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.

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.