Category Archives: Musings

spotless glass window

The lights change. For the next three and a half minutes, she would walk up to every car, knock on the spotless glass windows and try earning some money through a gesture that she has perfected – her right hand moving from a little above her navel to her mouth mimicking the action of eating. Most people behind those spotless glass windows ignore her. There are others who leach at her from behind those spotless glass windows. A few would even roll down their spotless glass window, whisper something obscene before they hand her a 10 rupee note. The easiest ones to live with were those who gave money out of peer pressure or because of a religious reason – they usually roll down the spotless glass window, hand over a few coins and quickly roll the spotless glass window up – making sure they do not touch her in the process. She never spoke a word and for most part looked down except when she received money.

The lights change again. In the next six and a half minutes, she counts the money earned, removes half of it and pushes it down her blouse. Sometimes she whispers an abuse or two for the people behind those spotless glass windows. She then walks up to the Traffic Police, standing in the middle of the junction, hands over the other half as if that is all she has. He counts it and gives back half of it to her, sometimes with a few passing references to her anatomy. A couple of times they were loud enough to be heard beyond those spotless glass windows but never ever had anyone seem to care.

She comes back to where the story began just before the lights change again – to another set of spotless glass windows, to another rerun of her ten-minute story.

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warning signals : there’s more to your kid than a potential engineer

Half-Price-Books-Kids-Reading-Program[1]The first warning signal that you should not miss is when he gets a 100 on 100 in mathematics. Most Indian adults get an orgasm when they see a kid who has a perfect score in Mathematics and waste no time in declaring him as the potential next best thing to happen to the engineering fraternity after the invention of levers. Their obsession with the kid’s performance in mathematics (good or bad) completely overshadows their ability to see the other sparks of his brilliance, sometimes in the same report card. And that is when the problem first begins. Over the next few years, as he keeps on getting a perfect a score in mathematics and adults around him shower their awe and adulation on him, he gets classically conditioned to believe that the only way to succeed in life is by being an engineer.

As someone who is trained in Human Resources, I can tell you that it is not necessarily a good thing to happen to your kid. Your kid is a unique individual in himself and has his own set of intelligence and pace of learning (Khan Academy is doing some really good work in this field!). And so, till he grows up and learns to defend his abilities, as a parent it is your responsibility to protect him from falling prey to the groupthink, otherwise referred to as adulthood. As someone who has been surrounded by engineers for the last eight years of his life, and very competent ones at that, I can tell you that engineering is a wonderful discipline that requires far more competencies than a perfect score in mathematics. A perfect score in mathematics can mean a whole lot of other things, from your kid being an Albert Einstein (or Sheldon cooper, both of them are not engineers) to reproducing the answers to the sums from memory, given your disposition of reverence towards the subject and the woes of Indian examination system. As a 25 year old who is fighting to make his mark in life, I can tell you that there is no direct or even partial co-relation between being an engineer and being successful in life.

The second warning signal that you should watch out for is when your son gets a good rank in one of the engineering entrance examinations. In India most would consider this as baptism to the society (and by that definition others are but outcastes) and would declare your kid a retard at the slightest indication of disagreement. All of 17 years, your kid will not have the courage to stand up for his dreams against the collective wisdom of so many self-declared career counselors if you do not stand up by his side and let him know that his dreams, even the wildest of them, are worth more than his engineering rank.

As someone who has cleared one such examination and been through one of the aspired engineering colleges, I can tell you that these entrance examinations are in no way perfect measure of engineering competency. At most, they are the best measures that we know of and by that logic has room for mistakes albeit insignificant in the better interest of the common. An engineering college can afford a 1 in a 400 mistake. You sir, on the other hand, have only one or at best two kids!

The third warning signal and the one most watchful parents miss is when your kid gets a job with a top engineering firm (In Indian context, it boils down to a multi-national IT company) and starts drawing a small but sufficient salary. Difficult to realize unless experienced, but letting it go is in all likelihood the single most thing between what he is and what he wants to be, especially if he is from a middle class family. Unlike the previous two cases, this time he neither needs your protection nor support. All he needs is your acceptance and the same proud look that he is used to by now.

Come to think of it. He is only 21. He possibly cannot make a decision that he has to live with for the next 40 years of his life.

In the year 2008-2009, I took a few sessions on Story-Telling for a class of third grades, in a Government School in Nagpur. One of the assignments, I had given them, was to narrate a picture of what they saw themselves doing, twenty years later, on that very same day. Of my 28 mischievous students, 22 saw themselves doing one engineering job or the other. I wish them all the best.

And here’s the point, I am trying to make. My best wishes are also with the other 6 – three doctors, two teachers and one little sweetheart who still hadn’t figured it out.

The writer of this piece is an engineer who at some point of time had missed all three potential warning signals. Thankfully, he learnt his lesson while there was still some time.

This piece has been written for Colgate Total’s ‘The Moral of the Story is…!’ competition on IndiBlogger. Find out more at My Healthy Speak Blog.

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b-school dilemma : dreams or a high package

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

                                                                                          -H.Jackson Brown Jr., P.S. I Love You

Alas, life is not a romantic novel and choosing one between your dreams and that hefty salary you draw every month involves much more considerations than words of wisdom. In a few years, we all realize that there is only so much that a job can offer, but it still ensures a steady income, a comfortable life and pays our EMIs. I am not going to argue that if you follow your dreams, you will do better than that because the truth is that you are not going to. In fact, it’s going to be difficult, both for you and your family, and is going to test your character and conviction. There will be nights when you would curse yourself for taking the plunge. I am sorry if I just shattered the rosy image that you had of ‘Following Your Dreams’ but that is the reality. Yet, in spite of all the hardships and the self-doubt, there will be a few of us who would still wake up the next day with a new dream to nurture. This article is in defense of those outliers.

Time and again, we have been reminded that we are the intellectual capital of this country. But somewhere between the euphoria of getting selected into a prestigious college and the tension of landing a plush job, we lose sight of the fact that there’s more to us than a hefty pay-check at the end of the month. The onus of charting an untrodden path has always been with the elite few. The baton is with us right now. We can choose to pass it along or decide to carry it with us.

I can illustrate examples of people who took the road less travelled and emerged successful. But I am not going to do that because for each successful person, there were many who followed their dreams and did not. However, the question is not whether you eventually succeed or not, the question is: Given that you have only one life, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to spend it striving for the realization of your dreams or are you going to wait till you are comfortable enough to pursue them (which, by the way, is never going to happen!)?

Often the question of whether we go for our dreams or a more socially accepted high-paying job boils down to ‘Who I am’ versus ‘What I am’. Let me explain. ‘Who I am’ answers the question from the concerned person’s point of view and encompasses everything that needs to be taken into consideration. It is sometimes selfish but nevertheless true. In contrast, ‘What I am’ boils down to ‘What the society and people around me think about me’. This is an opinion that is highly biased and hardly covers everything necessary to take a decision. Unfortunately we are more aware of ‘What I am’ than ‘Who I am’ and when we let this question decide the fate of our dreams, we are not only being foolish but also being unfair to ourselves. That is a crime easily committed but rarely forgiven.

We all know, at the end of the day, money is not directly proportional to happiness. And yet, we spend all our life avoiding confrontation with that statement; living in the make-belief happy world of ours; afraid that the truth of that statement would shatter the conviction that pays our EMI. And in doing so, we, the highly qualified, fail to answer that basic question that our primary school teachers asked us in the third standard: “What is your ambition in life?”

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”

― Langston Hughes

breaking news – I

The only time I have really felt bad about the fact that I do not understand finance much is when people ask me my opinion on the absurd-yet-necessary petrol price hikes. Obviously I am affected by them but I do not know if I should be perturbed by them. One because I still do not know the mileage of my bike, after having ridden it for around three years, and secondly because in spite of what a particularly loud news presenter wants you to believe, I still trust the Government’s intellect on this one. Let’s not forget, it is this Government (and its allies) that fired a Railway Minister for hiking the railway ticket price by 30 paise per KM for AC 1-tier passengers and hence establishing beyond doubt that they are indeed an aam-aadmi’s Government!

Speaking of allies, of late, I have been very interested in the actions of a particular female whose delusional accusations have been the talk of the town. She has been very prolific in identifying Maoists and very particular about not being answerable to them.  ‘Over-acting’ is what some of my friends call her antics to be. And mind you, I am not talking of actor-turned-politicians like Jayalalitha in here.

Talking of actors, two of them have been prominently in news and interestingly, not because their movies are competing at the box-office (or at the Filmfare awards!). Instead, they are in news because of two serials that have been running very successfully on TV over the last month. Both of these serials have exposed a lot of evils in the society – female feticide, child sexual exploitation, dowry system, match-fixing, molestations, use of abusive words in public places and unwarranted tweets from the former owner of one of the serials who still believes he is the best thing that has ever happened to Cricket after Sir Don Bradman. Both these serials have also achieved a lot in a very short time frame. Parliament has passed a bill to protect children from sexual abuse. Shah Rukh Khan has been banned from Wankhede for five years and Siddharth Mallya has once again proved his intelligence quotient on twitter. Kudos.

The Mallyas remind me of two things – Deepika Padukone and Kingfisher. Both of them are a delight but their interests change quickly and lay in diverse fields. Unfortunately a great beer and a seductive calendar cannot keep you ‘high’ for long. Air India pilots, on the other hand, have the right to complain. Kingfisher at least has a really attractive crew to fly with, if they ever do.

The word ‘attractive’, over the last few weeks, has been all about Yami Gautam for me. In fact, I believed I was seriously addicted to Facebook till I noticed the frequency with which she posts her pictures on her Facebook page (and the time it takes to get a thousand likes and half a thousand shares). But that should not have come as a surprise to me. Given that, these days, le me notices more supposed-to-be-funny shared pictures than le friend’s status updates on le my Facebook wall. Weird sperms!

Facebook, meanwhile, has gone for an IPO (Interesting Phase Over?) and Mark Zuckerburg just married his college sweetheart after the IPO (Interesting Phase Over, again?). Priscilla Chan seems to be the luckiest woman alive. She has a husband who is a billionaire and is also young. Now, how many can claim to have a husband who is both? Husbands are either young or are billionaires. Most are none.

I cannot tell you what husbands remind me of. There is a very good probability that my girl-friend would be reading this! But all the husbands in the world know it. After all, Satyameva Jayate!

a few questions

Quite a few days back, immediately after the Egyptian Revolution, I had written this piece. At that time I had no clue that it would turn out to be real so soon. Jantar Mantar (and now Ram Lila Maidan) would see people from all segments of the society – some with the Tricolor in their hand, some in their heart – walk out and defy a government that assumes (and rightfully so) that it has the sole power to enact laws for the people but fails to respect the demands of the same people when formulating the clauses of it. I am just being verbose. The actual word for it is ‘Autocracy’ and as I have always believed that any form of autocratic government – be it in the Middle East or in our backyard – cannot survive. A government by the people of the people and for the people, not just in words but in spirits, is the only way to look at governance. And somewhere in that line the present Congress Government has lost its plot. Not only their steps against corruption seem questionable but also their steps against curbing a topic of national importance into a political and consequently social turmoil seem ridiculously childish.

I do not think any government official reads through my blog – they blatantly refuse to acknowledge the magnanimity of the situation around them, my blog is just a small manifestation of a Saturday afternoon’s effort to understand the so called confrontation between the ‘Civil Society’ and the ‘Parliament’ – but if they do, I would like them to answer a few innocuous questions that I think are important for me to know as a citizen who by the virtue of his age is eligible to have a one-billionth say in who should rule him. And importantly, how?

The Peaceful vs The Powerful

I was born in the year 1988. Mahatma Gandhi to me was my Father of the Nation, Nelson Mandela a great crusader against the apartheid in South Africa and Martin Luther King Jr. a visionary who demanded equal rights for people of all skin colors. They were the champions in my history book and ‘Non-Violence’ – a form of revolution they patronized – a concept. Honestly, I never ever believed that it was a potent weapon to disarm the strongest of the opposition. And then I saw Anna Hazare and his team bring the entire nation on their toes, expecting some kind of change in their current state of apathy against corruption, without a single incident of murder, rape, arson or looting. There was never an inclination or an indication of violence – neither in their speeches nor in their actions.

What made the Government, then, to invoke its police power against them? By ‘them’, I am not referring to any individual in random (though the argument holds good even for them). I am referring to two Ramon Magsaysay award winner, one Padma Bushan and Padma Shri award winner. Does the present cabinet have at least one minister who could match the international and national recognition bestowed on these people?

If History is any evidence, let us not forget that in all the cases mentioned above, it is the non-violent revolution that has triumphed over all odds, even the most oppressive ones. And by invoking the police power on a non-violent group of people who seek to protest against the pitiful way the Government has conducted investigations and convicted people involved in corruption, Congress has in fact hit back at the very same ideals that led to their foundation and consequent rise as the voice of the people.

Acceptance vs Denial

I am no Mahatma. I paid a bribe of two hundred rupees to get my driving license. I have fought with the traffic police to waive off a fine. In the frustrating labyrinth of the government offices, I have often wished that I had the power or the money to get my things done. I say that with a shame and regret that I have done my share in helping the issue of corruption in this country. But somewhere in those confessions of mine, a few that I have mentioned and a few that I have not, lies the realization that I was wrong and a resolve that if I had an opportunity to do redo a few chapters of my life, I would write them differently.

In your Independence Day speech, you pointed out Mr. Prime Minister that no government has the magic wand to finish off corruption, to which I completely agree. But what I failed to see was an acceptance of the fact that your Government has failed to check the rise of corruption to proportions unheard of before. I still do not understand why the Government is in denial of the sorry state of affairs and that our machinery has failed us.

Worse times see the rise of great heroes. And in most cases, it happens after the hero has acknowledged that it is time to do something differently. Hidden behind the political ego of your Government is an opportunist pessimist who knows that there is light at the end of the tunnel but does not want to walk towards the same. Either it is too fond of the darkness or maybe it is too afraid of light. In either case, it is not the right government. Instead it is just misleading the people to believe that the light, which is rightfully theirs, is too harsh for them to handle.

Technicalities vs Spirit

I have always wondered why we use such complex words and convoluting statements to write our laws. Why cannot the laws be written in much simpler and easy-to-understand sentences? Why cannot we have flow charts and pictorial representations? This question might come off as an immature one for someone who has studied law. I am told that it is because the law needs to be carefully worded so that no one misuses it. I agree.

But somewhere in that argument is the belief that laws are made to be broken, the belief that someone will use the technicalities to his benefit and thus crush the spirit of the law. I am too much of a novice to say whether or not the Prime Minister and the judiciary should come under the ambit of the Lokpal. I am also too ignorant of the political moves to suggest or reject a law but I believe that if there is someone who needs to follow a law by its spirit and not by its technicalities, if someone needs to set an example it has to be the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Yes, that will create very sensitive situations but is it wrong to expect your Prime Minister to be your example?

To this question of mine, some may argue that I know too much of the Jan-Lokpal Bill and too little of the Government’s draft, which to some extent is right. What I fail to see through is that how come people all over the country know so much about Jan-Lokpal Bill but so little about the Government’s Draft of the same. Agreed they have taken the efforts to popularize their draft, but then why has the Government not bothered to do the same? Only two people do not bother to explain – the extremely wise and the ridiculously idiot. And the extremely wise are usually right.

I do not believe a law can change the way corruption has engulfed our daily lives. To me, corruption can only be eradicated by introspection. People should spend more time looking into themselves and preventing every act of corruption they are privy to. This article was never about the Lokpal Bill. It was about the word ‘Government’!

I spent quite some time on reading the clauses of the Jan-Lokpal Bill vs The Government’s Lokpal Bill today. I had a few questions to begin with but ended up with many more by the time I finished. One of the most pertinent ones was what is being proposed in the Jan-Lokpal Bill to watch over the Lokpal itself. I did not find any satisfying answer. Someone with more knowledge, would you care to explain?

plain vanilla ice-cream

My Guest Column at The Viewspaper

That’s right! That is what you call the most successful ice-cream flavor in the world. The chocolate syrup that you add on it, is considered a delicacy but the poor ice-cream beneath is plain vanilla. Let me stress a bit more – PLAIN vanilla ice-cream. Interesting isn’t it?

Now the question is, if it is just so plain, what makes it the most successful ice-cream flavor (according to one of the surveys its market share stands at 29 percent where as the next best – Chocolate – could only manage 8.9)? The reason is simple. It is because vanilla, as a flavor, can be mixed and matched with the maximum number of syrups and add-ons and in doing so the taste does not deteriorate. Instead the taste of every add-on is inculcated resulting in a beautiful delicacy, which comes in small plastic cups and you eat it with even smaller plastic spoons.

On other hand, you would never call a chocolate or a blueberry as plain chocolate or plain blueberry. It has a distinct taste of its own and does not go very well with many add-ons. Now do not get me wrong. I am not saying that it is an entirely bad quality to have. But I do want to emphasize the fact, that their presence does not give us the right to undermine the importance of something as beautiful as ‘Vanilla Ice-Cream’. (Go ahead and add on a little chocolate syrup, if you want. It still remains a vanilla ice-cream though!)

A little extrapolation of this thought (an observation not verified by experiments, but by experience) tells me that this thought process is not limited to the world of ice-creams alone. Think of the last time you actually thanked the guy who puts coffee powder into the vending machine that gives you your regular dose of caffeine. Forget thanking, have you even noticed him? And there are countless others like the person who sweeps the streets of your locality, the guy who bills you in the grocery marts, the person who serves food in a restaurant and the uniformed watchman who guards your house. The list is huge. In their own little way, they have been contributing to the life that you live everyday and much like the vanilla ice-cream lost under the chocolate syrup, they fail to get even the faintest smile of approval from you for the presence they have in your life. It is strange how often I see people complain that their managers do not give them enough credit for the work that they do, Fair enough. You deserve it. But so does the guy who wakes up at 4 o’clock everyday to ensure that you get your share of the latest news at your breakfast table.

Imagine waking up one day to none of them. Imagine waking up to a world without vanilla ice-cream.

However, we do notice Hina Rabbani Khar, with more attention being paid to her Birkin handbags and Cavalli sunglasses than the agenda she brings to the table. She came as an ambassador from a country with which we have multiple long-standing issues and all that we noticed is her white salwar and matching pearl set. The only good part being, that people finally had something good about Pakistan to post on their Facebook pages. (I remember the posts that came after the innumerable cricket matches and the now-frequent bomb blasts and I was always grieved by the fact that people thought everyone in Pakistan is an idiot or a terrorist (not that there is much difference between the two!) and their moms and sisters were by birth objects for abuse). It finally took a beautiful foreign minister to set things right. And yet we tell our kids – beauty is only skin deep.

I do not know how successful Hina Rabbani Khar’s diplomatic visit to India was but I am sure she has a very good prospect in Bollywood. (Yes, she is 34 but you can always fit her in a ‘Bhabi’ role. Consult Ram Gopal Verma for more details on this one.)

So the next time you go to the ice cream parlor, smile at the guy who scoops your ice cream and ask for a Vanilla Ice-Cream. Drop the ‘Plain’.  (And give Hina Rabbani Khar a break. She is a foreign minister and deals with things that both you and me do not understand. Let her do her job. The girl next door also has a beautiful pearl set. Sad, you never noticed!)

what ‘the world cup’ meant to india

My Guest Column at The Viewspaper

05 – A reason to hug strangers

When was the last time you saw frenzied crowd on the road, completely lost under the spirit of being an Indian (some even draped under the  Indian National Flag) hugging each other irrespective of caste, creed, economic status and (let me put in capital letters) RELIGION. Well not many events can bring the entire nation on the street and most of them that have in recent history, have been events of national sorrow (the 26/11 attack on Mumbai) or events of national anger (the Jessica Lal murder case).

So a moment of national joy was long in coming and when it finally did, the whole nation erupted in a jubilation that was neither limited by narrow mindedness nor curtailed by self proclaimed moral police. As high fives were exchanged, bike rallies were organized, the Tricolor was carried in ceremonial processions throughout the city the nationalism that has long been subdued for the want of a suitable occasion, engulfed all the barriers and the differences that petty politics have drawn in the last 62 years. The spirit of being an Indian had finally arrived.

04 – ‘Unity in Diversity’ beyond textbooks

Ever since they were kids, they had read “Unity in Diversity” is India’s greatest strength but everything that they observed around them was completely in contrast thereafter. From religion and caste based politics to regionalism, an average Indian had seen it all to the extent that he had started believing that the whole concept of teaching “Unity in Diversity” at school and murdering the same all throughout adulthood was actually a practical way of elucidating irony!

And then, they met fifteen guys, who had put their religion, their region and their reservations aside and came out on the field with the Tricolor on their heart. They mouthed the National Anthem before the beginning of every match with pride and together they played with that pride on their sleeves. And they, in their group huddle, belief and respect on each other, defeated the propaganda of many who had divided and re divided India for personal benefits.

A popular Facebook quote read “A Chandigarh lad and a Delhi guy playing under a Jharkhand Captain won the world cup for us and dedicated it to a Marathi legend. Dear Raj Thackery, your idea of regionalism has failed. Jai ho” Make no mistake. ‘Raj Thackery’ here is just a metaphor. It represents a thought, not a person.

03 – Hope

All that I had to say in this section has been beautifully portrayed by this ad:

I am sure you will agree that Pepsi was not trying to be prophetic when they created this ad way back in 2007 when we crashed out of the world cup. What they knew, however, is that Indians can never ever hope enough for the cricket world cup. No matter whether we are the favorites or not, no matter whether we have our best team or not, no matter whether the odds are stacked in favor or against, every Indian has welcomed the cricket world cup in the last 28 years with a single hope – Victory. Like a trapeze artist who leaps with an unending faith on his/her partner, he has taken the leap of faith in every world cup with an unending faith on his playing eleven. No matter how bad we crash out, his power to hope has not taken the slightest of the dent, for he has been back for the next edition with a new playing eleven to cheer for and a new hope to nurse.

And when a hope of that magnitude (1 billion people, 28 years) comes true, boy, what a feeling!

02 – A true leader

It has been some time since we had a leader who was bold enough to follow his heart (dropping Ashwin from the attack after two successful outings) and yet humble enough to accept his mistakes (“We read the pitch wrong” – Mohali 2011), a leader who understands his strength and his weakness, a leader who keeps his cool when things aren’t going as you would expect them to, a leader who inspires (in the most crucial of the games, in the most critical of a situation he decides to face the situation head on rather than sit in the dressing room), a leader who accepts the responsibility of a hundred billion eyes pinned at him with hope and delivers.

This world cup gave India and many of its self-proclaimed leaders a true leader to emulate. This nation, which has so long suffered under the spineless politicians, corrupt bureaucrats and aged reformers, needed a role model badly and with this world cup win and the fashion in which it was won; MS Dhoni just provided them with one.

Below is one of the best World Cup ads that I came across (Please notice the usage of the phrase ‘Dhoni Ki India’). What I loved about the ad, among the many others that were aired during that time, was the folksong type music. That set it refreshingly apart. Glad that it was Doordarshan after a really long time!

01 – A bridge between the two India’s

More than anything else, this win was a bridge between the ‘Potential India’ and the ‘Able India’. My whole generation has grown up hearing that India is a potential super power. And we have waited patiently for that day to come. Note the word ‘patiently’ in the previous line – the sole reason why that day has not arrived yet! In our patience, we have let out newspapers to be dominated by news of corruption, poverty and unending misery. We have let ourselves to be fooled by various political and non political antics that promise us of golden days ahead but give us nothing in return (except for a few freebies during the state and national elections). We have forgotten that we have the right to dream.

And then we saw a man who has toiled for 21 years and 5 world cups uncork a champagne bottle in jubilation, taking generous gulps from the same as he ran around like a child. And his smile reassured a hundred billion people that you cannot have a dream that is impossible enough to tire you. In the realization of his dream, Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar ignited many a people who had long forgotten the power of dreams.

The next day all the newspapers were dominated by a success story – a success story that was strong enough to push all other stories of corruption, poverty, violence and misery out of the headlines into the smaller labyrinths of the newspaper. And that was symbolic of the times to come.

The bridge between the ‘Potential India’ (India were the favorites to start with) and the ‘Able India’ (World Cup Cricket Champions 2011) for once was bridged and I am sure it will continue to inspire many others to create fresh uncharted paths between these two Indias.

And hence, I disagree to believe that this was just a win. This win, in fact, was symbolic of a whole generation awakening to the fact that we have finally arrived!