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.