Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The comeupance is a-coming

I imagine that contemporary popular literature such as Aravind Adiga’s, ‘The White Tiger’, or the combined cultural heritage of the auteur, Satyajit Ray’s films, would spawn a sense of curiosity amongst us about our brethren living forlorn within the inner regions of the Indian subcontinent. But it hasn’t, and if the current impotency of the reach of the Naxalite insurgency to our cities is any indication, it very well will not in the near future. It remains, for the urban mindset, an issue that belongs to the dark-lands extending from the upper reaches of the Cauvery Delta through to the Telengana Plateau and extending from the arid plains of newly carved states such as Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, into the Chota Nagpur plateau – the region of the decadent political and social horrors of states such as Bihar and West Bengal.

Even these geographical and regional terms have no meaning for those of us who get up in the morning to a cup of coffee or tea and move onto the newspaper and the bath, to eventually occupy the spaces in our offices and workplaces, smug in the knowledge of the growing balance in our savings accounts and our provident funds. Development in India hasn’t just been a mixed bag since the 1990s – it is the veritable difference of night and day, monsoon and summer, hope and utter hopelessness... divided between the places of light and the areas of darkness, determined by the economic clout of our middle and upper classes.
What of the child in the village who hasn’t been provided adequate nutrition from the ages 0 to 3, which has inevitably led to mental and physical retardation, and who is thereby condemned to never aspire to any part in the Modern Indian Success Story? What of the farmer tilling his meager half-acre plot of land which will feed the bellies of his growing family only if his hard-won produce does not succumb to another bad year in the never ending vagaries of seasons of drought or flood? What of the rural woman who delivers children year after year without a sense of there being any other reason for her existence?
‘Not my problem’, says the executive to his friend. ‘I pay my taxes… What else can I do?’ If there really is nothing else you can do, my friend, be prepared for the sun-blackened and starving zombie to enter your living room, to take a crap on your priceless rug, looking lasciviously at your wife and daughters while holding a gun to your head.

The civil war is coming to a kitchen near you, and whatever we think about the ideologies of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and whatever Manmohan Singh says about our “greatest internal security threat”, and how many ever forces we deploy in our inner jungles and highlands, it will not stem the tide. They have been ignored for far too long. They watch us, they envy us, they want to be us. They will eventually take from us without first politely asking.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nuke-ing the deal

For every statement made in the media about the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, there are countless refutations and counter-statements made almost instantaneously after the fact. I suspect, perhaps conspiratorially, that they collectively form an on-going strategy by certain elements belonging to the Indian Left that will always refute its obvious benefits to us, in the harsh (to them) geo-political realities of today.
It seems to me the anti-thesis of any supposedly pro-people policy, that we condemn more than 400 million Indian citizens to virtual darkness by spreading misinformation about the agreement's demonstrable benefits to the country.

In the cold, hard light of day, anyone who has ever lived anywhere in India is naturally incredulous at any argument that stands against the fact that this country needs reliable electricity, and much more of it.
Local demands for energy are growing at an average rate of 3.6% per annum and have been for the past thirty years. Electricity losses during transmission and distribution across the country vary from between 30% and 45%. Presently, about 75% of our energy is generated from thermal plants, 21% from hydro-electric plants and more than 50% of our commercial energy requirements are met by the burning of coal, for which the demand has been increasing at an annual rate of 6% since 1992-93. In 2004-05, electricity demand outstripped supply by 7% to 11%. The theft of electricity, mostly in urban areas, amounts to 1.5% of the country's GDP.

A perfunctory reading of the details related to the nuclear agreement Manmohan Singh entered into with George W. Bush at the end of last year reads like a point-by-point capitulation by all world-wide bodies related to nuclear non-proliferation. India is not a signatory to the NPT. India has not ratified the CTBT. India declared a voluntary moratorium on nuclear weapons testing in 1998 and all official statements since then insist that the country will reserve the right to conduct any future tests if it decides that its sovereignty is in any way threatened. We are the only country in the world that can now enter into the world's nuclear marketplace while not budging on our rights to maintain and develop a nuclear weapons program. The IAEA will not be allowed to inspect our military nuclear installations as a result of the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement. We have developed an advanced nuclear program, both civilian and military, ever since we were declared pariahs by the world's nuclear community in 1974, that is on the cutting-edge of every new technology being developed in the field, such as: Fast Breeder Reactors, Thermal Breeder Reactors, the Thorium fuel cycle, nuclear fuel reprocessing and Tritium extraction and production. We have reserves of Uranium in this country that will be sufficient, even in worst-case estimates, for both our current energy consumption levels and our nuclear arsenal for the next 40 to 50 years.

Barack Obama's administration has consistently endorsed views regarding the crying need for the eventual reduction of the world's nuclear stockpiles, towards a future nuclear weapons-free world. That is consistent with India's stand, where we have been crying ourselves hoarse about the exact same thing for the past thirty years. The world has now come around to our view that we cannot be held hostage by restrictions imposed on us by nations that have for so long not taken a single step in understanding our security or developmental concerns. We need not be apprehensive about the people Obama surrounds himself with, or his views - they comprehensively support our own.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Giant Mirror

"Indian architecture …. giving me, the Hindu idea of the illusion of things"
V.S. Naipaul in, 'India – A Million Mutinies Now'.

The first thing a newly returned expatriate/student/business-person/general loafer recognizes when he/she returns to India after a period of time spent anywhere in the first world, is the ubiquitous 'General Indian Building'. This arguably precludes the various romantic allusions to: the smells, the heat, the languages and even the state of our roads, one commonly hears. What is that elusive quality that attaches itself to our buildings bringing about a sense of pain, temperance, fortitude and, most often, absurdity?

Civic architecture having evolved over many centuries of renewal in most regions of the world constantly returns to the concept of ‘aspiration’ as the guiding principle in the provision of a public facade to our shelters. When we hear anyone in an Indian city complain about such metaphysical aspects of life here as; the weather, politics, cricket or a presently held philosophy, we first place him/her within a physical reference; household, school, college (if any) and current job status – And what comes immediately to mind when this inference takes place? - a reference to a building, most often encountered somewhere or, as occurs sometimes, a structure from the collective imagination of mass media. This aspect of our lives lends itself to some suspension of disbelief, especially for those who live in gated communities or work in firms such as Infosys. These folks, unless they work exclusively from home or the office and take a time-bound precision-effect sleeping pill for the times they travel to the international airport, still encounter the General Indian Building – a decrepit, faded, almost hallucinatory vision of the disease of apathy.

It seems axiomatic that cities with ordered, maintained and tastefully rambunctious buildings serve to keep their occupants in a state of mind that is divorced from a pervasive sense of depression and hopelessness. With all our civic problems these days, isn’t it pressing that we inculcate a sense of responsibility that will serve to make the violation of the compulsory upkeep of old and new structures in our cities a source of communal shame? With the rapid spread of new housing colonies and rampant unplanned urbanization, shouldn’t there be a uniform code on basic design principles for any and all buildings? I, for one, am fed up of encountering the obscenity that is the 'General Indian Building' everywhere I go.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Excerpts from, 'This Way to the Garden'.

1. " Mind’s Eye Apoplexy, he thinks, when he’s reached the edge of reason, about himself and the world. The worst part is not remembering, not having concrete memories to correlate certain base feelings about certain base things with. He tries to remember, but a collage of hazy images and painfully nostalgic pangs assault him. There are many things he thought he would always remember, but now he remembered only the emotion surrounding them and not the actual event at all. It wasn’t a happy thought, this wallowing in self pity, without even knowing what he was originally the victim of. He remembered that he told himself to remember the death, but which death? Chronologically, there were two deaths in his life and he felt the same wave of pain when he thought about each separately or both at the same time. He wasn’t even sure they meant so much to him when they actually occurred, but they must have been important, he consoles himself. They must have…"

2. " Once upon a time there was a young prince who liked nothing better to do than play all day in his father’s palace. The king and queen did not fuss too much over him and granted him enough latitude to indulge his freedom as much as he liked, albeit, under the watchful eye of his personal maid.’
‘You pronounced albeit wrongly.’
‘Do you want to hear the story or not?... Eventually our hero’s curiosity extended to what lay beyond the palace’s gates and he expressed a desire to explore the lands beyond them. Still the king and queen did not object, letting him wander all over the extent of the kingdom, but at the same time informing their neighbours that they should keep an eye out for the young prince as he went to and fro joyfully exploring the limits of their lands. So, our hero’s days were spent in play and his nights within the secure confines of his parents’ loving arms…’
‘That’s pretty good, I …’
‘Okay, that’s it. No more story time for you.’
‘Sorry Rahul. Go on, please’, she says and snuggles up closer.
‘And the days went by in much the same fashion, until one particular morning when his parents forbade him to go out and instead dressed him in his finest robes and readied him for a journey. The prince was elated. He loved outings and especially those in the royal carriage. Finally they were off and the prince was in ecstasy, looking out the windows of the carriage, exulting in the thrill of motion…’
Rashmi grunts but doesn’t say anything.
‘The prince was enjoying the journey so much that when the carriage finally halted outside two large iron gates that led to a forbidding palace within, the prince was not impressed and cried and cried not wanting the journey to stop. But the king and queen were stern and as they ushered him into the gates, the prince’s curiosity overcame his grief and he looked with disbelief at the numerous other princes and princesses standing at the entrance to the palace gardens and who were being accompanied and shushed by their own parents. He was, in fact, struck dumb at the sight, never having encountered so many of his fellows before, all at the same time and all at the same place. Eventually, when an old woman came up before them and spoke for what seemed a long time, the prince struggled to be set free from his father’s grip on his shoulder, wanting to go among all the other little boys and girls looking interestedly at one another. Suddenly there was a silence and the prince was surprised by his mother’s sudden smothering and his father’s repeated pats on his shoulder. Only when he heard the cries from the other children did he realise that something bad was going to happen, but because he didn’t know what, he cried louder than any of the others. Finally, the king and queen left reluctantly and the tearful prince was taken into a room with little chairs and tables and wooden blocks with figures painted on them in bright colours. The prince was surprised that all the other children had accompanied him to the room. He was not accustomed to being one of the many, until now being always the special one, always the one doted on, in any large gathering of people. But this was the first time he was surrounded by other children seemingly as unhappy as he was and the prince vowed that he would always be angry at his parents for his abandonment that day. As the days passed, the prince realised that the separation from his castle and his earlier happier life for many hours each day was going to be a recurring occurrence and the hugs and kisses from his mother on leaving him at the children’s palace gates each day eventually lost their intensity. His cries at her leaving and his shouts of joy at finally being brought back home also lost their resonance as the prince became accustomed to the fact that everything in the world was not there solely for his pleasure. He began to recognise his fellow’s faces at the children’s palace and he also began to look forward to seeing some of them at the beginning of each day. And so time passed and the prince grew up along with his fellows at the palace they now called ‘school’. And as he grew up even more, the prince realised that he was not the one with the largest palace and the most number of servants and the costliest carriage as the other princes and princesses seemingly had more than he. But on the way back home from school, he realised that he was very rich compared to the shabby man who took him back home in the cycle-rickshaw, the maid who appeared everyday with a new bruise on her eye or face, given to her by what was called her ‘husband’ and the fruit and vegetable vendors who came by his gates in the evenings hawking their wares in loud soulful chants. Eventually he even gave up thinking he was a prince. As the years passed, he became popular at school among his friends because of his zest at games and his politeness to the teachers. Everyone thought that the prince was a ‘good boy’, but little did they realise it was because of his contempt for everything that was meant to be his but was really not, that he tolerated the world. He treated everyone with respect, did his homework always on time and was gracious to even the morning sweeper whom he met when he came in early for the daily football match on Ground 1 before school started. Many familiar faces and voices in school had left and new faces and voices replaced them. The prince was interested in the newcomers only until they proved that they were inferior to him in any respect, whether in games or studies. After that, he would completely ignore them. The prince was not alone in this respect. There were two fellows of his who were much the same. One was better than the prince in studies and the other better in games. When their supremacy was first defined in their respective fields, there was much fighting and bad blood between them, but gradually the three princes developed a grudging friendship and even invited each other to their castles. As they grew even older, the three princes became inseparable and were known around the school as ‘best friends’. But for the three princes this was a hollow term, as they understood the actual nature of their alliance while the others did not. And they hid their contempt for everyone else as carefully as they hid their contempt for each other. That contempt did not disappear even when one of them performed badly in a particular exam or another was found wanting in a particular sport, it just became a far more dangerous indifference. They were many instances in their lives when their resolve was tested. When the studious prince lost his palace and had to move to a lowly ‘flat’, when the athletic prince lost the king, his father, to a disease that had been pursuing him for many years, and when our own prince lost his zeal for the sacred temple customs that he had been faithful to all his life. They were embittered by their experiences but did not voice their fears to each other because a display of weakness was a betrayal of their own convictions. And when the three princes were all grown up and ready to leave school and face the world, as they say, they came under the spell of the Lord of Confusion and Misunderstanding’.
‘The Lord of Confusion and Misunderstanding? Oh, my God.’
‘I thought you said you would be asleep by now.’
‘How could I sleep through such a gripping story? So, go on then… about the Lord of Confusion and…’
‘Maybe later’, says Rahul and turns to her."

3. " Pondicherry on arrival, overcast and humid, brought on the sort of petulance one feels when the world is hanging over, close and surrounding on all sides. They find the store after a staggered hour of speaking to shopkeepers, roadside vendors and tourists, the modality of the dialogue varying from diffidence to invective in a circuitous changing of subject and tone, sometimes lost in translation and dialect. They finally reach the charming colonial building. But today it is reminiscent of an age of defeat, subjection and the preponderance of a supposed superior culture."

Interested parties from the publishing industry may please mail.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

State of the Indian Union... circa, the Year of our many Lords '2009.

Nothing or Everything in this country is true. What one believes to be true is most often a reflection of a variety of firmly ingratiated beliefs that one carries over from childhood and are conditioned by supporting experiences along the way.

A time comes when one is confronted with an obvious contradiction to these beliefs by an indisputable occurrence, predominantly personal, and the consequent shedding or retaining of a particular belief, both of which are traumatic experiences, grants insight into many aspects of the "very subjective" morality one is composed of that he/she,
in hindsight, would rather not have found out .

A popular term in current usage is "an open mind". To keep an open mind, we are told, is the best way towards shielding ourselves from the assaults on our collective sanity unleashed by the forces of globalization and technology that we experience almost every day. It is also apparently a tool by which we could educate ourselves and our dependents so as to keep more in touch with the world. But the definitions of this cult term are as inherently paradoxical and self-serving as the forces from which it would protect and enrich us:
When we acquire knowledge and develop interests in the ideas and the workings of other cultures, and sometimes become aware of the various ways these cultures can come to be beneficial to ourselves and our communities by the transplantation of certain practices, we find that barriers have been erected long ago - by religion, society and people responsible for our 'common good' to the import of these practices. Arguments for our cause are countered by numerous arguments against, each more passionate than the last. Resisting such flak is almost always a losing battle which leaves us more disoriented and desperate in search than before.

In such an environment resentment, frustration, anger and consequently hatred are undeniable effects of the benevolent spokes put into what is liable to be perceived as the wheels of change. Such hatred is continuously directed towards the 'system' and cycles of violence repeat themselves, manifested in various forms.