Monday, December 28, 2009

The Copenhagen dilemma

Excerpt from a reply to an email

Copenhagen was a disgrace any which way you look at it.... I couldn't believe it when our 'Most Honourable' Environment Minister actually boasted in Parliament that 'India got its way' (a day after getting back to Delhi). There is much to say about development (in this country, at least) getting hit if strict norms for carbon reduction and stuff get implemented, but the fact is that we can very well do without most of the industrialisation and corporatisation taking place right now - especially if you look at the vast distance between those who currently have a chance to take part in the economy and those left on the way side. Clearly, something's wrong with the whole concept of development if you leave over a third of the country out of the loop, in terms of basic amenities like food, water, medicine and shelter. I can't really comment on China, seeing as how every little bit of pixel-ated news coming out of there is so restricted, but what folks are going to take back from Copenhagen is that India and China pretty much scuttled any chance of laying meaningful guidelines down - for the near future. Anything Barack or Angela or Gordon could or might have even wanted to do, stood no chance against an argument that basically said, 'You guys have fucked up for so long with the environment, and gotten so rich while doing it - WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU to tell us what we can or can't do now?'... A grass-roots movement for Climate Change really stands little chance of succeeding in India, when there are people on the ground who aren't really sure if they'e gonna be around tomorrow or starve to death tonight, you know...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The comeupance is a-coming

I imagine that contemporary popular literature such as Aravind Adiga’s, ‘The White Tiger’, or the combined cultural heritage of the auteur, Satyajit Ray’s films, would spawn a sense of curiosity amongst us about our brethren living forlorn within the inner regions of the Indian subcontinent. But it hasn’t, and if the current impotency of the reach of the Naxalite insurgency to our cities is any indication, it very well will not in the near future. It remains, for the urban mindset, an issue that belongs to the dark-lands extending from the upper reaches of the Cauvery Delta through to the Telengana Plateau and extending from the arid plains of newly carved states such as Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, into the Chota Nagpur plateau – the region of the decadent political and social horrors of states such as Bihar and West Bengal.

Even these geographical and regional terms have no meaning for those of us who get up in the morning to a cup of coffee or tea and move onto the newspaper and the bath, to eventually occupy the spaces in our offices and workplaces, smug in the knowledge of the growing balance in our savings accounts and our provident funds. Development in India hasn’t just been a mixed bag since the 1990s – it is the veritable difference of night and day, monsoon and summer, hope and utter hopelessness... divided between the places of light and the areas of darkness, determined by the economic clout of our middle and upper classes.
What of the child in the village who hasn’t been provided adequate nutrition from the ages 0 to 3, which has inevitably led to mental and physical retardation, and who is thereby condemned to never aspire to any part in the Modern Indian Success Story? What of the farmer tilling his meager half-acre plot of land which will feed the bellies of his growing family only if his hard-won produce does not succumb to another bad year in the never ending vagaries of seasons of drought or flood? What of the rural woman who delivers children year after year without a sense of there being any other reason for her existence?
‘Not my problem’, says the executive to his friend. ‘I pay my taxes… What else can I do?’ If there really is nothing else you can do, my friend, be prepared for the sun-blackened and starving zombie to enter your living room, to take a crap on your priceless rug, looking lasciviously at your wife and daughters while holding a gun to your head.

The civil war is coming to a kitchen near you, and whatever we think about the ideologies of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), and whatever Manmohan Singh says about our “greatest internal security threat”, and how many ever forces we deploy in our inner jungles and highlands, it will not stem the tide. They have been ignored for far too long. They watch us, they envy us, they want to be us. They will eventually take from us without first politely asking.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Nuke-ing the deal

For every statement made in the media about the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement, there are countless refutations and counter-statements made almost instantaneously after the fact. I suspect, perhaps conspiratorially, that they collectively form an on-going strategy by certain elements belonging to the Indian Left that will always refute its obvious benefits to us, in the harsh (to them) geo-political realities of today.
It seems to me the anti-thesis of any supposedly pro-people policy, that we condemn more than 400 million Indian citizens to virtual darkness by spreading misinformation about the agreement's demonstrable benefits to the country.

In the cold, hard light of day, anyone who has ever lived anywhere in India is naturally incredulous at any argument that stands against the fact that this country needs reliable electricity, and much more of it.
Local demands for energy are growing at an average rate of 3.6% per annum and have been for the past thirty years. Electricity losses during transmission and distribution across the country vary from between 30% and 45%. Presently, about 75% of our energy is generated from thermal plants, 21% from hydro-electric plants and more than 50% of our commercial energy requirements are met by the burning of coal, for which the demand has been increasing at an annual rate of 6% since 1992-93. In 2004-05, electricity demand outstripped supply by 7% to 11%. The theft of electricity, mostly in urban areas, amounts to 1.5% of the country's GDP.

A perfunctory reading of the details related to the nuclear agreement Manmohan Singh entered into with George W. Bush at the end of last year reads like a point-by-point capitulation by all world-wide bodies related to nuclear non-proliferation. India is not a signatory to the NPT. India has not ratified the CTBT. India declared a voluntary moratorium on nuclear weapons testing in 1998 and all official statements since then insist that the country will reserve the right to conduct any future tests if it decides that its sovereignty is in any way threatened. We are the only country in the world that can now enter into the world's nuclear marketplace while not budging on our rights to maintain and develop a nuclear weapons program. The IAEA will not be allowed to inspect our military nuclear installations as a result of the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear agreement. We have developed an advanced nuclear program, both civilian and military, ever since we were declared pariahs by the world's nuclear community in 1974, that is on the cutting-edge of every new technology being developed in the field, such as: Fast Breeder Reactors, Thermal Breeder Reactors, the Thorium fuel cycle, nuclear fuel reprocessing and Tritium extraction and production. We have reserves of Uranium in this country that will be sufficient, even in worst-case estimates, for both our current energy consumption levels and our nuclear arsenal for the next 40 to 50 years.

Barack Obama's administration has consistently endorsed views regarding the crying need for the eventual reduction of the world's nuclear stockpiles, towards a future nuclear weapons-free world. That is consistent with India's stand, where we have been crying ourselves hoarse about the exact same thing for the past thirty years. The world has now come around to our view that we cannot be held hostage by restrictions imposed on us by nations that have for so long not taken a single step in understanding our security or developmental concerns. We need not be apprehensive about the people Obama surrounds himself with, or his views - they comprehensively support our own.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Giant Mirror

"Indian architecture …. giving me, the Hindu idea of the illusion of things"
V.S. Naipaul in, 'India – A Million Mutinies Now'.

The first thing a newly returned expatriate/student/business-person/general loafer recognizes when he/she returns to India after a period of time spent anywhere in the first world, is the ubiquitous 'General Indian Building'. This arguably precludes the various romantic allusions to: the smells, the heat, the languages and even the state of our roads, one commonly hears. What is that elusive quality that attaches itself to our buildings bringing about a sense of pain, temperance, fortitude and, most often, absurdity?

Civic architecture having evolved over many centuries of renewal in most regions of the world constantly returns to the concept of ‘aspiration’ as the guiding principle in the provision of a public facade to our shelters. When we hear anyone in an Indian city complain about such metaphysical aspects of life here as; the weather, politics, cricket or a presently held philosophy, we first place him/her within a physical reference; household, school, college (if any) and current job status – And what comes immediately to mind when this inference takes place? - a reference to a building, most often encountered somewhere or, as occurs sometimes, a structure from the collective imagination of mass media. This aspect of our lives lends itself to some suspension of disbelief, especially for those who live in gated communities or work in firms such as Infosys. These folks, unless they work exclusively from home or the office and take a time-bound precision-effect sleeping pill for the times they travel to the international airport, still encounter the General Indian Building – a decrepit, faded, almost hallucinatory vision of the disease of apathy.

It seems axiomatic that cities with ordered, maintained and tastefully rambunctious buildings serve to keep their occupants in a state of mind that is divorced from a pervasive sense of depression and hopelessness. With all our civic problems these days, isn’t it pressing that we inculcate a sense of responsibility that will serve to make the violation of the compulsory upkeep of old and new structures in our cities a source of communal shame? With the rapid spread of new housing colonies and rampant unplanned urbanization, shouldn’t there be a uniform code on basic design principles for any and all buildings? I, for one, am fed up of encountering the obscenity that is the 'General Indian Building' everywhere I go.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Excerpts from, 'This Way to the Garden'.

1. " Mind’s Eye Apoplexy, he thinks, when he’s reached the edge of reason, about himself and the world. The worst part is not remembering, not having concrete memories to correlate certain base feelings about certain base things with. He tries to remember, but a collage of hazy images and painfully nostalgic pangs assault him. There are many things he thought he would always remember, but now he remembered only the emotion surrounding them and not the actual event at all. It wasn’t a happy thought, this wallowing in self pity, without even knowing what he was originally the victim of. He remembered that he told himself to remember the death, but which death? Chronologically, there were two deaths in his life and he felt the same wave of pain when he thought about each separately or both at the same time. He wasn’t even sure they meant so much to him when they actually occurred, but they must have been important, he consoles himself. They must have…"

2. " Once upon a time there was a young prince who liked nothing better to do than play all day in his father’s palace. The king and queen did not fuss too much over him and granted him enough latitude to indulge his freedom as much as he liked, albeit, under the watchful eye of his personal maid.’
‘You pronounced albeit wrongly.’
‘Do you want to hear the story or not?... Eventually our hero’s curiosity extended to what lay beyond the palace’s gates and he expressed a desire to explore the lands beyond them. Still the king and queen did not object, letting him wander all over the extent of the kingdom, but at the same time informing their neighbours that they should keep an eye out for the young prince as he went to and fro joyfully exploring the limits of their lands. So, our hero’s days were spent in play and his nights within the secure confines of his parents’ loving arms…’
‘That’s pretty good, I …’
‘Okay, that’s it. No more story time for you.’
‘Sorry Rahul. Go on, please’, she says and snuggles up closer.
‘And the days went by in much the same fashion, until one particular morning when his parents forbade him to go out and instead dressed him in his finest robes and readied him for a journey. The prince was elated. He loved outings and especially those in the royal carriage. Finally they were off and the prince was in ecstasy, looking out the windows of the carriage, exulting in the thrill of motion…’
Rashmi grunts but doesn’t say anything.
‘The prince was enjoying the journey so much that when the carriage finally halted outside two large iron gates that led to a forbidding palace within, the prince was not impressed and cried and cried not wanting the journey to stop. But the king and queen were stern and as they ushered him into the gates, the prince’s curiosity overcame his grief and he looked with disbelief at the numerous other princes and princesses standing at the entrance to the palace gardens and who were being accompanied and shushed by their own parents. He was, in fact, struck dumb at the sight, never having encountered so many of his fellows before, all at the same time and all at the same place. Eventually, when an old woman came up before them and spoke for what seemed a long time, the prince struggled to be set free from his father’s grip on his shoulder, wanting to go among all the other little boys and girls looking interestedly at one another. Suddenly there was a silence and the prince was surprised by his mother’s sudden smothering and his father’s repeated pats on his shoulder. Only when he heard the cries from the other children did he realise that something bad was going to happen, but because he didn’t know what, he cried louder than any of the others. Finally, the king and queen left reluctantly and the tearful prince was taken into a room with little chairs and tables and wooden blocks with figures painted on them in bright colours. The prince was surprised that all the other children had accompanied him to the room. He was not accustomed to being one of the many, until now being always the special one, always the one doted on, in any large gathering of people. But this was the first time he was surrounded by other children seemingly as unhappy as he was and the prince vowed that he would always be angry at his parents for his abandonment that day. As the days passed, the prince realised that the separation from his castle and his earlier happier life for many hours each day was going to be a recurring occurrence and the hugs and kisses from his mother on leaving him at the children’s palace gates each day eventually lost their intensity. His cries at her leaving and his shouts of joy at finally being brought back home also lost their resonance as the prince became accustomed to the fact that everything in the world was not there solely for his pleasure. He began to recognise his fellow’s faces at the children’s palace and he also began to look forward to seeing some of them at the beginning of each day. And so time passed and the prince grew up along with his fellows at the palace they now called ‘school’. And as he grew up even more, the prince realised that he was not the one with the largest palace and the most number of servants and the costliest carriage as the other princes and princesses seemingly had more than he. But on the way back home from school, he realised that he was very rich compared to the shabby man who took him back home in the cycle-rickshaw, the maid who appeared everyday with a new bruise on her eye or face, given to her by what was called her ‘husband’ and the fruit and vegetable vendors who came by his gates in the evenings hawking their wares in loud soulful chants. Eventually he even gave up thinking he was a prince. As the years passed, he became popular at school among his friends because of his zest at games and his politeness to the teachers. Everyone thought that the prince was a ‘good boy’, but little did they realise it was because of his contempt for everything that was meant to be his but was really not, that he tolerated the world. He treated everyone with respect, did his homework always on time and was gracious to even the morning sweeper whom he met when he came in early for the daily football match on Ground 1 before school started. Many familiar faces and voices in school had left and new faces and voices replaced them. The prince was interested in the newcomers only until they proved that they were inferior to him in any respect, whether in games or studies. After that, he would completely ignore them. The prince was not alone in this respect. There were two fellows of his who were much the same. One was better than the prince in studies and the other better in games. When their supremacy was first defined in their respective fields, there was much fighting and bad blood between them, but gradually the three princes developed a grudging friendship and even invited each other to their castles. As they grew even older, the three princes became inseparable and were known around the school as ‘best friends’. But for the three princes this was a hollow term, as they understood the actual nature of their alliance while the others did not. And they hid their contempt for everyone else as carefully as they hid their contempt for each other. That contempt did not disappear even when one of them performed badly in a particular exam or another was found wanting in a particular sport, it just became a far more dangerous indifference. They were many instances in their lives when their resolve was tested. When the studious prince lost his palace and had to move to a lowly ‘flat’, when the athletic prince lost the king, his father, to a disease that had been pursuing him for many years, and when our own prince lost his zeal for the sacred temple customs that he had been faithful to all his life. They were embittered by their experiences but did not voice their fears to each other because a display of weakness was a betrayal of their own convictions. And when the three princes were all grown up and ready to leave school and face the world, as they say, they came under the spell of the Lord of Confusion and Misunderstanding’.
‘The Lord of Confusion and Misunderstanding? Oh, my God.’
‘I thought you said you would be asleep by now.’
‘How could I sleep through such a gripping story? So, go on then… about the Lord of Confusion and…’
‘Maybe later’, says Rahul and turns to her."

3. " Pondicherry on arrival, overcast and humid, brought on the sort of petulance one feels when the world is hanging over, close and surrounding on all sides. They find the store after a staggered hour of speaking to shopkeepers, roadside vendors and tourists, the modality of the dialogue varying from diffidence to invective in a circuitous changing of subject and tone, sometimes lost in translation and dialect. They finally reach the charming colonial building. But today it is reminiscent of an age of defeat, subjection and the preponderance of a supposed superior culture."

Interested parties from the publishing industry may please mail.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

State of the Indian Union... circa, the Year of our many Lords '2009.

Nothing or Everything in this country is true. What one believes to be true is most often a reflection of a variety of firmly ingratiated beliefs that one carries over from childhood and are conditioned by supporting experiences along the way.

A time comes when one is confronted with an obvious contradiction to these beliefs by an indisputable occurrence, predominantly personal, and the consequent shedding or retaining of a particular belief, both of which are traumatic experiences, grants insight into many aspects of the "very subjective" morality one is composed of that he/she,
in hindsight, would rather not have found out .

A popular term in current usage is "an open mind". To keep an open mind, we are told, is the best way towards shielding ourselves from the assaults on our collective sanity unleashed by the forces of globalization and technology that we experience almost every day. It is also apparently a tool by which we could educate ourselves and our dependents so as to keep more in touch with the world. But the definitions of this cult term are as inherently paradoxical and self-serving as the forces from which it would protect and enrich us:
When we acquire knowledge and develop interests in the ideas and the workings of other cultures, and sometimes become aware of the various ways these cultures can come to be beneficial to ourselves and our communities by the transplantation of certain practices, we find that barriers have been erected long ago - by religion, society and people responsible for our 'common good' to the import of these practices. Arguments for our cause are countered by numerous arguments against, each more passionate than the last. Resisting such flak is almost always a losing battle which leaves us more disoriented and desperate in search than before.

In such an environment resentment, frustration, anger and consequently hatred are undeniable effects of the benevolent spokes put into what is liable to be perceived as the wheels of change. Such hatred is continuously directed towards the 'system' and cycles of violence repeat themselves, manifested in various forms.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In defence of modern-day spirituality

Somewhere deep down, I sometimes do feel the anxiety of approaching middle age. But the occasional self-portrait, though, seen through a vain lens of self-approval seems almost to disprove any progression in the passage of time.
Living in these times of deep dissatisfaction one can’t help but wonder about the act of judgment. You have first impressions come about as if a cloud opens on an otherwise severely overcast day. You step into the void of understanding and even concupiscence, and then accept things as they are. But there, at the back of the mind, there is a foreboding of a time to come when an event is but bound to occur. So, one can see an approaching stand-off, by experience, and still not fathom how it is to come about and secretly relish its non-occurrence.
Concurrently, if one is put in a certain position - that of determining the collective future experiences of a group of people - what inevitably follows, is introspection and a consciousness borne of a sense of responsibility i.e. if one is acting responsibly. But to determine the course of one’s own life… what is it but indecisiveness or a temptation to procrastinate or a growing dread at understanding whether you are consequential at all to the world at large. But if this reasoning applies to posturing in an audience then the matter is solved with little hesitancy. Are we scared of fulfilling a base expectancy of ourselves that came about sometime between adolescence and adulthood? This fear, if not disproved by other means, points to a sense of self that exists beyond the realm of the personal; an entity devoid of geographical and emotional boundary, something to look forward to and eventually beyond – a driving force, a haunting presence, a dissociated conductor. The corollary is certainly something to fear even more.
What is that sense of longing, remembrance and regret all locked into the rush of a wave of sentiment? It happens so often and sometimes so rarely that it always succeeds in disturbing the gentle pace of life. We are led on to a climax, an upliftment, a vindication… and then mediocrity and routine crash in and everything turns banal. If it was a question of absolutely enjoying every second of every minute of a life would art even begin to make sense?
Why are we so rocked by the hint of a possibility, the gentlest of waves, the most passive breeze? Are we collectively looking, searching and feeling for something every hour of every day, through success and failure, conquest and defeat?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Through the stained glass, darkly...

In support of the oft-repeated phrase;
‘Too many wars have been waged in the name of religion.’

And in consideration of the statement;
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

- In the introduction to ‘Contribution to Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right’ - Karl Marx, 1843.

If you visit the doctor for a certain ailment, the physician begins his/her examination by asking you a series of questions related to the discomfiture you are experiencing. There are a number of assumptions attached to the line of questioning, all aimed at deciding what the patient should actually be tested for, related to the ailment in question. This is because of the presumption that the patient has actually incurred an illness that is yet to be ascertained and which can only be determined upon further inquiry. If the symptoms point to a certain number of empirical factors commonly associated with a known medical condition and the subsequent tests confirm the suspicion, the appropriate medication and advice on the practical measures to be followed by the patient is meted out, and hospitalisation or a follow-up visit is scheduled. All this is due to the very nature of the medical profession; which is far from fool-proof wherein there are many subjective factors concomitant to the treatment of a certain illness based on the individual patient – as related to lifestyle choices, type of diet, genetic predispositions, geographical proximity to known sources of disease, etc.

Consider a hypothetical case wherein a person is a known user of the purest form of heroin known to man, and is entirely self-sufficient. Detailed studies point to the fact that heroin, as a base substance, possesses preservative qualities on the human physiology. The same studies also confirm that because the procurement of heroin is very difficult (leading inevitably to crime), and that the distribution of the substance is volatile and given to much dilution due to the economic factors involved, the life expectancy of a heroin user does not amount to as much as the average human lifespan. The studies further point to the sociological effects of the addictive properties of heroin; in that the user cannot function as a member of society simply because of his/her physical addiction.
Reverting to the medical profession in the hypothetical case of the self-sufficient user of ‘pure’ heroin, a doctor cannot diagnose this person as inherently in risk of anything significantly harmful, physiologically, based on the known effects that a non-life threatening dosage of undiluted heroin has on the human body. And the question of treatment, therefore, does not arise.

A particular religion presumes on the spiritual health of an individual. What one believes to be the true faith is non-negotiable in many societies because the dangers one poses by not acquiescing to the faith practiced by the many can supposedly pose a threat to the spiritual health of the community as a whole. The common belief is that something must be wrong with someone who chooses not to be advised by the religion of his/her society and follows his/her own path towards the universal goal of ‘salvation’. Towards the cause of the ‘profession’ of a certain faith, the most benign theory put forward is that; the precepts of a faith must be taught to all those who haven’t been fortunate enough to receive its message of true grace. The common practice of the said religion must follow, therefore, in society.

Allegorically, this practice of the profession of a certain faith points to goals shared by the average heroin user, subject to the conditions of the junkie on the street. The junkie will naturally want to get others addicted to his/her own brand of street heroin because it would make the procurement of the substance much easier for himself/herself, so long as there is a captive market for it in a certain region.

An enlightened being (or the self-sufficient ‘pure’ heroin user), meanwhile, may not see it fit to profess his/her faith simply because he/she possesses it and is aware of its true value. He/she is comfortable in the ‘state of grace’ he/she has come by and is loath to want to impose it on others and trouble his/her own existence.

There is another specimen of humanity, of course - one who does not require heroin/religion for a sense of spirituality and is happy to live a life without conforming to the theory that there is something inherently wrong with his/her spiritual condition simply because of the absence of heroin/religion in his/her own life. But on this strange specimen, it is incumbent upon us that we remain silent.

'Love looks not with the eyes but with the mind'

[Title quotation from, 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' - (I, i, 234)]

There has been a tendency since the earliest recorded history of man's subjective travails upon this good earth to imagine an appropriated truth a base reality, as applied to one's own experience of life.

Buddhist theology has long taken this to be one of the standing foundations by which man deludes himself. On the theory of an extrapolated Godhead, they have this to say:
"Philosophers thus fall into the Platonic snare when they look upon a concept not merely as a substitute for a precept but as something in itself, revealing a permanent and eternal entity or structure. The result is the belief in an eternal subjective self or an immutable substance or both."
- From, 'Buddhist Thought and Ritual' by David J. Kalupahana.

As applied to the idea of romance and 'selfish' love, we do not need to leap over a massive gorge to explore this idea of delusion in human romantic relationships.
One falls in love as rigorously as a healthy human being falls into bed at the end of a long day; most times without warning, and occasionally by sub-conscious cultivation. In the earlier case, we assume all-encompassing beauty as naturally as we assume that we will get out of bed in the morning. This idea of beauty - in natural surroundings, smells, tastes, choices and indulgences lead us to appear negligent of things, at best, and so absent-minded that we are perceived idiotic to the rest of the world, at worst. But the pervasive idea, whatever the applied value of the benefit of hindsight in more experienced individuals, is that the feeling will hold - through fights, circumstance, distance and a 10.0 disturbance on the Richter scale. We invest something of ourselves at the beginning of a relationship that we require immediate returns from. And no God will stand in its way.

Seeing that the pervasiveness of this culture of gratification, emotional as well as physical, will abide no infarction, the natural hindrances in the pursuance of such an ideal are obvious; namely the actual facts of life which we have been privy to since we first were sent off to school by ourselves, but which mysteriously affects a disappearance when we are in 'love'.

My dubious contribution to this time-worn, bloodily horse-whipped discussion is the idea of culpable investiture: Can we not think ourselves contributing to the well-being of the person whose affections we have momentarily won, forgetting for a moment the immediate consequences of our own gratification? Can we suspend our blind belief in the idea of healthy consummation being the goal in a relationship, or the first instance in the pursuance of the goal, at the cost of a furtherance of a temporary substantiation of the myths we maintain about ourselves?
Is it possible to not be 'selfish' in love is what I'm asking, if 'selfishness' is at all a bad word, i.e.?

Navigating the world of the Nay-sayer

It is a constant source of frustration to me that the world is slowly evolving into a large, cheesy and sycophantic omelette. An evolution that is actively encouraged requires a measure of parsimony to allow the mechanics of the process to function, without the benefit of constructive criticism.

One goes down to the store and encounters characters loaded with suspicious proclivities, and the inevitably reprobate tête-à-tête follows – goading, painful, occasionally sarcastic; almost an invitation to violence.
One sees a person on the street – helpless, alone, in terribly obvious need - and the first instinct is to unconsciously retract from the horror of an imagined touch, and an equally unconscious plea to the heavens that the subject of your scorn would just go away.
One attends an interview of apparently mutual understanding on the terms and conditions of employment, but is never sure where he/she stands even after all the dialogue and hand-shaking and the smiles of infinite promise.

What exactly are we afraid of – that we are being lulled into a false sense of complacency by the natural act of interacting with a stranger? That if we let our guard down, we will be subject to the mercies of the God of ‘I-told-you-so-dumbass’? That we cannot, and should not, give in to the intuitive trust implicit in human discourse. That the world is for the wolves and that we shall not be the peasants in the game?
The best of luck to you with that approach. All I see in your future is a face lined with very many creases of thankless misgiving, and a body that shakes uncontrollably from lying with the bouncy whores of chronic scepticism.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

On the dubious validity of personal procreation

There is a global body of research devoted to the study of the habits we have cultivated over time, in the nurturing of our young. Any and all scientific study related to the topic of the upbringing of our children appears almost instantaneously in the mainstream media because it is of constant relevance to our lives. In the modern world it is easy enough to see the mistakes we have made in this regard, proving emphatically evident if we subscribe to the minimum base life expectancy rates in most countries, that the most we can still do is hang our heads in shame and talk about destiny or God’s will. Whether we have been successful or not in the raising of our children is defined by the indisputable corroboration of the values laid down by society and economics that we have no option but to hold true. A progenitorial success is now defined - down to the last zero - by a cumulative dollar value and the goodwill gained from a life lived… and there is no disputing it, wherever we turn.
A typical case is when a couple have what is known as a love child… and then scramble to keep up with the times they have for so long neglected, or at least since they first achieved gainful employment, in a desperate attempt to be seen as good parents. (These days, we can only hope that such individuals are married if they both live in India.) The pros and cons of such a circumstance have been argued to the death by religious, social and pharmaceutical lobbyist-groups across the east and west and, as such, it is a lost cause to indulge it in a monologue such as this.
The alternate case is when the decision to have a child or children is actively made by both individuals involved in a strong and mutually beneficial relationship – A decision that is come about by the negation of the severe complexities and psychological skirmishes implicit in its educated enactment.
- Firstly, that a modern self-sufficient couple would not like to be seen as being in any way caste or community conscious… and if that was the case why didn’t they take advantage of the myriad adoption schemes involving poor luckless infants that have been abandoned at, or soon after, birth?
- Secondly, such a couple will need to hold to the belief that the world is becoming a better place. And where is the evidence of that in a world where terrorism, disease and market forces lay the best laid plans (of mice and men) to ruin, in the blink of an eye?

Imagine that we had children like there was no tomorrow - a statement that is, in and of itself, an impossibility - because we have to believe that there is going to be a future if we decide to invest something of ourselves in it. We are told in this country that it is a good thing we are so populous because the economic benefits of possessing a large young population outweigh the liabilities of a futuristic dread of scarcity and rationing we can see the beginnings of even today. This discussion, though, also belongs in a different argument – one that has already taken up the minds and hearts of the same theorists responsible for the long drawn out economic crisis we are now experiencing.

But the real question being asked here is whether pro-active decision-making does take place when children are born today… and whether decision-making as a concept related to procreation does still hold, in the same way it did to the earlier generation.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Final Resistance

A fast-waning interlude – between the act of returning to the world of the living, and the realm of the blighted nomad.
What does it really entail to give up an existence that has the appeal of not having come fully to fruition based on a candid realization that the sense of time gives us – that experience cannot be divorced from the cumulative number of years spent on a certain path in the hunt for the ideal. And what would I be giving up, really? – A cultured sense of self, an approbation of an irretrievable sensibility that effort spent on the cultivation of others’ comforts is a denial of some sense of individual liability? What have I gained in the interlude, is perhaps a more responsible question - A critic’s bemusement at the workaday travails of others, a brooding abstraction in the antics of the ant-like specimens of humanity, an unquantifiable tone of bas-relief perspective on the macro vs. the micro world of today???
I don’t know, and because I am on the threshold of stepping back into the factually industrious void, I cannot claim a captious objectivity. The reasons for the ‘treachery’ are tragically banal – money, a putative notion of responsibility, a driving concern that a sense of idleness is eclipsing the largely misunderstood pursuit of the artist.

“I take responsibility for my own life,” says the bird to the bee. "So, who are you to question its form?”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

‘In the Valley of Elah’ (2007): A review

Director: Paul Haggis
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron, Susan Sarandon

Movies that seek to make a statement on war and its consequences, invariably philosophize the means by which individuals reach their points of view and change, over the course of the narrative. ‘In the Valley of Elah’, examines in detail the lives of those who are painfully affected by happenings dictated by events separated as far in space and time as possible from their own domestic situations. It is important to state at the outset that the movie doesn’t seek to exploit a dramatic anti-war humanism in the same vein as the counter-culture inspired epics of the seventies, but is a humane and sober look at individuals guided by a blind patriotism that is painfully and gradually exposed for the hollowness that is at its core.
Tommy Lee Jones who plays the central character, does justice to the script in a sensitive portrayal of a father whose own experiences of war guide him to desperately search for answers in a world where the questions themselves have all changed. The ethics by which he lives, and by which he has brought up his son no longer, he finds, hold good. The codes of comradeship have changed just as irrevocably as the geography. All he can do at the end is to invert the same symbols (in this case, the U.S. flag) that he had used in a more familiar world, to rationalize his suffering.
One of the best scenes in the movie is at the end, when the comrades-in-arms of his son have been finally exposed as his killers and Jones’ character is granted the right to ask them what led to the murder. It is set in an anesthetized room, where the central culprit behind the multiple stabbing and burning of his son, explains to his comrade’s father what actually happened. The monologue by the soldier touches on the circumstances behind the killing, told without discernible emotion, but the soldier does turn self-conscious when he realizes that he is causing his audience pain. But he is so distanced from the horror that is of his own doing that it is impossible for him to understand its effect on other people - he laughs when telling of a time in Iraq when the victim was nicknamed, ‘Doc’ because he kept touching the open wounds of a captured prisoner causing him pain and asking if it hurts. He cannot understand the question at the end when the detective played by Charlize Theron asks him how he came to eat the food that he and his colleagues had consumed at a local eatery immediately after committing the murder – he says that he was really hungry and looks confused.
The American War in Iraq has been minutely deciphered – all sorts of inquiries by all sorts of people in all sorts of ways have been answered, in this age of instant media gratification. There have been documentaries made, books published and movies dedicated to; (1) the aggressors, (2) the common people of Iraq and (3) the local militias. But rarely do we see where it is all leading us – to a sense of progress in a future era of lasting civil society, to an age of desperate inadequacy, to the fulfillment of the hopes and dreams of our children?
‘In the Valley of Elah’ seeks to fill this void.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Journal Entry - 24th June 2009 - Richards Town, Bangalore

The reappearance of Violence in the R.E.M state. The gradual thinning of the angst in them to an amalgamation of long repressed demons, and then last night – to the familiar reflection of things happening in the waking state.

But they, altogether, make for a certain logical resonance deeper than what is accomplished when awake.

The absolute sense of the contradiction in immediate loss – What was once there is Not, anymore. The need to talk – a hollow prayer for a transference to an attitude of comfortable and durable volubility. The need to touch. To pay attention to. To give of oneself - Anything to delay the reflection, dreaded but inevitable.

A jolt of reality infused in all this meandering, brought on by personal circumstance – Cruelty. It is the only call we bring ourselves to confront when we mourn deeply and conscientiously, forgetting the presence of anyone else in the scheme of personal grief. The sense of I/Me alone in the suffering is difficult to overcome.

The future is a large Grizzly – something never actually encountered except in metaphor, but still large as life. An obstruction perhaps, but also a path towards, and a hazy glimpse at one beyond. It will become clearer with time, I suppose, but what is one to do but continue to be obscure. A mess of varied expectation, mostly fanciful.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

When Mountains are again Mountains, and Rivers again Rivers

The Truth at all levels,
Is suddenly much sought after,
As if it is a revelation.
A new phenomenon, just born.
A cry of pain, intense suffering,
Longing... Is that it?
A whistle - short and sweet,
From the trees... Is that it?
A shooting star,
In a glorious,
Moonlit night sky?
And so the phenomenon just born,
Already dies a sudden death.
A victim of,
An impossible illusion.

Five bags of Flax

A conditioned view,
That of an Observer -
Never taken out of context,
In a world compartmentalized.
But now and then,
Can he still remain aloof,
When the observed,
Overcomes its own Observatory.

When Worship Meets Prayer

The crowd is hushed,
Deep silence in anticipation,
Of an event –
The event of Reconciliation.

The scene is now tranquil,
Aided by the prophet's voice -
Rendering a calm,
A surety on Reason.

The mind wanders,
Looking for shadows not there,
The moon looks on emotionless.
Isn’t it strange
How he decides to show himself,
Whenever the soul gasps for air?

The body is repositioned,
Now guided by the desires
Of the restless eye.
The eye encountering the ritual,
Transmits nonsensical messages,
To the hopelessly inadequate brain.

Some scenes are thought, ‘Timeless’,
But the term has never transcended the intellect,
Until now,
When Worship meets Prayer.

The Wretched Deity

Are we as Sons of Heaven,
When we let Anger
Fester like a boil?

When we take counsel
From men of the same blood,
Because they are men of the same blood?

When we are consumed with self-doubt,
And manifest it on those
Whose fortunes are dependent on our own?

When we assume petty, cruel commands
To be the signs of great assertion.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Woman of Faith

My mother died on the 29th of May, 2009 at 8 A.M.

She was many things to many people - A fast friend, a confidant, a counselor, a completely devoted wife and mother, and a person so full of life it is almost impossible to imagine her gone. She had a wonderful loving childhood, a youth blessed with strong friendship, romance, three children she was very proud of, the tragic passing of the love of her life, romance anew, a gorgeous grandchild, and lots of travel. She was always devoted to the people in her life – new acquaintances and old friends in equal measure. The one constant through all the trials and tribulations in her life was her faith, and the grace that came with that faith was what drew people to her wherever she went. She always insisted that anyone who calls themselves Christian must have an experience of Christ. There is a deep sense of loss for all of us today, but the strength of her faith should inspire us to call on her whenever we want in the future.

A couple of days ago when I was traveling to Mumbai to receive my brother, I thought of something that I need to share with all of you. In today’s world it is not possible for us to live in close proximity to all the people we love – but the people we would like to spend all our time with, come alive to us when we think of them, wherever we are in the world. My mother was someone who had an immediate effect on all the people she encountered in her life. And we should take comfort from the fact that because she was so boisterous and full of ideas and opinions, we will inevitably think of her often – all we will miss is her physical presence. She is as alive today as she ever was and she will always be alive to us when we think of her. We need to gain strength from her strong faith – it will be the ultimate tribute to my dear mother, Caroline.

As St. Paul says in the 1st letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11, verses 11 to 13:

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.

Now I know in part, then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.

So faith, hope, love abide – these three.

But the greatest of these is love."

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Mumbai freeze-frame: Cummerbund Nighthawk

1. Cummerbund Nighthawk

‘Crash Money’ was an old-fashioned term, used by decrepit speculators hinting at the possibility of a hand-out from the God of all things commercial, and college students juggling wait-as-you-learn courses with a tempting social life. But as the days turned into years for the now middle-aged Mr. Shyam Dutt, the sense gleamed from the sum of both words put together brought to him the smells of a recently used ashtray and the after taste of the vodka and Mixed Fruit Concentrate that he used as a substitute for breakfast, before leaving home for work each morning.

As he waited at the bus shelter at the corner of his street today, he tried to verbally translate what he was seeing on the day’s image crossword slide show on his PDA - the best he could do was, ‘An egregious mixing of codes in a tempestuous spawning of millions of bacteria spiraling towards an artificial sky’.

His bus was on time. He climbed on, held his breath for the thirty-minute ride, and finally got off pushing and shoving his way through the confines of the obsequious people-carrier to the relative expanse outside. Head bowed, he walked distractedly till he reached the entrance to the foyer of the hundred-storied dull grey unmarked building and glanced at the sky just before reaching the threshold of the automatic doors. His ruminations ended the second the armed security guard standing beside the metal detector looked warily at him. Mr. Shyam Dutt registered the slow sign of a reluctant recognition on the guard’s dour face as he looked past him towards the receptionist who was wearing the low-cut yellow blouse today, sitting at her omniscient desk at the centre of the large lobby. He passed her an unrequited smile, walked towards the elevator corridor, and pressed the button marked with the upward pointing arrow beside the closed doors.

He blew repeatedly into the cuff of his sleeve during the thirty-second lonely ride and just as it ended, he shrugged in futility looking at his reflection in the mirrored walls. When the doors eventually opened to let him out, he was welcomed into April Fools Day, 2046 by a loud neon-lit banner hanging over the numerous empty desks; the streamers and burst balloons strewn all over the floor alerting him to the raucous party he hadn’t been invited to, the previous night.

At home later, he sat at his desk checking his pass book repeatedly for any signs of indiscipline over the past month. He then stuffed five of his neatly pressed shirts from the cupboard into the washer/dryer, struggled for five minutes with his ancient espresso machine, and ultimately settled down in his chair in front of the only window in the single-cell apartment. Brooding over the sun settling in a slow downward arc over the sea at the corner of his available line of sight, he saw it as a large orange ball barely visible through the thick gloom that extended till the ends of the earth.

When the rumblings from the washing machine had completely died down, he carefully spilt the last remnants of his weekly vodka quota on the carpet, leading a trail from the doorway till his bed in the little alcove on the north-east side of the room and lit a dozen incense sticks after turning off the fire alarm. As the light from the window died down, he turned on the table lamp placed on the armoire by the side of the bed and opened the drawer underneath .

He held his breath with his lips at the cusp of the mouth of the plastic pill box he had taken from the drawer and glanced at the large clock staring down from the wall facing him. He looked again at the open pill box that seemed now to mock him whilst in suspended animation in front of his face, and back again at the clock.

‘Damn’, he said then - the only word he had used aloud all day.

The inquest took five days. No one had come to claim the body from the morgue in spite of the notices put up in all the local papers, and the attendant had relegated it to the end of the list.

And two weeks after his apartment was broken into by members of the maintenance department acting on the incessantly ringing smoke alarm from the fire escape on the thirty-fifth floor, Mr. Shyam Dutt’s remains were hygienically cremated and his ashes placed in a composite graphite urn labeled and marked with his name and serial number, and placed in a basement repository amidst a thousand other urns that all looked exactly the same.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mumbai freeze-frame: Judgment's Recoil

12. Judgment’s Recoil

It was the repetitive announcement on the P.A. system of an anonymous airport that woke him up today. The stubborn refusal of the nightmare to leave his consciousness even after he had completely woken up, worked slowly to drive him to what he could very well tell was approaching madness but he was unwilling to admit defeat just yet. And you really couldn’t blame him.

Finally his life had come full circle; the court case on the inheritance was settled and he had walked out through those ancient teak wood double doors of the Bandra Civil Court on that momentous day last month with most of the insurance money and all the assorted Provident Fund remittances, grievance pay and assorted interest accumulations. His dear dead Papa had judiciously paid a very high premium over the better part of fifteen years to the redoubtable L.I.C. as well. And so Rakesh’s net worth suddenly went from twenty-four rupees, twenty paise at the neighbourhood ATM that he visited each morning only to leave in despair, to more money than he should have ever had a right to. You really couldn’t blame him that he chose to deny that this was precisely the time the nightmares had begun.

This time Rakesh had dreamt of a plane ride on a rickety turbo prop… He had the first seat – number A-1, right up there with no one ahead of him and all the space in the world to stretch his legs and the airhostess came up to him, bent down low and asked him in the hottest voice Rakesh had ever heard, whether he would like some tea. And then she was blown away into the sky, instantaneously, through the emergency exit door on the left of his seat that had appeared all of a sudden out of nowhere. The newspaper report images, in a spiral transition like in the old movies of the fifties, had screamed out the facts – a picture of her in uniform, of her pilot-boyfriend crying, and her parents at their little circular dinner table drowning their sorrows in port wine. And then the P.A. announcements began in the anonymous terminal that he had reached without ever knowing how.

Sitting down to a sandwich and coffee at Just Around The Corner wherein he still had not been able to overcome his self-conscious pangs of incertitude, the denial was now dying a reluctant death. Rita was sitting across him at the table trying her best to look as if she was totally disinterested in the goings-on at the far table - a desi girl with dreadlocks and her white boyfriend were desperately testing the acceptable boundaries of a very public display of affection.

She looked at Rakesh eventually and said, ‘I had a nightmare last night, you know… it was very bad. There I was doing my thing, you know, serving customers like I do everyday of my working life and this drunk son of a bitch kept asking me for more whisky. I came over to his seat finally when I had had enough, you know, and asked him politely if he would like some tea and then the floor gave way suddenly, you know, and I was blown away through the emergency exit right behind me… I woke up then screaming, you know… It was really scary.’