Monday, December 20, 2010

A Gymnosophist's life in review

Two articles I have read recently, published only a couple of days apart and in two journals I wouldn't normally admit to reading except in a passing hollow comedic reference, seem to have put the whole year into context for me and perhaps even provided me a guide map with which to approach the unflattering future - that unwelcoming prospect which we find ourselves increasingly addled with. There is no doubt in my mind that we will eventually have to account for these times, and it seems to me that there is really no better time than the present to begin to pose to ourselves the difficult questions that do emerge from our inevitable culpability for the state we find ourselves in today, firstly as members of the world community circa 2010, and finally, as pitiful present-day custodians of the seminal heritage collectively bequeathed to us and what we call civilization and progress.

I am not going to indulge in a detailed soliloquy of my immediate reactions to the encounter with the rather forceful ideas put forth (and implied) in the body of these articles in question. But I would, desperately, like to put this year behind me with something more than a great sigh of passionate longing for that mythic reality filled with vigour and purpose, and the sure sense that something better is on its way.

First, on the current state of affairs in a nondescript village extant somewhere in the vastness of the not-so-mythical-anymore Gangetic Plain.

And second, about the idea that ethical instruction is as much a requisite as detached guidance in a university education in the Humanities.

Merry Christmas & a Great New Year!

Friday, December 10, 2010

He says... She says...

Official Version:
A brief summary of the incident:
Student A had just finished attending a rather hard class where he was repeatedly subjected to pointed questioning by the Math teacher involved, regarding a differential equation that was displayed on the board and that he could not solve. It is surmised that the events so reported left him feeling humiliated in front of his classmates and that he was harboring a certain amount of resentment towards authority figures in general when he began his walk to the cafeteria after the above mentioned class ended.
Teacher B, meanwhile, had just finished a cigarette on the balcony of the staff room located on the same floor as the cafeteria to which student A was headed, and was on her way to the gymnasium on the ground floor for a previously arranged appointment with the gym instructor when the events alluded to in the hearing at the principal's office so transpired.
After recording the statements of eye-witnesses present in the lobby and on the walkway leading to the cafeteria at the time, and after interviewing both student A and teacher B, it is concluded that at 1310 hours on ___,  Dec 2010, student A brushed past teacher B who was walking past him without acknowledging him, and attempted to pat her around her rump area after she had passed him on the walkway. Teacher B then stopped, turned around and looked back at the figure of student A continuing to walk toward the cafeteria without turning around to look at her, before reporting the incident to the principal at 1320 hours on ___, Dec 2010 in a recorded statement.

Alternate Media version:
Meanwhile, from eye-witnesses whose statements were not recorded at the hearing and who also happened to be present in the corridor at the same time the incident between A and B was alleged to have taken place:
'Did you see what just happened?'
'Yeah, I can't believe it!?'
'She does look pretty hot, though, no?'
'Fucking hell, dude... She always looks hot. Wouldn't mind getting me some of that puntang meself, if I had half-a-chance.'
'Shhh... Look, she looks like she's gonna start crying...'
'Nah... She's gonna get mad about this and get back at him hard, you wait and see...'

Moral of the story:
Everyone wants the goss, and Julian Assange is only the man with the hidden microphone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Casuistry of Caste-ism

When two major instances of the underpinning proclivities in the middle-class understanding of the caste-ism prevalent in modern political discourse in India thrust themselves upon the present national psyche, it is appropriate that we study its consequences on the civic idea of what caste means in the country today, at least amongst those of us currently in a position to examine its ideological repercussions for the society we presently live in.

The instances I refer to are:
(1)  the continuance in office by the Chief Minister of the state of Karnataka amidst serious allegations of his misuse of power in the allocation of notified government land to his family members, and...
(2) the impending results of the state government elections in the state of Bihar where the incumbent Chief Minister has, by all verifiable accounts, reversed decades of irresponsible governance and set what people still think of as India’s most backward state, on the path to modernity.

When the Chief Minister of Karnataka says that he will not abide by the diktats of various politicians all baying for his blood because of his corrupt conduct, it has been revealed that what he really means is that his community from the Lingayat caste will not tolerate one from amongst their own ranks to be singled out as the fall guy for the rampant abuse of power that has characterized the present government’s record of governance so far. Furthermore, the Chief Minister’s supporters (meaning other Lingayat-caste MLAs from the party in power) have made it clear that they will withdraw support to any future government where their leader is not the immediately cognizable face of government, and thereby plunge the state into another indeterminate period of political uncertainty.

When the Chief Minister of Bihar says during campaigning that what he represents is not his Kumri caste but the common aspirations of all Biharis, and that what the state has achieved during his tenure at the helm of affairs in one of the most, hitherto, notoriously ungovernable realms in India, far outweighs his predecessor’s cynical undermining of the rule of law by tethering his political star to the time-tested practice of playing one fractious religious community over another and by declaring himself above reproach by aligning with secular forces in the common fight against the spread of religious extremism... what he really means is that it really doesn’t matter anymore to the so far disenfranchised, undernourished and illiterate masses of poor - that the state of Bihar has a leader from amongst their (dominant or not-dominant as the case may be) caste. They need their water, electricity, schools and rule of law… and want them fast.

It is illuminating that when one researches the economic and social realities of present-day Lingayats and Kumris within their respective demographic regions, one finds that they are the most well-off and upwardly mobile amongst all neighboring communities with whom they share geographic and ideological domains.

What all this means for the middle-classes residing in the metropolitan regions of India today is that the idea that you are not from whence you come is not restricted to those who have come by their present-day prosperity by virtue of being born within a dominant sub-sect or caste and thereby have had the opportunities to use their privileges of education and a sense of aspiration to reach, over generations, their current levels of social gentility. There are people around (and this could be your maid and/or driver) who are not satisfied any more with what they are told is their wont in life. They closely follow the power struggles that take place in that rarefied air around the Mount Olympus-type lairs of the country’s politicians, and look closely around to see who are trying to pull the wool over their eyes when those power struggles reflect intimately their own identities in the reality of what it means to be Indian in the India of now.

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Ross Douthat for introducing me to the concept of 'casuistry' in his blog post on a very different subject.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Courter of Maladies

Every day, it seems, brings us closer to our deaths. This is never more readily apparent than when a friend or close relative falls ill and we are forced to upend our self-contained lives to offer our limited resources in the service of another whose sudden descent into the vagaries of a despondent mortality assails the illusory sense, that we all share, of the permanent nature of human relationships. I remember when my own grandparents moved into a comfortable retirement home from which they will most probably end their days. There was outrage, trauma and the modern equivalent of wailing and gnashing of teeth by all interested parties at the very thought of it. But circumstances being what they were, we (the family) were forced to finally contend that a more conciliatory alternative to recognizing their immediate needs and the realization that those needs needed to be accommodated perforce was non-existent, and the psychological balm with which to assuage our collective guilt made its absence felt as we gradually faded back into our respective lives after that hated deed was done. 
What is it about human illness that brings about the worst kind of pretentiousness in the concerned bystander? We argue about the kind of treatment that needs to be administered, the kind of doctors that are in attendance, the lack of dignity accorded to the inured patient within the confines of an argued about hospital, and all the while, silently, mull over the advancing costs that the days of infirmity tally up toward. Isn’t there any morality left in the consideration of another’s pain? Every person will need help at sometime or the other. The best we can do is prepare ourselves to accept what will inevitably follow when a loved one falls ill and is unable to continue to care for him or her self. Giving oneself up to the ever-alluring sense that this is not the way it should have been is a self-defeating and dangerous temptation. Hindsight is valid in the case of illness only in its re-visitation. There is nothing worse than seeing remorse on the faces of those who would rather stand by and weep than bear the cudgels of a congenial defiance of mortality.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Newspaper that should have been

Some of the news I'm not reading in the mainstream media today:

(1) On physicist Freeman Dyson and climate change...

(2) Rich man, poor man @ the Hajj...

(3) The 'paid news' phenomenon in the Indian media...

(4) And how the rich make room for big sports events in the East and in the semi-West...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

133 years of Test Cricket and counting

It seems an anachronism in this day and age – five whole days of: strategizing, changing targets based on current statuses, deliberating endlessly on field settings, pushing irregular batsmen up the order and lining up non-bowlers at top order batsmen based on where the sun is on the horizon, possible ten-wicket hauls in a single innings and individual scores in excess of 400, and after all this there is still no guarantee that there will even be a winner at the end… But Test Cricket is a multi-million dollar sport and in the midst of betting scandals and other assorted crises emanating from relatively newer versions of the sport in the hallowed world of the gentlemen’s game, it is still the best advertisement for cricket there is.

For those of us who have lived through the times when the game still had a rest day on what is now the 4th day of a match... and when the West Indies ran riot with their pace battery, and when their exuberant batsmen swaggered in and out of the pitch nonchalantly chewing their gum no matter if they were triple-centurions or out at 99... and when folks still spoke about Sunny Gavaskar taking his own sweet time to remain unbeaten on 36 at the end of India’s innings, supremely disdainful of the new sixty-over format he was being made to conform to in the middle of his fabulous career... and when VVS Laxman almost mythically shouldered the burden of an embarrassing follow-on and turned a home series, in danger of becoming a bitter spectacle for the hosts, on its head... - it is a thrill-a-minute ride over five whole days of nail biting action that can encapsulate every emotion possible in a spectator sport, winding it through a process that demands the patience, fortitude and temperance of the fan, and rewards him/her with unabashed glee or wretched pain at the end.

It took me some time to stop following every turn and twist in the fate of the nation’s first eleven, and this even after the mighty treason of Mohd. Azharuddin, but eventually the lure of the one-day format and the twenty-twenties wore thin after so very many BCCI-mandated series’ per year, and team resurgences, and shirt-waving acts from dressing-room balconies. I have now made my peace with the sport and rest assured that there is at least one format of the game that shall forever remain unchanged, indeed only get more competitive, and continue to challenge me right till the umpire offers the light to the batsmen at the end of another long, long, long day.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Down memory lane with Rabi T

Some pictures from the Sanskriti Express exhibition on Rabindranath Tagore:

The 1913 Nobel Prize for literature:

With Helen Keller:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


The fine balance that Mr. Rohinton Mistry so enigmatically asseverates in his book of the same name, where characters from seemingly incompatible backgrounds somehow meet in the city of Bombay and together vie for a semblance of dignity within their respective visions of the idea of India, is in danger of being permanently upset amidst the din from the latest uproar over another book of his.

Adjustment has always come easily to us Indians; it is patently impossible whilst living in this country to not feel that your neighbor is entitled to a little of what you can rightly claim as yours, simply because he is so obviously worse off than you. By the dint of this reasoning, apparently antithetical: religions, sects, ideas, ideologies and all their strident followers are so easily accommodated within this heterogeneous society - a capacity so universal in India that even the most disaffected visitor can never seem to stop marveling at it. And this culture of compassionate appeasement has also been able, so far, to accommodate the local breed of misanthrope – those unwilling to tolerate the passing beggar, the poor servant, the elderly vagrant or the migrant laborer. And following the course of all right-wing extremist movements, they have tried to stamp out what they do not appreciate around them and while doing so seem almost organically to have built a following from amongst like-minded bigots. ‘It’s all par for the course – if we can give rise to men such as Gandhi, we can also stomach Bal Thackeray’, is what the average Indian thinks. But as all foundations built on the principle of opposing forces, the delicate stasis behind this lateral accommodation of what constitutes an individual’s beliefs and principles and his/her understanding that its diametric opposite can also exist within the same milieu, begins to give out when we start to deny the freedom of expression. It has been threatened before and has occasionally even been temporarily abjured, but it has never been vanquished and the jungle of opinions (the Buddha’s expression) has continued to thrive over millennia and through periods of acute existential crisis in India’s history. In accounting for and tabulating the vast array of conflicting opinion throughout the region’s known and most colorful history, the nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s ‘The Argumentative Indian’ is arguably the most authoritative non-fiction work in recent memory in this regard, and there are many writers today who constantly strive to offer the other side of the Modern India Shining story and draw us portraits of the encumbrances and braces that weigh that seminally corrosive idea of India down, just when we seek to only highlight our consumerist rise in the modern world.

The right that allows a person to say a thing and another to dispute it is so fundamentally ensconced in the Indian tradition that Barack Obama himself, when he comes visiting next month, should take back to the U.S. the lesson that what defines us as Indian is not so much our system of education or our innate discipline as it is our right to dispute what everyone else says even when the tide is so firmly against what we think. Evidence of the futility of our education system is most firmly brought out when one reads with wonderment that the person most responsible for the mess behind the book burning of Mr. Mistry’s ‘Such a Long Journey’ is himself a student of history at one of the country’s oldest educational institutions in a city that was founded by immigrants.

The preponderant importance of the tolerance towards other people’s forms of expression and the mode in which they carry it out cannot be understated in these times of seemingly unending conflict, especially when we see our giant neighbor China, another nation whose modern history is so fractiously ridden by the consumerist story, so obviously wilt when the pressure that a largely inconsequential light shone on an obscure academic is wrought on it.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Importance of Being Brazen

Remember that time in your childhood when you were out on a drive with your dad and something happened just when you were distracted by your toy car or a beggar in the side window? The sequence probably went like this: Just when your eye is not on the road, the car heaves suddenly to a halt – your father gets out of the car after warning you to stay inside – he yells at a man cowering in front of the car – he gets back in the car and resumes driving without saying a word to you and stays silent for the rest of the ride.

Now imagine that a political party which has never been in power in a certain state is finally granted, by popular mandate, the opportunity to govern it for a period of five years in what is a very interesting time in the state’s history. It is in the process of trying to capitalize on the decades-old goodwill it has earned by virtue of its reputation as a technological hub with a beautiful capital city and valuable human and natural resources. Infrastructural development is much needed in the state and so are jobs, housing, education and power. The chief minister relies on his inner coterie to bring about the institutional change the state so desperately needs and hosts lavish industrial conclaves with captains of industry where land and a conducive investment climate are promised to private sector players in the hope that the state’s resources are utilized to the maximum extent possible. Certain members of the chief minister’s party, though, are not counted among his inner coterie but are hugely invested in the government’s stability on account of them being, by far, the richest men who comprise it – they are given largely symbolic posts within the cabinet in an effort to appease them, and the chief minister believes that he can now fulfill his self-proclaimed dharma i.e. the ushering in of peace and prosperity for all. 
The stars (and the CM is a great believer in astrology), however, are not in his favour – the aforementioned non-inner coterie members suspect that the CM is plotting to attack them where it hurts the most; investigate the source of their wealth and render them impotent when their carefully nurtured empires are exposed as blatantly illegal mining syndicates for the ore that China is willing to pay an arm and a leg for these days. They require that members of their own inner coteries be given important portfolios in the government so that any threat emanating from the CM’s suspected sympathies is neutralized even before it emerges. There is now a crisis. The CM does not want to let down his ardent supporters. The Honourable Miner-Members  of the Legislative Assembly are equally adamant, refusing to let their private fiefdoms be compromised by an untrustworthy cabinet. The CM backs down with a sigh and inducts the miner-faithful members into his cabinet – he needs to stay in power, after all, to be able to fulfill his dharma, no?
A time of uneasy peace follows, but all too soon it is smashed when various members of his cabinet, those within his inner coterie as also those without, are implicated in all sorts of scams ranging from the sale of much-desired government medical college seats to the highest bidders… to the de-notification of prime land in the state capital for personal profit. The CM faces his trial-by-fire (his words) again. He is forced to undertake a cabinet reshuffle once more and this time, brooking no nonsense, fills up the most important portfolios in the new ministerial cabinet with his most faithful followers. At exactly this point in time, another scam is unearthed; the beleaguered CM himself, it is reported, has de-notified prime land within the capital city which has been quickly and quietly bought up by his own son (another inner-coterie member of his cabinet, by the way) at a cost that is outrageously lower than prevalent market prices. Other members of his party (those not part of the ministerial cabinet so far and those recently reshuffled out of it) are now up in arms – “If you guys can make money while in power, we guys also want to be in power to make money”, they all but say. The Opposition parties take note of all this, meanwhile, and rub their hands in anticipation. But it’s a no-go from the CM. His inference is unmistakable – ‘Fuck off’, he all but says, ‘… and go sulk some place else. You’re scaring away the private sector institutional investors’.
But they do not fuck off. They persuade (with all the implications that term provides for) certain non-inner coterie members of the CM’s cabinet as well as certain independent members of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly to stand by them when they demand a no-confidence motion in the present government on the floor of the Assembly. The CM now does not have the numbers to survive the motion. His government is about to fall. He is now desperate. He demands that the Speaker of the Assembly (another inner-coterie member, of course) dismiss the dissident MLAs on the grounds that they have violated a law that allows for ministers of the Legislative Assembly to be dismissed when they defect to an opposition party while or after they have been part of the political party in power (the law was formulated precisely to dissuade bribery-based horse-trading) and the Honourable Speaker complies. The dissident MLAs are dismissed while being held back at the doors to the Floor of the Assembly by a sympathetic police force. Their votes cannot now be counted and the total strength of the Assembly is therefore reduced, which means that the party in power can stay in power. The Governor of the state weighs in, ‘... the last vote for the confidence motion was a farce’, he actually says, ‘Do it over on Thursday’. The dismissed MLAs meanwhile take their case to the High Court of the State, challenging their dismissals…. & so it goes on and on and on.

For all of you who are wondering what in God’s name all this has to do with what happened when you were a child in your Daddy’s car... here it is - The current Members of the Legislative Assembly of Karnataka were also in their respective daddies’ cars when they were children, just like you… but the difference is: they weren’t distracted when their fathers suddenly pulled over in the middle of the road, and saw and heard exactly what happened next… and kept quiet about it all these years.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Trees and the man

From ancient history down to these modern times of ubiquitous exculpation, the beautiful, abundant, floral benefactors of relief and life in this tropical land have had a great rep. The banyan, with its great gnarled mass of branches and roots spread out over large distances and known to support vast ecosystems all on its own… the majestic and mythical Ashoka, with its erect bearing and bushy foliage, held sacred in three indigenous Indian religions… the great givers – mango, apple, jackfruit, coconut, amla, neem… the ayurvedic – khair, bael, kokam, soapnut… and the strong – mahogany, sandalwood and teak… All these are Indian born and bred through ages of light and darkness, storm and famine, despair and triumph… and have provided countless children natural props for play and rest, and great spiritual leaders ready-made platforms from which to espouse their philosophies of salvation to millions of desperate seekers after truth. The sight of these great big wonders spread over towns and cities, villages and fields, forests and jungles is so ingrained in the Indian psyche that the mere fact of their presence is taken for granted and dismissed perfunctorily as fundamental, with that unalloyed sense of universal timelessness that seems to come spontaneously to those of us born in the subcontinent.

They are now disappearing. I can see them going one after another after another – when the monsoons come and their dried up roots suffocated in the concrete of a zillion high and low-rise foundations bring them crashing down, when roads are extended and new ones built, when mass transit systems appear over whole pliable and fertile tracts that custodians of ‘development’ arbitrarily appropriate, over regions of the country no one ever heard of until the announcement of a Special Economic Zone or a new airport or a ‘Medical City’ or a mine. Forest cover in India is now estimated to occupy less than 22% of the total land mass in this country and that includes medium density forests, open forests and scrub lands – all terms, as opposed to 'Very Dense', that bring on that sinking feeling.

There is some time yet for the swan song to be sung to our natural national heritage, but in a country of 1.2 billion people and in an age when the wild tiger population is down to 1,400 and great battles are being fought every day over compensation for the take-over of land belonging to individuals for multi-national mining and other acts of (that haunting term again) ‘development’, I pray that I do not hear the first bars of that mournful tune in my lifetime.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Run, Bharat, Run

The Delhi Commonwealth Games 2010 are off to a great start - the Indian contingent won their first gold medals yesterday, on only the 2nd day of the games, and the country's Great Emerging Economy pride was palpable through the exploits of those bright young luminaries: Abhinav Bindra and Sushil Kumar... Towards late evening, though, the focus shifted back to the Indian cricket team, pulling another one out of the hat, so to speak, with yet another great national debt accrued to the evergreen VVS Laxman who snatched victory from within the mandibular molars of defeat against those damned Aussies. Poetic justice, even... some might say - "Didn't those damn Aussies diss us the most with those humiliating exposés [sic] of seemingly lax security and hugely exaggerated infra-fuck-ups in the build up to the Games?", they say.

All this, while... 
"Budihalli village of Chitradurga district is a live example of caste discrimination and bondage. Here, landlords hold sway. They allegedly rape and torture women of lower castes, while men work as bonded labourers, paying off debts accumulated over generations." 
Full story:

"A mongrel dog brought up in an upper caste home in Morena was kicked out after the Rajput family members discovered that their Sheru had eaten a roti from a dalit woman and was now an "untouchable". Next, Sheru was tied to a pole in the village's dalit locality.
Full story:

& from that crazy woman...
"It was early spring, the sun was sharp, but still civilized. This is a terrible thing to have to say, but it’s true—you could smell the protest from a fair distance: It was the accumulated odor of a thousand human bodies that had been dehumanized, denied the basic necessities for human (or even animal) health and hygiene for years, if not a whole lifetime. Bodies that had been marinated in the refuse of our big cities, bodies that had no shelter from the harsh weather, no access to clean water, clean air, sanitation or medical care. No part of this great country, none of the supposedly progressive schemes, no single urban institution has been designed to accommodate them. Not the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, not any other slum development, employment guarantee or welfare scheme. Not even the sewage system—they shit on top of it. They are shadow people, who live in the cracks that run between schemes and institutions. They sleep on the streets, eat on the streets, make love on the streets, give birth on the streets, are raped on the streets, cut their vegetables, wash their clothes, raise their children, live and die on the streets."
Full article:

& what is done unto those who dare to do otherwise ... 
"Besides his caste, what makes Mr. Gaikwad vulnerable is his activism. Over several years, he has staged andolans, led morchas, busted rackets and courted arrest. He demanded a CBI inquiry into the Nanded blast of 2006, which upset the right-wingers in his locality. Incidentally, the house of one of the blast accused is close to Mr. Gaikwad's."
Full story

Just a cold-shower-type reminder, people, about how far things have to go before they ever get better around these 'ere parts.

Monday, September 27, 2010

A fortiori ad victoriam

For anyone who has been or is currently engaged in the pursuit of that heavily-loaded term, ‘sport’ - in the competitive, emotionally-charged and passionate sense of the term --when applied to a contest against evenly matched opponents - the feeling of that adrenalin rush which characterizes the final burst towards the finishing line/the goalpost/ the basket/ the match point in a racquet game; that results in a final victory or a sweet culmination of a well-played sweaty interlude in one’s chosen competitive arena… is a memory that is verily de rigueur. It speaks to many glorified impulses in basic human nature: those that seek to outdo one’s fellow man in a contest of skill, physicality and tactics, all other things remaining the same… and there are very few base emotions of self-satisfaction in the human condition that can match the one that immediately follows a victory over another in a sporting arena.

To ponder the last-dash preparations over the Common Wealth Games in Delhi, the shadow of the forthcoming verdict on the Ayodhya title suit, the benighted state of the latest rounds of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or even the impending mid-term elections in the U.S., a sportsperson is tempted to recall that last push. It is the hardest thing in competitive sport to close out a game that has been hitherto going in one’s favour right until the closing minutes, and the history of sport is replete with instances of teams and individuals on the threshold of almost certain victory losing games in the dying moments. The victors in these instances always steeled themselves against the hint of a contemplation that they might lose, doggedly carrying on the challenge, and most times even raising the standard of their game(s) when it mattered most.

Why cannot those of us with a stake in how the world conducts its affairs look at situations in public life with a similar spirit? It would certainly be calamitous if large-scale violence broke out across the country over the Ayodhya verdict, or if the Israelis continued their universally condemned apartheid-esque policies against the Palestinians, or if crack-pot Tea Party insurgents rode an anti-incumbency wave to sweep into power in the U.S. mid-term elections… but to navigate these possibilities with the understanding that they are but the last brush of a dying wave that is about to capitulate to a rising tide of glory, and to feel that sense of exhilaration when one is so close to one’s goals… is verily better than the sad scepticism and advancing cynicism we currently feel on being exposed to everything the mainstream media throws at us through these dark days.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Great Indian Rope Trick

It is 1992

The tendentious Congress government is grappling with the massive political repercussions of the dissolution of the Soviet Union only a year ago, and has just about averted a balance of payments crisis by freeing the anesthetized Indian economy from paralyzing governmental controls, in the process reluctantly reversing an economic policy that allowed the annual growth rate to stagnate at 3.5% per annum for over 40 years. The main party in opposition at the centre is the BJP whose election campaign in the general elections held last year is lopsidedly centered on the building of a Hindu temple at the exact location where an early 16th century mosque presently stands, in a town teeming with an innumerable number of temples all vying for breathing space within a 10 sq km radius, in a state in which it is the party in power. No one has been allowed access to the mosque since 1949 when the Government of India imposed a lock down on an area that had been subject to controversy ever since a particularly zealous Central Asian Muslim invader heralded in the Mughal Era of Modern India’s history. It is said that the conqueror Babur demolished a sacred temple complex in the town of Ayodhya and bid his general Mir Baqi build a mosque, the Babri Masjid, on its ruins in the year 1527.

We wake up on the 6th of December, 1992 to the news that a mob of over 150,000 people are demonstrating outside the site of the mosque and are being held back by a completely outnumbered and monstrously unmotivated police cordon. It has been common knowledge through recent months that Hindu fundamentalist organizations and their political party affiliates have been conducting large-scale recruitment sorties all over India to mobilize followers to descend upon the town of Ayodhya and, in turn, to pressurize the judiciary to allow them to build a Mandir (temple) on the site they claim is the revered birthplace of the Lord Ram, immortalized in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, and believed to have ruled the Kingdom of Ayodhya circa 1400 BCE. At noon, a teenage Kar Sevak is ‘vaulted’ on to the dome - a signal that the breaking of the outer cordon has begun and, as the country waits with bated breath, the structure of the mosque is fully demolished by the time the sun sets.

The immediate fallout of the Babri Masjid demolition was that 3000 people died in rioting across India and very many local terrorist organizations were born in a country that is home to 138 million Muslims who live alongside 828 million Hindus.

It is September 2010 
The Babri Masjid/ Ram Mandir case is the longest running legal dispute in India. The demographics of the nation, meanwhile, have changed inexorably over the past 17 years to support an i-pod wielding, facebook and twitter-obsessed, materialistically chauvinistic 300 million strong middle-class, and the country is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, clocking an average growth rate of 8% over the last decade and is well on its way to becoming a globally important consumer economy. Indian per capita purchasing power parity is forecast to significantly increase from the current 4.7% to over 6% of the world share by 2015. But in Ayodhya, it all boils down to who owns the land where the Babri Masjid used to stand. The first court ruling on the dispute from a petition filed in 1886 by the head of an Ayodhya-based Hindu organization asking for permission to offer prayers to Ram inside the Babri Masjid ended with the judge stating, ‘It is most unfortunate that a mosque should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as that event occurred 356 years ago, it is too late now to remedy the grievance.

Since then and from 1950 onwards five title suits have been filed in the Allahabad High Court of the State of Uttar Pradesh where the town of Ayodhya is located. All the suits stake claim to the title of the plot of land of the Babri Masjid, four being filed on behalf of Hindus and the fifth on behalf of Muslims. The title suits will now be decided on by a three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court. The bench comprising Judge SU Khan, Judge Sudhir Agarwal and Judge DV Sharma will answer the following questions: Did a temple exist at the disputed site before 1528 when the Babri Masjid was constructed? Was Ayodhya really the birth place of Lord Ram and is there evidence to show that Hindus have been worshipping in the town for millenia? Did Muslims abandon the mosque before India became independent? Even after a verdict has been passed, the appeals process will see the case appear before the Supreme Court of India in what could take years. 

All this for what is, essentially, an area that measures 60 ft by 40 ft.

Please readThrough the Stained Glass, Darkly forthwith

Friday, September 10, 2010

Ultimo Evangelism

It seems fitting that as the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is almost upon us, the date also marks the convergence of three major religious festivals that are celebrated with gusto across the South Asian sub-continent - a region of the world where the repercussions of that heinous event are being, arguably, the most profoundly felt.

Perhaps a little primer on the festivals at hand might imbue us with a sense of brotherhood and historical perspective on this, the most consecrated of the year’s weekends.

Ganesh Chaturti
The Indian freedom fighter and social reformer, Lokmanya Tilak transformed the annual (and hitherto small) festival of Ganesh Chaturti into a large, well-organized public event in 1893. Tilak recognized the wide appeal of the deity Ganesha as an everyman god within the Hindu pantheon, and championed Ganesh Chaturthi as a national festival in order to bridge the communal divide between Brahmin and non-Brahmin Hindus and find a context in which to build a grassroots unity among them. He believed that this would in turn generate a sense of nationalism among the people of India against British colonial rule. Originally the festival facilitated community participation in the forms of: public debates, poetry recitals, plays, music concerts and folk dances. Tilak encouraged the installations of large images of the popular god in public pavilions, and also established the practice of submerging idols of Ganesha in ponds, tanks, rivers and in the sea on the tenth day after Ganesh Chaturthi, a practice followed to this day across Central and South India.

According to Islamic tradition, it was in the year CE 610 when the Prophet Muhammad, while meditating in Mount Hira one night, had a vision of the angel Jibril (also known as Gabriel) appearing before him, revealing to him his name, and declaring to the latter that he was the messenger of God. Though the angel informed him that he was the messenger of Allah and that he was going to be a prophet for his people, the prophet was reportedly greatly disturbed at his meeting with Jibril. It is believed that he considered the angel an evil spirit at first. It was left to his wife Khadijah to eventually allay his fears, when she reminded him of his good conduct until then and, therefore, that it was impossible for him to be visited by a demon.
It is said that the Quran was revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan. As a mark of respect to Allah and to show gratitude to him for the true knowledge that was given his sons and daughters, the prophet instructed his followers to pass the month of Ramadan in fasting, prayers and other austerities and to end the month with festive celebrations. This is how Eid-Ul-Fitr was born. The aim of the festival is to promote peace, strengthen the feeling of brotherhood and bring oneself back to a normal course of life after a month-long period of self-denial and religious devotion.

The feast of St. Mary
The feast of the Nativity of Mary originated in Jerusalem in the fifth century CE as the feast of what is now the Basilica of Saint Anne. In the seventh century, the feast was celebrated by the Byzantines and at Rome, as the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The source for the story of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the Protoevangelium of James, an apocryphal gospel written about CE 150. From it, we learn the names of Mary's parents, Joachim and Anna, as well as the tradition that the couple was childless until an angel appeared to Anna and told her that she would conceive.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

"I'm just kidding..."

The Hurt Locker (2008)
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty

The Americans are finally leaving a bruising, expensive and ultimately unrewarding theater of conflict in Iraq and this perhaps might just be the perfect interval in which to review The Hurt Locker.

The movie begins by bringing you crash bang straight into the action and establishes the main characters and the relationships between them almost intuitively in a matter of minutes. Before you’ve had time to place yourself in geographical and historical context within Iraq, you are cheering on a bomb disposal expert (played by Guy Pearce), you root for his team, you palpably feel the tension in the air, and you marvel at a beautiful slow-motion close-up when an IED eventually goes off. The screenwriter of The Hurt Locker is also the screenwriter of In the Valley of Elah – a movie that showed us the moral bankruptcy that comes of putting one’s faith in an archaic concept of patriotism as applied to meaningful personal relationships. The Hurt Locker on the other hand focuses almost solely on the animalization that is visited on those who have had to submit to the process of war, without ever having a choice in the matter. There is even a poignant scene in which a suggestion is made to a soldier by the psychiatrist counseling him that the experience of war could be thought of as fun, instead of an ordeal that one must somehow get through before the next troop rotation.

I must confess that some scenes in the movie had more of an impact on me than others: The hint of personal violence implicit in a tense exchange between the black Sergeant Sanborn and the newly arrived Staff Sergeant James in a common toilet, the frantic searching for a detonator within the cramped confines of a car carrying more than five IEDs and in which a fire had just been put out, the grim focus of the sniper when he has to wait at the trigger of his unloaded rifle while his last remaining magazine is being cleaned of blood so that it doesn’t jam the weapon, and all the scenes in which the main character James uses the phrase, ‘I’m just kidding’ after pushing all the characters he shares these scenes with, almost over the edge with his horseplay.

Though it is of course futile to expect that film-making such as this will lead to a general mass uprising against any further military forays into regions of the world where the US is to the locals as little green men are to the planet Mars… it might just be that the scales are tipping.
A world without war will not need heroes like Staff Sergeant James, who are so impulsive that the fatal consequences of their actions never seem to influence their standing amongst their colleagues, or their own ambivalent humanity.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Neocolonialism 2.0

Whenever I have nothing else to do my conspiracy theorist alter-ego tends to direct his not inconsiderable energies toward the large pork chop-shaped doppelganger that dangles seductively over every little bit of information that periodically emerges in the public domain about the United States’ notoriously turbid foreign policy. 

While the current administration’s focus right now is on the studiously intractable Israel-Palestine conundrum, it could just as soon be on Sudan next week where unless an independence referendum is held in five months from now, renewed civil war is assuredly forecast (southern Sudan, by the way, is an oil-rich region). At the same time the U.S. government is ostensibly withdrawing its troops from the Iraqi theater of war while still carrying on its military campaign in Afghanistan, all while irrepressibly building up military presence in and around the South China Sea and continuing to prop up dubious governments from the Middle East to Latin America. (There are, of course, hidden skeletons tumbling out of the closet for each and every one of these developments – a clear majority of Palestinians does not support the current rounds of talks in Washington, violence in Iraq is increasing by the day just as American troops are leaving, Sudan’s southern and northern warlords are breeds of violent men so polarized as to make conservatives and liberals in the U.S. seem politically contiguous… etc. etc.)

The question is; where does the wherewithal for all this foreign policy engagement come from, especially during the major local unemployment crisis the U.S. is currently facing due to the continuing effects of the Great Recession? It is easy to see after the events of 9/11 that maintaining peace and security (and business as usual) in the rest of the world works to keep America’s restive middle-class blissfully ignorant of the trials and tribulations that its planetary co-inhabitants face, and thereby ensure a sense of safety and normalcy at home. But even so, with the massive military hardware industry that its leaders deploy as a very obvious elephant in the room in its negotiations with other countries, and as a key proponent in the policy of ‘mutual deterrence’ that their institutions keep pushing down everyone’s throat from which they garner massive volumes of both individual sales of weapons as well as armament-level militarization across continents, it is still difficult to see what a massively burdened U.S. government gains from over-stretching both its popularity at home and its economic potency abroad simply by emphatically stamping its presence so far from home… until you begin to dredge through the corridors of a not too distant past.

Business-wise, it is to the benefit of anyone to search for markets beyond natural realms, and international trade has led to some of the most spectacular modern odysseys in economic exploitation – the most proximate example being the East India Company’s foray into the region of the world from where I now type more than four centuries ago. That it eventually led to the British Crown co-opting the South Asian sub-continent as a colony of its own for reasons that were purely economical is recorded history. Trade, then, initially started on mutually beneficial terms and then rapidly favored the traders of England over local business when British economists saw self-evident benefits in playing one fractious kingdom over another to eventually dominate an entire region of the world. When an administrative colony finally took shape, forays were made further east through reprehensible attempts to turn an entire people into drug addicts, simply for trade’s sake.

That it would be almost impossible for the U.S. today to occupy a country indefinitely and cry terrorism as an excuse is a foregone conclusion – the last time they tried something like that more than 30 years ago they were routed by dedicated fighters from a region so small in size and resources as to be virtually insignificant in comparison with some of its own smaller states. It seems obvious then to expect that any contemporary U.S. administration would identify the key players in the world’s most undisciplined regions and interest them in a mutually beneficial game of kiss-ass, keep them supplied with arms and intelligence, and use every trick in and out of the book to keep such players in power. They already do it in some regions, so why is the strategy not working everywhere? 
This is where, my alter-ego says, the revenge of the subaltern kicks in – we do not live any longer in a mutually exclusive world. Assets are spread over a large swathe of the planet and business interests do not converge within a specific region any more. ‘Globalization’ was a fancy word bandied about by first-world capitalist chauvinists over thirty years ago but the full realization of the term today has meant the revelation of inhuman levels of economic disparity between haves and have-nots, contextual analyses of local issues presided over by trans-national interest groups, and a paradigm shifting new-age media that refuses to shut up. Does anyone really wonder why the UN’s appeal for aid to Pakistan’s millions of displaced flood victims has only raised half the required sum for rehabilitation barely a month after the release of purportedly ‘well-known’ facts about Pakistan’s implicit involvement in terrorism in Afghanistan? The events of 9/11 themselves have been the subject of so many discredited conspiracy theories about the previous administration’s secret involvement in the plot to bring down the WTC towers, that it is blatantly obvious around the world that working-class Americans do not see that just by knowing about how they live, people far away connect dots and start to see beyond the façade of the natural ascendency the U.S claims because of its so-called commitment to freedom. ‘What about our freedom!’, the third-world cries in unison… ‘Don’t we count?’

And so, with the expansion of the sphere of influence of China, the tottering superpower has to project a reiteration of the status quo – that, in fact, they still are the world’s only superpower - and economic and military adventurism follows economic and military adventurism until the world will cease to see the U.S. as a nation at all – only as a vaguely familiar foreigner who once, a long time ago, arrived to trade but stayed to rule… and say to her, ‘Wait… You are not welcome anymore.’

Friday, August 27, 2010

Back to the Tabula Rasa

There was an occasion sometime during the dying months of 2006 when I had cause to mention that ignorance was finally dead. I was in Kerala at the time, a state lauded for its amazingly advanced socio-economic indicators (numbers that are still at odds with most of the rest of the country), and its steady supply of courageous and inventive entrepreneurs to the rest of the world. The circumstances behind making the claim were that I was being challenged by a retired doctor about a certain statement of fact that he was sure I was wrong about. And backed by the whole-hearted belief that in the age of the internet, information about almost anything would be rigorously dissected by hundreds of subject matter experts and an individual’s claim to truth almost instantaneously fact-checked and verified (or exposed) when subjected to the scrutiny of this holy repository of the sum of the world’s knowledge, I challenged him right back. He did not take me up on it – I suppose he was less interested than I about the small and insignificant point of contention at hand, and was also perhaps a little worried that the chance at being found out could have cost him some measure of dignity. In hindsight, I confess that I do sympathize with him - in a notoriously insular and patriarchal society that is Kerala’s (whatever the statistics say), that kind of dignity still means a lot.

I still believe, four years on, that the Information Revolution that is the Internet’s greatest bequest to this generation, holds so much promise in that hallowed quest to defeat pervasive ignorance, and to solve some of the world’s greatest problems…

'...Most true it is, that I have looked on truth askance and strangely...' 
- William Shakespeare, Sonnet 110

Thursday, August 19, 2010


The predilection towards violence is an especially studied feature of humanity, only limited by the lengths that researchers will go to in the means they use to fulfill the end they surmise. Everything we do, it appears, has to do with fulfilling a base, haunting dream of violent death – ours and everyone else’s. This death takes on forms not wholly indistinguishable from the myths portrayed in popular fiction, but when those with the means to put in place what the rest of us can only vacantly fantasize about, actually visit the extent of their potency in reality, a huge longing for the Better Human Being envelopes our collective consciousness.

The philosophy of Absurdity has emerged over the last century and a half in western thought, starting with Kierkegaard, traveling down to Nietzsche and culminating in the seminally popular work of Camus, who taught us that life devoid of meaning only invites us to infuse it with whatever meaning we wish to give it – the absolute freedom to live without hope, in other words. Illustratively, it would mean that I would be free to get up and go down to the store for a packet of cigarettes, witness a beggar being run over by a car, rush to the man’s aid and possibly even check him in to the nearest government hospital, and then leave to welcome my wife home at the end of her long work day and ask her politely how it went. Evocative fiction has to do with what our reactions to a particularly unordinary occurrence are and how they resonate among the recipients of that illustration who momentarily suspend their disbelief to immerse themselves in the fiction. And our reactions to the immersive world of violence easily trump other ways of engaging an audience driven relentlessly to its contemplation by a social conditioning that has had no equal. It is difficult to imagine a world where violence is an end unto itself – it seems that it must lead onto dissertations into anthropology, metallurgy, creativity, philology and yes, even philosophy.

It seems so easy to blame the military-industrial complex for our descent into this collective madness of absurdly fictionalizing the true causes behind being intimidated and threatened by our fellow man. That line of reasoning is only too reminiscent of the blame the tobacco industry bears for the carcinogens infiltrating our species. But what we don’t seem to want to confront is that we are relentlessly driving ourselves into a collective hysteria about a fact of life that we have culpably given rise to by our way of life. The remote farmer in the upper reaches of cultivable land in Uttarakhand faces more of an immediate threat to his existence than most of us just by fetching a bucket of water to cook in from a rapacious mountain stream. But he doesn’t dwell on his mortality for more time than it takes for him to see through his task. But when we contemplate war between Iran and Israel, or death to the environment in Bellary, or the curse of an unfeeling God in Pakistan, the absolute and dire import of the violence we face hits us with an intensity that is unassailable – Why Is Life This Way, is the question that comes instantly to our minds, but Did We Always Imagine It Would Be This Way, is perhaps the more pertinent inquiry in this absurdist conundrum.

"Ay, but to die, and go we know not where;
To lie in cold obstruction and to rot;
This sensible warm motion to become
A kneaded clod; and the delighted spirit
To bathe in fiery floods, or to reside
In thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice;
To be imprison’d in the viewless winds,
And blown with restless violence round about
The pendent world."
William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure (3.1.114)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Inertia vs. Industry

The latest academic investigation into modern culture, funded by an altruistic body full of sentient beings ostensibly deeply interested in the insights that a study of a random sample of privileged disaffected youth in what is these days a disaffected country, will provide… has this to say about the youth of today.

There are only two role models left:

One – the macho, steroid-boosted, raging superhero, capable of great feats of physicality and guided by an amoral premise that makes him relatively less harmful to those who share his ideas of good and evil. In short, a Post-9/11 Captain America.

The other – the patented slacker dude, de-docrinated, indifferent and made flesh in Jeff Bridges’ mythical portrayal in the film, The Big Lebowski (1998).

The Money Shot:
Assuming for a moment that these two figures stand before you, both of whom are momentarily self-effacing, incongruous, and unsure of themselves, which of the two do you think will recover sooner when they get kicked in the balls at the same time?

(Dedicated to my dear cousin, Puppy Manohar)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Caesar's Shadow

Politics seems to surround us these days in ways that never seemed possible when the world was a nicer, cleaner, generally more agreeable place to live in – I am referring, of course, to that time in most of our lives when we were younger and therefore thankfully oblivious to the workings of a multi-party and mutinous democracy. Commentators would point to the historical eclipse of the national hegemony of the political party that emerged from the spoils of the independence movement, as a cause. Other movements and more diverse persuasions have now emerged onto a stage from which they espouse their right to represent a million diverse peoples in this country. Another reason would be, of course, the emergence of the calumnious media brigade – an entity that is as divorced as possible from the ideal of one of four necessary pillars of society, and doesn’t resemble anything like that mythical vanguard of the people through which citizens might reach up and grasp a rainbow of enlightened self-rule. 
I propose, though, an alternative reason for this sudden interest in the affairs of representation. When the rate of social change itself is in geometrically multiplied freefall, misrule by government must therefore be blatantly obvious, because Government, by definition, is a behemoth institution – one that by its very nature must accommodate the needs and aspirations of a diverse electorate and adequately represent the baser fantasies of an upwardly mobile, but patently impatient following. Before I appear to be so, please let me state forthwith that I am not in favour of that famous idea marvelously referred to in the first person as the ‘Republic of One’. That was an idea of a much more conscientious human being than I who was railing at the inertia of this nation from a much broader perspective. Neither am I supportive of the basic tenets of what I know of the United States’ ‘Tea Party’ – such multitudes of human beings as we have must necessarily be guided by a strong set of laws and safeguards lest the naturally occurring impulses of a few good men at the top of the food chain drain the rest of this country of any hope of a better life. What I am stating here is a preference towards smaller self-governing regions within this dominion of ours, one that is administered much less federally in which ethnic sections of the populace have a greater say in their immediate affairs. We are constantly reminded of the travails of the Kashmiri people, so too the rights of tribals in the hinterland, not to forget the completely opaque conditions of life of our brethren in the North-East of the country. By slicing up the economic and political pieces of this great national pie, we would be giving ourselves more of a chance to return to those times of lesser strife, when everyone knew what resources they were entitled to and that they were finite, and when a junior member leaving the household was treated as an occasion of reverence and awe. The evils of constant migration, disparate understandings of rural and urban life, the blight of poor education and the standard lack of survival skills to succeed in the professional world, would at once be pondered on from a respectful distance and prepared for with less unrewarding haste… I speak of a time when a high school graduate from Himachal Pradesh views a college in Chennai as distantly as he would view one in Massachusetts, and compares the benefits of studying in either based on what he would eventually hope to achieve professionally. The world sadly is not getting smaller, that illusion persists only in our minds. Perhaps our understanding of the world should consider its real size and its concrete divisions – A world where a young student studying in Tehran is taught that a neighboring country with a military arsenal on a proven short fuse should not exist, where the only God a child soldier in the Congo knows is his commandant, where a Tamil refugee in a camp across the Palk Strait is regarded by a resident in Rameshwaram as a foreigner, where the Government of India does not offer a single paisa in aid to the countless millions of suffering flood victims in a country in which it has the largest incentive to win hearts and minds.

News Update on Aug 14th 2010 - The Indian Government finally gives birth to a conscience.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Child as Father of the Man

Of what I can remember from my earliest days of life, the resonance of some of the books I read and some of the movies I watched as a child seems to linger on in my consciousness – strangely unaffiliated to the places they were imbibed at, and dissociated from any memory of my concurrent passage through real life at the time. Furthermore, the sensations I experienced through the world of fiction in both these mediums are more readily called upon in my memory than most of the feelings I had when life-changing things were happening around me. To be sure, a perfunctory reading into trauma and its after-effects in children could very well be applied to my case as a boy growing up through constantly tumultuous personal change, but I still wonder why some of the feelings I had while reading and watching certain stories should take up so much of the long-term memory we are told constitute the ready-reckoners of the intelligence we eventually grow into as adults. A Need for Escape is, of course, the easy answer, but I am still not convinced. Though trauma is generally associated with deprivation and a lack of proper guidance through profoundly confusing occurrences to a child, I did always have a very large support system when certain tragedies that no one could do anything about happened over the course of my childhood. The reasons for the conditions of life being what they were for our family, were thoroughly disseminated in my evolving understanding of the world through overwhelmingly compassionate parenting, the grace of which I can now recognize in hindsight. All in all, mine was as sheltered a childhood as the circumstances of life could allow. Perhaps, the world of fiction provided me an avenue through which I could indulge an imagination that was struggling to gain free rein over a reality filled with a sense of despair. But that does suspiciously sound like a whole bunch of words I would use to mask a sense of ignorance about the past. All I know, at this stage in my life, is that I would have been a much poorer man if I did not have recourse to the beloved books and movies I dove into as a child… And perhaps my continuing obsession with both these mediums of distraction is what should point to the fact that in my case, the child is verily the father of the man.

Some of the Movies I refer to:
Jesus of Nazareth, Ben-Hur, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, Kutti-Chaitan (Tamil in 3-D), The NeverEnding Story.

And some of the Books (abridged versions for children):
Treasure Island, The Swiss Family Robinson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Great Expectations, The lies of Boyo Butler, Momo.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

My Corrupt Confession, in words

Short synopses of three current news stories that are doing the national rounds even as I write this:
(1)    The organization of the XIX Commonwealth Games, to be held in less than two months from today in New Delhi, is mired in controversy regarding international money transfers being made by local government agencies responsible for the provision of infrastructure for the Games, to overseas companies that don’t seem to exist.
(2)    The Revenue and Tourism Ministers of the current Government of Karnataka together own iron ore mines that have a turnover of over Rs. 1200 crores.
(3)    Local elected councilors in the city of Bangalore are up in arms over the currently active online (and transparent) bidding process for the awarding of government project contracts to contractors for any project greater than Rs. 10 lakhs. Their joint statement, across party lines, expresses concern that they will not be in touch with the projects undertaken and, by extension, the contractors responsible for them.

Corruption in public life is endemic – this seems like the typical cynical statement for the times we live in, couched in language that is vaguely academic and even somewhat pedantic.

I live in a world where people with no ethics thrive – a statement that seeks, this time, to instill an objection to the reality it refers to and perhaps even excuse it as being inevitable.

I have had no recourse but to sometimes bribe my way out of a headache when dealing with public officials – a statement that is clearly an admission of guilt couched in a reference to a powerlessness that is naturally a non sequitur to the uninitiated.

If I did not take it, someone else would have… and then what – a statement made by a person caught in the act, maybe? Or even something we in the middle class might have said when it came to getting our driving licenses, voter IDs, gas connections, college admissions and even job placements?

I will not stand for it – possibly the most uttered statement of all when it comes to a reference to corruption; a statement that is at once a challenge, a demand and a verbal stand forcefully being taken, the consequences be damned.

What about these –
It makes life easier,
Just grow up,
If you have a problem then why don’t you move on out of here?,
We are like this only,
Don’t focus on only the bad things all the time,
Stop playing to the gallery,
Get off your ass and do something about it,
What to do?,
They will be punished one day,
Karma begets karma.

Shakespeare, as usual, will have the last laugh –

Nay, but to live
In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed,
Stew’d in corruption, honeying and making love
Over the nasty sty
Hamlet (III, iv)

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I have not yet forgiven myself for thinking that I have the makings of an idea for a movie script swirling around in my head. The characters are drawn from profiles of: senior defense personnel, politicians, advertising executives and actors. The script is to be divided into three acts, each an illustration on the concept of Duplicity

- A general is in talks with his country's national politicians about the future course of the insurgency his army is currently combating; he pontificates about a historical enemy on one side of the border, explicitly criticizes western powers for being too naive to fully understand the pressures he faces every day, and finally threatens his leaders against taking a stand opposed to his own and therefore against the national interest, before walking out of the meeting in a huff. At home later, he sits in front of his television watching the news of yet another suicide bombing killing tens of people in his home town on the other side of the country. He suddenly recognizes the street depicted in the carnage, and after taking a sip of his scotch, self-consciously breaks down and weeps uninhibitedly.

- An advertising executive is in his element on the creative floor of his office; he is telling his designers and copywriters that they must focus on what the idea of being fair means in this country – intrinsic superiority, higher culture, better prospects… He tells them that nobody likes dark people - that they are only tolerated because it is politically correct. If people were given a chance to express their unadulterated views in public, he says, you would hear a lot more overt racism. He tells the team to focus on the promise, the glory, the vanity of the colour white when they begin their campaign. He leaves the floor triumphant. At home later, he enters his drawing room to find his 8-year old daughter throwing things around, in the throes of one of her wild tantrums. He has witnessed such a scene many times before. He angrily questions his wife; ‘What happened this time?’ She says, ‘She was teased once again about being black and ugly by her classmates.’

– A celebrated actor rehearses for a play. He is arguing in an imaginary court of law for equality, fraternity and justice for all. His fight is for a poor villager caught in the crossfire between government forces and Maoists in his little hamlet somewhere in the vastness of the Red Corridor. The actor is impassioned, articulate and full of zeal. The few witnesses at the rehearsal cry watching the performance. The actor ends with the words, ‘This world will not stand the scrutiny of even the highest born among us looking at the people he has so willfully scorned; in the face of reason, ineptitude and the mysterious workings of that most criminal of ideas – fate!’ Even the director stands up in his seat immediately after, applauding. A helper hurries over to the actor, worried that the long trail of his lawyer’s gown costume is about to trip him. When he touches the garment, he receives a brutal kick from the actor that sends him sprawling across the stage. The flabbergasted actor then screams out - ‘How dare you interrupt me when I am in the zone.’

Perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking that this could really be a work of fiction. But then again, probably not.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Psycho Sloganeering

Far be it from me to ever pledge my unconditional support to The Market as an agent for sweeping positive change across every socio-economic indicator in India, but the facts are the facts are The Facts.

Sloganeering on: subsidies on essential products, community and caste promotion, reservations for education and employment, non-uniform divorce and alimony rights based on religious affiliation, narrow definitions of what constitutes an individual’s right to sexual orientation, sops for the poor just before elections, employment guarantees, farmers’ rights, international relations based on defunct ideologies, and the supposed urban-rural divide in the expectations of a class-based citizenry… is not just a cruel misappropriation of the hopes and dreams of a billion people by depraved lobbyists and scheming interest groups, but the hijacking of a civil society that owes its very existence to a prayer for equal opportunity.

What has brought on this post is the latest disgraceful episode in the parallel (and constantly encroaching) universe of popular sloganeering; The opposition parties’ call for a Bharat Bandh against the government’s decision to eventually abolish the disparity between the price of fuel being brought into the country and how much it is sold for within our borders.

In 2009, India imported 2.56 million barrels of oil per day, making it one of largest buyers of crude oil in the world. It is the fourth largest consumer of petroleum products in the world after the U.S., China and Japan but is 24th in the world when it comes to petroleum production at 854,000 barrels per day. India's existent oil reserves, found only in areas around Mumbai, parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan and eastern Assam, meet only 25% of the country's domestic oil demand. India's total proven oil reserves stand at 11 billion barrels, of which the Mumbai Area is believed to hold 6.1 billion barrels and Mangala Area in Rajasthan, an additional 3.6 billion barrels.

An admission is called for here; I have in my possession a diesel car that was bought recently due to the consistently lower pricing mechanism that the heavier oil is subjected to due to its standing as the primary source of energy in the transportation of all sorts of goods – essential and otherwise – to every corner of our large country. I bought my car at a price that was 10% higher than the same model that uses petrol for fuel, because of the understanding that the price of diesel will continue to be subsidized more than petrol by the Indian Government due to the above mentioned reason and, thereby, more than make up for the difference in the cost of the car over the medium to the long term. The fact that the Government recently announced that it had no choice but to raise fuel prices because major state-owned oil retailers were bleeding the economy dry because of current subsidies, and eventually bring the price of petrol and diesel on par with what it costs to purchase it in the world’s oil markets is, therefore, a particularly brutal kick in the nuts for me.

The dilemma of the common man is what I am facing. But my dilemma means nothing to the millions of nameless and faceless subsistence farmers having to suddenly contend with a rise in prices for the fuel they need to be able to plough their fields, irrigate their lands and transport their goods, so as to provide for their immediate families.
But what the farmer and I share is the knowledge that: the certain crops he is forced to cultivate because of the Government of India’s policies, the agricultural markets that he has no access to because of the existence of a vast network of influential middlemen, the lack of access to primary health centres and schooling for his children because of a plethora of issues related to Employee Unions and a lack of infrastructure, and the migration of his relatives and friends to urban areas where they live in such close proximity to fabulous wealth while having absolutely no way to get into those towering skyscrapers and glass-walled palaces and take part in the New Economy… is all due to the evil that such Sloganeering has wrought.