Thursday, November 27, 2008

You can hurt me but you cannot destroy my spirit: Mumbai will survive

Every violence, mental or physical is attributed to the skewed understanding of supremacy of a particular group. By resorting to violence the group thinks that others will toe it’s line and it will emerge victorious. Maybe this is true with regard to a building, a hotel or a monument. But is it true when it comes to the mind, the spirit and the resilience of a people?

Mumbai has seen it all in the past twenty hours. Shooting, killing (of civilians and police personnel), hijacking and military action. Should we call the culprits gunmen or terrorists I do not know? What I do know is that this is a time to reach out to our sisters and brothers in Mumbai.

You can bomb me and terrorise me all you want
You can take my life and my belongings
But what you can never claim or take away
Is indeed what makes me who I am

The spirit of resilience, determination and survival.

"Aye dil hai mushkil jeena yaha
Zara hatke zara bachke yeh hai Bombay meri jaan"

(From the Hindi movie CID. Sung by Mohammad Rafi and Geetha Dutt)
It is difficult to live here. Move a little, look out and take care…this is Bombay my dear.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Watch the door sign…Please do not disturb???

All of us value our privacy and the quality time we get to spend with our families. Many would silently wish for a sign on their door which says ‘do not disturb.’ Nothing wrong with that I guess. After all we are all working on tight schedules aren’t we? I won’t move to question this but would rather look at the word disturb.

In a culture where we are expected to be near to perfect, being disturbed and not-too-perfect then is not acceptable (to whom is another question!!!). I have distinct memories of being castigated and asked to ‘gather up my act’ and ‘get on with it.’ This state of life underwent a change when a teacher of theology once told me that it is okay to be disturbed as it means that we still have a heart inside us which reacts to what we hear and see. The teacher said that it is thus perfectly normal to ‘feel like shit’, to ‘be ashamed of oneself’, ‘to cry’, as it reflects the humanness inside us coming to terms with what is happening.

The other day I happened to watch a Hindi movie ‘Bombay’, on T.V. It was not planned, an accident I would say. The initial part of watching was nostalgic because I remembered the first time I watched the movie in a theatre when I was in college. But the nostalgia was immediately replaced by a deep and profound grief in what I saw. The violence and death in Mumbai after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 disturbed me no end. I felt overwhelmed and sat in my seat not knowing how to react to what I was watching. I was crying inside but the ‘please do not disturb’ attitude froze the tears as they came out.

We have to come to terms with the word ‘disturb.’ Is it okay to be disturbed? Does disturbance lead to something? Should we ignore the disturbing things in our country and hope it will go away? Is education disturbing one’s state of mind or conforming to established and traditional understandings?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Networking in resurgent India: “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours???”

It’s the magic word used in presentations, job analysis reports and brain storming sessions. “Wake up people…start networking.” We have communication networks, information networks, and company networks all over the country and it’s seen as a very powerful word in a new world. India is also perceived (by a few) to be in a new dispensation. It’s a resurgent, energetic and powerful India that is being showcased in business magazines and world economy reports. One of the words that we can then put to test to figure out how much of this hype is true, is ‘networking.’

What then is networking? One definition is the practice of linking together computer devices. Another definition is joining together with someone to achieve a common goal. I would like to look at networking in India as ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’

“What will you do for me?’ asked the government official sitting across the powerful and official table. “What do you mean?” I asked. The official replied, “You know that expenses in India have increased so much and a government salary is not enough these days. So, I will do your job for a consideration.” Is this then the networking that we are talking about in India? You do (scratch my back) something for me and I will do (scratch your back) something for you?

Coming to think of it, wherever we go, this is what we come across. The local news covered in the media is usually of people who keep the reporters happy. Strong and powerful middle men fix deals in a package. Everyone from the minister to the one at the bottom gets paid, each according to his/her position. What a wonderful network indeed! Networking is indeed a powerful word. Powerful when it is used to attain a common, public and good end. Otherwise, all it means is the network that attaches a deep and dangerous chain of corruption, discrimination, and wrong doing.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

‘Statutory warning: Cross at your risk’ India’s aggressive development model vis-à-vis India’s aggressive roads

I waited to see if I would be cared for
Whether someone would stop and let me be
The wait continued in a forced anonymity
Till everyone else called ‘break’ in magnanimity

How many of us have felt paralysed in the course of trying to cross a road in a city (towns also these days)? My recent experience in Bangalore was indeed an eye opener.

It’s not just the fact that there is a dramatic increase in traffic or more cars in proportion to two wheelers, or narrower roads handling huge volumes, but the psyche that rests behind the steering wheel and the handle bar and the traffic rules. Both systemic apathy and individual ‘I care a hoot’ feelings come together to crush the aspirations of the foot bearer.

Does this signify anything? Does it mean that India is on the move and vehicles are bound to increase? Does it suggest that we are in a competitive jungle and ‘survival of the fittest’ is the norm? Does it bring about the age of the ‘fast and furious’?

My concerns go in the direction of the aggression we experience in the new India, the crazily developing India. It’s not just a question of increasing deadlines, swelling pay cheques (which is now zigzagging like the share market) and changing life styles. It is also about being impatient, impolite, selfish, and doing whatever it takes to achieve one’s goals.

This aggressive push however totally forgets India’s underprivileged. The poor, the discriminated, the old aged, the have-nots, and even the silent environment (including the trees and the natural flora and fauna) are out of the picture. It’s not about crossing the road in a city but it’s about being left out of India’s so-called push for progress and development. Those who want to be a part of this are only given the option to follow the industrial-information-labour-share-automobile dispensation while others can wait for the time when the dispensation rests, the time we are served out mercy from the plates of the haves. If we flaunt existing un-written rules and venture to cross…’Cross at your own risk’…

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Questioning the question: Guru= shishya…shishya= guru???

The early concept of gurukulam in which a guru (teacher) teaches and guides his (sic) shishyas (students) was one which was tried and tested to a great extend in the Indian context. Even now it continues to rule the roost in many institutions. This concept even made perfect sense. The message would travel from the guru in the direction of the students with minimal disturbance, since the students would usually sit in rapt attention of their teacher. Any alteration would be dealt with sternly. Feedback was not expected since the guru was the authority on the subject.

Students who dared to question what was taught would be ousted and some of them were creative and brave enough to start their own schools. These days the balance of power has shifted. Information is available (not for all in India) and this, when converted into knowledge can put an individual in a position of privilege. The traditional model of communication therefore stands exposed in it’s weakness. A relevant model would then be a criss-cross between two centres of knowledge, where the distinction between guru and shishya is blurred.

This would make perfect sense to many. But there is a catch here. The feedback and two way communication is only between two power centres. What then happens to those who can’t catch up into the realm of these power centres? In effect they are left out of the process of communication. This converts the guru-shishya into the insider-outsider. (Interestingly the outsider is a construction of the insider)

The democratization or the new face of education is then a new face of discrimination and neglect. What then could be a solution to this? One of the answers could well be the disruption of the communication process. Small centres of protest will form human chains of protest to prevent a skewed and selective communication. This will last till we accept every shishya as a guru in his/her capacity or moment (This is a very popular usage these days) rather than accepting a selective phase of blurring where selective gurus and shishyas switch into each others domain.

The true guru?

Oh great one, when will I know, who will I ask?
From where will I receive the sign of definiteness?
How will I understand it’s time to stop and search no more?
For the one I have been searching for?

How should I mark and what should I draw?
Why should I infer that which I do?
If there is a beginning, shouldn’t there be an end?
Will I reach then from where I began one end?

Is whom I seek a what?, and what I seek a whom?
Whom shall I send and who will go for me?
Will this cycle of thoughts then turn obsessively?
Slowing down to speed again?

Who or what then is the true guru(1)?
Is it my teacher and my guide, the one with whom I side?
The answer that comes to me is simple but complex!
‘The true guru is but the true shishya(2).’!!!

(1) Master, teacher.
(2) Disciple, student.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Exposing the replacement bluff

When the time comes for someone or something to go, we put on our thinking caps and debate who is going to replace them. For the purpose of replacement we dig out people or things with similarity and construct a narrative which suggests just this. Going further and deeper, even Gods are replaced and the latest and the new, burst into popular culture as finished products of an all-knowing mind.

But is this something which we should adhere to and accept, or pause to think and challenge? The euphoria behind the 2-0 test series win against the Australian cricket team is yet to die down for the Indians. With this win we have got our hands on the Border-Gavaskar trophy and the second spot in the ICC world ranking for test cricket. But along with the euphoria comes a slight nostalgia and pain. Two of India’s most respected and successful cricketers, Saurav Ganguly and Anil Kumble have retired from international cricket. Saurav Ganguly in the past twelve years has accumulated an amazing record (38 centuries) in both versions of the game and can even be credited for bringing in a positive aggression into the game. Anil Kumble, the silent assassin is India’s most successful bowler (619 wickets) to date in test cricket.

With their retirement an era has come to an end. India has been lead and lead well by these two men who have given their all for the country. But with their retirement also comes the obituary and the search for replacements. Do we have replacements for them? The whole usage of replacement can be seen as a capitalist usage of getting on with it, because individuals don’t really matter. Everything is seen as a set of skills which can be duplicated and thus replaced by anyone at anytime. But life is not all about a few skills and replacing people.

Life is in essence a tree. Leaves fall and will never come back again. New leaves start growing but not replacing the old ones. The old leaves already have weaved memories and stories around us. That cannot be replaced. The new leaves will weave new memories and stories around us. Let us then wait for new lives to be lived, stories to be told and games to be played. Until then let us pay tribute to the old who will never be replaced and will forever live on for each of us.

Falling leaves

My eyes became moist the first time I saw them fall
It looked like the great hold of security had given way
The leaves had been ‘the’ part of the tree
Giving it it’s grandeur and pride among everything else

I waited and watched every day
Wishing the leaves would get up and join the tree again
My thoughts of a miracle did fade with every day
With every moment which made the leaves wither away

As the leaves withered I noticed new ones sprouting out
Giving the tree a new look and a new chapter to play
I kept wondering whether they could replace the old ones
And bring back the ones withering away

With time the old leaves disappeared into the background
And I knew there was a reason for this way
The new leaves didn’t replace the old ones
Instead they taught me a whole new story to say

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The truth shall set you free: The Obama-isation of American society

(Picture from
Forty five years later, Martin Luther King’s vision has come true. His now famous speech in which he said “I have a dream” has found resonance in the American people. Senator Barack Hussein Obama has been elected as the 44th president of the United States of America. With a Kenyan father and an American mother he not only represents Afro-Americans but goes beyond by bridging the black and white divide.

For several people, King’s dream has come true. Their dream has come true. Forever they have lived under the shadow of racial discrimination and unequal opportunities. In it’s bid to change all that, America has indeed voted for change through Obama. The “change we can believe in” slogan has echoed all through, with hundreds of thousands of people congregating and supporting this chance for change.

Like in all countries, truth has been distorted in the U.S. for the benefit of a few and therefore truth itself has lost it’s meaning and importance for ordinary people. But nevertheless truth still maintains the scope of changing and setting free. The same truth which has been used to keep people in bondage has the immense power to set people free. And this is what comes out strongly in the U.S. election.

What does this mean for us? After all the Obama chanting and celebrations, we have to come back to our context and use this result as a source of inspiration. Just as the blacks, hispanics, the Asians and numerous other groups hope for a change in the way society treats them, we have to work towards change in Indian society. Change which will give every single citizen of this country equal rights and opportunities to live life in fullness, independence and security.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Truth lies!!!

‘Don’t look at her. She’s bad.’ I still remember the few doctrinal-like words which were injected into me at a young age. Like any young one who would twitch and twist at the very sight of a shining needle, I too twitched and twisted, but stole a look nevertheless at the woman. Along with foundational letter recitals and rhyme learning, I was also told, by not only my mother and father, but also by the unending list of uncles and aunts that some people were good and others, more importantly, were bad. Like a cloth absorbing water into its parched self, I, too, took in everything that came my way. I was being the good student, the one who would accept everything and make others happy.

This was followed by the phase where I would imbibe whatever I saw, still staying in full view and control of elders and advisors. I noticed that certain people could not sleep on beds that we slept in, could not drink from the same cups and glasses that we did. I did find it a bit strange but who was I to question the cultural diktat being implemented by the rich and the fortunate ones?

Years later, with the guidance and help of numerous people and books I learnt that I was part of a huge conspiracy. (Not the one that the politicians in our land talk about!!!). I was a discriminator, lock, stock and barrel. I had discriminated against the woman I was told not to look at. I had discriminated against those with whom I had not shared my bed and my glass. It was a time when I felt sick of myself and confusion added to the predicament. All my life I thought I was doing the right thing, following the truth word for word.

The media too are like our parents and family, telling us who is good and who is bad, what is fashionable and what not. Our perceptions of different people are based on what we read and believe. We think we are adding on to the big reservoir of truth that we update everyday. But are we? What is truth? Is it what someone constructs or is it what we have to learn for ourselves? Is truth conditional and made up?

The same struggle to understand truth continues today. ‘She is a loose woman’, ‘Stay away from him.’, ‘That community is illiterate’, ‘This group is violent’... The clichés are unending. But on the other hand, what is true for me is the reverse for someone else. Truth itself keeps changing with time and place. What then is truth? Is it what keeps us together or is it what keeps us from keeping together?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Handling truth

As a child I was kept away from reality
From the fire, water and the truth
Growing up in a vacuum of protection

As a teenager I learnt true and false, right and wrong
What I had to do and what I should avoid
The words that were absolutes and the others that were taboo

As a youth I re-defined what I was told
Broke them down and build them up again
Breaking free from a cage of responsibility

As I went further I realised that truth was what I thought it was
True one day and false the other
Worked up by one and denied by the other

As I live on each day, the only truth that gains visibility everyday
Is the truth I can handle in my own way
While I sort reality in shades of grey