layard set $15,000 as the point beyond which money does not fetch happiness. In his 2005 work, Layard reset the point at $20,000 a year. 

But on a macro level, what does the country’s GDP say with regard to the happiness-meter of its citizens?

Carol Graham, who is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public-policy organisation based in Washington DC, and author of several books on happiness including Happiness Around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires, says GDP is a comprehensive indicator of happiness. “GDP per capita captures country-level unobservables such as freedom and governance, public goods, environment, etc, all of which matter a lot to well-being (economists’ term for happiness),” Graham says.

However, Terry Babcock-Lumish, a professor of social sciences at West Point, thinks the contrary. She says GDP rarely considers components of quality of life like pollution, crime, or how unevenly goods and services are enjoyed by a nation’s citizenry. 

Perhaps for this reason, Bhutan, the first country to introduce Gross National Happiness (GNH) as a measure of prosperity, considers three factors besides socio-economic development to compute GNH: Cultural preservation, environmental protection and good governance. Sangay Dorji, programme officer at Bhutan’s GNH commission, says, “GDP is heavily biased towards increased production and consumption, regardless of the necessity or desirability of such outputs by continuously inducing people in labouring for higher income at the cost of relationships, peace and ecological stability.” 

For Babcock-Lumish, GNH is a useful indicator as, along with other metrics like GDP and Consumer Price Index (CPI), it provides a more textured understanding of an economy. However, Graham says that of the above pillars, the top priority for the Bhutanese government is to boost the country’s economy as it will be the key to reducing poverty and improving health and literacy. “GNH emphasises environment, governance and culture but half their game is not that far off Gross National Product,” she says.

Many organisations conduct surveys across the globe and rank countries on the basis of happiness or aspects of it, calling them emotional well-being, prosperity and so on. The Gallup World Poll (used in most happiness surveys like Legatum Prosperity Index, UN’s World Happiness Report, etc) measures emotional well-being across 160 countries by asking its citizens five questions like “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?” 

Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton, scientists involved with the poll, define emotional well-being as “the emotional quality of an individual’s everyday experience”. In their article, “High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being”, the duo mentions that traditionally well-being was limited to life evaluation (what people think about their lives). 

In 1974, Easterlin measured life evaluation in his study, basing his research on open-ended questions on what people want out of life—what they would need for their lives to be completely happy. [The recent Stevenson and Wolfers research also measures life evaluation but they base it on a more closed question like “how does your life fare on a 10-point ladder where 1 is the worst and 10 is the best?] 

According to Graham, open- and close-ended questions generate different responses. “A closed question is framed in relative terms for the respondent and answers to this question correlate more closely with income within and across countries than open-ended life-satisfaction questions,” she says. 

Moreover, Graham adds that the ladder question used in the new study is the most framed life-evaluation question and is linked most closely to income.

The new study utilises Gallup data on the life-evaluation question and not queries on emotional well-being. Interestingly, Gallup rankings based on the latter parameters show that money doesn’t impact happiness, results that are contrary to the new study. 

(Latin American countries like Panama top the rankings in the 2012 Gallup Poll, while Singapore languishes at the bottom. However, on the basis of their GDP per capita, CIA World Factbook ranks Singapore at 7, while Panama is way behind at 89).
Graham adds that life-evaluation questions that consider a longer time-period in a respondent’s life correlate more closely to income as it includes people’s ability to do what they want to do with their lives. In contrast, emotional well-being questions incorporate a shorter time-period (daily experiences) and are less associated with money because, after a point, money can’t make you smile more. This is probably why the study by Stevenson and Wolfer with the life-evaluation question, and that too a closed one, as its basis proved that money is married to happiness.

Read online on Forbes website

Friday, April 19, 2013

Article in Forbes on a Journey to Generosity

The milieu at Shantivan, a garden in Mumbai’s tony Malabar Hill area, on February 17 was like a hangover from Valentine’s Day. Placards displaying messages like ‘Love is all we need’ were tied to tree branches and hearts were chalked with bounty throughout the green sprawl. Except that it wasn’t an ode to Cupid. The occasion was the second monthly lunch hosted by Seva Café.

Omnipresent at the venue was a bespectacled man in khadi kurta-pyjama. He, along with other volunteers, was welcoming the guests and explaining the concept of the café—here, patrons aren’t charged for the food they’re served, instead they are free to pay whatever they want. Or, they can walk out without shelling out a single penny.

Meet Siddharth Sthalekar, who was orchestrating this “generosity enterprise” with ease. About three years ago, he was the co-head of the derivatives trading desk and the head of algorithmic trading at Edelweiss Capital. A typical day for this financier then would begin when the gong woke up Dalal Street at 9 am. That was when he would appear on CNBC, dressed in a crisp, formal shirt and tie, and share his expertise on accumulating stocks.

On one such morning in 2010, even as he was offering investors advice on what stocks to buy and sell, Sthelekar had the hint of a smile on his face. So much so that the cameraman asked him what’s brewing. Little could he explain to him then that the decision that he had taken—to throw it all away—had lit up his poker face that morning.

For some time, the 31-year-old Mumbaikar had been contemplating quitting his cushy job to explore if there is an alternative to the premise of accumulation that seemed to drive individuals in the corporate world. When he finally took the plunge, he set out to travel across India with his wife Lahar, a freelancing interior designer who graduated from the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT) in Ahmedabad. Over the next six months, as they visited several non-profit organisations, they woke up to the concept of gift economy where goods and services are extended without any formal quid pro quo. This motto formed the cornerstone of Moved by Love, an incubator at Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, which carries out various projects.

One such project, Seva Café, was in hibernation. Sthalekar, an IIM Ahmedabad graduate, and his wife became its core volunteers and helped reopen it in September 2011. Seva Café practises giving, the antithesis to accumulation. At the café, volunteers cook and serve meals every week from Thursday to Sunday for free.

What is Sthalekar’s takeaway from the experiment? The proof that customers have kept the café running by paying up even when they could have got away without it. That there are enough people not governed by greed—something he had set out to test in the first place.

However, Sthalekar admits that the transition in his mind from market to trust economy did not occur overnight. “Initially, I used to put price tags on customers as they walked into the café,” he says. That’s in tune with the rationale of profit maximisation that business schools teach and the corporate world practises. So, Sthalekar often spent more time at the table of a potential Mr 3,000 compared to the table of a tea-stall owner, who was in his perception Mr 100. Then, his “noble friends”, including his wife and other volunteers, stepped in and pointed out the flaw in his approach, prompting a course correction.

However, running the café till eternity is not the objective of this entrepreneur. In fact, it’s quite on the contrary. Sthalekar says the ultimate aim of this gift-economy project is to shut it down. “If the aim was to keep the café open forever, we would have gone with a presentation to the Bill Gates Foundation and asked for a corpus.”

The idea, he says, is to trust the assumption that every individual, irrespective of his economic standing, can be generous.  Seva Café provides a space for people to practice generosity by recognising the selfless giving of the volunteers. But, in the long term, Sthalekar hopes that people will develop the habit of being generous even outside the café—in all environments and circumstances. When this would happen, Sthalekar would lock the doors of Seva Café and put the sign ‘Mission Accomplished’ on it. “When there will be enough generosity in the world, there would be no need for the café,” he says.

Although Sthalekar doesn’t know when this will happen, he says he is optimistic as he is coming in touch with more and more people who are generous. The other situation in which the café would close, he says, is if it does not receive enough support from volunteers and/or customers. This has not happened for seven years, even from before he joined the project. 
In the beginning, Sthalekar confesses, he could not fathom the motive of gift-economy projects. Given his background, it was a huge deviation from the aim of multiplying revenues manifold. He recollects that when he was at Edelweiss, he used to entertain clients with lavish dinners and alcohol at five-star hotels to extract the best deals from them. He doesn’t deny that he enjoyed the high life and his work per se, but instances like those made him question the morality beneath his work. “The contradiction of charging my corporate card for an expensive bottle of champagne when I knew there are hungry people on the street did not align with my values,” he says.

That led to a constant struggle in his conscience. At one level, he was carrying the stern face expected of a financier. But the realisation that the efficiency which money provides is skewed took him closer and closer to the decision of moving on. “It was brewing inside me,” he says. He found moral support from some unexpected quarters—his boss at Edelweiss. When he told him that he would quit, his seemingly-capitalist boss opened up to him about a secret desire that he nurtures in his heart: He wanted to build an ashram for old people. This reaffirmed his conviction that people are generous by nature, but they act in correspondence with the space they are in.

There are days when he has his doubts about the choices he has made. “On some days, I do feel ‘what I am doing here, travelling on a train when my friend owns a BMW?’” he says. Nevertheless, his experiment of living on people’s generosity affirms to him that it is possible to sustain oneself by giving. “The litmus test of this experiment is that if I create value for the society, the society will support me,” he says.

Even though Sthalekar’s ultimate dream is to shut down the café, for now, he wants to open more Seva Cafés across the country.  It pops up once a month in Pune and Bangalore. In January, he decided to try his luck in Mumbai. He was apprehensive, unsure of how the financial capital would react to a pursuit completely non-material. “We decided it would be a one-off experiment. But because the response was overwhelming, we served Mumbai in Feburary too and are scheduled to hold another gathering in late-March,” he says.

On both occasions, Seva Café served about 100 guests comprising an eclectic background—from professionals to slum children. Although they had anticipated serving about 60-70 patrons, the participation of a dozen-plus volunteers from the city came as a bonus and helped them enhance the scale of hospitality by a notch.

However, for Sthalekar, opening more cafés is just the means to the end: The day when people will make giving a way of life and these spaces will become redundant. It is hard to believe that the images of Sthalekar Google juxtaposes are of the same person: One clad in a loose khadi kurta, sporting a French beard and wearing a hearty smile; the other a snapshot of him in the CNBC show. Ask him and he’ll tell you that maybe they aren’t the same person. Today, if Siddarth Sthalekar were to appear on the CNBC show, he would advise investors to give all their stocks away.
(Read on Forbes website)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Article in Crest-Times of India on Kat-Katha

Kat-Katha can easily pass for a typical school for slum children: Six students from age 3 to 17 sit on a floor mat supervised by a teacher busy explaining place value on an abacus when we go in. Two bedsheet-covered computers are perched on a table in the adjacent room. The dilapidated walls are covered by sketches made by the students.

However, at the entrance of the school, on the same wall that displays a chart of 23 enrollments, hangs a curious vending machine which makes it apparent that this is not a typical slum school - a condom dispenser. The space was once a brothel and the students are the children of sex workers and brothel owners. The teacher, Gitanjali Babbar, 26, is the founder of Kat-Katha.

Kat-Katha, which translates into 'story of puppets, ' originally intended to provide life choices to sex workers. Before establishing the centre, Babbar was working at the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO), the body that had put up condom dispensers at brothels including the now dysfunctional one at Kat-Katha.

However, when some of the sex workers urged Babbar to think beyond condoms, the idea of Kat-Katha came up. "Kat-Katha was first conceived to equip women who do not want to be in the sex trade with skills like tailoring, dancing, literacy, etc. so that they could pursue alternative livelihoods, " Babbar says.

Babbar began operating from a youth centre but as soon as she started bringing prostitutes there, the owner of the space who had donated it to the centre asked her to vacate the premises. Thereafter, Babbar quit her job and along with some volunteers entered the brothels and began to educate the sex workers.

It wasn't smooth sailing in the beginning. "The didis (Babbar addresses every sex worker as didi) used to abuse us because they thought we were a part of some NGO that would make big promises and then manipulate them, " Babbar says. But slowly, she gained the confidence of the women and their children too joined the classes. Finally, the children ended up absorbing most of the time and attention at Kat-Katha though about 25 women still come to the centre to learn dance, to study, or to simply chill whenever they feel like it.

Kat-Katha is located on the infamous GB Road in Delhi that houses more than 3, 500 female sex workers and their 1, 500 kids in about 77 cage-like brothels. It is 1 pm and on the ground floor, the shops selling hardware, paints, mobile recharge and such have already done half a day of business. Babbar clambers the narrow, steep and sneaky staircases between the shops which lead her to her students. The sex workers have just woken up and are idling around. Some are having brunch, while others are getting ready for their 'day trade' in deep-necked spaghetti tops, lips painted a bright red.

Babbar heads for the rooms where she knows that she will find children who are regulars at her class. She asks them to rush to her "school" as if she were a school bell. Babbar cajoles Nisa (name changed), 6, to bathe before leaving for her class. Nisa pleads for a compromise: She will change clothes but will not bathe. Babbar does not give up. In another brothel, a shy boy lying on his stomach, hears Babbar's call and pops his head down from a dark space similar to a dingy storage in a footwear store. 

Passing a few brothels on both the sides of one such staircase, she reaches Kat-Katha. One by one the students start coming in, some loaded with a school bag, others just with their curiosity and amusement. Randhir (name changed), 11, is the first one in. With the air of one who owns the space he heads straight to the computer room, uncovers a machine and shows us a PowerPoint slide he made: It is a picture of a house in the countryside pasted from the internet and superimposed with the caption: "My name is Randhir. "

"We will structure the curriculum and activities but first, I want these kids to enjoy the freedom that they have always been deprived of, " Babbar says. She points out that these children and their mothers never step out of the brothels for fear of being abused.

A sex worker, 42, peeps into the room to see what's happening. Babbar encourages her to find the letters of her name, Sita, from the bits of paper printed with Hindi alphabets. She looks on as Nisa assembles Sita's name on the floor. This is probably the first time Sita has seen her name written. As Babbar coaxes her, Sita reluctantly copies her name in a notebook.

Babbar plans to open another centre dedicated to imparting vocational training to sex workers as and when funds come in while reserving the current space for kids. Some sex workers have requested Babbar to find jobs for their grown-up children above 17 who have become pimps. But because these children are uneducated and are past school age, Babbar wants to train them. Thus, Babbar's idea of Kat-Katha has organically evolved to incorporate the people associated with the brothels of GB Road.

It is 6pm. The children at Kat-Katha refuse to go home from this space which has no closing time and operates all seven days of the week. In a couple of hours, the cramped brothels will be transformed. There would be bright lights and the strains of filmi mujras will be heard through the windows. Randhir has seen his mother step out every day when it's dark, wearing seductive clothes. He says he is determined to take her away from GB Road some day.

Babbar says she has plans to spend a few nights at Kat-Katha. "It's good bonding time with the kids who then understand I am not a visitor from an NGO, " she says.

Read on TOI's website

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Article in Outlook on women's bank

This is a piece I did for the Outlook magazine dated March 18, 2013 on SEWA Bank with relation to the all-women bank proposed by FM Chidambaram in Union Budget 2013-14:

At the counter near the bank entrance, two women are helping illiterate women clients fill out their passbooks. Many other clients—again, women—stoop over women officials in their cubicles. There are no men here. This isn’t the all-women’s bank that Union finance minister P. Chidambaram proposed in the 2013-14 budget. It’s the Shri Mahila SEWA Sahkari Bank Ltd, Ahmedabad,  one that has been around for 39 years.

In the late 1960s, Ela Bhatt, as chief of the women’s wing of a textile labour union, recognised the multiple problems faced by women workers and gradually organised them, by 1972, into the Self-Employed Women’s Asso­ciation (SEWA). Its founders soon realised that these working women needed savings and credit services, but existing banks weren’t keen on dealing with illiterate women, who wouldn’t know how to handle their passbooks, would arrive in work-stained clothes, often with babies in hand. So, two years on, SEWA set up a cooperative bank for women, beg­inning with 4,000 members.

Chidambaram plans to provide Rs 1,000 crore to set up an all-women bank in the public sector. SEWA Bank, in contrast, began with Rs 1 lakh, contributed by mem­­bers. Today, it has a working capital of Rs 200 crore and serves four lakh women.

Jayshree Vyas, 60, has been the managing director of the bank for 25 years. She says one of the chief objectives is to help poor self-employed women to keep out of the trap of borrowing from money-lenders. She tracks the capital-time chart of a typical client and points out how it starts with debt, moves into savings, and then on to business expansion and buying a house of their own. One example, albeit a client who’s just starting out, is Jyoti Makwana, 26, who makes and sells PoP figurines. Her working capital has come from the third loan she has taken from the bank. “At 1.5 per cent interest per month, it’s advantageous,” says the high school dropout.

But there’s more to the bank than just financial services, says Vandana Shah, 57, its general manager. She has been with the bank since 1976 and says it has been an innovator all along. “It’s only recently that the RBI came up with know-your-customer (KYC) guidelines, but we’ve been strict about that since inception,” she says. The bank now employs 250 officials at seven branches across Gujarat. But Shah remembers how a five-member team used to run the bank from the foyer of a textile unit, helping uneducated workers not only with their finances but also their personal problems.

Jaya Bhavsar, 46, a client who earns from stitching and embroidery, appreciates the personal touch. She took a loan for house repairs one-and-a-half years ago, and says the staff explains to her all the technicalities of repayment. She wouldn’t want to go to any other bank.

Much of this commitment has been won by the 150 community leaders, or “bank sathis”, who liaise between the bank and clients. Thanks in part to them, and to the staff’s attitude to clients, transactions worth Rs 1,500 crore took place at the bank over last year.

Lopa Raval, the cashier at the head office, says the work gives her satisfaction, and recounts one Saturday afternoon when a woman came crying to the bank after the counter had been shut, seeking withdrawal of money for her daughter’s hospitalisation. Of course, the bank obliged her.

As Raval speaks, an announcement is being made for clients to subscribe to the New Pension Scheme (NPS), for which the bank is an aggregator. But long before the NPS, SEWA Bank had tied up with Unit Trust of India to create a pension scheme for its clients, who otherwise wouldn’t have saved for old age. It had been inaugurated by Chidambaram. A case of grassroots inn­­ovation and initiative beating government. Of the minister’s proposed all-women’s bank, Vyas says she’d like to wait and watch, for “we are yet to see whether it will reach rural areas and whether its systems will suit poor women”. SEWA Bank could perhaps give them some valuable lessons.

Here's the link to the same:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

I just found out...

that smartheart has been harboring an extra-marital affair. It's stupid of me to have taken so long to figure this out. They say that when a man indulges in an extra-marital affair, he comes home to his wife happy. I should have known about his scandal from when he goes shopping with me and the moment my attention is diverted, he gets on his phone to text. I should have known from when he carries his laptop on our vacations saying "Just in case I get time." I should have known from when he forgets to eat his tiffin lunch in office.

In fact, I should have known from our first lunch date the day after he proposed on 18th May, 2008. After we ordered our paninis at Shocolatery, he took out his laptop and asked me if he could work till the food comes. "I have a deadline," he said.

I should have known my husband has and will always have an extra-marital relationship with his work.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Can a man and woman be "just friends"?

                                                            I wrote this piece for Femina:


                                                                       Here's the text:

In an overflow of emotions, Monica Geller could barely finish her sentence when she went down on one knee to propose to Chandler Bing: “I am so lucky to have fallen in love with my best…” Monica, did you mean “best friend”?
Yes, she did. But that was the television series Friends. In reality, many women clearly demarcate between friendship and love.  

No cocktail for the ladies

Most women think they can be just friends with their male friends and they can’t befriend those they want to be romantically involved with. For example, Aditi Misra, 29, says she can either be friends with a man or she can be attracted to him in the “other way” but not both together. And she has different reasons for each. “I am friends with men because we are in the same place or because we share common interests like sports; but I date men because I am attracted to their looks or qualities.” Similarly, to Anjali Jhaveri, 29, who is married to her high school sweetheart, her husband was always more than a friend. “In my mind, my husband was never a ‘friend’ because he fit into all the criteria I had wished in my life partner,” she says. She adds that her male friends have always been just that.

Dr. Sanjay Chugh, a senior psychiatrist of the country, reasons, “Women perhaps find it easier to categorize or label the relationship for it brings in clarity and keeps the boundaries in place which might add to a certain sense of security.”

Even when the relationship changes its category or label; in women’s psyche, once a friend always remains a friend. When Rumana Hussain, 28, was proposed by Suhel Khan who she always thought of as her buddy, Rumana accepted the offer. But she still considers Khan to be more as her friend than her husband. Likewise, Dimpy Shah, 28, also thinks that she shares a friend-like relationship with her pal-turned-hubby even after delivering a baby. “We still share secrets with each other and have the same kind of fun that we used to have when we were just friends,” she says. 

Rumana and Dimpy were wooed by their male chums but there are examples in real life like Monica of Friends who fell in love with their guy friends. A case in point is Alefiya Bhatia, 25, who on spending one on one time with her friend realized that the relationship had potential to evolve more. “We were just great friends for three years when we hung out in a group,” she says. Now that she is married to her best friend for about two years, she thinks of her husband as a friend first. Jaina Shah, 27, seconds the viewpoint. She also considers her friend-turned-lover-turned-hubby to be “friend first, husband then.” 

Dr. Nimrat Singh, a human behavior scientist, says, “The attitude of ‘friend first’ is probably knitted in women’s want to not lose the equality that is characteristic of friendship while avoiding the hierarchy that is intrinsic to marriage.” 

Men and their concoctions

In contrast to most women’s compartmentalization; in most men’s Venn diagram, friendship and love can intersect. Although many men say that they are just friends with many of their female friends, they also add that they can be more than friends with at least few of them. “I am attracted to some of my female friends but I just admire, respect or like to converse with the others,” Karan Mahajan (last name changed), 28, says. He adds that he cannot think of getting involved in a romantic relationship with the latter because of various reasons like culture mismatch, incompatibility in value system etc.

However, Amol Gupte (name changed), 25, differs. He holds the extreme viewpoint that there is definitely some level of attraction between a boy and girl for them to become friends. “I don’t know if the attraction between a male and female is the cause or effect of friendship, but there definitely exists some attraction between the two,” he says. He admits that he is attracted to all four of his female friends. “It’s like hedging the bets,” he chuckles.

Dr. Chugh deciphers the logic behind men’s psyche: “Men perhaps go with the ‘try your luck’ philosophy more than women. They are willing to keep their options open and go with the flow.”

Unlike Amol, the answer to “Can men and women be just friends?” is not so black and white for Aman Gandhi, 28, who succinctly replies, “depends.” First of all, he says that it depends on whether a boy and girl spend time in a group of friends or one on one. “Unlike in a group, if two friends of the opposite sex spend a lot of time interacting on a one on one basis, I have seen that mostly they hook up,” Aman says which jingles with Alefiya’s story. Furthermore, he says that within a group, the ratio of boys to girls also significantly plays into determining whether they will be just friends or more. He gives the example of the institute that he is a graduate from. The ratio of boys to girls was so highly skewed towards males that Aman guesstimates most of the female students would have dated at least once.

Anjali relates to Aman’s experience. She changed her school in the 11th grade to one in which the ratio was skewed like above. She says that guys popped the question ‘Will you be my girlfriend?’ very casually and frequently. “After knowing a girl for as little as two weeks, the boy would ask her out,” Anjali recollects.

Popping the question

Men may communicate their interest in their female friends from the time range extending from now to never. Aman belongs to the former camp. “Rather than imagining stuff, I directly ask the girl I like if she likes me too,” he says. He cites avoidance of time wastage as the logic behind his approach. However, Arjun Agarwal, 26, has never been able to tell his female friends about his love interest in them for the fear of screwing up the friendship. Holding the middle ground, Karan says he makes sure that the girl is also interested on the basis of his observation of her body language over a considerable period of time.

The “love” radar

Irrespective of when men express their feelings to their women friends, they gauge if the feelings are reciprocal by taking all kinds of cues from whether the girl laughed at their stupid jokes to whether she touched her hair while talking to them. Filmy, isn’t it? Remember Raj debating whether Simran loves him or not based on whether she would turn back to look at him before boarding the train in DDLJ. Amol discloses how he figured that his female friend that he was attracted to didn’t like him: “She always talked about how she would be so conscious about the way in which she dressed before someone she loved and she turned up to meet me twice in pyjamas.” 

But these interpretations may not always yield accurate conclusions. Arjun thought that his lady love was also attracted to him because she accepted to go for dinners with him alone. But it turned out later that she was not interested in Arjun in a lovey dovey way. Rather she was social with everyone.

Dr Singh suggests, “Men’s interpretation of women’s attitude and behavior towards them is more a projection of what the men want to see.” A recent University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire study finds that men overestimate the attraction their female friends feel towards them. Dr. Singh affirms that the overestimation could be due to misinterpretation of such cues. 

How girls can do damage-control

Luckily, things worked out for Raj because Simran who glanced at him before boarding the train had similar feelings. But there have been instances wherein one-way feelings from the boy have put the friendship in jeopardy. When Pearl Gandhi’s (first name changed), 27, childhood friend approached her with the proposition of love, Pearl who did not share the same feelings started ignoring him. “I thought if we met, his feelings for me would never die down,” she says. Now, Pearl and her friend are not pally like before. On the other hand, when Naiyya Saggi, 28, came to know that one of her friends was attracted to her, she got concerned about dealing with the issue without losing a good friend. After telling him that she did not share the same sentiment, she resumed treating him like just a friend pretending nothing happened. “I laughed it off in front of him telling him that he would get over the silly infatuation soon,” she says. Naiyya adds that after few weeks of awkwardness between the two, the friendship returned to normalcy. Arjun concurs that when the girl he invited on romantic dinners acted oblivious about his feelings; his crush on her vanished after a while along with the friendship remaining restored. “I am sure she knew that I liked her because all of our friends knew,” Arjun says with a confused look.

Dr Singh says, “If a person gets over heartbreak easily, possibility is that the intensity of feelings was not strong enough.” Dr. Hansal Bhachech, a prominent psychiatrist of Gujarat, specifies, “For majority of men, friendship with the opposite gender equates to sexual attraction.” The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire study explains why. The lead author of the study, April Bleske-Rechek is reported to have said on that because platonic inter-sex relationships are a relatively new concept in the history of human evolution, men are still controlled by their mating instincts.

Amol reveals a conversation he had with two of his friends at a club: “I asked them if they would have a one-night stand with the female friends they were attracted to. One of them said he would do it with all of his female friends while the other said he would do it with all but one.” Scary, isn’t it? Nevertheless, there are also guys like Karan who try to take friendship with their female friends to the next level only if he is serious about it on a long-term basis.

The verdict

The debate about the costs and benefits of friendship between men and women will go on for ever. Yet guys and gals will continue to be friends and sometimes more than friends because as Chandler put it before Monica: “You make me happier than I ever thought I could be.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Public Display of Affection

You must have been either ogled and gaped at by Indians during your PDA sessions or you must have seen Indians ogling and gaping at other couples involved in PDA sessions.    

That is because we are PDA-deprived people by law (According to Indian Penal Code Section 294 (a): Whoever, to the annoyance of others does any obscene act in any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both). Therefore Public Display of Affection (PDA) is a subdued form of porn for us.

Smartheart tells me when he was single, how envious he used to feel seeing twosomes cuddling (before the paunchy policeman arrives) while he jogged every evening by Bandstand. That was when he decided he would take his revenge one day. Now that he possesses a female companion, whenever he spots youngsters around, he blurts out, “Let’s make them jealous.”

Then he would neck me and I would feel like how a westerner would feel in a saree: nice but awkward. The paunchy policeman must be on his way but my cultural conditioning whacks me first.

Recently I had been to a poets’ conference in which humorist Surendra Sharma remarked: “Because Indians love economically and privately, they save enough love to last them for half a dozen more lives. On the other hand, in the west, people love their significant others at all times, everywhere: in the subway, at the restaurant, waiting in a queue, at the pedestrian crossing... . That is why they exhaust the quota of their love in two years after which they file for divorce.

Consequences apart, I had an opportunity to love like the latter when smartheart and I lived together in the forward west for two years. On seeing couples snuggling and nuzzling, I would feel, “How cool! These people are so free.” And like how when in Rome, one should do as the Romans do; I would suddenly peck him at the restaurant with half a noodle hanging out of my mouth. I would address him -- the person I have trusted my life to -- as “baby” in a conversation at a friend’s place.  I would be shrieking mutely to passers-by, “Did you see/hear that?” 

There was no paunchy policeman in sight or Indian uncle-aunty wagging their index fingers at us. Yet I somehow felt like how a westerner would feel in a saree.

I read that young India is advancing in its PDA forays.  I’m sure somewhere deep down they know they are not from Rome. Only ogling and gaping at Public Displayers of Affection can come naturally to them like it does to me.