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Like many observers of the recent Gujarat elections, I was stumped. Was, because reading M.R. Venkatesh's incisive analysis of Modi's victory threw considerable light on voters and voting.

Venkatesh explains India's history:

"Secularists, with their firm belief that the concept of this nation could be built from a clean slate without any reference to her past, are oblivious of this set of voters and their psyche. Remember, we are a nation with a historical baggage of defeats in the past thousand years or so."

and neatly ties that to voters' fears:

"And our collective understanding is that all this happened because we Indians were never politically conscious of defending ourselves...Crucially, we did not have strong leaders to defend the nation from such predators."

And as feared, the greatest casualties of this polarization are "increased communal tensions and social friction. As Indian society gets divided on these lines, it could well lead to the revival of militant Hinduism -- leading to shriller retaliation from the secularists leading to a vicious spiral of polarisation of the polity, voters and society."

Part I: The need to innovate

We live in an era of unprecedented global economic growth and widespread poverty. While poverty rates in many parts of the world, including India and China, have dropped significantly over the past decade, the benefits of economic growth to the most deprived sections of society still remains the "trickle" quoted in old economics textbooks. Fortunately, change is brewing.

Today, efforts in many disparate parts of the world to integrate the poorest of poor, better known as the "bottom of the pyramid" or BoP, are focusing on bringing goods and services to the deprived. And surprisingly, these goods and services have achieved a wide range of levels of sophistication, from savings programs that take advantage of group-based lending models (the most-widely quoted example is the Grameen Bank) to emerging re-insurance programs for micro-health insurers. Many, if not most of these financial programs rely on community savings, in a reversal of the primarily charity-based aid programs of yore. The new mantra today is not just "Give and ye shall receive" but also "Ye shall receive and give", encapsulating that oft-told story of the boot-strapped entrepreneur. In the process, many of the lessons of financial theory of portfolio diversification and risk management are being applied to sustain such services as health insurance and project finance for people who've been limited by the individual income profiles.

Yet many basic services including education, power and medical services have remained outside the scope of the microfinance services for various reasons. Some of these services are based on capital-intensive business models, which are a challenge for limited pools. Schools require buildings and the accompanying infrastructure. Power typically requires transformers, wires for transmission, and not to mention, expensive generators. The challenge is to innovate and adapt these services to the pay-as-you-go business models. The story of CavinKare, which pioneered the "sachet" model of marketing[1] by selling shampoo in the form of small packets, is now legendary among BoP thinkers. While these micro-packaging methods are not replicable everywhere and have been disputed as to their efficacy in boosting consumption, they point to the potential of tailoring business models to cater to the poor. And just as importantly, to tailor them to local circumstances.

There are parts of Africa where a HIV patient can be found in every family of a village. The consequences of contracting HIV are too long to list here. But the particularly nasty aspect of this affliction is the constraint it places on the families and dependents of its victims. Treatment of HIV patients is expensive both in terms of the financial burden it places on their families but also in the time taken to care for them. The latter is time lost on an occupation - an unfortunate double-whammy for these families. To add to their troubles, conventional health insurance programs place severe limitations on HIV treatment costs, thereby rendering them useless for the needs of most of these families.

My friend, Omar, and I are focusing on one such village, Lwala, in Africa. Lwala, in Omar's words, is a:

"village of approximately 1500 people near Lake Victoria in western Kenya. Within an hour’s walk, approximately 3000 additional people live in nearby villages accessible by dirt roads. The majority of the area residents are subsistence farmers….

The official 15% prevalence of HIV in the region is the highest in Kenya (2003 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey). Of the 529 villagers who were tested in 2006, 32% were infected (24% men and 40% women)."

Ordinary microinsurance providers can do little here; most are unwilling to finance the high costs associated with treating HIV patients. Our challenge is to build an insurance program that satisfies the medical needs of both sets of patients, spreads the risk across a large pool of members and is also self-sustainable. That's a difficult gap to close; ordinary medical expenses in Lwala cost less than $0.10 a day at first glance, but HIV treatment is upward of $2 a day.

Among some of my ideas to tackle this idea is to look at the externalities of HIV treatment. An HIV patient who is treated and cared for at a clinic frees up resources for his/her family. Relatives can pursue other occupations to generate revenue for their families. That is not to say that HIV afflicted families can afford HIV treatment any more than non-HIV families. But, their priorities and benefits from insured healthcare are substantially different. Can these families pay meaningfully higher premiums?

Successful treatment of HIV patients can also lead to meaningfully healthy lives. In such cases, the challenge of the model is to create a relationship with patients post-treatment to recover the costs, not unlike the deferred compensation model in labor theory. That challenge is also compounded by the fact that HIV is not curable. There are treatments out there to make the disease more manageable, but many of them cannot be afforded without very deep pockets.

It's a long list of challenges, but the promise of a solution is too great to be ignored. Being able to finance HIV treatment in Lwala would go a long way to getting this community back on its own feet. It could finally break the debilitating nature of the disease.

To learn more about Lwala's clinic initiative, which was started by Milton and Fred Ochieng, fellow Dartmouth graduates, I refer you to Omar's profile of this initiative at Real Medicine's website and the Lwala community clinic initiative website at Vanderbilt University, where Milton currently attends school.

[1] Inappropriately attributed to Hindustan Lever by CK Prahalad.

We often hear about campus politics in Kerala and its victims, including education. But few know about the cultural differences between colleges in Kerala.

In his post on Loyola's "“let-us-not-get-involved” political apathy", writer and editor Ashok R. Chandran gives his perspective on how Loyola has achieved a distinct reputation for being the school that bucks the trend. While other campuses have caved into hartals and intimidating student unions, Loyola has refused to bow to the violence that follows the two. However, Ashok questions, is the institutionalized attitude closer to apathy than a confrontation of such social evils?

All valid questions for anyone who wishes to see more mature political involvement at all levels in Kerala.

Schoolchildren in India

Silverine's story on Teresa reminded me of Melissa, the lady I tutor at my local community center. As a tutor, I help adults prepare for their high school equivalency examination. Most of the people who approach our community center have never completed high school, for a variety of reasons. And many of them are seeking to pass the GED exam to get a better job. But not Melissa.

When Melissa approached us with her desire to pass the GED math test, we were impressed. Here is a retired lady past her prime years but thinks highly enough of getting a high school education. And that too, in a discipline that many folks struggle with - math. Fortunately, math has always been my favourite subject.

During my first tutoring session with Melissa, I found that raising her math skills would be no easy task. One of her weaknesses is rounding numbers. In her preliminary test, when asked to round 6,360 to the nearest hundred, she answered 300. At first glance, one would think Melissa is starting from square one. But I deconstructed her thought process to identify that her problem was two-fold: attention (she left out the 6 in the thousands place) and perception (she had trouble grasping large numbers). I pointed out these issues with her constructively by encouraging her to use money as an example, a method she quickly grasped. Two sessions later, Melissa breezed through a quiz I prepared for her. As I watched her check her answers, I could scarcely imagine this was the same lady who believed her greatest weakness to be her failing memory.

Today, Melissa is rapidly mastering fractions and plugging holes in her math skills. In the two months as student and teacher and vice versa, she and I have learnt a lot about teaching and learning, much of it relevant to senior citizens. We have discovered that she has an optimal learning time and its much before the only time of the day we meet. We have also learnt that a two hour stretch is too long for her. So we keep our sessions to one and a half hours now. And we focus the first half of the stretch on new materials and the second stretch on homework. Also, practise makes perfect. So I give her plenty of exercises to take home. And all through this, I am pleasantly reminded of the human spirit to overcome.

Because of all the things I appreciate about Melissa, her ability to admit mistakes, to be patient, it's her perseverance that strikes me the most. And there is research to point that this skill is an important, if not the most significant, trait of a student - Scientific American recently ran an article , The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, which highlighted the results of several studies on how people learn. As the article notes,

"Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life."

The writer elaborates on this difference in attitudes:

"Several years later I developed a broader theory of what separates the two general classes of learners—helpless versus mastery-oriented. I realized that these different types of students not only explain their failures differently, but they also hold different “theories” of intelligence. The helpless ones believe that intelligence is a fixed trait: you have only a certain amount, and that’s that. I call this a “fixed mind-set.” Mistakes crack their self-confidence because they attribute errors to a lack of ability, which they feel powerless to change. They avoid challenges because challenges make mistakes more likely and looking smart less so...The mastery-oriented children, on the other hand, think intelligence is malleable and can be developed through education and hard work. They want to learn above all else."

My theory of prosperity is tied to information and how it flows. One of my strongest beliefs about the way the world works, is that our life improves commensurately with our knowledge about ourselves and other forces in this world. More pithily put, "Knowledge is power". But less well understood is how we interpret the information comes our way, how we strive to open new avenues of information and how we act on that information. And as my experiences with Melissa show, the way we perceive information has possibly more power to shape our happiness than information itself.

The following email, which was circulated among some of my Malayalee friends, provides some insight into the appeal of Communism to Indians, and Keralites in particular. This email is particularly relevant in today's political context with the left parties going berserk in West Bengal. Such events surprise few Keralites, least of all those who have left the state after being hounded by the Left, as noted by blogger Brijesh Nair.

Below are excerpts from the email titled "Krishna - the first Communist".

"Why Lord Krishna's life and message make him the father of communism. Long before Karl Marx, Lenin and Mao, a historical figure in India fought against oppression, championed the cause of the poor, denounced religious dogma and empty ritualism, and sought to inspire a righteous and selfless attitude in society.

The basic tenets of communism say that all are equal, and exploiters and oppressors should be severely punished..

The life and message of Krishna reveals that he imbibed, taught and fought for these principles 5,230 years ago. In fact, an objective analysis of the Bhagavad Gita too would reveal that Krishna was a better communist than Karl Marx. One could go so far as to describe him as the real founder of communism!

… he says, ''Sarva dharman parityajya mamekam sharanam vraja'' (Drop all the dharma and take refuge in me, ie, in the higher self).

This is really a revolutionary thing. Karl Marx also has said drop the religion, ''Religion is the opium of the masses.'' Karl Marx was not aware of Indian spirituality. All that he saw was the blind faith and the authoritarian rule of the religious institutions that existed at that time in Russia, whereas Krishna takes us beyond religion.…I wonder why the communists have not yet owned Krishna. Many times in the Gita, Krishna says, ''Yo mam pasyati sarvatra'' (One who sees me in everybody, one who sees oneself in everybody, is the one who sees the truth). This is the basic principle of communism — see everyone as yourself.

But it is the spirit of self-enquiry, the scientific temper in a person, that takes one deeper. Religion stays behind and one moves into a realm of pure humanism or pure divinity — this is the hallmark of Krishna's teaching.

Many people talk about communism but lead a capitalistic life. However Krishna never did that. He stood for the cause of the poor.

Now communists in Kerala need not feel guilty about going to Guruvayoor and those in Bengal can openly participate in Durga Pooja!"

Mixing religion and economics tends to have unpleasant results, and the worst casualty of this war is language. Thought is shaped by language and going by this email, imagination has died in Kerala. Language has been raped and pillaged so badly in my state so as to make irrelevant the distinction between communism and humanitarianism, capitalism and materialism and most importantly, the line between self-interest and greed.

Allow me to explain. Go back and read the excerpts, but this time, substitute the word "communism" with "humanitarianism". In Kerala, communism has been particularly adept at shrouding itself as a humanitarian philosophy. It has successfully disguised the economic consequences of policies that favour one portion of the populace over the other. Due to high literacy rates and liberal migration policies in the Middle East, Kerala's ideological baggage has managed to limit Kerala's development since the 60's without the political repercussions that follow economic stagnation as in other parts of India. This is a state with disenfranchised workers. A polity without an economy. A debate without imagination.

Those who've read my writing before have probably heard this before, but I feel compelled to draw the line between goals and ideologies once again:

The difference between humanitarianism and communism is that the former is a goal while the latter is an ideology. If communism says, “All are equal”, humanitarianism says “All must have equal access to opportunities in life, despite their differences.” A farmer is not the same as a doctor; they have different skill sets. Yet, they have equal rights to access freedom of movement be it on a working day or a “hartal” day, equal rights to access freedom to educate themselves in the manner they choose be it in a government school or a privately funded school, equal rights to access different markets be they government supply depots or corporate retail houses, and so on and so forth.

Yet, some folks abuse these rights to access opportunities to suppose that it is everyone’s right to enjoy the fruits of those opportunities, regardless of how hard a person works to access them. If you are fine with this perversion, you have to contend with its consequences. And its consequences are dire for two reasons; the world is finite and humans are flawed.

Our resources are scarce - a fact of life that calls for prudence and a mechanism that channels our resources to their most productive use. Every rupee we spend on protesting Saddam Hussein’s death or some “imperialist” power can be more wisely spent on better roads, better health infrastructure, more wildlife sanctuaries etc, everything that Keralites hold near and dear to our welfare.

A friend of mine once said, "Capitalists live on earth; communists dream in heaven". Again, this quote calls for some clarification. We are not talking about capitalists as communists view them, because the sad fact is that in Kerala, that word has long been hijacked by an ideology that thrives on creating a non-existent enemy. We are not talking about the trappings of wealth, but rather the mechanisms that create and spread wealth in capitalist economies, including the rule of law and free markets. If all humans are "created" equal and humane as communists would have you believe, then life would scarcely require laws and rights to protect. The sad fact though is that humans are prone to bouts of jealousy, greed, anger and violence. Laws and free markets exist precisely to curb and channel those tendencies to good use.

Ben Franklin, who was a deeply religious as well as a scientific thinker, had this to say about the nature of compassion, "God helps them that help themselves." In other words, promote the welfare of people who deserve it – people who are hard-working, diligent, devoted and thoughtful in life. If you don’t make that distinction, your charity goes to waste. I am reminded of the story of Krishna and his childhood friend, Sudama. Sudama visited Krishna with some puffed rice as a gift as he remembered the food is a favourite of Krishna’s (thoughtfulness and devotion). We all know how that story ended. Have we ever noted such qualities in our politicians and youth activists, communists or otherwise? If you are a humanitarian, rid yourself of those enemies of thought, reason and freedom first.

Post-script: It shocked me later to learn that this email was taken from a column by Sri Sri Ravishankar, the founder of the Art of Living foundation, in the The New Indian Express. It is a sad day when a widely-proclaimed proponent of human welfare misuses language.

Cost of a geography textbook: Rs. 35.
Cost of a map: Rs. 40
Reading Priceless!

It's been more than a year since I began blogging and I promised myself that I would make it a habit to write more than once a month. I've broken that rule liberally. Fortunately, I am remiss for many good reasons for things that have happened in my life.

But I am back to writing not because I am less busy, but because I am compelled to write about a movie I saw today. I haven't been to the movies in a while, so when my close friend, Sorin, invited me to see "Lars and the Real Girl" at the nearby Ritz, I didn't hesitate.

"Lars" is nothing short of amazing. Without giving away too many spoilers, "Lars" is the story of a young man's fantasy girlfriend and her role in humanizing him. The movie which begins by highlighting the humorous trials and travails of the town's attempts to accept Lar's girlfriend grows pretty soon into the story of Lar's growth and self-realization. It is a moving, tightly scripted masterpiece of direction and some of the finest acting this year. Ryan Gosling plays Lars convincingly as the kind of person you want in your life not because of the interesting consequences of his imagination, but because of his courage. It takes plenty of creativity to flesh out a fictional character, but it also takes guts to ignore the skeptics.

While watching Lars, it becomes pretty clear that the audience falls into two categories of viewers: those who seldom lose sight of the levity of the situation and those who want to suspend belief even for a short while. My two cents for those watch it though is that if you leave the theater without appreciating the strength of the human mind and its capacity to heal itself, you are missing something. Because there are movies that succumb to the temptation of fantasies of the mind and then there are movies that give it the respect it deserves.

When a major news outlet like CNN chooses to focus on a humanitarian issue on its front page, it naturally draws attention. Today's focus, widows in India, is particularly interesting to read not because of the article itself, but more so for the reactions of its readers.

On the one hand, you can find a large contingent of Indians quite proud of their heritage and culture and offended by the article.

"I am absolutely outraged at some of the responses here on this story. By focusing on a few cases, the story tries to portray Hinduism in an extremely poor light." - Rohit

"This is at most an isolated case. Hindu tradition and Indian society hasn't ever sanctioned this nonsense. It's believed that yes, dying in certain places in the world does allow one to liberate their soul, but that applies to ANYONE, not just widows." - Varun

"I think this is a grossly exaggerated story. Why is it that CNN always seems to be interested in picking only the negative things about India? Did the author not find a good populace of remarried widows? " - AK

Are they justified? Is CNN making a generally false statement about Hinduism or India? After examining the facts that CNN puts forth, I too am forced to conclude that this is a shoddily written article. Something that belongs to the likes of the 700 Club and Geraldo Rivera. Certainly not of the caliber that one can expect from CNN.

First, Vrindavan draws a disproportionate number of widows. So 15,000 widows in a city of 50,000 is disturbing. But, how do you judge 15,000 homeless widows against a country with 40 million widows? In order to do that, we need to collect data on the total population of homeless widows in India. Let's sit down and chat after that, because till then, all you have is anecdote and conjecture and little else. I don't deny that there is an issue, but I can't appreciate an issue with such flimsy facts. There may be more homeless widows out there, but unless you make the effort to reach out and count them, how do you make people realize the severity of the issue?

Second, there are flimsy attempts to examine the reasons for widow ostracization.

"An educated woman may have money and independence, but even that is snatched away when she becomes a widow." Is it just me or does this statement not contradict itself? What does it mean to have independence when it can be snatched away?

One widow's experience though draws light to what is quite possibly the main reason why widows find little support. Childlessness. To an audience fed on a capitalist society where individuals bear responsibility and joblessness is a negligable factor, that a childless widow has no recourse to support may come as a surprise. But, to a society with a poor history of government social support networks and where a vast number of people rely on their families for support, childless widows are essntially deprived. But of course, it need not be that way. Certainly not in a civilized society. But instead of insisting on more economic growth and government reform, CNN would rather have you believe that this is an issue with Hindu traditions. Yes, it is to an extent, but not to the extent that you can generalize it and call it an "Indian" issue or a "Hindu" problem. Which brings me to my last point - what are India and Hinduism?

At the other end of the comments to the CNN article, you can find people with an unrealistic image of India. I suppose many of them are tired of hearing about Indian family values and how the country is forging ahead on economic terms. So they readily jump on a story like this because it fits that tiresome, Orientalist myth of a superstitious India torn apart by its blind beliefs. The problem here is perception of information. Many people and I'm not sure whether this is the effect of poor schooling, see black for black and white for white. Boys and girls, life isn't a cookie-cutter.

In the end, CNN like many other media outlets will always seek to highlight the news that generates the most controversy. I have yet to see any articles in popular media or elsewhere that offers a holistic examination of India's internal contradictions.

A while ago, Aishwarya Rai was interviewed by David Letterman and asked whether she stays with her parents. It was a deliberately prejudiced question that fetched an even poorer answer from Rai.

My answer to Letterman would have been that modern Indian youth do not necessarily stay with their parents. It can also be viewed that the parents live with them, because after a certain point, it's the younger members of a family who earn more than their previous generation. It's all a matter of perception. But, if you stop at perception, that's all you'll get. The golden standard of truth is further down a prickly road.

Both views of India - a family-loving nation and a widow-rejecting society - are jaundiced, narrow-minded views of a society that has extremes like any other society. In fact, it would more apt to say that India is not merely a society, it is a society of societies. Similarily, Hinduism is as diverse a set of beliefs as are Christianity and Islam. I know that this is rather disappointing news to folks like CNN because they would then have to spend more than a page on their website to cover "Indian society" and Hindu-"ism". It would mean doing some in-depth analysis of a multi-faceted socio-economic problem. I am almost tempted to tell CNN to stick to covering war zone stories and leave the analysis to the experts. Or should I be berated for expecting the golden standard from an attention-deficit media?

Sometimes, I wonder how our Gods end up as characters on underwear, our religion ends up as nothing more than two paragraphs on the caste system in western textbooks and the sitar as a hippy instrument among various other degradations. Chalk it up to sadhus who preach ludicrous cures for cancer! Why does yoga need to be spread this way? Why can't Ramdev encourage people to practise yoga purely for its meditative and stress-busting benefits? Somehow I feel he is no better than the thousands of other "gurus" that have sprung over the last decade who breach their own "brand" of yoga and try to patent it. And if not patent it, try to glorify it beyond what it is.

This constant obsession with glorifying Indian tradition in medicine or any other field is partly borne by an inferiority complex and partly by alienation. Ramdev feels left out of the vast strides that modern medicine is making in tackling diseases. He can in no way contribute to modern pharmaceutical R&D because he doesn't hold any genuine doctorate and probably has not even had a complete education. Instead, he would equate a disease that has its roots in a phenomenon as complicated as mutating cells to something as simple as "wrong breathing".

Now, before all sorts of yoga followers begin criticizing me, I would like to reiterate that my problem lie with the man and his institutional beliefs, not the practice of yoga, which is a very healthy form of exercise. Stick to the fundamentals, yoga = healthy, and the whole world will follow you. But stray from the truth into the land of half-truths and lies and you not only hurt yourself, you also unwittingly hurt that which you espouse.

The other day, I was power-walking to the subway on my way to the office. Somehow, I found myself behind a 6'4'' giant of a man unable to get past his frame on the narrow pavement. We played musical chairs for a while as my exits were blocked. This went on for two or three minutes. Suddenly, an opening cleared and I slid past him. As I walked away, the gentleman's companion quipped, "Beware of walking trees".

My American colleague just returned from a break on the beach with a beetroot-red face. His tan became the topic of the day.

Him: Ya, you guys don't get a tan.
Me: No, not really. We've been blessed with one from birth.
Him: Are you serious?
Me: Well it's possible. If I sit out in the sun for too long, but it doesn't show. It just feels like a burn.
Him: Oh.
Me: I have to go to India to get a tan.

Remember those days when debates on evolution vs. creationism were settled and we all rested on the assumption that science was nearing a final understanding of the forces that shaped life. Wait - past tense? Molecular biology is apparently entering a paradigm shift. I'm an avid follower of science, but even I was surprised to pick up the latest issue of The Economist and flip to its cover issue on RNA. Although a little off-topic for its typical reader, recent discoveries in molecular biology are turning notions of genetics on its side.

Apparently, scientists are discovering new functions for a hitherto misunderstood chemical in biological cells called RNA. RNA has till date, remained relatively plain in the long shadow cast by its more popular counterpart, DNA. Ever since Crick and Watson discovered the helix structure of the latter and the release of Jurrasic Park, these protein-creating genes have captivated every school-going kid's imagination. In contrast, RNA has always been seen as a "humble carrier and fetcher of building materials". Well, science textbooks are going to have to be revised again, because all clues point to RNA playing a more distinguished role. Apparently, RNA has been found to be instrumental in biological functions including fertility and gender determination, by regulating levels of proteins. The Economist compares it to discovering that our protein factories have management. And that management is possibly as important as the factories themselves.

Molecular detail aside, why is this important? Well, other consequences notwithstanding, it poses a huge obstacle to the "apes are sapient" argument. Much has been made of the fact that great apes and chimpanzees share more than 90% of DNA with humans (as high as 96% in chimpanzees) and the implications it poses for animal testing. Well, with RNA's elevation in status, the definition of the gene may broaden according to the article. And unless further research is done, a big question mark lies on exactly how much genetic resemblance, and by association, sapient resemblance, can be found between apes and humans.

What consequences do these developments have for supporters of human rights for apes? Uncertain, but it certainly cannot help them in the immediate future. But then apes and other primates never really required human rights. They deserve protection in terms of habitats safe from human encroachment. In any case, arguing for human rights for non-human species is pointless when even humans are threatened, particularly near ape habitats in Africa and Southeast Asia. We would be more successful in conserving ape habitats if we created financial incentives for local human populations to preserve and protect them. If we cannot grant primates "human" status, we could certainly grant them value in terms of their contribution to biodiversity. Or at least, in the name of being sentient?

Protecting ape habitats by itself may not bring a ban on animal testing. Humans are known to inflict harm on even other humans without the slightest motive of self-preservation. We must be the only sapient species that willingly inflicts pain for purely exploitative purposes. So, one could naturally ask, what does it mean to be sapient if we tolerate inflicting pain on sentient creatures? What does it mean to be sapient when we accumulate resources at the expense of all other species? What does it mean to be sapient in a single species world? Questions like these have for too long been relegated to second rate status besides purely symbolic and short-sighted gestures like claiming human status for apes. Our claim to sapience cannot come with granting human rights to other species. It begins with justifying ours.

Today's word, boys and girls, is spouse. What does it mean, you ask? Well, I always thought it meant one's marriage partner. And by association with "marriage", it had the qualities of permanence, love and intimacy. It's the person with whom you can always count on sharing your joys and troubles at the end of the day. Isn't that the idea?

Not according to Tarra Weiss at Tarra would have you believe there's a whole new unexplored relationship out there - the "work spouse". As she explains, "with a work spouse, you know each other's favorite food; gripe about co-workers; confide about personal issues; and support each other during good and bad times. The main difference? There's no canoodling."

Wow, in my parents' days, before the advent of the "office culture" and "coffee buzz", when most people held 9-to-5 jobs, such relationships would have been at best called close friendships. And is it any surprise that friendships are not encouraged at work? No, says Linda Carr, the industrial psychologist quoted by Tarra, who refers to research that shows that "aside from showing a new employee the firm's culture and unwritten rules, they serve the same role as a mutual mentor. They bounce ideas off each other, offer advice and emotional support. That, says Carr, is the No. 1 reason employees give for staying with a job."

Fair enough, Tarra. But when can you cross the line to calling it a "work spouse". Apparently, when 17% of 750 surveyed claim they have one, according to the poll quoted by Tarra. And also when you go shopping with someone as "Jacalyn Lee and her office husband Patrick Farrell did during lunch breaks while working at the same New York City public relations firm." Why don't we question their similar tastes? Why doesn't anyone ask why these people don't leave their shopping till the weekends? To me, these are subtle signs that Jacalyn and Patrick either do not have time outside the office to pursue these matters, which is unlikely considering that they are taking their lunch break off. Or just more plainly and certainly not a subject for a column in Forbes, they share more common interests in shopping than perhaps, with their spouses.

So, was Lois Marino wrong to have termed her husband's office buddy as his "work spouse" in Tarra's article? Well, like most things related to marriage, I'd like to leave the vocabulary of people's relationships within the marriage and outside of it to them, because unlike most subjects of analysis, a relationship can be infinitely complex, irrational and spontaneous. Such is human nature as you and I know. My bone of contention are not with these seemingly sane people; it's with the folks who choose to label it. Because while there may be a need to highlight close friendships, there's no need to draw tenuous links between a good working relationship and the one that you have at home. The two are vastly different.

My belief is that there is no new relationship that is coming to the fore at 9 to 5 offices. If at all there is anything to speak of, it is a consequence of an office culture of longer hours stretching beyond the 9 to 5 regimen. But, that is not news to Forbes or Tarra Weiss, who arguably make a living off charting new territories in human relationships at the workplace. Even Linda Carr, the pyschologist quoted by Tarra, makes no fuss about it and simply calls the relationship one between "mutual mentors". I'm sorry Tarra, but that is simply too much of a leap to the "work spouse" that you're asking us to believe.

So, what about the 17% who said that they have a workplace spouse? Perhaps, it is that instinct within some people to compartmentalize their relationships and lives. Let me explain. If your relationship with your marriage partner consists of separately labelled domains called "canoodling", "shopping" and "supporting" and you have not found all these domains within your spouse, it may be "natural" to seek out the "work spouse" who possesses the missing ones. Or is it as simple as Forbes justifying the exclusivity of its audience by persuading readers of Forbes that on account of their ambitious, hard-working lives, they are redefining human relationships?

My company is a pretty tight group. We try to indulge in some literary creativity in our off hours, as the rest of our time is spent poring over rather boring legal documents.

Colleague 1: I've added the 9'o clock breakfast on Fridays to my schedule.
Colleague 2: Oh, you mean the one in the lobby?
Colleague 1: Yeah, I have two breakfast"es" on Fridays now.
Colleague 2: Do you say breakfast"es" or breakfast?
Colleague 1: Maybe it's breakfii...

I've been remiss w.r.t. the blogging scene for some time now, partly due to personal reasons and partly due to the demise of my blogrolling links. I'm very lazy without it, because I've accumulated quite a bunch of valuable blogger friends whose posts I like reading. Don't know how many of you utilize the blogrolling service (, but I'm sure those of you that do, have noticed that it hasn't been working for a couple of months now.

So, I dug back into my programming background (I swore to myself I would never code another line again after college...but some promises are made to be broken, I guess) and came up with blogLinx, a stripped down version of the essential services provided by

At the moment, if you register at blogLinx (, you can add up to 50 blog links to your own link list. The service is very self-explanatory.

And here's the best part: you can import your links from! All it takes is pasting the url link that blogrolling provided you. For example, my blogrolling url is:

Of course, keep in mind the maximum number of links you can add to blogLinx - 50.

Currently, blogLinx is free. I intend to keep it that way.

Instructions for accessing your link list from your blog site are provided to you once you register and log in to blogLinx.

So, join me at And feel free to email me with any comments/questions! Appreciate your time and help.

Enjoy connecting.

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