Living Room Conversations in 2013

“It’s pretty clear now that Modi will be our next Prime Minister.”

*grudging nods*

“But you have to see, no, how these Congress people have sold off our country. The BJP, whatever else it may be, at least has sound minority upliftment policies.”

*grunts of derision* “And what might these be?”

“They don’t believe in any of this wishy-washy business of reservations. You know, reservations and quotas and all these fillips have actually harmed the minorities. They’ve become comfortable with the way things are. Expect the government to hand everything to them on a silver platter.”

“Okay, let me stop you right there. Reservation as a policy may have gone wrong in our country, that’s another discussion. But if the BJP is against it, it’s not because they genuinely care about the Muslims or other minorities, but because they want votes. Hindu votes. Lots of them.”

“No no, that is rubbish. The party may have started out with the Hindutva peg, but look at how they’ve changed. Look at what Modi has done in Gujarat, he has transformed it. What development!”

“There are actually reports saying other-….”

“Have you been to Ahmedabad recently? Looks like Europe only. Beautiful. The roads, the cleanliness! And I hear they have great infrastructure too.”

“But that’s only in areas that are non-Muslim. There are reports that say Muslim areas have been ghettoised. That there were boycotts and Muslims were discriminated against for the longest time. For all you know, this is still true. The man is just cashing in on the UPA’s weak moment.”

“And he might as well. Such brilliant governance. He will turn the country around.”

“But there is still a large number of people, at least I know several people, who are dead against him coming to power. He and the party he hails from are divisive forces. If we think six degrees of separation…”

“But why? Till when are you lot going to harp on 2002? Godhra wasn’t the only such incident that happened in the country. The Congress also allowed all those Sikhs to be killed in 1984 when Indira Gandhi died.”

“But look at the scale of violence! Two wrongs never make a right. No one’s saying that 1984 was acceptable. But neither can 2002 be, right?”

“They started it. They started it by setting fire to that coach full of men, old and young, women, children. All those poor souls did was go to Ayodhya…”

“So then it was a retaliation to the Babri Masjid episode…”

“In which no people died. All they did was demolish that mosque!”

“But why? Why do that? Why did it matter so much? Doesn’t that just show you what they’ve thought and wanted to do with the minorities all along?”

“No! There was a temple earlier. It belonged to us, that land! Those bloody Mughals came and plundered through everything. During Ram’s time, there was a temple there…”

“What?! How can you possibly know what was there in the time of a mythological character? This is such ridiculous conjecture!”

“But they did have it coming. And how can you take their side? They don’t even let their women study, or breathe in peace. They’re such a patriarchal lot, and so extreme! They don’t really want to live here also. But India’s government made it so convenient for them. Being secular means they get the best of both worlds. They’re far away from the troubles of Pakistan and here they can be as ‘Muslim’ as they want to be.”

“But…? What best of both worlds? They make up the larger part of our poor classes.”

“And whose fault is that? Because of these reservations, they don’t have the incentive to work hard and move ahead in life. Their basic survival needs are met by the government. And you don’t know, but they also get a lot of opportunities. So many seats in the UPSC and in public sector companies and schools and colleges lie waiting for them to come and simply take. And they wouldn’t even have done anything to deserve it.”

“But even if what you’re saying happens, these ‘benefits’ can only be reaching a small percentage of people. I’m sure a lot are still not even aware of what all they have a right to.”

“No, all that’s rubbish. They all know. They’re very cunning. They send their kids to these madrasas, where they learn the same codes of conduct that existed 100 years ago. Empty minds are the devil’s paradise.”

“BUT WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? THIS IS A COMMUNITY LIKE ANY OTHER MINORITY THAT IS MINORITISED! THROUGH STATE ACTION, THROUGH STATE TERRORISM, BY THESE SANGH PARIVAR TYPE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SUCCESSFULLY BRAINWASHED MIDDLE CLASS EDUCATED PEOPLE LIKE YOU…LOOK AT ALL THE INCIDENTS OF VIOLENCE THAT HAPPEN IN THIS COUNTRY, THE MINORITIES SUFFER MORE EVERY TIME. THIS IS A DANGEROUS TREND….”

“Listen, calm down. We don’t know who’ll be PM yet. But it’s quite certain that Modi will be our leader. We need a man like him to come to power. He will save the economy, and put up a brave face in front of China. He is what this country needs.”

*Resigned to our fate, we reconsider our options. Much to our horror, we realise, there are none.*

There is no point of history. History is the past becoming the future becoming the present all over again, all the time.

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The Wrath of the Spurned: How Acid Attacks Life Beyond The Moment

(Now that the Supreme Court of India has made the laws regarding acid attacks more stringent — imposing a rather difficult-to-implement ban on sale of acid, and a more respectable amount of financial aid — it is worth looking at how this might change things for the better. You can also read this here)

Pragya was sleeping on the upper berth in a sleeper compartment of a train to Varanasi when she felt a burning sensation on her face. She woke up with a start — she literally felt her skin on her cheek come away when she touched it. “I jumped down and began screaming with pain. It was 2 am, my clothes had melted and people around me thought I was going mad. If it weren’t for the foreigner who recognised what had happened to me and called a doctor, I would’ve perhaps not survived,” she says, recalling with vivid clarity, the moment she was acid attacked in 2006.

The attack came merely 10 days after her marriage and, as she and her family were to find out in the following weeks, was the repercussion of a rejected marriage proposal. “The man was at least a decade older than me and apparently already married. They caught him and put him in jail in the next few months, but he’s out on bail now. None of it changes the fact that it took me over two years simply to recover physically,” she says.

Recently, two men on a motorbike threw acid on four sisters in Shamli. The case has made national headlines, as did another incident in Patna where two teenage girls were also victimised in their sleep. It is heartening to see an increased focus on reporting sexual crimes against women, following the December 2012 protests that were triggered by the gangrape of a girl in a moving bus in the capital.

It is important to recognise the special nature of acid attacks, seeing as they are generally perpetrated by somebody in the know. In the Shamli case, one of the accused is the brother-in-law of the victim. The girls wanted to go to town about their illicit relationship, and this was his way of containing the situation. In the Patna case, the attackers were spurned lovers.

“A general perception is that the male ego cannot take rejection lightly and seeks to overcome his rage through such an attack. This is complicated with the impulsive spirit of today’s youth, which cannot handle what we call ‘delay of need gratification’ – they don’t seem to find any sense of illegitimacy to their actions. Another explanation would be the lack of accessibility – the feeling of “if your attractiveness can’t be available to me, I will make sure nobody else can have it either”,” observes Dr. Arvind Mishra, professor of social psychology at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The notion of revenge is critical to acid attacks, since its intent is to ruin the victim’s life without actually ending it. Such attacks cause disfiguration that lasts for a lifetime, because the social stigma attached to deformation ensures that the victim would no longer have access to a social life, nor will she be considered a viable candidate for marriage. The fact that acid is easily available at kirana shops and supermarkets across the country, doesn’t help the situation.

The consequences of acid attacks can be very dire – considering the fact that this form is particularly popular in the low to lower-middle classes of society, the victims’ access to medical help might be limited. Basic operations to keep the victim alive could result in bills as big as Rs 50 lakh, or more, at times. Also, the facilities to treat first degree burns are few and far between. It was due to the lack of proper medical treatment that 23-year old J Vinodini died in Pondicherry after being attacked by her neighbour, and battling for life for over three months.

It is also within the momentum created by the December 2012 protests that the Criminal Law Amendment Bill was passed recently, recognising the various forms of such violence and raising the punishment bar for rape, voyeurism, stalking and acid attacks. Up till now, all these offences were clubbed under the ambivalent label of ‘grievous hurts’ in sections 320, 322, 325 and 326 of the Indian Penal Code, punishable by imprisonment upto seven years – legislation, or lack thereof, that itself showed just how seriously violence against women was being taken by the state.

Under the amendment ordinance, acid attacks, along with the others, are recognised as specific crimes and are punishable by imprisonment of upto 12 years, along with a fine of upto Rs 10 lakh. While this is a definite improvement, it still seems to fall short of the correction required in cases of acid attack, from the point of view of the victim. “The government has made provisions for a parallel amendment in the Criminal Procedure Code to provide compensatory medical and private aid for victims. But whether this will be followed through remains to be seen,” notes Madhu Mehra, director of Partners for Law in Development.

Image

She is sceptical because of two factors – the speed of convictions in India is nothing to boast about, and it isn’t possible to adjudge the capacity of the accused to pay the stipulated fine. “The government needs to recognise that this is among the most physically debilitating crimes. It must also acknowledge the fact that violence can create polities of its own kind. For the victim, it would be more important to get back on her feet. You can either make sure that you take up social transformation, but when you can’t even tell the Khap panchayats to shut up, you could at least ensure that the schemes or provisions you draft are water-tight,” she states.

In such a situation, does regulating the availability of acid make sense? “Not really,” says Mehra, “because it isn’t the ‘weapon’, but the intent that needs to be inspected. Ten years ago in Mongolpuri, we heard of a case where men on motorbikes were slashing women’s faces with razor blades. The government could slap restrictions, but there’s always a way to get around the law, especially for a product so cheaply available. We just can’t deal with disfigurement and that is what needs to be addressed.”

Today, living in near-complete anonymity in an undisclosed location, Pragya believes that she’s been luckier than most, thanks to a supportive husband and family back home at Varanasi. “I have no friends though – when I walk on the road, people ask me what happened to my face. There’s plenty of sympathy, but they don’t really want to associate with me beyond that,” she says.

She has now started working with Stop Acid Attacks, an NGO working to help victims with medical and financial aid. Her aim is to help girls come out of the trauma through counselling and group support sessions. “I don’t think I am abnormal – it is feeling that a lot of girls develop when their faces and bodies are maimed in this manner. I want to help them get back to their lives as before,” she says.

From Bhojpur to Bambai, in song & spirit

(You can also read this here)

Kalpana Patowary and Ramanujan Pathak (Below) in stills from the film

On a sultry Mumbai evening, Vijaylal Yadav is on stage, singing songs of home, love, loss and belonging. “The wife wants a pair of jeans, but her husband refuses. ‘I can give you a mobile phone, but not pants’, he tells her over the phone,” Yadav explains in Hindi, before he starts singing in Bhojpuri. The ‘wife’ is now pining for her husband, calling him back, demanding to know where he’s gone, leaving her all alone. The audience cheers.

Another evening, another dais. A young girl and boy, flanked by dancers dressed in sequin-laden lehengas and garish makeup, are singing love songs, flirting in rhyme for the benefit of a rather massive, excited audience. “I poke my beak in your cup of nectar,” is the (translated) refrain that the boy directs at his duet-partner, who simply giggles in return and eggs him on. Meanwhile, the audience, largely comprised of young, seemingly hormonal men, are more interested in watching the dancers with mouths wide open. Some are even taking pictures or shooting videos on their mobile phones, seduced by the song, the dance and the warm Mumbai night.

Shooting these ‘scenes’ as they play out in real life, with an unobtrusive camera, is filmmaker Surabhi Sharma. Bidesia in Bambai, her latest documentary on migrant music, covers a musical culture that is now transforming itself into an industry in the suburbs of Mumbai. As she walks through the alleys of Adarsh Nagar and Nalasopara, both residential spaces far away from the main city, and questionable in terms of legality, she finds yet another example of how music becomes the reason for and means of survival for an entire community.

“In 2008, I completed a film called Jahaji Music: India in the Caribbean, which was about a different manifestation of Bhojpuri migrant music. Chutney, with elements of both Bhojpuri folk and Bollywood, gave me my first experience of making a film on music. It made me wonder about the kinds of histories that musical cultures can hold within them,” says Sharma.

In the film, we see several examples of these histories that Sharma set out in search of — the Bhojpuri appears as a migrant, a poor man, a taxi/auto driver or rickshaw-puller, a man proud of his language and assertive of his space in this city constantly at war with ‘outsiders’. We also witness the processes of a bustling metropolis viewed through the eyes of this man, and of how he attempts to negotiate with it.

The music, too, as any contemporary form, has the power to re-invent itself and assimilate foreign influences. Apart from folk songs of departure and arrival that Ramanujan Pathak specialises in, there are also the raunchy ditties, the bhajans, the Bollywood style beats in Kalpana Patowary’s studio sessions and songs devoted to their identity. “Unlike Bollywood, this is a brand of music that is not even attempting to reach out to a pan-Indian audience,” points out Sharma. In other words, it might be welcoming of foreign influences, but it is also proud of its own legacy, and caters to an identity.

Bidesia in Bambai is the latest example of a growing trend — that of looking at music as more than just a cultural artefact. It is now viewed as a carrier and capsule of that very culture from which it emerges. Sharma says that Anand Patwardhan’s Jai Bhim Comrade, a documentary that put the spotlight on protest music by dalits in Mumbai and brought the Kabir Kala Manch to fore, reassured her that it wasn’t necessary to explain the music to create a narrative about contemporary politics, society and culture. “Now, there seems to be a conscious acknowledgement that music can be the site where socio-political tensions are released,” she observes.

Defence, Disarmament and Global Wars in the age of mecha

(Also read this here)

jaeger kaiju

The high point, quite literally, of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest, Pacific Rim, is the moment when our hero Jaeger (outdated but strong yet, thanks to its drivers) slashes off the evolved, ever more dangerous Kaiju’s wing in mid-flight. The Kaiju, a futuristic dinosaur, is now flying as it zooms in on the Jaeger for its final kill, but like the proverbial trump card, out comes a sword (please note the irony) from the Jaeger’s right hand, just in time to pierce through the monster. Dismembered, the Kaiju returns to the ocean with a resounding splash; and the narrative is back to being a rather humdrum, predictable one.

Released worldwide on the July 12-13 weekend, Pacific Rim has, on an average, garnered lukewarm critical response. This lumbering spectacle of an apocalyptic war against aliens is a delight to watch for its expertly crafted action scenes. After all, what’s not to like about humungous robots and monsters fighting each other to death?

Disappointment is inevitable — lead characters Raleigh Beckett (Charlie Hunnam), Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) are all given back-stories that are rushed through; and the plot, like the Jaegers of seven years later, needs a severe upgrade. But then, this movie isn’t as much a psychodrama as it is the latest offering in the mecha genre of Hollywood cinema — with a history of movies like Star Wars, the Godzilla series,Transformers, and Sucker Punch — and revives the giant robots vs. monster trope, possibly the oldest idea in Japanese anime.

Pacific Rim does inspire some thoughts on the evolving nature of weaponry and the state of warfare. The Jaegers (German for hunter) are run by two fighters, located in the head of the machine. They must meld their brains, hearts and memories with each other as well as the machine, in the process becoming a ‘maschinemensch’ or machine-human — a trope explored often enough, and first seen in Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis.

Although this ploy isn’t quite the same thing as drone warfare (since the fighters are very much a part of the action, ‘remote’ only in the sense that there is minimal bloodshed), which in itself is more in vogue today, it does endorse the idea of ‘sanitised’ battles. In the aftermath of a fight, you as a viewer don’t see maimed and tainted bodies, blood or gore — which one can easily presume to be part of the scene — but, instead, witness broken machines, shattered buildings and, poignantly, Mori’s lost red shoe. Whatever ‘blood’ you can see on screen is glowing blue acid dripping from mutilated Kaijus, which is not nearly as disgusting or dread-inspiring. In that sense, Del Toro panders to a notion that is by now the staple of sci-fi and even action cinema — war doesn’t have to end in visible human casualty.

Man and machine have come together on various instances in cinema previously. In The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Lock Martin played the alien robot Gort, controlled by Klaatu, with a message for earthlings; Star Wars had Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker play ‘droids’; Bladerunner and Robocop simply assimilated man and machine to form human-like androids; and most recently, Avatar dwelled on the notion of man controlling a morphed, mechanised version of himself. Through them all runs common theme of bettering the human condition, perfecting his survival skill and instinct through ‘mechanical enhancements’.

In our real, brutal world, however, man does not inhabit the machine (yet); he is far, far away, working on his surveillance or targeted bombing from safe, often undisclosed, locations. The ‘enemy’, for the last decade, has been hiding among his ‘own’, and has had to be ferreted out and hunted down like pesky rats. In this clash of civilisations, identity marked the ‘other’ and ‘ours’, and has been the crucial factor in deciding what is worth fighting for. Pacific Rim, like other sci-fi movies in its league, locates its enemy in the predator whose roots are alien, outside the realm of this planet in this space and time. These may be like all the other unknown threats from ‘out there’ threatening our world, but the movie departs from tradition in pulling upon all of humanity’s strength to fight this war.

Unlike his predecessors, Del Toro is more inclusive — his concern is not the US Pacific coastline alone, nor are his rangers strictly American. His heroine is Japanese; Beckett’s comrades are Russian, Chinese, British and Australian. Of course, in the end, it is Beckett, the American who saves the day. But in an industry where directors are used to casting at least one race/religion/nationality in the underdog/villain/sidekick role, this movie does give the idea of a global war a different twist.

Will Pacific Rim live long in pop-culture memory? Most probably not, thanks to its forgettable, repetitive story. But as a moment in the history of mecha, overwhelming sci-fi cinema, it could still make a lasting mark, for its representation of a world in flux.

You [already] Stink and Burn

Perhaps it should have been heartening to see so many people finally coming out on the streets, crying for ‘justice’, whatever it is that they mean by the word; demanding that our roads be made safer, that rape cannot be tolerated.

Perhaps it is the ever-growing cynic in me who just cannot find a hint of satisfaction or relief in the drama that is unfolding every moment in pristine Lutyen’s Delhi, in these beautiful winter days.

Perhaps they will pass a new law, there will be a new CM, there will be more police on the roads, the papers and TV channels will follow rape cases more doggedly.

BUT!

This is not the first time a woman has been raped to the brink of her death. This is not the first time the CM has shrugged off responsibility. This is not the first time the common man and his kin have come out in the streets. This is not the first time they’ve increased security. This is not the first time there’s so much excitement. This is not the first time – and it won’t be the last. Not the way we seem to be going about it!

Because rape isn’t an under-the-table act, where both parties can leave with some sense of satisfaction, gratification. It isn’t an assembly line product that has come to dominate psyches, turned into a status symbol, something that one MUST have, a sign of one’s affluence at the cost of another’s impoverishment. It isn’t a man, a regime that has his/its own way all the time. It isn’t an ideology, a religion, a policy, a piece of property. STOP calling your picnic a fucking REVOLUTION, for heaven’s sake!

Because if you think what you’re doing out on the roads – shouting slogans, burning effigies, calling authorities names, getting a shower-down by policemen, demanding death by hanging and/or castration – is a revolution, you don’t know shit about what it is like walking on the road, alone, everyday, with a mix of fear and stubbornness swirling inside you, making you nauseous and pumping adrenaline into your bloodstream all at the same time. Knowing that any moment now, you will face an ugliness that you never dreamed possible, even in your worst nightmares.

You don’t know shit about how everyday, you see it in their eyes, everywhere. That you’re being undressed slowly or hastily, depending on just how his highness likes it, your breasts are being weighed, your buttocks are getting spanked, and this may not just be foreplay. You know it because you can see the bulge in their pants that they will continue to thrust into your behind, your shoulder and everywhere else as you jostle for even the littlest space to stand in an overcrowded bus.

You don’t know shit about that lecherous uncle / cousin / male relative (even fathers!) who will leave no stone unturned to be with you in a closed, isolated space, touch you whenever possible, wherever possible, however possible. And just how the sight or sound of them fills you with an inexplicable dread, a sense of terror that can paralyse you down to your very puny soul.

You don’t know shit about how your dreams, your identity, your entire being is subservient to your safety, which is just politespeak for your family’s honour, that nondescript sense of selfhood that rests almost completely on the girl’s sorry shoulders. You have a job that keeps you out late? Imagine the possibilities! How can you not be panicking yet? After all, worrying is our prerogative, beta.

(By the way, if you do know all this and are still screaming your head off in the streets, for your and fellow sufferers’ rights, then aww, you poor little naive thing. Even my rant here on this webspace that nobody reads isn’t half as bad as yours.)

Why do you talk about it, and those who do the deed, as if it were exclusive to you and your environment? Rape isn’t an isolated act, much as it may require isolation as a condition to facilitate its happening.

Rape doesn’t happen because the girl (or boy) was looking soo unbearably sexy that no power in that dot on the time-space axis could’ve stopped her (his) molestation.

Rape doesn’t happen because the rapist harbours exceptional degrees of lustiness. Nor does it happen because the night brings out their romantic side.

Rape happens because society, and you, let it happen. Because you don’t stand up against offences of any nature in public places such as, say, the Metro. Heck, you don’t even get up to give your seat to the old/ pregnant lady standing in front of you, that’s how blind you are! Rape happens because we live in a repressed society where girls and boys are segregated, having boyfriends is seen as criminal, sitting and talking with a boy in a public place warrants a lock-up, being beaten-up, where prostitution remains illegal and sex is seen as a depraved, corrupt activity. Rape also happens because Hindi cinema glorifies masculinity, which in turn has its source in violence and sex. Rape happens because power equations across class, caste, gender lines are changing – lines that were drawn by the very people who are climbing lampposts and posing for pictures at India Gate today, not-waiting to put them up on FB to show they’re so with it. Rape is not one man’s crime, it is even yours when you tell your daughter/sister/mother to stay indoors at night, even though all you want to do is protect them.

At this rate, rape will continue to happen. Even as you lot are ‘protesting’ – which, come on face it, is just asking for revenge – there were at least three more cases reported in today’s newspapers. Do you think your shouting is loud enough to drown out their urges inside their heads? Doesn’t look like it.

Rape will also keep happening as long as you think that women need to be protected. The presumption here is the male is and always will be an animal, naturally. That’s like, WTF? And all you women, you buy into this crap because it makes you feel better in your cramped existence too.

Rape happens because in the friction caused by shifting plates in the continent of patriarchy, there’s a little squeak that the woman manages to edge in sideways now. Because when boys with bloated heads from small towns arrive in the National Chutiyaap Region, otherwise known as the land of promise, they see all these…the girls!…calling the shots! How could this be? Meri ma toh mere baap ki jooti ki dhool chaat-ti hai, ye kya anarth ho raha hai yahan?!

Rape will keep happening because you mothers don’t slap your sons enough and continue to let them turn into such egoistic, horny bastards.

Rape will keep happening as long as educationists and the moral police (who should be sent back to the 17th century) believe there’s much glory in segregation and separation, not realising that in the process, they turn this ‘other’ into this fantastic, exotic creature that must be had at all costs.

There are other reasons for rape to happen too, but the overarching reason it actually goes DOWN (ALL puns intended) is because the girl’s body is thought of as a site of control. Even as you yell from the ramparts of the Parliament for equality, what you should be fighting for is to gain control of your body. Free it from this omnipresent gaze, free yourself from being conscious of this gaze.

The only way you can really stand up for the poor girl struggling to get off ventilators now is by swearing to change how you think and how you let others around you think.

By some twist of fate, she’s a hero today instead of being a victim for life or even dead, and that is the only good thing to come out of this charade. She will live respectably where countless others have perished.

But her life will be in vain if you don’t realise that this is not one incident, this is not the 9/11 of India, but something that, sadly, happens everyday, several times a day.

The answer, my friend, doesn’t lie in retribution, in castration, in revenge, because that is only enabling a vicious cycle. It lies in education. Unless we learn lessons from history, as modern as last year’s fascinating summer, things will never change.

That is, of course, unless all you’re looking for is cheap thrills over the weekend, in which case, ignore all that you’ve read so far. Obviously, you are the MAN of the moment.

Last Call: What the FUCK do you mean by a rape CULTURE?! Can you please think before you let these words come out of your mouth?!

Annalogy

mini-revolution at Chandni Chowk. (mid-August)

(Two weeks after the government ‘gave in’ and agreed to review the Jan Lokpal Bill draft as per Anna and the rest of his brigade’s demands, the circus is over. Over? Maybe not. But definitely taking a break. Now Anna Hazare and Prashant Bhushan have differing opinions on the fate of Kasab. But where has the urgency behind the “Bhrashtachar mitaoo!” morcha suddenly gone? Patience may be a virtue, but this seems suspiciously like a case of bought silence. On another note, there really ought to be an in-depth analysis of the role of 24*7 media coverage in events and their effect on the world. But this is a rant i wrote while the storm was raging and all of Delhi was out on the roads, celebrating god knows what. The silence now only goes to show how easily we’re made fools of.)

One 74-year old man has taken the nation by storm. By simply defying his right to food, right to freedom and right to speech on various occasions in the past couple of months, in protest against that corroding feature of the Indian ‘system’ called ‘bhrashtachaar’, he has almost single-handedly put the government on edge, making it jittery enough to take damaging decisions that it has regretted two seconds later. In the tornado of fury that he has unleashed, there has emerged a ‘civil society’ more comprehensive than the smattering of NGOs and activism that the word is understood to represent in common parlance – spiritual leaders, yoga gurus, human rights activists, academics or simply my neighbour who seems to have finally found, if nothing else, a maidaan to vent his frustration – all under a single umbrella. They’ve yelled slogans as one, screamed silence as one, gone on sulking diets as one, walked the roads with candles alit and banners ablaze as one, chanted hymns, ranted against the government, fed each other’s anger, as one – one immensely volatile mass of people that is giving the impression of being a time bomb, ticking to explosion.

One has to hand it to him. Anna Hazare is to 2011 what Mahatma Gandhi was to 1942. Leadership is no walk in the park. Getting through to a mass of people that is usually too self-involved to bother about the rest (the dictum goes: “humne duniya ka theka le rakha hai kya?” or “Have we taken on the contract to uphold morality in society?”), and getting them to come out of comfort zones is a big achievement. Taking on a government along with the entire hallowed ranks of officialdom is daring, like a garish cinematic stunt one can expect from those gutsy gatsbies, the likes of Clint Eastwood or Rajnikant. He has become our new age poster-boy, the hero of this 21st century saga reiterating the ‘good vs. evil’ or ‘us vs. them’ battle that has been raging since eternity. He has suddenly metamorphosed into a demi-God, with his name on everybody’s lips, like a chant, feverishly whispered, that has the power to purge a society steeped in decades, nay centuries, of sin.

Then there is the cause itself. Corruption is that aspect of Indian life that every office, household, man, woman and, sadly, child is acquainted with. From the time we begin to gain a basic consciousness of the way systems and societies work, we are told in defeated tones that this, too, is an undesirable, but entirely real facet of how things are run here. At some level, we are even encouraged to learn how to slip it to them ‘under the table’, smooth talking all the while to cover the crudeness of the act, be it to the local plumber, the policeman or the politician (or even his peon).

We learn that as is in the case of our elders, teachers and other authority figures, “ours isn’t to question why, ours is but to do and die”. Only this time, it isn’t the steely resolve Tennyson imagines to be on the face of the many-hundred dedicated soldiers, now it done is a casual, dismissive shrug of the shoulder, and we’re on our way. A subtext that lends itself to innocent beings getting welded into maturity and adulthood in this process is: if it’s ok to give some, it must be ok to take some back too. After all, what goes around, really ought to come around too. And so, corruption, one would be forced to argue, is more than just the much publicised 2G scam, the Adarsh scam, the Bofors scam; it is more than numbers and names, it is increasingly an entire ‘norm’ in itself. Fighting against corruption, then, is fighting against our very own baser selves.

This is not to say that everybody in this country is essentially corrupt. They are not. We, the middle classes who are said to be the backbone of this movement, would essentially be victims, even in the carrying out of the act, because honest ways don’t exist. But it would bode well to pause and question – does externalising the fact absolve us all of our mini-sins that snowball into the hulk of an evil? Is everybody in this movement just fed-up of the system, are there no appearances being kept up in the process? Would one more law change everything so drastically, would this be the nation that manages to kick the butt for good? Will Jan Lokpal be the most effective nicotine patch man ever made?

Chances are, this won’t happen. A lesson our parents wish very strongly for us to learn is that change never happens overnight. Social change, systemic change, specially, is a time-consuming process and generations of protest could go into changing hearts and minds, show them a better path. Similarly, we should know that corruption, the epitome of all that constitutes the rot and decay of our precious ancient society, is not going to go away with a hunger strike and general civil upheaval, like the sustained Satyagraha of Gandhi managed to repel the British. This is because corruption is not an alien colonial capitalist invader, it lives and surfeits within and among us. Nor will it evaporate out of existence with another law being passed, because one can’t fight the system through a weapon of the system itself. We will have to be more innovative than that.

With a little common sense, it would seem as if education is the sole ambit of possible social change, especially if the change is to be as monumental as this. If you want it out of the system, you’re going to have to start from the basics. Hajmola can only quell the quake in your stomach, not eradicate the root causes. The cure might lie in changing the way you see things, do things, eat things. Forget the fish fry and butter chicken, shift to whole wheat and green leafy vegetables. Bring back the discipline and restraint in your life. So, while I too am all for holding ‘them’ accountable for all our taxes that they gobble up, it would really be encouraging to see some more long-term thinking and less indefinite fasting from Ramlila Maidaan.

Of course, to this cynicism-coated rant, one could retort that movements like this are about building hope. Hope is what we, the people, the common men, thrive on. It is also what Obama’s thrived on, with big words possibly going to land him a second presidential term. If a man can inspire hope in this world steeped in scepticism, we ought to doff our topis and stand up for him, next to him. One knows that conflict resolution is all about ‘winning hearts and minds’, which Anna, bless his starved soul, has definitely managed to do. And for simply that fact, one hopes that this circus is over sooner than later, that we get our accountability and our transparency, and that this is not just another spark of excitement in the mundane lives of countless trigger-happy and TV-hooked Indians, that fizzles out before autumn arrives.

Ann-a-shan. mid-August, Chandni Chowk

She’s Got A Wayyyy…..

“FIRST J&K WOMAN TO TOP STATE CIVIL SERVICES EYES UPSC” scream headlines across newspapers and all of them too-many news channels and the internet today.

Clap Clap Clap.

Can you imagine the politics that might be playing out behind Sehrish Asghar’s many identities on this momentous day of her life? A woman. Topping. the Kashmir Administrative Services. AND eyeing the Indian Administrative Services.

Or do we always end up imagining too much?

———xxxx———

Anderson, sire, thy words rankle,
like them birthmarks on my ankle! 

Idealism’s orphans inevitably discover that the grand highway of the history they proudly rode, with the wind in their faces, song on their lips, surge in their hearts – the grand highway of history, all grand highways of history, end in the bazaar. And to work the bazaar, to move and stand in the bazaar, to buy and sell in the bazaar, to manoeuvre lightly and nimbly through the bazaar, you have to leave the clunky armour of high ideals, the heavy helmet of lofty ideas, at the gate, where the bazaar begins and the highway of history ends.

~ Tarun J Tejpal
The Alchemy of Desire’

Tenses

Two years. Two massive years that have just buzzed by in a flurry of fun and fretting, eating, playing, dancing, drinking, poking, jumping, posing, laughing, breaking, singing, screaming, running, copying, studying, dozing, listening, shopping, holding, hugging, crying, kissing, supporting, talking, BCing, reading, writing, fighting, clicking, dragging, begging, teasing, falling, scraping, cutting, flying, burning, freezing, baking, partying, daring, confessing, climbing, snatching, tracking, gossiping, arguing, walking, sitting, following, caring, sighing, wishing, dreaming…coming closer, loving, hating, but always being…together.

In the name of peace, may this present continuous never end.

Dead ‘n Gone?

courtesy: filipspagnoli.wordpress.com

Is he really? Dead?

Is justice done? Or is it just an expression of vengeance?

Why’d they throw him into the sea? Too much of an insult? Like spitting and going ‘in YOUR face!’ ?

How much is too much symbolism?

Will America feel safer now?

Will terrorism end, now that he’s gone?

Has nobody in the US heard of Frankenstein and his monster?

Who’s next, then?

Will the ‘clash of civilisations’ end now that the ‘face of terror’ has a bullet through its forehead?

Why do we let them carry on like this?!

…And for more relevant questions (and some answers), check this out.