Thursday, March 17, 2016

War of the Words - Facebook and Beyond

I have been quite outspoken about my disgust and concerns over some of the issues unfolding in India. I have been quite open about my support and solidarity towards people and institutions whom I feel are on the right and are fighting for a just cause or for a whole lot of just causes.  All this means there has been many occasions where I have had the fortunate or unfortunate opportunity to talk and debate on these issues with friends and family and assert our respective points of view. In the process, many a friendship and relationships have been damaged and lost and a few reinforced and gained. But of late, these instances (particularly the former) have been happening more frequently and the one reason for this, I feel, is because the voice of the protesters and dissenters are getting louder and the star struck followers are starting to feel threatened?  I would like to share a recent exchange between a relative and myself. This guy was so mad at the kind of questions I was raising and sharing some of the editorials and write ups by professors and scholars on facebook, he decided to have an intervention and perhaps try and drill some of his sense into my head.

So the section in blue is his message to me and the section in orange is my reply to him. But before that a little bit background to this exchange: A few days back we had a couple of minor exchanges where he sent me a  photo shopped image basically calling the media (or presstitutes as the bhakts lovingly refer to them) corrupt and not reporting on anything “good” the government is doing. My reply was to ask him not to follow the media so much nor blindly rely on photoshopped versions of news but rather, read op eds written by genuine scholars who know and have a better understanding of what is going on. Also, I reminded him, no one follows the press as much as the "bhakts" as is evident from the number of trolls and abusive comments they leave under each news article. So relentlessly pursuing media and then getting riled up for not writing whatever they want to hear is not a very healthy activity.  In response, (as expected), idiotically he sent me another photo shopped image with someone accusing the media for not reporting another accomplishment made by the government. Again I replied asking him to not follow or rely on the media so much, especially on photo shopped news bits that purposefully omit out the relevant bits and quote everything and everyone out of context. 

Then came his intervention which is as follows: 

 "(smile emoticon) “aaaaaa” I not just blindly following the media....if i am following the updates, the reason is that i am actually seeing work happening around it my own city, or neighbouring areas, i can see change happening at the stations that i travel by everyday,....and believe me...i dont know what the scholarly articles u read tell u....but as a resident of this country at this time....its the first time that i am seeing a govermen work at this pace and with such deidcation, it building new roads, taking decisions, or improving the existing facilities, .....given...they do make mistakes,....but for the first time we have a goverment that is at some levels even more responsive than private organisations, this goverment is not jsut talks........we in India are seeing work happenig around us......m not among the ones to be swayed easily by online content....and we nationalists do criticize the govt. when it goes wrong........we are not blind followers.........and lastly......scholarly articles are sure needed.......but we should remember that as far as our country is concerned....people who actually do the ground work are more important..........writing an article is not a very big deal for a bright mind......but getting work a Democracy of over 100 languages.....numerous faiths and consistent pressure of not hurting the actual challenge......and let me mention one thing.........i would like to see how many of these pseudo revolutionaries will be active in JNU......if they have to PAY THEIR OWN FEES.........(smile emoticon)...........i would prefer a revolutionary of reason rather than a revolutionary of convenience..........a 28 year unemployed youth.....who badmouths the country's Prime Minister and stands with a crowd that chants anti-national slogans.....only to later proceed like a shameless schmuck to the canteen to eat food that is paid for the tax payer and is grown on the land that he spoke against.........we should start seeing through these elaborate schemes........(smile emoticon).....but then again........i guess the amount of negative news about this govt. ur getting bombarded by waay more...........still......just letting u know...(smile emoticon)"

And my reply to him was as follows. He probably fainted seeing the length of my response, but what can I say- I got emotional and got carried away!

I hear your arguments quite well about the fabulous ground level, infrastructural work the government is doing (Gujaratis are quiet proud of their roads and infrastructure I hear) or apparently the efficiency with which bureaucrats are doing their job these days.
So yes, you see what is happening around you—roads being built or railway station infrastructure being improved etc etc…which is all good. But when I say read what scholars (people who have the capacity to think beyond just processing the obvious) are writing, it is because they are raising concerns over the costs at which this so called development is happening.

When you talk about “intellectuals and scholars” you talk about them with such contempt and ridicule. Before you ridicule them again, please remember they don’t talk about issues sitting in their office imagining things .they are out talking to people, observing and interacting with people. This is in fact what they are trained to do. And no matter how bright they are, they cannot simply cook up stuff because there is something called peer evaluation…which is something perhaps you are not aware of. They are actually talking about the repercussions these so called “progressive ideas and developmental agendas” have on our society and believe me, a developed society is not only about infrastructural or industrial development. The collateral damages associated with what the government has proposed to do to meet some of their growth targets are not minor in any way. And worst of, it is not just material damage, it is at the cost of people…the most vulnerable people of the country. I can write pages and pages if I were to tell you in detail about the implications of some of these so called fabulous developmental policies on the vulnerable and marginalized communities. I can write and explain to you in detail the schizophrenic thinking that is evident in your own words and actions when you say “it is the people who actually do the ground work that are more important” and yet you are supporting the opposite. When such behaviors become frequent and lacks the fundamental idea of inclusiveness, it is but natural for scholars and thinkers to intervene and raise  red flags.

And coming to the people whom you have referred to as “shameless schmucks”- well, I am one such shameless schmuck who has always availed State sponsored education. In fact even my higher studies here in the US were State sponsored. Not only were my fees paid for but I got an additional stipend for my living expenses. I also know a whole bunch of, much-smarter-than-me -schmucks, who have managed to get into even better State sponsored education. So based on that experience let me tell you how one becomes this kind of “schmuck”. They become this by working their ass of! These schmucks don’t walk into these prestigious universities and demand admission flaunting a load of cash (either their parents money or an educational loan), but they get in through a rigorous selection process of writing national level exams and other selection procedures. Even the so called candidates under the reservation category are selected from going through a similar procedure. The reservations they receive is something the “privileged class” don’t get (and whine about) and that is because (unfortunately) their privileged existence have not exposed them to what long term social and cultural exclusion feels like. Anyways, my point is, there is no one more concerned about the State’s welfare than these schmucks because they value the system more than anyone else. Also these schmucks are some of the brightest in the country and each one has the capacity to think beyond all of the chaddi (I mean patloon) brigade put together. So I rather have my tax money go towards feeding these schmucks and enabling them to think than it be used for building some giant, idiotic, serving no purpose statues or temples for various “gods” and “sadhus” whom I have never seen.

Also, I find it truly amazing how these fans of the government maintain what can be called a  tunnel vision. They can only see the “on the ground” works of the government and the fabulous speeches made by the leader promising “ ache din”,  and are so star struck by it that they are oblivious to anything else that is happening around them. In other words, the people who (so proudly) talk about diversity of culture and language are oblivious to what is happening in terms of the cultural agenda and all the related nonsense the "brigade" seems to be unleashing under the protection of the government.  No comments on that I suppose or perhaps you fully endorse it? This brings me to the hypocrisy with which you view the media. Anytime the media does not report on what the government has done (apparently for the greater common good) or report on any of these atrocities, they are “prestitutes” but for everything else the media is fabulous.  So morons like Arnab and that Zee TV dude gets hailed and declared as heroes while the rest are labelled as “prestitutes” or “sickular libtards” and what not!

And finally – since we are all here living in a democracy, it is but natural for the people to ask questions and raise concerns. Right now the "leader "is functioning like the "leader" of the party and of the people who voted for him. He is supposed to act like the "leader" of the country, which means he needs to open his mouth and reassure people and find a way to stop these idiots (from his brigade by association) who are running around and creating havoc in the country. And when idiots do stupid things and the government is mum about it, it becomes a moral obligation for scholars and thinkers to open their mouth, and find ways to make them stop.

I forgot to add one more detail. Since you seem to question the authenticity of my concerns regarding our nation because I don’t live there currently, and have implied that I maybe clueless and forming my opinion based on the bombardment of negative press reports coming my way, may I just clarify that I have spent all my years getting an education working and interacting with the poorest of the poor in our country. And just because I live and work in the US does not mean I do not continue to be engaged with them or that I have lost touch.

Writing this took a good half hour of my State sponsored position. So stopping for now and wishing you good luck with whichever way your thoughts lead you.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Art of Partying and Living

Now that the “enlightened” one and his cronies are almost done with distracting us with their grand rave party can we all get back to reality? A few reminders –

#RepealSeditionLaw  #KanhaiyaKumar  # UmarKhalid  # AnirbanBhattacharya #ProtectFreedomofSpeech #StandWithJNU  #SupportOurStudents  #SupportGoodUniversities  #SupportOurFarmers #SupportVulnerableCommunities #DecrimilanizeHomosexuality #Section377 #StopMessingWithEcologicallyVulnerableLandscapes  #StopPlunderingOurNaturalResources #StopCronyCapitalism; #StopCulturalHegemony  #RejectCorruptMedia #StopGovernmentHypocricy

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Write, write, he says,
You write.
And I say no,
I want to be useful
I want to be engaged
I want to be heard
I want to be influential
I want to be supporter
I want to be detractor
I want to be political
I want to be ideological
I want to be rebellious
I want to be revolutionary
You can be all, just
Write, write, he says
You write.

Monday, February 22, 2016

To Mohanlal Sir, Respectfully

One of India's greatest actors spoke on the recent events surrounding JNU,  its students, its faculty and its general supporters. I heard and re-heard so as not to  mishear anything.
Since I ave no direct access to him to tell him how I felt after hearing him speak,  I decided to write him a letter on my blog.

Dear Mohanlal sir,

Some well-meaning friends of mine forwarded your audio speech via whats app today. I listened to it twice or thrice to make sure I have not misheard anything you said. It was a very emotional speech and I can see why some of my friends were moved by it. I was moved by it too. There are some parts where I got you, but for the rest,  I was left feeling disappointed.

 I got the part where you expressed disdain on the conduct of the government and the various political parties competing for attention. The utter chaos and apparent mismanagement in governance and the n number of scandals and incidents of corruption and violence plaguing us.  

I also got your obvious pride over the armed forces. After all you are an honorary officer of the Indian Army as well. It moved me when you narrated the hardships the soldiers face while stationed in the most inhospitable of terrains. I am sure we all felt the agony when you talked about the tragic losses of the fallen soldiers and their families. But here's where our thoughts began diverging and I was left feeling disappointed:

I felt disappointed that you were able to see the bravery of the soldiers trained to kill and fight a war to protect the nation, who infact are doing the job they are trained to do. But somehow you could not see the bravery of the student protesters, protesting peacefully and holding talks and debates, asking serious questions with the intention of protecting the same nation from its enemies within (or outside).

I felt disappointed that you could recognize the inconveniences the soldiers face when stationed at Siachen, the highest battleground on the earth and face the enemy bravely, but somehow you could not imagine that many of these protesting students have also lived in very difficult and challenging social,economic and political circumstances and yet put up a brave fight for their rights and for the rights of others.

I felt disappointed when you said that students must go to the university to get an education and become cultured, and yet you couldn’t appreciate that they have indeed developed an educated  mind that allows them to think critically and sometimes raise inconvenient questions and seek answers, all of which, they have been doing in a (fairly) cultured, peaceful way. In the process, they may have raised questions against the establishment. But in what way is this disrespecting the soldiers?!You accused  these students of “disrespecting their motherland, calling them ungrateful children who have abandoned their mother”. Why such grave accusations against a group of educated, cultured students!?

I felt disappointed that like some others, you too were quick to judge their intentions and imply they are "anti-nationals". But really, what is wrong or anti-national in asking questions that may lead to bigger questions for us as a nation to ponder over; like- Why do we have to protect our borders so fiercely? Why are the relations with our neighbors so bad? and why are we not able to establish a relationship of trust with them? Why are we not able to solve our internal problems? Why we or (any nation for that matter) is pumping more and more money and resources into expanding the army while even the basic social/human rights of its citizens are being denied?, In what way does all these questions translate to disrespecting a soldier? A soldier’s life is also a human life (despite the fact she or he joins the services voluntarily and is being remunerated for it) and they are as precious as any other citizen of the nation (irrespective of class, caste, religion, profession, gender) and everyone must be able to enjoy equal rights, voice their opinions freely and feel safe.

With all due respect sir, I feel your beautifully rendered message, glorifying the armed forces while disapproving the actions of the students is sending a superficial and somewhat misplaced sentiment of nationalism and is less likely to have a lasting or positive consequence.

A citizen

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Comment on Dr.Guha's article in The Telegraph

Reviving the dead letter

Eloquent, pragmatic views on the need for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and how best to implement it. However, with all due respect, I beg to differ with Dr. Guha on the
point that “many liberals oppose it (the UCC) merely as knee-jerk reaction because
the BJP is in favor of it”. First of all, I don’t think there have been any clarification/assurances or any explanation articulated by the BJP government on what the uniform civil
code entails (especially under their governance). Also, Dr. Guha has stated in
the article how in the past the “Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological forbears
bitterly opposed the reforms of the Hindu personal laws (on the grounds that it
gave Hindu women too much independence)”. Considering this and
considering all the “events” that has unfolded since their coming to power, isn’t
the opposition expressed by most “liberals and feminists”, as well as their suspicion
that pushing for a UCC by the present government is a ploy to force Hindu laws
on minorities valid (and not merely a "knee-jerk reaction")?

An ardent admirer of Dr. Guha and a reader of anything and everything he has written and will write in future.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Sounds of Nature

The Macaulay Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology has made available all its digital recordings of the natural world dating back to 1929 available and accessible to all for free! What a fantastic endeavor! And the willingness to make it open access to all is truly wonderful! Thanks Cornell!
Here is a sample of one of the recordings from the sound library. As per the title it is a "dawn chorus in tropical Queensland, Australia". Absolutely delightful!

ML: ML 107159: Environmental Recording

More details here

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Obsessive Loop

Some days you become this soapy, corny South Indian, get hooked on A.R Rahman and Vairamuthu and

listen to their creation on an obsessive loop!

 "Pollaatha En Ithayam Yetho Solluthae 
Nillaatha En Uyiro Engo Selluthae 
Pollaatha En Ithayam Yetho Solluthae
 Naane Varugiren,Kelaamal Tharugiren 
Naane Varugiren, Kelaamal Tharugiren 
Kan Theendi Uraigiren 
Kai Theendi Karaigiren"

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Hopeless and Mourning

A display of deep reverence for a humble, just man and grievance  for his passing juxtaposed with a display of pride, celebration and accomplishment at the death (rather killing) of another man in the name of justice. All the callous, morons that surround me - atleast show some humanity and shut the fuck up!!!! Oh but wait!...

I feel hopeless and I cannot stop mourning.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Food and Beyond

A fantastic documentary on food, emphasizing quality, sustainability, flavor and creativity. A visual delight to watch in terms of the culinary creations presented, the movie also features some outstanding chefs across the world who are truly artists par excellence. Their artistry, passion, dedication, enthusiasm, perseverance and energy to prepare exquisite food and their commitment to quality ingredients is awe inspiring. In the process they also address the most important aspects of food and food production – locally grown or harvested, fresh and sustainable.  Their ability to not compromise and to see beyond the (monetary) bottom lines is truly commendable. These are fine dining chefs and the food they prepare are like fine art – exquisite and often inaccessible to ordinary folks, which is rather unfortunate. The show also features the personal stories of these chefs, mostly from humble beginnings, talking about their struggles and failures and how all that influenced their cooking and motivated them to keep going. The show is a unique one, not limited to food but goes beyond it, serving you important life lessons, leaving you with the realization that we are all part of this web of life and compromising one may compromise all it’s other linked parts.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

I Heart All Three!

Indian writers in English, regional Indian writers and translators of regional writings - I heart all three!

Came across this article/interview through a friend on Facebook.

Although not in agreement with K.R Meera’s opinion of (or her support of Marathi writer Nemade’s opinion of) Indian writers writing in English, I am in full agreement on the need to preserve regional literature and the significant role of translation in making it accessible to all. If it weren’t for translations, I would have missed out on some of the fabulous writings by Malayalam authors like Mohammed Basheer, O.V Vijayan, Lalithambika Andarjanam to name a few… 

Monday, April 06, 2015

Simbly Venting

Reading this new report on our government's "great", "insightful", "inclusive", "development oriented" plans  I had a couple of  quick thoughts run through me (with a good measure of sarcasm). So now that we have executive orders/ordinances in place to overcome environmental regulations, next in agenda is more structural and policy-level changes  in order to lead us (quickly) to that promised land of #achedin.

To begin with, additional clearances will be done away with (the aim is obviously “speedy development”). Heck, if the government had its way, it would implement and then inform its people. We are not quite there yet. When that happens we can enjoy "achedin" in a nice, blissed out, totalitarian environment.

There are  plans to redefine the  legal definition of forests. Now who is redefining it, what is the new definition? Who knows? But that is irrelevant. Imagine the real estate prospects here!! Gold! I mean don't we all aspire to live in a  gated community, in a sprawling bungalow, in the middle of the Western Ghats!. Imagine people...just imagine! Ah! "achedin" indeed!

Private sector to be involved in afforestation practices. Meaning how? Financial support or actually deciding what trees/plants to grow where?!?. So here is how I imagine it- Mrs. Ambnani glides into her husband's gold plated suite ( my head the super rich glide and live in gold plated rooms) and goes -"suniya jee--wouldn't it be wonderful if we planted conifers in that large tract of forest land, down south, in Kerala, on that site the minister jee had mentioned. It will be just like Europe and those who cannot afford to travel to Europe or way up North can get the feel on home turf. Wouldn't that be a win-win? And Mr. Ambanani goes- "sure darling - what a thoughtful, brilliant idea!". And Mrs. Ambnani giggles shyly.
Now you decide if this is a funny or a frightening scenario.

The report talked about two step changes planned - “mild changes” during the current session and “radical changes” in the next. Someone explain mild and radical please? I thought things were pretty radical enough. And I  don't think my poor self can handle anymore radical changes.

And last but not the least – the government is all set to overhaul environmental and forest regulations but no plans to enhance monitoring. Excellent! This is like the government being an indulgent parent where the petulant child gets his/her way whom they neither care to monitor and nor do they want to spend on a nanny. 

Venting over, looking for aspirin.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

No "Reservations"?

A conversation among friends on reservation for minorities lead to a comment on vote banks and corrupt politicians. The point asserted was the need to get rid of policies that foster minorities, creating a level playing field, thus reigning in corrupt politicians and their dirty tactics. This led me to think-----

Political parties may manipulate community groups and rely on vote banks to acquire or retain power and continue on with the cycle of corruption. This is definitely not good. But we cannot tackle the issue or outsmart corrupt politicians by simply getting rid of policies affecting minorities  and artificially creating a level playing field. Creating a level playing field is a great idea but not easy as one may think. The reason being, its not just economic disparity that is  in play here when we think of minorities and think of creating a level playing field. The social-cultural disparities are more deep rooted and tougher to tackle. The kind of mind set that still prevails (overtly or covertly, blatantly or subtly) towards the minorities, to say with the least bit drama is that it is shocking! Having had  lengthy conversations with my Dalit/minority/tribal friends, and when they talk about the prejudices they encounter in their daily lives it's not just difficult but inappropriate to think of quick fix solutions, especially the type that calls for doing away with policies that favor them. I draw parallels to the African American communities in the US. One would imagine as a progressive, developed society opportunities are found in a fair and square manner and that its a level playing field. But no, the truth  is far from it. When social prejudices remain deep rooted, it becomes tough to seek out opportunities even if the law prescribes all are equal and therefore all have equal opportunities.