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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Aam Aadmi Party: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

Yesterday Aam Aadmi Party declared that they would form a government in New Delhi with the help of outside support from Congress. Since Arvind Kejriwal has stepped into the political fray, he has been beset with criticisms left, right and center. First, Anna Hazare broke away from him, calling him power hungry, misusing Anna’s name and the legacy of his anti-corruption movement to propel himself to power. That must have hurt since Kejriwal keeps reaffirming his loyalty to Anna time and again, even after all the snubs. But Aam Aadmi Party surprised everyone – the voters, those who voted for him as well as those who did not, and both the major parties who had “brushed” aside him and his party’s “broom” as a nonentity, a small fry, a lightweight. Then when in the initial idealistic exuberance, he declared that he would support neither Congress nor BJP, he was accused as someone running away from his responsibilities. No, he said, we are not running away. We shall have a referendum by the general public and take their opinion whether to go with an outside support for Congress or not. And as it turns out, a majority of the people wanted him to take up the reigns of the national capital. After so many years of predictable politics, people are willing to experiment.

Last week, Mr Harsh Vardhan from BJP was on record saying AAP is running away from responsibility, and now that AAP has decided to take outside support from Congress, Mr Vardhan, thinking it better to change his stance completely so that he could attack again, now called Kejriwal power hungry. This does nothing but makes Mr Vardhan and his party look like a big fish which had food within its reach but dithered about snapping its jaw shut in time and let the food slip away. And now the big fish is really annoyed.

Congress, on its part, despite Sheila Dixit’s almost daily threats of “no unconditional support”, and claims of how AAP “sold dreams and misled people”, is looking like someone who has lost all influence in the national capital. In fact, Congress in New Delhi is in a bit of a spot. They don’t have numbers enough to create an influence or impediment over decision making, and they cannot afford to pull out too for fear of looking opportunistic as AAP can always blame the Congress for political brinkmanship and people will take Congress to task for playing political games, something which they cannot afford. So I don’t see Ms Dixit’s Congress clan posing much of a problem.  

Like someone said, people of India are watching Mr Kejriwal and have more expectations from him than the Americans had from Obama. Surely, it won’t be easy for his party members, mostly from non-political background, to quickly get used to the system without getting overwhelmed by it, and tame and transform the beast into something simpler, cleaner and more efficient. The biggest challenge for Mr Kejriwal will be when he tries his hand at fielding clean candidates from all over the country. It’s easy to have an iron grip over the lever to control who comes into his organization at a New Delhi level, but at a national level, it will be close to impossible. It will be interesting to watch how Mr Kejriwal copes with such a scenario. But first, now that he has the power, let’s see how he performs on his debut.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Crushing the Blackness of My Day

This is a fictional piece I have written for the “Catch the Flavour” contest by Breezer. You can go to http://www.breezerindia.com and http://www.indiblogger.in/topic.php?topic=94 for more details.

I was walking down the main boulevard of the breezy City of the Breezer. The sun had set and dawn was engulfing the day in the blanket of darkness, thick and fast. The water from the rain during the day had filled the potholes, and the street lights shimmered in their reflection, like stars sprinkled in the street. The cold air pummeled my face in strong gusts now and then, but the thick humidity dampened the inevitable shiver. I was depressed. Today evening’s altercation between my aunt and uncle had gone out of hand, and ended in a shouting match in which it was difficult to decide a winner. I was a toddler when my aunt and uncle took me in after the brutal car accident which took my parents away from me. Since then, my aunt and uncle have been my biggest strength. But to see them hurling such brutal profanities at each other was more scary than depressing. Thus I walked on, alone and miserable, not wanting to go back to the painful reality.

It was at this time when I saw Jamaican Passion walk towards me. He was one of the six types of people after whom the City of the Breezer was named. Looking at my sad countenance, he approached me. He asked me what was the matter and why was I walking around with such a long face. I narrated him my troubles in detail. His face tightened, brows pulled together, arms crossed across his chest and he heaved heavily. When I finished narrating, he burst out with an admonition, squarely blaming me for the troubles at home. He lectured me that I lacked the skill to defuse an explosive situation and I needed to brush-up my “people skills”, and walked off. I knew I had mashed my own foot by involving Jamaican Passion into this, and full of regrets, marched on.

Next I saw Lime gliding jauntily towards me. It was almost as if she did not see the day as overcast and depressing, but it could as well have been a spring morning in her world. She approached me with a grin spreading from ear to ear, and it did not lessen even upon hearing my woeful tale. Instead of commiserating with me, she patted me cheerfully on my back. Buck up boy, she told me. Life is too short to feel depressed. There’s no point in feeling so sad, it will ruin everyone’s mood around you, she said, which I knew was true enough. Look at what a wonderful day it is, she looked up and announced. A smile takes all your worries away were her last words as we parted ways. I could not, even on trying hard, feel the thrill of being alive, the joie-de-vivre that she felt. Feeling worse, if anything, I trudged on.

On turning the corner, I saw Orange walking towards me in his usually nonchalant gait. On hearing my sad story, he snickered. Why do you care, he asked. They are not your parents after all. I told him that for all their love and care in bringing me up, they are. You should not care a fig, he suggested. This life sucks up all the happiness if we start thinking too much about things. Don’t let it affect you. Stop being bothered by it. Life isn't fair enough for us to care about every other thing in our life. He shrugged his shoulders as a sign of ‘this is how it is’, and left me. I did not think I reflected his thoughts and his reflections about life did not help me at all. Despondently, I walked on.

Cranberry instantly knew that there is something wrong. She approached me with an already troubled expression which only worsened in its mournfulness on hearing my heart-breaking tale. Tears filled her eyes and she hugged me, and cried for a full minute. It was as if the trouble was hers than mine. Life was unfair, she said. How sad it is that a young boy like me had to face such a harsh verdict from life. After God took away my parents, it was as if not enough and He brewed fresh troubles in my life, she cried aloud. Dabbing the corner of her eye from her handkerchief, she turned around and left me there. I was touched by the act of empathy but it did nothing to help my cause. I was feeling more gloomy and hopeless than before.

Island Pineapple approached me cautiously. When I narrated my troubles, his mirthless laughter chilled me to my bones. Is that all, he asked. Life will always kick you the hardest when you are down, and it is your time to be kicked my boy, he said cynically. Start expecting the worst from life, and you’ll do just fine. Life is hard and we had to deal with it, he suggested. Turning around, he left me in the middle of the street more joyless, hopeless and cynical than before. My world was crashing in front of my eyes and I could not do a thing to avert the approaching disaster. It was like standing on the beach and watching the mighty wave of the Tsunami charging ahead at full speed to crush your bones. You know what’s coming but you can do little to avert the inevitable.

As I was about to turn back to my miserable life, I recognised the footsteps approaching me. It was Blackberry Crush who came up to me. On seeing my distressed expression, she understood my sadness. Gently nudging me to narrate my sad story, she put a hand on my shoulder. When I had finished narrating my melancholy account, she made me sit down on a nearby bench. You need to understand that this kind of troubles always exist between a man and his wife, and at times these differences bubble to the surface more often and in a more toxic fashion than we can imagine, she explained. It is only after I delve deeper into what is troubling my uncle and aunt can I help in addressing anything that is troubling them. In fact, I was in an advantageous position to be a mediator as I am close to both of them, and if I approach them individually and ask them of their troubles, they might open their heart to me. This way I can connect the dots and figure out the differences that are arising between them, and find ways to address them effectively. Most of our troubles spring forth when we do not communicate much and this problem can beset couples even after they have spent a good 20 years with each other. It is a human folly, and only human love, empathy and trust can overcome it. I knew what I had to do. I hugged Blackberry Crush for being such a sweetheart, took in the warmth of her sweet smile, and walked back with a purpose in life, a gait in my step and hope in my heart.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Inscribed on the Pages of History

“Crisis in the economy, polity and society formed the background of his rise to power. Born in a small town with a humble background, he spent his youth in poverty. Early in his career, he joined a right-wing organization which would shape him. Looking back, he will be the one who ends up shaping the organization. He grows through the ranks of this organization with his oratory skills.

Becoming restless with the party at the centre, he at first tries to mobilise popular support, but fails. But the decline in the economy of the country continues, the economic environment falters, food prices soar, businesses shut down, currency depreciates, jobs are under pressure and middle classes are threatened. In such a situation, the propaganda of his party stirs hopes for a better future. 4 years ago, his party could nowhere be seen as a winner, but in just these few years, the situation entirely reverses. Public discontent, utterly horrid economic situation and lack of strong and effective governance helps win support for him and his party. Now his party is on the verge of majority in the parliament, and he is certain to become the next leader of the nation – the last hope of a drowning economy, the only ray of light for the distressed people.

Dwelling on his nature, he always was a powerful speaker. His passion and his words moved people. He promised to build a strong nation, undo the injustices imposed on the people by the current government at the centre and restore the dignity of the people of the proud nation. He promised employment for those looking for work, and a secure future for the youth. He promised to weed out all foreign powers working from inside of the nation against it, especially those sponsored by the neighbouring countries. He excelled in whipping up a communal frenzy. He told the people that the people of the "other" religion living among them cannot take away their rights. He played to the popular sentiment and believed that the people of his religion cannot be taken for a ride by the "decadent elements" in the society. 

He devised a new style of politics. He understood the significance of symbolism and spectacle in mass mobilisation. His party held massive rallies and public meetings to demonstrate the support for him and instill a sense of unity among the people. His party’s propaganda skilfully projected him as a messiah, a saviour, a ‘knight in shining armour’ who had arrived to deliver people from their distress. It is an image that captured the imagination of a people whose sense of dignity and pride had been shattered, who were living in a time of acute economic and political crisis.”

This is how history describes Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany during the years 1928-1932.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

SC Verdict on Section 377 - Why Is Everything Wrong With It?

"Homosexuality is found in over 450 species; homophobia is found in only one. Which one seems unnatural now?"

Today is a sad day for our democracy. Supreme Court’s verdict re-criminalizing gay sex is a regressive step that takes us back to the middle ages. We as citizens of this country should be outraged at this act of backwardness as it takes away the basic fundamental right of equality from our gay brethren. It tells them, in no unclear words: “You who are “the others”, stop crying for your “so called rights”; what you do in your private lives is not acceptable in our country; it is immoral and “unnatural”; you people may already be facing immense pressure from the society around you, from your parents and friends, but you do not deserve to be treated equally too. You are criminals!”

The SC verdict has taken retrograde steps and punishes carnal intercourse “against the order of nature”. Now I want to ask, how is being a gay against the order of nature when nature itself makes them that way? There is a play of words which I expected SC to see through. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is an archaic provision introduced by the British, and has been repealed in Britain itself over 50 years ago. This year England legalized same sex marriage and the first such marriage will take place in March 2014. Same-sex marriage is recognised in the Britain, Uruguay, New Zealand, Netherlands, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, France, Brazil Belgium, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Why are we reinforcing our “backward” image when we should be looking forward? Do we not want to come out as a champion of rights of minorities? Do we not take pride in being the land where a huge variety of minorities are able to live proudly? Why are we shaming ourselves this way?

According to Amnesty International, “the criminalization of people based on their sexual orientation contravenes international and regional human rights treaties. Such systematic discrimination reinforces the disadvantages experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and can be used as justification for violence against them, whether on the street, at home, or in prison.” And this is what is going to happen because of this decision. For fear of persecution by the police forces, a large number of teenagers who would be growing up in the strange world, coming to terms with their homosexuality, would cower with fear to tell even their friends about it, let alone their parents. The parents who already know about their children will absolutely prohibit them to come out of the closet to anyone, and might even force them to marry “naturally”, wrecking not just one, but two lives, not to mention the fact that they themselves will never be able to live happily with the guilt of destroying the life of their child.

The Supreme Court’s verdict has, in essence, observed that there is no reason to believe that Section 377 is unconstitutional, upended the Delhi High Court’s 2009 verdict, and says that it is up to the Parliament to legislate and amend the Section 377. What it did not foresee is the medical repercussion of this pronouncement. It will deal a death blow to AIDS victims who are gays (which are a high percentage) as they can no longer have access to medical care. We are the world leader in AIDS, and it seems we do not want to leave the dubious position. The biggest problem with this verdict is that politicians won’t go out of their way to change this obsolete article as there are still many people who live in the middle ages and believe that it is unnatural to be attracted to the same sex. What they refuse to acknowledge is that there are many such “unnatural” people living amongst us right now, many could be people we are well acquainted with, or may be our friends or brothers who have been trying to come out of their repression, wanting to have a supporting friend listen to their troubles; they are beset with gay jokes all around them with no one to understand their plight, no one willing to discuss this issue out in the open; they cannot tell their friends for fear of being made a social outcast, they cannot tell their parents for fear that they might disown them (yes, many such cases exist out there), and now we have topped it with making them criminals in the eyes of the law.

Question is how do we move from here? One way in which we can contribute to this cause is to remove the taboo from gay. How many of us have had discussions with our friends about the hardships faced by members of the LGBT community and the rights that they deserve as equal citizens of this country? Or is it there a certain taboo, a hesitation on our part to breach the topic? Precisely this is what epitomises the problem with this nation. We do not discuss it openly enough. Talk about straight sex itself is not encouraged in our society, when we are the ones who produced Kamasutra. We are told to be all hush-hush about sexual matters and problems when we don’t mind openly praying to phallic symbols among our gods like Shiva’s lingam. We don’t want to impart sex education to our children when people in our society are repressed enough to skyrocket sexual crimes. Why this hypocrisy? When will we finally stop preaching our own version of morality and accept ourselves for who we are. We are more modern than we want to believe, more western, so to say, than we give ourselves credit for. It’s time to open our eyes to this fact of life and stop living the lie.

The politicians won’t move on this as long as it remains a minority issue. The only way we can make a contribution to this cause is to make this a majority issue by supporting our gay brethren. If we, the social community, do not make enough noise about it, the issue will die down. Public fickleness has let many important causes die down. We only wake up from our slumber of apathy when the earth from under our feet starts shaking, like it did in Nirbhaya case. Well guess what – the earth from under the feet of these poor souls is already shaking, and shaking badly, when their only fault is having been born as “the other”! The ball is not in the court of the Parliamentarians. It’s in our court, the civil society and the online community, and it's up to us to make a majority issue out of it!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Crumbling of Faith

It is always distressing to hear that a person, who you used to hold in very high regard, has gotten himself embroiled in an immoral or an illegal act of perversion. If he is a famous person, for the world, it’s a fall from grace, a carnal sin committed by a person who stood high moral, ethical and professional ideals. For me, it’s the annihilation of the embodiment of my principles, a crumbling of my faith in goodness, a faith built over a long period of time. Tarun Tejpal’s sexual misconduct with a female colleague has left me feeling cheated, to say the least.

I became a huge fan of Tehelka’s style of journalism as it appealed to me tremendously. Not that I had not tasted the journalistic flavours of other media groups out there – The Week, Outlook, India Today – I have read each one of them over a period of time. But I found them insipid, unable to inspire anything in me. I looked for other options and one fine day stumbled across Tehelka magazine. Their incisive criticisms of the political oversights which affected the poor and the downtrodden immediately arrested my attention. The kind of articles I found on Tehelka – supporting the cause of adivasis who were affected when a big corporate house acquired land for a nuclear power or a hydel-power project without proper rehabilitation, the poor plight of the farmers in famine affected areas, features upholding the rights of workers in factories – coverage of this kind of topics I could not find elsewhere. No other media group seemed to speak so much for the voiceless. This is what hooked me on and made me buy almost every single edition for the next 50 weeks. This religious routine had to be broken when I went for an MBA and became busy with the curriculum, but Tehelka was always a part of me. This unflinching belief came shattering down when I read about how Tarun Tejpal, the man whose brainchild Tehelka was, molested a fellow journalist almost the age of his daughter (not to mention, his daughter’s best friend too).

There is not much to speak on the topic, as enough is being said online by the incisive criticisms of the high-handed way in which the duo of Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Chaudhury, his second in command, have handled the issue. Hordes of netizens have risen in criticism of the situation not just because of the crime itself, but because of the smug and self-righteous way in which Tarun Tejpal has reacted in what was supposed to be his letter of apology, where he claims to “atone” this “awful misreading of the situation”, this “bad judgement” which has led to “an unfortunate incident”. Shoma took out some salt from her pocket and rubbed it mercilessly on the wound when she claimed to the press that it’s an “internal matter”. Sheer hypocrisy is on display by the harbingers of truth who have always been the first to ask for the strictest punishment for perpetrators of sexual harassment and molestation. Moreover, what Tarun Tejpal did to this young girl, despite her repeated entreaties to not do it, reminding him that she is of his daughter’s age, borders on rape. The email which Tarun sent to Shoma, which was then forwarded by Shoma to the staff of Tehelka, along with an email of her own appended to it, had the sacrosanct language announcing it as an “unfortunate” incident. Had these emails not been pasted on pastebin (http://pastebin.com/nNaWCu3e) online by some insider from Tehelka, the matter would have been suppressed. Apparently, Tarun Tejpal was expecting things to go back to normal when we would return from his 6-month paid sabbatical in some foreign country.

Things are turning hot as Goa police have ordered a preliminary enquiry into the incident which does not require an FIR. (Update: The police have booked an FIR for rape against Tejpal). They are going to question the authorities of the hotel where the incident took place twice in the elevator. CCTV footage should be available with the hotel, and the rumour has it that the footage might get broadcast by some of the news channels. Also, under pressure from the outpouring of opprobrium from all sections of the society, an investigative committee of National Commission for Women has been formed to look into the matter, a little late in the scheme of things. The smug Mr Tejpal may well be shitting in his pants right now.

What good it does? It will crack open the oppressive system of sexual harassment at the workplace, especially in the media industry where apparently it is deeply entrenched. If someone like Tarun Tejpal can go down, it will surely make the earth move under the feet of other such predators who, for the rest of the world, roam around in the guise of a lamb. This will lead to recognition to women rights and empowerment of women in workplaces, something which is urgently required in our still deeply male-centric society. It will give the courage to the victims of such acts to speak out and not keep mum for the fear of losing their jobs. Sadly, it will also undoubtedly lead to the end of the journey of Tehelka as a publication. I can already see an absolute loss of faith in the organization even among avid readers like me. Complete loss of credibility will lead to a bad name for everyone who were involved in the organization and who actually did good work.

Tarun Tejpal’s name was among the two persons, the other being Nelson Mandela, I highlighted under the question “Someone you would chose to travel with in a cross-country trip” in the annexure that I filled while applying for admission to SIBM Pune. His literature inspired me, as did his purported ideals. Thus for me personally, it means something much deeper. It stands for a complete disappearance of faith in a person I believed in so much. It stands for a lie which infests every nook and cranny of our society today, rotting the insides and will lead to a complete implosion one of these days.

It has happened before. Lance Armstrong stood for not just someone who excelled in his profession, but someone who won a fight with a debilitating strain of cancer, and came back to win the Tour de France, the highest honour that there can be for a cyclist and one of the greatest across all sports. His autobiographies inspired many millions to believe in their dreams and pursue them unflinchingly. Sadly, as it turned out, he followed his dreams literally “at any cost”, indulging in doping over a period of many years, and cheating each one of those who believed in him. 

Education is something I believe is something which can lift our poor nation out of the cesspit that we are in. A book inspired me to march on the path of educating the poor. “Three Cups of Tea” is a description of the experiences, hardships and successes of Greg Mortensen, who after getting lost in a snowstorm while climbing K2, found himself in a very poor village in an isolated region in northern Pakistan, got inspired and built many schools in the next few years. As it turned out, there were allegations of many inaccuracies in the book regarding the number of schools he built, his inspiring experiences with the villagers and his overall effort. This blanks out all that was said in the book and I felt like an untethered boat without a sail lost in a sea storm. It was heart-breaking to say the least.

I held Tarun Tejpal very highly. But these allegations have shaken my faith in humanity, and in its unbound ability for goodness. Is there any goodness left out there unblemished by lust, unscarred by greed, unsullied by envy and untainted by corruption? Is it so difficult to be good, without a hidden motive, without a hand below the desk receiving some form of reciprocation? Is it no more possible to do good with all your heart, without expecting anything back? Is there no hope for a better world? I know there is. But for now, I’m just gathering my splintered pieces, and will start rebuilding my faith in goodness, piece by piece, brick by brick. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

India's Mars Mission: Profligacy or Development?

As over half of Indian children cry as hunger scrapes the insides of their bellies, India prepares itself for exploring life on Mars through ISRO’s PSLV C25 that launches on 5th November 2013. As we mourn our country’s dubious distinction of being the world’s Diabetes capital, Malaria capital, Tuberculosis capital and also, according to a recent report, Slavery capital of the world, today on 31st October, there will be a dry run which will simulate the entire launch sequence to explore uncharted territories by human beings. Rs 450 crore is what is being spent on this mission which critics claim to be profligacy for a country which cannot feed its hungry, shelter its poor or provide for its unemployed.

The question arises, how do we draw a line between scientific development of a country and a senseless megalomania which does a disservice to a nation’s vast population? John Drèze, the eminent economist, believes that it does not make sense for a country to spend so much on a mission which would not bring any immediate relief to its own people when half of the children in the country are undernourished and families have no access to sanitation. It makes sense even from a macroeconomic perspective keeping in mind the high fiscal deficit targets our economy has been reeling under. It is like hosting the Commonwealth Games in your country when there is no infrastructure to support such a massive event and your officials are not morally ready as yet to handle such large amounts of transactions and still keep their pockets light. Oh wait, we already committed that blunder.

On the upside, these satellites provide us the intelligence that leads to warnings of adverse weather conditions and phenomena like tsunami and cyclones. Where lakhs of people used to die a few decades back in cyclones, this year we saw how a strong cyclone like Phailin was disallowed the opportunity to wreck human lives by a prior warning and massive preemptive programs in the form of re-locations leading to a loss of life of just 44. So these satellites do serve a useful purpose. The GPS that we use on our smartphones, the intelligence inputs related to possible terrorist movement and camps, knowing the state of people in rescue operations like Uttarakhand floods, our clear television signals are some of the purposes that these satellites serve. So the question is settled – it is a useful investment.

But for a poor country (I refuse to call it an emerging superpower) like India, where do we draw the line? Does trickle-down economics really work or do we need to revamp our systems and start at the bottom-most rung? Or is it really an attitudinal problem with our officials and ministers, rather with all of us, who, in this rat race to own more and more, are becoming immune to the hardships faced by more than half of our countrymen? The answer to these and some more questions are what be at the top of our minds as we vote for the next government at the centre. Once these issues occupy the central position in our minds, only then will the politicians sit up and take notice. The ball is not in their policy makers’ court, as we all assume. It’s in ours. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

When Consciousness Slows Down

It’s all an excuse. Yet another excuse. I am nothing but an excuse of a person, always procrastinating, always putting off what ought to be done. Although right thoughts are in place, like what my friend Prateek said the other day: “The day you feel the laziest is the day you should never give it a miss”. Like the fact that just yesterday I prioritised fitness at the top of my list – followed by reading, writing, playing the guitar and learning the flute, in that order. Like knowledge of the fact that only yesterday I covered a total of 7.10 km, around 4 km of which was covered while running. Oh yes, the right thoughts are in place. Something clicks. I walk up to my wardrobe, change into my running shorts, wear my arm band which will cocoon my iPod, and get ready. The guitar looks on, forlorn, in the corner. The tapering water bottle at my foot beckons me. Bending down to take a sip, I juggle the question whether I should turn my mobile phone on silent, lest someone calls and the ringing disturbs my flatmate. And then dismissing the question as ridiculous, I put on the songs on my “And Now Run” playlist, switch on the pedometer, and walk out. The realization that it has been drizzling hits me with full force. The biggest dampener this rain is. My biggest excuse this past month for not being regular with jogging! For about 20 seconds I stand at my place, staring at the shimmer on the glowing ball of the street light signifying a drizzle. A sharp cry by a small boy of about 7, excited on seeing his elder sister hiding behind the pillar of the gate, snaps me out of my reverie. It’s all an excuse. I descend the stairs, through the gate, and into the drizzle of Hyderabad.

Vasavi Colony, the place where I stay, is like a grid of tic-tac-toe, only a lot bigger and much more intricate with the roads cutting each other at every 30 metres or so. Not being the main road, the traffic is forgivingly sparse, but the cars in action jump at you at every other crossing, waiting in the dark stealthily under the tree for you to come running. Being a lazy, religious neighbourhood, it has habituated me to stares from children, who often pause their revelry in between and stop and consider this new thing; from aunties draped in pretty sarees who give a scared look, turn away, walk a little, then turn around and give another terrified look, just to check if I’m not running them over; from groups of youthful boys in their prime, whose expression is torn between incredulity, disgust, admiration and curiosity, distorting their visage to a jumble of crests and troughs, unreadable at best. I also get a few comments here and there, whose import I am the least interested to understand. But the dogs are the ones I fear the most, it being the most difficult to fathom their expression and anticipate their actions – either jumping away to save their lives with tails making a C-shape between their legs, or snarling like a dire-wolf from Game of Thrones and making me clock many more metres per second.

The drizzle has cooled the air, but I can feel the thick wetness of humidity on my face. Thankfully I encounter no dogs today, but a few pouncing cars is normal. I had put in some effort to look for a park, any park, nearby and was delighted to find one less than a kilometre from where I stay. On this dank but alive evening, that is where I head to. As I approach the park, a boy cycles along with me, possibly saying something which I am immune to owing to the band ‘Fun’ crooning in my ear. Trying not to encourage him by looking towards him, I jog on and after a few hundred metres, he falls back. Now a harmless pinkish, now a sinister blood-red, the flooring of red tiles assumes different shades, depending on whether a street light lightens up that part of the track or not. I keep a count of the number of laps I take of the less-than-200 metre track which works as a yardstick for me, and I aim for 25 laps today.

Initially I feel a strain on the upper part of my legs pulling me down. It is not as bad as the pain in the side of my stomach symptomatic of poor stamina, a pain that I encountered only yesterday which I slowed down my running speed to overcome. But this is an ache which signifies a scarcity in the coffers of my energy. But I don’t stop, the thought does not even enter my mind and I keep running. There’s a person who I cross at the far end of the park, sitting at the inner side of the concrete track and talking away happily on his mobile. There are a few people sitting under the shed whose faces I cannot see, their backs being towards the light source. The tiled track looks a bit slippery on account of the drizzle which has now become very mild. I gain a second wind almost after 10 laps and I feel no pain from here on. I feel myself being enveloped by a feeling of consciousness being slowed down by an irrepressible hand of nothingness. I’m into the lap 16 and I don’t feel my legs anymore - just an awareness of the number 15 which dances in huge letters in front of my eyes. This is a trick I use to remember the lap I am on, having forgotten to keep up the count many a times.

I can feel a dissonance at the rightmost corner of the ground. A strange continuous sound abuts on the rhythm of my song, and from the corner of my eye, I can see someone dancing, both hands in the air, gesturing almost like Billy Bowden. In my next lap I realize it’s a procession of people, and the sound of crackers piercing the air announces it as a baraat for some wedding. The crackers keep up for a couple of more laps till the caravan passes the expanse of the park. It is lap number 25 and rather than making a right turn at the end of the lap, I go straight out of the gate of the park, making a U-turn on the left towards my abode. By this time I feel rather tired, but I know stopping is not an option. On reaching the building which houses my apartment, I see three kids running towards me, gesturing excitedly with their hands. I try not to take heed and enter the gate of the building as I finally stop running. As I reach the first landing of the stairs and make a turn, I can see the three kids at the foot of the stairs saying something to me with their grinning faces. Not wanting to stop to entertain, being drained of all energy by now, I keep my ear-plugs on and keep ascending the stairs. How could I stop with the knowledge that a refreshing cold shower and a self-cooked khichdi awaited me?

I covered 7.61 km today in 45 minutes and I’m satisfied, though certainly looking forward for more. Running is not easy, especially when you are not a natural athlete. I believe it’s an activity that requires tremendous amount of self-discipline and sincerity. It demands a routine which is very difficult to maintain when you get home all fatigued from office at 6:30 pm, putting up in a place like Vasavi Colony where I’ve never seen anyone else running, ever! It’s a challenge through which your lazy-self screams out at you, showing you the fun you could be having with friends this weekend, and the easy life of sleep and food and movies and more sleep. I can feel the pain in my calf muscles, and I know it’s going to pull me down when I try to stand up tomorrow morning. But I know one thing that this pain is just the beginning of the everlasting pleasure of being proud of yourself.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

It's the Simple Things, Silly!

As we swim through the phases of our life – the exhilarated phase, the drudgery phase, the jumping-up-and-down-happy phase, the heartsick phase, the sad-like-never before phase, among others – we realize that there is a common light whose glimmer can be seen all along. These small events bear no importance to the direction our life takes, but they always form a part of the whole, giving realism to the phantasmagoria of make-believe called life. I would like to recount some of those events that I had to notice hard to see.

As my day begins, I go to the kitchen, and put 4 eggs to boil – two for my flat-mate and two for myself. This routine, ossified in the realms of everydayness, stands by me as a silent spectator, not making even the slightest movement for fear of making me realize its presence. In almost the same way, the guard of our building comes out and stands outside his room to watch me leave as I open the lock of the gate to go out. He has this annoying habit of standing right by you and pretending to be invisible, irrespective of the fact that you might be discussing life and death matters with your postman or your maid.

About a month back, the following incident took place. As I stood at the location where I board the morning bus, and tried to immerse myself in the book in my hand or in the song on my ipod, there is this shared-auto rickshaw that turned right from the crossing where I stood. I had not noticed it for almost a month, when that day I heard a voice followed by a cackling noise which can only either be produced by a mob of excited tiny chickens on a rampage or by a group of small girls poked about 4 inches below their armpits all at the same time. As I looked up at the source of the outburst, I saw some hands waving towards me while some making the tip of their thumb touch the tip of their index finger. It was only the next day when I heard a clear voice saying something to the effect of “Bhaiyya, nice hairstyle!” Caught off-guard as I was, all I could do was smile shyly in return. Since then, I regularly get wide smiles and enthusiastic wave of hands, to which I happily wave back.

The return journey from the office is typically characterised by a sincere effort on my part to make progress in reading whichever book I’m in the middle of. The first fit of drowsiness acting as a signal, I hastily put the book back in my bag, and doze off, before asking somebody close by to make sure that I’m up when my stop comes. After the short nap, which can be best described as head-banging in slow motion, when I get down from the bus, it typically becomes difficult to gather my bearings. The semi-sleepy walk that I have back from the point I alight from the bus to my apartment is something which typifies my everyday life.

These events easily become a part of my routine, and sadly the events which I would have loved to put here as daily occurrences, like a daily workout, or a regular jog, or an evening writing session, followed by some practice on the guitar, could not form a part of this enviable list. It leads me to believe that these daily transactions form the bulwark of our existence, and cannot be controlled, however hard we may try. By giving a sense of regularity to our lives, they make one realize that life is made of these simple things which don’t get much credit, as much as it is made of the highs which we remember fondly in the twilight of our years. We can do well to pause a moment, look around and breathe in these simple pleasures of life. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Why Do We Need To Support The Minority?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen anger in some of the middle and upper-middle class friends over the pseudo-secularism that Congress has debased themselves to, how their appeasement of the ‘minorities’ knows no moral bounds, and how it strips away the ‘majority’ of their rights in their own country. The anger is palpable and is bursting at the seams. This group of people want to do away with the current dispensation at the Centre and feel Modi will prove to be a panacea to their problems. Modi – with his ‘Gujarat model of governance’ will wave a magic wand and India will be propelled to the forefront of economic growth and prosperity. Are we naïve enough to believe that things can be so simple?

Firstly, Modi inherited a state that has always had a bright history of industrial growth. No, Modi did not wave a magic wand. The roots had been set, the base was there, and he built upon it. Kudos to him for that, and no one is taking it away from him. But in a country like India where at a time over 40% of the population lives hungry, is catering to the private sector enough? Does smoothing out an already well-set process make you God? As Amartya Sen says, a model of redistribution model is better suited for a country like ours. What about the 40%? Do we hear anything about Modi doing something to improve the village level development or the grassroots governance at the panchayat level? Has he made a dent on hunger and undernourishment or child mortality or women empowerment/education? Fact is, in all of the years when he has led Gujarat, the human development indices of Gujarat have not developed as much as his loyal supported would have liked to believe. Leading a nation is a whole different ball game.

The middle class people, who seem to have been the most bothered by the Congress’ style of garnering a vote-bank by appealing to the minorities and taxing the middle-class, are the ones who have turned towards Modi in the hope that he will lead India like no one else had. And this is the vote bank Modi is and has always been appealing to. We despise the ‘pseudo-secularism’ displayed by the Congress because it leaves us, the majority, with nothing. Where are our rights, we ask? Why do we have to live like minorities in our own country? And this is the very sentiment which plays into the hands of Modi.

But in all of this, we forget one essential thing. If a party at the center supports the minority community, what is the worst that can happen? Can the minority community, which naturally would have faced countless instances if injustice and inequity, suddenly become so powerful because of that support as to drive out the majority community from all its rights and positions of power? No, precisely because the minority community will always have less number. Now look at the other scenario, which Hindutva epitomises. What if the majority community, is given the immunity to drive the minority community out of whatever little rights it had, what would become of the moral fabric of a country like India which has prided itself in treating all religions, communities and castes as equal? Who would look after the minority community then? The majority will always have enough means to look after themselves. Who are we kidding? No one is taking away our rights. No one can, because our majority voice will always be supreme. But what of those who feel choked within our system whenever they go out to beg for their rights? What do they feel when they are denied rightful amount of government sponsored ration, or are spurned from government jobs, or are denied a promotion just because they are ‘overtly religious’ with their flowing beard, or when they constantly live in the fear that intelligence officers can come knocking at their doors, wrongly framing them in a terrorist blast which killed innocent Hindus? How many of us live in constant fear of being dragged into court for a little transgression of law? How many of us in the majority community feel we are being framed wrongly, or fear being raided in our homes any time of the day, or tremble to post online such an article as this without hiding our identities or making ourselves anonymous? Not many. Thus, there needs to be someone who takes the side of those whose voice is not as loud. Isn’t it better to have someone who stands by them in the name of secularity, even if it’s out of political motives, than to leave them to maulvis or religious ayatollahs who would invariably rise up if they are left alone to fend for themselves? What would become of our nation then? Total annihilation is what I foresee, that would make what happened during partition look puny in comparison. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hindutva vs Secularism - The Debate Goes On

I recently saw a status message of a friend of mine on Facebook and it provoked me enough to give it a poke. It started a deep discussion which matured so well that it surprised me. It is a very pertinent debate seeing how India is shaping up today, and it would be great if you people can give your views of what you feel about it right here on the blog.

Original Status: What really appalls me is the fact that Hindu Nationalism is being equated with Fascism. Which part "Hindu" or "Nationalism" resembles fascism? Isn't secularism being mauled by appeasing a particular community rather than empowering them? I am no right winger but this shallow hypocrisy of Congress is an insult to every self-respecting secular Indian!

Me: One thing that both Fascism and Hindu Nationalism seek is so called "purifying" the nation state, proclaiming that the state belongs, relegating the reason for this to some unknown texts or maybe the fanatics' own wisdom, to one particular religion, community, class or race. For one it was race, for the other it is religion. What's actually appalling is the fact that we should question that who are these self-proclaimed righteous Hindu "leaders" to tell us that our great nation belongs to only one religion? Tell me, did Hinduism ever have "leaders"? Do we need an Ayatollah? India's differentiation and its very greatness lies in the fact that many faiths, multiple communities and various creeds cohabit peacefully, and nothing has been able to rupture that moral fabric. THAT is what India is about. (I'm not getting into the politics of it as I don't want to dip into the murky pool where every party is blemished, so I'm not taking sides there)

A: Let me preface this comment by making it very clear that I have no soft spot for Right wing elements in any religion, they have done more harm than good for the cause of religion per se. Having said that, I disagree with your analogy of Fascism with Hindu Nationalism. Would you consider Swami Vivekananda as a fascist who was a champion of secular ideals but at the same time not apologetic about being a Hindu? And I am quite sure his being a Nationalist requires no further mention.

Hinduism was never a religion to start with. It was and is a still a way of life. The plurality in our society is not a recent phenomenon but a part of our cultural ethos and based on "Vasudeva Kutumbhkam" (One World, One Family) which is a basic tenet of Hindu Philosophy.

My question is why is secularism which you rightly said is a part of our ethos being used to make one religion as the oppressor and other as the oppressed? Why is it not possible to be proud of your heritage without risked being called a "fascist". I strongly condemn this inverted secularism which instead of being indifferent towards religion[as defined in our constitution] is being shamelessly used to appease the minority community!

The assumption by the Congress that minorities will be appeased by these shallow gestures is an exercise in self defeat. I am quite sure the citizens of this country irrespective of their religious affiliations are intelligent enough to look past this shallow policy of appeasement where minorities are simply looked as a political tool rather than respectable citizens of this country!

Me: Let’s not confuse Hinduism, the religion, with Hindu Nationalism. These are two very different things. Hinduism, like you said, is a way of life. It's a culture, it was never a religion. Hinduism is the only religion which does not claim that those who are not following it are infidels, non-believers or kaffirs. Every other major religion in the world does that (Source: India: From Midnight, to Millennium and Beyond, Shashi Tharoor).

It's a shame if we talk of Swami Vivekananda in the same breath as we talk of these ignoramuses that we see today waving the Hindutva flag. Did Swami Vivekananda ever say that to reclaim our Hindu honour, we need to destroy a place of worship of another religion (read: Babri Masjid), and build a temple in its place? Did Swami Vivekananda in any of his works proclaim that India is a Hindu nation? Did Swami Vivekananda EVER ride a chariot to a mosque, break it down and feel glad to be a Hindu? Did he ever even feel the need to reinforce his Hinduism in this way? No. Never. Because this is not being a Hindu. This is not who Swami Vivekananda was. But this is who these people are.

Swami Aseemanand, who doesn't feel ashamed to call himself a "swami", admitted to planning, and carrying out Mecca Masjid blasts, Malegaon blasts, Samjhauta Express blasts and Ajmer Sharif blasts, killing hundreds of innocent people. After all this, do you think Hinduism stands any different from the blotched Islam? Don't you think these are the same terrorists, with just a different faith and a different tongue? My friend, these are the Hindu Nationalists today, as the reality is. Not Swami Vivekananda. He was a true Hindu, not those who claim India as theirs today. Think over it.

1st century BC - Buddhism was such a major religion in India, great Chinese scholars in their texts (remember China was a great flourishing civilization with countless erudite scholars) used to mention India as a "Buddhist Nation" for a whole millennium. (Source: The Argumentative Indian, Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize Laureate 1998). Post that, for almost 4 centuries, India was ruled by Muslim rulers, where, again, Islam was a prominent religion, as it still is. Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Charvaka (the atheists)- so many religions and schools of thoughts have flourished in India. In all this, do you think India was ever a "Hindu Nation" as these stupid extremists do? Do you think India is "secular" because our 60 year old constitution says so? No my friend. India is secular because it has always been secular since, not centuries but, millennia. And India will remain so.

A: True, Hinduism is different from Hindu Nationalism but only in letter not in spirit. Unfortunately we are a nation obsessed with prefixes and suffixes (that explains why we have a term as a Hindu rate of growth, but that is okay because we are a secular nation). If you look at the history Hindu Revivalism (Championed by Rammohun Roy et al) was the base of Hindu Nationalism. This revivalism was to purge the ills which had plagued our religion. This revivalism somehow also set the context for renouncing the foreign rule, however in the due course this was hijacked by extreme fringe who were limited by their misunderstanding of India as a nation. I felt the context was important. Hindu Nationalism was not an instrument to polarise people but to empower them under a unifying identity of an Indian. It is unfortunate it now identified with the fringe these days. Politics of hate has no place in broader scheme of Hindu Philosophy.

Swami Vivekananda can never be compared to any terrorist. Period! In fact, Swamiji's speech in Chicago answers precisely to your second comment of the series:
"Upon us depends whether the name Hindu will stand for everything that is glorious, everything that is spiritual, or whether it will remain a name of opprobrium, one designating the downtrodden, the worthless, the heathen. If at present the word Hindu means anything bad, never mind; by our action let us be ready to show that this is the highest word that any language can invent. It has been one of the principles of my life not to be ashamed of my own ancestors. The more I have studied the past, the more I have looked back, more and more has this pride come to me, and it has given me the strength and courage of conviction, raised me up from the dust of the earth, and set me working out that great plan laid out by those great ancestors of ours."

Terrorism has no religion; the fringe has no space in our society! But that has nothing to do with Hindu Nationalism in its original and purest form.

You in your last comment (Amartya Sen's book) you have substantiated my view from the earlier comment. Why could Buddhists and Mughals assimilate in this alien land so effortlessly? How could have barbarians from western Asia (Mughals) turned into model administrators with deep respect for religious and cultural sensitivities (Cow Slaughter was banned during Akbar's reign)? This was a result of the ethos and not necessarily the religion which characterised this nation. And my submission is that this ethos was firmly held in Hindu Philosophy and not necessarily the codified Hindu religion.

Me: I would love to see Hindu Philosophy flourish, like a revivalism of some sort. But that's not even close to what’s been happening in the mainstream politics, is it? It's the wrong sort of militant nationalism that is being preached and practiced. I agree the ruling party at the center is guilty of using "secularism" to garner a vote bank. But then equally guilty is the opposition party of placing Hinduism as a religion in the hands of the terrorists in the name of revivalism, is it not? Vote bank politics has been a bane of Indian politics since the past few decades, and every party is to be blamed equally for it. We, the educated class, who can see things as they are, cannot afford to see one form of hypocrisy and ignore the other.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Thumb on the Button

A pernicious melody, it makes me sway
Not out of merriment, no, but like the death knell of disaster
My nerves wreck my brain, I shake, I sweat, I swear, but don’t want it to show
The time is ripe, as He would say, so why does my thumb still fumble for the button
That will end this conflagration of megalomania that we see all around?

But will it? Will this change the way evil creeps in
Drunk on power, high on demagoguery
Will this massacre really tilt the needle at all
When measured on the scales of retribution?
A greater purpose, a bigger achievement, a grander exultation is what it will then be

This is how he would feel – a spy working against his own nation, but with loyalties aligned towards another purpose which can never face the same direction. He is in a small closeted room, and a human bomb is what he is. His thumb is on the button that would blow them all to pieces – those powers-that-be, united in this room, not on purpose but by accident, and a well-planned one at that. Should he or should he not? Time’s running away – he only has a couple of minutes more. His loyalties are divided. It’s his daughter’s voice that makes him think about it. He would love to be with his family, he couldn't leave them in disgrace like this. Is this what is interfering with his purpose? If yes, he would be too ashamed to admit it. But he likes to believe that he is in an enviable position now, and very soon as the stakes increase, so would the trust that they place on him. Could he play a bigger game or should he stick to his purpose, like a boy on an errand?

P.S. – The last episode of the first season of Homeland, the 2011 TV series inspired me to write this. And, needless to say, those who have watched the series would understand where I am coming from. I just wanted to try my hand at expressing what Brody felt at that moment. And for those who haven’t watched it yet, sorry for the spoilers! :)

Melody on My Mind

My earphones perch comfortably in the cusp of my ears. I’m slouching on my newly bought bean bag, the purchase of which was made mostly to have a feeling of dwelling in something that comes close to being called ‘home’. After toiling in the office, which is well over 20 km from where I put up, for hours, I don’t want to come back to a place I see only as a temporary make-shift arrangement. I guess we all look for a sense of permanence wherever we go. A sense of familiarity, an air of routine is what keeps our anxieties in check. So here I am.

But this post is not about office, and it’s not about permanence. It’s about something much simpler – music. Why do I listen to music? I don’t know. I just do. It sends a dose of sanity shooting through my veins, especially after a long week of drudgeries and mundaneness. The permanence of routine that I talked of above does not take a lot to become something boring that drags us down slowly, which we want to snap out of. In such a situation, music is the best cure. It makes me feel happy. It makes me feel good about life if it’s a happy song, and if it’s a sad one, I tend to dwell on and wonder at the depth of emotions and opportunities that come our way, the experiences we have and the way they shape our psyche, the way we turn for the worse, become defensive, irritable, accusatory, and what not. It makes me celebrate the profoundness that a sad thought churns about. A happy thought is just that, a thought that makes you be happy. But a depressing one is what makes you think, what makes you glassy-eyed, what makes you wonder at someone else’s pain and everyone else’s suffering. You think about how life kicks you when you are down, but you’ve got to learn to break through the hard ice sheet that is forming fast above you when you have been unfortunate enough to tread on the thinnest part of the sheet of ice on the sea of kismet, and fall into the icy cold water of karma or just plain bad luck. There’s no telling which. Neither then, nor later, no matter how many reasons may you give yourself for one or the other.

A cold draft makes the hair on my legs stand. I stretch myself and the bean bag adjusts itself obediently under my contours. Another weekend, another couple of days to look forward to. My sister told me some time ago that once you start working, your life is defined more than anything else by your weekdays and your weekends. Your life gets divided into these two neatly cut pieces, that are different as night and day, and just as sincere in their regularity and their importance in the scheme of things. I don’t want my life to be defined so simplistically. The very thought brings on an overwhelming feeling of disgruntlement. This is where music comes in, the landmark at which my life always takes a new turn and never fails to enrich my existence. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Chains of Reverie

A melodic beep-beep-beep of a phone on loud-speaker penetrates the lugubrious hum of the air conditioner running in the background. A sharp creak of a chair screams for attention, like a baby on opium making short sharp intermittent wails. A dull cacophony of a lot of people talking at the same time, far far away permeates from the inner chamber where there are some more cubicles. The loud voice of a Head of Department leaks out from the heavy glass door on my right, maybe painfully explaining a process to someone or giving someone an earful over the phone. 

There are two paintings adorning the wall facing me at the far end. One of them shows three people walking, two of them close together and one farther off, on a boulevard flanked on two sides by huge walls. Or it could be very tall trees. Hard to make out when you are 25 feet away. The other painting shows a bunch of yellow flowers, some with hints of red betraying the abundant yellowness, and one absolutely dark brown. I’d like to believe it means one rotten entity among a ‘bunch’ of employees. But I don’t think that was the original intention of the painter. The wall clock on the left of the paintings stands upright exuding confidence. As I type away, a clique of auditors from a big consulting firm, as I am told, enters our office, full of enriched swagger, with the air of knowledge of being someone important. There is a typing sound in the background, irregular, now stopping, now jerking ahead, telling me that some deliberate thought is being poured into the topic. 

A rumble of tyres rolling on the tiled flooring and I know my colleague, a fellow Management Trainee, has pushed back his chair and got up. I look at him and I see his arms extended with a slight bend at the waist to one side, eyes pulled together to almost being closed, and an expression of severe pain on his visage. A sudden jerk and I break out of my reverie. He was indulging in a big yawn of boredom. It was time for our mid-morning break, something which gives us a sense of regularity at office. I push my chair back, extend my arms, bend my waist slightly to one side, pull my eyes close and stretch. A painful expression crosses my face. And then I break out of it, suddenly turning towards him, as if, becoming supple, breaking free from the chains that held me; chains of reverie. Soothed in a cozy blanket of familiarity, regularity and certitude, we happily make a move towards the cafeteria.