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!