Monday, December 29, 2008

Which creed are you?
Tired of taking decisions for yourself?
Racked in doubts over what you believe in and what you don’t?

No worries no more.

Now in your own neighborhood – Fellowships to Arrogate Right to Think for Yourself (F.A.R.T.Y)

Determine your set of believe by filing in details regarding:

What clothes you wear
The length of your hair
The number of times you pray
The size and shape of skull-cap or turban you wear

And get your scores in 7 days.

If you think you are what you are – a Hindu, Muslim or Sikh – think again. In fact, don’t think at all. Let FARTY decide for you.

In case you still disagree with our results sms us at 6969 and we’ll send around a bunch of goons to burn your house and lynch your family.

For more details, keep watching the news.

Haikus for today's morning fog

A fog
Thick as an open palm
In front of my sleepy and
Smiling eyes.

A grey hump
like a shadow behind a shadow
Bobbing in the distance leaving
A wake of sour milk and mulch.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Jalaa kar raakh kar dungaa

Almost as a corroboration to my previous mail, Bharat Verma, editor of Indian Defense review, in an article on rediff, underlines the following steps that India should implement against Pakistan:

  1. Snap diplomatic relations immediately.

  2. Declare Pakistan a terrorist State.

  3. Discontinue all trains and bus services as well as trade and business transactions.

  4. Announce renegotiations of the Indus Water Treaty as the terms unduly favour Pakistan.

  5. Begin a process to regulate the water supplies and build new mechanisms to activate water flow controls.

  6. Cancel permissions for over flights.

  7. Seal the Nepal and Bangladesh borders on a priority basis.

  8. Build a grand alliance of democracies by increasing their stakes in the burgeoning economic pie of India, to leverage their support against authoritarian regimes on our border including Pakistan.

  9. Increase immediately FDI in the defence sector from 26 percent to 49 percent. This will help India to emerge as the most modern technology driven defence industry hub in Asia while making it profitable for Western companies to invest.

Whoa! It surprise me as Mr. Verma, must be aware that India has borne much more provocation than Taj attack.

Mr. Verma asks “Imagine if ten trained terrorists from Karachi can hold the financial capital of India to ransom for days, what will happen if 500 pour in from different points in to the country?”

A lot worse Mr.Verma.

But what you suggest would, at one go, put to waste a ten years series of diplomatic efforts where we have scaled from a perpetual war threat in the late eighties and early nineties to a point that even reunification was suggested a couple of years back.

It takes years to start a bus and only minutes to stop it.

Do ten terrorists really qualify for a war putting at risk approximately one third of the world’s entire population?

This is not a pacifist argument. But war should only be a last resort.

Terrorism is price I am willing to pay as being an Indian. Much as the RSS would not like it, the foundation stone of India is not Hindutva but the convent under which it was formed. A composite of annexed British territory and some five hundred odd “puppet” kingdoms (the claim of Kashmiris that they were not a part of British India is as ridiculous as that of Hyderabad or Patiala), the foundations of modern India are as practical as that of the other great democracy across the Atlantic – a guardian of rights of all its citizens. Mukul Keshavan points out that tho’ it is possible to be individually different in America but not collectively (even the blacks had to don suits, forget their native tongues and praise Lord Jesus before being assimilated into the mainstream power equations); but being Indian gives the right to be collectively different also. Hence a Naga tribal is as much Indian as a Keralite Christian. The inherent greatness of this ambition is bound to create a lot of friction at its borders. Much of the world is still reeling under the fundamentalist ideologies harking back to millennia ago; fascism, xenophobia still rule and the concept of India is very hard to sell.

But we have sustained. After sixty years we are still there. We bore the worst of crises and threats, but we didn’t survive by the bullet but by giving the right of ballot to even the dissidents (the Manipur secessionist who gave up arms in ’86 and went on to contest elections and even form governments is an excellent example).

War-monging to relatively minor (yes you heard that: minor) provocations like these is not the answer.
True, Pakistan is involved but what is Pakistan now? Is it the army or the puppet government or the intelligentsia? If we go by Mr. Verma’s recommendations, we will be playing right into the hands of the institution that has made Pakistan what it is today. A war devastated Pakistan is going to be a guarantee of another fifty years of trouble in our own backyard.

Instead, let’s concentrate on our own homework: improve our intelligence and human-rights record against minorities.

Mr. Verma’s essay is an excellent argument as to why defense forces should not be engaged in handling delicate issues like foreign affairs.

Pak military staging a comeback through Taj terror

An excellent article on how Pak army might have planned the Bombay terror attack to gain back the dominant role it has played in the story of Pakistan.

Throughout history, the role of the army in creating the perception of external threat to seize power is well known. Nobody understood it better than Hitler. If you convince your people that they are in danger of getting annihilated, you can convince them to relinquish their fundamental rights.

Those Indians who ask for increased role of army in the country's affair, even military rule, need to first understand that the most brutal pages of history have been written by the blood of civilians in the hand of armies. No, repeat no, military junta has reversed the inevitable pattern of suspensions of all fundamental rights, gunning down students, house arresting and executing political dissidents and sending the country back to twenty years.

An army is not a jawan with a beaming soldier with a rose in the barrel of his gun. An army is a trained killing machine - a necessary evil. Like any beast trained to kill, civilian control, no matter how inefficient, is absolutely necessary to contain the Dr. Hyde that lurks in any military.

But of course we Indians can't be bothered to delve into the deep mechanics of political events and the patterns of millenia of civilizations. We would rather hop from hysteria to hysteria, latch onto insignificant news bytes as statements of times, attempt to deny history and pat ourselves on our backs to the greatness of our civilizations and leer at each other that 'Hum toh aise hi hain.'

Our heroes are third-grade star sons, our national obsession, Bollywood, dishes the same fare to sixty-year old adults as six-year old kids, and we consider juvenalia like Rang De Basanti as serious political commentary of our times.

It's no accident that even after the so called awakening of India against terror, our sense of "patriotism" takes these ridiculous displays and RNBDJ is a runaway hit.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The wrath of Gods: Rab Ne Banaa Di Jodi

After a long time, I submitted myself to the tortures of a mainstream (incidentally the main streams in India are the gutters running proud and gushing in the middle of the streets) Hindi movie.

The movie was Rab ne banaa di jodi – from the messiah of love himself, Aditya the Chopra.

Aditya Chopra was born in the year 1955 to a family of renowned surgeons. Unfortunately, he lost his father to a brain surgery that he attempted on himself, and his mother to an accident where she sat on a scalpel. After his adoption, the young Chopra spent most of his time sighing and drawing tattoos of breasts around his young nipples (Incidentally, in an interview, he claimed that he still has nipples the red of a Washington apple: thankfully, the reporter didn’t ask him to prove his claim).
It’s around this time that devotees claimed that Aditya first uttered the word – “love”. Adtiya, again in an interview, claims that the idea sprang on him when he saw a dog in heat hold in abeyance a horde of others for a bitch. Unfortunately, what had really sprung on him that day was a close friend, young Karan Johar, who, so far, had restricted his “weirdness” to begging his male friends to let him shake off the last drops of their pee.
This was the start of Aditya’s first relationship and, tho’ too timid for drugs, he confesses that he did experiment with agarbattis and dhoops.
Growing up, Aditya fell into a depression and confided in his dad about his condition. ‘Well maybe it’s because you’re so fucking stupid’, his dad helpfully suggested.

The rest of the story is well known. Frightened by the complicated adult heights that his father had taken the notion of relationships with movies like Silsila and Kabhi kabhi, Aditya plotted a return to a pristine-white naivety. Not for him the idea of cheating husbands and wives, the contradictions and ambivalence of relationships. For Adi all it takes to have a romance is billowing curtains, heroines in white drenching in the rains and SRK named Raj smirking to glory and lifting his eyebrows even higher than Jack Nicholson.

Aditya’s success that followed derived from a shrewd insight into three critical factors that make Indian romance flicks Indian romance flicks.

1. India is a poor country. And frightfully aware of it. Not for it, the reality waiting to bite outside the cinema hall: instead, throw in the white babes and the Swiss Alps.

2. Most Indians have repressed relationships. Most men and women in India do not get to date before marriage: even the marriages are arranged by the elders. Hence, most Indians do not get to romance.

3. The Indian society runs on clichés. Education is usually vocational and, hence, technical: subjects like psychology and sociology are restricted to the inner walls of a few colleges. Indians are not taught to express themselves emotionally, their social awareness of their conditions is abysmal, their ideas of sex chastity and virginity medieval in its morality, their treatment of women horrible and… to put things in perspective, in any survey, a romance from Mills and Boons will be voted as a “mature depiction” by not less than 95% of the respondents.

Aditya had seen the failure of his father’s Silsila and realized that most Indians do not want to see even this tempered down reality (in the last scene, in an attempt to reconcile the errant man and wife to their spouses, the director resorts to a plane crash rescue, no less!) Most Indians who come to see romance flicks do not come to see a reflection of their own experiences (coz sadly they don’t have much to share there) but live a dream vicariously. Since, with the taboos clichés mindless-customs, most Indians have very dumbed down emotional quotient, they crave for loudness, repetition, clichés and an idea of romance usually associate with early teens in the developed world. And yes, like the father in DDLJ mouths, they want their heroes to live the lives they never would have.

Hence, the swiss Alps, red sports cars, leather jackets, flash of gori-chamdi, and the myth of ascendancy of Indian values above everything else.

The success of Aditya’s first film, DDLJ, lay in not the intrinsic value of the film but how it successfully adapted itself to the naïve idea of romance in India to a T. In the movie, the idea of consenting adults is never even mentioned. Heroines, even foreign-bred, weepingly succumb to the wills of their fathers and heroes, when having the opportunity, refuse to run away with them. And, of course, their love is so pure that they never even kiss.

Sample this dialogue from the movie (source: IMDB) –

Raj Malhotra: Do you love me?
Simran Singh: More than anyone else.
Raj Malhotra: Do you trust me?
Simran Singh: More than I trust myself.

Now sample a few dialogues from Closer (I know it’s not a fair comparison but I regard the latter as a watershed movie in the depiction of relationships):

Anna: I'm sorry you're...
Larry: Don't say it! Don't you fucking say you're too good for me. I am, but don't say it.

Larry: Is he a good fuck?
Anna: Don't do this.
Larry: Just answer the question! Is he good?
Anna: Yes.
Larry: Better than me?
Anna: Different.
Larry: Better?
Anna: Gentler.
Larry: What does that mean?
Anna: You know what it means.
Larry: Tell me!
Anna: No.
Larry: I treat you like a whore?
Anna: Sometimes.
Larry: Why would that be?

I do not wish to present a contrast between the movies’ maturity quotients but their contexts. Imagine, screening a DDLJ to an audience nurtured on a diet of reality-probing films like Closer and releasing Closer to an Indian audience.

It is the quintessential argument most of Indian media has forgotten: a thing’s popularity is not a statement on its intrinsic value.

After DDLJ, Adi tried his hand on four multiple romances (five if you add the disastrous imitation of Pankaj Kapoor’s Santa by the under-talented Anupam Kher). Mohabattein was supposed to be a showcase “first time in screen together” for the big B and the small S but there’s little much to showcase when each of the stars is a horrible two-dimensional caricature: one mouthing pratishtha sammaan samriddhi even while taking a dump, the other playing violin and talking to ghosts. With veteran thespians like Jugal Hansraj, Uday Chopra, Preeti Jhangiani and Kim sharma, the movie is now best known for its stellar performances, lucky Uday’s minute-long pappi and Preeti’s kathak, or whateveritwas, in the rains.

RNBDJ is the third on the block from this purveyor of love.

It’s been three weeks since I saw it and much of my initial reaction is now tempered down. But if there was only one word that I could use to describe it, it would have to be – horrible.

I think the movie started with the director’s desperation to connect with the audience that he lost to his langotiya-yaar Mr. K Johar (in an interview, Aditya quoted ‘Pehle he stole my innocence, now he’s stolen my plots!’). Why not plant the idea of a SRK-Yash Chopra banner romance in every Indian romance. SRK quoted (and this is as an actual quote) that he picked the idea of his two characters for participants he saw on one of his shows. While the second character is played to a T, since it is essentially a small-town SRK duplicate, the main character – the resilient and silent Indian middle-class – is a farce. Is this how the director and the actor really see the character? I forgive Adi – the scion of a famous producer-director, his idea of middle-class India is susceptible to be a clichéd warp-zone. But what about SRK and his humble Delhi beginning? Is this how he understands the emotional constructs and motivations of the middle-class?

This actually demonstrates a theory of mine: if the daily activities of any man become constant news feeds, if the man is seen on interviews over interviews regarding his views from choli designs to world peace, if a man starts talking about himself in the third person, if his private jokes become grist for plot-lines and compering contracts: that man is gone. His sense of reality and self-perception as acute as ol’ Canute’s (tho’ Canute knew he could not order the waves back).

The premise is so stretched that even the director is not convinced about it. Hence, the hero has to mouth fifteen-minutes long rationale for his actions to a yaaraa, a mannequin and the audience (as stoned to boredom as the mannequin) after every half an hour.

One quality that needs to be appreciated in the movie is the principle of minimalism. Everything is there only for a purpose. Not for it, tangents and threads that clutter our daily lives.

Hence, the movie starts with SRK visiting a wedding at an old teacher’s place. The teacher has only a few scenes to plod the story along and is only present in those sequences: first to introduce SRK to is daughter as his best student ever (the best student goes on to bag an exciting job in Punjab Powers and the personality of a doormat), have a heart attack to the news of a tragedy and then get his daughter married on deathbed. The daughter, when she moves to her sasural, does not even carry a picture of him with her – so quickly are the dead forgotten.
The daughter is depicted as the socializing and bubbly sort: in fact, that, one guesses, is the reason for her grouse with her new hubby’s fidgeting inhibited personality. Yet no name is mentioned after the father’s death and no relative or friend comes visiting the bride. I guess that this might be a hidden tribute to the anonymity of character of Satya, of whom the only fact revealed was that he came from Hyderabad.

The heroine’s grouse with her new hubby tho’ is entirely justifiable. Not only had he gone to develop a personality befitting the gods, he also has the following strange characteristics: a habit of pulling his shirt-tails in front of his crotch every five seconds, a queer disinterest regarding sex (with a wife like that sleeping downstairs in another bed the – what one gathers – virgin hero coolly walks about in his pajamas with no tell-tale frustrated bulges on display), and ( in another tribute) no relatives and friends except for an impossibly mismatched yaaraa. The yaaraa tho’ is quickly explained: the plot needs his hair-dressing skill and saloon for the hero to transform into his other role.

As for the main plot, do you really want me to go there?

I think the movie might one day be hailed as the dawn of the absurd in Indian mainstream cinema.

For all its box-office collections, this movie is the first note in the death-knell of the half-career of Mr. Chopra. Do remember that even Khalnayak was a resounding success – nevertheless it did start the decline in the fortunes of Mr. Ghai.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Shawl ke neeche kya hai

It was more than a year and a half that I was returning to the arms of my first love: Bangalore; and one since I had boarded a flight. My travels to the heartland of Punjab and, a couple of times, homewards bound, had been on good ol’ trains. (The last journey, cramped on a side upper above a man who lies sprawled on his side lower bed for nine straight hours, has already cost me my back that started acting again today.)

Perhaps it was the downturn or just the erstwhile Air Sahara crew, but the standards of service I saw were very poor. No Air India sort PSU reality bites but I have seen better service at Irani restaurants (an interesting metaphor since some of the fliers treat the staff as badly).
What was really bad about the service, besides the service itself, was the forced smiles. This comes from the rather stupid America-originated myth that good service comes with a smile. No. Good service comes with a good service – punctuality, neatness, attentiveness and, if you’re really that good, anticipation.
Smiles are very personal expressions of emotions, much like kick in the groins, and let’s not some lucky asshole from Minnesota corporatize that too. Fake smiles reek of deceit and, even, a certain revulsion – like the smiler would much rather stick something really sharp up your nose.

My airhostess, who forgot my order for a sandwich (a sandwich I was willing to pay the exorbitantly overpriced charges that these flights charge) twice before telling me, smilingly, that the pantry is closed had a smile that seemed to be like she was grimacing while trying to take a crap standing up.

Of course, it might have been the brood that had plonked into the seats, just minutes before the flight took off, all around me. A young man – there’s some irony to call a creature, of habits and customs so ageless, young – had approached the decent corporate-wallah sitting on the aisle asking him to “adjust” as he was with the misses. A phenomenon usually reserved for trains. The man, much settled with his laptop out and seat belt buckled, obliged – perhaps from a sense of bewilderment.

There had been a huge uproar when the family had alighted earlier – apparently they had forgotten a “bachche ka bag” on the bus and had asked the flight attendant to bring it. Strange since there was no kid amongst the seven odd family that scattered all over. Anyway, for a few moments after the doors closed, it seemed that the bag had not been brought in.
‘What you forgot the bag?!?’ The old man seated just ahead of me asked incredulously of the nervous steward.
The mom seated next to him whispered to someone and asked what there was in the bag. ‘Nothing much’, someone whispered.
‘Forgot the bag!?!’, the man started rising.

Now, he was standing and shaking – literally. I could feel the righteous indignation swell in his, as I imagine, reddening face as he scraped it from the bottom of the barrels of the opportunity.
I saw his hands grip the seat in front and inhale a deep breath – I swear. Another hostess chose this moment to play spoilsport and rush in with the bag. I saw the man deflate back into the seat and rise only when the flight landed.

The plane took off. I smelt parathas in the air as they were passed around once the seat belt sign went. The man seated next to me rolled the one passed to him into a dick-shaped roll and munched at it thoughtfully.

I don’t remember really know what caught my attention: for some reason the man on the middle seat – a mid-twenties bugger with receding hair, developing paunch, who evoked images of a fat kid being fed dahi and cheeni by his boy-loving grandmother who petted his hair as he ate – would lean over and say something to the lady seated on the aisle – the lady donning a specks, waist-length braided hair and a studious expression – and then glance over his shoulders in my direction.

I was really absorbed in the book but this repeated action broke through my concentration and irritated me. Earlier, when the man had settled down the man had observed me, the book and my action with a dull uninhibited curiosity. They dropped off my horizon soon enough – but not before I caught them holding hands, and, more than that, the tell-tale suhaagan ki mehendi – or whatever it is called. Thankfully, on the girl’s hand. The man had a kadaa of gold on his left wrist.

I must have read for an hour before I turned my head towards their direction again – I had noticed the silence that had fallen from that quarter, but only with the attention of someone listening to a bore over the phone while surfing porn.

My reason to go back to them was simple – I had to take a leak and cross over them to reach the aisle.

The couple was sharing a shawl – and it was draped over their heads.
The shawl – with small mirrors on it – was scintillating in the dimness and if discretion and privacy was what they were looking for, it was a wrong choice of shawl.

Like a wish denied, my pee gathered unbelievable momentum with each denied second of relief. I peered and found that there was no movement from within the shawl – none. The heads were too far apart.

What the hell were they upto? I thought angrily.

And then I realized that I was looking for movement a little higher than it was – I will leave this at that.

On cue, the wheezing matron rose like a arthritis-tormented phoenix from the seat in front. Now the fun starts – I thought. Curiously, after pausing for the slightest of seconds at the sight of the shawls over two mounds of heads, the matron roughly shook the shoulders of the son, and handed him a baggage to hold while she took a pee. The son climbed out of the shawl with the passively disturbed expression of a babu who had just been perusing a file.

I grabbed the opportunity and took a break myself. Coming back, I was relieved to find that the couple were out of the shawl – for the time being./

They remained silent and apart for a few minutes and I slipped back into the book. A while later, I noticed another glance over the shoulders towards me. I looked back to discover a pattern. The couple would drape the shawl over their heads, the man would hold his head apparently inert while the woman worked at a with a ferocity very incongruous with her spexy accountant expression of trying to remember a section from an accounting standard, the shawl would keep slipping off their heads but the man would catch it just in time and drape themselves back, then – after ten minutes or so – they would break apart and stare ahead like they were two perfect pair of strangers, then – after ten minutes of rest – the man would turn towards her, look once over his shoulders at me, and up would go the shawl again.

The plane landed finally and I was spared more of this ridiculous spectacle.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The worst of Bolllywood superhits

In an earlier post, I lambasted Raja Sen for trying to teach us Hollywood.
But I still love this cheeky bastard. In the following article in Rediff he talks about the worst superhits in Cinema which include Gadar, the new Devdas, Fanaa, Vivah, Raja Hindustani, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, Mard, Heyy Babyy, Karan Arjun and No Entry.

It's so refreshing trying to someone not buckle under the custom of being politcally-correct and polite to even the trashiest.
It takes courage, willingness to face the inevitable 'And who do you think you are mistah' and social exile.

Keep up the good work, Raja.

Reading Keep off the Grass

Yesterday, I walked to the Landmark to read a book. A particular book.
The author was a fellow-alumnus but that didn’t mean anything. Irritated by one his media gimmicks, I had attacked this author in this blog some time ago on the basis of just a blurb on the book and still felt guilty about it. Besides, the hyper-publicity the media machinery had built around the book and the decent reviews he got from most casual readers had done its work. I read a couple of interviews and the guy seemed decent and down-to-earth; he talked about soul-bending experiences and restlessness and being inspired by my favourite Indian writer.
So I went and read.

Why do you write a book about it when you’re not even serious about it? The two hours I spent bent over the book, while great works beckoned me all around, was like trying to listen to a man talking without thinking what he’s talking about. in both the act of prattling and this book, what is talked about is not important – but the – Look I’m talking – is.
I won’t even judge the book on its literary merits – like Chetan Bhagat the author is on the defensive even before you get to pick his book. I myself am a philistine as far as theory of literature goes, but I do believe good reading is not only about style, it’s about substance. It’s about honesty.
This book is a fundamentally dishonest effort.
The book starts with the protagonist, who’s just lived the Indian wet dream of having screwed a blonde and left her begging for more, launching into a path of self-discovery when she asks him when he plans to go back to India, Pak, Bangladesh or wherever he is from. And so the hero does: after a painful (for both the reader and the protagonist) conversation with a father who seems to be cut and pasted from Harold and Kumar.
The purpose of the blonde is to get screwed – there is nothing more about her other than a reference to her job and her liking for investment bankers – and the purpose of the father is to be a caricature of a first-generation immigrant Indian father. They are not deliberate caricatures of the Simpsonian/MAD irreverence and stereotype-questioning liberalist modes; they are caricatures because the author never really bothers to fill the colors to the desultory lines he’s sketched around them.
In my alma mater, the author meets a Kargil-ka-sipahi (nothing less my folks) and a cool dude (two pages follow describing the inherent genius of his IIT pedigree: a page and a half more than the pages that the author gives to any other character.)
Regarding the confused identity of the ABCD protagonist, it comes across as convincing as Shabbir Khan doing a Rafi.

There were two phrases that I caught straight from English August (I just completed another of my annual perusal of the work a month ago) – and the descriptions of the India the protagonist sees is heavily borrowed from the book too. This I am not averse to actually since EA is the sort of book that inspires a new vocabulary to define the Indian everyday experience. Only the effect most of the times was seeing an adaptation of your favourite movie scene in a Mukesh Bhatt directed/ Bharat Shah produced movie.
Sadly, there are a couple of places where the author does score. But it’s only because all of us do have some eloquent wisdom in us.
Not all of us are literary giants – not all of us are the Gabriel Garcias with fantastic tales to tell. I have read Shashi Tharoor a lot despite the fact that I think he’s not the foremost of the writers writing on India. But it’s his honesty of effort that makes me want to listen to him.

I questioned my judgement: as someone once told me, it might be just plain jealousy. I went back to Google – determined to find an echo to my own feelings about the book. Ultimately, I found a short review where the writer describes the effort in the words “As if the author was just writing to finish the book and wanted just see himself in print.“
I read about a book a couple of weeks. That means 25-30 books a year. In the 20 years ahead that probably remain with me, I will read another 500-600 books: such a woefully short number. Do writers like these understand the value of the space that they have squatted on and destroyed?
Two questions:
1. Why write a book when your heart is not even into it
2. Why publish this (this for the publishing house) desultory effort
I have a lot more to write on this theme which I will write shortly. I will go and finish the book in the evening today.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

India Under Attack - Our sensibilities under a bigger one

A week into the attack and we are blabbering like terrorism touched our lives on 26-11 the first time.
Actually, it did. This is the first time that the rich and the powerful are in the cross-wire. And in this might still lie our redemption. That the rich have been inconvenienced. Shobha De, the renowned socially conscious intellectual, who regularly expresses her empathy to the cause of the Mumbaikar with scathing articles on which starlet is getting buggered by which producer and thought-provoking books like Sisters, is now suddenly the voice of the angry Mumbai. So far, the odd blasts on locals hardly touched her; this time she might have to watch behind her back at the Sheraton while she trades gossips with other equally socially-conscious corporate wives and socialites.
You probably have heard about the brave lady whose outlasting contribution to Indian journalism is the creation of the brain-bending Page 3 and whose funeral was attended by many teary-eyed strangers, but did you know that an entire Muslim family of five got shot at CST and who might not have registered an equally generous attendance on their funerals -- despite the fact that they had not even created the cult of Page 3?
Or do you know the name of anyone shot at CST?
Instead, we know that Suhel Seth escaped by the thinnest of whiskers – but whether that is good or bad news is anybody’s guess.

If I am seen to deride the dead here, that is the intention. A dead citizen, for a nation, is as good as any other. But the media’s biased coverage makes me wish that for this kind of coverage I should have seen a lot more of those “celebrities” dead.

Can we cut the crap about martyrs and heroism and enough is enough?

Of martyrs
Sandeep died while flushing out terrorists – but that was his job, right? The idea of martyrs reeks of causes bigger than everything else and that leaves no room for any doubts and questions. Even the terrorists who died are being hailed as martyrs elsewhere. Given a choice between martyrdom (shahaadat) and being alive on virtue of better intelligence and equipment, I think I know what Sandeep might have chosen first.
Nobody wants to be a martyr (except for suicide bombers perhaps but that is also only a means to a bigger end) unless one has to. A man doing his duty and dying because of faulty management practices is not a martyr – he is a victim.

Of enough is enough
Mumbai has had enough – what the fuck is that supposed to mean, anyway? If the next incident happens at Chowpatty, would the people tell the terrorists that we told you that we had had enough the last time, phir kyun aayaa baba?
Well I have had enough of my corporate life, but so what? The choice is mine what I mean to do about it.
A day before the attack, the biggest issue in the city was the Manoos content of the vada pav. A month before, in response to attack on desperat students appearing for a national exam, some of the city's gliteratti, hands on gloves with the thugs running the son-of-the-soil show in the city, went on record tacitly supporting the cause.

If we can't have the same candlelight vigil when a city remains silent when students are beaten to death, I say, you can shove the burning candles up your Manoos-asses for all I care.

Attacking our national heritage
I don’t care if Taj is listed as No. 1 in world heritage or No. 8298.

Two reasons:

Just like any dead citizen is as good as any other, the contrast between the Armani and the langot notwithstanding, any bombed place in India is as good as any other.

Second, if a place requires shoes on your feet and a wallet full of grands, it’s not a national heritage site for me, it’s a strictly commercial venture.

I don’t care if Tata made the hotel as a grievance to an insult of national or strictly personal nature, but the fact is that before 26th I would have to be stacked with cash to sit in that whtevertisnamewas bar and my driver in the slippers and dirty pants would have been denied entry by the guard.
Just because a lot of rich people, who write all the fancy columns in the world and claim to speak for a nation of billion, have fond memories of a place, a place does not become more esteemed than any other.

Worse has happened, India, and we have found ways out of it.
At one time, Manipur and Punjab produced a steady stream of bodies in the national dailies. The lessons learnt at both places was that victimizing a community can never assure a long-term peaceful solution.

Just forget this talk of wars, compulsory military service, POTAs.

Going to war with even a non-nuclear nation leaves scars for decades to come.
Giving laws like POTA to even an efficient police force is fraught with danger; and we're talking about the Indian police here.

This is from people who have no problem seeing future statesmen in people who have led genocides against unarmed civilians.

This is from people who have arrogantly assumed that the country’s best interests are aligned with the interests that serve them the best.

This is from people who’ve no moral qualms over the fact that their rich lifestyle is largely an effect of the incredible poverty of the country (the ridiculously cheap labour); and no thoughts for the facts that the resilience of cities is mainly a question of daily survival of the majority living in its shanties and that the enemy was at least willing to die for what he believed in.

The point is that I don't think that most of us who claim to be the elite and the peaceful liberals care much about justice, liberalism and "national character" as long as it doesn't inconvenience us.

These are macro forces that take years of history to shape, and just because your fancy dinner got interrupted by the forces of politics you don't care about, history won't take an accelerated pace.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The bitter dose

The worst thing about the crises like Taj stand-off is the rhetoric that follows. The cliche of spirit of Mumbai, the cliche of "Enough about this spirit of Mumbai", "terrorism has no religion" (Actually true: religion has terror built into it and not vice versa) blah blah.

Then the diplomatic use of "foreign hand" (as opposed to member up our patriotic arse), "dastardly act", speeches of blood, toil, sweat and tears.

Would, tomorrow, the mama at the Traffic Junction stop on his tracks for a second before he accepts a bribe of hundred for the challan he threatens to cut?
Would the aggrieved respectable shop-keeper at CP, who always stays at the Taj when in Mumbai, start filing sales tax and declare his true income for 2009?
Would a hundred men in the crowd, tomorrow, stop a couple of men bashing an auto-wallah instead of ogling?

Two friends had solicited my opinion, gotten jarred by the fact that I have broken order by instead of fuming a choked "This time they have gone too far" I breathed a tired "We always had it coming", and then asked me what ifmy parents were there inside? How would I feel then, heh?
Sad and Angry. I still am. But the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.

remember the Olympics and the promise of 3o medals next time? Exactly how do we want to achieve it, I wonder. Cricket is back as strong as it ever was.
I am not questioning the righteousness of our national preference It is what it is and that is why we fare poorly at other sports, other than the odd unavoidable sparks of genius.

Same with our politics: it is what it is and what we have allowed it to become.
India, its corruption and its third-world afflictions, are what they are and no amount of self-congratulatory rhetoric can change that.

We have no infrastructure, water and electricity supply are still a scarce commodity, a cumbersome bureaucracy that sucks every penny out of development funds; we are usually corrupt, we would flee from a scene of accident but stop at one not involving us and then gloat at the bloodied victim slowly dies.
Why are we hankering about the necks of a couple of octogenarian politicians? What strict action do we want?
How is a strike, a war going to solve anything when the problem is with the product itself under attack?
And I am not being cynical and rhetorical when I ask these questions: seriously, you who talk of these things, sit down and let me know how any such solution would work in a five year horizon at least.

Blaming Shivraj Patil is as bad as incarcerating the Ebay CEO for the MMS. It was an intelligence failure that can only get highlighted once it fails.
Why are we assuming fool-proof systems in a system as wrecked as ours?

I am not even advocating – as some editorials-hogging fools regularly do – that we change our national character. Like it’s a bloody cap or something that you just doff off and put another instead.

In histories, dominant national characters have changed only with cataclysmic events – the revolution and terror in France, civil war in States or in the ruins of WW2 in Japan and Germany.
Perhaps, that’s what history is preparing us for: the bitter dose.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

How to become a millionaire in a minute

Short on HLL at start of day with a thousand.

Of terror and voter cards

I read an article today, the kinds I only read these days, about a conscious citizen trying to get a voter card. The crux is that he went through the travails of getting one made, finding a different photograph on his card, going through the entire process again and getting nothing. Then he takes time to work to go to the central office, finding others like him there, the office locked, the chief not picking calls and out till three, and an irritated clerk shooing them away – if it’s not here, you didn’t give it. I think he mentioned 200 people.
To those in Delhi and who have seen all that beaming – jago – hype, with even a national hijacked attempt from a tea brand featuring the new face of the country, away from their usual self-congratulatory post-91 reality-fantasy of the country, sipping tea and looking positively “awake”.

These were people who were not asking for any benefits – a locked pension file or a land record gone missing – these were people waking up from an electoral “sloth” and hoping to participate in the system. And this is what their awakening wrought.

A strange start to an article on terror.

But do you imagine the raw appeal of the machismo with which a group of boys, within minutes, have tattered the reputation of a superpower-claimant? The minute the first bullet in Taj was fired, the terrorists succeeded. Everything that followed was a special. And we know how much they have dolloped of that.

Terrorism – or naxalism also in our context – is a war with the state.
And what is the Indian state – if you take out the hollow jingoism – but that babu shouting at 200 people that they are lying?
And what is the state than those 200 people who don’t burn that office down and tear that man’s throat out?
This happened in the heart of Delhi. And there is an India, a whole pie of it, outside the Mumbais and the Delhis.

Suddenly, after Delhi blasts, the cops who are the biggest enemies of the daily-wage earners in the streets go, are suddenly supposed to be the confidants to whom all suspicions regarding “suspicious activity” is transferred.

In Lucknow, last Sunday, meeting a school friend from Lucknow visiting from Australia, after fifteen years of spending class1 to 10 seated adjacent due to the sequence of our names, our car was towed from a parking zone coz a dignitary suddenly arrived; a parking zone where half an hour ago parking fees was being collected. After pleading in vain for half an hour to an unrepetant cop, Ahsan, the friend, he had to pay 750 to release it. I mention Ahsan's Muslim idntity to highlight that many (but not all, I agree) of the frustrations of the community are ironically secular [Ironic since the country's claim to secularism is manifested usually in the meting out of daily injustices only - the priviliges bagged by either by quota or do-you-know-who-my-uncle-is].

Injustice is the fabric on which the Indian state is wrought - right from the PSU to the babu to the politician to the hawaldaar. The separatist movements, the naxalism and terrorism are only manifestations of its various forms.

The biggest myth regarding Shivaji that the Hindu thugs, claiming to be spokesmen of the religion, propound is that it was a Hindu war for lost pride against the Muslim villains.
Wrong. Read your history assholes. Read your economic history.
It was a movement primarily fired by unjust taxations and blatant corruption of a kingdom of wasted rulers and court intrigues. Forces of frustration do not change with time – while religion might ensure a peaceful afterlife of 72 odd virgins (depending on your choice of opium) - the issue of daily bread, and if you’re slightly fed, dignity, is directed more by governance.

What India is under attack right now? The India that is under threat is an India we know is there buried beneath the miles of shit that we have let the “system” crap above it. Forget Shivraj Patil – do you really think that any politician in India in his place and things would have been different? Any party other than the Congress?

Bring on the terrorist laws (and make it all the more worse), platitudes and juloos. Today is the twang of the bow that was stretching since the past fifty years.

My fear is this: the sheer audacity of what happened today, and the Taj elitism of the hostages, would inspire a thousand of other “misdirected” youth trampled by the system who will vent their frustration against this invisible miasma of unrelenting injustice and oppression against a definite face, although anonymous and multitudinal, and the aphrodisia of an automatic in hand. These might be youths who've been running around courts for a piece of land lostin the 50s, the excesses of the local political goon or police, or one of the many things that are commonplace in an Indian middle-or-below class citizen.
There is nothing more ominous than a misdirected rage right now.

but unavoidable.

Shivaji didn’t break the stranglehold of the decadant Mughal empire in his lifetime; but the inspiring and enduring legend of his audacity, as opposed to the grovelling reality of successive kings towards the Afghan raiders, did.

To be born again, you have to die first; To raise an edifice again you have to raze first: this is the frightening reality that looms ahead unless the “system” changes from within.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Stepaway from these brothers

Some of the greatest scripts start off with the question – what if? Unfortunately, so do the worst.
The prime example in recent times would be Adam Unfunny Sandler’s Click where the scriptwriter raised the cilched question – ok what if life could be controlled by a remote? And the monstrosity followed

Step Brothers apparently starts with the pairing of rather similar body-structured John Reilly and Will Ferrel. What if we got them together as retarded brothers?
If the 80s, outside the Monty Pythons, marked the acme of Hollywood comedy scripts (‘All of me’, ‘A fish called Wanda’), the 2000s must definitely mark the nadir.
Sample the comedies it’s delivered – The scary movies series, the ‘teen date’ type flicks, and movies like ’40 year old virgin’ and anything starring Katherine Heigl in a comic turn. In fact, a decade where comedy has been dominated by the likes of Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider.
It all started with Something With Mary. The hair-raising scene gave licence to just locker-room talk pass for comic timings. Genitalia and the various so-far private affairs that come along with owning one became plot plodders. Be it the stuck zipper in something about Mary or erections in Road Trip, Scary movies and 40-year old virgin. In Step Bros, of the 1hour 20 minutes movie, almost five minutes are spent on a scene where one guy threatens to bang the other’s drums with his balls and is then explicitly shown to do so (prosthetics, I assume; and hope).
When I was churning comic scripts in college, it became a challenge to get the laughs without sexual innuendoes. Not that I was a prude but simply it was too easy. Have Anil Kapoor mouth a ‘Teri maa ka...’ and then trail off and 90 times out of 100 you would get a laugh. Heck, even fardeen khan might register that average. And then ask Fardeen to deliver something really funny and count the laughs.
Risqué turns have always been a major theme in comedy – and no one has handled it with as much hilarity as that genius - Woody Allen. Everything you wanted to know about sex has got to be the best sex comedy ever. The last episode is entirely about a man making out and ejaculating and it’s HILARIOUS.

But there’s a line between risqué and tasteless, unfunny and funny that is as thick as Reilly and Ferrell together.
Step Bro never judges the line, the script and the direction waste two very good actors.
Reilly is no Jeff Daniels and Will Ferrell is no Carrey. And this is certainly no Dumb and Dumber.
Avoid this one unless you think one-minute long farts in interviews is the funniest thing you have ever seen.

On a side note, as soon as I saw this guy in a guest role, I knew that there was no rescuing the movie anymore.
With classics like Knocked Up, 40 year old virgin, zack and mimi make a porno under his belt – he makes Ben Stiller look like Chaplin.
The unfunniest man since Jinnah, someone please put the likes of him to sleep!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Ethics un-hinged

Some archbishop today just declared that forced conversions are anti-Christian. Of course, terrorism has always been un-Islamic. In the same vein as there is no Hindu terrorist.

Reminds me of my company that, by lieu of employing me, deigns to morally instruct me on the value of ethics and smiling at people.

Why can't - because it is not the decent thing to do - be reason enough?

Sunday, October 26, 2008


As far as Bollywood reviews go, I like Raja Sen. Hence when I logged onto rediff and saw that he's going to analyze the best of cinema over the decades I didn't exactly rub my hands in glee, but I did smile. Ad then when I clicked on the link, I realised it was the bet of Hollywood.

Who the hell is Raja Sen as far as Hollywood goes?

What is he going to add onto a study that has already been done to death over and by people of much higher stature than him?

Why do I have to read his thoughts in a genre where I already have the best of the world? Just because we happen to be fellow Indians? That might hold true for Bollywood - the cultural nuances and meanings stuff (tho' associating those with Bollywood makes me guffaw) but why Hollywood?

What irritated me is the fact that it seems that Rediff has allowed itself t become an ego-stretching exercise for a small-time critic like him. is rediff his personal blog? And the insinuation that we Indians need an Indian to interpret world cinema for us in an age where access to Roger Ebert's reviews is just a click away.

And, of course, the irritation stems from the fact that it did not turn out to be Bollywood that was under the scanner. For the simple reason that it is a much tougher genre to grade. A genre where wooden-faced models twtiches pass for thespian milestones, movies like DDLJ are lauded as all-time best, directors like Satish Kaushi allowed in film-sets and the entire Salim Khan progenies allowed to breathe.

Thank you, Raja.

but no sorry, mista

i don't need assista

To read Hollywooda

Not even from Booda.

Get a job. You can always sell insurance to someone in detroit and perhaps share your insights into whether GoodFellas was a better mob movie than Godfather.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Time to revisit our definitions

Is it just my perception or have we recently entered a phase of accelerated history?

Everyday, something new comes in: a new dimension to a financial crisis of a scale never seen before and unanticipated by even billions-guzzling CEOs( a situation that even after a couple of months no one and no one actually knows the value at risk!), a new technique to brutality in a murder in Delhi, a new law flouted, a new barrier overcome (Bolt’s “Bob Beamon” moment, the coming of age of Indian cricket), and most importantly – a new definition to a phenomenon. I found myself comparing these times to the ones following 9-11 and I wondered why. And then it came to me. It was a time when we revised our definitions too – the definition of what is evil and what is good; of the grouping of non-alignment with opposition (‘Either you are with us, or against us’). Of the triumph of action over retrospection.

What is the revised definition that faces us right now? A blank line patiently waiting to be filled under our bated breath and poised quill?


Is it any act of violence by a group of people using firearms or bombs? Or is it the violence of the minority against the majority?

Ponder over this.

I did. And found that actually the two are interlinked. Being the minority, violence that requires head-on collision with the majority adversary is a no-win situation and suicidal. Hence, the use of upgraded weapons – where the person using the same is more effective to damage more members f the opposition than with, say, a lathi or bare hands.
I conclude that the definition we, as a country, have finally arrived at is this –

Terrorism is the act of violence by the minority against the majority in an area with a predominance of the majority population.

Godhra burning of the train was, hence, not a terrorist attack. The reason being that the perpetrators were the local Muslim majority gundas. By the same definition, the aftermath, Gujrat riots, were not a terrorist attack since, again, the majority razed the minority – albeit on a bigger scale than the train attack.

Thackrey’s attack on outside state railway examinees and VHP’s attack on churches is again, by the same criteria of who perpetrated the attack, the majority (the Marathis in Bombay, the Hindus elsewhere), not terrorism but the n number of things we declaim it with.
A fatwa crying for the head of a fellow Muslim who has expressed himself contrary to the majority belief, is an internal problem. The state using the same against a dissident group is military action.

The definition has international connotations too. LTTE is a terrorist organization since the Tamils are a minority in Sri lanka. The Sinhalese persecution of the 70s was not a terrorist action.

Hence, my definition, seems to stand the test of all euphemisms that we have lately decided to select for different acts of violence.

Ok. What’s the point? Violence by any means and by anyone looks the same – gore, blood, tears.
The point is that terrorism is the new pariah of our times. It is what Hitler did to the idea of eugenics – incontrovertibly evil. Without any extenuation.

It’s not a definition a community has imposed on us – we have silently arrived it across our multiple identities – religious, caste, regional, ethnic, national, class.

Hence, when I mention Raj’s brand of politics to my Marathi friends, they can glare at me and scream – why only Bombay should be tolerant?
My Hindu friends can in the same breath that they say ‘The Orissa violence should not be allowed..’ mutter ‘... tho’ there are some justifications to it.’
My Muslim friends can close ranks and murder a dissident and tell me to piss off – since his muslim identity is bigger than his human identity (wherein my weak fellowship credentials lie)

But mention terrorism and nobody attempts to extenuate that.

I propose that we cement this in stone and set out the rules – you can be violent if you are the majority. Sneak attacks done covertly are not allowed. You have to have the numbers to spill on the street to be given the right to be defended in conversations even among the intelligentsia (or the new bourgeoisie who have arrogated on themselves the right to a nation’s morality and best interests without either questioning the assumptions or any in-depth analysis)
Or we can choose to group all violence – perpetrated by anyone by whatever means – as indefensible. Non-violent debate the only accepted recourse. But for that we might have to start listening to stuff we don’t want to. Sardars might have to live with a comical take on a Sardar identity, muslims live with the right of others to tell them how they see them, hindus with the idea that their historical grievances are history now, regional parties with the idea of nationhood and of earning their own rewards.

But no – we have more or less accepted that just by being the majority we have some more rights than the minority. Because since we are more, we have more men, and if you don’t believe in this, we can beat you up easily.

Try telling this to the Huns or the Mongols. You can’t attack us, we came here first. We are more.
Try telling that to Ghazni at Somnath, conquistadors at Mexico, British settlers at America.

The new nation state was built on the principle of inalienable rights of all people as equal. Otherwise, America would have gobbled every nation of the world and only the ruling majority would have only rights.

And yet within this system that guarantees us the fundamental rights, we question them. (For ex. Hindus quoting Somnath attack eight hundred years ago as some extenuation for Ayodhya demolition can do so only because the nation-state system ensures that the Muslim nations, in reprisal, can't get together and trample down their ass like they did then)

Hence, to solve this paradox, I offer two solutions:
Accept my definition of terrorism and hence only allow violence by majority
Do not allow any argment that rides on the back of violence. No matter what genuine credentials the argument may have.

Gandhi, at Chauri Chaura, took the second call: much to the consternation of a nation. It is a chice too subtle and too slow to be understood by the masses. Hence, the only way out, I see, is the new definition of terrorism, and right ot violence, that we have agreed upon.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008


what a cat fight

Opinion Poll

A discussion being overheard from the cabin adjacent to mine. A guy using the words - dynamic, international, standards, consumer perception.

No kidding.

What say the guy doesn't know a shit about what he's talking about?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Loyalty Program Primer

An article on loyalty (लोयाल्टी for vishesh) programs, that I liked.

It appeared in Mint, sourced from WSJ, Oct ०६ (Vishesh, ६ अक्टूबर), called loyalty plans need to be customised. Can't find the link on the net.

It talks about rewards along two lines -

Tangible and Intangible; and Intrinsic and Extrinsic.

Intrinsic rewards are along the line of the customer trip type (further explained below), while the latter are outside it.

For definition,these are the trip types and their intrinsic rewards:

Hence, or a guy who's come to buy the milk and eggs that he’s run out in 7-11, the trip type is functional – he wants to get in and get out quickly – and the best award will be faster checkout. Giving him a price discount (the most common easy way out approach adopted by retailers) He might buy the promoted item today,but that would not be reinforcing his natural shopping motivation in your store. Because the focus is on the product offered, and not the brand of the store that the customer perceives.
Tangible awards work in low involvement purchases (detergent bar-soap) while intangible awards more in high involvement. Too easy to mull over.

Liked this article. By the way, in case you’re wondering how to identify a trip type of a customer, there are ways (clustering and segmentation on customer type and trip type and then a matrix to define which customer makes what sort of trip).

Sunday, October 05, 2008

No easy way out

I watched two documentaries over the weekend on terror - Obsessed and TerrorStorm.

The former harps on the familiar "our very civilization, our future, is under attack!" psychosis that has helped the Americans unfalteringly gloat over their self-appointed role of the Savior while at the same time glossing over Hiroshima (A prototype test in a war already-won with yellow men as the mice), the "Soviets are here!" McCarthy lynching, 'Nam, Central America, Afghanistan and Iraq: as long as it happens elsewhere – preferably, places with lots of brown people – it is just collateral damage on the road to goodness.
The latter, Terrorstorm, is about the state perpetrating evil through arousing this very xenophobic-paranoia in the masses through effective use of the state propaganda machinery.

Not difficult to predict where my sympathies lay. (Tho' Obsessed's concern over the extremist stridency in the Arab media and the analogy of the raising of generations over generations on a diet of distorted lies (one of the prime time Egyptian drama had a sub-plot based on the blood libel accusation) and hate with Nazi Germany, is well argued).

Interestingly, both documentaries start with two very famous quotes.

Obsessed, with the famous Burke quote - 'All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.'

Terrorstorm: A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny. - Solzhenitsyn

Also, both draw parallels from the Nazi nightmare - one comparing the strident anti-semitism and world-dominating agenda with the radical Muslim world; the other, comparing Goebbels's dead-on-target propaganda juggernaut with the current state-led Western media machinery.

This is a lesson. A lesson on the dangers of analogies. A lesson on the danger of generalizations.

When Burke talked about good men, he talked about men - not states. States serve men but, as we know, like the Matrix, if let run free, become the biggest criminals. A vicious and faceless 'Big Brother' cycle that feeds on itself, and the men it was built for.
Solzhenitsyn (hope I got that correct) was talking about this exactly - an artificial state of war created by the state to serve its own end; in his case, Stalinist Russia.

The other danger, as I mentioned, is of analogies. The problem with history is that it's not a series of facts laid out in a single direction, like the obedient molecules of a magnetic strip. Instead they contradict themselves. Fathers of The nation turn out to be bad fathers, the redoubtable Ben Franklin – fatherly dignified and benign in portraits – an oversexed old dog in private life, the tragic lives of comedians and the paradox of India. We build definitions on facts and yet facts betray them.

The problem, of course, is that definitions, other than those of non-social sciences, are never set in stone. They overlap – just like the multiple realities of civilizations and people. History, written by the winners, is seldom accurate. There is no accuracy actually. Every actor was a perpetrator, every actor was a puppet; every argument was right, every argument was wrong. In science, a law is a law. A single contradiction, even millions of miles away on the surface of Pluto, is reason enough to reject it. Life is not like that. There are contradictions built on contradictions in everything that touches us: there is no single, steadfast approach to social and personal reality. Truth does not emerge in absolutes; it emerges in degrees.

To quote Rakesh: it’s a vector sum. Millions of vectors in every random direction, cancelling each other, and yet; in the end, a small arrow pointing – somewhere.

We as humans are uncomfortable with uncertainties. We fear them, give them names, make idols of them, and then bow before them. We try to constrain them within books and tell ourselves that all human knowledge, the billions of pages preceding the book and the trillions to succeed it are trash since they again blur the edges of truth set in the pages. We decide to kill anyone who challenges these dogmas (withthe help of technology borrowed from them and beyond our own scripts): fearing that their doubt will again cast us all in an age of uncertainties. Our stories have the clearly shaded white of heroes against the black of villains: the Kauravas against the Pandavas, the Lucifer against the God, the Satyug vs. the Kaliyug. We prefer the simplistic biographies of ‘A beautiful Mind’ (where the hero’s four marriages are reduced to a single one and his gay past completely ignored) to the complex characterizations in Oliver Stone’s ‘Door’s or ‘Alexander’.

Hence, the inherent irrationality in the reality of the world we have defined for ourselves.
We talk about our Indian identity as if it is a single identity. And then it percolates down to other identities – our Kashmir, our motherland, our Hindutva, our Muslim bretheren, aamchi Mumbai. When these identities clash, we decry the irrationality of the opponent and yet fail to see our own.

What is the Indian collective? Exactly, when do I transform from a UP-wallah in Mumbai, to a general category candidate pitted vs. the SC/STs, to a saffron flag waving zealot? Note: in all these identities, friends and foes shift. An upper caste collective at war with a lower caste collective over reservation today, becomes a collective against the Muslims after a train carnage in an obscure town; which, after taking the good Muslims in, becomes a broader collective against the bad Muslims; and ultimately, the most stupefying collective: the precedence of the Muslims brothers scattered over 58 majority nations and all other minority ones, from Somalians to Indonesians to American, over the Hindu and Christian cousins next door.

The answer is again the same. It is a series of circles overlapping one another, realities over realities over realities. The reality emerges from the plane I am on: the context.

The argument, that started with the amusing observation that the same genocide is being claimed by two rival theories, has lessons for us Indians.

Falling for grossly simplistic arguments - of appeasement, our Muslim brothers, POTA, fake encounters, how can they call the encounters fake when a police wallah died!, maaro salon ko! - is the easy way out. A one size that fits all contexts.

The tougher way is to weigh each context, each reality on its own merit, and not fall into the trap of analogies and generalizations. No single model; instead, a new model everytime based on the understanding of the shifting dunes of human realities.

The onus on us, the intellectual elite, the priviliged, the better educated, to be temperate and responsible with our judgements - given the abundance of facts that we can access, views we can take into account and the processing facility - is much more than our vote-hungry, barely-educated politicians.

Le diner de cons

The forces of democratization that sites like youtube, blogger, wordpress and like have unleashed in content development, giving voice to unheard talents, have a delightful flip side: bringing to fore the presumptuous idiot.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The fury of the crowds

Close on the heels of the death of the Greater Noida CEO about whom I blogged yesterday (a little in bad taste), the Union Labor Minister has warned the (capitalist) management of the country and calls the mob violence a mere omen of "simmering discontent among the workers".

I would request all the ministers, all of them, to step outside the bungalows they refuse to evict at 11 on Friday and stand there without the cover of their Z+++ security. For just half an hour. The few ones that might be pulled still half alive from their burning stakes might then teach Mr. Oscar about how discontent really simmers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Free market - UP ishtyle

CEO beaten to death in Noida
The chief executive officer of a company was on Monday beaten to death by a group of dismissed employees inside office premises after a meeting, called to resolve dispute between them and management, failed.
L K Chaudhury, CEO of Gradiano in Udyog Vihar of Greater Noida, was killed when the agitating workers turned violent and beat him up, Senior Superintendent of Police (Noida) R K Chaturvedi told PTI.
As the clash erupted, Chaturvedi said, a security guard opened fire in air.
About 20 people were injured in the clashes. Chaudhury was rushed to Kailash hospital where he was declared brought dead.
There were about 200 former employees inside the premises when the incident took place. They were dismissed two months back for some reasons and were since then protesting against it.

What say Vishesh? This qualifies under both the survival-of-the-fittest and the creative-destruction of th market beliefs of yours.
I think this is a whole paradigm of management theory - management through violence.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

They don't orkut like they used to before

Two friends' birthdays whizzed by and the number of badde greetings on orkut ere signifiantly less compared to what it used to be.

Two possibilities - they're not as popular as before or people are orkutting less.

I go with the latter explanation.

People are orkutting less coz now that the first wave of euphoria - of reuniting with old friends, checking out their honeymoon snaps and kids - over, what next? Orkut's communities are too trivial: most of the people wear them like badges - I belong to this this and this club; I am this guy's fan; I am into this hobby and this movie - and not for active discussion.

The other reason is the walled garden syndrome that Guy Kawasaki mentions. Since each social networking site is a silo, you do not have a single user interface to manage all your network. Your social profiles in Orkut and Facebook are maintained separately, you have to upload the same snaps from the trp you took last week to Flickr, Orkut/Picasa and Facebook and your LinkedIn account is a separate issue altogether.

Kawasaki suggests the evolution of the meta-SNSes. A large social networking site could become a large repository of a number of relationships with smaller sites looking at it to specialize across horizontal uses (for example, creating a site focused on dating or job search) or vertical ones (for example, a site focused on information exchange between subject matter experts within one particular domain).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Le Diner the cons - with the Chopras

Seems like FilmFest Hamburg is having a private idiot party this winter. This will be hilarious!

This is a very interesting article on how IITians in Bombay are being curfewed back to a more wholsesome collegiate experience.
Having wasted almost the whole of my last semester on Quake, I know exactly what these students are rediscovering.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A splendid op-POTA-rtunity

in the aftermath of the bombings, two remedies proposed are

  1. Kill 'em all; let God sort them out - unrestricted POTA regime
  2. Nip it in the bud - Better intelligence

The first argument assumes that 'it will never be me'. History has shown that POTA-like acts quickly degenerate into brutal oppression of dissent: whatever form it may take, whichever quarters it may come from. Martial laws are effective only in the most extreme of emergencies and, if not repealed thereafter, result in juntas and fascist regimes. Hence, POTA is only a short-term solution if it is to be considered.

The second argument is for better intelligence. Easier said than done. First of all, what does it mean. For me, a civilain, that translates into autonomy and more efficacy.

Terrorism can sometimes be an expression of the broader will repressed by the state. Or it can be the violent fanaticism of the few.

In the case of latter, intelligence, with roots spreading far and wide, will be able to preempt most acts because the terrorists, lacking popular support, will be exposed regularly. Preparing and planting bombs does take an awful amount of co-ordination, time and effort; enough to raise suspicion in the ghettoes where they fester.

In the case of former, if it is the will of the people, the only long-term solution is dialogue. Force has never worked - not in Ireland, not in Jaffna, not in Vietnam.

The terrorism of Saturday is without any popular base. The overwhelming majority of any community in India wants its peace and fundamental rights.

Let's not give in to the stridency of the hour: let's rejig the system. For once, our blood-sucking beureaucrats and politicians are under fire: let's take intelligence away from their polluting influence and build something along the line of FBI.

Giving absolute power to the absolutely corrupt is stupid.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The unbearable stupidity of today

There is something so intrinsically beautiful in a pithy aphorism, in the cacophonous stream of relentless sound-bytes, that you sometimes accept them as the truth, the complete truth, without a thought.
An article I stumbled on counters the claim of an English professor, in his book titled - 'The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don't Trust Anyone Under 30)", by stating that
A. intelligence is not just knowledge of facts (esp. those presecribed by elders)
B. Don't blame the 'idiots', blame the context. The apathy argument.
And then it states the line that almost won me over - Alienation is not dumbness.

Beautiful, huh? Alas, it is only a word play.

The incidental facts that the elders espouse sometimes define the politics of tomorrow. The article states Santayana's 'those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it' argument but is very cavalier about its impication. Much of terrorism today is a lashback of the alienation of societies and nations at the fringes over this very apathy. The spate of anti-Muslim mails, some even hinting at mass-deportation and genocides, that followed the bombings yesterday are testimony to an all-round stupidity that we as a nation have stoned ourselves to - with generous help from a political system that thrives on rhetoric and emotional melodrama than issues and, in recent years, a dangerously illiterate tabloid-media.

Another apology for the apathy is that we, the elders, are not working hard enough.

"If you don't know which rights are protected in the First Amendment, how can you think critically about rights in the U.S.?" Fair enough... it reflects not stupidity but a failure of the school system and of society (which is run by grown-ups) to require them to know it."

This is plain bullshit. Come here you over-indulged Americans and see what school systems look like in the rest of the world. Anyone beyond 12 (I don't buy the 18 argument) who is not curious about the world he/she lives in, esp. when he has the means, is a disaster waiting to be unleashed.

I have said in an earlier blog that stupidity is a decision - beyond an age. We choose to remain stupid because knowledge involves effort and effort is, well, tiring. It's easier to voice whatever the media is ranting about than develop arguments of your own, treat everything like it happened without any history than read into it, have sloppy-sentimental notions of goodness in this world than stare at the stark problem of inequalities in the world and understand the institutional mechanics behind, it is easier to watch television that read and use your imagination, watch the escapist Bollywood fare than jar the depth of your intelligence and soul in world cinema.

We are stupid because we can afford to be.

Stupidity is the biggest problem facing the world today. It was always - but the contrast between the means at a person's disposal to enlighten himself and the actual intelligence has never been so glaring. Terrorism persists because of the stupidity of the masses that support the two-faced, self-serving states whose policies the terrorists usually fight against (Ask yourself honestly: how do you fight states other than by terrorism? Do you expect people to form a private army and then march to Kurukshetra and then be bombed out with a couple of minutes?)
Maybe the terrorists are stupid (after all, most terrorist outfits are bolstered by even greater stupidity of their misled support groups), but two worngs might not make a right, but two stupidities surely make a disaster.

Aren't we in such a mess because of the over-the-years cultivated and arogant stupidity of the most powerful nation of the world?

'Either you're with us, or against us!' Remember? Only the really stupid see the world in binaries, in black and white.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Are we being just to Sanjeev Nanda?

Justice delayed is justice denied. So the adage goes; the party denied presumably the aggrieved party. But what about the criminal? Esp. in a case of culpable homicide.

Sanjeev Nanda is the same age as me. Nine years ago, when he was driving the BMW, I was riding my first bike - a second hand Yamaha RX100. My only mishap that year happenned when I raced into a U-turning rickshaw, that suddenly decided that the way opposite was the way for him, somewhere in the city:but that was entirely to my disadvantage.

I remember reading about that night in the next morning's paper. Sabby was still my room-mate, Itawa and chirag were in the room opposite, Chiklu lived across our hostel, and I was in correspondence with Prachi. Ages ago.

There was a curious feeling of vindication at the overdue desserts of a coeval who was born with the world in his locker and the privilige of a life of no struggles -fast cars, babes, good looks - and flaunting it. That his family allegedly watered the festering, bulbuous corruption in defence deals and undermined the nation's security, of course, added to the thrill.

Over the years, the Nandas, allegedly, bought witnesses and ran the judiciary system, groaning under the rotting weight of its colonial convolutions, as smoothly and confidentally as a Formula1 driver. Now, it seems, like the host of celebrated and long-drawn cases recently, their luck has finally run out.

But what is the basis of the justice system?

1. punishment?

2. reformation?

3. containment?

Punishment, if not coupled with the objective of reformation, is not the concern of the state or any rational institution. The criminal might be asked to financially compensate the aggrieved party for the damage done. But incarceration/death for the sake of only feeding the desire of revenge, is neither rational nor the hallmark of any civilized state.

Hence, the objectives narrow down to reformation or containment.

Containment applies to criminals that might repeat their actions and, hence, be a threat to the security of the public. The act might either come with intent or, as in the case of culpable homicide, negligence. The objective is to contain the person till, in the first case, the criminal changes his intent or, in the other, he becomes more careful; both till a level that he is no longer a threat.

My argument is based on this understanding of modern-day justice systems.

Now, forget the mockery that the Nandas might have made of the legal system and the weeping widows; just like you might have conveniently forgotten that if the Nandas did play the system for their son, so, in all probability, would have you. (The only constraint would have been the power you wield and the bank balance you own.)

Try and think rationally (a tough request in these days of strident media-led kangaroo courts). Try to be a part of the panch parmeshwar.

Who are we trying to reform here? A 30 year old for something he did when he was 21? For what purpose? If I had killed that rickshaw driver that day nine years ago, would now be time to try and reform me?

The answer is clear - REVENGE; for thinking that they can play with the lives of the poor; for eating off the fat of the land; for this, that and everything.

They might be corrupt, arrogant, smug; in short, evil!

But is this the royal darbaar of Akbar the merciful or a modern legal institution?

Is this justice?

There is only one criminal here - the people who have made legal system thus. Of the murder of justice - eitherways - with intent. Purposeful negligence.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

This year's Independence Day

I was at Badrinath on the eve of Independence Day. I was put up in a GMVN rest-house, where the Intelligence had even done a hurried check in all the rooms the night before.

At eight in the morning, I finished my tea and watched the PM address. With the ridiculous mountain-of-a-molehill unrest in Jammu, terror attacks in Bangalore and Ahmedabad, failing monsoons, inflation, slowdown and infrastructural collapses n the backdrops, I expected a hard-edged speech; if not of the proportions of 'Blood, sweat, toil and tears', at least, an honest look-in into why we are increasing becoming a nation of hyperboles, hypocricies and farce. Instead, it turned out to be a rally cry for the elections. A camera sweep over the audience showed rows and rows of VVIPs.

The day before, I had seen a cavalcade of Maruti Omnis being given top priority by the cops in a jam since they carried a A4 sheet printout stuck to the windscreen of 'VIP Person on board'.

India, I despaired, has become the nation of priviliges; the rights of the individual usurped by the overweening rights of the powerful elite; the socialistic principles by the feudal.

A knock at the door and I was informed that there was a minor flag hoisting. Steppping out, this is the scene that greeted me. As the caretaker, genially bungled with the flag, a small spontaneous crowd silently gathered over and stood respectfully in silent attention.

A lot of politicians - Leftists, Sangh Parivar, Thackrey - arrogate on themselves the right of speaking for the nation: how it has been insulted, how it can never accept such and such and, of course, the culture. Similarly, industrialists turn the country's best brains into their slaves and profess that the policies they lobby for are in the nation's best interests, and only incidentally theirs.

But India is much bigger than that: bigger than the sum total of all of us. All of us have our own India. It does not need to be shouted, rallied for and bludgeoned into the masses. It is a private communion and no-one has the right to violate that.

On a similar note, it's heartening to note the steps taken by this school to supend the absentees - I feel it is the part of the fixing of the broken window that is the need of the hour.

If we as people can't show the minimal respect to the collective, the collective that stands for ensuring the sacrosanctity of our private rights, we're never going to go much ahead on the road to dignity, forget success.

India starts within.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Sanghavi for Kashmir secession

Vir Sanghavi argues that India should just let go of Kashmir. His argument is partly founded on the definition of democracy that the state ascribes to, and partly on the argument that we have done all we could have for the Kashmiris and yet have only ungratefulness and zillat(" Pakistan, a small, second-rate country that has been left far behind by India, suddenly acts as though it is on par with us, lecturing India in human rights and threatening to further internationalise the present crisis") to show.

He says that already Kashmir is overprivileged in terms of its special rights: 'Under Article 370 of our Constitution, with the exception of defence, foreign policy, and communication, no law enacted by parliament has any legitimacy in Kashmir unless the state government gives its consent. The state is the only one in India to have its own Constitution and the President of India cannot issue directions to the state government in exercise of the executive power of the Union as he can in every other state. Kashmiri are Indian citizens but Indians are not necessarily Kashmiri citizens. We cannot vote for elections to their assembly or own any property in Kashmir. '

Moreover, the state is a big drain in grants and central support, shouldering out needy states like Bihar by a factor of ten.

And of course, the enormous drain on military expenditures, lives, morale and the increasing threats of terrorism.

He argues against the fear that this solution would encourage other secessionist movements. Ultimately, there has to be some out-of-the-box solution to the Kashmr crisis, ans it's far ahead of any other secessionist threat that has ever faced the country.

The reason he ascribes to India's holding on to the truculent and bloodied Valley is machismo.

I liked his arguments. Just some doubts: if we're thinking of letting it go, why not first start with revoking Article 370 and see if it worsens the situation any further, besides the three months long riots. The entire Valley is guilty of ethnic cleansing in the nineties; silence and even tacit support by the populace in the terror campaign against the minority is how the Jews were cleared off too. What stops us from flooding our Bihari migrant workers to the Valley like the Chinese fed their Han population to Tibet? Fear of unrest? How worse can it get than it has been so far? After all, these are the people who scared away the tens of lakhs of Kashmiri Pandits from their own homes?

Bloody protests will follow, but as I said, what's new? The two outcomes to the revocation would be either eventual peace (with the current status accorded a huge bargaining advantage in favor of the nation) or eventual secession. Either way, we would not lose face as a credible democracy in the long run.

Instead of cutting off the hand, why not first take out the iron fist beneath the velvet glove first?

Defining Justice

Definition of Justice from an article in mint

In the common law traditin; justice serves liberty. law is thebody of general principles protecting the lives (criminal law) and property (tort and contract laws) of iindividuals. Justice is derived from the right of the individual to his body and, subsequentially,to expression, belief and property.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Sometimes when you say a goodbye, do you wonder if you'll ever meet again?

I hate the 'idealists': I have a few people in mind. Idealism, without due respect to the context, is foolishness of the owrst kind; it is the foolishness that gets your friends killed.

Not all life is precious. Not everything needs to be preserved. Not everyone needs to be appeased. People who can't make the distinction have deep guilt complexes and are exactly the sort who let Hitler get away with so much for so long.

People are not born stupid; they choose to be one.

A quote from Margaret Atwood

From 'A Blind Assassin' : (Finished it during my Valley of Flowers trip)

Good judgement comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgement.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Why so happy?

I am sick and tired of haiku phiosophies.

The words below are from an actual post I have come across (and a very popular blog at it):

Its ok...Happens...Dont worry...Stay happy...Simple things...Just be...
It's the simple things in life we forget...
Why do you make something so easy so complicated?
Searching for what's right in front of your face
But you can't see it

(Except for the last, all the three colons - '...' -belong to the author)

Well, it is complicated! In case you did not notice. Your loved ones hurt you the most, 80% of child molestations happen from someone very close, the more mediocre you are - the better your chances to succeed, saints are crucified and the devil rules.

What the fuck is right in my face? What the hell is that supposed to mean, in the first place?

Little things indeed. I guess, the author means the flowers, the sandals, the coffee in the morning sort of bullshit. what about the big things? what if you have a low self-esteem and have the biggest bully of a boss - does the morning coffee whiff take away the dread of the pounding you're going to get in the office in a couple of hours?
Does the beauty of the bright neons distract the drained emptiness of a Japanese worker commuting from office to work and back for more than eight hours a day on a sub?
Or a fresh blue poppy relieve the bent back of a hill woman trudging ten miles to her hovel with two LPG cylinders on her back?
What about the loneliness and desparation of a small-town girl sharing a 8by8 feet room with three strangers and being eve-teased on the midnite trudge back?
What about the man running from pillar to post for his pension?

All examples have been taken from people I have met, seen or communicated with.

I don't believe in screaming against the inexorable cruelty of existence all the time (or as Vishesh pointed: the pitliess fact of the survival of the fittest), but reducing it to such simplistic clap-trap reeks of the urban self-contained hollow-bricked wall that we, the privilged, have built around us, cemented with the smug generalization of our miniscule reality to the the broader one beyond, and making-believe that the world is as simple as a Disney flick. It's not.
For many of us, the big things - fending for yourself and your family, keeping the threadbare veil of dignity, rotikapdaamakaan, saving for the future - is an everyday challenge. And I am not being a pink 'a tragedy is a tragedy if it happens only below the poverty line' asshole. Every struggle is a tragedy since struggle means sacrifice; and sacrifice means giving up something. And life is struggle - for most of us. What lies in front of our eyes is despair and all the reasons to give up. We hope despite what we see, and not because.