Friday, May 19, 2006

The recent inactivity on my blog seems to have worried one entity in this world greatly. And that’s none other than the Government of India! How else could I justify the excesses they have been committing through the past few weeks and thereby stroking my hitherto dead creative juices that get powered by anger and resentment! Hardly had people in this part of the world got out of the shock of the quota and its aftermath, there came yet another proof of the shortsightedness of the goofs who claim to rule us. But for them, I would be in one of the multiplexes today to watch the first day release of the ‘Da Vinci Code’! But presto! Our erudite I&B Minister and his loonies planned a Machiavellian move to scuttle the release of a movie that has seen the light of day in proclaimed Christian countries of the world! But then we live in a secular nation, don’t we? Somehow I seem to forget that essential nature of our polity!

Secularism for a vast majority in this country means majority bashing and minority appeasement. Well, before I get branded as a member of a certain reviled Parivar of Indian politics, I must emphasize that I hold the scantest of regard for their ilk as they do more harm than good to the cause of those they claim to represent. But that notwithstanding, the fact remains and is borne out by repeated acts of omission on the part of the ‘secular’ brigade of India. From when did the I&B Ministry decide that it was an expert in either theology or in filmmaking? Since when did they consider a ‘re-look’ on films that are cleared by the Censor Board of India? And why have a Board if you don’t trust its judgments? Preposterous claims were made by the man who initiated this whole juggernaut when he said it was because 200 Catholic Organizations had appealed to him to ban the movie. Well, does he or his Government, which takes people’s opinions so seriously then sit up and roll back the quota proposal as lakhs of students are appealing for the same? If this is not vote-bank politics, if this is not appeasement what is?

With due respect to the followers of these faiths, I must state here that India today has a harmonious and secular existence only because the majority of its people are Hindus- people who understand that there is no ONE path to the Truth, people who have eternally believed in the principle of co-existence with views opposed to one’s own, that they might differ with another’s opinion but defend till their death the other person’s right to dissent and most importantly people who can introspect on the evils within their societies and even poke fun on themselves and their gods. Time and time again in the past reformers have challenged the traditional and orthodox ways of life and to that effect Hinduism has been a growing and evolving religion. It speaks volumes of the inherent strength of the faith that has stood 1000 and more years of onslaught, first of the Islamic invaders and then the wily British and their insidious Missionaries. But here you have a group that feels a simple, stupid movie can shake their faith? Just sometime back in the past we had another virulent group whose faith was offended by cartoons! And these are the very groups that claim that the country is going down the communal warpath? Strange, isn’t it? Films in the past have been as derogatory to Hinduism, its gods and goddesses or social customs. If a Deepa Mehta makes snide remarks on lesbianism in Hindu families or the plight of widows in Varanasi she is being creative; if an M. F. Hussain paints Saraswati or Bharat Mata clad in air, then he is being a visionary of a painter; but if a Ron Howard directs a work of fiction that claims Jesus was a normal heterosexual male or a Danish cartoonist exercises his creative rights, then all hell breaks loose! And who supports these endeavours- the secular brigade led by this irrational government and of course the Page 3 kind of intellectual celebrities. Where have the Javed Akhtars, Shabana Azmis, Mahesh Bhatts (who has an opinion on and a solution for everything from Kashmir to stopping riots to defining pornography to how to correct an erectile dysfunction!!!) and the rest of the ‘secular’ thinktank disappeared; they are usually well-rehearsed when they have to fight Hindu fundamentalism, aren’t they?

Secularism and harmonious co-existence is essentially of the give and take nature. One would be naïve to assume that there would be no backlash in the face of such blatant partiality. Catholic priests thundered on television screens that the film would sway people who could not read and write and hence not be able to read the disclaimer! Well, that exposes two truths. One, it’s a tacit admission on the part of the Indian Church that these are the very target groups that they have been working on for generations- people who cant read and write and hence can be lured by goodies or by irrational acts of miracles by Benny Hinns and his counterparts in India. The second truth is of course the pig-headedness of these folks- it rather amused me to think that people who cant read and write would actually consider going to an English movie in the first place! Aren’t we stretching the arguments and our hyper sensitive sensitivities a bit too much? Do we care a damn for the fundamental rights of others? If the same movie can be screened all over the Christian world, if Dargahs and mosques in avowed Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia can be demolished for such mundane acts as road-widening, why is it then that in a so-called secular country like ours films like these get banned or riots get sparked in Vadodara? Why are people in India denied the right to read books like ‘Satanic Verses’ or ‘Lajja’ just because the Government of the day feels it might offend the sensitivities of people who cant read and write? But spoofs on the Mahabharata, anything that can buttress the claim that Lord Ram actually walked this land and ruled Ayodhya, any portrayal of Ancient India as a land of sex maniacs who wrote the Kama Sutra and engraved nude figurines on temples, any video footage to show that Hindu places of pilgrimage are havens of illicit activities, naked Sadhus, ganja& marijuana, any denial of the veracity of the Epics even while places mentioned there are all around us---all such activities will be welcomed with a warm, broadminded and the most secular bear hug! How long would this go on?

As much as I want my blog to be alive and kicking, I would pray that atleast the Government of India gives me no more chance to add posts to vent my anger. I’d rather have a dead blog than one inspired by their wondrous acts of foolishness and blatant injustice!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It was when I actually forgot the password of my blog while attempting to log in that I realized how badly I’ve been ignoring my little corner on the web. Blame it on work, blame it on a few other urgent commitments that had to see the light of day, blame it on a complete lack of ideas and the creative juices, or plain and simple laziness! It was all the time quite heartening to get messages from supposed ‘ardent’ readers of the clap trap I churn out (wonder if the species ever existed or if they did at some point in time and space, whether they still inhabit the planet!) to give up this colossal inertia and write…but write what? Something, anything…but atleast I for one, cant write till the fire within rages strong enough to spill over onto pages. My earlier stint with poetry died a sudden and unnatural death, simply because there was no more inspiration. I feared a repeat of history here. But not until newspapers and television channels beam images and stories of the return of the phantom in this country’s political and social history.

It is with a sense of deja-vu that I see these images of thousands of young boys and girls, braving the heat and leading protests across the country crying down something that they see as downright injustice. It was with horror that I watched as a kid then, newsflashes of youth setting themselves on fire when the first Mandal Commission Report was tabled and adopted, way back in the late 1980’s. As a kid then, insecurities did surface in my mind as well, about where the future would lead me, as worried parents, grandparents, friends and families discussed the paucity of good education opportunities for our ilk in the days to come as we didn’t belong to the favored section of the political class. Almost two decades have since passed and with credit given to all who need to be given their due, I am done with the business of educating myself. And in retrospect the fears were misplaced as the sojourn has always been in some of the premiere institutions of this land despite my “upper caste”. I must agree when I say that it’s a tinge of indifference now…the feeling that I am-done-with-it-and-it’ll-be-a-while-before-my-offsprings-bear-this brunt. And each time this feeling crosses my mind, I feel terribly ashamed of myself and the unbridled selfishness that drives this thought!

The India that I saw as a kid and the one that I now live in seem poles apart. The country surges ahead in many sectors and areas and is on the verge of becoming a global super power. For the youth of today’s India, modern thoughts and information are just a click away. And in the midst of all this, we have a huge spanner thrown in from an irrelevant relic of the past, who has perhaps had nothing to do with the whole concept of education; or worse still, feels as snug and selfish as I do at times, since most probably all his children (and even grandchildren may be) have already acquired plush degrees from universities abroad! The tragedy of India is that for every right step ahead that its citizens take, its so-called leaders and politicians take four backward. Whether it’s the feud between the “humble farmer” and the “IT-czar” or the current face-off between the Government and the medicos, India is a glorious land ruled by the worst bunch of buffoons that mankind could ever produce. The State that sits pretty when terrorists blow up places after places, in fact even has the audacity to let a foreign minister accompany a most vicious criminal to secure the release of hijacked passengers---the same State (irrespective of the political affiliations) comes down brutally on harmless, peace-loving citizens who are only but exercising their fundamental right to dissent. The brutal lathicharge on students in Mumbai, the barbarism perpetrated on the workers in Gurgaon last year---all bear testimony to this lopsided priority of the State.

But leaving specifics aside, the fact remains that a large section of this country are still terribly deprived and oppressed. Within kilometers of the Stock Exchange where the rich and famous of the country gamble their fortunes, we have horrific reports of starvation deaths of tiny infants. Elsewhere we have the very people who grow us our crops- farmers- committing suicide. The Government would argue that it is their bounden duty to ensure that these folks get a level playing field and no better way to do that than providing education. Agreed; I am sure no one with a sane mind would have another opinion on this. But the point is are quotas the way ahead. If 59 years of reservation have yielded no results, if the quota seats continue to remain unfilled, if the lot of the people whom it is intended to serve remains as bad or worse than it was before the introduction, if it is so easy in a country like ours where corruption is ubiquitous and it costs a little something to get a false caste certificate, if the fruits are reaped by the creamy layers of the backward castes---isn’t it then time to sit back, reflect, introspect and think of better means to achieve the same end? Only a fool would invest in a loss-making firm.

But no, it isn’t a loss-making firm atleast as far as our horrid political class is concerned. Their vote banks run on this fuel and having learnt the art of dividing and ruling from our erstwhile colonial masters, these old hags wouldn’t give up! It is rather ironical to note that the very grand-father-in-law of our illustrious super Prime Minister Sonia Gandhi, Pt Nehru, had this to say on Reservation in a letter that he wrote on the 27th of June 1961 to the Chief Ministers of that time:, "I dislike any kind of reservation. If we go in for reservations on communal and caste basis, we will swamp the bright and able people and remain second rate or third rate." This way, he added, "Lies not only folly, but also disaster." The very cartoons who swear by the “Dynasty” of Indian politics conveniently gloss over the observations of the very founder of the Dynasty! Sadly therefore we have not one soul from across the political spectrum- left, right and center –standing up and calling the insane and senile Minister’s bluff! How many of these very politicians opposed virulently the move to reserve seats for women in Parliament, as they feared a loss of their own jobs and money-making endeavors! But when it comes to the future of the youth being jeopardized not one hag cares! Not one understands that if the State is really serious about uplifting the conditions of the genuinely depressed classes, what is needed is level-playing field at the school level. Villages and even cities in India have horribly run Government schools with the least or totally deficient infrastructure. Providing good and quality education, preferably in English, at this level is the only answer to make these classes competitive at a postgraduate level. Providing crutches at that stage of one’s academic life is suicidal; after all we are talking here of life-saving doctors and which of us would want to go under an unskilled surgeon’s knife? And if the surgeon is already skilled, why at all would he need a quota?

But turning my whole argument on its head, like he does most often is Uncle Krishnamurthy, my Marxist family friend, with whom I’ve had more ideological debates than friendly banter. He asked me with a rather straight face in the middle of a heated debate we were having on this issue- “ When was there merit in the professional courses? What right do these medicos have to protest now? How many of them protested when medical and engineering seats were out on sale in the ‘payment’ category? Isn’t that another form of quota? There you are okay with it as it’s the quota of the rich (in Marxist parlance-capitalistic!) sections of society?” And for once, it did seem that the characteristically irrational Marxist had made a very valid point. If merit and merit alone is the deciding factor why at all did the concept of capitation fee come about? For once, I was stumped and this being the season of Left victory in the country, I conceded defeat!

But scoring brownie points apart, the time has come for what people call as ‘Affirmative action’- a proactive, timely and well calibrated and measurable mechanism to be put in to address the issue from the root- Primary education. Destroying centers of excellence is certainly not the answer. Speaker after speaker chides the IIT’s, IIM’s and the likes as centers for the “elite”. My counter point is what is wrong in being elite? And Elite here is not socially elite, but academically elite. Higher education has, after all, been the reserve of a few, and that is how it is across the globe. After all how many engineers and doctors do we need? Everyone in this country cannot possibly become one? Why should we get into the socialistic and Nehruvian mould of feeling ashamed of success, of people making their fair bucks through their hard work and toil? A sizeable chunk of my fellow students in BITS-Pilani came from Andhra Pradesh and mostly from the most backward areas of the State. For many of them it was their first brush with English, or for that matter even Hindi and North India. Most often they were the butt of the jokes of many of us “elitist” convent-educated snobs from Urban India. But today they are having the last laugh as they are placed on par or perhaps even better than many of us in life! And mind you, not one came in through the quota way! So why cant we just learn to trust and respect the intellect and capabilities of our not-so-fortunate brethren and not make them feel eternally inferior for having taken the short route to success!?

Sadly, as the protests continue, as students get caned, as the indifferent and pig-headed administration sits smug in colonial fashion, countless patients suffer for want of care and attention in the hospitals. The plastic smiles and incompetence of Manmohan Singh or the eternal 'V' symbol that Sonia Gandhi flashes can bring no succor and relief to them! With zero-political support to the strike coming in, in all likelihood these young boys and girls would have their hopes shattered and may be, many of them would hate their country for discriminating against them on the basis of their birth and simply choose to fly off elsewhere. May be “Brain-drain” would continue to remain a hot essay topic for High school examinations as it did it my times! But with all this, like most of my fellow Indians, who are known to have a never-say-die attitude in the face of all the adversities, all the corruption, all the lack of effective governance, all I can sign off with is “ Hum honge Kaamyab Ek din”!