Sunday, February 28, 2016

Alone in the marketplace

The overpopulated Kerala is discovering new tourist potential.  Aqua Tourism is a promise given at Palaikari in the outskirts of Kochi.  The place has already built up a website though the actual spot is still being developed.  Virtual reality strides far ahead of real reality.

Right now, before the virtual reality becomes real reality, if you are in search of some solitude in the marketplace, the place has much to offer.

Some pictures from the place:

Alone in a small boat with a plastic sail

Neither company nor development is far off

You can choose to be alone 
There are people who make both ends meet even there
A closer look at one such person (for whom neo-nationalism has no meaning)

Solitude is still available, if you want
Even solitude has to be paid for, however

You are in one of the many boats, after all

The bridge is not far 

Even the bulldozer is not far!

That bulldozer bit is a little personal exaggeration because of my personal experiences.

The rest is the story of the tourist attraction at Palaikari near Kochi in Kerala.  Their website:

PS; Don't believe virtual reality totally.

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Here is a little story from the novel, The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

            Once a boy came running in from play and asked, Mother, what is milk?  My friends say it is creamy and white and has the sweetest taste... Please, mother, I want milk to drink.

            The mother, who was too poor to buy milk, mixed some flour in water, added jaggery, and gave it to the boy.

            The boy drank it and danced in joy, saying, Now I, too, know what milk tastes like!

            And the mother, who through all the years of her hardship had never shed a tear, wept at his trust and her deception.

I am amazed by both the jejune credulousness seen in the country today and also the amount of deception being perpetrated because of that credulousness.  There is a lot of false propaganda going on among bloggers, social network users, the mass media, and even in the Parliament.  A lot of falsehood is dished out as gospel truths.  Many of our eminent parliamentarians are actors by profession and they continue that profession even in the parliament.  Acting is in the blood of all politicians, it seems.  Deception seems to have become part and parcel of life. 

Why are people so eager to lap up falsifications?  Political scientist, Dr Lawrence Britt, wrote a famous article listing the 14 defining characteristics of fascism.  If you read it, you will understand why this deception of the self and others is going on in our country.

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Challenge for Mr Modi

No great leader emerges unless there is a crisis.  Mohandas Gandhi would have remained a mediocre lawyer had not the freedom struggle discovered the leadership qualities in him.  Abraham Lincoln would not have secured his present place in history without the crisis that challenged his potential in the form of the Civil War.

Mr Narendra Modi has his historical opportunity now to prove his station in history.  India is faced with a crisis called nationalism.

Nationalism, by definition, is excessive devotion to the interests of a particular nation-state.  It is valid when there is a threat to the autonomy of the nation-state.  India is not facing any such threat now.  Yet nationalism has become a craze among a sizeable section of the population.  

When there is no threat to the nation, the only other reason for nationalist sentiments to breed and spread is a desire to dominate.  It is an urge to impose a certain culture or religion or some such thing over the others.  What India is facing now is a monster called cultural nationalism. 

Mr Modi succeeded in politics largely because of the communal cards he has played on various occasions.  Development is the professed agenda and he has done much to bring development to the country too.  Whether the kind of development that he espouses is actually good for a country like India which has a very large number of underprivileged and marginalised people is a question that deserves attention.  But that is not the topic of this article which is concerned with the crisis of cultural nationalism and the historical opportunity it offers to Mr Modi.

A lot of people within the country have become the country’s enemies (“antinational”) according to Mr Modi’s supporters.  The Dalits are enemies because they reject the particular version of Hinduism that is being imposed on them by the cultural nationalists.  The Left thinkers and their supporters are antinational because they reject Hindutva.  Those who advocate secularism are labelled as sickularists.  The liberal press has become presstitute.  Certain food items have been denied to people belonging to a particular religion that has become the favourite enemy of the nationalists.  Dissidence is projected as sedition.  Lawyers who are supposed to uphold the law go berserk in the abode of justice which they convert into a kangaroo court.  Rationalists, atheists and liberal thinkers are all antinational in that kangaroo court.  Kangaroo courts decide who can marry whom, who can fall in love with whom, who can eat what, wear what dress, think what thoughts, write what comments in online sites... 

In a recent article in The Hindu, Srinivasan Ramani defined cultural nationalism as an urge which “basically seeks to subsume the ‘other’ within a limiting construct of the self and the nation.”  Cultural nationalism is an extremely narrow worldview which is totally intolerant of diversity.  It is very detrimental to the very existence of India as a nation simply because there is infinite diversity in this country. 

And that is the challenge for Mr Modi.  How is he going to resolve this crisis?  History will judge him as a leader based on how he will deal with this crisis. 

A century ago, Max Weber spoke about two kinds of ambitions that a leader usually has: personal and bureaucratic.  Mr Modi has achieved the highest post in the bureaucratic ladder.  What is left is his personal ambition (unless he wants to be the contemporary Hitler with territorial ambitions in addition to cultural ones).  It is no secret that he is an RSS man fundamentally.  Cultural nationalism is the lifeblood of RSS.  It is that cultural nationalism that is spreading across the country like a deadly virus.  How will he deal with the virus that spread from himself?  That is Mr Modi’s challenge.

If Mr Modi does not want to accept the diversity in the country, if he wants to impose one particular culture and religion on the country, he has to either get all the divergent cultures and other entities to merge into his culture or vanquish the divergent entities altogether.  Is there any other way?  That is Mr Modi’s challenge.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mumbai: Maximum City

Book Review

Title: Maximum City: Bombay Lost & Found
Author: Suketu Mehta
Publisher: Penguin Books, 2004

Every city has a fascinating history that lies beneath its imposing concrete edifices.  It is the history written on invisible pages by people who will never appear in the actual history books, people like gangsters and prostitutes.  And the person on the street too.  Suketu Mehta’s magnum opus unravels that invisible history of Mumbai in a gripping narrative that reads almost like a novel.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part 1, titled ‘Power’, constitutes almost half of the book and is about the people who actually wield the power in the city.  The book speaks about the Mumbai of 1990s and hence this part begins with the riots that assailed the city soon after the Babri Masjid demolition in Dec 1992.  The Muslims in Mumbai reacted against the Babri Kasjid demolition and Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena was quick to exploit the situation for political gains.  In Jan 1993, Thackeray’s goons systematically massacred the Muslims in the city.  Thackeray soon found his match in the Muslim mafia dons who detonated ten bombs one after the other in March.  The Hindu-Muslim divide became total.  Now, religion determined “how often you will bathe, where you will shit” because the water supply to the Muslim areas was curtailed and the toilets became unusable.

Life thrives even if you cut off basic amenities.  Life will find its own ways of moving on.  But crime becomes an integral part of such existence.  Mumbai became a city of increasing crimes.  The communal divide forced the Muslim youth to find occupations in the underworld which was dominated by Muslims.  Mehta gives us a detailed description of the Mumbai underworld.  We meet the gangsters belonging to Dawood Ibrahim and Chotta Rajan as well as of the lesser ones like Arun Gawli and Chotta Shakeel.  The writer shows us that a gangster is essentially a narcissist with a deadly mix of egotism and self-hatred.  At the same time, we also learn that the politicians are bigger criminals than the gangsters.  “We fight among ourselves, but these people (the politicians) are ruining the whole world,” says Chotta Shakeel.  It is quite true too because the gangsters never attack innocent people (except indirectly in bomb blasts or similar situations) while the politicians pervert the people’s psyche. 

Suketu Mehta
The book shows how the police are either helpless or are in cahoots with the gangsters.  The police also employ the same strategies of the gangsters and make use of encounter killings to eliminate certain people.  “The police, the newspapers, and the courts all keep up the fiction of the encounter killing,” says Mehta.  The encounter drama is an open secret.

Titled ‘Pleasure,’ Part 2 presents the dance bars and red streets of the city.  We are given detailed life stories of Monalisa, a bar dancer, and Honey who is actually a man but dances as a woman in a bar.  This section gives us enlightening peeps into Bollywood and its inevitable connections with both the underworld and the red street.

The last part deals with immigrants.  People from all over the country gravitate towards Mumbai. Once again we get some moving details about certain individuals who tried to make their life in the maximum city.  What I found most fascinating in this section, however, is the story of a Gujarati diamond dealer who suddenly gave up his lucrative business and took to religion.  He, along with all his family members, renounced the family’s fabulous wealth in order to become Jain monks.  Mumbai is paap ni bhoomi, land of sins, according to him.  He had committed his share of sins already, a fat share, in fact. 

The book is a masterpiece.  Very few writers would do the kind of research that Suketu Mehta did.  He spent more than two years with the gangsters and dance girls, with the immigrants and other strugglers, before writing the book.  He met people who matter too, people like Bal Thackeray, police officers, Amitabh Bachchan, and a host of others.  Mehta is never judgmental.  He tries to put every person into perspective; we see each one of them from various angles and feel pity rather than contempt or hatred.  We understand them better.  We understand why some people are what they are.  And that’s precisely the greatness of the book. 

A warning for the weak-hearted: you may find the book highly disturbing in many places.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Incredible Wonderland

“Have I gone mad?” Alice wonders in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.  And the answer she gets is: “I’m afraid so; but let me tell you something, the best people usually are.”  If she were not mad, she wouldn’t have travelled in Wonderland, in the first place.  That’s another argument Alice gets in the classical novel.

The world of literature is a world of madness.  A world of dreams, let us make it more acceptable.  All good literature is the author’s way of dealing with the demons within him/her.  Imagine Shakespeare were alive today’s India.  How would he dramatise what is happening in the country?  One young man who fought for getting certain benefits for his caste or community was thrown in prison labelled as “antinational”.  Another young man who rather unimaginatively questioned the hanging of a person whose crime was not proved conclusively even by the Supreme Court’s own implicit admission is now facing the charge of sedition.  It is happening in a country which is boasting of one of the most rapidly growing economies in the world though more than half of its population live in slums and quasi-slums unable to eat proper food, let alone get education or healthcare.  Would these poor people become antinational if they start demanding certain basic human rights?  How would Shakespeare dramatise the conflict?

Where will the lawyers who let loose physical assault on those whom they condemned as guilty without waiting for the trial and judgement and then went on to cock a snook at the Supreme Court itself be in Shakespeare’s moral vision?  On the side of the hero or that of the villain?

Who will be sane in the contemporary Shakespearean drama?  Will it be comedy or tragedy?  Or simply a dark play as complex as our ancient Mahabharata itself?

I’m reminded of a classical joke from Albert Camus, one of my all-time favourites.  A mad man is sitting near a bath tub in a lunatic asylum.  He has a fishing rod complete with the hook and the line and he is trying to catch fish from the tub.  The psychiatrist, happy to see his patient looking so calm, asks him, “Hey, Fred, got any fish?”  Fred, the mad man, looks at the psychiatrist contemptuously and asks, “Are you mad?  This is only a bathtub.”

I think Shakespeare would find ample such scenes in contemporary India.  Who is a patriot here and who is antinational?  Who is a statesman (if there’s any) and who is a criminal?  Who is sane and who is mad?

Alice wants to leave the wonderland.  “Which is the way?” she enquires. 

“Where do you want to go?”  The King asks her.

“Back among my people.  The normal world, you know.”

The King stared at her.  Then he summoned his knights.  “Arrest her for sedition.”

Monday, February 22, 2016


Struggle stories have the potential to destroy us as much as they have for inspiring.  A Shah Rukh Khan may eject himself from Delhi in order to find stardom in Bollywood, having gone through the necessary agonies and sporadic ecstasies on the way.  An Anupam Kher may land in Bombay from Simla possessing little more than two pairs of khadi kurta-pyjamas, walk daily from Bandra to the Prithvi Theatre and survive on vada-pav bought with money obtained through tutoring children... and eventually become a star.  For every SRK and for every Anupam, there are thousands who ruin their lives in the alleys and byways of Bollywood. 

Standing in the autumn of life, I look back and pat myself on the back for not harbouring big dreams.  I wanted to be a writer.  That was the only dream I really had.  And I became a blogger.  At least that.  Small dreams, smaller achievements, no disappointments. 

It’s only when my laptop went on strike a few days back that I realised writing was not a dream for me at all, but an addiction.  I tried to write blogs using my tab but found it extremely tedious.  All the ten fingers flying on the laptop’s real keyboard is part of the addiction which cannot be gratified with one finger typing on the tab’s virtual keyboard.  

The laptop could have been repaired in a day.  But hartal is an addiction for the political activists in Kerala where I have found my latest abode.  Two consecutive days of hartal (one of which was specially designed for my district only) for reasons that are yet to become clear to me kept my laptop locked up with the mechanic. 

When the mechanic rang me a few hours back to tell me that the work was done, the cool breeze that passed through my breast which had been drenched by the sultry summer heat made me realise that there are still some things that make life interesting to me.  This narcissistic raving, for example.

Anupam Kher’s protest against the attempts of JNU to decimate the country has already become stale news by the time I am reunited with my laptop.  SRK has learnt the lesson about his right to silence.  Our Prime Minister, who is also proud of his rags-to-supremacy story, thinks that JNU protesters and Haryana Jats are conspiring against him because he ascended from a lowly background. 

The problem is not the background.  I’m sure the PM knows that though he pretends otherwise for political and strategic reasons.  The problem is our addictions.  Some love power.  Some love fame.  I love my laptop, it seems.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Antinational Dreams

I am antinational
Because I dream
I dream about walking without the chains
That shackled my forefathers
With slogans woven from scriptures

Antinational I am
Because I dream
For azadi

In the dark alleys resounding with putrid slogans
They killed the Mahatma again and again
And erected temples for the killers
Rewrote history
Fabricated myths
Killed rivals in encounters

In the moonlight of dreams
I clamoured for azadi
Azadi from the darkness
To which they were dragging me
Azadi, I wanted, from darkness.

Standing in the moonlight
I could see the distant dawn

They called me antinational
Because I saw the dawn

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Nationalism in the time of Globalism

In the verdict that hanged Afzal Guru, the Supreme Court observed that "... the collective conscience of the society will only be satisfied if the capital punishment is awarded..."  The plain truth was known to all that there was only a circumstantial evidence against Guru, nothing that could fetch him the hangman's noose.  But the nation wanted a hanging, and Guru was hanged.

We don't want this sort of entertainment any more - that's what some students of JNU said.

Going against national pastimes is treason; doesn't JNU know that?

Some criminal elements took advantage of the opportunity to shout antinational slogans.  Such elements should be dealt with appropriately.  If they belong to ABVP, they should be taught good manners first. If they are other disgruntled elements, the national conscience may require to be satisfied.

Is nationalism justified when we have opened up everything including our self-respect to the global market? We have a Prime Minister who spends most of his time abroad. Our economy is driven by MNCs. We are begging other countries to come with investments. How can we shout nationalist slogans when the foreigners come to "Make (in) India"?

Anti-national sloganeers should definitely be tackled in such a way as to satisfy the national conscience. But nationalist organisations should realise that they have become pathetic anachronisms.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Numero Zero

Book Review

“... corruption rife, mafiosi officially in parliament, tax dodgers in government, and the only ones to end up in prison are Albanian chicken thieves.  Decent people will carry on voting for the hoodlums because they won’t believe the BBC, or they don’t watch such programmes because they’re glued to something more trashy...”

The bizarre has become the normal.  That’s what Umberto Eco’s latest novel, Numero Zero, from which the above quote is taken, seems to imply.  It is a slim novel (190 pages) with a scanty plot.  Commendatore Vimercate is an entrepreneur who “controls a dozen or so hotels on the Adriatic coast, owns a large number of homes for pensioners and the infirm, has various shady dealings around which there’s much speculation, and controls a number of local TV channels that start at eleven at night and broadcast nothing but auctions, telesales and a few risqué shows...”  He now wants to start a newspaper, or pretend to do so, because he wants to enter “the inner sanctum of finance and politics.” 

A small group of specially selected journalists who have not proved their mettle anywhere yet forms the editorial staff.  Braggadocio is one of them.  He works on a kind of scoop which has the potential to become a great controversy.  Mussolini was not killed as is believed.  After all, history is a series of lies.  The real Mussolini was saved by certain vested interests among the Fascists and also the Vatican.  Braggadocio’s work does not carry any credibility.  Until his dead body appears in an alleyway.  Who killed him?  Well, that’s what the novel is about.

The novel is about conspiracies that have played big roles throughout history though it mentions only one fictitious conspiracy.  How much of human history is truth?  The novel invites the reader to ponder.

The novel is also a fantastic satire on journalism.  What comes in newspapers and TV channels may largely be lies motivated by various factors.  One example from the novel: There’s a shady financial deal between Marchesse Alessandro Gerini and the Salesian Congregation (a religious order of Catholic priests).  When one of the journalists offers to investigate the matter, he is told clearly to avoid creating any bad feeling with the Salesians and the Vatican.  He can use a headline like “Salesians Victims of Fraud?”  Maximum respect for the Salesians, the journalist is told curtly.  Respect the powerful and the influential people; otherwise it’s death even for a newspaper.

The novel mentions many such strategies employed by newspapers with various motives.  How to report the killing of someone by the mafia, for example, without offending the mafia?  Work on people’s sentiments – that’s the secret.  Ask the mother of the victim how she feels about her son’s death.  “People shed a few tears and everyone is happy.  Like that lovely German word Schadenfreude, pleasure at other people’s misfortune, a sentiment that a newspaper has to respect and nurture.”

Beyond the themes of history’s mendacity and the venality that underlies apparent greatness and the satire on journalism, the novel doesn’t really offer much as one would have expected from a work of Eco.  Nevertheless, the novel is good.  It has the power to fuel thoughts, to question the authenticity of various authorities.  To question ourselves: why are we, the ordinary mortals, often bullied into having to sell ourselves for “filthy lucre”?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Winners and Losers

"Losers ... always know much more than winners."

Winners focus on one thing.  Focus.  Specialise.  And win.  That's the secret.  Don't waste time on other things.

Blessed are the losers because "the pleasures of erudition are reserved for losers."

The quotes are from Umberto Eco's latest novel, Numero Zero.

"The more a person a knows, the more things have gone wrong," asserts the irrepressible Eco ( his narrator, rather).

One of the pleasures of reading writers like Eco is that they tickle you into thinking.  Think about life.
And be a loser?

I've accepted my loser's streak with both humility and grace, rather recent entries into my genes.  So I sat down to ponder.

If you choose to go on learning endlessly until the Doomsday (of your life, of course), can you be a winner?  No, you can't.  Learners are never winners.  Learners are discontented.  Nothing satisfies them.  Bad luck.

Learners dream impossible dreams.  Learners nurture unrealistic hopes.

"And anyone who nurtures impossible hopes is already a loser."  Eco again.

The real stab came a page later.  Eco's narrator dreams "what all losers dream, about one day writing a book that would bring me fame and fortune."

I felt my heart just to make sure it was not bleeding.  I'm writing a book, you see.

So I stopped thinking and took a walk.  A kilometre from home whose quietness is the hotbed of contemplation, there was a Fest going on.  Pineapple Fest.  In the Pineapple City of Vazhakulam, Kerala.  And I killed my contemplation and joined the winners.  Some pics from the comic relief.

Pineapple is a Winner

From the Flower Show

On Duty

Comic relief is temporary for the losers.  And so I'm back with Eco.  Still reading it.  Funny man, he is.  He can ask you things like: "Why did Christopher Columbus sail west?"  And give you answers like: "Because if he'd sailed east, he would have discovered Naples."  Or, "Why was whisky invented in Scotland?  Because if it had been invented in Japan, it would be sake, and you couldn't drink it with soda."  He can make suggestions like: "instead of saying 'fuck' each time, to express surprise or consternation," why not say something like: "Oh, coitus, I've had my purse stolen!"

Eco is not a cheap comedian trying to tickle the reader's base instincts.  He is a philosopher of meanings.  He can interpret a matrimonial ad, for example, like this:

The Ad: "Hi, I'm Samantha, twenty-nine years old, professionally qualified, housewife, separated, no children, seeking a man, attractive, bright and sociable."

Subtext: "I'm now thirty.  After my husband left, I had no luck finding a job with the bookkeeping diploma I worked hard to get.  I am stuck at home all day twiddling my thumbs.  (I don't even have brats to look after.)  I'm looking for a man, he doesn't have to be handsome, provided he doesn't knock me around like that bastard I married."

Meanings.  Subtexts.  The losers go on looking for them.  That's their problem.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A symptom called Rohith Vemula


“I am happy dead than being alive,” said Rohith Vemula in his suicide note.  He “loved Science, Stars, Nature.”  His country gave him superstitions, communal hatred and hollow slogans.  He died feeling hollow in a country whose Prime Minister keeps mouthing beautiful slogans about development. 

The other day, senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha compared Mr Modi to Indira Gandhi with respect to the dictatorial style that marked both.  Of course, he had to retract later for obvious reasons.

Is Mr Modi converting India into Police Raj as Indira Gandhi did during Emergency?  The way the protesters in Delhi were attacked by Mr Modi’s police indicates that the Prime Minister is trying to re-create Gujarat in Delhi.  He probably hopes to extend it gradually to the entire country.  Or, maybe, it’s just the only way he knows to handle dissension with. 

Senior leaders of the party were sidelined long ago by Mr Modi.  Not that those leaders would have worked wonders.  But they would not have vitiated the communal atmosphere in the country so much, so much that even Hindus don’t feel free to dream about stars if they belong to the lower castes.  Forget Mr Modi’s erstwhile enemies belonging to other religions. 

Who has benefited after Mr Modi became the Prime Minister?  Only the corporate sector.  In that too, only those at the top.  

India has become a country where the dreams belong to a select few while the vast majority begin to feel the hollowness Rohith Vemula mentioned in his suicide note.  A hollowness that is aggravated and accentuated by a two-fold divide that Mr Modi’s kind of economic reform has already established firmly in the country: economic divide and communal divide.  Probably, this is not what Mr Modi wanted to achieve really.  The communal politics he played was only meant to be a tool, a means for rising to the highest post in the country.  Once ensconced on that seat, he thought he could wave a magic wand and transform the country into Swatchh Bharat and Digital India.  But the magic wand did not work anywhere, in fact.  Not even in the El Dorado of America, Modi’s economic role model.  (Israel is his role model for the other divide.) 

Rohit Vemula died a totally disillusioned young man.  He knew that he was living in a country which promised dreams but they were only hollow promises for people like him.  If people like him dared to question the King in Indraprastha and his minions who wear various garbs, his fellowship would be withheld and he would be expelled from his hostel.  Let us not forget that this is not the first time young students sacrificed their lives for the sake of the King.  Remember Ishrat Jahan, for example?

There’s something radically wrong.  A Yashwant Sinha can speak about it, only to retract.  Many others of the same party did speak earlier.  Remember four “veteran leaders” of the party’s Margdarshak mandal accusing the party of kowtowing to a handful?  Remember Arun Shourie and Ram Jethmalani?

Whose party is the BJP if its own senior leaders feel painfully alienated from it?

Whose country is India if a PhD scholar has to commit suicide because his stars were alienated from him? 

And whose country is it where the police brutally beat up democratic dissenters?

How many Indians today actually feel that they would be happy dead than alive, like Rohith Vemula?

Pessimism of the gods

There is a romantic at sleep in my heart who likes to believe that people were better in the good old days. The people I saw as a child we...