Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It's Black, it's White

Increasingly we seem to live in a world where everything is Binary. Perhaps it began post 9/11 when the US started looking at the world outside purely in terms of friend or foe. Perhaps it was an outcome of George Bush’s policy of ‘If you’re not with us, you’re against us’. It seems to have cascaded around the world ever since, be it the outpouring of support for either side post Charlie Hebdo or the current public discourse in India. We seem to have become incapable of seeing finer shades of colour rather than pure black or white, or being able to appreciate a hundred and fifty shades of grey.

Each event, each utterance has to be reacted to, and the only way is either total condemnation or wholehearted praise. It shows in the wave of indignation that has greeted Bhagwat’s pronouncements on Mother Teresa for instance. Isn’t it a fact that Mother Teresa was a Christian misisonary and therefore as such her first duty was to proselytize? How does that negate or decry any of the wonderful work she did in tending to India’s poor and sick, many of whom found no other doors open to them? Why should Bhagwat’s stating a fact have the Church or politicians cry foul and hurl opprobrium at him? But the popular reaction today is – either you support Mother Teresa or you support Bhagwat, there is no space for one agreeing a little bit with both sides of an argument.

The discourse against Pakistan runs so deep in some parts of the country that it is impossible to have a reasoned argument in which Pakistan could ever be in the right. Jaswant Singh and Advani provoked indignation not only among the BJP but across the country for merely saying a few positive things about Jinnah. Similarly, God forbid anyone say anything scandalous or remotely critical about Nehru when the Congress was in power. If someone laughs at a joke in a private setting that someone else disapproves of, FIRs are filed faster than you can buy a pack of chips. An average Joe thinks it’s perfectly fine to slap a female actor in public because he disapproves of her wardrobe choices.

The moral absolutism that seems to have become the esprit du jour means that we fail to note that there are hundreds of opinions, each of which could have nuggets we agree with and nuggets we disagree with. Each of those nuggets however put together, could enable us to have a much richer, deeper understanding  of key issues. Be it on religion or sports, nationalism or politics, nuance seems to be on the verge of extinction, replaced with an absolute moral certainty that is probably based on pure emotion.

Tolerance is born out of the fundamental notion that there are many ways to do something and they can all be correct. But to an ignorant or uneducated mind – which by no means denoted ‘illiterate’, mind you – it is dangerous to admit new or different ideas because then the way ahead is not crystal clear and the mind will have to stress itself to actually think and evaluate choices. Far simpler, then, to merely discard or preclude such dangerous developments and insist on one’s own. Totalitarian regimes, from Nazi Germany to China under Mao did precisely that, burning books and libraries and carefully prescribing and proscribing what citizens could read.

When you’re lost in the darkness and can’t see anything except one path, you assume it’s the right one. But when the darkness lifts a little, you can see hundreds of paths and they may all be correct. Lord Tennyson said, well over a century ago “There lives more faith in honest doubt, Believe me, than in half the creeds”.  It increasingly seems to me the mark of an educated, open mind that there must be doubt, there must be uncertainty as to which is the right way. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

JLF 2015

After much kwetching over whether to take the train down or fly, eventually I decided to drive down with the new driver, and hope for the best. As usual, given that I had planned an early start ( 5:30 am) the next morning, I ended up with two meetings in Gurgaon that got me home past 9 pm and left little time for thoughtful packing. Serviceable clothes and boots were chucked in, along with spare cape and puffa jacket with hood, keeping last year’s 2 degrees plus windchill mornings in mind.
Then of course, due to work events, I found myself unable to sleep and eventually dozed off only past 3 am, making 5:30 untenable at the outset. Resigning myself to seeing whatever little of day 1 I could manage, I set off, tucked into the middle seat with a pillow under my head and a blanket on me, catching some much-needed zzzs. Imagine my surprise when I found the car pulling into the hotel by 10:30 am, a bare four hours after I left! Though late for the inaugural session, I arrived by the tail end and snagged a seat by Mimi, my soul sister.

The first session, on a new biography of Lawrence of Arabia, was fascinating. Jonathan Shainin was a great moderator who asked thoughtful questions without hogging the mike (something most Indian session moderators could learn from), and Scott Anderson narrated the amazing story of West Asia politics in the post-world-war era, where 20-somethings in the UK drew up lines that divided up countries and set up the roots of the present-day conflict. Greater Syria had said it wanted to remain united, in a poll, while present-day Iraq had said it wanted to be split as per Kurds and others. Of course, precisely the opposite was done, and the Sykes-Picot agreement split the nation that wanted to remain together into Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan, while Iraq stayed a united nation-state. This also negated the promises made to King Feisal by TE Lawrence with the full agreement of the British side…was this where the seeds of distrust that continue till date were sown?

I tried to attend the next session on the decline of reading, which features Girish Karnad and Nayantara Sahgal – the panelists I was interested in – but possibly due to the presence of Prasoon Joshi, the Ford Samvad venue was so full it seemed it would burst if anyone in the audience so much as sneezed! The tail end of Devdutt Pattanaik’s session on the power of myth was quite interesting, though, as an alternate.

The Nordic Noir session by Hakan Nesser and Nils Nordberg was really rousing, punctuated by their very dry and wry sense of humour. When asked what about Scandinavia led to the growth of such lurid crime fiction, Hakan blamed it on the weather!

Jung Chang’s session on the Empress Cixi was a deepdive into Chinese history, starting with her own life story. As a young girl, her family was pro-Mao until the Cultural Revolution, and thus quite privileged When her parents turned against Mao, her father was arrested, tortured and turned mentally unstable due to the treatment he received, while Jung Chang worked as a steel-worker and a doctor, all without training, as Mao believed that training was too bourgeois! Her mother too was physically assaulted by various Red Guards and quite viciously beaten. Once Mao died, Jung appeared for a scholarship exam and became part of the first Chinese contingent of students sponsored by the State to study abroad.  

She spoke eloquently about how all the while she was in China, she had the urge to write but had to keep her thoughts hidden in her mind for fear of reprisals, but when she came to England, free to express herself, words failed her. It was years later when her mother came to stay and narrated the story of 3 generations of women from the family that Jung began to write again, the output of which was Wild Swans.

Her research on Cixi revealed some fascinating facets of the Empress who is otherwise reviled as a temperamental despot. Jung found evidence of her feminism in the banishing of the custom of bound feet, and said the Empress had a very strong will to protect and strengthen China, leading to her support for the Boxers and antipathy towards the Gai-jin, and many measures that served to bring China from medieval to the modern age.

God’s Traitors was yet another fascinating biography of a family of Catholics under Elizabeth Ist’s reign. Historian Jessie Childs maintained that the kind of religious control sought to be exerted during her reign was later wall-papered over with the legend of ‘Good Queen Bess’ and through contrasting Bloody Mary’s reign that brought the Inquisition into England. However, I feel she missed stating that much of the persecution of Catholics was due to Elizabeth’s own legitimacy which would be called into question by allowing Catholicism free reign. She was only legitimate if Henry VIII’s repudiation of the Catholic Church was upheld, and Catholics were all too keen on not only practicing their faith but bringing a Catholic heir to the throne – Lady Jane Grey, Mary Queen of Scots and others. Therefore it was more a pragmatic way to hold on to power rather than deep religious faith that drove Elizabeth, in my opinion.

This session was followed by a crackling conversation between Shabana Azmi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s daughter Salima Hashmi and poet Ali Husain Mir (who looks like a young and delicious Muzaffar Ali). They discussed their very different circumstances growing up, the influence of their fathers on their values and their decisions, the routine their celebrated fathers followed when they wrote…all punctuated with the most apt poetry of their times. A very poignant letter from Faiz when he was in prison, written to his wife, stated that pain and unhappiness are two very different things and the sooner we come to understand that, the better we will be able to deal with life. Pain is caused by external circumstances, while unhappiness is caused by one’s own reactions to events around one. Pain is not in our control while unhappiness is. Quite in line with my philosophy of life - Happiness is a Choice. Now to implement that!!!

Day 2 unfortunately was a wash out, quite literally. It began raining by evening on Day 1, and the organisers hadn’t prepared for that eventuality. Therefore all the open air venues were awash in water, with seats stacked under tarpaulin and pukka venues were so full with a sea of humanity that they looked like Churchgate at peak traffic. Mimi and I decided to take the day off and go wandering about Jaipur, browsing through various unusual boutiques, eventually fetching up at the Anokhi CafĂ©. Only half the Litfest attendees seemed to have had the same idea and we had a 40 minute wait for a table. The food, when it came, was well worth the wait, however, with the most lusciously fresh greens and cheeses in the salad, and fabulous desserts. The only letdown was the mezze platter which was inedibly bland!

Meanwhile, the third of our JLF trio, Sonya was due in that morning from Mumbai but hadn’t reached. Finally we managed to contact her to find out she’d been doing a Bharat Darshan. Her flight had been unable to land at Jaipur due to the torrential rain. Diverted to Delhi, they found that one runway was not functional due to fog, and followed two other similar flights to Ahmedabad. After twiddling her thumbs half the day, she finally made it to Jaipur by 2 pm! She excitedly called from the venue to tell us that sessions were resuming as scheduled at 4 pm.

Mimi and I rushed back to attend the last session of the day, Hamlet’s Dilemma, with Vishal Bharadwaj and Basharat Peer, Tim Supple – theater director specializing in Shakespeare and Jerry Brotton from the Global Shakespeare project, moderated by Suhel Seth. It turned out to be a terrific session, discussing the universality of Shakespeare on the one hand, and the fact that he’s best enjoyed as a theater piece on the other.  The director and Basharat Peer discussed that Kashmir, rather than Haider, had become Hamlet in the film. Irritatingly, the audience seemed more interested in why Vishal had chosen to focus on Kashmiri Muslims rather than the Pandits in the film. While Basharat sportingly defended the decision by stating that he didn’t see how the theme of exile fitted into Hamlet, whereas fratricide did, Vishal frankly lost it and stated that he was not making a documentary but a story. If Kashmiri Pandits were so worked up about it, why didn’t they ask Vidhu Vinod Chopra who had made Mission Kashmir and was a Pandit to boot?

Mimi and I ended our day with a trip to 1135 AD in the Amer Fort. It’s a beautiful ride to the fort, along the bypass road up the mountain. The Fort looks surreal, with the moat reflecting the starry night, and the twinkling lights in the courtyard emulating those stars. It’s a pity that the menu isn’t either more imaginative or more authentic and robust; however the place is worth a visit just for the setting.

On Day 3, we set off bright and early, determined to maximize the day at JLF. The previous day’s rained out situation had left us feeling somewhat hungry! We began the day with Selfie, the art of memoir, which had a very diverse panel of guests. First was Brigid Keenan, a hoot a minute, who regaled the audience with some pet stories of a diplomat’s wife’s existence. Then came Anchee Min, whose harrowing story and searing honesty was quite incredible. We were underwhelmed by Joanna Rakoff who came across as superficial, while Mark Gevisser gave us an incredible insight into South Africa and into a writer’s mind. As a child, he used to curl up with the automobile map and the phone book, sending imaginary letters across. Imagine his surprise when he realized that while Alexandra, a black neighbourhood in Apartheid South Africa was only 2 pages away from his own white neighbourhood, yet it didn’t show up on the roadmap because black neighbourhoods were never mapped!

We next wandered across to the session on Wanderlust, where Brigid read out some truly chuckle-worthy bits from her memoir. Each of the 7 panelists read out an excerpt, the second most interesting being from William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain, which I’ve always relished.  But overall I realized I don’t enjoy readings unless they are truly skillfully done…I’d much rather attend a panel discussion or an interview, where you hear the author’s opinions, about his or her struggle and what shaped their writing, as opposed to a reading which frankly you can do by yourself sitting at home.

The session on The End of Antiquity, while articulate, was a bit too erudite for my liking, and I felt a little lost in the sea of information that was pouring out. Then followed the Murty Classical Library session, but that too turned out to be a reading from which I beat a hasty retreat and attended Samit Basu’s highly humorous and entertaining Q&A session. The Fox and the Crow was being moderated by my friend Sayoni, so I toodled along and saw the most amazing illustrations I’ve ever seen in a children’s book in India – dramatic, evocative and not at all kiddy. I attended half the session and then joined Javier Moro’s Red Sari session. He sounded quite the Gandhi champion as he naively stated that he didn’t believe they were a corrupt family and brushed her involvement with the Quattrochis escape from India under the carpet, but it still sounded like an interesting book to read.

The last session we attended was The First Firangis – two Indophile authors had written amazingly similar books interweaving stories of early foreign visitors to India with their own life stories. Jonathan Gil Harris discussed how weird he found the multiple conversations that are on-going in any Indian gathering, and discussed how the early Europeans had to literally remould their physical entities – from eating habits to what they wore – to adjust and cope with India.

We attended the music session at Clarks Amer, which featured Coke Studio’s Sain Zuhoor with a fabulous Sufi performance. We followed up by a ritual visit to Tablu, Clarks's open air bar which was sadly quite deserted this year and played sad trance style music as opposed to the rock we had enjoyed all these years.

I decided to stay back longer than planned on Saturday so I could get my fill of JLF, since I had the car and thus a flexible schedule. I raced across to attend the second Murty Classical Library session, this time thankfully a discussion between Arshia Sattar, Girish Karnad and Sheldon Pollock. They laid out the aims of the MCL, how the thought had arisen, what they planned to do, how they were sourcing translators and the 100 year aim of having at least 500 books from the MCL. The only thought I found disconcerting was that they planned to issue the translated text with the same type of syntax as in the original – Sheldon Pollock said it was part of the experience of being ‘not you’; I just wondered if I wanted to be not me badly enough to struggle through the grammar of an ancient language. What was interesting though was his assertion that it would take only two days to learn Sanskrit.

The Twilight Zone was one of my favourite sessions, verbose moderator notwithstanding. (As an aside, can someone please take all the Indian moderators aside and tell them their job is to give the floor to the speakers, not join them or dominate the conversation wholesale.) Gideon Levy was so fierily on the side of justice and so anti the Zionist policies against the Palestinians in Gaza, it was truly delightful to hear. Gideon’s point on patriotism was that if you love your country, it’s your job to make sure it’s the most just, that it is on the side of what’s right.

As usual, in discussions on West Asia, the lone Palestinian on the panel barely got the chance to make a point, especially since the anchor, Hardeep Singh Puri was so enthusiastic at the sound of his own voice that he drowned out almost everyone else except Gideon. Finally, during the Q&A session, an audience member asked if we could hear Fady’s opinion, which had the whole audience cheering, Fady included! After a weird start to Q&A in which the moderator went about collecting all the questions before handing them out, he again started dominating the answers until I couldn’t bear it any longer and started a football chant of ‘Fady! Fady!’ at which point the moderator had no choice but to hand him the floor. Fady read an excerpt from a Palestinian poet that said that when a victim starts to commit murder, he should no longer be viewed as a victim. It was harrowing to hear both Gideon and Fady talk about the plight of the Palestinians and how badly they are treated. Kai Bird was very hopeful of a 2-nation solution, while Gideon and Fady, for different reasons, felt the time for it had long gone by. Curiously enough, after that I read Brigid Keenan’s Packing Up in which she discusses what they saw during the Palestine Literary Festival, and the mindless, conscienceless exercise of power demonstrated by Israeli soldiers to festival panelists as well as Palestinians they saw there. It really breaks the heart!

The last session I attended, quite paisa vasool, was the one on the 2014 elections in India with Rajdeep Sardesai and Mihir S. Sharma as panelists, chaired by Madhu Trehan. It was a rollicking discussion with much humour, trenchant criticism and many jokes of which baba was the butt. It was fabulous to hear the in-person accounts of election stories and the worries of what lies ahead. One of the worrying aspects of post-Modi India was the shut-out of the media by the government. The panelists discussed how all news was now released late at night, too late for analysis and the government was withholding direct interaction, thus leading to the media just printing up the PIB releases of the day. Moreover, Rajdeep felt that many journalists were so hungry for a newsbite or exclusive that they were busy taking selfies with Namo and towing the line in hopes of favour being shown, letting down the purpose for which the Fourth Estate existed. The session and the Q&A were crackling, and a terrific end to JLF. Still felt I had got cheated out of Day 2 but the last day sort of made up for it.

I made my way to Rawat’s for some kachoris and pheni, and curled up in the car with my stash of books, to wind up my Jaipur sojourn in true Rajasthani style.



Thursday, October 16, 2014

What's the real story here?

I feel like I live in a world where nuance is dead. Everyone seems to busy taking positions on everything – including me – that sometimes we forget all about reasoned debate, or about actually arming ourselves with all the facts. Take for instance the recent decision by apple and facebook to pay for female employees who choose to freeze their eggs. Predictably, everyone including me reacted with disbelief and mutters about how companies thought the best way to get employee loyalty was to pay for them to put off critical life moments.

However when I thought about it a little more, I realized that I don’t know whether this is over and above fair or generous parental/ maternity-paternity leave policies. Possibly it is, in which case this is an additional move targeted at helping employees find the way that works best for them. Not everyone wants to have a baby in their 20s and 30s, and if some people want to freeze their eggs and wait for the right timing, and the company is willing to pay for it, great!

My sister’s firm in the US, for example, has a health insurance policy that pays for employees who want a sex change operation. Now does this policy mean that the company is encouraging everyone to change from he to she or vice versa? Of course not. But if an employee so wishes, the company is willing to help him or her out. Which is a great HR policy.


My issue with apple and facebook’s new policy would be if this were in lieu of good parental leave policies, in which case these companies are clearly taking a misguided shot at what they think will best motivate talented women to stay on. As of now I don’t know – maybe in the interests of good PR, these companies should make that public knowledge?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

On having it all

What with Indira Nooyi’s dukh-bhari dastaan going viral, I can’t resist adding my two bits because the piece had me fuming at multiple levels. Having taken out some of the khunnus on fb. I thought I should resurrect my moribund blog so I could discuss it some more.

First - the fact that her mother expects her to be the one doing both inside and outside the home pissed me off. Yes, yes, she’s from another generation and all that, but you can change, you can see that life today is a bit different than the time that you grew up and raised a family and you can have bigger dreams for your daughter than ‘ensured the kids had milk every day of their life’. I know lots of mothers of IN’s mother’s generation who raised their daughters to be independent working women and have a career, and agreed to be part of the daughter’s village in raising the family. Plus, to me, it’s a basic maternal instinct to want to celebrate with your child when the child so much as gets a participation medal for a 50 m race in school, let along becoming worldwide CEO of a billion dollar firm. So to not celebrate the win at that moment and chastise the daughter for thinking her promotion is more important milk – Pfffbbbttt! And by the way I am highly suspicious of whether the mother would have reacted similarly had the son or son in law come home with similar news. In fact, I’m pretty sure she would have popped champagne in that situation, given that she thought a son in law and father of her grandkids who had come home at 8 pm would be too tired to get the milk but not the daughter and mother of aforesaid kids who got home at 10 pm.

I have to say, I had a Nooyi moment recently and I’m NOT HAPPY with my dad about it. Bojjandi fell sick with high fever late in the night when he was over at my parents’ place. He was asking for me so I went over and carried him back and spent the rest of the night sponging his forehead since the fever was not going down despite medication. Finally around 5 or 6 am, I was too weary to stay up and woke up A and asked him to carry on the good work while I grabbed a couple hours sleep. Later that day when I was telling my dad about it, he looks at me and says, “You could have stayed at our house. Why did you wake up poor A? He needs his rest.” I was completely taken aback. Given that my dad has always been more than supportive of my sister and I having careers and working fulltime, to assume that despite having a fulltime job as demanding as A’s, I wouldn’t need my rest is mindboggling. Dad was probably being supportive of A given the stress about A’s mom’s health but the double standard still stank!

Second, the fact that Nooyi clearly drank the Koolaid that expects her to be and do everything. Why would you do that? Granted, there is a stage of life where you want to please everyone but at some point you outgrow it or your ‘self preservation’ gene kicks in and you decide that the person you need to be most impressed by who you are is yourself. To judge yourself by unrealistic standards set by others is to set yourself up for automatic failure and lack of self esteem, whether it’s in terms of appearance, career performance or what you do as a wife, mother, friend…

Third - Not doing it all. I think IN has actually fallen into the trap of wanting to ‘do it all’, which is a whole different ballgame from having it all, and which is impossible and not required. Why should one person want to do it all or be expected to do it all and then face failure? There are only so many hours in a day and days in one’s life. If you have a partner, then make that person a real partner in the business of life rather than carry the burden of Nirupa Roy-like martyrdom by lamenting what you can’t do. It’s that partner’s life too, it’s their kids and home too, so it’s part of their job to do their bit.

I’m not saying this in a martial or revolutionary spirit, but frankly, isn’t it part and parcel of building a life together with your partner? I can’t remember the last time that my husband or I gave each other home and kids instructions when we were traveling, because each of us expects and is equally clued in or involved.  We pinch hit for each other when one of us can’t make a PTA meeting or when the kids are sick and need a doctor visit or someone to stay home. We don’t run around with excel sheets counting who’s done what how many times but because each of us thinks it’s the only sensible thing to do to co-manage both our careers and the home/ kids, it works well enough for neither one of us to feel hard-done-by.  

I remember when Chubbocks was a baby, I hadn’t gone back to work until he was 6 months old. So I used my stay-at-home mom to derive a sense of superiority by constantly scoffing at A’s efforts to help, berating him for doing it differently – for me it was a sense of validation that I was the expert and therefore the perfect parent. With that as the set up I was doing it all where the baby was concerned, it wasn’t until I consciously figured things out that I realized doing it all wasn’t a viable or intelligent solution for me, when there were two parents or other help handy. Once that realization fell into place, then making our relationship a real partnership became much easier and it continued regardless of how many hours I or A worked or how much each of us earned ( or not).

Fourth, I’m not sure what having it all means. If it means being able to give 100% of attention to your home life and your career, then I’m sorry but no one can do it until cloning comes along. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you cannot have it all. If on the other hand you mean have a successful career and a good home life, that is perfectly possible and I would argue that IN has it all in spades! And that many other men and women that I know are managing to do so quite well.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Mob-o-crazy or Democracy

There is a difference between mob-ocracy or anarchy, as Kejriwal prefers to call it and democracy. Mob-o-cracy is rule by the mob, such as the mob is. Democracy means that we elect our representatives, not necessarily people just like us, but those we would wish to represent us– people with hopefully wide learning and exposure, with maturity, with an informed opinion – to do the best thing for us. If that were not the case, 18 year olds would only vote for 18 year olds, women would vote for women and we would have the world’s youngest cabinet, 48% female to boot. If that were not the case, a Cambridge-educated lawyer called Nehru would never have become Prime Minister in one of the world’s most illiterate nations.

If mob-o-cracy had been the governing principle that shaped us as a nation, we would never have a Constitution that guarantees civil liberties and equality to all Indians. Instead we would have had the caste and hierarchy system enshrined in a constitution that reflected the current thinking of that time, and who knows, that reflects even today’s thinking by the masses. Freedom of speech, equal right to vote, inter-caste or intercommunity marriages certainly would not be constitutionally permissible in a country in which Khap panchayats or kangaroo courts still hold sway over a large part.

Given that mob-ocracy cannot be the founding principle of a country, it ill behooves anyone from AAP to try and justify the raid on Khirki village under the guise of what the people wanted. It is a fact that India is a deeply racist country, especially discriminatory towards those of a dark colour. In Mumbai some years ago, bars forbade the entry of African visitors. I still remember the time we shot with a handsome African gentleman for a World car campaign and the client protested “Aapne to hupshiyon ko shoot kiya hua hai!”, as if that fact disqualified the model from claiming to be a citizen of the world. Just the other day I saw a quote from one Khirki resident who stated that ‘these people are all criminals or loose women. They roam around in skimpy clothes’. Here’s something thathappened to a friend of mine who happened to live there for a time for the crime of leading a different lifestyle than the average resident thereof.

What the people want may be very different from what they should be able to have, particularly if what they want militates against the principles of equality and fair play. If what they want is paramount, then colonies in Mumbai are well within their rights to refuse to rent an apartment to people from other religions, as they often do. If what people want is paramount, then 3/4ths of the country’s population is right in believing that a family’s honour lies between its women’s legs and that death is preferable to dishonor. If what people want is paramount, ‘lower castes’ should be beaten up and taught their place.

In a democracy, the key rules are equality and fair play – by design and intent, even if they don’t always play out in execution. Given that, the people complained about should have been heard out, as much as the complainants, before any action was taken. The hearing should have taken place in a non-partisan fashion rather than with a mob baying for appeasement. Kejriwal may well be right in describing himself as an anarchist – so far he has not risen above the mob-o-cracy. And the fact that so many people think of him as India’s big new hope – that’s scary!

AAP and its brand of local activism

I admit it, I have been a skeptic of AAP and its manifesto from day one. While I would like governmental fairplay and I would like a political party that has woken up and smelt the coffee and realized that government is supposed to be for the people and not above them, I found myself deeply disturbed by the kinds of poll promises made. I found distasteful Kejriwal’s call to arms to Delhiites asking all of them not to pay for electricity. It’s one thing to say that if you have evidence of doctored meters or of mismanagement hiking up the rates. But to say that any citizen has the right to use and not pay for resources is asinine. The promises of free water and electricity I found as gimmicky as those of any other party. But when it comes wrapped in a thick muffler of self-righteousness, it’s more dangerous than when it comes as the typical self-aggrandizing of a mai-baap dyed-in-the wool politician, because by now the Indian public has learnt to see through it. 

But now the Khirki incident has taken the muffler off and the public can see the truth that’s out there. Any minister who, when he receives a complaint from some disaffected factors in his constituency, decides to act on it like a vigilante and refuses to follow procedures even when someone is advising him of it, is not to be let off easily, even by those who desperately want to believe in the new party. What makes a further mockery of it is that this is the Delhi Minister for Law. What on earth prevented him from listening to the other side – the people complained about – rather than getting them dragged out of their homes? Why did he decide to override the police who advised him on due process, regardless of whether or not he suspected them of being hand in glove with the alleged criminal elements? Why did he decide he was above the constitution and the basic notion of justice, which is fair play? 

Why did Kejriwal the righteous decide that it was his job to stage a dharna asking for the cops to be suspended rather than suspend his Law Minister during the enquiry? Why did AAP decide that no enquiry was required into Somnath Bharti’s action? How did the party decide that the complainant’s word was above that of the victims of the Khirki raid? Is the party unaware of the deep, ingrained racism of India, particularly against people of colour or anyone with a non-mainstream lifestyle? If they are unaware maybe they have lived in a paper bag for the last several years. If they are not unaware, they should have been all the more determined on seeing justice and fairplay rather than a one-man show of vigilante justice. Added to their plans for a citizen force, it sounds like vigilante justice coupled with Kangaroo courts will replace the constitution if they have their way. 

If they are truly ‘the party with a difference’, they, like ‘Caesar’s wife’, need to conduct themselves with a higher moral compass than other parties. They cannot storm people’s homes like a lumpen mob, stating ignorance of the law and procedures as an excuse. They cannot be one-sided in listening to the public, they have to listen to all sides. And they cannot let their own members off the hook for ignoring the law, while expelling those who have dared to disagree with the party leader. That’s paving the way for this to turn into yet another political party without a difference.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I don't know

The other day, on my way to work, I passed a flyover under which there are usually a few poor people clustered, many of whom rush out and start begging as soon as the traffic lights turn red. That day, there was a bigger crowd than usual, several families in fact, men, woman, children and babies. One of the babies, a girl between 7-9 months old was rolling about on the brick floor of the space, howling at the top of her baby voice, loud enough for her voice to pierce through my closed car window. She was crying as if in agony for something, rolling from side to side across that floor. And not one of the many adults clustered around her so much as turned, paused their conversations to even look at her. One of the ladies had a bamboo pole about 10 feet long and used it to nudge the baby farther away from her. The many children under that flyover didn’t blink an eye, didn’t turn to look. No one seemed to have felt an urge to pick up that baby, to hold her close and comfort her, to find out what she wanted. I don’t know what to think about the incident, it keeps haunting me. I used to think my kids were pampered because they have a nice home and good clothes, toys and books…but maybe they are pampered because they have people in their lives who will listen, who will hear them crying, who can’t bear to see them in pain. I think back to the juvenile in the Dec 16th case and wonder if he grew up in a similar environment, whether he grew up in a home that never taught him anything but self preservation and survival by any means…whether he never knew what it means to have compassion, empathy because he had never experienced it himself. I don’t know if …contrary to whatever claptrap the movies sold us about the nobility in poverty, it leads to such a dominant survival instinct that you only care about yourself and no one else, maybe not even your own children.. …this weeping child was even theirs or was it just a convenient orphan picked up to ease begging… …I have turned cynic or biased onlooker…