The You In Your Phone

Look at your phone – the way its setup, the layout of app icons on the homescreen, the most used apps, the total number of apps, the theme it has on, the wear on the body, how close is it to running out of storage space, which brand it has stamped on it, how new it is, how frequently it rings, how loud its kept, how bright it is, the number of hours it is stared into, how protected it is, how quickly it discharges, how slow it is and what decoration it has. Think about how those little things about your device describe you.

Within its screen is a sacred space for your consciousness to navigate through at ease. It is not the simplest of tools made by man, yet it is available to all and usable by most. This little monolith you carry with you – plastic intricately fused with sand and metal – this is the tombstone of the modern man, which he carries with himself. He perfected all the techniques and knowledge to give himself a new rock. And for this award, he will forego all the other old ways he had devised to be remembered. He will throw away his talismans, tags, chains, watches, rosary and rings.

Similar things, though, could be said about other objects we use, but the mobile phone is the object we reach out to the most, consistently, throughout our waking days and nights. There is no other object which centers our physical existence like the mobile phone.

Such a recent change, and why should I not fear something like that.

Conditioned To Consume; Conditioned To Rule

We are the results of the conditioning our societies expose us to. Intended or not, as a positive outcome, the conditioning prevents the degradation of larger structures into chaos and non-cooperation (which they eventually do). This conditioning also sows the seeds for all the emotional and moral problems we experience in the society. Making humans work together in large numbers – people whom they share nothing common with, requires the invention of a lie. It is the easiest to blame just one or two of these – religion, nations or money; while leaving a special place of honor for the third one. But, all three are the timeless tools of conditioning, and also inter-dependent.

The structure which is forced upon the individual must find its outlet. These outlets are, for now, being channeled for better control with apt technology that addresses them. Inlets were always easy to manage, it is the outlets which still need work., but we are getting there. The tendency is high that these outlets often take the route of violence. Those are times of change, when a new recipe for conditioning is tried and we move from one bottled-formula to another. The monkey-mind which makes this outlet be unpredictable and ungovernable is also the same monkey-mind which seeks conditioning. It must latch onto something which brings a sensation of belonging to the tribe. We will do anything to belong – all culture is just about belonging to the group, all culture is conditioning.

We can look at social-conditioning as a gradient within a sphere, with an ever changing cultural command at its core, and its crust being most different from it. The crust, or the fringe, is out-of-step and often in conflict with this dynamic zeitgeist at the center. The zeitgeist will always be open to trying out some part of the fringe, but it is quick to discard and forget, and cycle through it. The mainstream’s values and ideas are as distant from the brothel in a city, as they are from a small independent church in a village.

The conditioning closest to the core, ever in flux, is of the kind which benefits nation-states and the market – this is where the modern man is educated, to become a good customer and an involved voter. The further one moves away from this core, one sees more rigid structures and loyal tradition, smaller groups and more individuality. True, that a person living in a tribe has his world-view shaped by the fifteen people he knows, but yours is shaped by a faceless advertising agency and is no different from at least ten thousand people in your city – who is now more original in their thought? Who is the one popping pills for anxiety? Who is the one ranting and complaining about everything, and involved in the lives of people he doesn’t even know?

Originality, whenever it surfaces, is just a mutation of thought – an anomaly in a string of unoriginal second hand experiences. And what if, that very perfect blend of second hand experiences caused this original thought to emerge in the first place? Ultimately, the individual must decide the level of compromise they are willing to make with the society. They have to test how much they can diverge from the mainstream, without getting penalized. Their groups must also work with that realization in mind. Cults, for this very reason, in their rate of emergence and divergence become an easy target for the society. At the other end of this, controllers of culture – governments, organized religions and corporations, also often push for divergence – but these pushes are of the safe and planned kind, with an assumption that culture can be controlled to achieve an agenda. What they do not wish to accept is that cultural conditioning is not conscious, even when it might seem that way temporarily. The anomaly does always arise, in some minor way, where the individual writes his own little book of laws in his heads.

In our own lives and stories, we often overlook how much of our own identity and actions are built on unoriginal tastes and choices. We are told to feel and react in a certain way for a certain situation. We are encouraged to have opinions, but only if they are not too divergent from what is being spoken casually on the streets. For each of these liberties and choices which define us in the modern world, we are encouraged to also consume something to make it look or feel valid. In the hand of the industrialized society, this becomes a model of governance – to rule via consumption for largely manufactured needs.

Even the peculiar life-choices, diverging away from the mainstream, are just a moment in the past which amazed the eccentric – it was a story of someone else he saw or heard, and in its pursuit he built a replica of it. But this is never an exact replica, because his own experiences differ uniquely, and eventually it becomes his own piece, only to be replicated by someone else. Social outcasts and rebels, unlike what they might think, are also not able to be completely free from this – their identity is a patchwork of other ‘influential’ lives at the fringe which fascinated them.

Coming back from the verbose segue, in short – all of us are not free from social conditioning. Even when we do become aware of it, and act to reject it, the outcome is nihilistic and can lead us to dark ends. There is also the path of non-participation, to not react to the conditioning and then mastering the inner reality – this is what the yogis and other spiritualists can do. Again, non-participation is not an easy journey and not for everyone. It offers its own temptations in groups, which the establishment almost always reacts violently to. The third one, though in participation with the system, is the awareness and self-awareness of social conditioning which a leader exhibits. I have increasingly begun to believe that the leaders of thought and societies across the world were aware of this conditioning they were born into. Their rejection of it, while participating in it, is what the system automatically selected for. Their anomaly found a way out at the top only to trickle down and repeat the process once over again.

Rethinking Rakshabandhan

It is a surprise that the festival has survived through its transition from organic to something highly manufactured – right from the logistics to the main object of focus. Amidst my thoughts on how the entire custom has changed in these times into an impersonal delivery through a gift mailing service, I recall the hastily written letters, grooved with the handwriting on the unwritten side of the folded paper – sometimes it would be torn from a notebook and the other times from a fresh ream. Even before unfolding this message and reading it, the density of this script would give an estimate at the time-window she got to find this year in her hectic schedule – regardless of that, it would still go into my box of memories. And in that haste would also be a half-open pack of teeka and rice powdering and staining the whole envelope from the inside. Its smell would mix with the scent of the rakhi creating that unique sensory imprint of this festival.

Now, it is nothing like that – just a neatly packaged rakhi with a generic printed message. The biggest content of the envelope is a discount coupon for the next order.

Rakhis put more plastics on my wrist than a digital watch.

It has been a few days and I am planning to take the rakhis off my wrist. I am thinking of all the plastic and how it has increased its share against other materials that were used in the decoration and details. Ideally, I am supposed to leave these under a tree when I discard them but these particular threads will have to be thrown into the recycling bin, which doesn’t feel like the right treatment for something your sisters spent time selecting and stressing over its successful delivery to you. I see the damages of this product’s entire life-cycle compared to what it was originally intended to be – a mere thread. One is a product, another is an artifact.

The simplicity of the thread makes it iconic and beautiful, maybe with a personal touch of something she added that will burst into life at the roots of a tree – that would be enough, which is possible by freeing it from the ugliness of the over-ornate that has infested every aspect of our lives. Unless the people who practice this tradition start considering sustainability and simplicity seriously, this topic will become yet another matter of government intervention into their belief system in the coming future. Complaining then surely will not help.

Removing the layers of consumerism from our festivals is important, and looking at the original practices – the ancient practices, at their simplest, also reveals their environmentally conscious set up.