Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Something clicked

It has been gnawing at me for some time - the idea that the world wide web has taken in us what was once an engaged curiosity about the wider world and dispersed its constituent elements in a whirlpool of discontented latencies that have as their lowest common denominator, the ubiquitous click bait.

Three articles can be said to have led to this post. First, a hysterical response to a finely written and, ultimately, pessimistic view of an individual's role in tackling climate change. Two, the article being so commented upon. And three, an unconnected phrase in an experimental review of Saul Bellow's essays.

When I first read Robert Manne's criticism of Jonathan Franzen's essay on climate change, I was struck by how markedly it differed from the literary criticisms I regularly read in The New Yorker magazine itself, where the essay first appeared: The derision in stating Franzen's comparison of the conservationist sensibilities of a metaphorical Puritan Protestant and a metaphorical Franciscan Catholic, the sarcastic references to Franzen's use of a word - climatism, in counterpoint to one used just before - globalism, that seemed to me utterly relevant in its own environment but notably darker when brought out of context, and finally, casting aspersions on the sympathies of The New Yorker's, 'small army of fact checkers', when editing a piece by, 'The Great American Novelist', albeit one, 'incapable of mounting an argument'.
This is a hatchet job, no doubt, laced with the kind of ad hominem attack memes popular among the twitterati and seems destined to coax the outrage out of quasi-conservationists and environmentally-concerned netizens brought to bear on the duplicity of Franzen in decrying the diabolical negationist tendencies of lazy Americans and their destructive lifestyles.

Franzen's essay, meanwhile, manages to marry the cause célèbre of the day with the didactic effectively, with its calm exposition of a conservationist campaign personal to him, before going on to relate it to all that's wrong with how people and governments think about ecosystems, land use, and scalability. In effect, Franzen's argument is that we are using the excuse of climate change to neglect conserving specific species and habitats endemic to certain parts of the world, while stoking conflict about a catastrophe that has clearly overtaken its prevent-by date and that will affect future generations, whether we feel guilty about it or not.

As I was about to delve into Sven Birkerts' captivating account of interviewing himself as a way to alleviate the tedium of writing about Saul Bellow's essays, I encountered the phrase, something clicked, and my first reaction was to think of the phrase as an action performed on a link rather than just the usual reference to an inspiration gained.

What this says about me is that I must live too much of my life on the web, cross referencing authors with their critics, and commentators with their subjects, while learning a little more about the world with every click, baited or not. To paraphrase Franzen at the end of his essay - It's we... who need meaning.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Modern Horror

Drumming up hidden resolve,
From the depths of a recondite nihilism,
Each catch preying upon the next,
Before its own turn arrives,
In a particular wash of self-awareness,
That is cold to the breath,
And rancid to the nose,
A slow drum roll,
Anxiety ebbing and waning with each beat,
For a terrifying climax that never arrives.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Yeah, right

Spring is in the air, and all across the world the change in the weather is being heralded by a revolutionary dismantling of entrenched exclusionary and parochial national systems that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of the human race.

The U.S has eliminated research and development funding for defense equipment and armament procurement in its current budget, and is diverting that money towards more robust enforcement of its refugee support and job placement programs as well as committing a large annually topped-up corpus fund for its widely lauded reparations program for historically oppressed minorities.

Across the Atlantic, Europe is further expanding its Eurozone economic cooperation initiatives to aid economically worse off southern European states, and enhancing the mandate of the Eurogroup to facilitate integration of former colonised countries from Africa, Asia and South America into the European economic system. These reforms will accompany programs encouraging migrants from former colonies to choose where they would like to live and work anywhere on the continent and extending European Central Bank funded initiatives towards the smooth integration of these migrants into local communities.

China, meanwhile, is working closely with the Russian Federation to identify and isolate decades-old nuclear military equipment and transform their infrastructure to better support power generation capabilities that serve the needs of the wider Central Asia region. This cooperation further builds on concerted efforts by both nations to conform to and exceed the targets proposed in the Reversal of Climate Change treaty of which they are both founding members and signatories.

Iran and Israel have set up a joint task force to further the cause of a lasting peace in the Middle-East by supporting greater university-level semester exchange programs for students from their countries, as well as providing free higher education to students from any other nation in the region, in a structure set up on the lines of the higher education system of France.

India and Pakistan have finally resolved their differences over Kashmir by holding a long delayed plebiscite and following that, extending financial and institutional support to the newly established and fledgling Republic of Kashmir. The volume of trade between all the countries that make up the South Asia region has been on a sky-rocketing trajectory ever since, and has led to a AAA credit rating for the region by the major global credit rating agencies.

Australia has led the way to tackling climate change with the farthest reaching programs in the world in an effort to enhance the scope of the Reversal of Climate Change treaty, and has fundamentally transformed their erstwhile primarily resource-extraction based economy to one that is knowledge and consulting based. The number of people migrating from third-world countries to Australia is currently the highest in the world and the country has underlined its commitment to help more people settle in Australia by setting up more than 30 new cities in its vast hinterland to facilitate the process.

Japan is working closely with all countries in South East Asia to improve infrastructure and encourage nascent cottage industries in these countries by contributing expertise and loans in an effort, the Prime Minister of Japan recently said, to make up for the atrocities committed by Japanese troops in World War 2 in these regions. These efforts build on a concerted reparations program that Japan has engaged in with The United Republic of Korea.

Malaria, AIDS, Tuberculosis and Hepatitis are officially eradicated as of today according to a WHO press release.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

On 'India's Daughter'... and mine

I simply had to weigh in. There does come a time when pop-cultural forces beyond one's control form the ideal set of conditions for a perfect storm of collective global mania to descend upon an ill-defined and amorphous categorization of a group of male people who have nothing in common except a shared ethnicity and a befuddlement that they are indeed being grouped together by the rest of the world, as they are contemporaneously living with, loving, and sharing time and space with the women in their lives.

I am not a rapist.

I don't know what being a rapist feels like. I do not know that I would want to know what a rapist feels while he is being rapist or while he is going about his day and night not being rapist. I do want to know that my daughter is being protected by society from the genus of people collectively called rapist. I abhor rape in all its forms and manifestations. I'd like to believe this statement and the reality behind it puts me among 99.9999999.... % of the world's population, please.
I am an Indian male. While being an Indian male does not mean that I presently live in India or preclude the circumstance of me ever going back to the country, I identify with the commonality of traits and the shared cultural markers that are perceived as indicative of being an Indian male of a certain age. I believe that we are all ultimately where we are originally from, how much ever we might live our lives trying to undo our heritage, and I am completely comfortable with that. What I will not abide, however, is this idea that I must somehow be apologetic because someone else committed a crime that had nothing to do with me.
Have I ever acted to perpetuate misogyny or actively participated in an act of misogyny? I don't remember the exact circumstances when I did, but I'm sure that I must have done so sometime in my life. Just as I'm sure that I must have hit someone at sometime in my life with the intent to cause bodily harm, and been actively insensitive to someone at sometime in my life with the intent to humiliate. For these I am truly, deeply, unreservedly sorry to whomsoever I may have injured as a result and I would pay reparations in whatever form the victim(s) so wishes if I had the time or money to do so. In the current circumstances of my life, I would be hard pressed to take time off my daily schedule at work to even answer a summons at the risk of losing a desperately needed shift wage.
I represent myself. I am the sum of my experiences and desires and needs and fantasies, that are wholly, uniquely mine. I do not accept that others, except those I have so appointed and have a responsibility towards, have a say in the decisions I take to fulfil my expectations of life. I grant that everyone else in the world has the exact same right, as long as they are of sound mind and body and of a greater than commonly accepted age threshold.
I do not believe we have the right, as a society, to kill another human being as a penalty for a crime. I believe anyone can be rehabilitated and should be granted every chance to do so of their own volition.
I can only imagine what Jyoti Singh Pandey's parents, friends and associates go through every single day of their lives after what was done to her. I do not envy them that fate.
I don't believe that what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey is representative of Indian society or its cultural values any more than is the belief that Indian society is a largely homogeneous, predominantly heterosexual, chauvinistically Vaishnavite entity.

There are worlds within worlds, both within India and myself.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Significant Other

Life in my twenties was a a sad parody of the lifestyles of some of my financially better-off contemporaries, whose access to deep filial pockets and a predisposition to snobbery led me to possess a similar sense of entitlement, without the means to fulfil the trappings of privilege. If that seems an oxymoron to some of you — how can you parody privilege without possessing it? — you needed to grow up in urban India in the early oughties to understand the deep economic divisions that a decade of liberalization spawned, allowing business owners to finally come out of the shadows of the license raj and openly flaunt their inherited wealth to an erstwhile judgemental society that was conditioned to feel a collective embarrassment at even a modest self-promotion.

For those of us who were the children of salaried professionals and government employees, the suddenly lavish possibilities of life such as air-conditioned cars and resort stays at vacation spots that did not have living relatives and their houses within sniffing distance, was a kind of an adorned dream-scape featuring buxom young women in smoky nightclubs and beach/farm-houses that were only a fast, intoxicated joyride away. It was difficult to reconcile this vision with the mundane industriousness expected of one by staunchly middle-class families; a clearly articulated expectation of adequate achievement at school and college, and then at careers that were judged better based on their potential for longevity, than those that had an overly optimistic accumulation of zeroes after the first number in the salary projections on an offer letter.

And so it went, from one house party to another where entry was gained with a modicum of effort and some humiliating grovelling, to a deep disillusionment with said effort and humiliating grovelling, to a dark personal revolt at everything and everyone considered mediocre and staid, to a drug addiction that I barely escaped.

Many jobs followed and sometimes overlapped with what I preferred to consider an alternative lifestyle, whose cornerstones were epic expeditions to far-flung destinations that were desirable for both the opportunities they afforded one for personal insight, and the bragging rights that were allowed you after, as a survivor from journeys that mere regular folks balked at. A career was always elusive, with the evolutionary life-cycle of each job characterized by a new convert’s zeal and enthusiasm that earned one immediate praise and plaudit, followed by a gradual boredom and disaffection encouraged by a vague idea of a greater calling, and finally ending with a personal collapse and the leaving under a cloud.

My mother then died. For a family such as ours that was held together by the tenuous bonds of an over-stated loyalty to a clannish idea of the world that none of its members truly believed, in a pseudo-matriarchal culture that had standardized a highly refined practice of emotional blackmail and public shaming at a hint of ingratitude to one’s elders, it was a particularly devastating loss: a space-time divide between what was considered normal and all-pervasive and then, over a month of surreptitious visits to an emergency room where a mass of flesh lay in an apparently lifeless coma, was not.

The emotional collapse of an individual is easily described. It is most often accompanied by a poignant visual image that alludes to a desperate flailing on the surface of a mass of water by a fast sinking human being, or a descent into dishevelment from what was once an attractive physical visage. The collective emotional collapse of a family because of a death of one of its members is a beast of a thing to be a part of: it is almost impossible to distance yourself from the pain of personal loss whilst staying mindful of the devastation the event has caused the others, all the while recalibrating interactions and alliances and emotional bonds with the survivors whose relationships with you was based on the fact that the person just passed would always be around to moderate them.
In these circumstances, when I felt the burning eyes of my devastated family upon me, desperate to put off their own soul-searching, and seeing through my so far inconsequential life, wondering if I was going to be financially tethered to them forever, in a collective effort at focusing on the practical aspects of life which is the last refuge of every kind of denier, I met my future wife just as I was turning thirty.

In contemporary pop-culture, it is fashionable to view the coming together of two individuals as the product of an act of considered choice as a result of physical and intellectual compatibility and faith in a fulfilling future to come that promises each the full benefits of the potential success of the both. Most relationships don’t begin that way, of course, and the idea that someone is on the rebound or emotionally too frail to begin a relationship always presupposes that individuals act and react responsibly with respect to the motivations and considerations of other individuals. Cases of separation during pregnancy, prolonged domestic violence, marital rape, and abandonment, give the lie to this idea and are tragically laid bare all too often by a perfunctory look at the exigencies of the legal system in any country that caters for family law. To produce individuals of sound mind and body who enter into relationships fully aware of their rights and responsibilities is the utopian ideal of any social system, and the evidence that reality most often falls short is painfully all around us; amongst our neighbours, friends, and families.

I wasn't thinking of any of this when I met my future wife. I was only aware that I needed her company immediately.
It has been five years since we were married: a time that has given us a beautiful daughter, led us to a fraught and evolving immigration to a country that seems as though it will always be foreign to us, and allowed us to develop a verbose common vocabulary that occasionally devours our individual strength of character, but that always leaves us feeling that we didn't hold back from saying what was needed to be said at the time. I grow more grateful everyday that I found her when I did.