Monday, December 14, 2015

Season's Greetings

Things one remembers, does, feels, and grudgingly accepts during the holidays:

A German friend telling me that Ben Kingsley's performance in, 'Gandhi' (1982) was disappointing because he expected the portrayal to exude more cheer and goodwill.

An Australian friend laughing at my face when I told her I write in English.

Recounting all the memories I thought I shared with a Norwegian friend, animatedly, only to be met with blank stares.

Expecting sure and calamitous disaster from an impending gathering of close family members, knowing the only simple way to ward it off is to not say anything at all to anyone, just smile self-assuredly.

Looking at my growing gut with displeasure and foreboding.

Thinking about the relentless passage of time, and thinking about it again.

Reading a travelogue published over One Hundred and Eighteen Years Ago, and revelling in the topically contemporaneous dystopian humour.

Reading blurbs about books published over the last year by writers I enjoy reading, without wanting to read any of the books being so blurbed about.

Thinking about how good it would feel to be at a particular beach, at a particular time of day, among particular people right about now, when none of those things actually exist any more.

Being grateful for my life and my people.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

What do mass shooters think?

I had a dream last night.

I was angry, frustrated, depressed, maniacal, and violent. I got hold of a gun. I thought of all the people I wanted to kill, whose bodies I would riddle with bullets and feel satisfaction at having done so: all the people in my life who humiliated me, hurt me, pitied me, didn't love me back, didn't give me a chance, spoke behind my back, worked to undermine me among my friends and family, doubted me, loathed me.
I thought of all the people who I hated without ever having met: the recruiters sitting in their offices passing on my resume to the rejected pile because of my antecedents, my lack of the right qualifications, my strange name on the front page. The parliamentarians passing judgements on what constitutes a fair-go, a chance at assimilation, an equitable society for all with a level playing field. The politicians who say I am not warranted to feel offended when someone casts aspersions on my race, my ethnicity, my foreignness, that I don't really belong here, that I should be grateful for the very fact that I am here, that my life is worth less than the closest white person's.
I thought of the people I had met professionally: the clients who interjected constantly through my presentations to take credit for some input or another even though it was the first time they were encountering the idea, the smirking colleagues who feigned compassion with my circumstances when they were actually laughing at my misfortune, the school teachers and university lecturers who implied that I didn't fit in, that I wasn't the right sort of clay to be moulded, that I had an attitude problem that wouldn't stand me in good stead.

I thought of my father who died when I was nine. I thought of my mother who died when I was twenty-nine. I thought of my wife.

I thought of all those who would be affected if I killed someone. Their friends, colleagues, daughters, sons, wives, mothers, fathers.

I thought and thought and thought.

I then turned the gun on myself, put the barrel in my mouth, and fantasised about the blood splatter that would be left on the wall behind my head when I was done.
I then thought of my daughter who will turn five next month.

I woke up.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Sea of Faces

I've been looking at faces a lot these past weeks - faces from the internet, of famous people, profile pictures of the less so on social media, my own from times past and present... I don't know why this has happened but before I can catch myself I see that many minutes have passed in silent and absorbed contemplation of the pictures that I click on, zoom in on, open in applications so that I can get a less cluttered view...

Perhaps I am trying to see what time does to a face when it freezes it for eternity in a particular pose, at a particular time of day, in a particular light, in a particular mood, in the throes of a particular self-absorption. Most of these pictures are of people staring directly at the camera, some of them have the air of being caught out, but most are of those investing something of themselves in the moment, aware that the here and now is when they are being captured for eternity while attempting to infuse the moment with a sense of timelessness, as if the moment will be a salve for the relentless toil time takes on the self-image.

Exoticism, fetishism, escapism, voyeurism... are terms that come to mind when I think of what I am doing, but even so, these are terms that are only ever relative to a subjective sense of moral outrage and what relativity can extend to my quiet reflection on the face of another that is available in the public domain, and that for all intents and purposes is being advertised in the service of the promotion of a personal brand?

So, what exactly is the purpose being served here? Comparison, perhaps? Here I am, a middle-aged parody of the man I once thought I was, stolidly plodding along through the opacity of a recent civic relocation, trying to keep my head above water in the face of recurring challenges to a personal sense of well-being, during a phase in my life when I should have already been paying back mortgages and planning vacations two and three years into the future, and not wondering where the next year's school fees are going to come from. Comparison, in these circumstances, is only ever going to be disastrous to my continued functionality as a father, husband, and citizen, and therefore is a moot point.

Could it be due to something darker? That I am trying to infuse in the faces of anonymous others something of my tottering belief in the shared sense of the human? That the shattered state of the world today can somehow be overcome by a preoccupation with form, and aesthetic, and imbued character and personality. That the face of another is a giant outlined slate that I can write my fantasies on; of origin, and ambition, and mobility, and dreams. Tenuously holding on to a personal belief that the world consists of faces that are representative of more than just the exigencies of personal advantage, and self-aggrandising, and terror, and fear, and the darkest manifestations of our collective flaws and follies.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Something to believe in

There is a certain sadness in writing about things that once mattered to you, and realising in the present that your interest was founded on a once profound naïveté and unjustified optimism that you wish you weren't disabused of, if only because the myth would have been easier to live with these days.

The myth of representation is certainly one of those things. I grew up in a community that was wholly sceptical and apathetic when it came to matters of political representation. It was understood that council members, MLAs, MPs, and sundry representatives of even the local Residents Welfare Associations (or equivalents thereof) were corrupt, mean-spirited, under-educated, big-mouthed, self-serving accused (or convicted) criminals, that one with some future in life would do well to steer clear of. Elections, consequentially, were times to sit back and let the whole pageantry of campaigning glide by your upraised eyebrows, when you were not smirking at those poor schmucks to whom they apparently meant so much. Nothing in the personal experience of public life ever changed those fundamental impressions of lassitude and was indeed only ever scrutinized subjectively when you were forced to confront the fact that you did share a country with those who would determine the state of the roads and/or the condition of the drains before the monsoons came if they embezzled too much of your taxes when they did come to power.
In such an environment, if one were to enter the political space as a campaigner, coordinator or even a vocal supporter you had to be prepared to face scorn, accusations of complicity in an unethical social order, and sometimes even violence when the confrontations with the status quo became too immediate for a retreat into the relative safety of a measured appeal for civil discourse.

This very environment, or somewhere very similar, is where most first-generation migrants to the First World originate from, and if they claim that they are treated as second-class citizens in their adopted countries, feel constantly racially and ethnically discriminated against, and worry for the futures of their children, what is most often the reality is that they are disillusioned with the quality of political representation, in comparison to their encounters with political representation in their home countries.

When my family and I migrated to Australia in 2013, the timing of our move happened to coincide with the 44th Australian General Elections. The first thing we noticed was that it was an event lacking in the loud pomp and skulduggery and drama that characterises every election in India. The second thing we noticed were the colourful names of the myriad smaller parties contesting seats for the Federal parliament - names like, 'Australian Sex Party', 'Smokers Rights Party', and, ' Pirate Party Australia', to name only a few of the more colourful. The third thing we noticed was that the campaigns, at least between the two parties seriously competing for power, were being conducted almost purely on a platform of prosperity vs. economic doom, with the challenger repeatedly focusing on a plus/minus view of public policy vis-à-vis graphic projections of looming budget surpluses or deficits depending on who the Australian public chose. The fourth thing we noticed, and that we are still continuing to see, is that the business of political representation in Australia is as feckless a performance being enacted for public consumption as it was in the country we left behind, albeit with the stakes much higher for us now.

From the time of the first alarm bell ringing in the current Coalition government's record to the latest one (there are so many of them, take your pick), there is no evidence that public life here is more accountable, held to a higher standard, or less petty and basely competitive than it is even in the places where politics is only a matter of assassinating your opponent and declaring a State of Emergency for the 1000th time. The level of discourse in Parliament is wearily obfuscatory, the campaign promises one after another so spectacularly disowned and discarded, and the character assassinations so familiar, that it takes all I have not to dissociate in despair of the legacy we are leaving behind for this increasingly multi-cultural, immensely promising, stunningly beautiful nation of wanderers, dreamers, and doers.

There is no question that this base ignorance of the real reasons behind the, 'Stop the Boats' slogan, the relentless attacks on the Renewable Energy industry, and the suspiciously regular eruptions of a patriotic dissonance based on supposedly, 'imminent' attacks on our way of life, must be tackled among the electorate so that we, as a society, do not succumb to the hysterical world view of Tony Abbott and his honourable frontbenchers, but what is also of increasingly critical import is that Australia as a nation must live up to its potential as a shining beacon of fairness, a place of boundless possibility, a land where its truly wondrous indigenous history and fantastic geography can seamlessly come together to create the conditions for true leadership in the modern world.

We must always remember that hundreds of millions of people in the developing world are watching us and waiting for a sign that things can and will be better.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

When was it, shall we say, that we became radicalized?

There are some aspects of modern living that are so completely opaque to me that to even consider them manifestations of an evolving civilization would be to launch myself into a deep, dark chasm of terrifying self-revelation that has no escape chute inherent in its design.

The American faith in the selling of guns for public consumption is one such abyss, but there are others so much more immediate in their criticality, so crucially undermining to the myth of a shared humanity that we must construct to be able to have any will at all to continue living consequential lives, that to deny naming them is to deny that there might yet be a measure of salvation for us.

Will we say to our future generations that we became radicalized when we saw the sceptre of absolute and calamitous devastation wrought upon the people (and their children) who were systematically terrorized for being trespassers on their own land in the fifteen years since the 2nd Intifada of the Palestinian people began?

Will we say that we became radicalized when we saw tumultuous waves of terrified and desperate foreigners (and their children) descend upon our paved streets and pretty waterfront chalets to bring us face to face with our 500 years of economic and physical predation of their erstwhile lands?

Will we say that we became radicalized when we shamed and cut down people (and their children) because they were less fortunate, less able-bodied, less adept at negotiating the ways of a treacherous world of elite exclusivity?

Will we say that we became radicalized when we saw the fatal effects of a staggering dehumanization of a whole race of our neighbours (and their children) by the guardians of society, whom we pay and put our trust in to protect all of us, for no other reason than how different they looked from us?

When was it, shall we tell our children and grandchildren, that we became radicalized?


Friday, July 3, 2015

You can't eat the weather

There should be a word for this kind of living - one that encapsulates various lifestyles, all extremely leisurely; one that unremittingly strives to go beyond what is romantically alluded to as an 'utopia'; one that makes that smile forming at the corner of your mouth as forcefully garnered as the enjoyment you are expected to feel at a beautiful day, no matter whether it's spring, summer or winter, on the water (some water, any water); one that feeds the sense of belonging to a cult of sensual-gratification worshippers more closely matching the famous description of, 'Shiny Happy People', than, probably, any other community anywhere else in the world.

The living in Western Australia's capital city of Perth is a dream wrapped in a cocoon of exclusivity presented in a gigantic steel bucket filled to the brim with ice, sans the gleaming green bottle of celebratory bubbly - 'Sorry, mate; you should have brought your own', says the sticker on the side. Long regarded as a sun-drenched and tradie-hungry haven for those escaping the class-ridden daily humiliations of Great Britain, the city is slowly beginning to capitulate to an idea of the world that allows for all those inscrutable black, brown and yellow bodies to take a servile part in what is locally regarded as genteel society, but is rudely coming up against the competing idea that some of 'them' might actually begin to live like 'us' if 'we' allowed them to.

Australia is too dependent on the kind of skilled migration that has long been spoken about in parliament and corner shops around the country in hushed tones, to wish to antagonize the large community of expatriates, temporary residents, and permanent residents who have chosen this beautiful country to try to make their futures in. But in less-scrutinised hubs such as Perth, far removed from the bustling crowds at Dandenong Market and every other shopping centre in Paramatta, the outrage at these 'others' moving in, and buying everything in sight, including smug markers of prosperity such as boats, double-storey Mcmansions, and the latest caravans, is gradually beginning to manifest itself in the shutting out of people from professions in which they have a direct propensity to contribute, and earn a living by. Subjective judgement about what constitutes expertise, experience and communication standards, cultural bias, and racial prejudice, drives most recruiters' instincts when considering CVs, and the unending renewal of short-term contracts for professionals used to a much more demanding work ethic in their home countries doesn't lend itself to a sense of security and belonging, and contributes to a wider alienation among them that consequentially fans the communal flames at the heart of the current citizenship debate in Federal politics.

Australia is surely trying to come to terms with what kind of immigrant nation it wants to be on a national level, but the effects of that debate are being felt in its distant townships and suburbs, on the beautiful white-sand beaches and verdant parks far, far away from the hubbub of Parliament's musings on Australian identity. And those effects are not good.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Get Social

I don't know if there has ever been a more monumentally voyeuristic forum for the kind of wide-eyed gawking that we were less self-conscious of as children, when we gather to look upon the world exchanging thoughts, opinions, ideas, and prejudices - all from one accessible interface - on the barely regulated social media platform that is Twitter.
It is certainly endearing that during a time when Facebook is finally making concrete inroads towards that elusive goal of 'monetization' that has been the stumbling block for most fledgling social media platforms, Twitter, in comparison, resembles a confused squirrel debating with itself which tree in the forest contains the best nuts without even being able to see them because its vantage point is so close to the ground.
Inarguably though, the most enlightening aspect of being able to follow, comment on, and troll the virtual selves of people who you will most probably never get to encounter in real life, is the freedom to linger on collective trails of thought: as they first begin life as concise expressions of observation or intent, and evolve, after much rich composting from a mass of unsolicited and critical contribution, into fully-formed insights on the entire scope of human experience that this complex world we inhabit today makes possible. From the loftiest preoccupations of our time such as: the environment, racism, public policy, sex, nationalism, education, civic evolution, and the future of sport, to the specifically subjective: grooming, class, peer pressure, and human physical attributes or the lack thereof, all manner of conceit is up for debate and scrutiny in a whirlwind of direct questioning, quoting, appropriating, and critiquing. It's never been a mystery why such sneering scorn has been heaped on the, 'fashionable outrage of the twitterati', by the establishment - as a society, we never could have prepared ourselves for such a democratic disgorging of the span of human consciousness into neat little 140 character snippets.
It is a tribute to the platform that it facilitates, sometimes, the positive change that can occur in the minds and hearts of even the most hardened individuals because of the pressure brought to bear by a collective consciousness, but we must never lose sight of the thousands of individuals who must constantly be vigilant that their spirits are not crushed by the avalanche of hate that accompanies their personal confrontations with the status quo. It must surely be a trial to feel like you're finally getting somewhere with a dearly held conviction only to be met with vitriol and cowardly ad hominem attacks. It is, after all, a simple walk down the road from there to the swamplands that Reddit, that much heralded and singular banner of free expression since inception, finds itself enmeshed in these days.
Today on Twitter I see racism being dredged up from all its latent holes, stripped bare, and laid out in the hot, humid sun for all to be repulsed by, and hopefully be so repulsed by that it finally signals the dismantling of a 400-year old criminal institution. Perhaps tomorrow I will see post-colonialism, gender discrimination, caste bias, or indigenous rights being so tackled. I wait with bated breath, fingers hovering over touch screen and keyboard. It is a good time to be alive.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

O.. for a warm hearth with your name on it

There can be no more trepidation that emanates from the depths of the human soul in the modern world than is summoned by the act of choosing a physical structure in a geographical area to call your own.
A place to rest your weary head. An escape from the demands of having to constantly perform in the world without for the cynical benefit of those who are ever-ready and ever-willing to undermine your existence.
A refuge from the thousand insults and the million betrayals visited on you by an unfeeling wider community cruelly dismissive of the expansive sensitivity of your delicate emotional constitution.
A shaft of sunlight streaming through a well-placed window and falling on a particular section of table and floor, an anonymous bird song that greets you every time you return; that you have come to accept as gratefully as a child's loud, 'Welcome Home'.
A smell of the familiar, a sound of normality, a feeling of security, an atmosphere of acceptance.
A home, in other words, that is yours.
One that you can build and build on. One that you can touch, feel, and take comfort in. One that you can nurture and be nurtured by. One that you can cultivate and watch grow along with the people in it. One that is self-sustained and sustaining, a bedrock of strength, self-aware in its surface immutability.
A lighthouse, a purifying pyre, a watchtower, a cave.
A beacon, a lamplight, a library, a family kitchen.
A well-stocked larder, an overflowing fruit basket, a sweet-smelling linen cupboard, an over-stuffed laundry pile.

Call me bourgeois, call me lame,
Call me capitalist, say, 'Oh, for shame'.
But, O... for a warm hearth with your name on it,
You can choke on your own disdain.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Un-answer

In the time it's taken for the weather to change from a bracing energetic chill here in Perth, to a treacherous and inertia-inducing cold, another seductive benumbing seems to have crept up on the world's unsuspecting masses, lured by the vigours of the 24-hour news and social media cycle, and the merits of an argument that has been laboured over ever since the advent of the communal fire at the heart of the proto-society: that of the positive effects of Violence.
The various names that the civil unrest in Baltimore has been called; ranging from the pro-establishment, riots, to the heroic, uprising, itself is a signal that the debate on violence has not run its course over millennia of invasion, war, city-sacking, and raping and pillaging, given expression through the ever-mutating propaganda machine that has recurrently reared its head throughout the recorded history of the world to justify the righteous fight against forces of darkness and injustice. We live in a world that has routinely seen parents bury children, looters savage priceless heirlooms, terrorists devastate societies so many times over since we began thinking of ourselves as beings with agency, that we cannot but shrug when violence arrives pre-packaged in the shiny wrapping of a vision of brave oppressed peoples rising up against their erstwhile oppressors in a heartfelt explosion of rage and helplessness that brings the world to a horrified standstill, in contemplation of these bleak works of man...
It has to stop.
It beggars belief that there is a certain credence being granted to the theory that were it not for the unrest in Baltimore the police officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray would never have been charged with a crime. This line of reasoning follows from the same tortured logic that underlies the belief that the world is better off since the two world wars of the last century, and the response to the tragedy that was 9/11 in this one.
Violence cannot be justified, and not just the violence that follows from the works of man. When a person dies unnaturally from any cause, whether immediately known or ultimately unknown, it is due cause for grief and investigation, and possible mitigation of similar circumstances that could cause the death of another. We cannot and should not accept that the violence we visit on ourselves or that is visited on us from without is immutable, ever. What has to change is the systems and processes we put in place to mitigate the eruptions of violence in the world today, not our responses to it.
The debate in the immediate aftermath of the unrest in Baltimore centred on whether the rioting and the looting that led to the imposition of a curfew in that city could ever be justified. I took in this debate between protesters and news reporters with a fervency verging on disbelief, amid an atmosphere of absolute surreality in which police officers spoke calmly and respectfully to white protesters as they milled around in mostly white neighbourhoods holding placards denouncing racism, while, at the same time, worked to aggressively impose the curfew in mostly black neighbourhoods in the same city with violent arrests - for an event that was brought on primarily because of their own organization's actions.
This is not a surreal world. Everyone feels pain, frustration, and the pangs of impotency. Everyone wants freedom, a sense of manifest agency, and love. We must work towards a world where achievement cannot be tied to whether or not someone was brave enough to commit an act of violence to combat another act of violence. There's something fundamentally wrong with an argument such as that.

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.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Self-Realised Luddite

Having professed an absolute faith in education as a cure for everything from the common cold to the intransigence of nations from as far back as I can remember, I am continually surprised by the occasional eruption of a stubborn and sometimes malevolent ignorance in people from societies that have benefited the most from being notionally open and have evidently prospered from being welcoming of influences and cultures that has enhanced their understanding of the world and that should have contributed to a benign tolerance for beliefs that are not their own. This prosperity, to be sure, has been built on a savage history of violence and intolerance, but for a civilization that keeps harking back to Ancient Greece and the Renaissance as historical markers in their evolution culminating in the fair societies they are today, it is anachronistic that we should have widespread support for contemporary government policies such as the 'War on Terror', and 'Stop the Boats'.
The distinction between being a socially responsible citizen of the world and being an apologist for repression using discredited concepts such as, 'free trade' and 'Islamic fundamentalism', is as clear as glacial water in my mind and no inane discussions of globalisation and terrorism can induce a semblance of a sense of doubt to what is very clearly a fight between people who have rights and the rule of law, and people who don't and are being denied the same by the people who do.
What is horrifying is that these civic questions of what and to whom, and where and when, were answered by as far back as the dawn of civilization by people we wouldn't recognize as representative of the elites of today, and this even without having the benefit of living in a post-industrial age. We haven't simply failed as a race or a culture or even a species. We have actually failed to justify the capacity of our individual brains and our collective wisdom from a 100,000 years of history. It is self-defeating to point at all the proto, pre-historic and early-modern human civilizations and say that they failed too. So what? Is it because they failed that we shouldn't and cannot succeed now? And what about the unique tools we have as custodians of the earth today, such as science and technology and an almost limitless capacity to envision the possibilities of a better world?
Stop burying your heads in the sand. Terrorism will not stop until there are no more terrorists being born somewhere in the world right now. Poverty will not end until there are no more poor people being born somewhere in the world right now. Climate change will only get more damaging until we do not determine its destructive path any more by our capricious and obscene consumption of the earth's largesse. Share the resources you have been bequeathed. Spread the lessons of science and the benefits of technology everywhere you can. Stop stopping the movement of people around the world until people do not have a reason to move somewhere else any longer.
It is certainly not beyond our capacity to remake our world. It wouldn't even take very long.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Verbal Malevolence on Adjectival Dominion

Driving the desert dry,
Beating the weather down,
Spraying the lamp off,
Singing the blues away,
Eating to forget or
Drinking to desire,
Remembering a curse well spent.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

La Haine

To take a premise,
And multiply it by,
Many times scorn and invective,
Throwing easy banter out the window,
And, verily, caution to the winds.

To plant a wicked laugh,
At varying degrees of Self-Importance,
and Self-Inflation, and Self-Seriousness, and Self-Promotion.
And take a pencil to them,
Underlining their Self-Farce.

To build on a grand tradition of,
Indulgent farts at the Great Table in the Great Hall,
And the cutting jarb at a Dictator at a democratic fundraiser,
And the face-graffiti on drunk and passed-out friends,
And other assorted tom-fooleric absurdity,
That arrives, like it or not,
Straight from the heart.

I sadly am not,
But I wish I was,

Topical and contextual commentary by:
Adam Gopnik
Teju Cole
Slavoj Žižek

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Driven to desire,
by a contretemps compulsion.
Dreamt fanning the embers
of a passion's last hurrah.

Silent, leaping, boundless carcass.
That tooketh thine own mirror,
and shineth upon,
thou sparkling reflection.