Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Casuistry of Caste-ism

When two major instances of the underpinning proclivities in the middle-class understanding of the caste-ism prevalent in modern political discourse in India thrust themselves upon the present national psyche, it is appropriate that we study its consequences on the civic idea of what caste means in the country today, at least amongst those of us currently in a position to examine its ideological repercussions for the society we presently live in.

The instances I refer to are:
(1)  the continuance in office by the Chief Minister of the state of Karnataka amidst serious allegations of his misuse of power in the allocation of notified government land to his family members, and...
(2) the impending results of the state government elections in the state of Bihar where the incumbent Chief Minister has, by all verifiable accounts, reversed decades of irresponsible governance and set what people still think of as India’s most backward state, on the path to modernity.

When the Chief Minister of Karnataka says that he will not abide by the diktats of various politicians all baying for his blood because of his corrupt conduct, it has been revealed that what he really means is that his community from the Lingayat caste will not tolerate one from amongst their own ranks to be singled out as the fall guy for the rampant abuse of power that has characterized the present government’s record of governance so far. Furthermore, the Chief Minister’s supporters (meaning other Lingayat-caste MLAs from the party in power) have made it clear that they will withdraw support to any future government where their leader is not the immediately cognizable face of government, and thereby plunge the state into another indeterminate period of political uncertainty.

When the Chief Minister of Bihar says during campaigning that what he represents is not his Kumri caste but the common aspirations of all Biharis, and that what the state has achieved during his tenure at the helm of affairs in one of the most, hitherto, notoriously ungovernable realms in India, far outweighs his predecessor’s cynical undermining of the rule of law by tethering his political star to the time-tested practice of playing one fractious religious community over another and by declaring himself above reproach by aligning with secular forces in the common fight against the spread of religious extremism... what he really means is that it really doesn’t matter anymore to the so far disenfranchised, undernourished and illiterate masses of poor - that the state of Bihar has a leader from amongst their (dominant or not-dominant as the case may be) caste. They need their water, electricity, schools and rule of law… and want them fast.

It is illuminating that when one researches the economic and social realities of present-day Lingayats and Kumris within their respective demographic regions, one finds that they are the most well-off and upwardly mobile amongst all neighboring communities with whom they share geographic and ideological domains.

What all this means for the middle-classes residing in the metropolitan regions of India today is that the idea that you are not from whence you come is not restricted to those who have come by their present-day prosperity by virtue of being born within a dominant sub-sect or caste and thereby have had the opportunities to use their privileges of education and a sense of aspiration to reach, over generations, their current levels of social gentility. There are people around (and this could be your maid and/or driver) who are not satisfied any more with what they are told is their wont in life. They closely follow the power struggles that take place in that rarefied air around the Mount Olympus-type lairs of the country’s politicians, and look closely around to see who are trying to pull the wool over their eyes when those power struggles reflect intimately their own identities in the reality of what it means to be Indian in the India of now.

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Ross Douthat for introducing me to the concept of 'casuistry' in his blog post on a very different subject.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Courter of Maladies

Every day, it seems, brings us closer to our deaths. This is never more readily apparent than when a friend or close relative falls ill and we are forced to upend our self-contained lives to offer our limited resources in the service of another whose sudden descent into the vagaries of a despondent mortality assails the illusory sense, that we all share, of the permanent nature of human relationships. I remember when my own grandparents moved into a comfortable retirement home from which they will most probably end their days. There was outrage, trauma and the modern equivalent of wailing and gnashing of teeth by all interested parties at the very thought of it. But circumstances being what they were, we (the family) were forced to finally contend that a more conciliatory alternative to recognizing their immediate needs and the realization that those needs needed to be accommodated perforce was non-existent, and the psychological balm with which to assuage our collective guilt made its absence felt as we gradually faded back into our respective lives after that hated deed was done. 
What is it about human illness that brings about the worst kind of pretentiousness in the concerned bystander? We argue about the kind of treatment that needs to be administered, the kind of doctors that are in attendance, the lack of dignity accorded to the inured patient within the confines of an argued about hospital, and all the while, silently, mull over the advancing costs that the days of infirmity tally up toward. Isn’t there any morality left in the consideration of another’s pain? Every person will need help at sometime or the other. The best we can do is prepare ourselves to accept what will inevitably follow when a loved one falls ill and is unable to continue to care for him or her self. Giving oneself up to the ever-alluring sense that this is not the way it should have been is a self-defeating and dangerous temptation. Hindsight is valid in the case of illness only in its re-visitation. There is nothing worse than seeing remorse on the faces of those who would rather stand by and weep than bear the cudgels of a congenial defiance of mortality.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Newspaper that should have been

Some of the news I'm not reading in the mainstream media today:

(1) On physicist Freeman Dyson and climate change...

(2) Rich man, poor man @ the Hajj...

(3) The 'paid news' phenomenon in the Indian media...

(4) And how the rich make room for big sports events in the East and in the semi-West...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

133 years of Test Cricket and counting

It seems an anachronism in this day and age – five whole days of: strategizing, changing targets based on current statuses, deliberating endlessly on field settings, pushing irregular batsmen up the order and lining up non-bowlers at top order batsmen based on where the sun is on the horizon, possible ten-wicket hauls in a single innings and individual scores in excess of 400, and after all this there is still no guarantee that there will even be a winner at the end… But Test Cricket is a multi-million dollar sport and in the midst of betting scandals and other assorted crises emanating from relatively newer versions of the sport in the hallowed world of the gentlemen’s game, it is still the best advertisement for cricket there is.

For those of us who have lived through the times when the game still had a rest day on what is now the 4th day of a match... and when the West Indies ran riot with their pace battery, and when their exuberant batsmen swaggered in and out of the pitch nonchalantly chewing their gum no matter if they were triple-centurions or out at 99... and when folks still spoke about Sunny Gavaskar taking his own sweet time to remain unbeaten on 36 at the end of India’s innings, supremely disdainful of the new sixty-over format he was being made to conform to in the middle of his fabulous career... and when VVS Laxman almost mythically shouldered the burden of an embarrassing follow-on and turned a home series, in danger of becoming a bitter spectacle for the hosts, on its head... - it is a thrill-a-minute ride over five whole days of nail biting action that can encapsulate every emotion possible in a spectator sport, winding it through a process that demands the patience, fortitude and temperance of the fan, and rewards him/her with unabashed glee or wretched pain at the end.

It took me some time to stop following every turn and twist in the fate of the nation’s first eleven, and this even after the mighty treason of Mohd. Azharuddin, but eventually the lure of the one-day format and the twenty-twenties wore thin after so very many BCCI-mandated series’ per year, and team resurgences, and shirt-waving acts from dressing-room balconies. I have now made my peace with the sport and rest assured that there is at least one format of the game that shall forever remain unchanged, indeed only get more competitive, and continue to challenge me right till the umpire offers the light to the batsmen at the end of another long, long, long day.