My first novel, My Friend Sancho, is now on the stands across India. It is a contemporary love story set in Mumbai, and was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize 2008. To learn more about the book, click here.
That’s right: it’s been discovered that 22,800 of the 127,094 employees on the rolls of the municipal corporation of Delhi do not exist. These non-existent employees get a salary of Rs 17 crore per month. Guess who pays their salary.
There’s an ecosystem of ghosts out there that you and I are funding. At night, while the city sleeps, they get to work. They deliver mail that was never sent, sweep streets that were never paved, file applications that will never be read. When morning comes they’re gone, giving way to a government that is not much better.
(For more on how our government loots us, click here.)
I used the word “complicity” a bit ago. I like the word. To me, it indicates an unspoken understanding between two people, a kind of pre-sense, if you like. The first hint that you may be suited, before the nervous trudgery of finding out whether you “share the same interests,” or have the same metabolism, or are sexually compatible, or both want children, or however it is that we argue consciously about our unconscious decisions. Later, looking back, we will fetishize and celebrate the first date, the first kiss, the first holiday together, but what really counts is what happened before this public story: that moment, more of pulse than of thought, which goes, Yes, perhaps her, and Yes, perhaps him.
As I read, an incoming SMS made my phone beep. I ignored it till I finished the story, and then I opened the SMS that I reproduce for you here:
From VM 53131
Will your Friendship turn into Love? To know the answer Sms BOND (Ur Friends Name) to 53131 e.g. BOND RANI. Rs.3/Sms
Isn’t it just horrible that more people read VM 53131 than Barnes?
The Times of India has a news report up about a 12-year-old-girl raped in a moving car. This happened in Palam, near the IGI airport in Delhi, where this seventh-standard girl was taken for a drive by her neighbours. “The car had tinted dark windows and I couldn’t see anything,” the girl said. She was raped by both men. A senior cop has been quoted as saying, “The accused threatened the girl not to report the matter to the police.”
The girl, however, recounted her ordeal to her parents who landed up at the Palam Village police station to lodge a case. The police initially refused to treat the complaint seriously as “that would bring a bad name to the family”, said the girl’s father, who works as a clerk in a private firm. [...]
It was not until the media intervened and senior officials were sounded that the arrests were carried out.
In an earlier post on a similar subject, I wrote that “our cops are generally an apathetic lot” and that they weren’t too responsive to people who weren’t “well heeled or well connected.” I then received disapproving emails from people, presumably connected to the internet, obviously writing in English, who insisted that from their personal experience, this was not so. The police had always helped them out. Well, duh.
Let me reiterate: for the vast majority of people in this country, the rule of law is notional. If you live in a slum and your rights are infringed by some local gangster, you’d have to be damn lucky to get any kind of justice. This is especially true for women. Indeed, out of the context of this particular case, imagine how hard it would be to be a single mother in a slum bringing up a couple of daughters. Think of the daily stress.
And think of the bad name your family could get.
Posted by Amit Varma on 19 November, 2009 in
An RTI reply has revealed that Yeddyurappa has [...] spent a staggering Rs 1.7 crore to renovate his bungalow, Rs 35 lakh of which went into redoing his bedroom. [...] Renovation and fittings of the master bedroom cost Rs 34.55 lakh. This includes toilet works and interiors at Rs 10 lakh, marble flooring at Rs 10 lakh, a false ceiling and wall designs at Rs 4.40 lakh and Rs 10.15 lakh for gypsum board and wall panelling.
Since that’s our money, that’s our bedroom, and we should all be allowed access. How would you like to spend a night in Yeddyurappa’s bed? I’m sure he has silk sheets.
Hundreds of poor Hindu villagers in eastern India have refused to hand over a rare turtle to authorities, saying it is an incarnation of God, officials said on Tuesday.
Villagers chanting hymns and carrying garlands, bowls of rice and fruits are pouring in from remote villages to a temple in Kendrapara, a coastal district in eastern Orissa state.
“Lord Jagannath has visited our village in the form of a turtle. We will not allow anybody to take the turtle away,” said Ramesh Mishra, a priest of the temple.
Ok, my question to you: What does the Jagannath Turtle have in common with Naxalism?
Answer: They are both indicators of the fucked-up lives of so many of the people of rural India. There is no development, there is little chance of upward mobility, there is often no law and order. Their lives are so screwed that they actually derive hope from a turtle that they think is Lord Jagannath. How sad is that?
And Naxalism is born in that same well of despair and anger.
Needless to say, the state of these people justifies neither Naxalism (or Maoism, or whatever you want to call it) or such stupid superstition. Anyone who resorts to the kind of violence the Maoists have taken up must be crushed. Equally, a belief that a turtle is a reincarnation of a deity should be given no respect whatsoever. (Leave the turtle aside, anyone who believes in a deity to begin with… never mind.)
But while we crush the Naxalites and go WTF over the turtle worship, it makes sense to remember why people give in to such madness. It is because of how abject their lives are. And if we don’t sort that out, we’ll have more batches of Naxalites after this one is dealt with, and more turtle gods. (A leech deity makes much more symbolic sense, actually.) There’s no point boasting of our ‘soft power’ and our IT revolution while 60% of the population survives on agriculture. (The figure in developed countries is around 5%.) It’s like showing off a gym-toned body with much muscle while there’s a cancer in the liver and a farm of worms in the intestines. That’s fool’s vanity.
Where there is tragedy, art follows. 9/11 sparked off much post-9/11 art and literature, as it changed the way many artists viewed the world. 26/11 may not seem that big a deal for India, but it did affect many of us in Mumbai quite deeply. The partner, Jasmine Shah Varma, who is an art curator, decided last year to explore how different artists would react to it. She got in touch with 13 artists she admired and asked them to contribute to an exhibition she was putting together—the one line theme she gave them: “Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again.”
The exhibition opened at the Hirjee Gallery (on the first floor of Jehangir Art Gallery) on Tuesday, and runs until November 16. The work on display is fascinating. Some of the artists have engaged directly with 26/11, while others have explored broader concerns sparked by the central theme of the show. You can check out some of the work here; and here are a couple of media reports about the show: 1, 2. And here’s the Facebook page.
The work is much more powerful than these photographs indicate, so I suggest that if you happen to be in South Bombay, drop in and check out the work. The image at the start of this post is a stunning 45” by 77” work called “LoveToLive” by Pradeep Mishra, while the painting above is “Mock Practice” by Prasanta Sahu, and the one below is “In Transit - 5” by Malvika Andrew. But there’s a lot else that’s worth seeing.
In a column in The Hindustan Times, Pankaj Vohra writes that Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the RSS, is making sure that the next leader of the BJP sticks to the RSS’s agenda. Vohra writes that “the RSS wants the BJP to return to its basic ideology,” and is “keen that a younger leader who works closely with the Sangh to further its ideology heads the party.”
What Bhagwat doesn’t get is that unlike the RSS, which doesn’t stand for elections or care about validation from anywhere other than its internal echo chambers, the BJP doesn’t function in a vacuum. The BJP is (like, duh) a political party. It is part of a political marketplace where its survival depends on getting the support of the people. Judging by recent events, voters across the country have rejected Hindutva. Indeed, most people seem to intuitively understand that Hindutva, a dangerous, divisive ideology, is not equal to Hinduism, an open-source religion.
What the BJP needs to do to survive, thus, is figure out gaps in the marketplace and cater to those needs. The Hindutva card only works for an increasingly small niche—and even in that virulent, nationalistic niche, there are local competitors everywhere, like the MNS and Pramod Muthalik’s goons.
What should their new direction be? I have no idea. I’d personally love to see them transformed into a secular-right party, but I don’t think that would work in the political marketplace either. Politics in India is mostly identity politics, and ideas have little place in it. Also, all politics is local, and the BJP would perhaps be best served by encouraging internal democracy and more importance on grassroots social work rather than elitist baithaks to discuss grand ideas. The question of who should be the next leader of the BJP should be a no-brainer: let the party workers decide that through secret ballot.
Bhagwat would no doubt argue that the BJP lost because their Hindutva wasn’t pure enough, and they should now get back to the basics. That is rubbish. In people’s minds, the BJP brand stands for just one thing—Hindutva. And that isn’t working any more. Smell the coffee, guys—and while you’re at it, please also ditch those embarrassing half-pants. Really, WTF?
Imagine if California’s famously polarized legislature included several smaller parties — Libertarians, Socialists, Social Conservatives — capable of forming coalitions with either the left or the right, so that every budgetary debate didn’t pit a bloated Democratic majority against an intransigent Republican rump.
I have just one word for Douthat: India. Sometimes a dynamic political marketplace leads to less things getting done, not more, negating the benefits of less polarisation. The UPA’s last term at the center, especially when they still depended on the support of the Left Front to stay in power, is a classic case of how a splintered parliament can lead to a logjam. Given human nature, there is no reason why a similarly fractured legislature would work better anywhere.
That minor quibble aside, I agree with Douthat’s argument—especially with regard to more local parties fulfilling “the promise of federalism.”
It might seem that India’s politics is much more dynamic than America’s, with so many local parties in action, but that is a bit of an illusion. India’s parties are mostly feudal and/or undemocratic, ruled by a small elite. The Democrats and the Republicans, on the other hand, have vibrant inner-party democracy, with much lower entry barriers for new politicians. (Case in point: Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency. Can any Indian who is not part of a political family rise so fast in our system?) It is common for a successful professional in the USA, say a lawyer or an MBA, to switch to a career in politics. In India, politics has become so dirty that an Indian Obama would never contemplate moving to politics to begin with.
And yes, that renders that common talk-show question from a few months ago, ‘Who is India’s Obama?’, completely moot.
Ashok Malik writes in The Hindustan Times that the BJP has hurt itself by chasing “straightforward capital gains” in a few states. He is right—but this is true of all parties in all states. People join the pursuit of power because they want the spoils of power. I would wager that not a single prominent politician in the country today gives a damn about public service.
This is not a problem by itself. We are all driven by self-interest, and that’s worked well for us. Human progress is based on individuals serving the needs of others for their own profit. In politics, this would work just fine if we held our politicians accountable for not serving us.
Sadly, in India we have retained the feudal mindset that our governments are there to rule us, not to serve us. With our apathy, we allow them to loot us—for their capital gains are really our capital to begin with. Our political parties are nothing more than competing mafia clans. If the BJP is down right now, it’s not because they are crooked, but because they’re not as smart as the other crooked players in the game. Such it goes.
It seems that Elesh Parujanwala, the ‘winner’ of Rakhi Ka Swayamwar, is “deeply hurt and angered” by the things his supposed fiance, Rakhi Sawant, has been saying about him. Among other things, he feels her comments about him not being rich enough were “stupid and unnecessary”. Quite.
In other news, we are told that nine female inmates of the Bhopal Central Jail have applied to take part in Rahul Dulhania Le Jaayega. Amazingly, 16746 other women are also keen to marry Rahul Mahajan. WTF indeed.
To all these ladies, I’d like to offer the advice Elesh should have gotten before he embarked on his adventure: Don’t. Crib. Later.
Earlier today, in reference to this old post of mine, Jagdish Tytler wrote to me:
The news is incorrect and giving wrong information to the public. Congress never dropped me, I myself stepped down. Kindly make correction because incorrect information can do lot of damage to my reputation.
Journalism should always be backed by evidence. You can even ask the Party president Mrs. Sonia Gandhi about your article and even she will be surprised.
I hope you will understand my concern and will communicate with me in case you want any proof of my non-involvement in 1984 riots.
Intrigued by the last line, I wrote back and asked for the proof he offered. His response:
First I will reply about 1984, I have published quite a few proofs in my own website and blog regarding the conspiracy and concocted stories against me. Kindly go through them and feel free to ask for other documents. I hope you will publish those too.
Now coming back to the second issue that is either I have withdrawn myself or party told me to step down, I have never got any official order from the party to step down. It was my own decision because I was upset the way opposition tried to use me as scapegoat in order to target my party. Like I did before, I stepped down from union minister post myself, I did this time too. You can find my letter to the PM in one of my blogs.
I hope, you will change the headline of the article and will also make some adjustments in the article so that people can get the true information.
With warm regards,
Both these letters are published here with Mr Tytler’s permission, and I leave it to my readers to browse through the links he has offered and make up their own minds. My original post on the subject was written on the basis of reports such as this one. I shall update that post to direct readers to this one, so they can read Mr Tytler’s clarification.
For what it’s worth, my comment on the Congress remains the same: If the party believes Mr Tytler to be guilty, it should never have made him a candidate in the first place; and if it believes him to be innocent, it should have stood by him through that crisis.
The wonderful thing about our epics is how open-source they are. Over the centuries, people have been free to remix them and interpret them as they like. Indeed, Hinduism itself has been open-source, to the extent that you can be an atheist and still be a Hindu. Pwnage, no?
Sadly, in recent times, pseudo-fundamentalist forces have tried to reshape Hinduism as a static, puritanical religion—the same kind of people who protest at Paley’s film, and who object to all kinds of things in the name of Hinduism. They have been strident and militant, and their claims to standing for Hinduism are taken more and more seriously because the counter-claims are too muted. Indeed, the finest counter to the likes of the BJP and the RSS is perhaps not from a standpoint of liberalism or secularism or anything like that, but from a standpoint of Hinduism itself. The intolerance of Hindutva is anti-Hindu—that is a potent case to make, because it strikes at their very raison d’etre.
Having said that, if recent election results are anything to go by, most people get that intuitively anyway.
I read your diatribe against “the Marathi manoos” yesterday with great interest. I have two points to make:
One: You say that the Marathi manoos stabbed you in the back. You are wrong. They stabbed you in the front. Could the election results be any clearer?
Two: Has it ever struck you how limiting the term ‘Marathi manoos’ is? There are many markers of identity for a Maharashtrian person, and Marathiness is just one of them. A Marathi person could also be a cosmopolitan Indian, a secular humanist, a death-metal fan and an India Uncut reader. We all contain multitudes. By trying to reduce people to just one of these, or by insisting on its primacy, you insult them. You might be hurt that so many Marathi people have not voted for you—but I am surprised that so many have.
That said, even if your party has lost ground, your brand of politics is still alive and kicking. Many of the manoos who stabbed you in the front went and embraced your nephew Raj, who is a true heir to the Shiv Sena’s divisive legacy. Congratulations.
I have always thought that the IITs are the glowing successes of India’s educational system. Equally, I believe that the regular schooling system, including the Class X and Class XII boards, are #FAIL.
That is why I am rather surprised at your ministry’s proposal that it be mandatory for IIT entrants to score at least 80% in their Class XII board exams. They already have to work hard enough for the JEE, which seems to have served its purpose for generations now. Why add to their stress?
It’s been reported that your reason for doing this is “to squeeze out the hundreds of coaching institutes who thrive by selling hope to unrealistic aspirants.” But why do those coaching institutes exist in the first place? It is because students find the existing education system to be inadequate. So why not fix that first? The coaching institutes won’t have a reason to exist then.
You must have heard of that old cliché, If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Mr Sibal, what you’re trying to fix ain’t broken. Yet.
More open letters here. And some essays by me on our education system:
I’ve been tweeting on and off about Bigg Boss 3, which I’m totally hooked to, and for those of you still immune to its charms, I present a clip that might persuade you to give it a shot. Check out Raju Srivastava’s magnificent Bhojpuri version of “Jack and Jill”—it starts at about 3:20 in the video below:
Raju is totally my favourite to win Bigg Boss this season. Did you see him with Sher Chops in the pool the other day?
Three men holding key positions in one of India’s biggest private sector companies were on their way to a party at their boss’s swanky Cuffe Parade home, when driver Goverdhan Vaidya, who is in his mid fifties, suffered a cardiac arrest.
The men asked him to stop the car, which was at Cooperage, helped him out and sat him down on the pavement.
Then, they got back in the car and drove off to the party, leaving a breathless Vaidya holding his chest in excruciating pain.
Luckily, a passerby took Vaidya to hospital and he was saved. But here’s my question: nowhere in Mid Day’s article are the names of the three men in the car mentioned, or of the company they work for. Why?
Here’s the difference between a backward country and a developed country. In a backward country, kids skip meals because they don’t have a choice. In a developed country, kids skip meals out of choice.
India, for what it’s worth, is both these countries. Just yesterday, a friend was telling me about how weight-conscious his school-going niece has become because of peer pressure. Their maidservant’s kid, I could bet, is the weight she aspires to be—by default. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?
Remember my recent post about how cops in Delhi argued over jurisdiction while a woman was being gang-raped? How do you satirize something like that? Here’s one way: You have a man walk into a police station and confess to murdering his wife—only to be turned away by the police, and directed to go to another police station, because the scene of the crime does not come under their jurisdiction.
All India Uncut readers are hereby invited to the Mumbai launch of The Englishman’s Cameo, Madhulika Liddle’s debut novel. I will be in conversation with the author. Details:
Event: Launch of The Englishman’s Cameo by Madhulika Liddle. More: Liddle will read from her book and then be in conversation with Amit Varma, followed by audience Q&A. And?: And high tea after that. Ooh! Venue?: Oxford Bookstore, 3, Dinshaw Vachha Road, Mumbai. When is this?: 6.30 to 7.30pm, Saturday, October 10.
Regardless of whether you can make it for the event, I recommend you check out the book. It’s being slotted as “a Mughal murder mystery”, and is set in 1656, in Shahjahan’s Delhi.
It is wonderfully evocative, and makes you feel you’re actually in that time and place: during a break from reading the book, I found myself reaching for the paandaan, reminding myself not to stain my choga this time. More importantly, it’s a wonderful read, and hard to put down once you’ve started.
It stars Muzaffar Jang, a maverick minor nobleman of Shahjahan’s court who unwittingly begins to do detective work when one of his friends is accused of a murder he didn’t commit. One thing leads to another, more murders take place, and a minor character, bemused by Muzaffar’s passion for the strange bitter brew called coffee, hits upon the idea of diluting it with milk. It’s terrific fun, and I hope it’s just the first of a series.
Anyway, be there, meet the author, ask her questions, get the book signed by her, and have high tea. And just think, later you can act all snobbish and tell your friends that you went to a literary launch. Much pomposity is possible!
May I then assume that you don’t believe in reservations also? After all, by discriminating on the basis of caste, reservations perpetuate the same kind of divisive thinking that the caste system did. They don’t solve the problem—they make it worse.
DNA has a story today about an incident that took place last evening in Delhi. At about 8.30pm, two teachers, a man and a woman, stepped out of a computer training institute in Sultanpuri in West Delhi. Three ruffians started eve-teasing harassing the woman. The man with her, named Prakash, protested, and got beaten up. And the woman was dragged away. Here’s the next line of the news report:
Although Prakash was quick to alert the police, tracing the victim took time because of a dispute over jurisdiction between officers of Nangloi and Sultanpuri police stations. When finally the girl was found, it was too late. She was lying near the tracks in a bruised condition.
Naturally, she had been gang-raped. All while the cops were busy in “a dispute over jurisdiction”.
This is hardly an unusual story. Such petty bureaucracy is common in India, and our cops are generally an apathetic lot. Indeed, if you’re not well heeled or well connected, you’d be lucky getting any help from them at all. They are tenured and unaccountable, and I guarantee you that no action will be taken against the policemen who argued about technicalities yesterday while a woman was being raped down by the railway tracks.
So why would they care?
Update: I’ve replaced the phrase ‘eve-teasing’ in the post with ‘harassing’ because of the following email I received from my friend Nilanjana Roy (quoted with permission):
I’m not usually an advocate of politically correct speech, but shouldn’t we reconsider using terms like eve-teasing? I know we all do, this is India, but I have hated that term for years for its inaccuracy. Having been at the receiving end of “eve-teasing”, I’d say it’s a combination of verbal abuse and physical assault, and that even “molestation” doesn’t cover the actual effects that kind of aggression has on the victim. “Harassing”, “threatening” or “assaulting” might be better equivalents.
Dead right. We use the term out of habit, but it’s imprecise—and I’m hardly surprised that a lit critic was the one to point out this imprecision to me! Another word I can think of that gives an innocuous tinge to a major social problem: ‘Ragging’.
Update 2: Thanks to Twitter, I’ve discovered that the “dispute over jurisdiction” was actually against the rules. @gkjohn’s query about this was answered by @mumbaicentral thus: (1, 2):
1. ... one Police Station can go wherever it wants to nab a suspect. Here any PS could have lodged FIR and caught the guys.
2. 5(c), FIR Format “In case occurrence outside limit of this PS”. Such situations have been envisaged: these guys were just assholes.
Barkha Dutt tweets that she thinks Uddhav Thackeray is trying to refashion the Shiv Sena. Perhaps she is being misled by his cultured way of talking, because this recent interview of his does not indicate that his vision for the Sena is any different from his dad’s. Consider, in particular, this bit:
Mid Day: Has MNS hijacked Sena’s aggressive, street-smart agenda?
Uddhav: Sena believes where one needs to be aggressive, one must be aggressive. Where we need to request with folded hands, we will. When hands are to be used differently, we will use them differently.
That, of course, renders the folded hands pointless in the first place. It’s like saying, Please do as I say—or my thugs will thrash you and trash your office. Why even bother with the polite facade then?
Later in the interview, we discover Uddhav’s fondness for Boney M. One more reason not to vote for him.
The Times of India has a report on a bizarre fight that broke out between a couple in Kolkata airport:
The woman, a South African, had married an NRI from Kolkata in Cape Town recently. She arrived in the city on Sunday morning, her first trip to visit her in-laws. But within hours, a quarrel broke out and she decided to leave the city.
She was booked on the 3.45 pm Jet Airways flight to Mumbai, but her husband and in-laws caught up with her before she could check in.
The couple then fought for hours, which led to the woman missing her flight. At one point, the woman threw her bags at her hubby, who responded by slapping her.
That’s right, this man slapped her in a public place, presumably with hazaar onlookers. And the airport security simply escorted them out. In my view, the slap was reason enough to call the cops immediately and get the guy arrested—as might well have happened if he had hit someone other than his wife. But because it’s his wife, he can do what he wants, ghar ka maamla hai. Shameful—both his behaviour and our attitude.
(Link via email from Vivek.)
Posted by Amit Varma on 05 October, 2009 in
HT reports that the I&B ministry has just given the go-ahead to the producers of a film called The Indian Summer to shoot in India. However, after going through the script, it wants four scenes deleted from the film—these show “a kiss between Nehru and Edwina; a dancing scene; one where Nehru says ‘I Love You’; and a scene showing them in bed.”
Normally, when two people have an affair, there is kissing, there are confessions of love (or lust), and there is carnal action. I don’t see the point of pussyfooting around all this—an affair without these would not be an affair, so why should a film about an affair have to avoid these?
The government also insists that the film carry a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. Why not keep those scenes then?
The ministry says it is doing this because it doesn’t want anyone to “show Nehru in a poor light.” That is bizarre: I don’t think his alleged affair with Edwina shows him in a poor light—the guy was human, after all. (Most Indian men would probably think more highly of him because he scored with a white chick, but leave that aside.)
And even if it did show Nehru in a poor light, so what?
Anyway, as revenge on the Indian government for this preemptive censorship, I suggest that the producers get Salman Khan to play Nehru, and have him sing a Himesh song as Edwina runs around a tree. That will show them.
A philanderer of 22, appellant Phul Singh, overpowered by sex stress in excess, hoisted himself into his cousin’s house next door, and in broad day-light, overpowered the temptingly lonely prosecutrix of twenty four, Pushpa, raped her in hurried heat and made an urgent exit having fulfilled his erotic sortie.
A hyper-sexed homo sapiens cannot be habilitated by humiliating or harsh treatment, but that is precisely the perversion of unreformed Jail Justice which some criminologists have described as the crime of punishment.
It may be marginally extenuatory to mention that modern Indian conditions are drifting into societal permissiveness on the carnal front promoting proneness to pornos in life, what with libidinous ‘brahmacharis’, womanising public men, lascivious dating and mating by unwed students, sex explosion in celluloid and book stalls and corrupt morals reaching a new ‘high’ in high places. The unconvicted deviants in society are demoralisingly large and the State has, as yet, no convincing national policy on female flesh and sex sanity. We hope, at this belated hour, the Central Government will defend Indian Womanhood by stamping out voluptuous meat markets by merciless criminal action.
The gentleman who wrote this is Justice Krishna Iyer. One can only assume that he proposed to his wife in some other language. Or maybe he spoke like this, and she went, Enough, enough, I’ll marry you, but please don’t go on and on in English. You libidinous brahmachari, you!
The larger issue here is why Justice Iyer waxed so purplacious. I blame colonialism. Even after the Brits left, English remained a marker of class in India. The better your English, the more highly you were regarded (even by yourself). This led to a tendency of showing off how fluent you were in the language, and from there, to this kind of overkill. For Justice Iyer, the language he used was as much a signal as a tool: It signalled his sophistication and his class. Or so the poor fellow thought.
I believe this is also partly responsible for why style overwhelms content in so much Indian writing in English. As kids, we’re too used to parents and teachers and peers telling us, Wow, this is so well-written, your English is so good. (As opposed to Wow, your narrative was compelling, I lost myself in the story, I couldn’t put it down.) So they end up giving more importance to the language they use rather than the narrative they’re building, while the former should really be slave to the latter. Pity.
And we also see this a lot in our local trains. Two random people will be arguing over something, and then one of them will break into bad English, as if to say, I"m superior to you, I know English. You lout! And then the other guy will say something to the effect of Hey, I know English too. Only you can speak or what? Bastard! And so on.
I’d like to see Justice Iyer get into one those local train fights, actually…
I don’t know about advice, but I would ask aspirants to join advertising only if they were truly interested in people. Because that is what it’s all about. I see too many people who are too self-centered, too wrapped up in their own world in advertising today. It’s not about a great felicity with words or magic with visuals at all. It’s about being interested in what the peon who brings your tea dreams about. Ask yourself, do you really care about the fantasies of a housewife who does not have a life so the others in her family can? Do you know what a rainbow tastes like to a little street child? Do you really understand what a cell-phone means to an illiterate woman in Balia whose husband works as a vegetable vendor in Mumbai? If you don’t give a damn, please stay away from advertising. Write a book, paint a masterpiece, make a movie that wins at every international festival, but DO NOT join advertising.
I’d modify that a bit and say that in my opinion, this advice holds true for literature and cinema as well. So if you don’t care what the peon dreams, don’t write a book or make a film either. You can go paint a masterpiece, though.
And really, speaking about writing, there are too many books written these days by writers who stick their heads up their own arseholes and describe what they see. That reflects in their sales as well—who besides friends and family can tolerate the view up there? A little less self-indulgence, and some looking around at the fascinating world around them, would help.
And no, duh, do you really expect me to take names here? I’m not getting into no lit controversy, ever!
He was a brawler and a courtier, a duelist and a conciliator, a warrior and a lover, a hothead and a cool calculator. Five summers ago, when I started reading deeply in the life of Andrew Jackson, I was struck by a seeming contradiction: he was at once the most remote of heroes and the most modern of men. He was the first truly self-made man to rise to the White House, the architect of the presidency as we know it and champion of democracy in an age of elites. Scarred and bloodied, wounded physically and emotionally, he carried two (that’s right, two) bullets in his body for much of his life; wracked by pain, he nevertheless persevered, enduring much in order to make America work for the good of the many. He was a candidate of change, and his White House—riven by passion, sexual scandal, political intrigue and fears of secession—was the first we would recognize as a presidency in action. But I should not have thought Jackson ’s complexities surprising: America is complex, too, and he was the consummate American. Not to be too grand about it, but if you want to understand America , you have to understand Andrew Jackson.
So here is my question to you—about whom could we say the following words?
India is complex, too, and X was the consummate Indian. Not to be too grand about it, but if you want to understand India, you have to understand X.
Well, yes, India is too varied for anyone to be a “consummate Indian”—but who comes closest? In my view, it isn’t Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi, LK Advani or Prakash Karat, even Jawaharlal Nehru or Indira Gandhi. Instead, I’d say the two politicians who come the closest are Mayawati and Narendra Modi.
IU readers know the contempt I hold both leaders in (most Indian politicians, in fact, but these two especially), but Mayawati and Modi embody the attitudes and aspirations of millions. They are both genuine grassroots leaders, and they’re chief ministers of their states because millions of people see in them the kind of India they want. Neither of them is a “consummate Indian”, for they are too divisive for that, but if you want to understand the India of 2009, you have to understand Mayawati and Modi.
You can’t say that about Sonia or Manmohan.
And to state the obvious, this post is not an endorsement, it is a lament.
I’m actually okay with that—if you want to attract good people to join the army and defend the country, one of the few functions of a government that I consider legitimate, then you should give them their perks. But what is WTF about this whole thing is that the army claimed it had spent this money on “silent reconnaissance vehicles for missions beyond enemy lines.”
I can totally imagine a Pakistani military convoy cruising outside Islamabad and suddenly coming across a golf buggy with an Indian general in it. They stop it immediately, and the Pak commanding officer asks the Indian, ‘WTF are you doing here?’ And the reply comes:
‘Have you seen the 18th hole? I think I’ve lost my way.’
(Link via email from Anand Bala. For more posts on taxes, click here.)
On the subject of mass protests, the world’s most famous community organizer has this to say:
I was always a big believer in - when I was doing organizing before I went to law school - that focusing on concrete, local, immediate issues that have an impact on people’s lives is what really makes a difference and that having protests about abstractions [such] as global capitalism or something, generally, is not really going to make much of a difference.
I’d say that applies to candlelight vigils and online petitions as well, two forms of protest that more and more urban, middle-class Indians seem to be taking to. In general, they’re useful only as far as they make the participants feel good about themselves—and give randy young men a chance to hook up with pretty Leftist chicas. Apart from that, if you really want to be useful, get the municipal corporation to clear up the garbage outside your housing society. I doubt lighting candles will achieve that.
An example of an online petition that does address a specific local issue is Vishal Dadlani’s petition against the new Shivaji statue. The petition states that the statue, “estimated to cost Rs.350 crores, is an unnecessary expense for the exchequer of the Government of Maharashtra.” This is a very good reason, but I’m sure that Ashok Chavan, our chief minister, travels economy class, just as his boss Sonia Gandhi does. Honestly, that’s all the austerity you can expect from them.
I was on Times Now yesterday defending Shashi Tharoor in this ridiculous Twitter controversy, going over pretty much the same points I’d made in my post, “A Cattle-Class Country?” The videos of that debate are embedded below the fold. I didn’t get too many chances to speak, but that’s okay, because Tom Vadakkan, the Congress spokesman, did—and he was hilarious. Check out this bit, which comes in the third video clip below:
Let me tell you something: I did a little research after you phoned me, to find out what is the basic cause for this tweet business. Some of the survey reports that I received was Tweet is a very lonely man, and he needs counselling.
There was much else that was WTF about the discussion, and I leave you to discover the rest of that for yourself! (Videos below the fold.)
For a moment, I almost thought “Lenovo G550 Notebook” was a ToI headline—sure, it does say “ads by Google” below, but that’s small and you see it later. The font and the bullet point make it seem like it’s just another of the top stories on the site. Such it goes.
And in case you’re wondering what Ayesha Takia has lashed out at Baba Ramdev for, well, the dude apparently said that all actors were “characterless”. Some actors complain about that themselves when they’re not getting any roles, but that’s not what the good Baba meant. Ah, well, whaddya expect?
This is a bizarre controversy. A couple of days ago, in response to a question about whether he would be travelling economy class, Shashi Tharoor tweeted:
... absolutely, in cattle class out of solidarity with all our holy cows!
It’s always nice to see a minister be light-hearted. Sadly, his party isn’t. He’s been rapped on the knuckles for this act, and the party spokesman, Jayanti Natarajan, said:
We totally condemn it (Tharoor’s comments). The statement is not in sync with our political culture. His remarks are not acceptable given the sensitivity of all Indians.
Certainly the party does not endorse it. It is absolutely insensitive. We find it unacceptable and totally insensitive.
We do not approve of this articulation. Thousands of people travel in economy class.
Firstly, the lady desperately needs a thesaurus. She is being insensitive to her readers/listeners by going on and on about ‘sensivity’ and how ‘insensitive’ it all is. Once was enough, no?
Secondly, her party needs a dictionary. The term ‘cattle class’ has not been coined by Tharoor, but is a commonly used term for economy class. If it is derogatory to anyone, it is to the airlines that give their customers so little space, and not to the customers themselves. So whose sensitivity are we talking about here? Air India and Jet?
I’m a bit bemused, actually, by what the Congress is up to these days. An austerity drive means nothing when the government continues wasting our taxes on the scale it is. And berating someone for using the term ‘cattle class’ is needlessly sanctimonious when, after six decades of mostly Congress governance, we have hundreds of millions of people who cannot afford the basic necessities of life. Hell, most people in this country live cattle-class. And here we have the Congress strutting around and talking the talk.
Oh, and showing rare unity in WTFness, the BJP’s also condemned Tharoor’s tweet. Is there not one political party in this country that understands English and can take a joke?
On another note, Times Now has asked me to appear on their show, “Newshour”, to chat about this topic. It’s supposed to be tonight, and while the show runs from 9pm to 10pm, I’m told this segment starts at 9.30. They said it’s titled “A Tweet Too Far”, and if they imply that Tharoor should not be tweeting, I will defend him with as much gusto as I can manage. We all ask for transparency in government, and here you have a minister who’s actually in direct contact with so many of his countrymen, and everyone’s getting all het up. If I was in the Congress, I’d recognise this as a good thing, and encourage more of my ministers to go online. Anyway, such it goes.
A couple of weeks ago, when news spread of people dying of shock or killing themselves after YSR’s death, I wrote:
It’s quite possible that many of these deaths, if not all, randomly happened around that time, and YSR’s people are building this narrative around them to embellish his legend. Why would a 19-year-old, with his whole life in front of him, kill himself because a political leader is dead? Fishy.
This could be the subject of a great farce. Imagine a novel that begins with the death of a political giant. His successors want to ensure that more people die on hearing this news than did for his predecessor. So they use the government machinery to set each district a target. Officials in those districts fan out looking for random deaths. [etc]
Andhra Pradesh CM Y S Rajasekhara Reddy’s death earlier this month sent shock waves across the state that reportedly claimed lives of
457 people, including 40 who committed suicide. Now, what appears to be macabre “dead body politics’‘, overzealous Congress workers are allegedly offering money to the families of the dead many of whom died natural deaths or committed suicides for other reasons to claim that YSR’s death pushed them into taking their lives.
Rule of thumb: any farce that appears too outlandish to be true probably is. Such it goes.
It’s a tabloid dream, this one. A taxi driver in Mumbai was caught doing zabardasti with a bitch, and duly arrested. In the masterful clip below, a Mid Day reporter asks a bemused policeman the details of the case. Her theory—he must have been missing his wife. Immensely WTF, all of it:
And here’s another clip where the lady who chased and caught the alleged rapist enthusiastically gives details of what she witnessed. Note the dog barking in the background.
And here’s a Punjab Kesari report of it, in which the policeman with the culprit seems to be doing strange things to his nostril. Or is he thinking of the dude who once had section 377 slapped on him because he copulated with a buffalo’s nostril?
On a more serious note, the question here, of whether the guy’s act should be a crime, depends on what rights you’re willing to grant a dog. (And how you ascertain its volition, for that matter.) There’s this famous ethics thought experiment where a guy buys a live chicken, takes it home, copulates with it, and then kills it, cleans it and eats it. Sure, it’s yucky—but is it immoral? If killing the chicken and eating it is acceptable, you have already stripped the chicken of any rights—so why should that other thing matter?
One easy answer in this case is that if the dog in question belonged to someone else, then the rapist was infringing on that person’s property rights. But what if the dog had belonged to the rapist? Building the grounds for prosecuting him would then lead us into pretty thorny philosophical terrain.
I don’t think Mid Day would be too concerned about that, though. The dude was missing his wife, and that’s that.
Update: I just came across this fine quote by Charles de Gaulle: “The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”
That, at least, seems to be the implication of the BJP’s recent behaviour in Jaipur. Apparently, a minister attended a “beer-promotion party”, and the ‘BJP Women Front’ protested. Their president was quoted as saying:
This is a shame for the minister who being a lady and holding portfolio of woman and child development attended the beer promotion party.
This reflects why the BJP is losing support everywhere. The constituency of anti-beer people isn’t very big, and most people reading this news will surely go ‘WTF?’ Sure, many women have problems with alcoholic husbands, but a beer promotion bash at what was reportedly a “posh hotel” has nothing to do with that. If the BJP Women Front wants to take up issues that matter to women, surely there are a hazaar other things at the grassroots they could focus on.
On a broader note, much politics in India is, unfortunately, the politics of resentment. All identity politics is based on this—‘the other castes or communities have gotten ahead, vote for me, I’ll look after our interests.’ So is the communal politics the BJP exploits—there are, sadly, enough Hindus in India who resent Muslims for the BJP to have a vote bank there. And moral policing—if you’re not getting much action, you’ll resent anyone who is, and moral policing plays nicely to that constituency.
The age-old battle now finds a fertile battlefield, where both man and cockroach can be captive for up to 10 minutes at a time—Mumbai’s local trains. Mumbai Mirror has a story on how commuters have started carrying insecticide with them to battle them pests. I particularly enjoyed this quote in the piece, from a chap named Amit Khosla:
While travelling on a Kalyan-CST local, I saw that somebody had stuck a piece of bread inside the light fittings. Several cockroaches were trying to get to it and, in the bargain, some fell in the lap of a senior citizen who was napping near the window seat. He woke up with a start.
The sudden movement startled the cockroaches, which ran helter-skelter. All the commuters nearby started jumping here and there to evade the roaches. There was complete chaos. It was several minutes before order was restored.
Much fun. In a rush-hour Virar fast, though, there would be no space to move, let alone jump here and there. Indeed, if two cockroaches landed on your head and then started copulating under your left nostril, you wouldn’t be able to move your hand enough to brush them away. At most, you could request the cockroaches telepathically to move, at which they’d probably reply, ‘Hey, dude, kindly adjust.’ Such it goes.
After I tweeted earlier today about Baba Ramdev being invited to take part in Bigg Boss, my friend Anand Ramachandranasked me to check out his (Ramdev’s, not Anand’s) instructional video on Yogic Jogging on YouTube. Anand and I raided Landmark after that—their big annual sale is on—and over coffee, he described it in some detail for me. ‘No way, man,’ I dismissed him, ‘you’re exaggerating.’
He was understating.
I now urge you to watch Baba Ramdev teach Yogic Jogging:
The shots of the crowd doing Yogic Jogging in the middle are marvellously WTF. And look at the Baba himself—especially when he’s doing those high kicks and his dress is riding up. He’s already barechested—and hell, isn’t that a family audience out there?
This is the same guy, by the way, who claims to be able to “cure” homosexuality. I wonder if doing PT is part of the treatment.
And imagine if Baba Ramdev starts teaching Yogic Jogging on Bigg Boss. I’m hoping he does end up as part of the show, and that they manage to get the likes of Sherlyn Chopra and (even better!) Mallika Sherawat on there as well. It sure would be fun to watch them, um, stay fit.
Update: Via Nitya Pillai, here’s Baba Ramdev on how homosexuality is a disease. He sure can work a crowd—and his opposition in the debate in this particular clip is rather inept. It makes the blood boil, listening to this dude…
Posted by Amit Varma on 12 September, 2009 in
You can’t make this shit up. Mumbai Mirror reports that the superintendent of Customs Intelligence has been scammed by a Nigerian scamster, and has “lost Rs 7.5 lakh to the racket that had declared him the winner of $1 million through a ‘lucky dip’ contest, which was organised by a certain Orange Communications Pvt Ltd.” The report adds:
The customs officer - whom we can’t name because he still hasn’t made an official statement - has now asked the police for a few more days before he believes that he has actually been cheated.
“He asks, ‘how can such a well-drafted email with the logo of Orange Communications be fake?’ He believes Orange Communications is the parent company of Vodafone, and since he has a Vodafone number, he is a natural beneficiary,” an officer with the JJ Marg Police Station disclosed.
“He even argued that the mail has a logo of the renowned Natwest Bank.”
My theory—he’s incredulous that an entity other than the government could possibly rob people on such a scale. The nerve!
Posted by Amit Varma on 11 September, 2009 in
Mayawati’s latest mansion is to be seen to be believed. With 18-ft high stone walls and matching copper and brass gates, it looks more like a fortress on Mall Avenue, the most prized address in Lucknow. With every second house here having been taken over directly or indirectly by Mayawati—be it in the name of the Bahujan Trust or the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) office—her detractors, including Mulayam Yadav, have taken to calling the street ‘Maya Avenue’.
The chateau-like bungalow betrays Mayawati’s weakness for pink Dholpur stone and expensive granite.
‘Maya Avenue’ is a suitable name in more ways than one. The nugget I found most delicious in the report was that to make room for her bungalow, “Behenji ordered that the Sugarcane Commissioner’s office shift out from next door.” A sugarcane commissioner? Why the fug do we need a sugarcane commissioner anyway?
Mayawati has featured in the Where Your Taxes Go series before, here and here. I’m no longer surprised at the scale of her excesses, though. The way our political system is structured, it is entirely rational to enjoy the spoils of power after you get to such a post. We elect governments not to serve us, but to rule us. As long as that is so, our rulers will take full advantage.
(Link via email from Noor. For more on how our government loots us, click here.)
Shocked by the sudden and tragic end of their leader, 14 people died in different parts of Andhra Pradesh on Thursday. Six people died in East Godavari, five in Chittoor, while another YSR fan got a cardiac arrest in Vishakhapatnam. Two others died in Vizianagaram and Srikakulam.
A farmer from Kadapa, Narsaiah (75), who came to Piler on personal work along with his wife and children two days ago, died of cardiac arrest after hearing the tragic news. In Durgasamudram, Shankaramma (37), a daily wage labourer, who recently underwent a heart surgery under Arogyasri, died at around 6 pm.
A degree student, Laxminarayana (19), studying in Chittoor Government Degree College, consumed pesticide. “My son could not take the sad news and resorted to the extreme step,’’ his weeping mother C Lakshmamma said.
Quite bizarre. YSR was no MGR that people would kill himself over his death. It’s quite possible that many of these deaths, if not all, randomly happened around that time, and YSR’s people are building this narrative around them to embellish his legend. Why would a 19-year-old, with his whole life in front of him, kill himself because a political leader is dead? Fishy.
This could be the subject of a great farce. Imagine a novel that begins with the death of a political giant. His successors want to ensure that more people die on hearing this news than did for his predecessor. So they use the government machinery to set each district a target. Officials in those districts fan out looking for random deaths. Except in one thinly-populated district where everyone is in the pink of health. But the targets have to be met. So what to do?
Someday if I have the time…
On another note, the eulogizing of YSR feels a bit weird. Listen, he was a top political leader who rose from the grassroots. Given the political system in this country, there is no way he could be anything but a thuggish megalomaniac. (Check out this old article by Swaminathan Aiyar about YSR’s rise to power.) Still, that’s how it goes.
Drama, drama, drama—that’s all our newspapers want. The Indian media’s been full of two overblown stories in the last few days, so much so that I feel I need to wear a mask before I pick up a damn newspaper. First up, there’s swine flu. Swaminathan Aiyar examines some numbers and finds:
[In India] 1.37 million people die annually of respiratory diseases and infections, 7,20,000 of diarrhea, and 5,40,000 of tuberculosis. These are staggering numbers. They imply that on an average day, 3,753 people die of respiratory diseases and infections, 1,973 of diarrhea, and 1,479 of tuberculosis.
Seen in this light, 20-odd swine flu deaths are almost laughably trivial.
If there is an epidemic in India, it’s the hysteria over swine flu, not swine flu itself. I’m not complaining, because for the last few days, the places where I usually hang out have been less crowded than usual. Things are getting back to normal though, but with narrative-hungry journalists all around, other infections will no doubt pop up.
Like Shah Rukh Khan. The outrage over Khan’s detention at a US airport is most silly. Our media, if you go to the heart of it, is not outraged because of the racial profiling in play—that’s old hat, at least eight-years-old in the context of the US, and I didn’t see Bombay Times cry a river when Rohinton Mistry had to cancel a US book tour because he was fed up of being questioned at airports, or when hazaar random Indians have been questioned over the years. Racial profiling story—not pushed before because there’s limited masala.
Shah Rukh spices it up. Our media’s on this story because of the celebrity angle. How dare they mess with Shah Rukh? Don’t we fawn over Brad Pitt when he comes to India? India has arrived, Slumdog won Oscars, Shah Rukh is loved by hundreds of millions, Madonna wears only a bindi to bed, blah blah blah. How could they not have recognised our hero? That’s what the outrage comes from, the celebrity angle with a pinch of nationalism thrown in—and it makes me want to barf.
If the cops threatened to slap section 377 on Shah Rukh and Karan Johar, you can bet there would be outrage about that as well, because the guys are celebs. But it’s been happening to ordinary people for decades, and the media hasn’t given a damn. It’s the celeb angle that makes stories here, ordinary people don’t count.
There is a theory that all this is a publicity stunt for Shah Rukh’s forthcoming film, My Name is Khan, which is supposedly about racial profiling. I find it hard to believe that he can get US authorities to cooperate with him on a publicity stunt, so that’s a bit beyond the pale. But it is entirely possible that after the incident happened, he decided to milk it in the media. But that’s the game, and I wouldn’t blame him for that. I’d blame the media for making such a fuss about it.
Or maybe it’s our fault, because the media only gives us what we want? As it is, we are to blame for Shah Rukh being a star in the first place. A curse upon us.
How many of you think Shah Rukh should be locked up in Guantanamo for his bad acting alone? Hmm, I thought so.