Saturday, July 29, 2006


Two pictures on the cnn website caught my eye. One had a news article on it. The other was an ad. See for yourself.

Familiar? Now this picture or its derivative has been on cnn’s website for a while. No outrage was visible. If anyone wrote in to protest that kids might be looking at cnn’s website and this was not an appropriate picture on the first page, then I definitely missed it. For my part, I have” netnanny” safely installed on my kids’ computer which blocks these pictures so I don’t worry that much.

However, when I saw this news article

and the accompanying picture having caused outrage, I found my mind in the biggest muddle ever. When the spinning stopped, having given rise to sheer amusement at the colossal mix-up, the implication of this hit me between the eyes. Allow me to share some of this here.
The breastfeeding mother is a matter of shame(?) . While I don’t really consider myself a lactivist, and definitely do not remember ever breastfeeding in public, (I put it down to my conservative upbringing in a traditional culture), something made me laugh loudly at the stupidity of all of this. However on reading this article, especially the following lines, I realized something here smacked of a hypocrisy, more on the part of women, than the men who are blamed for being “visual.”

This line specially caught my eye.

"I'm totally supportive of it -- I just don't like the flashing," she said. "I don't want my son or husband to accidentally see a breast they didn't want to see."

While am all for this point of view, I just don’t see the same reaction at picture of half naked women on big billboards selling underwear. Something is incongruent about the acceptance of the woman’s body as sexual object, but not as a mother. Is it just me who views this inconsistency as something to ponder? What is also very interesting is that it’s the women who “doth protest too much” about the lactating breast, while remaining silent about the other ads, far more ubiquitous than the “Babytalk” magazine. Not to be dismissive, but I doubt the readership of Babytalk exceeds the viewer ship of the “Victoria Secret” ads.
As a follower of the “cult of motherhood,” is it time to take strong objection to this? Mostly tongue in cheek, of course? How is it women don’t figure out they put a foot in their mouth the moment they protest things like this, while the silent men are merely amused at the lack of feminine self identities? All while “enjoying the show” as well as the comedy of collective stupidity.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Contemporary Reflections...

I’m not easily given to write about politics. Let me , however, illustrate two examples from contemporary world and share my thoughts on them.

[1]It’s a mystery to me to see that a race whose average IQ is about 120 permit itself the same mistake again and again. How amazingly incongruent it is to find the people who are known to be exceedingly thoughtful in most spheres suddenly fail to see how they are becoming the victims of their own defensiveness. To put it plainly, this nation did not exist a few decades back and since its inception has been engaging or made to engage in repeated political conflicts one after another. And given the history of persecution, if at all anyone , it is them you expect to realise the futility of the course of their action- this is the third time Israel is officially entering Lebanon and the conflict is nowhere near a feasible solution, in fact one easily can see the trammelled repercussions in the near future. With the vulnerable geopolitics of the region, it is only prudent for Israel to understand the fact it cannot ensure the security of her subjects by bringing herself under the umbrella and to continuously engage in reactionary acts of questionable morality.

Israel has to, in the larger interest of the Jewish race, regard herself as a nation willing to progressively exclude herself from the troubles of her neighbourhood and thereby work towards a lasting solution which can be achieved only by concerted peaceful talks. Simply because, as we all know, parting the sea does not happen quite often.

[2]The second , perhaps the more entertaining example is the response of Indian Blogosphere to the apparent ban on a dozen websites allegedly perceived as a threat to national security. I say apparent because I lack reliable information regarding the exact nature and the premise of the ban. Except for one news-piece, all my sources are friends and other bloggers.

To me, the greatest surprise is bloggers arguing against the ban calling it unlawful and against the principles of democracy. I found a few others writing sarcastic notes stating how their art, movie or culinary posts may lead to compromise of security. And that tickles me no end making me wonder if such populations who have never been outside democracy actually deserve to be in a democracy. It has been my observation for over a period of time that , just because they have a a English medium education and a modem , Indian blogs rant their self righteous opinion right left and centre with a conviction as fixed as a lamp-post to the ground. I reckon very few people in India actually understand the concept of democracy, for the rest it is phrases like free speech, free rights etc..and more dishearteningly, all this in a nation which practised the best ever seen form of democracy in the human history to gain her independence. Esp. the 1920s-An active civil disobedience aimed at highlighting the injustice and not to embarrass the opponent.
Its all sad.
Surely, democracy entitles one to free rights and speech et al, but that does not necessarily mean you can say or act whatever that crosses your mind; that only leads to anarchy. There is nothing illegal about a democratically elected government choosing to ban a number of portals in the interest of her subjects. Neither anyone has been singled out unjustly for writing about art/movies nor anyone’s freedom of speech has been curtailed. No one has been discriminated against, it is a blanket ban and some people are affected , for no fault of theirs. It is rather unfortunate if you are to lose out in the process, but we all have to play our part in the national issues.

But yes, you are completely justified in challenging the reasons behind the ban or questioning the need for ban at all. And writing a blog claiming it as undemocratic is not the way to go about it. That amounts to nothing but airing and sharing your frustration, which in fact could be argued as misdirected practice of democracy.
PS- I personally have no view on the ban as of now, but as a matter of principle, I am for a completely justified ban by the state accountable to her subjects. When I mean justified- I mean one, based on reason and not on prejudices.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Anatomy of riots and mob violence in India

Mob violence has been occurring since human beings started recording history, verbal and written. The secular governments create environs for lumpenisation of urban and semi-urban locations with its mapping and reorientation of voter (read ideological and religious blocks). The anti-democratic or even anti-government forces would always look to use to these lumpen elements to unleash atrocities against innocent and defenseless people.

I remember watching a movie called “Z” by Kosta Gavra which narrated the ringside view of a political assassination orchestrated in the guise of mob violence. It showed the ways in which State uses the lumpen elements of society and unlawful manipulation of its machinery to eliminate political threats for survival. Cuban director Thomas Elia depicted the mob violence as an inevitable threshold of social transition and he showed no mercy for the degenerating feudal family and their extermination by the rampaging mob. Similar point of view was portrayed by Emile Zola in his book Germinal where a bunch of hapless colliers reduced to lumpen existence took to arms to survive. Amrita Pritam painted the deep wounds of partition and a nation’s conscience in her fiction Pinjar (Skeleton). Shashi Tharoor’s Riot is another recent work displaying the chimerical fa├žade of reality and apprehensions of secular Muslim, past grievances of militant Hindu and bureaucrats functioning anarchy.

The effort to confine the flare-ups, spread and retaliatory responses of a riot in ideological (religious, secular) terms is very limiting to comprehend the experiential dimensions of the conflict. The official narratives of several parties narrow it down further to guilt of perpetrators, inciters and a presumably complicit State. While it is fairly easy to determine State and its apparatuses role what is lost in discussion is the victim’s narrative of the events as they unfold and how they become targets identified with the causes (religious or ethnic) of conflict. 1Fadjar Thufail mentions about the need of locating violence in the habitus of religious and ethnic certainty becoming the most serious obstacle to any effort to explore the narrated ephemerality of violence experience in his thesis on South Asian riots.

2Elias Canetti’s Crowd and Power (1966) in the words of Susan Sontag dissolved politics into pathology, society is treated as a mental activity and its barbaric self decoded. Crowd Vs individual, the animalistic drive to out-survive others, grips of fear psychosis and the behavior pattern of crowd being different from the individuals who make up the crowd as units. Canetti took 30 years to complete this brilliant work of rare insights and revelation.

Riots erupted after Cartoon controversies all over Islamic domiciles exemplified the sway of crowd power over seemingly insulated and free societies in Europe.

One of the memorable images from Gujarat riot was Qutubuddin Ansari’s teary eyed plea for life in front of a baying mob. The politics of this heart wrenching image is as enigmatic as the actual event. The narrative of this very image by a religious individual or a secular ideologue or an apolitical entity, would lead to further expressions of conflict in the mass media, intelligentsia and socio-political forums to understand not just the victim-perpetrator relationship, religious and ethnic undertones, flagrant spread of violence across extensive locations and linger over longer periods.

It is important to understand the local dynamics of afflicted community and trace back to the origins of conflict before the aftermath overwhelms our perception and political entities swoop in for the takeover. A self sustainable society must be able to introspect critically and allow humanistic perspectives to unravel the wounds to decide how to heal them.

I will try and follow this up with the politics of Riots.

1. Fadjar Thufail: Ph. D Scholar, Uni. Of Wisconsin. I owe him the concept of this blog.
2. Elias Canetti, German Writer and Thinker

Friday, July 07, 2006

Autumn Years and neti neti.

The reality of old age first hit me when my grandmother fell ill. Everyone knew it was only a matter of time the end would arrive. This knowledge showed in people’s lack of hope, slow actions and expression of tiredness in how they took care of her. My father kept doing things, as though she would recover, and something in that effort made me see him as a child, clinging on to the hope his mother would continue living. She was not able to move, literally a bag of bones I didn’t recognize, was not able to eat, and had to be turned every couple of hours, so she would not get bed sores. However, her eyes were clear when she was awake, and even though she did not have much strength to speak, her eyes were expressive, and the countless emotions in them did not find names in my limited vocabulary.

I remembered the time she was strong and articulate, and full of energy. Her laughter, pithy comments, and temper, were legendary. Her sense of power affected everyone who came into contact with her. She had a regal bearing about her and was able to bring this sense of authority into any situation she found herself in. As a child, I always felt she was an important person from the way people deferred to her when she was present. Also the way, they hesitated in expressing dissent when they didn’t agree with her showed something I didnt quite grasp then. Now I view these things in many different ways but as a child, there was an attraction I felt to her. Her view of the world fascinated me, which was very complex and colorful, and quite different from the black and white, good and bad world, that books and school painted for us. She sang songs and told me many stories that I don’t remember clearly. Sometimes a certain taste wafts into my mouth when I hear a tune, or a scene which matches a certain setting she had described.

Seeing her so severely incapacitated, leading upto the moments of her death, opened up doors of perception I did not know I had. For the most part I felt pity. Her regret for the things she had left undone was very visible to me. She seemed impatient to set things right and was sad she did not have the strength to do so. Her desire to express love and care seemed very innocent to me as she had lived sternly, hiding emotions and her own vulnerabilities, always insistent on being the strong person. She held onto our little hands and looked at us with deep love. Her eyes followed my father around, as he tirelessly worked to take care of her. It surprised me as she had always seemed annoyed by him when she was “alive.” His quietness, and gentle being irritated her and I was now able to see the irritation stemmed from her frustration at what she thought was his “weakness.”

It struck me then, and again at countless times, when interacting with old people, that the traps of thoughts finally overtake one’s being, as escape through action. Its almost as though the web of false beliefs that people collect over time has no escape and the more people try and act, an ability diminshed with age, the more entangled they get. Just being quiet would cause many such entanglements to fall away, crafting smiles that reach the eyes.

A well lived life creates a sense of freedom in old age that I have since seen in the eyes of many other older people, who have not left kind words unsaid, or love unshared. Is it possible that the only people, who are rich in this strange twilight of time, are those who have recognized and shared their most valuable possession, their own self? When that is given away through love, what further fear of loss can exist? The fear that all unhappy old people share has fascinated me greatly. It’s almost as though the fear is childlike, of losing their favorite toys, which over the years take shape of things, people, and beliefs. It’s also ironical to me that the more people cling to these crutches of relationships, things, the more they seem fearful of losing it. The ones who prided themselves about their physical well being react more to being ill and desperately seek cure after cure, in the hope something will restore them to a wellbeing they knew. The urgency of chasing mirges grows more desperate as time passes, creating quiet deperations and prisons in their minds.

There are those who live with laughter and love. Their crinkly smile that touches not only their eyes, but every part of their being is one of the most beautiful things that I have seen. That joy touches my core when I am fortunate enough to be witness to its rare occurence They seem free from cares and enjoy the fulfillment of lives well led. This mirror of life that confronts the deepest self, from which there is no escape, is almost like the magic mirror in fairytales. What you see is what has been created, bit by bit, in a million small moments of thoughts and actions. To be able to live quietly, in nature, close to oneself and those one has loved in one’s heart, is probably the most beautiful end imaginable. Through the years, the false views fall away, leaving just the core.

Not this, not that, not this, not that, then seems to be a refrain for living.