Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shashi Tharoor: The Evolution of a Tweeter

All fun has gone out of Shashi Tharoor's tweets. They've been cut down to size. All spontaneity vanished without a trace.

And he tweets soberly about having a great meeting with Ghelot!

What a fall was there my country men!

Or should i say, Rejoice, my countrymen, Mr Tharoor has evolved! and in so short a time!

Like they say, the more you learn to control your basic instincts, the more evolved you are.

But i miss those witty smart rejoinders :-(

That said, one must say that we are glad Mr. Tharoor is learning . Good to think he will survive.

Friday, September 25, 2009

My First Confession

How did your aadhya kumbasaaram (First Confession)go? asked my father. He was standing in front of the mirror, combing his hair, something which I loved watching. He was bald and beautiful, my father, with a less than half inch tuft of hair skirting the shining bald head at its base like a fading crescent moon. And Ichayan (as we called him) took ages combing it. Fascinating, the concentration with which his hand followed the comb as the latter went over and over again over the crescent.

It was good, I replied. I was almost six years old. As an after thought I made a confession in a conspiratorial voice. But my repentance was imperfect.

The comb stopped its monotonous activity for a second as Ichayan looked at me puzzled.


Yes, I said looking up at him. In a very knowledgeable tone, I repeated what Sister Vincentia of the Nazareth Convent who prepared me for the First Communion taught me. There are the two types of repentance. Perfect repentance is when you feel contrite for having hurt the good God. The imperfect one is when you repent your sins for fear of hell.

And the lowering my voice, I told Ichayan I couldn’t feel sorry for hurting God. But I am scared of hell. It doesn’t matter if your repentance is perfect or imperfect so long as you don’t hide any sin.

Ichayan burst into one of his explosive laughs. The comb soon resumed its action. When it finally rested on the hair brush kept face up on the dressing table, the white opaque pyramid shaped old spice jar was opened and I watched, fascinated as he splashed the after shave lotion into his palm and then patted his cheek – chin area with it.

I love that smell I told him. Some more liquid was splashed on his palm and he patted my cheeks with that palm. I was delighted and forgot all about the imperfect repentance.

The next day was a Saturday. My first communion was to be on Sunday. I was pretty thrilled about that one free day between the First confession Friday and the Holy Communion Sunday. I had exciting plans like climbing trees, playing kili and taking part in the cricket match scheduled for evening. My role in the match was that of a stepney batsman for both the teams (comprising my siblings, cousins and a 'madras Swami' who was my father's business partner) and of the ball boy to pick up the ball when one of the batsmen managed to connect the bat and the ball well. I loved the way one of my brothers imitated Vizzy, the commentator and went into squeals of ecstasy when some one was bowled or someone hit a ‘six’.

Saturday dawned. After breakfast, I was about to run out with my brothers to play kili when amma called out to me and said Get ready. Let’s go to Nazareth Convent.
Crash!!! Down came my dreams for the day - like the twin towers.
But why? I am free today. Mild hysteria in the voice.
Get dressed quickly. Don’t argue.

I didn’t argue because my soul was clean after my First Confession and the next day was my Holy Communion. Dejected, I went with amma to the Nazareth Convent.

I saw amma talking to Sister Vincentia who was nodding vigourously. Then she seemed to place a consoling hand on amma’s elbow.

Amma then left, leaving me in the Nazareth convent.

“Molly, you Know God is good?’ asked Sister V.
“Yes.’ I said sulking.
“How good”
“Very Good’
“You know he loves you”
I nodded in agreement though I was not very sure at that moment. Surely a God who loves me wont let me down like this, demolishing all my dreams for the day. He must have known how much I wanted a break from Him and from the two weeks of rigorous catechism lessons at the Nazareth Convent.

‘Then why aren’t you sorry that you hurt him when you sinned?”

So that was it! Ichayan had let amma into my confession secret, which he had found hilarious – but which amma couldn’t.

“I don’t know. I can’t feel sorry. I don’t know why”. Those were days when I hadn’t learnt the art of telling white lies. A lie – black or white - is a lie, and Thou shall not lie, says one of the commandments.

Then Sister V launched into a litany of the good things God has given me - good parents, good brothers, good school, good friends, food to eat, and good dresses, gold ornaments, car, dog - - --. The list was endless and I must confess that I was beginning to get impressed.

And then she turned herself into an advocate for the divine creator, presenting proofs of his great love. Her voice changed. Her eyes turned upwards on and off. Sometimes they rolled at the evidence of divine love. But what touched me – really and truly – was the way they became moist when she plunged into a superb narration of the great love which made God send his son to the earth and the shabby manner in which humans treated him. She got explicit about the passion of Christ. She shuddered and wept at every stroke of the hammer which sent the horrendous nails deeper and deeper into Jesus’ palms, feet. Held spell bound by the master story telling, I too shuddered whenever she did.

At the end of her histrionics, I was in tears.

And then she moved in for the kill.

“You were one of them, Molly. One of those brutal soldiers who tortured Jesus. Every sin you committed gave extra force to the blows of the hammer, the pain of the crown of thorns. Think, Molly ,Think, what you have done to your Lord”

I dissolved into helpless tears and asked pardon of my Lord for hurting him so much - --

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Belong Here

Episode 1

The following conversations took place a decade back when I visited the US for the first time.

How do you live there? That was a lady from Kerala, long settled in the US. I was there last May.
It’s so hot and sultry. Got rashes all over. My daughter fell sick with the heat, and had to be hospitalized. God I don’t know how you people live there.

(“Are we rats or worms who survive there?” ) I thought, thoroughly irritated.

But, with a plastic smile, I said: Well, we can’t all possibly kill ourselves, can we?

Then I caught sight of my brother glowering down at me. He called me aside and gave me a dressing down.

But you heard what she said, didn’t you?

You don’t have to sink that low. Well, I didn’t know what was so special about me, except that I was his sister, but I held my peace. One doesn’t usually argue with the first born in the family.

Episode 2

Are you planning to disappear here? (Ividei mungaan pogukayaano?)

I beg your pardon?

Ividei mungaan pogukayaano?

Why should I?

People from Asian countries do it all the time, you know. After sometime, you can get your papers regularized.

But why should I do it? My family is back home in India.

When your papers are ready, you can bring them over. A lot of people do it, you know.

I looked at him in utter disbelief.

We are well settled there, back in India. My husband has a job, I have a job and we are comfortable there.

But this is truly God’s own land. The standard of life this country offers you. The climate. The natural beauty. You must see the US in fall. The colours. Kerala landscape is monotonous in comparison.

I know, but the fact remains I don’t belong here.

That does not matter. Once you come here and settle down, you won’t want to go back.

Mebbe. But I see no desperate need to relocate. I’m quite happy in India.

He shook his head helplessly and shrugged his shoulders as though to say ‘Well, if a rat existence is what you want, it’s your funeral’

Happily, I didn’t have to listen to such stuff during my recent visit to the US. I’m not sure if that’s because our Indian Americans think India is a better place now or because I didn’t do much socializing in that crowd. Whatever the reason, these conversations upset me – still; when I think how insensitive people can be.

Also, it surprises me that educated people can think that there is only one path to happiness – driving pricey cars down superbly maintained roads and highways, living in a/c comfort, eating easily and cheaply available quality food imported from all over the world, wearing the best branded clothes always available on discount sales. True, this primrose path does lead to happiness. But there exists another narrow and potholed road which also leads to the same destination.

Tropical weather can be cruel at times. Mosquitoes can make life itchy. Sultry weather can make you feel dirty and tired as you travel on ill maintained public transport buses, or in autos which hurts your back as they descend and ascend out of broken roads. Poor waste management can be an eye (and nose) sore too.

But running away from it all – will that make me happy?
Or rather, will I run away and try to get illegal entry into a strange land because of the opportunities and super sterilised comfort it offers?

Maybe, I’d run away if this tropical sub- continent with all its drawbacks it did not offer me a decent livelihood.
Mebbe I’d run away if India was not a democracy.

Mebbe I’d run away if, by doing it, I could delete the reality that is India from my consciousness.
Mebbe I'd run away if, with all its discomforts, we did not celebrate life here.
As things stand, and at this stage in my life, I'd rather stay put here and not opt for comfortable uncertainties.

The moral of the story? Well, none. Was just sorting out to myself why I don’t quite fancy the idea of relocating to the US despite the openings to do it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Shashi Tharoor Twitter Issue.

My letter to the editor which was not good enough, i guess :-(.But why waste the effort. So here it is, whether it is good enough for the blogsphere or not :-)

Much can be said on both sides regarding the Shashi Tharoor Twitter issue.

One must remember that Mr. Tharoor is an Indian English writer and enjoys a very high level of comfort in the English language. It is the writer in him and his keen sense of humour that caused him to succumb to the temptation of making a humorous rejoinder to a query, by playing on the image evoked by the term ‘cattle class’. The Party should have taken this witticism in the spirit in which it was said and ignored it, instead of blowing it out of proportion.

On his part, Mr. Tharoor should remember that he is more than a writer now. He is the representative of the people whose sensibilities he should be careful not to offend. He is also a high profile Minister, the cynosure of media attention and the hope of young India which looks upon him as one of the new breed of politicians handpicked to give a makeover to the image of India as an emerging world power. The responsibilities on him as a politician, a leader, and a party man demand he develops a sense of political propriety rooted in an awareness of socially and culturally sensitive issues and of the culture of the political party which gave him a ticket.

There are many expressions in the English language - like pariah and coolie for examples- which are accepted words in the English language but hardly ever make their appearance in the Indian print media, though they are used freely outside India. It is the sensitivity of the scribes to the connotations and associations of these words in the Indian context that has caused these words to almost disappear from the public sphere in India.

Now that Mr. Tharoor has chosen a career in politics, he should take a lesson from this discretion shown by the journalists in the use of words for public consumption. He has to be politically correct always. It will do him good to learn the art of becoming a successful Indian politician. The manner in which he conducts himself as the member of the Congress party will decide his political future.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gujarat: A Divided State

On September 8th, Metropolitan Magistrate Tamang’s report is made public. His findings about the encounter which killed Irshat and her friends are that it was a fake encounter. They were shot at short range and then the bodies left on the public road for all to see how Gujarat deals with terrorists (read Muslims?). The action of the police is suspected to be entrenched in a deep desire to please the BJP strongman Narendra Modi, and to boost his image as the defender and protector of the Hindu community.

On September 10th, Gujarat goes to polls and Narendra Modi registers a better show than the Congress.

Now what are we to make out from this? This has happend several times. The worse his record on human rights violations gets, the better Modi's chance of victory at the polls. The only interpretation for this fact is, Modi's brutal acts have the support of the majority of the people of Gujarat

Gujarat is a divided state. The people of Gujarat have lost faith in the concept of secularism as defined in the Constitution of India, which the BJP ridicules as ‘Pseudo secularism”. For the people of Gujarat, secularism as the average Indian understands it is a pseudo notion. The minorities have rights if the majority is generous enough to grant them those rights. The minority communities have right to existence only if the majority community so wills it.

The state of Gujarat is a scale model of what India would become if the BJP with its control strings in the hands of RSS gets a majority at the Centre, and rules India unhindered by coalition partners.

In the responses to my last post (on Rahul Gandhi), there were some views on choosing between fundamental rights and bread for all. Gujarat results makes me think that even a discussion on these lines is dangerous. If we are willing to give up any one of the fundamental rights, why not another at another point in time? And another and another?

In a democratic Nation-State, Fascism can be ‘encountered’ only by a tenacious faith in fundamental rights exercised through the ballot.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Rahul Gandhi Phenomenon

I get the feeling that Rahul Gandhi will do better than his father. In the past five years, this reserved quiet scion of the Gandhi family who could have easily stepped into any position he liked, kept a low profile. Maybe, he is taking a leaf out of the Mahatma’s book by not plunging into politics till he has had experiential knowledge of what it is about.

And he is proving to be a clever politician. Yes. He is playing the Gandhi-Nehru card wherever and whenever he knows it’ll pay dividends. He seems determined to reclaim the Congress Party’s foothold in the Hindi heartland and in Southern India. He seems to have registered some success in this mission, if we are to go by the recent general elections.

I can well foresee the barrage of accusations that’ll jostle against each other in my blogsphere – accusations of me being an advocate of dynastic rule. Regarding that issue, my position is this. The son should not rise only because he is the father’s son. Or the grandmother’s grandson, or the great grandfather’s great grand son, or the great great grand father’s great great grandson. But if the son can rise because he is clever enough to turn his lineage to his advantage, and consequently to the advantage of his country, give him a chance. After all this is a democracy. We cannot deny an opportunity to a person simply because he is the son, grandson, great grandson and great great grandson of a particular family. And the Indian democracy does not have the history of having given a person with the above credentials a free hand to misuse the dynastic advantage to oppress the people. When these advantaged people overstep democratic limits, or fail to perform, the voter punishes him. That’s the tradition in our democracy.

So if a person is young and seems earnest and sensible , and is making every effort to familiarize himself with the huge complex reality called India, let us accept him. Let’s not cry foul simply because he is somebody’s somebody.

After all every human being has to be somebody’s somebody.

During the elections, the media was tom-tomming about his average academic records. To this I say, where is it written that one has to be an Albert Einstein to become the leader of a nation?

The Rahul Gandhi whom all of us dismissed as ineffective, is coming into his own. He is patient, training himself to perhaps lead the country one day, or just to lead the party. He is starting from where an Indian politician always should. From rural India. He is nurturing the party from the grass root level. The party which had lost its directions and was well on the way of becoming just another political outfit, might (let’s hope), under this person reinstate the ideology and values which it had been happily compromising for political expediency. The process is slow, painful and time and energy consuming - and Rahul Gandhi appears to have a sizeable repertoire of patience and energy. He seems to have that race winning quality of slowness and steadiness.

I do hope I am right when I say, if this son rises, it will not be a case of greatness thrust on him because he is born great – it’ll also be because he has achieved greatness.It could be a rare case of the confluence of all those three phenomena that Shakespeare spoke about.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Oh My Name! Sigh!

My last post on this subject was the outcome of a need to unload a burden I’d been carrying all my life. But this time I was provoked.

“Can you give me a sensible name that I can call you?” pleaded the delegate to whom I was introduced in my official capacity as Kochuthresiamma P.J. etc etc etc. She was not from my part of the world; so I understood her difficulty in getting her tongue around my name. But surely there was a more polite or less boorish way of expressing that difficulty.

“You can call me whatever suits you so long as you don’t call me names”. I tried humour to conceal my irritation.

The lady made me repeat my name several times and then appeared to strike upon the brilliant idea.
“Hey, can I call you Kochu?”
“Why not”, I replied returning her sweet smile with a sweeter one.

I’ve thought of changing my name officially, but my father used to get distressed every time I mentioned my intention. He thought my name was the most beautiful one in the whole world. I suppose if you are a Malayalee and a catholic, and know the history and etymology of the word you’d find music in my name – or else, my father had an extraordinary ear that could detect harmony in the worst of tongue twisters.

On a more practical note, he pointed out the hassles of changing the name. Thus it was, despite my yearning to get away from my name, I remained Kochuthresiamma p j all my life.

Since I have this capacity to step out of a situation and look at it and enjoy the situation in which I am the butt of the joke or the lifelong victim of a father’s fancy for a particular name, I have
come out quite unscathed by the embarrassment the name caused me on several occasions. The worst is what I have related in my earlier post on this. Close on heels comes the occasion when, the day I joined a particular college in Mumbai a little over a decade ago, I was introduced to the staff at the staff meeting which, my bad luck, was scheduled for the day. I was asked to attend the staff meeting by the Principal.
“You can meet the other teachers too”, she said.
My HOD took me to the hall where the meeting was to take place. Being a very punctual person, she was the first to be in the hall, with me along with her. Soon people started streaming in. Men and women, young and middle aged, all dressed to kill and looking very sophisticated and powdered and patched. This was a new experience for me who hadn’t, till then, served anywhere outside Kerala where teachers dress up in a very sober and businesslike manner when they come to teach. I looked around happily, charmed by the styles and sounds and perfumed smells of the elite working class of Mumbai who gathered in the room.

Then the Principal walked in.

“Before we start, let me introduce you to the new teacher”

She looked at me and beckoned to me to come forward. My heart sank. I wasn’t prepared for this formal introduction, or I’d have given the Principal some phonetic training.

“This is Dr. ----“ . Silence. I could feel my ears turning red. I was always one who hated attention.
“Will you tell them your name, please?” she entreated, looking at me sweetly, pleadingly.

I announced my name.

It made no sense to anyone except two people who looked at me and waved from where they sat. They were keralites. The others looked at each other as tho’ some alien creature had descended on them from some other galaxy.

“Thank you. I can deal with the rest of the details”, she said cheerfully. Big deal, I thought. One would think that the rest of my biodata included terms like Kalaripayatu, Angathari, and Verumkai - terms which she could handle with the greatest ease while my name was the only problem that she couldn’t digest!

And then came the parting shot. Just as I was about to leave the dais for my seat, she said “Just a minute Dr er er er - - - is there another name I can call you?”

Looking at my smiling face, none could have imagined how high the seismic rumblings inside me measured on the Richter scale. What the heck, I thought. I take trouble to learn the pronunciation of unfamiliar and difficult names of people. That’s basic decency. This head of the Institution should have done her homework and learnt to pronounce my name instead of making a song and dance about it.

“I have no other name”, I lied. Let her learn to pronounce my name, I thought angrily – but my face betrayed none of my feelings. It had a heavily sweetened smile on it.

“Oh”, she looked unhappy. Then brightening up she said, “What did you say your name was?”
I repeated.
She wagged her bobbed head like a little child who unexpectedly stumbled upon the extra terrestrial she wanted to meet desperately.
” Yes!” she declared triumphantly. “I’ll call you Kochu. That ok?” she asked, looking at me and beaming at the teachers who were watching this one minute drama which, to me, seemed to stretch out to eternity.

Thus, I was Kochu during the short period of over a year that I worked there. With my quaint name, an exotic aura surrounded me throughout my service there and I decided to bask in the feel good, privileged feeling it gave me. Make the best out of a bad situation, has always been my policy.

I can never cease to be grateful and appreciative of the CEO of an organization I worked for in Mumbai before I joined this college. He was a Bengali I think, and was the only one in the organization who called me Kochuthresiamma - that too with the greatest ease and perfect phonetic and syllabic accuracy. The others resorted to my pet name which I shared with them because I met them informally, unlike the fiasco introduction episode described earlier. Whenever the CEO gave me an unrealistic deadline, I’d honour it each time, no matter how hard or impossible. Such was the impact of calling me the way I should be called. Without any distortion, stumbling, ridiculing.

My name - no matter how terrible it is – is part of my identity, and respecting my name is respecting my identity.

I have a pair of twin nieces, almost identical but I’ve had no problem distinguishing one from the other. But for some reason I used to think of them not as individuals but as two in one – which, I suppose, they resented. There was a time when I used to bungle up their names and call one by the other’s name. At one point they decided enough was enough. They wouldn’t respond to my question if I addressed X as Y, and vice versa. They’d wait till I realized my mistake and corrected myself. Only then would they respond to me. That’s when their separate identities emerged for me, and my eyes were opened to the fact that the two are so different from each other, and each had an individuality of her own.

Yes, my name is part of me. No wonder it is said that remembering names and calling people by their correct names are so important in effective PR and HR management.

I hope all future parents, particularly Keralite parents who read this blog will realize that when you name your children, you are confering on them a factor that plays a major role in identity formation. Despite the unpronounceable name that I was given by him, I am so grateful to my father for sparing me such names as Shito (d/o or s/o of Shinu and Tommy), or BDP (Birth Day Present cos she was born on her father’s birthday) or all those terrible names that we mallus come up with.

My name at least has a history, geography, tradition and a cultural content to it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Many Indias - Haphazard Thoughts

I would not have touched this issue with a barge pole, but since the Indian Express has given it an editorial status, I feel I too can talk about the issue of a north south divide in India.

The Express pointed out that the headlines of national newspapers highlighted that the national films awards were bagged by the SOUTH, and raises the question if South and North are different countries.

My experience of living in many parts of India confirms that there is indeed such a divide in the minds of Indians, a fact which seeps through inevitably into the language of their daily parlance.

And there is animosity too – perhaps not with too serious consequences generally. The Shiv Sainik hostility towards the 'Southies' in the sixties and seventies and towards the 'Northies' in the present century, which translates into violent assault, is an isolated localised phenomenon.

When you look closely at the issue, certain nuances become visible. These complexities emerge in metros like, say, Mumbai. Mumbaikers don’t consider themselves North Indians, something which deep down in Kerala, I hadn’t realized. In Mumbai, I’ve had my head bitten off a couple of times for referring to Mumbaikers as North Indians. Mumbaikers are “West” Indians, a category with intelligence and sophistication superior to the rest of India. A slip of the tongue and you refer to them as East Indian, you’ll have your head broken into smithereens – for that is a category for with they have supreme contempt. So we have the North, South, and the West.

From the Kerala where I grew up, I formed the notion that all North Indians are cerebrally challenged, except the Bengalees for whom Mallus have some sneaking admiration. And so it is common to hear us Mallus trying to list out the points of similarities between the Mallu and the Bengalees – fish eating and rice eating habits, light colour of the saree women wear, intelligence, Marxism blah blah blah. My take on this issue is mallus and bongs are as different as two people can possibly be – neither for better nor worse.

Sorry for the digression. To return to the subject in hand - There was a time in my unenlightened youthful days when my friends and I earnestly believed that all ‘Northies’ were ‘Bhaiyyas’, which was a derogatory term used to dismissively speak of the inferior intelligence of North Indians who, we admitted, were fair and beautiful and - well that’s it. Nothing more. The term Bhaiyya as a belittling term was so ingrained in my mind that when my nieces and nephews, in all respect for him, added the word 'bhayya' to my son’s name (because they or somebody thought that chetan or angala was too naadan), I used to cringe inside and pray earnestly that he would not grow up to earn that name! Thank God, in my mid thirties, I was completely cured about my biased and stupid notions of graded intelligence among the Indians.

Within the southern states, there is this highly ethnocentric notion about the cerebral capacities of the denizens of the four states. Mallus are supremely contemptuous of the talmilians -‘Pandis’ as they call them. The term has a lot of negative connotations, mostly related to unintelligence, colour and lack of sophistication. Regarding the Kannadigas, we talk of all Gowdas as Goondas. I once heard a Mallu assert very authoritatively that the origin of the word Gowda is Goonda!! But there is a huge, unconcealed admiration for the Andhraites. I don’t know what the other southern states think of the Mallus, but I know, from a friend, that they are very wary of us. “If you see a Cobra and Mallu, kill the Mallu first" is a favourite maxim, said my Tamilian friend.

It was during my stint in Mumbai that I came to know that the women with whom I worked (from all parts of India to the North of the Vindhyas) had a fascination for South Cottons. Most of my saris were light printed cottons made in cotton mills in Gujarat. We get them in plenty in Kerala. But my Mumbai friends used to insist that they were “South cottons”. They’d nearly faint in sheer ecstasy when I wear village cottons. Wear a Kasavu sari(Travancore cotton, as they call it), you’ll have to wear an thank-you placard round your neck - or you’d tire your tongue out and weaken you muscles around the mouth expressing and smiling your gratitude for the tsunami of tributes showered on your sari - from the student community too. So the divide also exercises itself in the act of exoticising that strange region to the south of the Vindhyas where a strange species called the Madrasis live!

I remember a common sentiment expressed in Kerala among educated Malayalees in the sixties. South India should have been a different country – at least it should be part of a loose Indian federation where the Centre would have control only over the defense matters. They (? I’m not sure who) were not fair to Kerala, it was felt. It was a case of taxation without representation! The state of kerala gets hardly any representation in the Central government or a decent budget allotment, but it contributes heavily to the Central coffers through exports – don’t ask me how/what -just bits and pieces I have heard and remember.

I remember a very painful incident while working in a college in Mumbai. My very good friend – a Mumbaiker – fumed into the department, dumped her books and handbag on her table, whirled around and asked me:
“What is this, molly? Is it to be given according to the whims of the President?”
I had no clue as to what she was talking about. Seeing me blink with incomprehension she said
”MS Subhalakshmi is getting Baharat Ratna”
“Well deserved, don’t you think?” I asked sincerely.
“What do you mean? Why does she deserve it more that Bhimsen Jhoshi?”
I could have told her that it was not just her singing skill that won her that honour – but didn’t venture to, seeing how agitated she was.
“I’ll tell you why. The President is a South Indian”. !!!!!!!!!

I chose to hold my peace. And it took her a week to forgive me for KR Narayanan, the President from Kerala favouring a South Indian by bestowing on her the highest award in the country.

This type of stereotyped thinking and the animosity it generates are not peculiar to India alone. Russel listed this tendency under the category 'intellectual rubbish' (One Englishman is equal to five French). Modern theorist have written/continue to write libraries of complex, involved abstract theories in strange unpalatable language to establish that there are no distinguishing features that are exclusive to any one category of people. But it’ll take aeons before we humans are able to relate to each other outside the contexts of caste, creed, nationality, class, ideology, race and what not.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Ruminating on Blog Responses

It might be only a tiny storm in the teacup brewing in my blogspace (triggered off by my post Burqa War) but to me it was a revelation and a coming to terms with a certain truth which I would not have missed had I read the writings on the wall instead of playing the ostrich.

And the terrible truth is that Young India is divided on the issue of secularism.

One section of educated young men pooh poohing the very idea of secularism the way my peers and I understood and internalized it, is a matter for serious worry. To them, those secular values that shaped the weltanschauung of my peers have become an anachronism.

Wonder how this happened. The post independence generation to which I belong believed that all Indians – Hindus, Musselman, Christian, Jain and Buddhist – are my brothers and sisters who will someday live like a large happy family.

What went wrong?

The constitution? And we grew up thinking India has the most democratic constitution!

Today, no one is happy. Neither the majority nor the minorities.

The secularism we believed in was built on a ‘live and let live’ policy and respect for all religions. The constitution, we believed, would ensure an equal space for all religious groups in the polity of the nation and there would be no state interference in the religious practices so long as there is no violation of fundamental rights.

Also, Minority Rights and other reservation policies were looked upon as an arrangement to give equal opportunity to those who were outnumbered or downtrodden for centuries. It was a way of providing a level playing field for a diverse population in a democratic dispensation.

And we believed all this - we believed in the constitution and the well intentioned reservations. Sacrifices and making space after all is part of nation building. Looking back, I realize that we believed ‘cos those who taught us the history of India and the nature of its post independent dispensation in the high schools, taught us with passion in their voice and pride and stars in their eyes. Not surprising, given that they grew up in an atmosphere charged with patriotism and a faith in the all inclusive model of democracy fathered by the Mahatma.

Unfortunately, the socioeconomic changes post independence reshuffled the century old economic order, and the losers of this change among the majority group had no privileges to resort to. This led to resentment, which in turn put the minorities on the defensive, giving rise to a vicious circle of action and reaction in many parts of the country.

It must be admitted that the minorities seized upon the privileges bestowed on them constitutionally as inalienable rights, became very possessive about them and often stretched the privileges to the point of offending the majority community.

A vast oversimplification, I know, but I was only constructing a rough scenario to show where the Machiavellian politicians stepped in and exploited the communal situation to serve their megalomaniacal ends.

When and how it happened I do not know but all on a sudden we realized that these politicians had invaded the campuses and cast a magical spell on the youth. And thus began the beginning of the end of young India’s faith in the visions of the founding fathers.

And this is not all. Corruption entered and became the order of the day in the Indian polity. The mode of development created many a discontented groups in the margins. The political will to address the terrible economic inequality was conspicuous by its absence. This undesirable atmosphere vitiated by self seeking politicians is what today’s youngsters have inherited. Any wonder that cynicism should prevail with regard to secularism and all those values imbedded in the constitution of our nation? When we dreamed in the early sixties, the world, despite all its problems, lay before us like a land of dreams – ‘cos there were dream merchants selling idyllic visions passionately in schools, in media and in the homes. Today’s young India has the failure of those dreams as their experience of the young democracy, and for mentors, it has hardened criminals/ Machiavellian politicians, ever on the lookout for chelas whom they can exploit and use as pawns in the dirty power game. The youngsters grew up hearing from these anti social elements, stories about the delicious taste of power.

So what if power corrupts, they are not ashamed to ask.

I was surprised to read a comment which protested against the banning of politics in the campuses as it amounted to banning ‘progressive’ activities!!?? This, he argued, gave rise to communalism among the youth! As a teacher from Kerala where the educational institutions are the breeding ground for cantankerous and ruthless politicians, I strongly disagree with this statement. Of course, we have had a few shining stars among politicians who came from the youth wings of parties; but they are exceptions rather than the rule. How campus politics can be termed ‘progressive’ when we have known cases of brilliant students being moulded into hardened criminals and goondas and goonda kingpins by campus politics, I simply fail to understand.

A college in Kerala with a long tradition of having produced many illustrious sons to serve the country in the highest and important positions, has today the dubious honour of having produced a new breed of political goondas who, with their muscle power, assist politicians in their mission to acquire disproportionate assets. These goondas are groomed to break every law in the country, indulge in violence and murder for their political gurus in exchange for protection and asylum.

Islam Bashing.

Another distressing fact that emerges from the blog responses is Islam bashing. A cursory glance at the comments of the blog visitors of my post Burqua War will show what I mean. While I agree that the minorities in India often forget that they are privileged, I cannot fall in line with these Islam bashers. Their strategy is to point to the past. They quote history – selectively and bypass the power politics (clash of civilizations, as it is now finally and honestly christened) dating back from the Crusades continuing through the imperial rhetoric in which Islam was demonized and finally down to the present times when the imperial countries manipulated world affairs with the greatest ease to become the self styled arbitrators of the destiny of oil producing Islamic nations. These are realities that no one can wish or will away. One cannot isolate the origins of Islamic fundamentalism from these truths.

I think we should turn to history to learn how not to make the mistakes of the past. Let’s not turn to history to find sticks to beat any group.

I would say religious leaders of all groups have failed secular India. With each one baying for his pound of flesh I would say “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”. The religion I follow very strictly teaches “Give to Ceaser what is Caesar’s”. It can’t be any different in other religions too.

The Agnostic Angst

And finally there is another category that has become vocal in the blogsphere– the atheists/agnostics. Most of them opt for it out of disgust for the religions that are polarizing the nation. To this category I’d say: Adopt a live and let live policy. Centuries have taught us that humans need God. Having said that, we should do everything in our power to create that felt need among our countrymen to build an India where Humans, Gods and the Godless can live in perfect harmony.