Friday, February 23, 2007

Racism Redux

Let me continue my previous thread on racism. You would be very wrong if you thought that the dirty “R” word only relates to color of skin or caste, or stems from xenophobia. Maybe you should crawl out from the cozy rock you have been hiding under.

Recently, there was the Cauvery verdict. Triumph of reason over irrationality, if you ask me. To me, for once, our justices system came through and offered some succor to water-starved Tamilnadu. As a protest to this “partiality”, Karnataka closes down and you could actually feel the wave of anger. While scouring through some news sites and forums I subscribe to, I was shocked to read the comments of “educated common man.” They started with asking Tamils in the state to return back to Tamilnadu and then blossomed in to the full-on show of hate for “other immigrants!” They blamed “immigrants” for all of Bangalore’s problems – from traffic to state of morality. Some bright spark wrote “If these immigrants stop flooding Bangalore, Karnataka will be back to its wonderful state of yore.”

Similarly, we read about poor laborers from Bihar being targeted everywhere - from Assam to Maharashtra. The “great” Bal Thackrey blames all the ills of Mumbai on the Biharis and wants them all thrown out of Mumbai. Some poor bread-winners-for-their-families Biharis are actually killed while the “great” Thackrey is frothing at the mouth. The Assam extremists actually send a big number of these poor and helpless Biharis back home in body bags. Hitler would have been proud!

No, I’m not getting in the history/civics/geography or politics of who’s right and who’s wrong. As a casual observer, all I see is that an Indian is being prosecuted in India. If we feel like this about fellow Indians, can we blame if a Brit/Canadian/American/Saudi/ doesn’t want us in their country?

Is it racism when a rich, gorgeous, educated movie star is bullied by not-so-educated natives in a contrived situation, but a poor man who goes to another state of his own country so that his family can subsist on the lowest of wages is treated as unwanted trash?

If I could make hypocrisy a sin, I would add it as the eighth member of the list of other deadly seven.

Beside making good money working at home, away from the corporate dirt, I want to live to see the day when any Indian will be able to go anywhere in their own country and not treated unwanted. I have a dream.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Storm in a Fish Bowl

Yeah, I’m referring to the Shilpa Shetty episode. One hell of a way to start the year! She earns tons of moolah, has become a household name in Britain, and most importantly, has achieved what no Indian other than Mahatma Gandhi could – being discussed in the British parliament! Good going Shilpa!

I find it a storm in the teacup. Or fish bowl, if you will, which is what Big Brother/Big Boss is about. Useless and over-hyped.

I’m not amazed at the existence of racism, no Sir! A lot of us are hard-core racists. It’s just that we’ve discovered over the time what’s politically correct to say and what is not. What I’m amazed at is the response of the Brits to this entire episode. Not the media, but the people. I’ve been reading the comments of the aam-aadmi on various sites and I have to say that I see remarkable maturity over the issue. It is good to see that lot of them are whites, not just of Asian community.

Makes me wonder if we’d act mature enough if we were subjected to soul searching on something that did not show India in an unflattering light. Take my profession – technical writing – for instance. Each time someone dares point that most of our writing is not yet on par, we bristle, raise our voices, start defending. Last year, Reader’s Digest named a city in India rude and we wrote and spoke reams screaming “foul” and “how rude!” Hell, during Shilpagate, in retaliation to the Jade Goody’s rude comments, India Tourism board (or some such organization) published a page-long press release in all prominent Brit newspapers trying to prove how healing India is and how wonderful. I’m gagging.

I see two separate issues here. Racism and India.

Let me start with racism. I find it funny that we cry racism in Shilpa’s case. My experience says we are no virgins in this matter. Reminds me of an incident that has stuck forever in my mind for all the wrong reasons. In the university, we had friends of varied nationalities – Latin American, English, Dutch, Sri Lankan, Arab, African. You name it. The foreign community being not too big, every body knew everybody. But, I remember an “esteemed” Indian senior who refused to invite Africans to his party because they were black! Back home, there’s casteism and there’s regionalism (Madrasi, Bong, what not). Heck, we discriminate on the basis of sex! Oh, and not to forget, how tolerant are we to gays and transvestites? It’s time we take a hard look at ourselves.

Now, let me talk about India, the second issue, as I see it. Mera Bharat mahan. How long are we going to hang on to the coat-tails of past glory? When an outsider comes to India, the first thing they notice is the cleanliness. Or rather, the lack of it. I’m told the surroundings of world-known Taj Mahal are nothing to write home about. And we tout it as the major tourist attraction! We show it as the face of India. How fitting! This brings to me another incident when we needed to travel by train to Pune. Unfortunately, we ended up with a Brit couple and a Danish couple on their way to Goa from Agra. The two couples got talking to each other and after holding back for a long time (probably because of politeness), they started comparing notes about their travel. The Danish girl was disgusted with the lack of hygiene and was desperate to go home. Her companion kept repeating that they were conned in to coming to India after the lucrative ads they saw back home. The Brit couple was in no better shape. They had their fingers crossed that Goa would be a bit better. We wanted to disappear.

And I’m sure that Brit couple or the Danes for that matter, even if they are not racists, will in a way agree with Goody’s comments about the state of cleanliness and they’d make fun of the chest-thumping we do. So, all I’m strongly advocating is the need to see above the patriotic jingoism and learn to extract the truth that comes from criticism rather than going hyper-patriotic.

Disclaimer: I’m not anti-India. In fact, I love it maybe more than you do. The difference is that I'm not blind to its faults.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Of Corporate Stepford Wives

If you’ve read this book by Ira Levin, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, then I recommend it. If you are not a book buff, try the movie. It’s good too.

For the uninitiated, Stepford is this rich community (or town) where the wives are beautiful, submissive, and live to please their husbands. Everybody, especially the men, is impossibly happy and the wives giggle and squeal of joy all the time. Everything is rosy and all’s right with the world. Only, there is a sinister undertone to it all and in time you realize that the women are more like drones than real characters. They never lose temper or control and there’s not a single bad-hair day. Then arrives this newcomer who doesn’t agree with this perfect way of life. They smile when she shows her irritatation. They forgive her “tantrums” when she asks too many questions. And of course, she is called what she is, a troublemaker. No, I’ll not bore you with details or give away the plot, in case you’d want to read it.

When I was watching the movie, I was struck by the parallelism between the Stepford way of life and the corporate way of life. In both you are expected to act in a particular way. Pleasant, happy, always smiling (giggling, if you want) eager to please. Always putting the “larger picture” (whatever that means) before personal good. Never ever giving in to your emotions. Drone way of life, innit?

Any time someone in the “fold” departs from this templatised behavior, we feel hurt, try to understand what basic flaw in the person drives them to behave thus. Over the time, we try to beat the “aggression” out of the person. If we succeed, we pat ourselves on the back for the success of the Herculean task and welcome the sinner back in to the fold with victorious magnanimity. If we don’t, well, then the person obviously doesn’t fit. Duh! And so, is of no use. It doesn’t matter if this bloody aggressor gets the work done, theirs as well as yours. There’s more to work, than work. Obviously.

Why is it that what is sinister in fiction is so readily (even greedily) acceptable in real life?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Suffer the Children…..

Says the Bible. And we humans try our best to make them until they meet the maker.

Somebody, when they learned that I lean towards the psycho-thriller genre, commented that the “West” is depraved. So many psychopaths and sociopaths out there. So many necrophiles, cannibals, pedophiles! Look at the documented instances. They are a huge number. We don’t have Jack the Rippers or Ted Bundys. Nor any Sons of Sam. We are a “mild” civilization!

So they said.

But, since when do we equate absence of proof as the absence of evil? Just because our police force is a bunch of illiterate imbecile jackasses, we can thump our chests and claim moral superiority?

The Nithari killings should be an eye opener. And they keep discovering an odd skull now and then. 30 and counting.

The worst kind of criminals are the ones who harm children. In any way. Anyone who harms a small defenseless kid is a monster. According to the evidence and confessions, the children suffered horribly and are gone. I cringe and suffer when I hear or read about it. But the image that persists in my mind is of desolate parents showing a pic of their little one asking if someone knows whether their kid was among the discovered. I wonder if they’ll get a closure sometime. I truly and sincerely hope they do.

And I’m sure the two killers are reveling in the “fame”.

I’m not sure about God, heaven, or hell. But, if it were true, I sometimes wonder if there’s a special hell for the tormentors of the kids.

This ugly incident has brought a spate of child-related crimes to light. And worse, the situation of poor kids. We beat them, we starve them, we overwork them for pittance, we use them for perverse gratification. A society is judged by the way it treats its children. And we don’t measure up.

I wish I were smart enough to have a solution. I don’t. And until I do, I’ll write useless articles like this and feel absolved.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Of Israel

Okay. I’m back to life. I haven’t written for a while because I have had my nose to the grind and more importantly, because I haven’t wanted to. And I noticed that the world worked fine despite the lack of commentary from me. And now, I’d like to take back the charge, please! *Evil grin*

Pretty late to write about it, now that the dust has settled and the cowardly Hezbollah have crept back to holes where they crawled from; but what the heck!

I am a huge fan and a supporter of Israel. They are a country who grew farms and miracles out of poisonous marshes, founded cities in deserts solely on courage and innovation, who were despised all over the world; who were prosecuted world-wide for being different; who lived in terror for more than a millennium and finally decided enough was enough. This small bunch of brave-hearts dared to form a country, faced the dirty might of biased English at the height of their power, fought their first war of freedom against the British-backed Arab world when they were outnumbered in ammunition as well as manpower. They’ve lived to tell the tale of facing moneyed joint Arab forces more than eight times. And every single time they’ve emerged victorious.

Oh yes, they are awesome and to me are a symbol that everything is out there if you have the guts.

The detractors will cry that they are US-backed. But for once, America gets my vote. I know US doesn’t do it for the love of humanity, but for political reasons; but I’m not counting!

I abhor the fact that civilians, who had nothing to do with it, were hurt in the recent Israeli retaliation. My sympathies, as always, for the Lebnoni families who lost their loved ones and those who lost their homes. I’d have loved to see Israel come up with an “answer” where they tackled Hezbollah, without hurting the civilians. I’d also love to see Hezbollah grow a spine and come out and fight in open. The same old story of coulda, woulda, shoulda…

But, in all honesty, Israel did drive the fact securely in thick heads that they were serious about anyone (kidnapping and) hurting their soldiers (people).

When I see the constant spate of violence in Kashmir and see the innocent suffer because of a lost cause; when I see the cowardly terrorist attacks in the country; I wonder if it is time for India to take a strong stance, a la Israel? When I read about Indian POWs in Pakistani jails for more than 30 years, I feel doubly proud of Israel.

The first thing an outsider notices in India is the lack of discipline. Everywhere. Maybe if all of us had to serve compulsorily in armed forces for two years, as they do in Israel, maybe the country would be in a bit better shape? Maybe, if the pre-requisite for even being able to serve in armed forces would be a certain level of education, maybe we’d a little more proud lot?

A lot of maybes. But, I’m a dreamer. What do you guys think can help India actually shine?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Of Poetry

This post is thanks to a stimulating and a very enjoyable conversation I had yesterday. As they say:

“Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee and just as hard to sleep after.” -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

When I was growing up, I wasn’t big on poetry. It’s a cultivated taste for me. Until I read this excerpt from John Donne as Hemmingway’s opener in “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. I fell in love with it. In entirety it’s a morbid piece about death, but as standalone lines, they are, to me, the most beautiful lines that came my way. Here they go, and I’m safe in quoting them without the fear of being sued…

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Another piece I love from the man is:

GO and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

Note: If you read the alternative lines of “Go and catch a falling star”, they make perfect sense too. In fact, I like them better that way.

Ah. Did I say, I love Gulzaar’s poetry too. For me, he represents the best of Hindustani.

Who are your favorite poets?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Of Closed Minds

Today, I was reading an article about the “Mika – Rakhi Sawant Controversy” in one of the magazines in the office pantry, The article actually was about kissing in (urban) India and showed the shot where Mika was found pressing his case a bit too strongly on Rakhi’s lips. Rakhi (or rather, her back) was shown dressed in a backless red number.

As we all know, it was played out as a major controversy and hooha by the media.

A colleague walked in while I was reading this article and wanted to see what I was reading. I showed her. Her next comment shocked me, although I should have known better. She said that Rakhi Sawant deserved the forced kissing, given the kind of clothes she wears.

I was disgusted because the comment came from this seemingly “new-age woman”, who is independent, literate, and probably celebrates her emancipation on the Women’s day. I’m not known for masking my feelings or stiff upper lip. So, it was no mean feat that I went back to the article repeating to myself that she had a right to her opinions, as I have to mine.

But, that got me thinking. We are literate, surely. But are we educated enough?