Friday, May 7, 2010

Walking (off the plank?) with the comrades

Some questions and points I'd love to put forward to Ms. Arundhati Roy.

There can be no questioning the fact that the article is wonderfully written by Ms. Roy, all 8 pages of it. The perspective which the writer presents is something which is never ever covered by the mainstream media in normal reports on the Maoist fires burning in the heartlands of India. At the same time, there can be no questioning the fact that the write-up is hopelessly biased and one-sided in its horridly negative view of India as a country and as a democracy. Maybe it was part of Ms. Roy's job to be so polemical and hateful of just about anything which a regular Indian citizen might appreciate about his country just to make her point of view poke us in the eye, but that is exactly why the wheels of her argument come off when anyone with the slightest bit of sense left in them starts to think about it.

Call me a nit-picker but when someone sings praises of the simple tribal lifestyle, how they should left alone to do their thing, how mining companies should be driven away from everywhere as their only gift to society is irreparable environmental damage, one should not talk about their I-Pod in the same article [See Page 8 of the article]. On one hand, the author rages on about the industry-administration mafia and about much damage they do in the name of modernization/development and on the other hand, she herself is so addicted to her I-Pod that she cannot leave it behind even when she is going off into an exciting trip through the forests with the people who know it best, the tribals. Maybe she verified with Apple where all that technology that led to an invention like the I-Pod was born from and the details of the mines where all the minerals that went into the electronics inside it came from. Maybe it was developed by an alien tribal who lived in a forest of some faraway planet where the I-Pods grew on trees and you could charge them by just dipping them into the free flowing water (No big dams on them you see) and where there was no need for any compromise between development and tradition, environment and technology - something which we have to deal with everyday on this, our far-from-perfect planet. Ahhh, utopia then is a planet where all the residents are tribals who prefer to live the simple forest lifestyle and yet are technologically advanced enough to have all the comforts of a modern age without building monsters like hydroelectric dams and steel plants whose only utility according to Ms. Roy lies in exploiting dis-empowered people. There's some good true Communism for you or then again is that Cameron-ism?

To quote her from Page 8 of her article again "There was a time when believing that Big Dams were the ‘temples of modern India’ was misguided, but perhaps understandable. But today, after all that has happened, and when we know all that we do, it has to be said that Big Dams are a crime against humanity." How beautifully can the words 'Big Dams were' in the lines above be substituted by 'Communism was' and 'temples of modern India' be replaced by 'the saviours of mankind', and the words would still ring true! We are all deeply indebted to the Commies for 8 hour workdays and for sending out the clear message to all employers that the workers are the soul of any enterprise who will not stand being used and thrown away like any other raw material. We are eternally grateful to the ideals put forward by Karl Marx as far as everyone's (not just the rich and the powerful's) right to a free and fair livelihood and respect are concerned, and I am not among those fools who fail to acknowledge that. But that is where the gratefulness ends. We all know what social experiments which force a man to respect a fellow man as his equal at gun-point and promise equitable distribution of wealth lead to – tyrannical, dictatorial regimes with a bloody tenure of existence and eventually a bloody demise. To the writer's credit, she does try to pass off past failures at creating the New Man by saying “But can we, should we let apprehensions about the future im-mobilise us in the present?” [Page 8 again] But knowing people as the status hungry and self-serving species that they we biologically tend to be, we would be even greater fools to believe her and in any system of governance based on blanket implementation of a concern for the general well being above personal well being. The personal flaws of a human being will ensure that out and out Communism is a certified failure and nothing could possibly be worser than trying to shove this intrinsically flawed philosophy down everyone's throats... again. The truth is that there is no single 'ism' that'll work – whether it is Communism, Capitalism, religious fundamentalism, or atheism it really doesn't matter. Mix and match is the best way to go. I was tempted to quote something I read about Humanism being the only true 'ism' but then I thought of the idiots at PETA who cluck on and on about 'humane' treatment of chicken! Please people, the world is falling apart as it is. Let's leave the chickens out of this for the moment, at least!

If anything qualifies as “pious humbug” in retrospect, it is not the out-of-context Gandhi quote by the author [Page 6] and the superiority of “the non-violent way”, but humbug is a belief in textbook Communism and dreaming that “foisting an outdated ideology on tribal people, goading them into a hopeless insurrection”[Page 1] will work. It is really laughable that someone (in this case the author) might argue that violent fantasies of chasing the rich (assuming then that all of them right from man, woman, child are dirty, rotten scoundrels) down the street, murdering them and re-distributing their wealth amongst the needy that seem to form the bedrock of Maoism are superior to looking for a solution where the innocent need not perish at the hands of bloodthirsty soldiers yet all parties concerned ensure that any & all injustices are dealt with. Superiority wise, the “non-violent way” wins hands down. If the cause is truly just, then the means to seek its fulfillment is as important as the end. A “hook or by crook” approach always ends up as a lot of flesh tearing hooks swung around by a bunch of people who are essentially crooks.

No one said implementing the “non-violent” way was ever going to be easy and that is why in world history, there has been only one incredible man from Porbandar who had been largely successful in implementing it across this huge nation. What indeed could be easier than giving hitherto poor and powerless man Charlie a gun and telling him, “Go on, Charlie! Stop bi**hing, start a revolution! Kill everyone that you don't like because you have a gun now and if you don't use it, they'll use theirs on you. Talking is for sissies. Go on, be a man [or as the article suggests 'wo-man']! This is a war. There'll always be casualties of uninvolved by-standers.” So now a pumped-up Charlie runs out to fight, to become cannon fodder to the big guns of government or the hero of a successful “People's” revolution. The oppressed now have a chance to become the oppressors and continue the looping cycle of revenge, rape and retribution. Charlie is by now intoxicated by the power of the gun and his superior position in his newly established Comrade Empire. Do you think that he'll ever return to working in the fields or put up with the petty demands of a boss in a regular office job? The immediate lingering poisonous after-effects of a People's revolution are in itself a strong enough excuse to shoot it down!

The funny thing about the word 'revolution' is that it indicates that even though with time the 'metaphorical' wheel of justice may have moved forward, but in its final position after one complete revolution, the top of the wheel and the bottom of the wheel remain unchanged. Yes, Ms. Roy, your mom with her “mother’s weird instinct” [Page 1 again] was right! What this country needs is a revolution, so that despite all the hullabaloo and bloodletting, things just about stay the same. So that you can still find some side to take (and therefore some employment) as a revolution means that the right to oppress just changes hands. Anyone can pretend be a brave hero with a gun to play around with. The real question is how many can find the courage to quietly and resolutely stand their ground when there is no gun in their hands armed with only the certainty that they are demanding only what is owed to them, and how on earth can their oppressors and their associates justify prolonged subjugation of any such protest amongst themselves and to the watching world. Impractical methodology, you think? I'll stick my neck out and tell you what I think is actually impractical.

Yes, there are atrocities being committed on unnamed, forgotten people in the hinterlands of the country which urban India has been ignoring almost pathologically and something desperately needs to be done about them. There is probably no “Save the Maoists” campaign on Facebook and neither will there ever be a candlelight vigil at the Gateway of India for the caste killings/police atrocities that occur in rural India on a ominously regular basis. Most of us would rather watch IPL 4, do a Return on Investment calculation for MBA admissions ( i.e. course fees v/s net worth of average job offerings) and follow Shashi Tharoor's Tweets on how grateful he was to the 'new India' for standing behind him in what was basically an old indefensible dirty politician offence which he was na├»ve enough to caught doing red-handed. So unfortunately, it's just the oppressive Government against the oppressed people then. And when you hand a weapon into the hands of those feeble but angry clumps of people, you are actually handing a license-to-kill into the hands of the secret government-industry hand-in-glove conglomerate if indeed one as powerful exists outside of your haunted, paranoid imagination. Governments do not dabble in Gandhism and to a certain extent rightly so. The rules of engagement are simple. Greet the administration with bullets and you have foolishly earned the honour of being fired back at. While you get trippy on the mad rhythmic sounds of “Lall salaam...sllam....mallam... whatever”, the powers that be will come down heavily on your “strange, beautiful children with their curious arsenal” [Page 2] with their tanks, guns and laser guided bombs. It's a matter of grave concern that the violence of your “children” fascinates you with its beauty while the same violence when inflicted by a security personnel turns him into a unspeakably monstrous entity. In some ways, such an apocalyptic fight-to-the-death scenario in the forests of Dandakaranya may appeal to your artistic sentiments. Maybe we are seeing the beginnings of another Booker prize winning novel “The last of the Dandakaranyans”. “Upside down, inside out” [Page 1]!

As for the chances of success of the so-called Revolution, there is not much to talk about. Fidel Castro and his army of 200 odd men were lucky that the year was 1958 when they set off to depose Fulgencia Batista. Today the kinds of weapons that exist in the hands of any decent country's troops, oppressive or otherwise would make a joke out of any resistance. If a Cuba were to be tried again today, it would take only one unmanned Predator drone to fly out, locate the 'mischief makers' and use a few missiles to make them meet their makers. Good-bye Communist Cuba and good-bye favourite T-shirt in the world (Personally I think wearing that totally commercial T-shirt is the ultimate way to dishonour the positive aspects of Che Guevara's legacy)! Anyway, all of us do know how rapidly that dream of an independent and developed Cuba soured after the founders of the new government tried their hands at taming the wild animal called economic growth with the a flimsy ineffective whip of nepotism clubbed with complete inexperience at everything except for waging guerilla warfare. Plus India is no tin-pot dictatorship whose existing administration and systems will topple over at the drop of a hat. Hoping to finish off the financial and military might of a huge country (already high on the list of the countries poised for explosive growth) in tiny little skirmishes every few months or so is a plan doomed from the outset. And when horror stories like the massacre of 75 odd security forces men are splashed across the popular media space, the probability of winning this confrontation reduces to zilch. To expect civil society to stand up in support of people who corner men who are essentially just doing their jobs as custodians of the State and mindlessly murder them is a bit too much to expect. And neither is it possible to believe despite your repeatedly insisting so that that every single one of the security forces is a rapist and a sadist and that the photos of the distraught widows & orphaned children sitting next to the tri-colour draped coffins is another deliberate Government set-up to pull a magic trick on public opinion.

The “essentially Hindu upper class” [in Ms. Roy's opinion] state of India is where the BJP combine suffered a stunning loss in the National level elections (Development issues though had a key role in engineering that defeat too) post the madness that was Godhra & post Godhra Gujarat and where the sitting Prime Minister publicly apologized for the 1984 politically tinged religion based massacres. The “essentially Hindu upper class” state of India is where I have studied in good academic institutions with socially disadvantaged children who otherwise wouldn't have had the means or opportunities to make it there had there not been a system (admittedly far from perfect) put into place for them. Yes, there are yawning gaps between where we should have been and where we are now but the truth remains that even though we are walking slowly, we are not walking backwards. Developing a minimal respect for a nation beset with a multitude of problems and demands yet pushing itself forward on the strength of its largely tolerant composite culture is the least anyone can do. Even self declared “independent mobile republics” cannot be ignorant enough to deny the problems of scale and variety which hamper India's progress and need to acknowledge that it was tough enough to reach the point we are at today. No one is saying that we do not have problems and injustices, we have major major ones at that but what really frustrates is when someone says that all we have ever had is problems and injustices.

This much I can say strongly in Ms. Roy's favour and possibly fatal to all the arguments I have made thus far. I write this from the comfort of a reliable roof over my head, will later in the day work at a job which offers me compensation enough to fulfill most of my basic needs and comfort cravings (The Porsche :P I assume will have to stay as a poster on the wall as I make do with a Pulsar instead) and I know that I haven't have to gone to bed hungry for the entire duration of my 25 year existence though there is always that slim risk in my life that I might be blown to smithereens by a bomb planted by someone who hates all the oppression that I supposedly represent (Just another casualty of a holy/ ideological 'war' I suppose). I do not know how it feels when the police come in the middle of the night and burn down your house. I cannot claim to have experienced how it must hurt when you go to school or a government office hopeful and confident of improving your bare-to-bones existence only to find that all the schemes and benefits that were announced in your name have been once again stolen by a motley mix of tremendously corrupt and powerful men. I have not been through the torture of taking a dying loved one to the only hospital in my village and found out that the stocks of medicine which could have saved my brother/sister's life had already been sold off on the sly. I assume that when a masked man comes up to me, raises the issues of inhuman repression for the past centuries and which does not seem to be ending anytime soon, hands me a rifle (snatched from a 'mass murdering' policeman) and promises me a New World (based on religion/political ideology) of equality and happiness that will be borne out of blood and revolution, non-violence and peaceful justice is the last thing on my mind. It's very very difficult to preach of long-term conscience pricks, right means to a right end and the painful path of righteousness to “people whose farthest horizon has always been tomorrow” [Quoting Che from “The Motorcycle Diaries”]. The results of a bullet are immediate and momentarily much more satisfying.

But revolution fuelled by guns and blind hatred for the 'other' seems so very out of place in the modern world. Everyone understands to some extent that it is only 'some' of the others they need to take out as not all of 'them' are 'bad', the intense propaganda from both sides not withstanding. How long will it take to accept that there are radically different viewpoints about every single thing in existence and the solution does not lie in making everyone think alike while beating into submission anyone who disagrees in the slightest. Because what goes around comes around, and an eye for an eye will indeed leave the whole world blind. Those who have been silenced today are just biding their time, before they strike back. Disagreement I believe is vital to our growth as humans but rolling 10 years into the 21st century we need to reconsider our mad mad ways of settling those disagreements. The world would be a very drab and dry place indeed if we didn't the various shades of opinion and thought to surround ourselves with and disagreements should ideally be great fun to deal with.

One man tried to show the future of mass struggle, the only way today that seems completely justifiable knowing all that we know about history, in which the wrong-doer has no option but to accept his crimes but maybe after 10 times the time it would have taken him to accept it, guilty or not, if the barrel of a gun were pointed at him. Most of the nation which is today the world's largest democracy had followed suit, many of them of course based on blind support without evaluating the merits or failures of such a method. But that in some ways was already India's legacy to the world through Gautam Buddha, through Ashoka, through Sufi saints and various other wise men all along our history. That the only way forward is to accept, is to assimilate, is to understand that we have a right to walk along alternate paths while trying to figure the complications of our own lives and minimize our natural tendencies to run away from challenges arising out of sticking to the path of truth. It is the most difficult ideal to follow in some respects but at the end of it all the most practical and wise thing to do. No one is perfect and neither was Gandhiji in certain sections of his philosophy, but you surely can't deny that he made a strong case for how everyone could stand living next to the 'other' without dredging a river of macabre memories and wanting to hack his neighbour's head off at the first given opportunity. Arguably, the 'non-violent' way won't work in every scenario, but it definitely is worth a dekko in scenarios where both sides have valid grievances or requests considering that we are all basically human beings in the end. Time consuming such a face off will be but it will always rest easier on the soul then plane-loads of body bags or forests strewn with rotting bodies. We thank you, Ms. Roy for walking with the comrades and for bringing this story to light but isn't it about time you took off those 'hate' glasses tinted with paranoia and took a look around to see the disastrous future you are walking towards? Isn't it time that you stopped using your pen like a gun and used it like a torch in the darkness instead?

I do lean to the left in all matters political but I think that fighting guerilla wars in dense jungles (though they still make for glamorous fun video games) is passe and ineffective. If the war doesn't succeed, then there are only truckloads of highly dodgy dead 'revolutionary heroes' and if it does, its like killing the hen that laid the golden eggs as there is no more wealth to 'spread around'. I am not a believer in the trickle-down theory. I do not believe that the innate “goodness” of the haves will ensure that the have-nots will be taken care of. The integrity of the people running the system is definitely of prime consequence but there needs to be somebody on the watch to ensure that the hand that steals is twisted into being the hand that shares. The age of revolution is over, it is now the age of evolution, as we evolve to the next step in ensuring fair trial and justice for all. “Viva la revolucion”, take a bow and fade away. It is now time for “Viva la evolucion”!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The only thing constant

It rained all through the evening in Calcutta today and I was forced to shelve my plans of going around town to look for a repair shack for my uncle's record player, grounded by the disciplinarian weather. Instead as the lightning crashed down repeatedly and sometimes fearsomely close, with the rumble of thunder and the rhythm of wind slashed rain silencing the usually chaotic streets of Central Calcutta, I got into a conversation with my aunt and learnt a few interesting facts about the area where my house is located at, about which I was completely in the dark.

The whole chunk of land to the left of the St. James Church compound where my grandpa's house now stands amongst many others was a semi-orchard for the Tagore family. The Tagore family abounded in genius with many a artist and intellectual in their ranks but their name was truly immortalized and cast in gold by the creative output of a certain gentleman by the name of Rabindranath Tagore. Another thing the Tagore family abounded in was wealth, generated by doing huge volumes of business and trading under the patronage of the British rulers. So right where my house takes up space, there might have been a mango orchard where kids ran free of the chains of adult supervision. The huge walled in compound which forms the dreary godown of Crompton-Greaves adjacent to the Frank Anthony Public School was in fact a huge pond ('pukur' in Bengali) - green, teeming with fishes eyed by circling colourful birds and overhung by the lush greenery that is at the root of all of Bengal's poetic ruminations. The red tiled roofed shed located bang in front of my house where the hand pulled rickshaws park for the night and their dog-tired operators cram into to get much needed sleep was a stable for the horses once.

All of that seems to have happened not only in another age but on another planet. What remains is a couple of old buildings, the rest of them taken down to make way for relatively modern construction where ugly practicality has choked out spacious grandeur. The birds of beauty and song had left with the trees, the few that still stand witness house only the hungry hordes of inner city crows. Harsh sodium lights fall on overcrowded solid tar roads where at one time the silver moonlight filtering through the leaves was the main source of illumination as majestic horses comfortable and tired after a day's work snorted and shuffled in their stables.

The rain and the emotions that it washes down from the heavens though are just the same. The smiles that it brought onto the faces of people caught out on the street today said that it is as welcome now it was back then dissolving more pressing issues at hand in its cool embrace. Time moves on with hardly a nod to the past as do people tangled up in their private worlds of worries and desires. After all the endless philosophizing, we do acknowledge what is inevitable, what is indeed the only thing constant... change.

One for a good cause

In a rather interesting incident in this old town, 3 middle aged Income Tax (IT) officers barged into a flat in the Beleghata area. They were on a raid, they said and handed over the raid authorization papers to the wife of the accused. The accused was out of town that day and the officers went through their usual routine of turning everything in the house inside out. They broke open the almirah to find Rs. 2 crore in cash. Again in true raid fashion, they handed over a receipt of 90 lakh to the lady as the amount of cash they were taking away from the house and marched away with the 2 crores.

Flabbergasted and completely distraught, the targets for the IT raid contacted the police. The police of course turned out to be more interested in how and why were 2 crore rupees in cash at home in the first place. Further investigation revealed that none of the 3 visitors were from the IT department. In fact, the IT department had no plans or information whatsoever for any raid to that particular residence. The authorization papers were of course faked and the raid party of 3 are nowhere to be found! In normal circumstances, I am strictly and seriously against any kind of theft by anyone but in this particular case, I couldn't help spending the whole of this Sunday morning... laughing!

Ben Franklin Pt.2 ???

Back in my primary school days when I was quite obsessed with the idea of becoming a white lab coat wearing scientist, one of my favourite stories was the one about the pioneering scientist Benjamin Franklin and his kite experiment. Benjamin Franklin wanted to prove to the world that lightning was not an expression of the wrath of God but the end result of a huge voltage difference between two clouds. So he sent up a kite with silk thread (Good conductor of electricity that it was) on a cloudy day and at great personal, possibly fatal risk brought a metallic object (A key) close to the thread. Sparks emitted by the key proved that there was indeed a great amount of electricity in between the clouds and that there was no angry old bearded man hiding behind the dark clouds waiting to strike down any and all sinners. Point well proven, albeit a little on the edge proof.

Today on the 2nd of May 2010, the evening saw Calcutta consumed by an especially oppressive heat that precedes the Kal-Boishakhi (North-wester winds) thunderstorm. The air was still, the clouds were dark & low and the first little flashes of lightning with the grumble of thunder were already in progress. Then it was, as I strolled onto my third floor terrace that I saw the kite! Yes, a lone plastic red spotted kite being flown by some foolhardy braveheart at that totally unsuitable time from some distant terrace. Most of the human race knows by this point in time & history that lightning is nothing but murderous amounts of high electrostatic discharge. What our brave adventurer/scientist was out to prove lies totally beyond my conjecture. All I can pray and hope for is that by the time the storm was done venting it's anger at the human race at about 10:00 in the night, we do not have to mourn for another martyr to the cause of science.