Who am I?

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I am not religious, but I don't mind calling myself spiritual. Religion, I believe, has, over the millennia, been used as a prop to perpetrate a lot of human suffering. Faith is what matters. I don't believe in the definition of God as a creator. According to me, my God resides within me. Some call it conscience, some call it the sub-conscious, some call it the soul. I don't mind calling it God. So by definition I am not an atheist or an agnostic, but by essence, I may as well be. My God does not reside in a temple, church, mosque or gurudwara. It is right here, within me.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Infotainment - Fodder for the Gullible

“Mass hysteria is sweeping across India's capital after reports of a super-powered monkey man, with hairy body and sharp metal claws, attacking people as they sleep on their roofs in the sweltering heat.” This is what an online newspaper read on 15th May, 2001. I vividly remember the incident, as I was into my teen years with some amount of awareness of issues – at least of the spicy ones. The topic was a rage in my school. The debates that I had with my friends mostly centered on the repercussions and the meaning of the presence of a hairy monster amongst the inhabitants of the most important city of the country. Seldom did we dwell on the authenticity of these attacks. The “monkey man attacks” got plenty of spot-light with the major dailies providing much of the front page space to the news items of the bizarre phenomenon gripping the capital. Soon, like everything else, the hysteria died down and the story moved to the back pages. A few months later, I remember reading a news item which said that the monkey-man was partly a figment of imagination of people with self inflicted injuries and was partly a rumour that spread like wild fire, encapsulating several fabrications and concoctions. The only strange thing about that news item was that it did not cover a space more than 2-by-4 inches and was safely ensconced in the deepest recesses of the newsprint, away from public scrutiny. That was the first day that I noticed the biased role of media in our lives.

Since then I have been constantly aware of and acutely pained by the partisan attitude adopted by most of the print media as well as its electronic counterpart. What we see these days is mostly infotainment – fodder for the parasites looking for “spicy stuff”, something which can give them goose bumps – the extent of its veracity notwithstanding. This is something we saw again when swine flu broke out a few months ago in parts of the country. The media had found its new bestseller. The reports on how swine flu was the “new epidemic” inundated the front pages of the (regrettably) leading newspapers of the country. The up side is that it created a certain amount of awareness among the citizens about the flu. But that was not the ulterior motive of the media. It was sales. And moreover, most of the knowledge regarding the flu that was spread through the newspapers was often misleading, mostly incorrect. The people of the country did what Indians do amidst such hysteria – they panicked. Swine flu was touted as the next big thing – something which could wipe out humanity within the next few years. It turned out to be a magniloquent statement, which was correctly punctured in the ensuing weeks. The hullabaloo turned out to be an empty vessel which made more noise than it was supposed to.

Today, the news of the swine flu, just like the monkey-man uproar, has seemingly left the salubrious environs of the front pages and has acquiesced to blend with the nonentity of the middle pages. It does not come as a surprise to me. But what confounds me to this day is the fact that the newspapers and the news channels that place values over market-share, principles over TRP ratings, have much lower sales than the ones that honestly believe that infotainment is the ultimate tool to fool the gullible customer. I sincerely hope that the Indian public strongly stands behind such paragons of uprightness and supports such morally empowered media houses with something more than mere acknowledgment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

9 Years And Counting..

Who does not like to support causes? We all do. In fact, it is one thing which makes us all feel good. In fact, when we support a cause, we feel as if we have turned into a better human being. Today, I had a similar feeling when I read about someone, and strongly supported that person. I read about Irom Sharmila, the courage she showed to put her own life on the back burner to support a ‘cause’ – the repeal of the macabre Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that has been in effect in Manipur and other north-eastern states since 1980.

What do we normally do when we feel strongly for a cause? We think about it for a while. Or we may go a step further by googling it to find out more about it. Or if we really want to change things, we discuss the matter with a friend who is most likely to understand and relate to what we have to say about the cause. An affirmative nod by him, with a hint of pride, is enough to slake our ego. It satisfies us, more often than not. And that is that. This is the upper limit to which we usually go. It is only the very few of us who actually do something about it. What Irom Sharmila has been through is inimitable and epitomizes the paragon of super-human strength - both physical and mental. And what’s her request? Please repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This controversial Act allows the armed forces to use force, arrest or shoot anyone on mere suspicion, with blatant impunity. Irom started out on her quest for justice on November 2, 2000. The previous day, an insurgent outfit had bombed an Assam Rifles column. The armed personnel shot down 10 innocent civilians at a bus-stand in Malom on the pretext of retaliation. That was the fateful day when she decided to step on and support a ‘cause’ – in her special way. It has been more than 9 long years and not a morsel of food or a drop of water has entered her body through her mouth. She is being forcibly fed with a drip thrust down her nose by the Indian State, which cannot let her die too.

I read the article about her in the magazine Tehelka and felt compelled to do my bit. I salute the unblemished bravery Irom has shown in the face of adversity meted out by the very state for whose growth she is waging this unsung war.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flip Side of Youngistan

I recently came across a heartening statistic which said that by 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 28 years, that of a Chinese will be 39 years and that of a Japanese citizen will be 47 years. To further corroborate the figures, with an additional workforce of 47 million by 2020, we will be much better placed than China who would precariously lose a massive 10 million workers in the next 15 years. In such a scenario, the Indian ‘Tiger’ will presciently overpower the Chinese ‘Dragon’. I certainly agree that Indians are ambitious by nature and have an innate desire to climb high on the ladder of accomplishment and success. It clearly separates them from their daunting neighbour who wants to project its clean cut image as a major emerging power – the fact, that it compromises the ideals of transparency and truth in the process, notwithstanding. Indian ‘youth’ is certainly touted as the next big thing with punch lines like “Ye Hai Youngistan Meri Jaan” and “Jaago Re” doing the rounds of the TV and radio frequencies. But there is a sad aspect to it, a sidelined one which few people have noticed or rather would like to notice.

I shall begin by throwing some light on my own case. I would not say that I belong to a wealthy family but I consider myself highly fortunate to be born into a well-off family. Not that it was always like this. Like most other middle class families of the 80s, my dad and mom have toiled hard, skimped on all kinds of things and saved diligently to pay for my sister’s and my own education. It wasn’t an easy road to travel. But they made it through and today I can say that I can pursue my own interests without having to really worry about feeding my family – they have enough to live a comfortable life. But there are others who are not so fortunate. I have some friends who know where their interests lie, but baulk at the idea of pursuing them because the chances of being successful at them are not as high compared to what they will be if they follow the highly treaded path of a conventional 9 to 6 job. I know their heart does not lie in following the crowd. But when I recently asked a friend to fill up a form for MBA in an institute of his field of interest, his reply knocked me off my feet. He said that he would not fill up the particular form because the job henceforth would not pay him enough. He summed it up by saying that after all he has to give something back to his parents some time. I know that friend would never place financial gains over satisfaction derived from work. But he is not doing something he wants to do, and certainly can do, but is giving it all up for his parents. Well, so much for the commonly held belief, made palpable by movies like Baghban, that today’s generation is not much bothered about looking after their parents. I personally think that this belief is totally unfounded and spurious, to say the least. There may always be the vile and the depraved who do not care a fig as to who will look after their parents, but I have come across many, who do not hold anything above the sense of gratitude and indebtedness they feel towards their folks who have raised them up and put them on their feet. It is pure bliss to meet people who have a burning desire to pursue what they really want to do – and as Ayn Rand said, it is the most difficult thing in the world to do just that – but my heart pains to see how some monetary stability is preventing them from treading the path of satisfaction and happiness. This is one of the sad aspects of life that I wistfully think about.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Faults and Purgation

The sere dryness has forsaken the air long ago. All that is left behind is the sad gloom of the wetness and the circumambient air, dank and sombre. In a matter of an hour, the weather has turned ominous and the clouds look like a floor left unclean for days, with patches of dark and light grey. It is about to rain.

I stroll down the misty boulevard with my hands deep down in the pockets of my overcoat, hidden away from the cold breeze, which feels like needles on the naked skin. Something tells me to go back home. But this thing on my mind - it has been troubling me since the last few hours. I feel compelled to think it through. Why is it that we human beings pretend to be someone we are not, a lot of times? I have seen some of the people closest to me fall prey to this extreme form of depravity. What is it that the reasoning mind tells the senses so that we assume a form which we actually are not? Why are we so ashamed of our past, of the things that we have done, when we know that they were wrong and we would never do them again? We would rather hide our true face from the world and live a spurious life, rather than espouse the deserved purgation - accept who we are and learn to respect and love ourselves. I have felt it myself - whenever I have to accept a fault in my character, its acknowledgement does not come easily - I have to work hard towards its acceptance, the relief and beatification experienced henceforth notwithstanding. This confirms atleast one thing - that human beings "want" to be perfect, albeit they would rather look towards the other side and pretend as if nothing happened, than have the gumption to face the introspection. Moral introspection does not come easily and people who are bestowed with its prowess go on to become leaders.

I fasten the topmost and the only button that was left open of the overcoat. A gentle drizzle has started and I can feel the tiny droplets of water touching my face, staying there for a while, and then quickly trickling down through the contours of my face that is a bit twisted around the forehead - it twists that way whenever I am trying to think hard. Yes, I think, this would explain why every great leader I have known is bestowed with a moral integrity which is inherent and undisguised at the same time. But it still did not explain that if it is all too germane and obvious, why are not the regular folks able to perceive this with as much clarity? Where does their thought corrupt? May be the conscience is killed and silenced so that the pangs of guilt and penitance do not haunt the mind. Is it possible to fall to such extreme baseness to cover-up for a few mistakes that we, the fallible human being, have made in the past?

The patter of the raindrops, now falling thick and fast, bring me out of my reverie. I make a run for my place. The drench eclipsed the penance, which could wait for another time, in a matter of seconds.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Flight

From the breach in the sky, does the white bird fly
Flying round and round, flitting from place to place
Can I see your countenance, would you show me your face?
I envy you, oh mighty bird..
How I wish I could be there with you, ensconced in the open space
Have no covetousness, no anger, no fear of my own race.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Deplorable Democracy

Crisis stares the farmers in the face as the rains have come and have been scant and niggardly. Uttar Pradesh, among a few other states, has been declared dry. Of the 70 districts in the state, 51 have been declared drought-hit. You, the common voter, must be wondering how difficult it would be for the state government to allocate appropriate funds. This would be based on the presumption that the State Government is trying its best to assuage and address the problems of the farmers who have been deprived of rainfall during the sowing season of June-July. Well, take that – Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has made a supplementary budgetary allocation of Rs 656 core for erecting statues of elephants and memorials of Dalit leaders, including herself. While on the other hand, a puny Rs 6.5 crore has been sanctioned for the development of the severely drought-hit region of Bundelkhand. What is even more shocking is that the state government has allocated not even a single penny to tackle the drought situation in the state. It has rather sought Rs 250 crore for drought relief from the centrally-sponsored National Disaster Relief Fund.

It has been Mayawati’s obsession to erect statues of Dalit leaders like Kanshi Ram and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar including herself and also of Elephants (the party symbol) since she first became the Chief Minister back in 1995. Since then, she has floundered the state coffers by spending humongous amounts to the tune of Rs 5000 crore in her and her party’s “glorification”, the fact that it left development on the back-burner notwithstanding. It has been reported that Mayawati has also asked Rs 71 crore to be sanctioned so that her aerial sojourns are cozy and comfortable. She has allocated Rs 10 crore to buy a helicopter, although she already owns two helicopters and two aircrafts.

Such has become the state of this democracy of ours. We elect our leaders out of pure faith that they will act in our best interests and here they are, wantonly wrenching the neck of that very faith. It confounds me to the core of my heart, how can we elect such leaders who use their “moment of fame” to suck whatever they can out of the taxpayer’s money and spit right across the face of the very voter who has made it all possible for this personality. Strange but painfully true.

A Deeper Truth

What is the difference between man and animal? A man is able to distinguish among circumstances on the basis of his inherent ability to dissociate right from wrong. An animal is not endowed with this acumen. A dog, for instance, if tamed by a human being, would do anything for his “master” because, firstly, the fidelity is ingrained and inveterate, and secondly, the dog knows that he will be given “food” thereafter, if he obeys. The biggest democratic exercise in the world, the parliamentary elections in India, offer a similar picture in which an illiterate and impecunious voter is analogous to the dog in the observation made above. Confused? Let me explain.

We talk about reform in the political system – about how the “young” Indian is finally waking up and adhering to his call of duty by participating in the universal adult franchise, that is, by voting. Yes, it is indeed a special feeling to see the youth of the country breaking free from the shackles of lethargy and finally showing some concern for the social issues at hand. But we conveniently forget about the millions of voters living in abject poverty, who vote not because they feel a “sense of duty” towards someone, who do not really give a thought to the “social issues” around them. Those voters are driven by their “master”, the demagogue, who preaches religion, promises development and deludes the na├»ve voter into believing that “change” awaits him – a chimera, in all probability. Try placing yourself in their position, try envisaging a scenario where all that concerns you is where the next meal will be procured from. Ergo, you do not have any concern for what happens around the world, how “developed” a facade India has to show to the “powers that be”, and consequently you would vote for the one you feel related to. And who would that be? Why not someone who promises to safeguard your religious rights, who promises freebies like rice and pulses and talks about development of your own village? Evidently, the choice would not be a difficult one.

It is not hard to guess that the untenable state of the illiterate is a boon for the politicians who have soiled the very image of “politics” in India. They use religion as a weapon to stay in power and expropriate, during their fling with power, whatever wealth they can for themselves and their kin, which is evident from the brimming coffers of each and every politician stashed away in “safe” havens far away from public scrutiny.

We cannot blame the naif voter for his inability to see through the spurious covenants of the political leaders for he is not literate, he cannot discern right from wrong. And he forms a preponderance of the total number of voters involved in a general election. So if the political system needs to be refurbished, its only at the grass-roots level that we can begin.

The focus here needs to be on basic education, because from it stems the hunger for awareness of one’s own rights. Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill promises a lot. If correctly implemented, it would make it mandatory for the government to provide elementary schooling (till class VIII) for all children between six and fourteen years of age. It also seeks to address the mental and physical trauma of the child by making it illegal to detain or expel a student in a class till class VIII. We do not yet know of the efficacy of the bill that was passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday (4th August) as the lacunae are still under the process of being addressed. But we can only hope that reforms such as these work out well because a lot depends on them – the future of every indigent child who cannot afford for his education, and in turn, the future of the nation.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Have you ever wondered why are the prices of commodities still soaring despite the much touted decrease in the rate of inflation? Why are will still paying exorbitant prices for the food articles despite the daily headlines in the newspapers about negative inflation? These are the questions which any layman, who is not concerned with the nitty-gritty of economics of the country and would rather trouble his mind about making the best use of his puny income in the troubled times, would have difficulty answering. I will try and clear some of the doubts here.

In pure economic terms, Inflation Rate is the percentage increase in the value of a particular price index over a period of time. In India, we calculate the Inflation Rate by taking into consideration the increase in the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) over its value a year ago. Wholesale Price Index is the average change in prices that the domestic producers receive for their products. On the other hand, Consumer Price Index (CPI) examines the weighted average of a basket of goods and services used by the consumers.

The present fall in the Inflation Rate is attributed to the base effect – that is, as the WPI had risen at a higher rate in the corresponding period of last year, a similar increase in the index this year will show lower inflation. Thus, what is happening is that although the prices of most of the food articles are increasing, inflation rate is showing a very low figure primarily due to the base effect. Even though the WPI inflation has gone below zero, the CPI inflation is higher than 8 per cent. Arguably, many economists propound that CPI be used as a measure of inflation, as it reflects a better estimate of the prices of commodities, food articles and services prevailing in the market.

Another lacuna in these indices is the base year that is used to calculate them and the basket of goods that is included. WPI is calculated using the base year 1993 and the CPI is even more archaic as it uses the base year as 1984-85. Also, the basket of 435 commodities used for calculating WPI includes many articles which are obsolete, and it does not include a lot many articles that consumers started using after 1993. Quite an anomaly, I must say!

The common man who voted for the UPA government in the recent parliamentary elections has a lot of expectations. The Union Budget, which will be presented in the Parliament on the 6th of July, will be an apt bellwether of the things to come. I sincerely hope that these anomalies in the calculation of the inflation rate of the country are given a sound thought by the Finance Minister Mr. Pranab Mukherjee and these amendments are accordingly reflected in the Budget ‘09.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Invincible "King of Pop" Passes Away

"In the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else" – those were the words used by The New York Times in 1983 to describe the King of Pop, who passed away as a result of a heart failure on 25th June '09. Spanning a career with highs n lows, he was as widely known among the populace as the artist who "thrilled" the world, as he was for his acts of notoriety.

He had a tormented childhood with his strict father abusing him mentally as well as physically and his brothers bullying him for his "broad, flat" nose. May be that is the reason he came to detest his looks, later on in life. He started performing with his brothers as a band called "The Jackson 5", and although his brothers were good, he had exceptional talent since the very beginning.

He grew up to be rebellious, often alluding to it in his notorious acts of befriending a monkey or changing the colour of his skin by multiple surgeries. It was his way of breaking free from the shackles that he found himself in, during his childhood, as if to send across a lucid and loud message - "You cannot control me anymore!” As time passed, the media and the general public seemed more interested in his personal life, marred by ever-growing controversies, rather than his music. Allegedly, he always hated his looks, and over a period of time he changed his appearance from a handsome young black man to, as a tabloid described it disparagingly, a "white woman". The media came to notice the hefty rewards to be reaped by belittling him and eventually gifted him with the epithet that Jackson came to abhor later on - Jacko Wacko. During recent times, he was inundated with numerous arraignments and appearances in court for the various charges leveled against him. He was also in dire monetary straits. Sometimes it was hard to imagine how he stood up to all that.

He was at the zenith of his career in the early 1980s. He is estimated to have sold three quarters of a billion albums and has to his credit 13 number one singles in the Billboard Top 200 and 13 Grammy Awards. He became one of the very few artists to be inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Jackson as the Most Successful Entertainer of All Time and "Thriller", which sold more than 100 million copies, as the Best Selling Album of All Time. On May 14, 1984, Jackson was invited to the White House to receive an award presented by the then American President Ronald Regan for his magnanimous support to charities, that helped people overcome alcohol and drug abuse worldwide. He, along with other venerable figures like Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela, helped America, and the world, erase the barriers of race and colour to a great extent at a time when racism was rampant.

His career was at its acme at a time when I was still a toddler, so I would not say that I have grown up listening to the music of Michael Jackson, but his evergreen hits like “Billy Jean”, “Black or White” and “Thriller” continued to enthrall me throughout my childhood, inclined as I was towards music. I was surprised when the news of his demise hit me with a sudden pang of overwhelming sadness. He was a genius, an icon who, I sincerely hope, will be remembered for the music he made rather than for what he did in his personal life.

"Why not just tell people I'm an alien from Mars. Tell them I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight. They'll believe anything you say, because you're a reporter. But if I, Michael Jackson, were to say, 'I'm an alien from Mars and I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight,' people would say, 'Oh, man, that Michael Jackson is nuts. He's cracked up. You can't believe a damn word that comes out of his mouth.'"
—Michael Jackson