Friday, December 31, 2010

My first effort at New Year Resolutions

Another new year round the corner, and as usual I asked my self what I resolved to do or not to do in 2011.

I still haven’t found the answer, cos presiding over my deliberations on this issue was my own face, looking on with a mocking smile as though to say why this farce? Have you ever kept your resolutions?

That sets me thinking. Have I ever given any thought to my New Year resolutions beyond the moment I make it? The train of thoughts takes me to the first New year resolution I ever made.

The earliest resolution I remember was made in the second standard after Sister S, the class teacher described to the class what New Year Resolutions were. I don’t now remember what she told us, but I do remember us children sharing the resolutions we made with each other.

During the noon interval, Chitra announced , ‘ Each time my mother gives me money to buy a toffee from Babychettan’s shop, I’ll buy it and give it to Sr S for charity’ (she stumbled over the word 'charity' for that’s the first time we'd heard that term). She then looked at me and said, “Eddo Molly, can you give me one toffee every day, because I wont have any when I give mine away?’

‘No’, I replied emphatically. ‘ I buy two toffees every day. I’ ll give one to charity daily. You give one from what you buy’

‘I buy only one everyday. If i give that to charity, i wont have one for myself; and if you give to Sister S for charity, you’ll become Sister’s pet’.

‘If you give, you’ll become her pet. Why should I spend money to make you Sister’s pet?’ I countered. (My father was a businessman and I guess that streak of business acumen about getting money’s worth, was in my blood).

‘You are mean’, Chitra screamed.

‘What about you?(appol thaano?). ‘You are cunning. You want to make me spend money and then take the credit for yourself’. My voice had risen and a crowd was beginning to gather around us, like it happens in lower primary when two kids fight.

‘You always buy two toffees. I buy only one. Why cant you give me one?’ Chitra was beginning to scream.

‘Yes. Why can’t you give her one if you buy two toffees everyday?’ butted in a third standard student who had just joined the crowd.

Angry that a senior had supported Chitra, I whirled around and screamed, gesticulating wildly. “She buys one toffee every day. Why should I give her too?’

‘She wants to give it to charity’, said Rema, one of my classmates who’d been a witness to our exchange right from the beginning.

‘Let her either eat her sweet or give it to charity. I’ll eat one and then give one to Charity’. I was livid with anger because of the support Chitra was getting.

‘But she thought of it first’, said the wise but partisan Rema, ‘and now you are stealing her idea’.

I lost it. ‘If it was her idea, let her give her sweet. I’ll also give my sweet to charity. That’s my New Year resolution too’, I all but yelled.

The crowd had been steadily growing. The little onlookers were asking each other what the bone of contention was. Groups were talking animatedly to each other. Sides were being taken. The crowd split itself – physically- into two parts. My supporters stood behind me, literally, and Chtra’s, behind her. I was happy to note that the size of the two sections was even. It soon became my friends against Chtra’s.

Rema, the leader of the Chitra camp shouted, ‘you are mean and cheap. You want to become Sister S’s pet. So you are stealing Chitra’s idea’.

Vidya, who took upon herself the leadership of my camp retorted sneeringly.’Chitra is cheaper. She wants to eat at Molly’s expense and still get popular with sister S. Is that a decent thing to do?’

A huge volley of protest rose from the Chitra camp. It soon became a shouting match between Rema and me, Chitra, and Vidya, Rejiv and Shirley, Lija and Betsy, Lulu and Shobana - - -. Little girls and boys jerking their heads, flaying their arms, yelling and screaming.

Then the bell rang to indicate that the noon interval was over.

I wanted to have the last word and so I shouted at the top of my voice, ‘ I have decided to give one sweet to charity everyday’.

Silence followed. Then someone asked. “Who’s charity?”

Chitra and I looked at each other, but said nothing. We had no idea if it was a person, place or thing.

Then Rejiv, the Mr. Know-all in our class who could lie without batting an eyelid, came to our rescue. Pointing to the orphanage run by the nuns, he said ‘She’s a cute little girl who lives in that orphanage'.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Great Love Story of Christmas

It’s three hours past midnight on December 25, 2010 and I decide to liberate Christmas from the habits and memories of childhood that surround this festival. Of course cakes and ale, crib and carols, appam and stew and the lunch spread I would not give up. But surely Christmas is more than all that, I tell myself.

What is it? Why is it what it is?

I pause and think – deeply.

And realize that Christmas is a celebration of love. Love born in a stable in Bethlehem some two thousand odd years ago, and culminated on the cross at Gogotha. Greater love this no man has than he who lays down his life for his friends.

It was a love that revolutionized human thinking. Guess I should qualify the term ‘human’ to European.

The love story from Bethlehem to Golgotha showcases a love that is







It’s a love that negates the ego.

The brutal civilizations of Europe did not understand this love fully then. It does not understand it today too. Nevertheless, it drove home some concepts superficially, and thus the violent games in the massive arenas of the “great ancient civilizations” eventually lost their legitimacy. The idea of human rights was sown in the European minds, though these rights continued to be violated.

This is what Christianization of Europe means. It’s a shift in the Weltanschauung of a people leading to a sea change in a brutal, depraved civilization. A worldview, which provided for human rights, saw its origins in that cradle in Bethlehem.

I sometimes wonder what would have been the fate of the colonized world if the European countries that colonized the Asian countries had not been touched by Christianity. Arenas that host the depraved gladiator games would have sprung up in every conquered nation, in addition to those brutal practices that were integral part of the barbaric civilizations of Europe.

It is this that we celebrate on the Christmas day, though we don’t pause over it long enough to realise it. We celebrate the love story began in Bethlehem that humanized the brutal civilizations of Europe which later undertook the brutal projects of colonization.

I shudder to think of the predicament of the colonies (which were bad enough) without the restraining hand of Christianity.

P S. It is a matter of immense pride to the Indian subcontinent that five hundred years before this great love story of Bethlehem began, it had produced a Buddha who fine-tuned the then existing Weltanschauung of the region with ahimsa, equity and compassion.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Initially, I wanted to give this post the title MALLUS AND BONGS. Then I settled for the present one ‘cos I felt it’d invite more hits:-)

What provoked this post is an oft-repeated claim (which I heard today again) that mallus and bongs are very similar in many aspects. A couple of years back, a junior research scholar brought in this idea in her presentation at a seminar. I was sorely tempted to give my take on it during the discussion time but refrained, knowing that it was her maiden presentation, and negative reaction could dampen her spirits.

The basis for this claim is ridiculous, and is this: both people have rice for staple food, and are incurable fish eaters. The women of both states wear light coloured sari. Both states were pioneers in Marxism.

They were a few more points of similarity, which I don’t now remember, but they too were equally superficial and silly as the above mentioned ones.

My take on this is this. Mallus and bongs are as different as two people can possibly be, and neither is the looser on account of it. The two have nothing in common. Marxism in both states is the result not of similarity of the people but on account of certain cultural, political and social factors which are totally different in both states.

But what irritates me is the sense of pride with which this claim is made by mallus. Why should mallus take pride in these so-called similarities? Cant we be happy just being ourselves? Do we need a point of reference to prove our worth?

Some time back, a rather prominent mallu media person in an English channel was asked about her mallu origins. The emphasis with which she stated that her connection with Kerala is minimal as she was born and brought up elsewhere made me want to throw a rotten tomato at her.

What is so shameful about Kerala that we should be so ashamed of our roots? I find this common among mallus who grew up or live outside the state. I wonder if this is on account of them being trapped in the stereotypical images of kerala and its people that have been doing the rounds in the country for a long time.

In this context, I am reminded of that national integration video that was made in 1986 (or ’87 – I’m not sure), and played in doordarshan over and over again. All the states were represented by people or milieu that reflected development or sophistication of those states. When Kerala’s turn came, it was a lungi (only) clad mahout sitting on an elephant singing entey swaravum, ningaludey swaravum - - - - -. It used to make me immensely angry that this was the official image of kerala that was being propagated. Bengal was represented by a coated and booted Arun lal and some other celebrities in starched or raw silk kurtha stepping elegantly out of electric train in slow motion. In contrast, the mallu is projected as evolutionary dropout, not having progressed beyond the half naked phase and the pachydermal mode of transportation.

I think, as a people, we Keralites have a lot to be proud of. Let no one convince us otherwise.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

On Being Secular

I visited a cousin whom I respect much. He’s a level headed, intelligent, generous, soft spoken and honest person - you know the type of person who never intrudes into your space but who’s always around when you are in need.

We were talking in the family room on the first floor when I noticed a beautiful rare picture of Christ. Seeing me looking at it, he gave me its history, and added without my asking. ‘I didn’t put it in the drawing room, though it is worth displaying there. I decided to be secular’.

Well, that was a strange statement to make, for implicit in it was the notion that secularism signified absence of affiliation to any religion.

My cousin – let’s call him Suresh, is a believer. At least he is not a non-believer. He was always wary of questioning the existence of God. He’d rather play it safe. He did all the right things like going to church on Sundays and putting his children through catechism classes and ensuring they received the sacraments at the proper time as prescribed by the Church and society.

Yet he was reluctant to declare to the world that he was a Christian.

I thought hard on that issue.

If he does not want to flaunt his religion, it’s good. But the reluctance to admit that he is a believer for fear it’d would invest him with a non-secular image is, I think, a misreading of the concept of secularism.

Secularism does not demand disaffiliation from religion. Nor does it demand affiliation to any religion. It imperatively demands respect for religions other than yours, and respect for religions even though you do not believe in any.

Elementary, my dear Watson, you might say, but believe me, I find a lot of people who share Suresh’s anxiety about jeopardising their secular image if the world comes to know that they are believers.

An ardent Buddhist/Christian/Jain/Hindu/Muslim is secular if she/he respects other religions and the right of others to follow religions of their choice.

A committed atheist is secular if he respects the right of others to believe in God and recognizes their right to follow the religion of their choice. I think it is more difficult for an atheist to be secular than it is for a believer.

In my foolish younger days, I had a heated discussion with a rationalist cousin who was ridiculing me ‘cos I was a believer.

‘To agree with you that there is a god is like agreeing that the earth is flat and not round’, he roared.

‘It’s proved that the earth is round’, I retorted, equally loud, ‘ but is it proved there is no God?”

“Is it proved there is one?’ he yelled thrusting his forefinger intimidatingly into my face.

‘Is it proved there isn’t one?’ I too yelled, thrusting my forefinger towards the ceiling. His mother who is my aunt was watching this exchange with considerable interest and disapproval.

Ideologically, she was on my side but blood is thicker, and so she wanted to see her college going son outsmart me who had just joined as a lecturer in the local college. Besides, I was a woman who shouldn’t be arguing loudly and gesticulating in an unladylike manner.

IT IS NOT PROVED THERE IS A GOD, he thundered. My aunt quickly stepped in.

‘Both of you have proved your points’, she said. Probably, she realized that I was in no mood to relent and she didn’t want to see her niece disgrace herself with rising decibel levels and body language that is not conventionally associated with a ‘woman’.

I do not know how valid my argument was, but I do know his argument did not convince me. Probably because even as a toddler I had taken that leap of faith which made me so dependent on the God concept for my existence.

But I am a secular person, cos I respect a person’s right to question the existence of God – as long as he doesn’t thrust his convictions on me (like my cousin did) aggressively.

I got very unpopular with close relatives and friends sometime back when I argued that the there could be truth in the story of Ganapathy statues drinking milk. I don’t normally believe such impossible stories unless I see these things happening. But my journalist niece – a hardcore rationalist – told me she saw it happen. She couldn’t offer any explanation for the way milk disappeared from the bowl when it was held to the trunk of the Ganapathy figure. She was an eyewitness to this.

Till someone offers a scientific explanation for that strange phenomenon, I’ll believe that was a supernatural phenomenon – a miracle just as I believe in the miracles claimed by the Christian religion.

I believe God manifests himself in many forms. I believe every religion is a search for God. I am content being a Christian. This religion that I was born into gives me answers to the existential questions. But I don’t claim that this is the only religion that shows the way in the human quest for God.

And I do not believe in judging other religions.

Believe (or don’t believe) and let believe (or let not believe). That’s my idea of being secular.

This live and let live policy is the basis – the only basis – for secularism.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

True story: Chaya - Part 1

This story was told by Rejini. Chaya is one of the four women whom Rejini tried to help out. There is much in common in the tales of all four women. The resilience and the sense of responsibility of the women are the most common factors. Rejini has come to the conclusion that Indian men from the economically backward class are usually worthless creatures. A sweeping generalisation? Or is it true?

She lives in Mumbai, the youngest daughter of a mill worker who owned a room in a chawl in downtown Mumbai. She had a younger brother who was a kid when their parents died. The house (the room) was bequeathed to her, ‘cos she looked after her parents. She and her brother lived in that house after the death of their parents.

Chaya was not literate. She worked in the nearby apartment complex, in two or three flats, and earned enough to eke out a rather decent living.

Then her troubles began. She met a young man who had a decent job in a central government concern and they got married – in a temple. He hailed from some remote area in Maharashtra, and moved into her house. Soon they had a son.

When the son was two years old, her husband went to his village to see his parents who had refused to accept Chaya as their daughter in law, as she brought no dowry. He returned after two weeks and informed Chaya that his family had forced him to get married. That marriage was properly registered. He was apologetic. He couldn’t resist the family pressure, he told her. With his public sector job, he was an eligible bachelor in his community, and when the proposal came from a girl who would bring a fat dowry, the family fell for it. Chaya’s husband buckled under the pressure from his community. It did not matter to the bride and her family that he had another wife – no wife as far as they were concerned.

Soon he started shuttling between the two wives. Chaya proved to be a convenient arrangement for him ‘cos she provided the accommodation. In Mumbai free accommodation is a bonanza.
In the meanwhile, Chaya found a new employer who was genuinely interested in her welfare. So she gave up her other jobs and was happy working for Rejini, her new employer. The main attraction was the fact that Rejini did not mind chaya bringing her little son when she came to make rotis in the evening. The other memsahib’s used to make a fuss. She came to work for Rejini in the morning after her son went to school. In the evenings the mother and son came together. The son sat watching the TV which Rejini’s children switched on for him.

Now, Rejini was a South Indian. She was a person genuinely interested in human beings and loved listening to their stories. It didn’t take her long to realise that Chaya’s life would soon run into rough weather. She tried to warn Chaya, to tell her the present arrangement did not portend well for her. Chaya was not receptive to the warning.

“You don’t know amma(she called her amma ‘cos she thought all south Indians are ammas). My husband is a very good man”, she asserted.

“Then why did he marry again?” Rejini asked.

“What could he do when the parents, relatives and other prominent members of his community insisted. He needs them too in his life, no?’

Rejini could not believe her ears. Chaya seemed to be so happy and content. It did not seem to matter to her that she was sharing her husband with another woman.

“He takes care of us”, Chaya continued. “He is putting our son through a private school and he goes by the school bus. He buys the expensive uniforms and books for him’.

“Then why do you have to work?”, Rejini asked.

“Some extra money is always welcome. After all i have to look after my brother. He does not have a job yet.”

At the beginning of the school year, Rejini asked her if she needed some help.

“No amma, my husband will take care of everything”.

Then one day, Chaya brought her son when she came to work in the morning.

“ It’s a holiday today”, she said by way of explanation.

“But i saw others from the same school going to school in the morning”, countered Rejini. Many children from the apartment went to the same private school and Rejini knew them from their uniforms.

“Only his class has a holiday today. The class teacher is not well”, explained Chaya, looking away.
Rejini said nothing though she knew that Chaya was not speaking the truth. The boy accompanied her the next day and the next and the next.

“Why isn’t he going to school?”, asked Rejini.

“I told you, his teacher is not well’, Chaya said.

“I know that’s not true”, said Rejini sternly. ‘don’t lie to me. Why isn’t Sanjay going to school”

Chaya was silent and continued chopping vegetables. Rejini snatched the knife from her hand threw it into the kitchen sink and snapped, ”Chaya, look at me. Why isn’t Sanjay going to school? I want an answer”

“My husband did not have money to pay the bus fees”, blurted out Chaya.

Rejini was distressed. “Listen Chaya, this is going to be the shape of things to come. Get his TC from the school and put him in this school”, said Rejini pointing to the government school adjacent to the apartment.

Chaya was indignant. “My husband won’t let me do that. He doesn’t want his son to go to government school. The company is bad. Teaching is not proper”

Rejini tried to persuade her.

“Don’t worry amma. He’ll get some arrears today and we’ll pay the bus fee.

The next day, Chaya came alone. She looked triumphantly at Rejini with that i –told- you- so look.

A month later, Sanjay came with his mother in the morning.

“Bus fees?”, Rejini asked.

“School fees too”, said Chaya. She kept her eyes hooded. “He is finding it difficult to run two households. How can i blame him?’ she asked, a little defiantly.

“Will you advance salary for bus fees?”. It was the first time that she asked for an advance.

“No”, said Rejini. “But I’ll take care of his needs if you transfer him to this school”.

“Ok”, she said meekly.

Sanjay, thus started going to the state run school.

Soon, Rejini noticed that a change had come over Chaya. She was subdued, preoccupied.

“What’s wrong?” Rejini asked her one day.

“Last week his other wife came home and started fighting with me. She said i was fleecing him.”

‘He doesn’t give her money? Doesn’t he support her?” He had a child by her too.

“No. He can’t handle the situation and so he has taken to gambling. He doesn’t give either of us anything.”

“Then don’t let him into your house”, Rejini suggested.

“It’s not easy for a woman like me to live in that locality without a husband”. She was still young and it was not the safest of places for a pretty young woman like her.

AS days passed, Rejini noticed that Chaya was growing quieter and quieter, and was also getting absent minded. One day, Chaya’s neighbour Sunenda ,who worked in the opposite flat, asked to meet Rejini.

“Chaya is having problems at home. Her brother wants the house to be transferred to his name. Madam, you please tell her not to do that.”

Rejini was horrified. She confronted Chaya with the issue.

‘What do you propose to do?’

“I don’t know”, she said. “My sisters are forcing me to give the house to my brother. They say that it is not a done thing for the woman to inherit family property,” she said.

“But your parents gifted it to you. There is no law against it”, Rejini told her.

“ My siblings come home every day and quarrel with me over this”.

Rejini told her she’ll get in touch with activists and sort it out.

“I know legally the house is mine. And if i involve activists, or go to the court, nobody can take it away from me, but madam, you will go away soon and who will be there for me if i antagonise all my relatives?”

Chaya transferred the house to her never -do -well brother and in two months time she was thrown out. Sunenda, the good soul who informed me about the problem persuaded her parents to give Chaya and her son a small space in one of the rooms they had in a chawl.

“A tiny room amma”, said Chaya, “ half the size of this kitchen. We cook and sleep and keep all our belongings in that room. I have to pay Rs 500/ as rent”

Next month Chaya told Rejini she was pregnant.

Two months later she had bleeding and went to a local “doctor’ who told her the child got aborted.

“Didn’t you go to the hospital?”, Rejini asked.

“i went to her clinic. She said the foetus is gone completely, and nothing more needs to be done,’

Two months later, Rejini’s college going daughter pointed out to the mother that Chaya is losing weight but has developed a paunch. Chaya noticed that her daughter was right and a terrible suspicion took root in her mind.

“Chaya, why don’t you see a gynaecologist?’ Rejini asked.

“i was planning to go to our doctor. I haven’t got my periods after the abortion”.

Rejini hauled her to a proper gynec who, after examining Chaya, confirmed that she was still pregnant. “Four months if i go by the dates she gave me.’

“What was that bleeding about”, Rejini asked.

‘i don’t know. Anyway, the child is still intact.”

“Will it be ok?. After all she had bleeding when she was 2 months pregnant”, asked Rejini anxiously.

“Let’s hope all’ll be fine”, the doctor said.

Meanwhile, Rejini’s husband’s transfer orders came and they had to leave on the 5th of July for Kerala. Rejini was upset about Chaya.

Chaya was shattered.

“There’s a hospital in Bandra run by nuns”, Rejini told her.” I met them last week and asked them if they will take you in. They have a convent in Telegaon where they have quarters for helpers. There is a school also in the compound. I have asked them to give you a job in that convent. If they take you, you can stay in the quarters and your son can go to the school. They want to see you before they take a decision. We’ll go there this Monday itself. We have to leave for Kerala on Thursday.”

Chaya was happy, and brightened up at the thought of the security this arrangement would give her.

On Monday morning Rejini got ready and waited for Chaya. She didn’t come at the appointed time. Those were the days when maids did not have cell phones; so there was no way of contacting Chaya.

An hour later, the door bell rang. Rejini opened the door. Sunenda stood there with a hesitant smile on her face.

“Madam, Chaya has delivered. A baby girl”

“But that’s premature”, exclaimed Rejini. “Is the baby ok?”

“It’s not premature”, explained Sunenda.”Chaya got her dates all wrong. The delivery was normal and the baby is fine”.

As Rejini closed the door, she found herself thinking of the ignorance and helpless of that class of women in Mumbai. In Kerala, her state, women – even the poorest of the poor - were much more enlightened and empowered.

(to be continued in Chaya 2)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Strange are the ways of the human mind!

I’ve always considered myself to be a level headed person and so I’ve been a little embarrassed to talk about my reaction to the totally unexpected news that my mother had passed away.

I rushed to kochin from kottayam early morning when my brother informed me that amma was hospitalized in the small hours if the morning with a chest pain. He assured me that the doc said it’s not really serious. Since she had had a heart attack ten years earlier (after which she’d been perfectly ok), I thought I wont wait for further development. She might need me to look after her.

She was in the IC unit when I saw her. She looked pale but was cheerful as usual.

‘Any pain, amma?’ I asked.

‘In the chest, but doc says it’s only muscular’

‘I’ll go home and get your lunch’, I told her when the sister told my brothers and me that our time’s up and we have to leave the IC unit.

“What do u want amma?’ I asked.

‘I’ve no appetite’, she said. ‘Anything’d do.’

“Shall get you your favourite stuff and kanji’, I told her.

‘OK’, she said smiling.

As we were about to go she asked, ‘Cant one of you stay with me? ’

‘What for ammachi?’ asked the chirpy sister. ‘So many of us are hear to look after you. They’ll be outside. We’ll call them whenever you want to see them. They’ve taken a by stander’s room”.

‘OK”, said amma shaking her head in agreement and smiling at all of us.

That’s the last I saw her alive. Looking back, I feel she knew her end was near – and the pain was bad. Just like her to take it all smiling.

I went home-prepared kanji, bitter gourd thoran and tomato chutney – all her favourite and, with my brother, came back to the hospital. The visiting time was 5 o clock.

“Amma’ll really enjoy this hot kanji and her favourite dishes.’

‘We’ll make her eat it straightaway”, said my brother.

“Yes’, I said as we entered the hospital compound.

My younger brother and our friend were standing outside the hospital entrance from where they could see the gate. They didn’t move as we walked towards them. They faces were unsmiling. Even these unusual signals sent no message to me for amma’s death simply did not figure in my scheme of things then.

We approached them and my brother looked at us and said ‘she’s gone’

‘Where?’ I asked perplexed.

‘Amma died 15 minutes ago.” (Those were not days of cell phone).

I heard him. I felt nothing but a great worry took hold of me. What am I to do with the kanji and curries I’d brought? Who’s going to eat it? Oh my God, that was a real problem, I thought.

I could think of nothing else. The kanji I carried for amma was really troubling me.

Nothing else seemed important at that moment.

I remember raising the kit with the tiffin carrier in it and asking, ‘What will I do with this kanji?’

Our friend quietly took it from my hand. My brother stretched out his hands and gripped me above my elbows. He told me later I was swaying but I don’t remember feeling giddy or sick.

I still feel foolish when I think of my concern with the kanji. Today I realize that it was the way my mind protected itself from the impact of the shock – by deflecting itself to matters trivial till it was ready to absorb the shock.

Monday, December 06, 2010

What's The New Indian Express's Agenda

I’ve become very suspicious of the media. I see agenda where, perhaps, none exists.

The New Indian Express’s editorial coverage of the recent Bihar elections appears suspect to me. After the initial accolades showered on Nitish Kumar for his victory in Bihar, this paper has been systematically trying to discredit him. A week back the editorial made a serious effort to dampen the public enthusiasm over the verdict of the people of Bihar in support of the better law and order situation, and the development that Nitish Kumar brought to the state. The newspaper made an editorial issue of the increase in the criminlisation of politics under him, the number of elected candidates with criminal background being the indicator. Today’s editorial points out how the total number of voted earned by the Nitish BJP coalition is terribly disproportionate to the seats they got. See this:

With less than 40 per cent of the vote, they took all but a fifth of the seats. Put another way , more than five in every 10 Biharis voted against, not for, the "massive mandate" winners. Nitish Kumar deserved another term, we believe; we feel even more strongly on the need to junk this grossly unfair system of voting for one guaranteeing proportional representation (PR).

Well, this is our electoral system. And the NIE wants to “junk” it now and revamp it!?! Strong demand, considering this has been our electoral system ever since independence. Why bring it up now? The discrepancy( if we can call it that) in the number of seats vis a vis the number of votes have always been mentioned by psephologists, media and the looser parties. But why is the NIE making an editorial song and dance of it NOW?

Does the paper have a pro-Congress agenda? Can anyone enlighten me on this?

I guess i have a wicked mind. Can't help wondering if the Congress and Lalu are shelling out to the paper. These days, one hears all sorts of things about the media and paid reporting.

The article:

We, like so many others in Bihar and else where, welcome the outcome of the assembly polls in that state. Yet, we'd like to apply a dampener to the torrent of words on the decisive mandate for development, change, et. al. For, this neat explanation owes itself not to the voters' choice but to the immense distortion of our firstpast-the-post (FPTP) system of voting. The landslide victory in Bihar for the incumbent coalition rests on no more than a three per cent improvement over what they polled in 2005.

With less than 40 per cent of the vote, they took all but a fifth of the seats. Put another way , more than five in every 10 Biharis voted against, not for, the "massive mandate" winners. Nitish Kumar deserved another term, we believe; we feel even more strongly on the need to junk this grossly unfair system of voting for one guaranteeing proportional representation (PR).

Take any election in India and you'll see this mangling of the voters' message. In the last assembly polls in Tamil Nadu, for instance, the AIADMK polled more than the DMK and got 35 seats less. The Congress and the DMDK both got 8.4 per cent of the total vote; the former got 34 seats and the latter, 1! In 2004, Rajasekhara Reddy became chief minister of Andhra when his party won a landslide majority over the ruling Telugu Desam; their respective percentage vote tallies were 38.6 and 37.6. This is nonsensical. It distorts our reading of history and our people. And, it leads to grotesque contortions in our polity , forcing political parties into artificial alliances to get into power or to keep it. On the other side, it breeds immense cynicism, for the individual vote does not count. In PR, by definition, every vote counts, equally. The criticism of PR is that it leads to instability: space at this point precludes us for refuting this.

Most of Europe has used it for close to a century, as have others for several decades, without any problem on stable governance. This apart, the aim of balloting is fair representation of voter views. All else is secondary .

FPTP can't do this even if there were only two parties contesting against each other. Nor can a system like the French one, where every seat has to be won by a majority; its distortions of voter mandate are as bad. Only a PR system does not.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

On Bharkha Dutt - When Idols Fall

Watching the discussion of the panel of editors on the Bharkha-Radia Controversy on NDTV yesterday added to my confusion rather than resolve it. I’d have liked it much better if it had helped to decide whether the media queen was guilty or not guilty.

In the past six months, a few of my idols crumbled. For me, the most painful fall was that Of Bharkha Dutt, Sashi Tharoor and Vir Sanghvi – in that order. This post is an introspective one. My concern is not whether, say, Bharkha is innocent or guilty, but with the way my mind grapples with disillusionment when an idol falls. The experience is very unsettling.

I’m trying to analyze what happens to the votary when deities prove to have feet of clay.

The mind tries to heal the wounds by fortifying itself to absorb it. It tries to adapt itself to the new reality of the painful wounds. When Sashi Tharoor’s personal agenda behind the Kochi IPL team was exposed by the sweat equity issue, I was upset. I had not only posted blogs in support of him during the elections, but also did my bit in my personal circles to promote him. Here was a man I thought who’d been above blame in his entire career. He appeared to be a genuine person anxious to contribute his mite to making his country a better place. When the scam broke, I told myself – this cant be true. It’s the north Indian lobby working against him and his state.

Then I looked for excuses to exonerate him. I told myself that he and only he could have put Kerala on the IPL map. I tried to invest his effort in this direction with epic proportions. But an uneasy feeling kept nagging at me. Is there no integrity left in this world? Is he too a part of the greedy herd?

Then I adopted the strategy of transforming the body (my mind) on which the wounds were inflicted. So what if he did it? At least, Kerala’d gain by it.

Then cynicism took over. Well, if one has to be effective, one has to play the game this way. I started telling people –so what if Karunakaran lined his pockets heavily building the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium? He did it, didn’t he? No one else could have done it. Isn’t he better than the honest but ineffectual angel like A K Antony?

The same with Bharkha – only in her case it was even more painful. A lot of people I know don’t like her, but I’ve always thought they were jealous. The clarity of her thinking, the felicity of expression and of course, and her guts - gosh she really did us proud.

When the Radia tapes were played by channels I thought – oh no! This cant be. Not she! She can’t be corrupt!

But the tapes were too damning.

So I eagerly listened to the NDTV show with Bharkha and the editors on the Tapes. I listened to it again online. I rejoiced when Bharkha said that she was only playing along with Radia in order to gather information. I believed her. But later I realized I believed her because I wanted to believe her. I didnt want to believe that she had greased her palm portfolio peddling. I admonished my mind when it took upon itself to wonder how much was her monetary share in this power-brokering business. I wanted to believe her when she said that it was an error of judgment on her part to have dealt with such people and made promises to be a go between when she had no intention of doing it. I wanted to believe her when she said she hadn’t perceived that the nexus between the corporates and the government was a big enough story to report.

But the last one was a little too difficult to swallow. No. So sharp a mind as Ms Dutt’s cannot miss the scandalous nature, and therefore the news value of that unholy intrigue which made a mockery of the democratic aspirations of the nation. Imagine, corporates calling the shots on whom to allot portfolios to. And it was painful to suspect that the Kargil heroine and the ruthless pursuer of truth was a key figure in brokering power that makes fools of the voter and the common man!

Soon I found that I couldn’t convince myself of her innocence. The seeds of doubt were sown and watered with ‘proofs’ that she claimed were doctored.

Then that strategy that smacks of cynicism came to my rescue. What if she is dishonest? Hasn’t she done stupendous work for more than two decades? Don’t I still look forward to We The People eagerly?

What if she does what everybody else in her field is doing? What if Shasi Tharoor did what all other IPL companies were doing>

This effort involves a change in the nature of the body (mind) on which the wounds were inflicted – you know a type of numbing with anesthetic and fortification with supplements. In plain speak, I try to compromise my principles, and the things I believe in. I tell myself values and principles are not absolute. They are time and circumstances bound.

Soon the wound shows signs of healing, and with them the pain begins to subside.

This is how idols and icons condition the thinking of their votaries. I realize this. I’m getting caught up in the discourses that they represent. New values are created.

I put a break on this thread of thinking. Integrity, I tell myself, is an eternal value. It cannot be compromised – not even for Barkha Dutt.

But I can’t help wishing that some miracle would happen and Bharkha would clear her name totally and regain her place on the pedestal.