Thursday, January 28, 2010

Am I an Indian?

India has crossed sixty years of being declared a republic and it is an achievement which is laudable. Higher foreign exchange reserves, a relaxed economic policy which encourages foreign direct investment, several rockets deposited into space, an indigenous fighter plane, BPO’s (Business process outsourcing), mobile phone density, broadband and more infrastructure. The list can be broadened depending on one’s interests.

The development of our republic has also meant that we have meddled with the political spheres of our neighbouring countries. These have been active involvements like the Indian Peace Keeping Force going to Sri Lanka in the 1980’s and more subtle under the table interferences with other countries around us. With each year leading into our sixty we have come far away from what got us our independence: non-violence. Today we are judging ourselves with the potency of our violent nature and our arm twisting tactics.

All of us get goose bumps when we sing the Indian national anthem standing in attention under the tricolour flag with all respect and patriotism. But after the anthem the burden of our actions also catch up pretty soon. Half of our population is impoverished and hungry but we choose to increase our defence expenditure citing perceived threats in our immediate and distant background. Violence is coming out in various forms in our villages and cities, and women, children and the poor find themselves at the mercy of others. Yet we have taken a decision to guard our borders rather than guard against our own narrow mindedness!

I can be challenged on the front that India will soon be a super power and we need to flex our muscles and show the world just that. But does being a leader of the sub continent mean bombing and destroying the most or trying to save as many lives as possible? Do we deserve to celebrate the formation of our republic when we have come far, far away from the values with which it was formed? Will I be deemed a traitor if I question my own country? I guess we are reaching there although we already did have a short term experiment of it during the emergency in 1975.

Skimming through the list of chief guests for the republic day function over the years, one country is evidently missing- Pakistan. Even though they are our direct neighbour and we share many things in common, they are kept at a distance when it comes to matters that count in our country. A small token of this was the IPL snub that the Pakistani cricketers got. Picture this: How would we feel if we had a neighbour who is doing reasonably well, who ignores us, snubs us, humiliates us, thinks we are dumb, and threatens us with their guns and missiles? Every inch of our self respect would make us fight this neighbour. I guess this is what is happening with Pakistan and India. Our actions have led to conflict in the region rather than peace being brokered.

The Jang group and Times of India initiative ‘Aman ki asha’ (destination peace),prtpage-1.cms is an initiative which is trying to express the voices from Pakistan and India. These voices agree with each other on the existing tensions but see the scope for better relations as well.

The initiative should be from the Indian side. If we consider ourselves bigger, we should do what leaders are supposed to do. We have to allow Pakistan to express herself rather than trying to crush any such move. We should stop dictating and start respecting our neighbour and develop trust. This republic day, many will ask- are you an Indian? If I can come to terms with my neighbours and allow them to live just as I hope to, I can then say with a sincere heart- yes I am.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I refuse to speak

Maharashtra has done it again. After the Shiv Sena and MNS arm twisting of the state, the Congress government has joined the queue quoting a motor vehicle law which it seems was always in existence. Cab drivers henceforth will only get a license to ply their vehicles if they know to speak Marathi, the local language. The Congress has done some back peddling after some fire spitting by the English language media. But this issue is far from over.

It’s not only a question of Maharashtra. Other states in India also bring up this issue whenever it suits them. Speaking in defence of the recent order, it is no problem when a government says that there is one language which exists and this is the primary language of the land. It can also be said that nothing stops a government in taking steps of encouraging the use of a particular language. Steps which do not use force or compulsion.

On the other hand can anyone be forced to speak anything at all? As it is the constitutional right of all to speak, so is it the right of everyone in India not to speak. This is the right to refuse. As all the speakers debate on which language to use, we should spare a thought for those who cannot speak at all. These are those who cannot speak because of a physical disability or those who cannot speak because they are never given an opportunity or space to speak. And here we are talking about which language to speak!

Can we give a state specific language for those who cannot express themselves in words. What language is sign language? Who are those who cannot speak? If we go along with the present scheme of things, they would qualify as the stateless people. Should they then also be denied jobs because they can’t speak? Every single human expression and non-expression qualifies as a language. This cannot be taken over by any government or law. It is the natural expression of any human being.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

New year and the power of no

We are still very much in the fervour and flavour of the new year 2010 and it makes pure sense to gung-ho with the things which need to be discussed however weird they may seem to the naked eye. In 2010 technology in all its variants will be blamed again for causing disruption in the lives of people and ruining families. Lives will be lived online and though it wont lead to empty streets, people will complain about the lack of time and the feeble existence of life. We wont have time to meet each other and even keep in touch with our inner selves.

We love a punching bag, don’t we? And in this case it is new media technology. We will know what our friends and family on facebook, orkut and twitter are doing but we wont know what people in our house are doing! True to an extent but who is to blame? I wonder whether in 2010 we will be punching into thin air because the punching bag wont be there to take our punches?

As a priest, it is important to come to terms with life in all its fullness, technology included. Can I preach from the pulpit that my congregation is aloof from me because of something I cant control? Or should I look to myself to see what is happening today? A priest/bishop in Kerala (and I have come to understand that this happens in all denominations) is under severe time pressure. We have to perform according to the needs and expectations of people. We have to attend umpteen programs in a single day and it doesn’t matter whether we actually even know what we are doing by the time we are half through. The physical and mental exhaustion is put aside and we perform the great Indian rope trick, of course in the absence of a rope. After the offline world we have to enter the online world and perform again.

Several priests and bishops I have talked to agree to a common thing. There is nothing they can do about it. Its out of our hands! But maybe that is again only one part of the problem. The other is the fear and inability to say no. Even if we end up being late for programs and hold up weddings, we wont just say no. The only time a no would surface is when I am saying this. No, many would protest. We cant say no!

Ian Fleming came out with his novel Dr. No in 1958 and later it was made into the first James Bond movie in 1962, starring Sean Connery. The villain Dr. No could have got his name because he rejects something and he is to be rejected by the audience as well. No is more of a rejection of yes and therefore something negative and not positive.

This routine continues even now. Obviously priests/bishops and anyone for that matter would not like to be associated with a character like Dr. No and with the no negativism. The problem then lies not in inventions and new forms of communication but in the inherent human behaviour to appear nice and good. But appearing nice/good need not lead to doing something nice/good eventually. 2010 will also bear the weight of the expectations of people mutually on saying yes, with those who will be bold enough to say no being ostracized and decorated with the not too well meaning 'Dr. No'. Poor Dr. No!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Knowing who you are.

The beginning of a year also poses the difficult question of what to start writing on. For obvious reasons, the beginning of the year post will be scrutinized. Many will start with resolutions and promises and what they see are the challenges for the new year. For me, the new year is as much important as the years that have passed by. The years which have presented me with rich experiences through various people and channels. Thus the new year and the years gone by present me with the challenge of knowing “who I am.”

I can blurt out a volley of resolutions, some of which I might do, some which I will repeat the next year and others which will always be inscribed in the hall of fame of resolutions. I hate resolutions anyway, so I won’t go the common path but will take a deviation down a dusty path which is not even on my map. Call it a rush of adrenalin, insanity, a sense of adventure. But maybe I don’t want to take the neat looking road of certainty but would want to toy with a bit of uncertainty.

Knowing who we are and what we want to do are supposed to go hand in hand. But there are several of us who end up doing (working) what we don’t like. Circumstances and the need of the hour are responsible for this as several of us do not have the luxury of doing what we like to do. We do try hard to convince ourselves that we have figured out things for ourselves and we know what is good. But the new year is also a time when we could be hit by a bolt of realisation that maybe we haven’t hit the bulls eye, atleast not yet.

I wanted to be a pilot (like most kids) when I was young. My neighbour friends even called me for games where we would play being in an aeroplane and played roles to fit the scene. As soon as I had to see a doctor, my thoughts shifted to being one myself. That didn’t last long as I dreamt of being a taxi driver, a mechanic, an IAS officer, a police man, a teacher, a mime artist, an actor and what not. Every week or month was a different phase of life, when the dream and need for achievement would be re examined and re fixed. This avatar could not be placed in one bracket.

Coming through all this I still don’t know who I am. I know what people call me. I am an achen or priest in Kerala and am expected to fulfil some roles which someone has fixed. After all the role plays of young I am again put into a role play which I am expected to perform. Any deviance from the original plot is not always seen as a stroke of genius, but misbehaviour and disobedience. But I guess the job that I have is also a mix of all the role plays I did when I was young. It’s a mixture of euphoria, excitement and disappointment in varying degrees.

This new year there are no resolutions. This new year 2010 is about learning who I am, over and over again. It’s a time of stepping into the shoes of various people, in various roles and understanding what the role is about. It’s the time when I will have to say ‘cut’ if I am not doing justice to my role. It’s a year to listen and learn from other people so that I find myself out from the billions of others around me. Happy 2010.