Shoaib Daniyal’s intellectual high horse

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In the manner of all open letters, here I am, responding to Shoaib Daniyal’s article Indian Conception of Nationalism Borrows Heavily from Religion published by Scroll.in.

I’d start with asking Mr. Daniyal if he has read this superbly insightful book called ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari. I wish he had; for he would have had no need to write his article, nor I, my response. I certainly do recommend reading The Sapiens and Harari’s latest, Homo Deus, which takes the subject a notch higher.

Anyway, Harari says in Sapiens that “Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say, ‘Careful! A Lion!’ Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo Sapiens acquired the ability to say, ‘The Lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language.” In other words, religion exists only in human societies. Just like politics, arts, science, and even marketing :-). What makes all of these things possible is the human being’s ability to think and communicate in abstractions, go beyond what is here and now. It is a special ability and is unique to humans.

Harari offers a detailed explanation of why such fictions had to exist: “Such myths give Sapiens the unprecedented ability to co-operate flexibly in large numbers.”

Many creatures in the animal world are somewhat like us, they co-operate and work collectively: “Ants and bees work together in huge numbers but they do so in a very rigid manner and only with close relatives.” But, a Leftist-Marxist worker bee revolution against the Queen Bee i.e. monarchy isn’t going to come.

Wolves and Chimpanzees co-operate far more flexibly than ants, but they can do so only with small numbers of other individuals they know intimately. A lone wolf is a dead wolf when it comes across another wolf pack and chimps won’t ever manage to dominate the world with just one command: Go forth and multiply.

In this regard, particularly, Mr. Daniyal might like this line about ‘religion’ from Sapiens: “You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven.” The difference between humans and other creatures is that humans can convince another human to take his own life by promising him future glory or an interesting afterlife. And as a result, the human race has been able to accomplish for itself much more than all the other species for themselves combined.

Maybe Mr. Shoaib Daniyal doesn’t realize this but not just religions, all ideologies, all philosophies, all manners of schools of thought, even all cricket teams and football teams, all business organisations are pieces of fiction. Some are held together through cultural norms, some through legalities, most through both. Without creating these fictions, we cannot function well TOGETHER as a team, as co-workers, as citizens, as a society, as a culture; in fact, we can’t even do a Mexican wave across the stadium at a football match without a clear sense of a collective approach.

Why should nationalism be any different? Think of the world as a playground. Think of nations as territories and think of people within them as teammates. All nations are teams and they do everything within their power to further the interests of their teams. While the piece of land is real, no doubt, the team is a fiction. What was once a fiction named the Indian sub-continent is now a collection of fictions called India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

Some amount of national feeling will be needed if national integrity is to be guarded. Why do liberals find this so hard to understand? If they think themselves to be global citizens, why don’t they enact this fiction first by renouncing their passports?

Mr. Daniyal, when he states that Indian nationalism borrows from religion, he thinks he is making an original observation. Clearly he isn’t.

Mr. Daniyal seems concerned that ‘Indian nationalism often fuses the Hindu conception of a female Shakti deity to literally imagine a national goddess, Bharat Mata’. 

Is it possible that he is ignorant of the existence of the idea of the ‘motherland’ in various other cultures? Or fatherland in case of Germany? He does start out correctly in mentioning the female Shakti deity and then disappoints with the suggestion that we Indians imagine our country as a national Goddess of sorts.

Mr. Daniyal seems to have misunderstood his fellow Indians: We imagine Bharat Mata in the image of our own mothers, is that so hard to see? If so, why? Mata means mother. In fact, we Indians even imagine our female deities as mothers – Maa Durga, Maa Kaali, Maa Sita, and so on. For us, motherhood is divine and mother is divinity. Sadly though, for liberals, nothing is or can be sacred. For them, this is paganism. The very paganism that has allowed them to thrive in this beautiful culture without a hate campaign, persecution, or a genocide.

Coming to the deity angle: If there is a deity angle here it is because in the Hindu culture, we are expected to revere our mothers as deities, for sure. Matrudevo Bhava, pitrudevo bhava… (Let your mother be respected as a devi, your father as a deva).

Now, what is a deity? It’s a loose translation of the word Devas and Devis, which literally means ‘givers’: those who give. These are not mythical beings, not magical beings, and not mystical beings. These are ordinary beings who have risen to extraordinariness of stature due to their special talents, abilities, and efforts. It’d be safe to assume that most of us would agree that our parents do perform an extraordinary role in our lives.

To explain further, in the Indian epics, Ram, Sita, Indra, etc. were all devas (devis). These deities all had mortal bodies and they had their imperfections, just like in Greek mythology. They were not Gods, that interpretation came about later. The concept of God, as in the all-pervading, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God of the Abrahamic tradition is totally and completely non-existent in the Hindu culture. Instead what is, is Brahma (cosmic consciousness or intelligence, known as creation in Abrahamic religions), which is related to the word Brahmand (The Universe, the physical manifestation of this cosmic intelligence), and the word Brahman (the knower, the intelligent one).

Bharat Mata, therefore, if she is revered as a devi, becomes a cultural norm that is only to be expected in a land that has stuck to its 5,000 year old culture despite everything. How else would you expect a common Indian to respond to the demands of a modern world cut up in chunks of nations within its stated borders?

In this context, what really is the problem? Is it possible that Mr. Daniyal doesn’t find this imagination secular enough? Or, is it that Mr. Daniyal doesn’t approve of the imagination at all, in the manner of warning us all against something akin to idol worship? Or is it that Mr. Daniyal simply doesn’t approve of this ’emotional’ and therefore unintellectual way of relating to one’s country and culture? Is he opposed to any national feeling? In that case, should he not take recourse to his ‘nationality’?

Another problem area Mr. Shoaib Daniyal has highlighted is the use of the term ‘martyr’ for Indian soldiers killed in combat, while stating that the Union government had clarified in the Lok Sabha that it does not use the term ‘Martyr’ to describe a soldier who had died in action. The reason for not using the term, as Mr. Daniyal puts it is: the word Martyr comes from a Greek word that literally means ‘witness’, refers to a Christian killed for his belief in Jesus. The term gained prominence in the first few centuries of the Christian Church in Rome, where the religion often faced persecution at the hands of Roman authorities.

Mr. Daniyal also says, “it is widely used in Indian English to refer to Indian armed personnel killed battling militants, say in Assam or Kashmir”. Please note the non-committal way this line comes about: Indian armed personnel battling militants. Militants, not terrorists.

In Mr. Daniyal’s world, utopian superhighways of logic and rational thinking cover the entire expanse of the collective minds where none thinks differently and they ride on and on, on their intellectual high horses not eating or drinking or cultivating or producing a single thing. Because, all of these activities would require people to work together and that’s not possible without some form of organization. Such organisations would require fictions of community, society, religion, etc AND THAT WOULD BE UNACCEPTABLE. Besides, everyone would want to ride their high horses, who would want to work to produce, cultivate, or construct or even care about it all?

That’s why he uses the word militants and not terrorists. The word Terrorists would imply a judgement against people willing to die for their ’cause’ which may be a religion or an ideology, a judgement that intellectuals such as Mr. Daniyal are wont to make; but the same intellectuals leave no effort to deride that collective of people who is willing to die to protect the existing order of their society: their country.

They will not judge the terrorist for his religiously motivated zeal to destroy but will readily judge people trying to protect themselves from that terrorist through collective nationalistic feeling. They will call nationalism religion-like, because in this case it is the Hindu “religion” being referenced, but will not question religion itself and its contours because here he would have to talk about other main religions, i.e. Christianity and Islam, thanks to which the Indian sub-continent has had to split up in various chunks that sing different national anthems, i.e. accepting Christian hymnody.

Anyway, coming back to the term ‘Martyr’, the use of which Mr. Daniyal terms as theological cross-pollination, he deftly links it to the Supreme Court order that makes it mandatory for the National Anthem to be played in movie theatres. He cites the order: “All present in the hall are obliged to stand up to show respect to the National Anthem.”

Mr. Daniyal rightly points out that the concept of national anthem comes to India from Europe, tracing its origins to the Christian hymnody, and yes, he’s right that in this regard, standing up was a mark of respect. He also offers a counter – a kirtan or a qawwali is performed sitting down and, one would assume, the singer or the audience means no disrespect. He sounds concerned that ‘as in the case of martyr, without realizing it, Indian nationalists are importing elements of organized religion to give shape to their conception of community’.

And I see that Mr. Shoaib Daniyal is absolutely right in diagnosing the problem. You see, the Hindu culture of Sanaatan Dharma has absolutely no concept of martyrdom. We also have absolutely no history of having a National Anthem. Later, the kings did have emblems and flags, but no National Anthem. That came from India’s ties with Christianity and the Christian invasion, or in other words, the East India Company – the British raj, the Christian Missionary.

But, maybe Mr. Daniyal should be equally concerned about how this hymnody has now gone universal – I don’t know of any country that doesn’t have a National Anthem, doesn’t have a set of rules observant upon how to respect National symbols, doesn’t take pride in its National symbols.

Does Mr. Daniyal have any problem with any other country having all these symbols of nationalism? Perhaps not, because and only because no other country’s people call their motherland Bharat Mata. He probably finds it confusing that a people who imagine their nation in Hindu finery accept Christian hymnody. And, this is why he should understand India better. The Hindu culture has openly welcomed all religions and kept them safe – ask the Zoroastrians, ask the Jews. If at all he wants to ask this question about being influenced by Christian hymnody, he should put it to Islamic states.

Finally, Mr. Daniyal doesn’t like the fact that our nationalism is too rooted in our territories. This is what he has to say: “Today, nations will be ready to pay immensely in terms of lives and money to maintain the integrity of their map. This is true even for seemingly pointless strips of land – think the Falklands war between Argentina and the UK, or the Siachen conflict closer home.”

To this, I have nothing to say but quote Donald Trump, “We are a nation and nations have borders”. Liberal intellectuals steeped in the idea of globalized world fail to understand this at their own peril. Siachen, to Mr. Shoaib Daniyal, is a pointless strip of land. Tomorrow, he’ll call Kashmir so, to be followed by West Bengal, possibly Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, and then maybe Hyderabad, and maybe Uttar Pradesh, and then who knows… “Bharatmaa tere tukde hongey” (that chant of JNU intellectuals whence Kanhiya Kumar’s fame came and went) … you know where this is going, right?

The parallel between nationalism and religion notwithstanding, I would advise Mr. Shoaib Daniyal to take heart: at least, unlike the very imagined ‘kingdom of heaven’ and the afterlife, nations truly exist. India exists. Indians exist. We, as one country, do exist.

 

 

 

 

Planning on 2017

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2017 is coming. Start planning for a great year ahead. No point wishing. Just get down to it and make it happen.

Three focus areas:

  1. Learning
  2. Finance
  3. Efficiency

Learning: Plan what you want to invest your talents in this year. I’ve started with making a list of books I want to read and a list of courses I want to do.

Finance: Plan what all you can do and how best to do so. Number crunching.

Efficiency: Plan how you can optimise all your plans and maximise its impact. This third one will impact the first two. Choose wisely.

 

Demonetisation in India exposes a sad sorority of married women

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November 8 will go down in history as an earthquake that shook the entire India. And not because that’s the day when Donald Trump was elected POTUS. It was because our Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetisation scheme that made notes of Rs.500 and Rs.1000 illegal tender. Overnight, nearly 70% of all cash circulating within the country was not worth the price of the paper it was printed on.

The move was termed as a masterstroke in the government’s fight against black money, which is a major source of funding for terror acts within the country, be it in Kashmir or in Naxal-affected areas, or elsewhere. Limits were imposed on exchange of money – a paltry sum of Rs.4000 in cash could be exchanged at one go at the bank, and in that too, it was made mandatory to bring your ID proof. The government was counting and the taxman was watching. For the first time, black money hoarders and tax evaders had no clue what to do.

But these aren’t the only people that were scared. There was another class that found the move completely daunting and intimidating. Married Indian women. Women who were dependent on their family’s largesse of TLC and money. Women who had been squirreling away the money from their household expenses basket in order to keep cash at hand for a rainy day. This sounds dishonest but it most certainly isn’t.

Most of this money ends up in their secret stash through diverting it from where it was meant to be spent: her children want to eat ice-cream, she cajoles them to share one ice-cream cone rather than have one each. She needs a new pair of sandals but she takes her well-worn pair to the cobbler and buys a new one for half the price of the money she has. Her daughter needs a new dress so she fashions one out from one of her saris that she got in her trousseau that is now gathering dust. Instead of buying veggies from the vendor that comes to her doorstep, she takes a bus ride into the outskirts to find cheaper supplies. She doesn’t buy a new sari to attend her cousin’s wedding. She borrows it from a neighbour. This secret stash is achieved by the dint of years and years of sacrifice and severe monitoring of cash flows.

And these are not just lower middle class or uneducated women doing so. This sorority also includes upper middle class women whose family dynamics are far from being dysfunctional, at least by definition. These are women who could trust their spouse enough to have children with them but not with candour about why they needed some cash kept aside.

Their secret stash comes in handy when her daughter needs pocket money for her school picnic that her father is skeptical about; when her son wants a new pair of bright sneakers for sports day; when her own mother wants the new alternative medicine that the son she stays with would refuse her because it is extra expenditure; when she wants her father to take money from her instead of taking a loan; when she wants it for something she can’t tell her husband about lest he shouts at her, and becomes suspicious of her spending away all ‘his hard-earned money’; when her own mother-in-law suddenly collapses and cash has to be arranged for emergency care at the hospital; when she would need it to secure her own freedom after her husband drinks himself to death and penury.

These are limited scenarios but not untrue. 80% of India’s women remain outside of the banking system. Finances are controlled by the men in the family. Close to 49% of Indian population is comprised of women. There are inheritance rights and Hindu women have been granted equal rights to all inheritance but equal inheritance is not an equality yet. Daughters are blackmailed emotionally and sometimes literally into forfeiting their right. If they still fight it, they are shamed by the society.

The Indian mainstream media and the social media have aptly captured the plight of all these women. Countercurrents.org has written a long one about how demonetisation is an unfolding tragedy for women (link here), TheLadiesFinger too recounts stories of such women (Link here), while scroll.in details how women are scrambling to link here salvage their savings. There are many more.

Revenue secretary Hasmukh Adhia has clarified that small businesses, women, housewives, will face less scrutiny while depositing their savings in 500-1000 notes up to Rs. 2-2.5 lakh, so long as it is all accounted for in the household’s income. But this has failed to bring relief to our sorority girls.

In what is the saddest part of this story, our sorority sisters are probably not that afraid of the country’s government. What they are afraid of is the powers-that-be at home.

40-year-old Eshwarramma from Chikaballapur in Karnataka killed herself on November 14 after losing her savings of Rs.15,000 while on her way to the bank to deposit her money. Her husband Nagappa was an alcoholic and had almost abandoned their family. She was a day labourer and is survived by a son.

My previous domestic help had lost Rs. 20,000 in a local village-level ponzi scheme she had invested in, keeping it from her driver husband who was having an affair with a fellow driver’s wife. He used to beat her up for every little thing, right in front of her two young sons. She wanted to secure their future while ignoring her husband’s selfish indulgences.

Another domestic help was working 8 hours at my place after working all the rest at hers to support the education of her two young sons. Her husband is an autorickshaw driver whose vehicle EMI was being paid from her salary. When I took her to the bank to make a fixed deposit in her name, we couldn’t because the signature on her PAN card did not match. It was her husband who had put her name down, not she. There was no way she could access her own Jan Dhan account.

Another woman who worked at my place is a sole breadwinner in a family of eight. She has been duped by her own brother, who offered to help her buy a house. Her husband is a security guard and spends most days drinking after he was kicked out of his job.

A friend who lives in a super affluent joint family can’t buy a laptop because her husband would laugh at her, she being “just a housewife”. She’s looking to buy a used one from her savings, a purchase she’ll disguise as a gift from her cousin.

A distant aunt recently declared a secret stash of Rs.50,000 to her husband, to face much mocking and derision for her secretive nature, and not credit for her frugality.

Media calling the demonetisation step monstrous for robbing the peace of mind of these women need to look at the larger picture. These women do not have the luxury of peace of mind. Much like the government that has for decades rewarded a system where crooks and power-hungry are emboldened and get richer, our society supports a family system where hierarchy-driven patriarchy is emboldened and controls the money.

Media has brought forth all these stories of financial heartbreak of women but a rejoicing for their relatives. But they have failed to notice where all this comes from – control women’s birth. Suppress their education. Let them remain dependent on family. And last but not the least, blame them for their lower status in the society. Repeat.

In this sense, the good, clean, honest man in the Indian polity can be compared to a housewife. So far, he couldn’t question the government. He was too busy trying to make clean money so that at least 1 chapati out of all three his wife cooked could go towards feeding the babus and the politicians. He had to furnish a clean bill of expenses every time he went out shopping. Probably that’s why he is largely supportive of the government’s move.

The honest man is happy today because the government has taken a step that he believes will, in the long run, benefit the country by penalising the tax evaders and black money marketers. When will a housewife experience such relief, I wonder.

The housewife is in a state of quandary. But this just compounds an already dysfunctional situation. She fights day in and day out. She survives. She will continue to survive. This is but a sad comment on the social state of affairs and what passes of as a “family” in India. She can’t trust anyone for understanding her. Not even her spouse.

 

 

The Right is Rising on a Heap of Labels of Hate

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They say it’s the new right that’s rising across the world.

Huh. Right, left, center, left of center, right of center… labels.

Sexist, racist, homophobe, Islamophobe… just a few… but labels again.

Liberal, Neo-liberal, elite, noble, progressive, modern… again labels.

The rise of the right has brought two major changes in 2016: Brexit, and now, Trump. Actually, some who think the world exists beyond The West, would club India’s current BJP government into the same list. That happened two years back. But then, the European Union has been seeing the rise of its Right for quite some time too. Of course, there’s Turkey still happening, unfolding.

And I’m amazed that people around the world are shocked that Donald Trump won the American Presidency. Identifying these people shouldn’t be too difficult. We can safely say that they are ‘liberals’ of a certain sort and definitely to a certain degree. Those raising a big hue and cry are, largely, educated people, products of the Western education system, whether they reside in the US, the EU, or India. Educated people who, when they were discussing the elections in their daily walk of life, had no clue that a lot of people around them were maybe just nodding to what they were saying, and that when it came to the D-Day had completely different plans about what they were going to do.

To imagine the number of people who hid behind a facade of liberalism waiting to vote Trump as soon as they stepped into the privacy of the voting booth. If the liberals see this as a sabotage of their liberal la-la land to turn out in protests, there’s no surprise in it. They looked so down upon these people that their real agenda  had to be hid from them, their exit polls, their media, everyone. It’s almost like a guerrilla strategy. With generous help from the media.

Back in India, the US elections were a much followed event and the diaspora leading us to believe, just like in the US, that Hillary had it in the bag. The media bought it and sold it too. Talk about POTUS Hillary Clinton was almost like fait accompli – The Newsweek coming out with ‘Madam President’ issue, which it has now withdrawn. And perhaps that’s why, when the fall came, it hurt so bad.

Why was it like a fait accompli? Because someone as sexist, as racist, a rapist, stupid, as unsuccessful in biz as Donald Trump could hardly be elected President. This was the argument on good days. On bad days, it was orange coloured mango with crazy straw hair and a dumb trophy beauty-queen wife who plagiarised Michelle Obama’s speech. And yet, it happened.

When they go low, we go high, said the liberals. And I really wish they could. But by shaming those who saw something in voting for Trump as the ‘Deplorables’, the liberals showed they were none the better. It’s a very strong word. It means: Deserving strong condemnation, completely unacceptable; also, shockingly bad in quality; very bad in a way that causes shock, fear, or disgust.

What or who is a liberal? By definition, one who is willing to respect or accept opinions different from one’s own. Not mock, insult, or humiliate. But that’s theory. In practice, being a liberal means looking down upon everyone who looks at things differently, is less educated, is less politically correct and so on.

It followed later that HRC won the popular vote, but there’s not a bat’s chance in hell the electoral college will declare her Madam President. That’s what makes this a very bitter defeat. The US is tottering on the edge of violent protests and rioting as large groups denounce Trump and his supporters. Already, a few instances of hate-filled dialogue in public have sounded an alarm. Public morale is low and Hillary has blamed James Comey for dealing the final blow to her campaign. It did, am sure, in a way, but I don’t think she did much to reduce the impact.

Finally, what I’ll say is this. While the liberal-minded HRC did go the politically incorrect way of denouncing Trump supporters as the deplorables – for the White House really should not be the residence of a racist, a sexist, and a sexual abuser, or for that matter any public office –  if you’re looking to blame someone for this fiasco for the world and not just for the US, it’s in the fact that Trump was even considered for running for the President. That’s what is truly deplorable. The next deplorable thing is to call a quarter of Americans who are eligible to vote, The Deplorables (Vox Article). That’s not the RIGHT way to go about it.

Ditch the labels. Stop using them for political gain. Look at each individual voter who has some expectations from you. Stop mocking them for having them. Stop dividing people for personal gain.

 

Delhi being smoggered, which city is next?

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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I wish.

I’m talking about Delhi smog, which has led Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal to call the city that is also the national capital, a ‘Gas Chamber’.

For the first time, I think, we are in some serious competition with China, as apparently, 1/10th of the China’s land area is covered in heavy smog. Well, Delhi’s smog is 4 times the levels at which Beijing declares it an ’emergency’. At places, the pollution levels are 17 times the ‘safe’ limit. Schools are shut for 3 days.

The Delhi government did call for a meeting this morning to discuss the issue. As for causes, the use of firewood, coal, diesel, petrol and burning of agricultural waste were found to be the culprits. They say it is crop stubble burning in the neighbouring states of Delhi that is  largely responsible for such pollution. Not firecrackers.

Now, exactly a week ago, it was the Diwali weekend. Diwali is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu tradition. Celebrations involve bursting of crackers, which, no doubt contribute to the pollution in general. Specifically though, they add sulphur and phosphorous and other such chemicals that are noxious when inhaled.

Last weekend, #PollutionFreeDiwali trended heavily on Twitter with people asking that use of crackers be dumped to reduce pollution at which people lashed back calling the others anti-Hindus, asking why this selective festival shaming was being done and so on.

Well, as far as pollution levels go, it’s the highest today, 7 days after Diwali. Much higher than the morning after the big celebration. Obviously, there’s a lot more going on.

The Delhi government has cited crop-burning in the neighbouring states as a major reason. But, there’s a very interesting thread on Twitter that questioned why places where crop burning was actually happening i.e. Rohtak, Punjab, etc. had much lower pollution levels than did Delhi.

It seems this is a combination of factors and behind it all, lies civic apathy and government’s lack of interest. The latter might change with the pollution problem coming to its head. Kejriwal is mulling over bringing back the odd-even formula when it comes to using private vehicles. Sheer tokenism, of course.

Our politicians advise reducing the use of private vehicles without ensuring effective, adequate, punctual, and safe public transport while they themselves travel in convoys of 6-8 cars for even intra-city jaunts.

Our public transport is in doldrums.

Our buses are gas-guzzling mammoths that are ill-maintained, less frequent, and fewer in number than what is required. There has been no tech or design upgrade over the years or even route optimisation. As a result, they occupy large spaces on roads, and often go empty.

Our trains, while they constitute the largest railway network in the world, too are often poorly maintained, especially the toilets, often not on time, and often considered unsafe for travel especially for women. Upon The Railways’ own admission, blankets on trains are washed maybe once in 2 months (You smelt it right…), and services are pretty bad – you won’t find good food even on long-haul routes.

No sooner are bus-stops are erected than bits of the metal railing and seating are stolen. Never to be replaced. No helpline phones, no vending machines nearby. Because of course, if you create assets you’ll have to spend on guarding them too. And that will never work in here, where people will steal even a manhole (drain) cover and leave a drain exposed.

Where transport services are involved, for instance in the case of autorickshaws, the drivers are a vote bank and will use political muscle to ask for a raise, to protest petrol price hike, etc. The government has no objection when they refuse to ply their customer, which is supposed to be their duty. Their welfare at the cost of the consumer is the government’s mantra. The easy way out.

When cab aggregators such as Uber/Ola arrive, the government should help them strengthen their network and services instead, it allows autos to strike in opposition to these cab services taking away their market share. It also allows cab aggregators to use non-transparent structures for surge pricing, instead of monitoring their functioning so that the common man is not inconvenienced. The aim should be to keep private vehicle ownership to a minimum and such services can go a long way in ensuring this.

The government provides metro services in cities but without supplying it with a feeder bus system so that a metro traveller can be duly incentivised to use the Metro. Mumbai has a local train network and the city pays the most tax in the country and yet, there is no AC on any of the trains. Every year, people die on these trains of suffocation; yes, you read it right.

So, all I have to say is, this too shall pass. With a little help from N95 pollution masks and ENT doctors and anti-allergic medications. Those with the means will invest in air purifiers. And politicians will go on doing what they do. At the expense of people who elect them to positions of power.

Don’t say I shouldn’t blame the government. I do. The government should know better than 90% of its people. It has the means and resources to study issues, take empowered decisions and implement them, but it doesn’t. What it does is blame the people.

When will people understand..

That what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

‘What will we tell our daughters if Trump wins’?

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THREE days before Americans tell the world – for I’m hoping their decision is already made – who their new President is going to be, out comes this letter to parents of daughters (Link Here). While Lucia Brawley’s had indeed written a moving piece, a few thoughts on this important event.

It starts off with the gender of the candidates in focus. “If Trump wins, will the American people tell their daughters that after 44 male presidents there won’t be a woman?”

I am an Indian and we have a long tradition of women leaders. We’ve never had to have a suffragette movement, despite having to fight social ills such as the Sati, female foeticide and infanticide.

Indira Gandhi, the only woman Prime Minister we have had came to power in 1966 and ruled for a decade. She was an extremely powerful politician and took forward what was the Nehru family’s hold on dynastic power that continues to this day. There was a slogan her party used once: India is Indira and Indira is India.

Of Indira’s two daughters-in-law, Sonia Gandhi is officially still one of the most powerful politicians in India, with her son Rahul Gandhi now manouvering the Indian National Congress party. Notably, Indira kept mum, as did the rest of the family of political leaders from the Gandhi clan, when her other son, Sanjay Gandhi, went about forcibly sterilising the men across various geographies. Some men underwent the operation more than once. Indira’s other DIL, Maneka Gandhi is a Union Cabinet minister in the current Central government. Her son Varun Gandhi too is a politician.

Indira is the only prime minister in the Indian democracy to have slapped an Emergency on the Indian state for two long years. Sonia Gandhi’s hold over INC is stained by allegations of policy paralysis and large-scale corruption, too many scandals to count, and numbers so big that are difficult to even ascertain.

Looking at other women in politics, Mayawati holds sway over the most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh. While she was lauded for improving the law & order situation in UP when she was in power as Chief Minister, she did make an example of unfettered spending of money for purposes that had nothing to do with development in a state that needs it critically and everything to do with sheer tokenism. She built memorials cost anywhere between USD 500 million to USD1.3 billion. She went to town erecting super size statues of herself and party leaders as well as pink elephants, her party’s symbol, over an area as big as a small town right in the heart of the state capital, Lucknow. And by the way, Newsweek described her as the Barack Obama of India, and is a potential Prime Ministerial candidate.

In the East is Mamata Bannerjee, current Chief Minister of West Bengal, is the first woman CM of the state and was previously the first woman Railways minister of India. Her rule has also been rocked by a corruption scandal (Saradha scam) and following an inquiry into it, 2 of her partymen are in jail. But, she’s really infamous for her comments following a rape in the state capital. She said that rape was a result of ‘more free interaction between men and women’. I quote: ‘Earlier if men and women would hold hands, they would get caught by parents and reprimanded but now everything is so open. It’s like an open market with open options’. Of late, there is outrage against her on social media for exhibiting sharp pro-minority leanings that have been often called appeasement politics.

Finally, Jayalalithaa of the South. She’s had several Chief Ministerial stints in the state of Tamil Nadu, but was disqualified from holding office during her previous stint due to a disproportionate assets case against her. Of course, she was acquitted in the case with many casting doubts on the authenticity… well! Apart from holding some 2,000 acres of land and 30kg of gold, she was known to have 12,000 saris. It’s possible that even with so much, we’re barely scratching the surface.

However. This is not to say that women in politics are corrupt, unfit, and inept but this IS to say that women in power are NO DIFFERENT than MEN in power. They’re equally corrupt for money, equally likely to abuse positions of power, and can be equally misogynistic. Of course, they’ve done a ton of good things for a lot of people at large, just like their male counterparts. The one thing they won’t do, like their male counterparts do, is “grab a ****y” in Donald Trump’s words. But, there’s no telling they won’t stand by silently and look past when the men around them do so. In fact, history proves they do exactly that at times.

So, when Ms. Brawley talks about ‘bigoted misogynist’, I wonder if she’s referring to Trump, Bill Clinton, or Hillary! Only the use of the word ‘Unqualified’ serves as a hint to The Donald.  

For, I don’t know of instances where Hillary came out in support of victims of Bill’s sexual assaults. I don’t know if she has ever supported them in any way. All I know is, she stood by her husband. What I do know is that it is some form of corruption to know something is wrong but to keep mum because you stand to gain from it.  

I recently came across a piece of news where a mother allowed her neighbour and his son to sexually abuse her 9-year-old twins, in exchange of money. The twins, who are not even 5th graders yet, complained to their schoolteacher, who then forwarded the complaint to the police. 

What we see, therefore, is that when it comes to power, it’s not about gender, it’s about the person. However, the gender debate is too attractive this time around to be dismissed. America is about to elect a woman president for the first time ever, certainly a milestone. But, it can’t be the main reason for her election.

Now, the part that bothers me the most. If you’ve noticed the current trends in open letters, you’ll see it mirroring our social behaviour. Sexual abuse is the only area where we challenge, question, doubt, punish the victim. All our open letters too are usually and mostly addressed to the women, girls, and daughters, rarely to the boys. So is this one.

Addressed to parents of daughters. Again through the gender angle.

If Trump wins, won’t Americans be telling their sons that it is okay to be a liar, a joker, a businessman who is not transparent, a braggart, a perv, an abuser… a fear monger, a hate monger, a “divisive, racist” force?!

So, what will we tell our daughters if Trump wins? Nothing we don’t already know.

The focus of this entire gender conversation needs to be boys and men and their role in the society. It is this role that creates situations of gender divide, by bringing out the worst in them. It keeps them away from realising their full humanity and throws them into a cycle of misogyny.

Parents of daughters are already doing their bit to change that. There is need to address parents of sons on this matter.

 

 

Ants in yoga pants

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Apparently last week, yoga pants got the best (!) of Alan Sorrentino, aged 63, a Rhode Island resident.

In a letter to a local newspaper, he blasted yoga pants, the ultimate in feel-good clothing for us women as the ‘absolute  worst thing to happen to women’s fashion since the mini skirt’. Insightfully, his tirade ventured the explanation “that, like the mini skirt, yoga pants are “adorable” on children and fit young women, but that the exercise ensemble is both “disturbing” and “bizarre” when stretched over the thighs of “mature, adult” ladies” Link here (Sunday Morning Herald).

Apparently, Sorrentino also declared later that his comment that was published in a local newspaper, was meant to be a satire and humorous but that didn’t stop about 400 women getting together to organise the ‘yoga pants parade’ during which they marched past his house.

 

 

All in all, great. Sorrentino’s appeal to women to “grow up” and make sensible sartorial choices is probably going to fall on deaf ears, no doubt. After all, if women were as smart as he wants us to be, you think mini skirts would have made it through generations of us…?

The reason why I’m writing this way past my bed time is that I want to add something to Sorrentino’s assertion that yoga pants is the “absolute worst thing” to happen to women’s fashion since mini skirt. And this is what I want to add: AND MEN. Mini Skirt and MEN. Because, most probably a man came up with the evil design of a mini skirt. And no, I won’t check up on fashion history. Just a random guess should suffice.

Because… men outside of fashion – men like Sorrentino – simply can’t get over themselves telling women what to do and what not to do. Other men who may not be like him but are outside of fashion might overthink the “message” the length or the fit or the shape of the apparel. Throughout history, such men’s opinions have played havoc on women’s fashions.

But, speak of men inside of fashion. You might call them worst offenders but frankly, fashion is an equal opportunity space – treating insiders and outsiders with equal importance. Just don’t forget: there are a lot more men in the profession of apparel design than women, just like many more professional cooks are men, rather than women.

I’ve had a string of harrowing experiences particularly when out buying a most common type of garment – a pair of jeans. It seems an unholy conspiracy against women to only stock up with super skinny, skinny, slim fit, the latter being the roomiest. I love Levi’s but even there, the most comfy BF jeans – the 501 series – comes in a torn version. I find brand new jeans worth around 5K that’s “distressed” and torn without ever being worn, utterly fake and disgraceful. It’s hardly flattering that when a woman wants to get into something comfortable, she must choose between skinny and super skinny.

Or between a torn 501 threadbare at the knees, no choice. In the big big metro of Mumbai, there are essentially just two Levi’s shops that stock the elusive 501. So unlike men, who have classic fit, straight fit, baggy jeans, and what not.

It’s a pity not to be able to find yoga shorts for women, the kinda loose-fitting knee-length shorts with pockets on the side that men wear during workouts. What you do find, a dime a dozen instead, are hot pants. Because, our job is to keep things hot, in’it?

It’s even worse for T-shirts. If you find a tennis tee, it’ll be pretty much figure-hugging around the bust, if round-necked, it’ll have shoulder cap sleeves or very short sleeves – not everyone’s cup of tea.

So the message is, Whatever the age, whatever your body type, whatever you do, look hot. That’s what the man outside fashion wants is what the man inside fashion thinks and therefore, designs. No one asks the woman what she’d like to wear.

So, hear ye, the women have spoken: Yoga pants rule. So do hot pants. And bodycon dresses. And all else underneath. Just,… go about your stuff like you should. Leave our wardrobes alone.

Thank you very much.

A woman in yoga pants is a happy woman, let her be.

‘Dear Liar’… an epistolary evening at Prithvi

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The one epistolary play I have been to so far left me feeling mesmerized. It was Tumhari Amrita, played by stalwarts of the ‘real acting’ world, Shabana Azmi and Farooq Sheikh.

This time again, it was Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah au pair, certainly no less promising. With Prithvi as the setting of Jerome Kilty’s play, Dear Liar, the evening held a lot of hope.

A word about the famous Prithvi: It’s cozy, extremely cozy, affording you a view of your actors from an arm’s length almost, seated if you are at the bottom front and side. Another amazing thing about this place is its regard for time. A minute late at Prithvi is a minute to late for the show. In that sense, Prithvi sends Indians on a short break from being themselves, and am saying this without being at all condescending. Sample this. 3 minutes before the play, we are bombarded with sounds of a cellphone ringing followed by those of gunshots being fired. The third time this plays out, all of us have made the Pavlovian connection… Just before we hear Naseeruddin Shah’s booming voice: Thank you for turning off your cellphones!

And then it began. Shaw’s and Mrs. Patrick Campbell’s portrait-sized photographs hung on either side of the stage. In the foreground on-stage, a writing desk, a hat box, a chair in one corner. Enter Naseeruddin Shah and Ratna Pathak Shah, him, looking like a much shorter version of George Bernard Shaw, the beard firmly in place, and she, in a gold laced dress in ballroom flair, bell-sleeves and all (albeit a tacky, poor cousin of ballroom dresses anyway).

Jerome Kilty’s compilation is a skilled one, largely speaking, but I believe in the Indian version, or shall we say the Motley (Naseeruddin Shah’s theatre group is thus named) version is quite devoid of the accent, which would prop up their verrry English characters. It is one thing I missed sorely. And especially from Ms. Shah. At times it felt as if she was channeling her inimitable and excellent character of Maya Sarabhai from Sarabhai vs Sarabhai. I just lurrrrrv that show so much!

But yes, Mrs. Pat (as Mrs. Campbell was know among the English circles of her time), was an understudy to Maya Sarabhai last evening. It jarred a bit. Because, I have seen Naseeruddin Shah in Einstein, balancing his persona on that German accent quite well indeed. I believe it absolutely possible for him to pull off G B Shaw from that point of view. I wonder if he held himself back.

As for the play, yes in moments it was touching, in moments it was just passable. Probably the greatest thing about it was actually watching Naseer and Ratna Shah together on stage. And they do have a chemistry. What truly amazed me was their ability to memorize those lines to perfection.

Also, Prithvi makes everything delightful. Something about that place.

There were questions in my mind aplenty, however. The letters mark a strong, intimate relationship GBS had with this enchantress as he liked to call her, Mrs. Pat. She was his Stella and he, her Joey (she named him so after a clown). The passion is there, and there are moments of laughter too: “When you were a little boy, someone should have said ‘hush’ to you once”, said she to he.

What amazes me about that time in that part of the century that this correspondence and subsequent time it does under the spotlight of stage does great disservice to Stella. She couldn’t spell right, or write well, she wasn’t of an intellectual bent of mind and all that jazz. But for the fact that GBS was mad about her. So much that of his numerous such affairs, she was the only person who came close to threatening his marriage.

You see, while there’s a lot of scrutiny about her intellectual capacity, there’s very little about his. Intellectual prowess is perhaps not only about writing well, and taking stands on various subjects of politics or philosophy, of course literature. It is, perhaps, also about sensitivity and fealty. Anyway, much has been said about that by John Osbourne, that fierce critic of GBS.

All in all, a fine evening in the heart of Mumbai. Got back home loaded with thoughts, words, and reflection. Which is huge!

PS: And this cat didn’t get to watch the play because it was running to full house.

 

Of Sakshis, Sindhus, and Dipas of India

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Rio 2016 became a much talked about event in India, and our country was trolled by  international media for being the worst Olympics participating nation ever in terms of per person medal count.

This time our contingent was 117 strong. Our medal tally: 2. One bronze (Sakshi Malik, wrestling) and one silver (PV Sindhu, badminton).

The New Zealand Herald has called us the ‘worst country at the Olympics’ and Brit journalist Piers Morgan unleashed a Twitter war calling it embarrassing to have won just 2 medals for 1.2billion people. Indians reacted wildly – as many supporting, seconding his views and as many trashing him.

What none of this could dampen, however, were two celebrations: One in Hyderabad welcoming PV Sindhu, and the other, welcoming Sakshi Malik in Bahadurgarh, Haryana. These women are our medal winners.

There was a joke shared recently on my Whatsapp group: India mein, subzi se leke medals tak lene ladkiyon ko hi jana padta hai (In India, to get anything from vegetables to medals, it’s only the girls that have to go!). It wasn’t long before it descended into a gender discourse.

But, what was worse was the official line being taken by well-known personalities such as the office of the Chief Minister, Haryana, and others. Two women bringing medals and Dipa doing the deadly Produnova were instances used to endorse the anti-female foeticide & infanticide stance.

I don’t think it does anything for the real message: That girls have the right to exist, thrive, and live; safely, securely, and with love.

Sakshi’s father is a bus conductor with DTC (Delhi Transport Corporation) and PV Sindhu’s father is with the Railways, while Dipa’s father is a top weight lifting coach with the Sports Authority of India. All three have this in common: extremely supportive families. Sindhu’s father is an Arjuna awardee and her mother a volleyball player. So, a sports background certainly helped.

What really helped, though, was that their families have human beings, who feel, love, and support one another. Many of us don’t. Those of us who are daunted by the birth of a daughter because we’ll have to spend a lifetime educating & caring for them without any RoI (Return on Investment) i.e. when she gets married, which, to make possible again will need my life’s savings, we are the people who abort the foetus, kill them, deprive them, harass them.

This is a financial conundrum that poses as a cultural/traditional conundrum, that is the truth and I will say it, believe it or not. This culture only looks at what do I, as a parent, as the one in whom this family originated, wants. That’s why a girl leaving home after marriage is seen as a loss, and a boy whom you can ‘keep’, who’ll also take a wife down the line (with the dowry she’ll bring), who’ll both look after me in my old, seen as a profitable way to make a living.

You think it’s not that simple? This is a tradition that started in an agrarian economy, peasantry, it can’t be more complicated than that either. Yes, the honour, heir, angles got added later, but the basics remain.

Now when we forward the idea that we should let girls live because they’ll bring us medals, is the same as saying keep the boy because he’ll bring in the livelihood. But we all know how the latter affection has turned out: it has given birth to a rigid patriarchy that affects boys just as badly.

Going with a wrong idea for short-term gains is ultimately, WRONG. Both genders have a right to live. Period. If as parents you think your culture puts you as a daughter’s parent at a disadvantage, then you know what your fight looks like and you should have it in you to fight it.

If you don’t you’re not a parent. You’re some scum who only sought to get laid, gambler who bet on a 50-50 chance of a desirable result, and a monster who has no conscience needed to kick in when witnessing an injustice in order to act against it. If you can’t parent a daughter, you can’t parent a son. You can’t parent. Period. And the same can be said about a nation.

So, may be you can say ‘Beti Bachao’, while choosing Sakshi Malik as its brand ambassador, I see us women day in and day out wrestling with social and political apathy, sexual harassment and abuse, domestic violence, psychological violence, gender-based discrimination. I see our hopes doing a Produnova every day a significant figure and public face rubbishes our predicament as victims of all kinds of violence and injustices. Especially men saying that era of discrimination is officially over now that we have put girls through schools and women through colleges.

To them I have to say, there is life and then there’s living. To live means to have the hope of achieving something that is important to you. Most of our women don’t have that. PV Sindhu’s family moved closer to Hyderabad to make it possible for her to keep training. Her father was enlisted in Pullela Gopichand’s ‘Project Rio’ a year before the games were to begin. And he took an 8-month leave from work to spend every minute by his daughter’s side, constantly motivating her. This, in a country where a lot of men don’t even visit their newly born daughter in the hospital.

It is these families that are families in a true sense of the word. They know the meaning of struggle and their kid winning a medal is just one of the many wins they have won along the way. Every family that has a daughter fights these battles every day of their lives. I think of my parents who constantly worry about how I am doing on the mean streets of Mumbai.

I dedicate this post to all those families raising happy daughters (also happy daughters in law) – you’re the only real parents in this country. Your daughters don’t have medals but that’s just one small thing. And to Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, and PV Sindhu, thank you for being our cheerleaders!

(picture: Dipa Karmakar, a still from a youtube video, got off the net)

A Sunday drenched in heavy rains…

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What do you do when you can’t write? What do you do when you don’t want to write? What do you when this is because you desperately NEED to write?

You write.

Soh much has happened in the 20 days since I wrote last. And every moment since, I’ve felt like writing. I’ve felt pressured into writing something ‘significant’ but never got to start because I knew that wasn’t the time (Do YOU, reader, ever get that feeling? Of wanting to do something well or not do it at all?); I felt like I just didn’t have my thoughts together yet. Talk about perfect being the enemy of good.

Let’s see.

Terrorism seems to be really on over the past two weeks, as with gun violence in the US of A. It’s a world going potty. Ever imagine why it’s always men going loopy and barbaric and violent? Syria, Bangladesh, Germany, France… the list goes on. The religion of peace trying its best to keep it down. Yes, some of you will fine me politically incorrect but ask those who perpetrated these violent acts; they think they are the only true followers of this religion. So, it doesn’t really matter what we guys think about their religiousness. We’re not pointing the guns at others, they are. That they have the raw material to go ahead with this all is appalling, yes.

Qandeel Baloch, the Pakistani model non-confirmist was killed by her brother because he somehow believed (as do most men) that her sort of actions were bringing dishonour to their family name. The father now wants ‘revenge’ and wants his son to be ‘shot’. Uff, men!

And then, gun violence. And Obama’s speeches on gun control. Put that on a loop. But that won’t be enough to drown out Trump’s calls for sheer constitutional anarchy. Of course, Hillary’s speech was something but I wouldn’t bet on her just yet. It’s interesting how people are asking about how DNC mails got leaked instead of investigating possible punitive measures for wrongdoing and thinking how to right those wrongs.

Back home, Barkha Dutt blew the war bugle at Arnab Goswami when the latter shouted into TV screens about journos who are forwarding Pakistani agenda on the Kashmir issue. It was a generic rant specific enough only to lead us to infer that he may have been talking about Barkha and the likes of her. Surprising as it is for the common man, Barkha was paying attention and did manage, over all the noise Arnab creates, to actually hear what he was saying.

She took it that it was she he was talking about. Barkha Dutt is very important, mind you. Especially to herself. So she ranted out tweets twisting Arnab’s words, and because Arnab didn’t care, he didn’t come back at her. As a result, she refused to “give a toss” about the whole thing and conveyed this in the manner of a looooongish FB post. Then a blog followed in order to keep stirring the pot. Oh, in between, did I mention she got an endorsement from Hafiz Saeed?

Hafiz Saeed who? He’s the chief of a terrorist organisation operating out of Pakistan, and regularly hatches plans for terrorist acts in my country, India. I really hope that while Barkha was busy being so prolific on social media, she took out a moment to thank Saeed on his LinkedIn profile. It’s an endorsement that got Barkha noticed and how!

At the time of writing this, the issue festers. Because Barkha won’t let go. Barkha wants to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to speak against ‘violence’ in the Kashmir Valley without calling it ‘terrorism’ sponsored by the Pakistani state.

She wants to cry for a state whose people (only those inspired by Hurriyat Conference and their ilk, let me be fair) push women and children in the frontlines of a mob pelting stones as well as molotov cocktails so that Indian Army using pellets instead of real guns in the face of REAL THREAT would be deterred on humanitarian grounds. She supports their calls for their Azaadi because of what she’s smoking in her leftist-socialist-intellectual utopia that only knows how to piss on the idea of the very statehood that allows her to call out for Azaadi for people threatening that statehood. This is not very intellectual, actually. It’s definitely not Leftist or Socialist. It’s sheer abuse of the freedom that the statehood affords her.

And now let’s touch what the likes of Barkha sympathise with. The killing of Burhan Wani. The bad boy of Kashmir Valley. The Indian Army neutralised him for conducting terrorist activities and using social media to lure people into joining terrorist groups. He was a terror propagandist, something like social media marketing of terror. That makes him a terrorist. This went on on our TV screens while Kashmiris (those who support separatism and also, terrorism) mourned, protested, and indulged in violence against their own Army.

Intellectuals were bothered that a “boy” – 22 years old at the time of his death – was gunned down by the armed forces. They forget that this boy was a ‘commander’ with Hizbul Mujahideen. They wondered if he should have been killed in such a manner! He picked up arms at the age of 15 by the way; in a parallel universe, he could have picked up studies or tennis or knitting. He went pro a few years ago. Yet, he remained a boy. By those standards, don’t all men? (they want their toys, their place in the team, and will go to any length to protect them). Besides, he was of marriageable age, and old enough to vote.

Ironically, women, even when they become CEOs, are derisively referred to as ‘girls’ and 18 year old Miss Universes dying to lift people out of poverty are called young women.

Coming back to Kashmir, you won’t find so much anger against the rape of young Kashmiri girls and women by army men.

Burhan’s killing was a state goal and the Army’s mission and their duty. Somehow, when a terrorist dies, Kashmir mourns and bleeds. When citizens are raped… An armyman committing a crime versus doing his duty. There’s something very wrong and very twisted here.

As with the rest of my country and its people. A gang of robbers today waylaid a car in which a family was travelling, took them aside, and raped the mother and daughter before taking away their belongings. 12 men raped these two women for 3 hours. This happened in Noida. Again men.

What’s wrong with you men, I wonder. Your concept of honour, love, society, relationships seems seriously dented and damaged. Is it you or is it the society? Wait. You make the society because your word rules. So, it is you, after all. And we women get lost in your maze of untruths and half-truths, compete in a game that’s hardly fair, hardly a game anyway.

I’m going to use a picture of Qandeel with this post. This world is cruel but some of us make it beautiful and worth living.