Monday, August 31, 2009

Watching Ambedkar vs Gandhi and thoughts on nature of debates

I caught a play today down at SRC, Mandi House, called Ambedkar vs. Gandhi.

With an ensemble of over seventy, I guess, and a fultoo Congress, if not Gandhi-bashing, an ambitious and brave effort.

But despite the ensemble, only four characters – Ambedkar, Rama his wife, a middle aged associate of Ambedkar and Gandhi have any significant role, with Ambedkar’s slice of the pie looking like a PacMan gobbling a dot. And therein lay the biggest drawback of the play – that it was only built around one character and it would not have been too much of a stretch if the entire play had been one man Ambedkar act with soliloquies interspersing with debates with voices in the background. Even the actor playing Ambedkar towered over the pretty ordinary Gandhi, with the entire T-bone of the dialogues on his plate, and instead of a clash of cults, personalities and ideas, the play was just Ambedkar bulldozing over Gandhi. A notable exception was Rama, his wife, who in a brief scene with Ambedkar left her mark and gave the most surprising and warm moment of the play.

Nevertheless, the play was marked with brutal and bold honesty in Ambedkar’s pronouncements and the characters had to pause many times for the applause to die down. What overwhelmed me most was the discussion.

I usually despair that we Indians would rather sweep things under the wholesome carpet than have a brutally frank discussion on what ails our society. I was wrong. Affirmative action for the Dalits has generated the most real debate of our lifetime. The debate which ensued was no-holds barred, did not hide behind euphemisms and had that most definitive characteristic of a real debate – it worked from first principles up. The principle that every man is born equal.

All the religions in the world ultimately become tyrannies after they impose the cultural context they originated from to different contexts. I do not know what this tendency is called but I will call it literalism.

In Semitic religions, it translates into the words as written in a book some millennia ago. In Hinduism, it was the Varna system. As the play beautifully depicted, even Gandhi struggled to accept the idea of renouncing the Varna system. In a dialogue, he tells Ambedkar, in words to this effect, ‘What Muslim is a Muslim who does not believe in the whole sanctity of the Koran; what Christian is a Christian if he rejects even in part the Bible; what Hindu is a Hindu who renounces then the tenets of Varna?’


The turning point of Western free thought, even after the French revolution, was the acceptance of Darwinism. Whereas other scientific discoveries could be rationalised and assimilated into God’s words (much like Nostradamus’ predictions which are found to have predicted an event exactly – after it’s happened) as another evidence of man’s infinitesimal understanding of the true meaning of them, Darwin let no such room for post-hoc manoeuvres. The Bible said man was created by God on the seventh day, directly, in the present form, and Darwin said he evolved from fish to apes. There was no way of accepting one theory without rejecting the other. Christianity was never the same after Darwin won.

Hinduism is in the throes of that change and it would be reasonable to expect another few centuries for the evils of the caste system totally dissipate. (The problem of RSS is not of Hinduism but of regular Fascist tendencies – we are the majority hence we should have all the privileges.)

Islam still has to move away from the literalist mindset. I have seen even educated friends rationalise some ritual they follow by giving me some reason of hygiene and long-sighted eventual betterment of humanity. If that is the central concern, why not just work from the principles of hygiene and betterment of humanity and do whatever is best to attain that, whether it is ascribed in the book or not? That is why I used the word rationalise since it means – to ascribe (one's acts, opinions, etc.) to causes that superficially seem reasonable and valid but that actually are unrelated to the true, possibly unconscious and often less creditable or agreeable causes.

It is not surprising that all these literalist tendencies have been marked by the greatest violence humankind has seen. The centuries of violence against the untouchables, the reign of terror for a millennium in the Christian world and the violence which the literalist Wahabi sects have unleashed.

The questions were brutally to the point engaging, though always cut short because of time constraints. If only we can take this honesty to our everyday debates, we might still attain soon the greatness we feel we’ve always deserved.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Man on the prowl - Talk by Chandrahas Choudhuri

I finally ventured out of Gurgaon into the far faraway land of Delhi literati whose escapades, so far, I have followed only on their cross-linked blogs.

The event was a talk by Chandrahas Choudhuri, author of Arzee the Dwarf, who – along with Tarun, a friend, and Jai Singh – will always keep alive in me the fire of the shuddering realisation that there are people who’ve read more books in a year that I will ever read in a lifetime. Chandrahas is the excellent book reviewer from Mint and I’ve followed his blog without actually reading most of the books he reviews.

The talk was a British Council in Delhi, a place, as I discovered, just outside the Outer Ring of CP near the Statesman building. It took me a lot of time to get there and get the car parked. The building was very beautiful but like much of Delhi virtually inaccessible to a daily-wage earner from Gurgaon like me.

I entered the auditorium just as Chandrahas was beginning his talk after an introduction by someone called Mark that I’d missed.

A little about my expectations from the talk. I had read the first teaser chapter in the blog of the author and had not liked it very much. Coming as it did around the time I had skimmed through the disasters of ‘You are here’ by Meenaxi Reddy and ‘My friend Sancho’ (Earlier, the Sancho-author’s claim in an interview that his favourite author at ten was Dostovesky had put me in a depression – I graduated to Hardy Boys at twelve!) I was getting increasingly suspicious of bloggers turning authors.

I browsed a little more in Landmark (it might sound I browse there every day but it’s more like five times a year) and started liking it. First of all, it’s a novel – finally. And not an extended-blog of an ego-inflating exercise. The author has obviously chosen a story alien to his own self and it sticks. Being short and having a glorious personality is not as easy I make it seem; imagine being a dwarf. In an interview, the author talked about he saw a handsome dwarf once and thought if being good-looking at that height didn’t make things worse for you and therein lay the spark for the tale. I was surprised as the thought had occurred to me too a long time ago, tho’ no handsome dwarf fell on my head from the apple tree I ruminated under.

As I browsed through the first forty-odd pages of the book, I realised that it was a brave book since it ventured beyond the author’s own habitus and that whatever I have learned of forms and contents from my readings – though not a scratch on Chandrahas’ own expressions at the start of many of his reviews – the book performed very well on those fronts. I remember at which phrase I actually kept the book back on the shelf – a poet-driver telling Arzee ‘Requited love – that is the paradise raised from nothing but a pair of synchronized imaginations.’ I was put off by the too many words and especially the “synchronized.’ He’s talking about love – goddammit, I thought. Why not use something like ‘imaginations commingled’? Doesn’t ‘commingle’ replicate the angelic euphoria and the bells you hear within more than the mechanical ‘synchronized’, I thought. (I am not making this up – this is what I thought then.) Lyricism, for me, is very important in a novel. Something the greats like Dickens understood. Try reading his books aloud to yourself and you will understand.

My second reading of the book happened yesterday at LM. I had been sick for a couple of days and the fever broke yesterday. During this time, I had hardly eaten and I was craving for a Zinger burger meal. LM’s luck that it’s placed right next to a KFC on MG Road (Having a flat between LM and KFC is paradise for me – stuff love, requited or not.) Here, I finally decided that Arzee is a very good book indeed. The author, in successive chapters, throws light on some of the main characters, beside the protagonist, in a beautifully described Mumbai chawl-like building, where the protagonist’s thoughts range from almost falling dizzy with a temptation of suicide yawning under him as a hole to pathetic self-pity to a sudden pang for someone lost to falling in love with a voice – belonging, as he realises later, to a blind girl. All very credibly portrayed. And the best of authors can falter at this. A brilliant scene. The next scene, where the protagonist is clowning in a mall dressed as a Limzee bottle, starts with panache, as if the author is atoning for the almost grey morose tone, similar in texture to the building where most of the previous scene takes place, of the previous chapter.

‘All afternoon, a big green furry bottle – big for a bottle, that is, but small for a human being, which under the surface it undoubtedly was, since it walked on two legs, wildly waved two arms, and emitted a medley of squawks, neighs and moos, mixed with snatches of dialogue from movies and ululating calls of – ‘Auto! Auto!’ – a large green bottle had been scooting around the Inorbit Mall in the suburb of Malad, creating a stir.

A very good beginning to a paragraph as it is, I feel that the impact would have been more if the author had truncated it to this effect –

‘All afternoon, a big green furry bottle wildly waving two arms – and emitting a medley of squawks, neighs and moos, mixed with snatches of dialogue from movies and ululating calls of ‘Auto! Auto!’ – scooted on two short legs around the Inorbit Mall in the suburb of Malad, creating a stir.’

For even though, I started liking the book well enough to thinking of buying it, I found it still a bit laboured on its humour. None of the delightful – Buddha running through a village wit. And it makes Arzee's relentless self-pitying stream of thoughts tedious to read after some time. In my opinion, humour is the most brilliant ink that a pen which speaks of human tragedy dips into. The reason I go back to reading 'English Augist' once every coupe of years is to relish the brilliant wit with which Upmanyu underlines Agastya's alienation and his inner throes. In fact, the wit in Arzee reminded me of a friend's, a comparison I will speak about later. The author needs to work there.

Coming to the lecture, after the browsing, I realised that the book was not for the casual reader – though the writing is very simple and straight-forward – since the freshness of breath from the urban angst and my college strongest my life coolest sophomoric stuff churning by the gazillions would be lost in most people who have not anguished between the yawning gap between the writings from other countries, even Pakistan, and our own. I imagined a small quiet high-brow huddle where I will furtively lurk in the shadows like an interloping mosquito looking for a silent suck of blood while no one was looking.

Imagine my surprise, when the door opened to an auditorium with around a hundred people sitting in plush sand-brown seats and the author confidently standing on the bare stage, bare but for a Perspex lectern with the British Council logo on the author’s right and a low table with a glass top and spindly legs on his left with a few standing copies of his book. I was directed to one of the two seats available somewhere in the middle. As I sat, I realised that there were a few seats available in the front two rows where I thought, rightly so as I later realised, I recognized a few faces from some of the cross-referential literati blog posts.

The talk was short – an hour at the most – and I soon realised, too basic for my taste. Instead of budding writers, or even mature readers, it was catered more towards budding readers. And in this, as the Q&As revealed, the author had gauged the standing of the majority of the audience well.

Chandrahas is a natural speaker, reminding me again of the friend whose unfortunate short-coming (I couldn’t resist the pun) of low wit he shares, but seems like an honest and nice guy. And no doubt, humble. (Here the author describes his reading skills as humble which, after listening to him talk impromptu and make much sense, I am sure, are not.)

He spoke mainly about rules of writing which to sum briefly were – read without a plan and outside your comfort zone, the power of knowing the etymology of the words you intend to use (I found his “my favourite book being Oxford Eng Dictt” a bit fatuous), keeping a notebook (Loved the phrase he used – catching a thought on its wing), making notes on the book you read (which I do, read Anne Fadiman’s excellent Ex Libris for an entire chapter on this), reading poetry (alas! My Achilles’ heel!) to understand why words need to be used sparsely and powerfully – though Arzee itself, I feel, is a bit too worded, think about form beside the content – not very well explained but I understood what he meant – the thought he’s put on form shows beautifully in Arzee, using the internet and being patient.

He spoke almost nothing about the book – the wings of whose expectation had flown me fotry kilometres from my Aravali perch after taking a half day leave. Where he labored the most, which word he spent a couple of months searching for, the pangs of self-doubt, the brilliant epiphanies on the darkest nights, the inspiration for some thoughts incidents and characters, the subtle interplay he’s trying to point towards – none of it.

And once the Q&A started, I realised that most of the audience, and by most I mean something over 95%, hadn’t read a word of Arzee.

The beginning question was ‘I read the line by Atal Bihari Vajpayee “You can choose your friend, not your neighbours.” How do I include them in some Hindi poetry I want to write?’ this was uttered in halting English by a young man, something that usually makes the British Council tuitions attending types either snickering or nodding in vigorous guilty awareness of their privileges, and was so attended.

With this question, I realised one another aspect of Chandrahas – his greatness, or perhaps his astounding ability to not let his befuddled frustration show. For me this question is like asking ‘Meri nani mar gayi hain, main kalkatta kaise jaun?’ in a forum to answer question on AIDS. Kudos to Chandrahas to actually form some reply to it with lots of laughs and warmth.

An unlikely trio sat in front of me, behind the girl with a smile to stop your heart, a tall thin man with hair of a shape I do not have the vocabulary to describe, another with a looooong pony tail and again bony features, and – here the unlikely part starts – a well built sardaarji, slightly towards the flabby, with a mountain of a turban. Throughout the lecture, they exchanged meaningful glances (no, not those meanings) and even titters – if that word could be used to describe the giggles of males like these. I was rather awed by their act and decided that they must be knowing something about the author that I didn’t. A passing mention of the young gentleman on my right who brought memories of attending lectures in audis like this when, for some reason, he would get flustered every time I took some notes, and then hurriedly copy them from my pad to his.

After this brilliant start, the sardaarji raised his arm. I caught my breath waiting for him to stand tall and reveal that he was Rushdie in guise. Instead, the sardaarji started with an introduction to his doctor self (Chandrahas had mentioned his admiration for people who can follow literary fiction besides working) – I was shocked when he mentioned that he had eight years of experience, same as mine more or less, when the man was clearly a decade older than me at least but thankfully he mentioned that he’d switched a few jobs before medical. After the brief biodata, the question came. The author had said that you should read deeply and stuff you can’t comprehend right away, while in competition exams you’re required to read comprehensions in minutes! Laughter.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have the wit! The sort you find in small-town parties tottering with a glass in hand and placing a hand over your shoulder and shouting in a stale whiskey-laden breath ‘Young Man!’

I would have rolled my eyes all the way back if the girl in front had not been turning her head behind to have a look at the sardaarji.

More questions were asked. All of them almost screaming that no one (save perhaps a couple) of the questioners had even attempted to understand where the author was coming from. Some of the questions were like asking Geet Sethi about carrom. These are the times you want to kick Delhi in the nuts. Its loudness, its obsessive hankering to talk talk talk and strut strut strut without caring to first nurture the substance within. I doubt if these standard of questions would have been asked in Bangalore or Chennai.

The sardaarji tried to butt once more in – without feeling the need, this time, for the author to pass him the turn to speak or the mike to be passed to him – but the author was able to cut him very skilfully.

The session over, we lined to buy the book. The author had mentioned that he’d sold only 20 books so far and I hope to heavens he was joking. Working on sales projections this month, you realise that even the tiniest niches of India’s emerging consumer class translates to a consumption of billions of dollars. And here you have this fine famous blogger and reviewer with a commendable book and he’s managed to sell twenty?!

I shuffled and ran into a discussion where an author suggested I join his fan club, and I politely refused. Behind me in the line stood a lady I recognised from a jacket blurb of short stories collection I had browsed through the day before. Mridula Koshy. A down-to-earth sweet lady. I had read only one story of hers, and not been able to concentrate enough – she doesn’t write easily – to form an opinion. Some other time maybe.

After some time we realised that the line was being cut abundantly and concentrated on moving ahead. And so I finally met Chandrahas who took the book I had just bought (at 20% discount! Touche, LandMark!) and hurriedly scrawled over it uttering some polite gurgles both of us didn’t give much weight to – especially after the couple of minutes he’s spent bending an ear to listen better to the girl ahead of me. (Yes, he’s not quite dwarfish.) Just as Chandrahas took my book to sign, the sardaarji made an appearance behind him and shouted that the author seriously consider his question -- to which Chandrahas laughed and promised to take it offline.

Once over, I hung around the back of the audi. A stage always makes me feel sad and remember my happy days on it; and I sat on a seat in the back drinking the stage, the curtains parted aside, the wings, the stereo, the lights, the carpeted aisles dropping to it – and left after some minutes.

I walked from there to CP, taking the outer circle where the shops are more crowded and bustling than the inner, drinking in the sights I always took for granted and am so denied in the sanitized cocooned urbania of Gurgaon, had some bhelpuri, followed some cops as they went about harassing street hawkers and push-cart vendors, even those with licenses, and sat under a tree for an hour, at the corner of the inner circle. I watched people board autos – I still vividly remember the African teenaged boys, the Keralite huddle in their mundus(?) haggling with a boy selling handkerchiefs, a very pretty girl cross the street with a bearded admittedly-handsome fella, and listening to a spindly young man on my right, who sat on his haunches on the cemented circle under the tree, and told someone on the phone that things will improve after September and not to think of marriage before that as his good time is staring after October.

I don’t know why I wrote so much today. It’s been a day without meaning – a day like the ones I used to spend a long time ago never knowing how much I will miss them. This is the first time I am speaking in words about these days. My last years in Lucknow and then Bangalore were spent in the shadows of such events (not in Lucknow tho’) and shunting around markets watching people – always absolutely alone. And silent. When I came back home, when home was not an empty apartment and I had people to ask me where I had been, I would give non-committal replies – and not that I knew the answers. These were my happiest days.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I didn't want to write this

Rediff is doing to Internet news what TOI did to the paper press a decade ago.
That is why I check it out every hour for updates.

Sample the headline of this new novelist off the block article titled "I didn't think I would become a Rushdie". Naturally, if I came over and told you "I never thought I would see two seven-feet tall guys with amputated arms kissing each other", you would assume that I just had. Far from it. It's more like - in my case at least - 'I never thought I would have girls screaming and clawing over me'.

I assumed that the guy is the next Rushdie being hailed by the press. Nothing like it. The guy just mentions that, for good reason, he knew he would never be Salman Rushdie. He might as well have mentioned Marilyn Monroe - because, from what his TobyYoungish book sounds like, his chances of ever becoming her are definitely brighter.

My only disappointment is that Rediff could have spiced it up a little more.

Something like 'I never thought I would be raped by Rushdie while Arvind Adiga pinned my arms and Anita and Kiran Desai held one leg each.'
'I never thought Rushdie would get obsessed over my fat nipples.'

Hello, I love you. Would you be my fan?

What the fuck is this new fan thing in facebook going on?

I got an invite to become a fan of a rock group some of my batchmates in IIT have started. I hold absolutely very high respect for them since they’ve taken the road few take, persevered for a decade, and realised their dream. But I am not a fan of their music.

Similarly, I got an invite to be a fan of IIT by another batchmate. What the hell does a fan of an institution mean??? Freedictionary defines a fan as (a person who admires or is enthusiastic about a pop star, actor, sport, or hobby) Exactly. Because there’s something specific the fan is enthused about. What am I a fan of – the food, the professors, all the students who ever went there, all the students sitting there in the night time in front of the laptops shagging to glory, its architecture, the bogs, the turds that drop through it, the SIS guards shooing away the stray cattle, or the sum totality of all this? If it’s an institution I really have to choose, I would rather choose casual sex.

Today, I met two authors. When I asked one of them for his email address he told me that he has a fan community in Facebook I can join. Taken aback, I blurted – But I am not your fan (I haven’t even read the dude’s book.). He seemed to be more taken aback and told me to send an invite in Facebook instead.

Now I am asked to be a fan of a company I’ve never heard of.

It’s time someone starts a “doesn’t care a shit about” invite. Then see the memberships multiply.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Marry me, will ya?

An attention-deficit, chronically-depressed and frightfully honest alcoholic gamma male seeks alliance from someone with big tits – everything rest follows. No job, no career plans – hence expecting a huge dowry.

Girl should contact directly – contact from parents and other assholes not welcome.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A requiem for my city

Khushwant Singh I guess.
The tragedy underlined is a tragedy I've identified with acutely.

लहजे में वो नफासत, वो रंग-ओ-बू कहाँ है?
वो दिल फरेब बातें, वोह गुफ्तगू कहाँ है?
था जिसपे नाज़ हमको, वो लखनऊ कहाँ है?

वो खुश्बुओं के रेले, दिल्कश हसीन मेले
दिल की जवाँ तरंगें,वो ख्वाहिशें उमंगें
जैसे बरस रही हो, रस रंग की फुवारें
अब तक बसी हैं दिल में,लव लेन की बहारें

अब भी है काफ़ी हाउस, लेकिन था एक ज़माना
जब शायरों अदीबों का, यही था ठिकाना
सिगरेट का धुआं जैसे हर फ़िक्र का बादल था

यह गंज यूँ तो अब भी चाहत है लखनऊ की
बदली हुई सी लेकिन रंगत है लखनऊ की
अंदाज़ वो नहीं हैं आदाब वो नहीं हैं,
आँखें वही हैं लेकिन अब ख्वाब वो नहीं हैं

इखलास की वो बस्ती वीरान हो गई है
इस भीड़ में शेहेर की पहचान खो गई है
तहजीब मुख्तलिफ है माहौल भी जुदा है
अब कैसे कह दें हम लखनऊ पर फ़िदा

Visualize this

Rediff here questions the sagacity of Dravid's inclusion in the light of WC2011. "does Dravid form a part of the selectors' vision for the 2011 World Cup?"

I have been hearing this preparing the squad thingee since the day I started following cricket. The only time we ever won was when we had no squad! I think sports should be played more and discussed less. And whoever's the best for right now should be let to play.

And we should delete the word vision from any other usage as the facult to see with your eyes. We get too much of that bull in corporate and biographies as it is.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

In defence of Profiling - My Name is Khan II

As the MyNameisKhan saga ensues, I trudge along a sea of data - transactions from one of our stores for a month, to spot patterns of purchase which are called trip types. In the absence of any data mining software, I have to rely on excel, since clustering cannot be done, and my intuition.

Right now I am concentrating on single-item focused purchases - purchases done to meet the need of a single item in an emergency. By intuition, I know such trips would have low sales and number of quantities and this comes to 20% of the trips. Further, from past experience in similar exercises with other retailers in my past job, I know some most prominent types of these trips are centred around - Dairy replenishment (Milk Run), Leafy vegetables (Coriander ex.), Banana, Bread and Meat.

After almost, a day of effort a story glimmers.

If I had not started from my hypothesis, if I had treated all data as a valid starting point, with more than 3000 items and 20000 transactions, I would have taken a long time to reach a story - if I could have.

There is bigotry and there is profiling.

Bigotry is what is happening to Indian students in Australia. Profiling is what happened to SRK.
What happened to SRK would have escalated to bigotry if
1. he had been segregated despite there not being any doubt in the mind of the assessor
2. After the doubt had been cleared conclusively, he would have still been detained

Profiling is the application of general knowledge to fuzzy data or where there is a lot of it.
We apply it all the time. If a stream of boys pass across you and without knowing about them, you have to pick a star basketball team - you would start with the taller boys.But if you persist in believing a taller boy is better than a bespectacled fat runt despite the fact that the runt is jumping three feet in the air and scoring three pointers, you've moved to bigotry.

I would be very concerned, if I were an American citizen, if the assessor does not detain a guy with a Muslim surname, or Asian looks, when he's not very sure about something. Simply because he's applying his general knowledge that it's mainly Muslims from Asian countries who're bombing planes.

This does not hold in the following cases -
1. There was enough time and not so many people that the guy had to rely on profiling. He could have strip searched everyone - including the nonagenarian nanny.
2. He takes the profiling beyond the seed of first doubt - that he approaches the research in a biased manner.

What the Americans did to the American-Japs after Pearl Harbor was unacceptable since they subjected them to unjust humiliations on the basis of their being Japs. But the opposite of this situation would have been disastrous - if they had not combed the population for espionage threats in times of war.

I say this as an Asian knowing that I will be subject to the same extra eying as I pass the immigration desk.

Why is the Indian government taking SRK's case, even if the detention (for 2 hrs?) was unjust? Many Indians have to face the same situation - what's so special about SRK traveling to dance at shows - independence or not - for megabucks?

This actually is a continuation of the VIP saga - . There are two types of people in our countries - VIP and non-VIP. We apply different rules for them, and are shocked when countries found on more liberal thoughts than ours do not follow the same practice.

Interestingly, Bob Dylan was picked up by the police on suspicion in NJ. Please read the story and compare the dignified manner in which the icon handled this compared to the angry Khan.

One thing that might come out of stories like these is that the VIPs might get a rude awakening of how the world really looks to the people they claim to represent - their dreams in movies, their representation in politics). I was reading how most MLAs have lived for decades now in lush bungalows or MLA houses where the water never runs dry, and the electricity never goes. And when have you ever seen a MLA rattle across the potted roads which are 99% of our roadways?

If all these MLAs have to spend 21st June in a non-AC old Ambassador, the windows rolled up, and seven to a car, careering and careening across Bannerghatta road, don't you think the nature of parliamentary debates might change?

similarly, Hindi cinema - dominated by star kids, with a combined IQ of 97, growing cross eyed and dumber than even their star parents with all the inbreeding and steroids in their muscles - might get a boost if these stars are subjected to more closer to reality situations like these.

My name is Con?

Regarding the detention of SRK at Newark Link, the plot eerily follows SRK's forthcoming venture -- My Name is Khan. Sample this plotline from wikipedia - "At that time, Rizwan (Khan) is arrested and detained when authorities mistake his disability for "suspicious" behavior."

My curiosity was piqued after I read SRK saying he was detained because his name is Khan and not the usual "Because I have a Muslim name". SRK is perhaps the greatest marketing genius of our time - and I vaguely remembered the name of this venture of his.

And guess who's directing this movie - apna Karan Johar! SRk ka marketing chela jo uske kandhe par apne hits ki bandook taanta hai aur jaane kya kya aur tannaata hai...

Now, why do I feel this incident might have been a little doctored? Or perhaps being played up a little?

Btw, inspired by the plotline - a decade after this post 9-11 genre has been done to death - I'm inspired to announce the biopic of Mr Johar himself.

My name is Gaa*d(u).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Indepinde 2009

A couple of years ago, after I had just moved to Delhi, an American colleague asked me what we do on Independence Days.

Nothing, I told him. Since most of the roads are blocked because of VIP movement, and the prime minister's address to the nation as stimulating as a scratched Kumar Sanu CD, we sit home and scratch our butts.

No, Fourth of July parades?

No, sir.

No crackers?

No, sir.


So here's something to make the day more exciting. If you're in Delhi, leave for the red Fort (for other states, go where the CM is to unveil a flag) wearing some pretty ordinary cloths. If you have a beard or a skullcap handy, use it. Get a black polythene bag, stuff some tomatoes inside, and make way through the crowd where the elite commandos stand. Act suspicious, make sudden movements - do anything to catch their attention. Once you have it, run. Run for your life, clutching and waving the bag above your head, and do not stop even if you're asked to.

I promise you this - you'll definitely hear some crackers once you break clear from the crowd.

Anyway, as my prof HC Verma would have said, Happy Inde-Pinde.

Manhoos Mehsud

The US is 90% sure Mehsud is dead.

Where did this 90% figure come from? Either you’re sure or you’re not. Or you have degrees – reasonably sure, somewhat sure... but how do you ascribe a probability to an event like this?

These are my theories:

  1. The US called up their agents and ignoring the “Cant Say”s, some multiple of nine agents told them he was dead, and a ninth of these agents told them he was not.
  2. They did a complex scenario stimulation showing the last location of Mehsud, the impact of the bomb, and the probabilities that Mehsud did not run from the drop zone at the last minute because he had sudden pangs to be with one of his wives.
  3. Some cigar-chewing top general asked someone ‘Well what the hell does reasonably sure mean?’ And the lackey improvised ‘Err – 90% sure sir.’

By the way, the question bothering me is ki marte waqt, kya Mehsud ko dard Mehsus hua tha?

Thoughts on How Society is Divided - III

Presenting my grand theory on society - Ta Da!

Partly because I feel that the graph is fairly self-explanatory, and partly out of apathy, I will speak less here, and just explain the chart a little.

The circle stands for preservation. The circle with a top arrow stands for preservation while improving one's situation by conscious effort towards that end.

The down arrow is an inevitable trajectory for people in desperate circumstances who've given up the effort of even striving. The drunkards beating their wives for the money they bring from sweeping floors fall here. The wives fall in the strivers.

It's easy to imagine why anarchists come from where they come.

The role of noble elite is more difficult - a separate blog post - but has been perhaps the most critical one in shaping the modern world. For it was in their patronage where art, and ultimately schools of thought flourished. (I plan to write a defence for elitism in a separate post.) Back home, Akbar and Ashok, the noblest of elites, whose legacies are beyond question.

A line I will expound on later - the future of the world does not come from mere democratization, but the elitism which keeps these democracies noble.

Note a few of the elite migrate to the status of strivers. This is because even though they're born with an abilty to distinguish they trade that ability for resources. They act so much against their own convictions to achieve those resources that they lose what they had once and become strivers.

This also contains the cyncial intellectuals who choose to strive for something tangible rather than the intangibles they have started to lose faith in.

The thorns is the crown of thorns sitting on our head.

Here lie the people who perpetuate the tyrannies of existence of others. They smother the masses with pillows to rest their fat asses on. They control the media and put the world to an opiate fantasy, who unleash the propaganda and mediocrity, who unleash sanitised digestible realities, where even horror is a stimulant and not a weapon of anger, who drown the thoughts which veer from the mass hysteria to take a harsher look at reality.

Herein lies organised religion. Organized thought.

Herein lies the roots of mediocrity which is digging and eating into the core of our greatness.

Thoughts on How Society is divided - II

Continuation from here -

This is to complete this post. I had developed the second part in conjunction but my usual apathy got in between.

The comments on the last post have hit quite a few nails in the head. Alam asks what an intellectual really means. His questions are so well constructed that I’ll have to reproduce it in full.

I will dedicate this post to the problem of defining the individual - something I do not claim to be an expert of.

“Does your definition of intellectualism cover only the ability to deconstruct --> reconstruct (which i would like to restate as developing a stand/understanding based on one’s own standards, experiences biases etc) ….In other words is it primarily a method of comprehending the world ….or….. does it factor in other qualitative parameters like the depth and beauty of understanding, the uniqueness of the stand, the simplicity of solution....etc etc... ?

In your scale of intellectualism -

How important in the quality of stand/understanding?

How important is method of arriving at the stand/understanding?

How important is the diversity of fields in which intellectualism can be shown?

And how important is the ability to meaningfully communicate/action on this stand/understanding?”

The dilemma of any clear-cut definition here is beautifully explained by Kesavan – ‘any understanding of reality is built on overlapping categories and leaking definitions.’

The problem emanates since human phenomena are way more complex than our vocabulary.

Intellectualism starts with first understanding this fundamental premise – the limit of the definitions we have put in the world we see. In that the ability to deconstruct is primarily an ability to dissociate a reality with its vocabulary.

Reconstruction, in my opinion, is able to see things without the dogma of vocabulary. To ascribe an enhanced new vocabulary to a reality, and yet to realise that even this vocabulary has its limits. And there it differs from biases and prejudices which applies one simple rule to all realities it faces. (An hour ago, I was developing an interesting theory on the statistical fallacies of prejudices in a separate thought.)

Intellectualism is depth – for me there is no ambiguity here. A man with half understanding in everything is incapable of appreciating anything. A man with a deep understanding in even a single field knows the value of something and in that appreciation of the value he can understand the values other things might reach. Actually, this depth is more like a negation of mediocrity than an affirmation of intellectualism. If you would remember, I had shown mediocrity less prevalent in the people with least resources since they know the depth of their labour and have first-hand appreciation of all value created by labour. On the other hand, the privileged man who’s never known the depth of anything is mediocre.

About simplicity of solutions, I don’t know. It sounds romantic that the best solutions are the simplest ones; but I doubt it. A solution is a solution which works best. From my days of Chemical Engineering, I craved something simpler to understand than formulae which ran into pages. And yet, if these formulae had not been what they were, we might be having more Chernobyls than we’ve had. Here, I make no claim to distinguishing clearly between complexity and simplicity other than simplicity is easier to grasp. I have seen professors who must have been the worst teachers ever since they could never break the complexities into digestible simplicities for us – but they still were top rated researchers.

Diversity is not a precondition for intellectualism. An intellectual who can hover over the world he inherits can actually dive-bomb anywhere he wants, the only limit being the innate talents he’s born with. This ties with the appreciation of depth that he has from first-hand experience. However, the fields of human endeavours is so so vast that it is presumptuous of anyone, even an intellectual, to stray far beyond what he’s capable of without developing a fresh way of looking at the new things.

Can a housewife be an intellectual? Certainly, if she’s aware of her context, has deconstructed and reconstructed the world she inherited, and then chosen to be a housewife.

One quality of intellectualism I have assumed is doubt. As I said, the intellectual is aware of the limits of human vocabulary. And in that sense he’s also aware of the limits of its experience. An intellectual is not a guy who goes on applying commonsense to everything he sees. Instead if confronted by a phenomenon he has insufficient knowledge and experience of, instead of applying the commonsense he’s developed (which becomes prejudices in this case), he pauses and reconsiders.

Ultimately, intellectualism is about action. The awareness with how we live our life. And how we adhere to the right action which this awareness proposes. And therein lies the problem of the “cynical intellectual”, someone aware of the right action but convinced about the futility of all action.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Carefully Selected Garbage

Found this here:

The crassness of popular taste - it's been always burning, since the world's been turning

Come here, my dear, good, beautiful doggie, and smell this excellent perfume which comes from the best perfumer of Paris.

And the dog, wagging his tail, which, I believe, is that poor creature's way of laughing and smiling, came up and put his
curious nose on the uncorked bottle. Then suddenly, he backed away in terror, barking at me reproachfully.

"Ah miserable dog, if I had offered you a package of excrement you would have sniffed at it with delight and perhaps gobbled
it up. In this you resemble the public, which should never be offered delicate perfumes that infuriate them, but only carefully selected garbage."

- Charles Baudelaire

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Thoughts on how socity is divided - I

A foolish but valiant attempt to state my developing notions about our society graphically.

I see society in two dimensions – resources and intellectualism.

Resources is linked to wealth and income and hence is the economic stratification with the upper, middle class and lower class depicted in the vertical axis roughly according to their distribution.

Intellectualism is tougher to define – it can begin with an innate genius or be the result of sustained application – but it ultimately results in a mind which deconstructs the world it inherits and tries to reconstruct it based on what it sees. It often entails much inner suffering and courage to break the rules of the mob.

Strivers are people who understand and respect intellectualism, somewhat, but realise their limitations and choose to follow the herd and even strive to get ahead.

A mediocre mind is one who does not even realise that there might be doubts and happily follow the herd.

I would dwell on this as this is a very important parameter and most often mistaken. Intellectualism is not about petty academic achievements , wealth and corporate jobs. In fact, almost all the high flying job descriptions – consultancies, investment bankings, CXOs – fall in the striver bracket – since intellectuals are people who cannot function within a structure (since they are essentially deinstitutionalized) and work either alone or in small groups – and chase ideas and not profit. Here, a special note – I included that rare but persistent breed “the cynical intellectuals” among strivers since they choose to behave so.

Intellectualism is the ability to see where we are as individuals and societies in the continuum of history – and the courage act on our ideas of which direction it should take. A striver has limited vision and courage while a mediocre man has neither.

Intellectualism requires, among other things, that the person is not exactly at the threshold of survival (As Camus points our bodily instincts of preservation supersede our mind), that he sees a world where he sees the ideas and rhetoric of his class fail, and that he has the resources of literature art and other intellectuals to give him some direction where he might find his answers.

Hence, the graph shows that the thin slice of intellectual elitism in each income segment increases with income since the survival necessity decreases and the availability of resources increases.

On the other hand, mediocrity also follows the same pattern. The reason being that a mediocre man is more or less impervious to the flaws of the arguments of the society he inherits and instead follows it blindly. To achieve this state of mind, a man has to essentially be without work. To labour is to struggles, and to realise the essential inequalities inherent on the system. Only a man who does not have to labour can be blind to this - though of course there are always room for baffling exceptions.

Hence, the richer you are, the more the probability that you do not have to be in a situation where you realise that the world is not actually fair - that production is no way linked to claims of consumption.

This is not so hard to accept. Imagine our own rich gentry. Some of them are artists and most of them are snobs - since snobbery is the last refuge of the incompetent against the deluge of upwardly-mobile strivers invading the world which fell in their laps but they do not have the ability of defending on the very fundamental principles which made those riches possible. Hence, the story is more or less the usual. A couple of generations strive to build an empire and the succeeding generations either become artists or loll around in cocktail lounges snorting at the accents of a nouveau-rich invading their erstwhile territories -- or the manner in which he holds the stem of the wine glass.

This, more or less, is how I think our society is structured.

In the next post, I will put forward my thesis on their roles.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Ghettos of Modern India

A look at the morning headlines.
Shahrukh brushes off Hashmi's remarks as a "one-off incident" citing that he himself has never faced such discrimination.
Maybe, that's because you're Shahrukh, SK. Braithwaite describes his own mistake of confusing the general warm reception of the man in the uniform with the acceptance of the black man wearing the uniform in 'To Sir with Love'. The rude fact hits him only when he dons the civilian suit again.
I am not sure about the reasons why Hashmi didn't get his Pali hill flat -- for me the reason that he is Emraan Hashmi is reason enough to refuse -- but these incidents are certainly not one-off. Profiling on religion while leasing out apartments is rampant -- especially if you're a Muslim. A few years ago, while looking for an apartment to share with a Muslim friend, a couple of parties backed away at the brink of closing the deal after hearing his name. Ultimately, it took someone from the institution of army, with its exposure to the plurality of our social fabric, to rent out an apartment to us. Another friend in Delhi faced the same situation a year back.
The vicious spiral of ghettoizing, accelerated after the Bombay riots, where the Sena boys profiled apartments door to door, has been too visible to be brushed off.

I am usually sceptic about ever reclaiming the secular threads with the unfolding momentum of uneducated hyperbolic stridency of our nation. But there is still hope in reversing these disturbing trends of more and more separation. More and more participation in the public space. Coming from a vastly Muslim city, it took me some years to realise that the average Indian has never had much interaction with people of different faiths and, as a result, much of their understanding is based on stereotypes.

Secularize all education (education, I believe, belongs to the secular arm of the state and not the religious arm of the community the child is born into), and ensure that profiling at workplaces are dealt severely.

The differences between the communities, especially in modern India, are too superficial to be not overcome if only a forum for regular participation is created. And that forum can only be the stairs and the cubicles of our offices if we create equal opportunities - and aptitude - to take these opportunities for all Indians.

Remember, most terrorists come from ghettos -- physical or those of the alienated mind.

And let's not allow blabbering idiots like SK brush aside such serious issues (note: SK not only declares that Hashmi's got it wrong -- which he might have -- but brand the issue as one-off incident). Recognition of the problem precedes its solution -- and we Indians are notorious in brushing the dust of our most heinous practices under lush green carpets of Swiss countrysides where our hero-heroine caper and tell us - in the voice of Anu Malik which belongs to hell - East or West, India is the best.


Yesterday, the president felicitated some of the Oscar winners, the Indian variety that is.

It seems somewhat pathetic that a head of such a vast nation felicitate people because some other people felicitated them - people who, in the past, have even felicitated movies like Titanic. But that's the way it's always been. Satyajit Ray, who was mostly ignored in his own lifetime, and even blamed at one time by none other than Nargis in the Rajya Sabha of selling India's poverty to the West (notwithstanding the fact that much of his oeuvre concentrated on middle-class India), was suddenly deemed a Bharat Ratna once he got the Lifetime Oscars. Such is our reverence for Uncle Oscar.

But my contention here is why do we keep on insisting that Gulzar also is one of the recepients of Oscars? He was the lyricist to a score in a tongue foreign to, I would believe, the entire panel which voted for the song. So what difference would it have made to the score's chances, if he'd substituted:

Ratti Ratti Sachi Maine Jaan Gavayi Hai
Nach Nach Koylo Pe Raat Bitayi Hai


Tatti Tatti Mein Maine Bhaang Milaayee Hai
Kuchh Kuchh Bhadwon ko paand sunghaayee hai

It would have still won - unless, of course, somebody told the people in the panel what they were swaying their heads to.

I like Gulzar. I think he was a better director than a lyricist and has never been recognized to the wonderful movies he made in the 70s (Kitaab, Mere Apne, Achaanak, Namkeen). But let's not recognize him for something he didn't do.