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.