On Markandey Katju and the fine art of outsourcing protest

Justice Katju’s latest article ridiculing protesters who raise their voices against rapist-murderers was fresh proof of his prejudiced and recalcitrant mind. It’s tragic such people often slip truisms of the ‘media is celebrity-obsessed’ variety in their otherwise vile rants and end up striking a cord with way more people than they ideally should.

Justice Katju’s latest verbal fit is also symptomatic of a deeper malaise: the desire to outsource our protest and obsessively look for mass support for our cause. In other words, it articulates the desire to see our protest shouted out to the world and its TV cameras by those who have the time, energy and ability to.

This desire, if it remains just that, isn’t dangerous. It becomes so when it appears unfulfilled and causes mistrust and loathing towards that one and only group of people that can be counted on for support for any worthy cause- the protesters. Yes, that same bunch of often young, mostly ill-paid, permanently sunburned and far more dented and far less painted as a certain President’s progeny will have you believe.

So Justice Katju’s tirade was an expression of his annoyance at seeing what he thought was a bunch of women protesters obsessed with something he believes is a non-issue, or perhaps not as worthy a cause as those he (thinks he) is personally passionate about.

We should know this because we often come across less obnoxious versions of Justice Katju. We have all seen many who like their protests outsourced. There are many who hate it if the cries out there don’t exactly repeat their own.

When Bombay mourned Keenan and Reuben, what nagged at our mind was what Arundhati Roy taught us about urban protests and protesters. ‘Why no candle marches for soldiers blown up by Naxalites?’ some asked when Bombay socialites teared up over 26/11. Kashmiri Pandits are often dismissed as obsessive nuts and are judged about their silence over Gujarat. And speaking about the Gujarat riots automatically gets you branded as a fake, Congress-loving ‘pseudo-intellectual’ whose ‘pseudo-secularism’ makes her intrinsically indifferent towards Sikh or Hindu targets of violence.

Protesters tend to be specific. And that’s alright.

The truth is, it’s quite alright for an individual to feel more strongly about one issue than another. It is okay- practical even- for us to pick our battles. Barring the ideal but sanitized calls of the ‘give peace a chance’ variety, protests are almost always episodic, localized and centered around specific instances of human rights violation. A placard will either say Khairlanji or Malala or Kundankulam or Occupy or Palestine, depending on the where the placard writer is placed physically and emotionally. The underlying message is ‘down with injustice’. Invariably.

But if the average protest still appears too narrow in its focus to you, then here’s an advice- don’t do a Katju on it. It’s unproductive and sounds stupid. Be proactive and start your own protest. If your average TV anchor looks biased to you, don’t start sending her offensive tweets. Just draft and circulate your own petitions.

If your heart bleeds for Kashmiri Pandits, tell the world the injustice they have been facing. If Bhopal bothers you, then write about it every day. If Aruna Shanbaug gave you nightmares, share her story repeatedly. And if Nirbhaya woke your conscience, then blog about her for the rest of your life even if nobody cares about her anymore.

Voice your concern continuously, with or without overt support from others. Try also to lend strength to any cause which sounds worthy of support. But if you can’t, then the least you can do is not mock it.

Don’t envy or belittle the support brutalized victims manage to get. That support is really all they have. That support is really all we have.

Your open derision might successfully trigger apathy or even hostility toward ‘the other cause’ and weaken it. But it will never get support for yours.

Stay Angry, Stay Noisy

Nirbhaya’s friend recently told the world that nobody stopped to help them, and some stopped only to stand and gawk at the wounded woman. The statement is a telling indictment of our society; it reveals, yet again, just how apathetic, perverse or both a part of India has become.

However, as difficult as it might be to distance ourselves from safe, comfortable generalizations that essentially hold us all guilty of every single act of injustice ever perpetrated at any time, place or dimension, we must not make the mistake of adding this latest shameful revelation as yet another in that long list of reasons to lash out at ourselves, hurl accusations at everyone in general and no one in particular, and force the best, most conscientious among us to assume a far, far greater share of responsibility for shocking acts of brutality than what is in fact true or constructive.

Of course, turning the gaze inward is an absolute must. It is one of the important steps in the right direction which we all agree should be towards a safer, freer and egalitarian society. But there arises a problem when we allow this inward gaze to dig its claws so fiercely, so deeply and so firmly into our collective psyche that we end up placing us all, despite our capability to often be compassionate in the face of systemic odds stacked heavily against us, almost exactly at par with those who cannot but be termed as depraved, sadistic maniacs.

It often results in a far harsher indictment of those who fail to help the victim than of those who are fond of literally chewing people up and spitting them out.

Therefore, the message to the conscientious Indian is: try not to drown further in that sea of guilt a certain policeman’s death pushed you into a few weeks ago. You did not want him dead. Similarly, you were not among those who ignored those desperate pleas for help on the night of December 16. You definitely did not stand and ogle at them. You would never do that. There is a very visible line between you and scum of society; don’t blur that line, even if the apologist on TV tries to convince you otherwise. You absolutely do not represent that messed up part of the society which loots, rapes and murders and then pins its hopes on your propensity to allow remorse to completely engulf you. For it is exactly this paralyzing fear of being ‘just as bad as any of them’ that forces us to become defensive and allows blame to be redistributed to ridiculous levels of dilution.
***
So stop being apologetic, resume those impassioned cries for help, and rage against the system out there, however ugly or incoherent your voice might sound to those who like their protesters well-behaved and their demands, cut and dried. Indeed, let us all, if we don’t already, stop our cars, no matter how real the fear of getting drugged-mugged-killed might be. Let us all go out of our way to help those who need it. But let us definitely not feel so ashamed of our own imperfect conduct that we stop asking why cops in three PCR vans reportedly stopped, saw the injured, squabbled over the matter and did not- in blatant dereliction of their official dutycarry the victim to the van just because they feared their uniforms might get stained.

विरोध प्रदर्शन कलंकित नहीं हुआ!

(First published today, this blog post was written during the December 2012 India Gate protests. Dubbed superficial, incoherent and worse by many, these protests will forever remain for me a heartwarming display of solidarity with victims of extreme violence and a watershed moment in the history of modern India’s struggle for human rights.)


प्रिय टीवी एंकर,

आपने आपके साथियों ने समाज को, उसमें पनप रहे हिंसा को और उसके खिलाफ बुलंद होती आवाज़ को जिस जोश और जज़्बे के साथ पूरी दुनिया को दिखाया है उसके लिए आप सब को मेरा शतशत नमन!
लेकिन आपकी एक बात मुझे गलत नहीं तो पूर्णतः सही भी नहीं लगी।

आपने कहा कि कुछ ग़लत इरादे वाले लोग विरोध प्रदर्शन में घुस आये और उसे कलंकित कर दिया। कैसे? सीटियाँ बजाकर और तोड़फ़ोड़ करके।

सीटियाँ प्रदर्शन की वजह से नहीं बजी। सीटियाँ बजी क्योंकि कुछ लोग लड़कियों को देखकर हमेशा सीटी बजाते हैं। समाज ने उन्हें सिखाया है कि लड़कियों को देखो तो सीटी ज़रूर बजाओ। छेड़छाड़, गालीगलौज तुम्हारा फ़र्ज़ है। चुलबुल जी को देखिए, वो भी आजकल यही सिखा रहे हैं।

अगर इंडिया गेट पर जमा हुई लड़कियों को अभद्र बातें सुनने को मिली, तो इसका दोष प्रदर्शन और प्रदर्शनकारियों पर मत थोपिये। इंडिया गेट पर लड़कियां प्रदर्शन नहीं, पिकनिक ही करने जाती तो भी अभद्र बातें सुनती। पूजा के पंडाल में, शादियों में और बाज़ार में भी घुस आते हैं बदमाश। फिर क्या पूजा के पंडाल नहीं सजने चाहिए? क्या शादियों को अराजकता फैलने का कारण बताया जाना चाहिए? फिर तो आप लोगों से ये भी कह दीजिये कि जनाब, बाज़ार से सब्जियां लेने जाएँ तो अपनी श्रीमती जी को न ले जाएँ ,उपद्रवी तत्त्वों को बढ़ावा मिलता है!

हम सब हमेशा उस अनपढ़, जाहिल समाज पर ये आरोप लगाते आये हैं कि वो बे झिझक हिंसा झेलने वालों को हिंसा का कारण ठहरा देता है। अब आप भी उसी समाज की तरह शिकारी को छोड़, शिकार पर निशाना मत साधिये।

वहाँ एकत्रित लड़कियों को और घर पर उनके माता-पिता को बेकार ही डराइये नहीं। बल्कि उन्हें और उनके पुरुष साथियों को हौसला दीजिये। कहिये कि मित्रों, माफ़ करना कि हर रोज़ की तरह आज भी तुम पर कुछ जाहिल कटाक्ष करेंगे। कुछ लोग तुम्हारा मज़ाक उड़ायेंगे। तुम बच्चे हो, निहत्थे हो और ज़्यादातर किसी बड़े राजनैतिक पार्टी के युवा परिषद् का हिस्सा भी नहीं हो। इसलिए तुम्हें तो कुछ लोग ज़रूर परेशान करेंगे। लेकिन तुम घबराना मत। अब हमारा कैमरा और हमारी रिपोर्टर तुम्हारे साथ हैदसबीस मूर्खों के चेहरे को टीवी पर शर्मसार करने का ज़िम्मा तो हम ले ही लेंगे!

एक और बात, एंकर बाबू। महिलाएं हर रोज़ बस, ट्रेन मेट्रो में चढ़ती हैं। हर रोज़ उन्हें कोई परेशान करता है। कोई घूरता रहता है, कोई दुपट्टा खींचता है तो कोई छूने का प्रयास करता है। अक्सर कामयाब हो जाता है। वो गुस्सा होती हैं, कभी चीखती है तो कभी चुप रह जाती हैं। पर वो ऐसी मोम की गुडिया भी नहीं हैं कि कोई छीटा कशी करे और वो अपने ही आसुओं के सैलाब में पिघल जाएँ। हर रोज़ हो रहे इस पागलपन के बावजूद हर बार अपने आपको समेटती हैं और फिर जीवन के संघर्ष में जुट जाती हैं।

प्रदर्शन करते वक़्त लड़कियों को जो परेशानी झेलनी पड़ रही है उससे वो घबरा भले ही गयी हो, लेकिन वो हर रोज़ की तरह हौसला जुटा कर फिर आगे बढेंगी। फर्क सिर्फ दो होंगे। एक तो ये कि हर रोज़ की तरह उन की झुंझलाहट सिर्फ उन तक ही सीमित नहीं रहेगी बल्कि पूरे देश में गूंजेगी। और दूसरा ये कि हर रोज़ की तरह विरोध का हिस्सा बनने की वजह से जो गुंडागर्दी उन्हें झेलनी पड़ी, वो समाज में एक बड़े बदलाव को लाने के प्रयास में होगी।

विरोध प्रदर्शन कलंकित नहीं हुआ, एंकरसाहब।

एक बार फिर, धन्यवाद।

एक आम भारतीय महिला

तोमर आपका आदमी नहीं था, नेताजी!

(This blog post was first published as a Facebook note on December 26- 3 days after Delhi police constable Subhash Tomar passed away due to injuries allegedly sustained by him during the anti-rape protests in Delhi. On Jan 2, a plea was filed in Delih HC for a CBI probe into Tomar’s death. Read more about it here)

जय हो, हमारे नेताओं की! जय हो उन लोगों की जिन्हें एक दिन पहले जनता से बात करने में न जाने कैसी शर्मिंदगी महसूस हो रही थी।

अब वो सारे इकठ्ठा है तोमर के लिए। ये वही कांस्टेबल है जो लोगों के गुस्से से आपको बचा रहा था। ये वही है जिसे आपने अपने महलनुमा घर में सुरक्षित बैठे- बैठे एक लाठी देकर ये कह दिया कि जाओ, जब कोई कमज़ोर दिखे तो पीट दो और जब गुंडे दिखें तो देख लेना भई कि कैसे बचना है।

एक लाठी के साथ तोमर इस कोशिश में लगा था कि कहीं आपको चोट न लग जाए। अरे चोट तो दूर की बात है, वो और उनके सहकर्मी ज़्यादातर ये सुनिश्चित करने में लगे थे कि कहीं आपकी नींद न खराब हो जाए या कहीं आपके बागीचों के फूल न नष्ट हो जायें!

अब पूरे स्टेट ऑनर के साथ उस कांस्टेबल को विदा कर रहे हैं। ये दर्शा रहे हैं कि देखो, तुम सब कितने मूर्ख, जाहिल और खून के प्यासे हो और हम कितने सभ्य और सुसंस्कृत! वो हमारे लिए मर गया और हमने उसे शहीदों की विदाई दी। हो गया न हिसाब बराबर?

नेताजी, इतना आदर करते हैं न कांस्टेबल का? एक काम कीजिये। ये जो एक दिन की तनख्वाह तोमर के परिवार को दे रहे हैं न, ये अपने पास ही रखिये। लेकिन तोमर की बिटिया या नतनी या पोती की पढाई का खर्च आप उठा लीजिये। और हाँ, तोमर के सहयोगियों की तनख्वाह बढ़ा दीजिये। अपनी तनख्वाह में से हर महीने ज़रा सा कम घर ले जायेंगे तो मर नहीं जायेंगे आप।

एक और बात। अपने नाटक पर पर्दा गिरा लीजिये। जनता के पैसों से तोमर के लिए महँगी विदाई का नाटक कर कांस्टेबलों पर अपना हक़ जताने बंद कीजिये।

तोमर एक अधेढ़, लाठीधारी, बिना कवच, बिना ट्रेनिंग, बुरी पगार पाने वाला ऐसा सिपाही था जो आपकी चालाकी, खुदगर्जी और निर्दयीनता का उतना ही बड़ा शिकार था जितना की हम।

तोमर हमारा आदमी था। #ठीकहै?

Seeking Justice: To kill or not to kill?

(A shorter version of this blog post was first published on December 23 as a Facebook note- 6 days before Delhi’s braveheart breathed her last.)

The news of the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old Delhi medical student left us all shocked, angry and horrified. As details of the woman’s torturous ride on the bus full of marauding beasts started trickling in, a stultifying sense of helplessness gripped even the grittiest among us. One of the bravest friends I have ever known broke down, while some others could barely control their tears. Many voiced anguished demands for death penalty for the monstrous crime; there were also those who argued for other severe forms of punishment such as castration.

(Some, of course, were still busy sharing pictures of their dinner, iPhones, and that variety of high-heeled footwear that makes flying from possible danger impossible. Incredible as their resolute determination to look the other way while a fellow human being just got devoured by a bunch of deviant maniacs is, I wish them health, safety and a lifetime supply of rose-tinted glasses.)

Then there were those who came up with the argument that sounded firmly opposed to the idea of protesting against what happened on the bus that night. The argument mostly stemmed from a perceived sense of injustice perpetrated by mainstream media that is invariably Delhi-centered, and focused on the struggles and celebrations of the dominant classes and castes. One could imagine them quickly scan Google news, dig out last night’s dirt from the ‘darker parts of India’ such as Bihar, Orissa or Jharkhand, and slip in an update about it saying, “See, this happens everywhere. Now can we please stop bringing up that intestine-less woman and return to more appropriate discussions on Dabangg, Fevicol and football?”

Even more misplaced is the assumption that those who were appalled at what happened on the night of December 16 are short-sighted, ignorant little urban men and women who cannot understand the sordid, complex realities of life that come together to create monsters out of perfectly normal human beings, and who also naively assume life will be a walk in the park once the brutes are sent to the gallows. Tenaciously sticking to the ‘down with death sentence’ line, many also continue to describe those asking for maximum punishment for rape as unevolved, medieval minds whose demand brings them exactly at par with the ones who cannot decide what they enjoy doing the most- rape, mutilation or murder.

There is a third group, of course, that finds Facebook unfit for any discussion outside the realm of food, fun and fiesta. While passionate discussions over Tendulkar’s retirement or Bebo’s wedding attire are welcome, invitation to protests via social network, feminist groups, poems, cartoons and quotes are quickly labelled dramatic, superficial, over-the-top and plain embarrassing.

***

Now, the answer to why crime in Delhi gets better TV coverage than those happening elsewhere lies partly in the high-profile tag attached to the city- proximity to the seat of government and better overall infrastructure make it important for most TV channels to set up and run huge offices, a network of reporters, video journalists and OB vans in the city. A similar unevenness in coverage of criminal incidents in state capitals and the rest of the state exists in other parts of the country, too. And smaller towns and villages get ignored almost entirely.

Extensive coverage of Amar Jyoti Kalita notwithstanding, the general inability or even lack of inclination of mainstream media to cover the hinterland does not justify the demand to ask those who want justice for the 23-year-old medical student to shut up. The logic is simple- if your support for a victim of sexual assault depends on where in India it happened, then it becomes important for you to immediately stop claiming to be a genuine supporter of women’s rights. Such a cavalier decision to lend conditional support to rape victims, and to insinuate that a Delhi-based rape victim is somehow luckier than a Bengal-based one, because the former has TV channels and Yuvraj Singh talking about her even as she battles for life, pits one hapless woman against another and sends dangerously confusing signals about what being a feminist is.

***

As far as the ‘don’t kill, change the society first’ argument goes, it is important for those protesting against the protests to know most of those who are at India Gate, facing water-canons, signing petitions or writing blogs are aware of exactly how patriarchy functions, how the society nurtures hatred towards women, and how a rapist isn’t born so, but grows up to become one. The explanation that everything from Hindi soaps to Bollywood to our own friendly neighborhood is complicit in the crime that happened that night is not lost on anyone. The demand for better education, gender sensitization, street-lights, robust, sensitive police, self-defense classes in schools and colleges and fast-track courts remain unchanged. Those demands, if anything, have grown stronger over the past few days.

So, it is patently wrong to assume that the demand for death sentence has replaced the demand for a more gender-sensitive society. Right now, the two demands co-exist. Even for many of those who have so far been unwavering in their opposition to capital sentence, the need to give cold-blooded beasts a second chance has very, very slowly metamorphosed into a powerful, all- encompassing, desperate need to see them dead and gone. And this has happened because while brutality against women everywhere has flourished unchecked, no attempt to protect and empower women has materialized.

Allowing these savages to continue to live, among other things, heightens the sense of insecurity among women living anywhere in India. It strengthens the belief that Indian leadership’s pretense at civilized behavior, which takes the form of grandiloquent defense of the criminal’s rights and snobbish comparisons with Saudi Arabia on television and international forums while in reality ruling a pre-historic jungle means cruelty against women must, almost as a rule, go unpunished. This in turn means women must always live with the debilitating fear that rape is inevitable unless they are lucky enough to escape it for their whole life.

And criminals can smell fear. Criminals relish fear.

While many of us continue to cutely trust lawmakers, administrators and judiciary, the other side- the side infested with those who consider women deserve varying degrees of punishment every now and then- has not been playing fair. The other side has not been reading books. It has not been following television debates. It does not respect the belief of the relatively civilized half of the society in the sanctity of life, even that of vermin; indeed, it scoffs at it. It knows we will forgive the most heinous crimes, and rescue the most remorseless of criminals.

 

It thrives on our faith in the ability of the depraved to correct themselves.

Let us, for once, shock the degenerate out of their faith in our ability to forgive.

And then, we could all return to our demands for brighter streets and a better society.

Of married friends, status updates and Facebook

As I reached the end of yet another awe-inspiring episode (okay, back-to-back episodes) of Powerpuff Girls, I realised I just couldn’t avoid visiting Facebook any longer. I had been away from it for nearly two hours- a record of sorts, unless you consider the 3 hours I stayed away from it when my mother had locked me up in the bathroom, because she was getting bored and had nothing better to do.

I have been mortally scared of Facebook for some time now. In fact, as a lasting testimony to my unfaltering creativity and ability to play with words even in times of unspeakable panic and terror, I have decided to rechristen the website…Fearbook! (Why, you uncouth, unsophisticated brutes. Stand up and applaud already!)

Anywho, what is it that’s turned my near unhealthy love for Facebook into the kind of indescribable fear that I feel when I switch on the telly while India starts questioning and demanding answers night after night? Why has my passport to perfectly legal voyeurism turned into a one-way ticket to instant depression and several bowls of instant noodles and tubs of half-melted, pre-Neolithic ice-cream that normal human beings like you, Digvijay Singh and Lady Gaga wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot-pole?

The reason, my friend, is that every 19th friend of mine has decided to get married. No, it’s not that. If all these people who just got married would keep the news to themselves and be kind enough to not share it with their entire ‘friend list’- one that’s usually longer than the list of do’s and don’ts in public that my ex swore by- it would still be okay. I would still stop at just a few bowls of instant noodles and skip the ice-cream entirely.

But no, that doesn’t happen. Not only do people get married at an age when some of us are still trying to get over the suite life of Zack and Cody coming to an end, they also insist on letting everyone know that they have the kind of emotional stability, financial security and sheer guts that are prerequisites for tying the conjugal knot. In their pictures, they look gorgeous, radiant and impossibly happy in the manner of a glowing Prince William after exchanging ‘I do’s’ with Kate Commonfident Middleton.

Do I have a problem people looking happy and content? No, unless they are hardened criminals on the run with proven record of looking incredibly satisfied right after claiming their latest unsuspecting victim.


From the bottom of my single and, therefore, battered and hopeless heart, I wish all my married friends all the best. It’s a wonderful thing that’s happening to all those who feel they’ve reached the stage in their lives where marriage looks like the logical step forward.

In fact, please pardon me (or not. I know you left this excruciating piece of boring harangue for Bigg Boss approximately 2 minutes ago anyway) as I digress a little to talk about my kind and their take on life, marriage and everything else in life in general. I don’t know how they do things in far-off countries such as the US, Italy or Nepal. But here in middle-class India, we live and die by this handy little list of things-to-do. A list that’s sacrosanct and meant to be followed unless you die or something-

1. Take birth.
2. Go to school.
3. Crash into college.
4. Get a job.
5. Make the symbolic trip to Goa and do the symbolic zipping around in a ganji on a scooty with friends and take 5,000 pictures of each frikking spot visited.
6. Indulge in the perfunctory activities of cool rebellious self-harm such as cigarettes, drugs, an occasional protest Facebook sign-up /march against female feticide, etc.
7. Dodge the marriage question long enough to repeat points 5 and 6 in no particular order.
8. Get a promotion.
9. Get a second promotion.
10.   Repeat points 5 and 6, though a little more discreetly than earlier.
11.   …
12.   …
13.   Get married.
15.   Be happy or pretend to be happy for the rest of the life.

This looks like the perfect plan, the neat little blueprint that makes sense for most normal adults who had their last imaginary friend at least 18 years ago. Not for us, who can’t wait to finish boring work every day and speed home to fill the pages of their color books while ‘Banker to the Poor’ lies unattended and continues to gather dust for yet another year.

Coming back to Facebook and purely avoidable announcements on its much abused pages, I would implore my married friends to define joy and happiness like they define it on the pages of a dictionary. And look happy too. Pray, look happier than the model who sells Happydent. But please, don’t flash big happy pictures on my wall without prior warning in all caps. Be kind enough, people, to put a status update that says something like, “Beware, all the single ladies. Photos of engagement/marriage/honeymoon/1st kid/kid’s 1st birthday/2ndkid’s 1st recital coming up. So if your jobless folks are masochistic enough to insist on letting them ‘see the photos na’, then don’t. Scroll. Down.”

Such warnings will act as useful red flags, which would help some marriage-scared chicken like me distract my mother away from the computer screen. I could quickly point at the window and yell, ‘Oh look, big bird’. Or better still, “Oh look, Bigg Boss on neighbor’s television.” Fishing her binoculars out from her tool-carrier would obviously take her some time. And that would allow me to bring the page down to where some Farmville-maniac would be discussing the discounts available on manure for their apricot saplings or some such.

That tiny window of opportunity would be enough to ward off parents, who would then return to their normal parental duties such as watching Australian Wipeout or throwing stones at neighbours who frown upon Rakhi Sawant’s show or at those who insist on putting wallpapers on their walls. It will let me read, surf the net or do some equally productive work like staring at the ceiling fan or practicing my teleporting skills.

A little bit of care and discretion is all it takes on the part of my now-married friends to keep my ties with my family friction-free. It is all I need to avoid conversations that always begin with, “Daughter, Sinha uncle was saying…” and ends with, “Dodge! Run! By god, impressive marksmanship skills the girl has!”

You, my married friends, can ensure things remain super-smooth till the next day, when one little question from another jobless uncle-ji would make sure the question of marriage, etc comes crashing back to my parents-

“Aur Kumar sahab? How’s the family? And the daughter? When’s the big party, hain?”

PS: Did I mention those who just got married aren’t supposed to read the blog? I hope it doesn’t come between me and that nice lunch invitation you guys were planning to send me. 

I tried so hard and got so far.*


**Q: What’s common between a train, a plane, an office and your home?
A: All have people who know all about cricket and insist on letting you know.
With the Cricket World Cup now having reached the semi-final stage, there is little else anyone wants to talk about. And while a sports-challenged person like me would perhaps choose to lock herself in her room after, of course, getting it sound-proofed to keep all ‘cricket’ firmly out of it, work, social commitments and the annoyingly obligatory requirement for Vitamin D means one has to step out almost daily.
Home is where the noise is.
In fact, one doesn’t even have to leave the house for the ordeal to be unleashed by cricket enthusiasts-you can find plenty of them within your family. The past few weeks have been particularly excruciating as I’ve been waking not to the gentle sound of music nor even to the not-so-gentle sound of the rather judgmental cleaning-lady‘s, ‘Wake up, who will go to the office, me?’, but to parents, brothers and uncles discussing the previous night’s match or the relative merits of Indian batting and Australian sledging. 
An attempt to reach for the remote control for the briefest glimpse of the television for potential business stories of the day feels like major breach of cricketiquette as more than one disapproving pair of eyes tell me better than to interrupt (what I’m sure is the fifth repeat telecast of) match reports or discussion.
Caution: Men at work
The scene at the office is only slightly different. In fact, ‘cricket at work’ is even more unnerving because my workplace is full of that special category of evil men who possess the skill and the knowledge to string one intoxicating word together with the next, creating the magical and all-engulfing web of cricket reports and analysis. 
Also called sports journalists, these men, with their God-like ability to prove the same LBW decision both right and wrong, kick-start their day with pronouncements on what to expect from the Wankhede pitch and end it with whether the expectations were met or not. 
Either way, the story is a winner.
Pretending to focus on yet another inspiring quarterly performance report of Air India, I listen to these men and pick from them whatever pieces of cricket wisdom I can. I wait with bated breath for the moment such conversations begin to steer toward what I know, which could be a singular catch or a crucial expensive over that won/cost Pakistan their match. However, what could potentially be my moment of glory comes and goes even before I can clear my throat, because the men can’t possibly linger on the Ghost of Cricket Past and must move on to more important business: The next match.
You can run, you can hide…
It is perhaps this overwhelming world of cricket that I foolishly hope to escape with my trips out of Delhi. Within a short span of a couple of months, I visited Patna, Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Hyderabad, only to realize that it had been incredibly optimistic of me to expect any relief from the relentless and all-pervasive world of cricket. 
My train journey from Delhi to Nagpur, which could have been perfectly peaceful, remained anything but, what with my father, a couple of Hyderabadi gentlemen, a young lad from Haryana and three fresh-out-of-college-about-to-join-TCS fellows discussing cricket till the loud wails of a (by then exasperated) toddler prevented them from going on any further. 
Our day of arrival at Nagpur coincided with the India-South Africa clash in the city, making it absolutely impossible for the taxi driver to not boast about the same and the ones that his city had proudly hosted earlier. 
The bus journey from Nagpur to Hyderabad was characterized by a general air of sulkiness as everyone including the driver, the conductor, my father and most passengers were in a foul mood because by that time, it had become clear that the Proteas will indeed beat Dhoni and Co. 
The flight back from Hyderabad to Delhi was perhaps the most agonizing. A failed TV screen and a fully booked airplane meant there was no way I could have escaped the non-stop chatter of the two boisterous and deceptively emaciated-looking teenage co-passengers, who had enough cricket within them to fill from cover-to-cover the hallowed jubilee edition of Wisden, Sportstar or some such.
If you can’t lick ‘em.
The battle between me and cricket is as one one-sided as an inebriated Canada-Dream World XI clash. Clearly there’s no escaping cricket in India. But if there is one thing that the Sachins and the McGraths have taught me, it is to never give in.
And so, the only option left for a cricket illiterate like me is to take the good old Indian method that sees most of us cruise/pant through the toughest exams-cramming. I have decided to read as much as I can on cricket. I plan to religiously go through pre-match reports, match reports, post-match reports and all other kind of reports that sports media deem fit to be shared with the rest of the world. I will try not to worry too much about Boria Majumdar getting jostled by ecstatic/homicidal fans while listening to him answer in a frighteningly angry voice Arnab Goswami’s mile-long questions after each match gets over. I will also ask my brother, however reluctant he is, to (re)draw, label and explain the cricket ground on a sheet and elaborate on the differences between a hook, a pull and a cover drive.
The effort has to be made because it is not just about the World Cup, which, though seemingly endless, will end in less than a fortnight. It has to be made because it is important that we keep trying to learn new things and explore unfamiliar territory, however overwhelming and noisy it may be. It is important because the brain, God’s most precious gift to human kind, must be challenged constantly to keep it fit and agile.
But mostly, it is important because a seemingly innocuous snore fest of a story on the relative merits of buying advertising rights for World Cup and IPL act as a constant reminder of yet another threatening event looming large.
*The title has been copied verbatim from a friend’s write-up for a college mag article. I think her name was Swati, and I am sure she was a computer science student. 
**The blog was first published on the website I work for, http://www.dailybhaskar.com.
———————-

The Emperors who love their new clothes

CWG: As I see(saw?) it

As the brickbats metamorphose into bouquets, Rising India heaves a collective sigh of relief. For weeks, its women and men got force fed with exactly the kind of ugly news that they had started believing was on its way to becoming a thing of the past. Every morning, television and newspapers nudged another bit of flimsy cover off organizers’ incompetence and rapacity, leaving a foul taste in our mouths, bringing us face-to-face with the truth regarding our sheer lack of moral fiber. How painful it was for clean, well-to-do and tech savvy India to know that the taxes it coughed up so that poor India looked a little less embarrassingly so, were being used to pay the car/petrol/foreign trip/house renovation bill of some remorseless babu, or whoever his favorite private vendor was! The ballooning Commonwealth bill made us groan in bitter agony. The final nail in the coffin was the unclean lavatories that greeted the visiting gora inspectors. Why in the name of buckling bridges, we asked, could we not flush the stinking mess before the world saw it? And why did the overzealous video journalists have to make sure that the incriminating evidence was preserved for posterity, rendering generations of smart, hygienically conscious urban Indians vulnerable to jokes that began with, “What do the Indian, the Pakistani, and the one-year old have in common”?

The embarrassment melted away like a wad of butter left under the post floods bright Delhi sun with the grand opening. The opening was not just any other opening. Heck, it was the mother of all openings. Those who caught the razzmatazz on air declared that it shone brighter than Beijing. Its awesomeness was hailed by the western media that withdrew its earlier criticism and showered praise on the quintessential Indian ability of putting together impressive shows without foolishly bothering to work on it for too long or too dedicatedly. It was an inauguration that looked so gorgeous it did exactly what Kalmadi’s overpriced legal doctor must have ordered: dazzle the country into collective blindness. The television screen had so far offered nausea, heartache, and reasons to stay out of the capital till the ignominious hilarity was over. The opening made many of us cancel that ticket to Simla/Singapore/Saharsa and reassert ourselves as the proud residents of the prettified Delhi.

The average Dehliite, particularly the facebooking variety, could not be prouder of the miraculous turn of events. The ones who managed the arbitrarily priced passes could not wait to ‘update’ the rest of the virtual world on the fact that they are indeed THERE AT THE JLN STADIUM WATCHING IT ALL FROM AS CLOSE AS ONE CAN GET TO WHERE ALL THE ACTION IS (You could almost hear them clap their hands and chirp, “Yaye me!” at the end). Those who sat at home made sure they splashed extra long shot images of fireworks at the stadium, close up shots of food stalls, and mid shots of sparkling clean CWG rooms and even more sparkling clean and now excrement free CWG toilets on their profile pages. Surely, they knew that the pictures were only one google search away from all internet users, let alone the ones on their ‘friend list’, and did not need to be ‘shared’ in the first place. The intention was entirely different, loud, and clear: to let the unpatriotic ones know that they had been wrong all along. True, the bid was won only because a handful of megalomaniacal Indian leaders promised more money to train the visiting athletes than other smarter bidders did. True, the Games came to India in a manner best described as clandestine, with no effort at forming a consensus, or even initiating a broad based discussion on it. True, equipments were hired at many times the price the most expensive of their kind are sold anywhere in the world. True, money was sucked in by a bottomless pit of rapaciousness and depravity that the unholy trinity of the Indian politician, the bureaucrat, and the opportunist private player form. But, at the end of it all, we got magic mehndi, magic tabla (both by kids who neither got nor desired a single tainted rupee), and a shiny, shiny opening ceremony—one blessed by the Prince and the Parker, or the kind of people we like to pretend to be indifferent to and even laugh at, but whose approval we seek anxiously, even if unconsciously.

Isn’t this high level of comfort with misappropriation of our own money something that warrants closer scrutiny? There is a simple test to find the answer. All one needs to do is imagine everything happening in a more personal context. Suppose a burglar comes to your house and tells you, “Look. Give me all your money. I will keep half of it with me. The rest I will spend on throwing a party. I will pay my relatives to be the caterers. Since I am as incompetent as my buffoon caterer relatives, I will take forever to arrange the party. Obviously, the tent decoration DJ wallahs will be arranged at the last minute, so they won’t have a choice but to charge an obscene amount. So, I will come back to you to demand more. We will keep paying more and more till we pay enough to pull the party. And, you will be happy at the end of it all because the guests will be very fussy and sophisticated and if impressed, will pat you on your back and say, “Good job, li’l fella!” Also, we will tell everybody that it was you (cough*moron*cough) who threw the party!”

With the already cleaner parts of Delhi scrubbed further clean, fixed and face-lifted, we can all get ready for the cultural evenings at Connaught Place, smoother traffic for some time and of course, the closing ceremony, the last among which we hope and pray will be glorious enough for future generations to weave poems around. The events (the sporting contests, the matches, the G-a-m-e-s in Commonwealth Games, remember?) will undoubtedly be badly organized; however, that will be okay because as a country that’s still developing poor hungry malnourished, it has created enough shine already. The government, overpaid and underworked as it may be, will have been criticized enough already, thanks to the masters of journalistic overkill, so we will have to cut it some slack. And of course, the success of the real heroes, the truly unsullied, hard working, devoted and highly un-Kalmadi-ish Nehwals, Bindras and Devvarmans will thoughtlessly be associated with the OC, and the memory of the humble and smiling Indian sportsperson at the podium will erase all traces of moral degeneration (governmental, private, individual and collective) that was flung into our unwilling faces for far too long. Nobody will pause to realize that the winners did not win because of the sarkari effort; they won in spite of it. And the culprits, the utterly shameless, who participated in the multi thousand crore scam will get away with a little jeering and booing and no serious punishment, because cases against them will drag till the day editorials will declare the scam too old and inconsequential compared to fresh and bigger ones.

The question that needs asking now is, will we always be okay with this elaborate structure of deceit, procrastination, ineptitude, opacity, high handedness and sheer greed that the smallest to the biggest players with power have created for themselves? Will we ever get rid of our complacency that tells us to ‘relax and adjust’ to the whims and manic fancies of the class of people that was supposed to serve the society and not gorge on it? Will we always be comfortable with the systematic exploitation of the youngest to the oldest among the poor, who are paid peanut shells to create pretty, shiny things for us to feed our enormously inflated egos and visual appetites with? Will our love for shiny always keep us indifferent towards the fate of the atrociously poor living in plastic tents, defecating in the open, drinking water unfit for dogs, and watching their salt and starch-fed kids mutate into stunted half women and men because well, they are just too many and hence, deserve animal existence?

The answer is a frightening yes. We could have boycotted the Games but we did not. We could have taken out marches against the desi plunderers but we did not. The protests ended at sending smart anagram-ish smses and letters to the editors, many of who realized they ought to anger their consumers only to the extent that they do not bid goodbye to the telly/paper subscription permanently. In fact, we ended up endorsing every single act of pilferage that the Old and the Shameless indulged in with brazen callousness. Teary eyed, we saw, celebrated and got choked with pride at the farce of a fantastic opening followed by eleven days of organizational goof ups that could not be hidden by bright fireworks.

One final (and admittedly rhetorical) question: Aren’t we all sick and tired of the insatiably corrupt who have made permanent the wide chasm between the rich and the rotting, something that could have been bridged to a reasonable extent? We are. But perhaps, we are sicker and more tired of the unpalatable truth that dims India’s shine a bit. It is precisely this London Tipton-like weakness for shiny that the cannibal-like powerful in India continue to exploit. Each time death, decay and destruction start grossing out the living and thriving among us, the modern day maharajas put up a show-the party that we pay for unwittingly and grow to enjoy, grudgingly at first, and enthusiastically towards the brainwashed end.

नक्सलवाद: एक गंभीर समस्या

प्रधान मंत्री द्वारा आंतरिक सुरक्षा के लिए सबसे गंभीर समस्या कहलाये जाने वाले नक्सलवाद के मुद्दे ने देश का ध्यान अपनी ओर बड़ी मजबूती से खींच लिया है. नक्सली हिंसा की खबरें और तसवीरें अख़बार के पन्नों व टी वी चैनलों पर अब लगभग हर दूसरे दिन हमें ये याद दिलाती हैं कि इस समस्या की ओर और लापरवाही बरतना भयानक तबाही का कारण बन सकती है. आंकडें बताते हैं कि पिछले पाँच वर्षों में दस हज़ार से अधिक असैनिक नागरिक नक्सली हिंसा की बली चढ़ गए हैं. पिछले तीन महीनों में ही केंद्रीय रिज़र्व पोलिस बल के सौ से अधिक जवान भी नक्सलियों के विरुद्ध भिडंत में शहीद हो चुके हैं. ज़ाहिर है, ये गंभीर समस्या एक ऐसे समाधान की प्रतीक्षा में है जो न केवल वर्तमान में जारी खून खराबे पर अंकुश लगा सके बल्की भविष्य में भी इस तरह की बर्बादी की सम्भावना को जड़ से उखाड़ दे.

लेकिन किसी भी मुश्किल का हल निकलने के लिए उसकी तह तक पहुंचना आवश्यक होता है. हिंसा अचानक ही बिना किसी वजह नहीं भड़कती. इतिहास साक्षी है कि घोर सामाजिक, आर्थिक और राजनैतिक असंतोष ही लोगों को हथियार उठाने पर मजबूर करती है. आज भारत का एक विशाल जनसमूह खुद को दुःख और निराशा के ऐसे जाल में फँसा पाता है जिससे देश की मुख्यधारा से जुड़े अपेक्षाकृत धनी लोगों का कोई सरोकार नहीं है. उदारीकरण के पिछले दो दशकों में पढ़े लिखे, शहरी युवक-युवतियों के लिए सैकड़ों नए आयाम खुलते नजार आये. लेकिन मानव संसाधन विकास के लिए ज़रूरी मूलभूत सुख साधन जैसे पेयजल, खाद्यान्न उपलब्धी, टीकाकरण, स्वास्थ्य सेवा, शिक्षा एवं व्यवसायिक प्रशिक्षण की अनुपस्थिति में देश के करोड़ों लोग भूख, गरीबी और निःशब्दता के शिकार होकर १९९१ से प्रारंभ हुई आर्थिक तेज़ी में भागीदारी से वंचित रह गए. यही नहीं, देश के अपेक्षाकृत मुट्ठी भर संपन्न लोगों की भौतिक सुख सुविधाओं की माँग की आपूर्ति के लिए नए नए उद्योग स्थापित किये जाने लगे. इस तरह के विकास को अंजाम देने के लिए ज़मीन, बिजली, पानी आदि की निरंकुश खपत की जाने लगी. कारखाने खड़े करने के लिए कई एकड़ जंगल व उपजाऊ ज़मीन साफ़ कर दिए गए, खनन कार्य वैध तथा उससे भी कई गुना अधिक अवैध रूप से किया जाने लगा, तथा ऊर्जा परियोजनाओं को रूप देने के लिए कई नदियों को बिना सोचे समझे खतरनाक रूप से बाँध दिया गया. इस पूरे घटनाक्रम में पर्यावरण के विनाश के साथ साथ विस्थापना की जटिल समस्या उत्पन्न हो गयी. किसान तथा जंगलों पर निर्भर लोगों को बिना उचित मुआवज़े, और कई बार पोलिस व किराये के गुंडों की मदद से, अपनी पुश्तैनी ज़मीन व आजीविका से हाथ धोने पर मजबूर कर दिया गया. सरकारी उदासीनता का शिकार होकर लाखों की तादाद में लाचारी महसूस करने वाले ये लोग तब पूरी तरह बेआवाज़ हो गए जब मीडिया फिल्म जगत, क्रिकेट तथा शहरी चकाचौंध को ‘कवर’ करने में एकनिष्टता से जुट गयी. ऐसे में इनमें से कुछ का प्रकट या अप्रकट रूप में हिंसा की ओर बढ़ना न्यायसंगत नहीं तो कम से कम स्वाभाविक ज़रूर प्रतीत होता है.

कोई भी जटिल समस्या विचारपूर्ण व बहुआयामी समाधान की माँग करती है. नक्सलवाद को ख़त्म करने के लिए प्रभावित लोगों के दिलों से निराशा के साए को प्रेम, सौहार्दता व ठोस तथा शर्तहीन मदद के प्रकाश से मिटाना होगा. सरकार की नक्सल प्रभावित जिलों की ओर ज़िम्मेदारी आर्थिक पुनर्निर्माण की योजनाओं की उद्घोषणा मात्र से पूरी नहीं हो सकती. इन योजनाओं को बिना किसी लापरवाही के तथा जवाबदेही व पारदर्शिता के साथ आकार और अंजाम देना अत्यावश्यक है. ये तभी संभव है जब नेताओं, दफ्तारशाहों और स्थानीय प्रशासन के बीच पनप रहे अनैतिक व नुक्सानदेह संसर्ग पर विराम लगा दिया जाता है. कई गैर सरकारी कंपनियों की बिना यथोचित क्षतिपूर्ति के तथा अवैध तरीके से खनिज, इमारती लकड़ी व उद्योग इकाई स्थापित करने की प्रवृति पर प्रतिबन्ध लगाने के लिए केंद्रीय कानूनों को सुधारने व दृढ़ता से लागू करने की आवश्यकता है.

जहाँ तक सी आर पी एफ के जवानों का सवाल है, हमें ये याद रखना होगा कि ये सचेतन, हाड़ मांस के बने इंसान हैं, न कि बटन दबाते ही चालू हो जाने वाले रोबोट जो अत्यल्प वेतन, हर तीसरे महीने तबादले तथा बदहाल चिकित्सीय सेवाओं की मार झेलते हुए भी अमानवीय परिस्थियों में बिना मानसिक या शारीरिक थकावट के निरंतर देश के प्रति अपनी ज़िम्मेदारी का निर्वाह कर सकते हैं. सरकार को इनकी ज़रूरतों की आपूर्ति बेहतर व नियमित तनख्वाह, पुख्ता स्वास्थ्य सेवाओं, जीवन बीमा, बच्चों की शिक्षा तथा तैनाती में स्थिरता के माध्यम से करने की ज़िम्मेदारी उठानी होगी. मूलतः एक ‘कानून व प्रणाली’ लागू करने वाली एजेंसी होने की वजह से इन लाठीधारी सिपाहियों को बीहड़ जंगलों में नक्सलियों द्वारा जारी गोरिल्ला युद्ध को समझने व जीतने के लायक प्रशिक्षण अधिकतर मिली ही नहीं. अतः वर्तमान में इनकी पीड़ाजनक व एकतरफा हार पर विराम लगाने के लिए इनके युद्ध कौशल को तत्काल ही सुधारने की, या एक ऐसे नए संयुक्त बल को स्थापित करने की ज़रुरत है जो नक्सली तत्वों में सैनिक भिडंत में जीत के प्रति संदेह उत्पन्न कर दे तथा उन्हें बातचीत व अन्य प्रजातान्त्रिक रास्तों से मतभेद का हल निकालने के लिए विवश कर दे.

विद्वान कहते हैं कि युद्ध में कोई विजयी नहीं होता. ये कहावत नक्सलवाद के साथ जारी संघर्ष के मामले में भी सटीक बैठती है. इस महाभारत में दोनों ओर एक ही मिट्टी से जन्मे लोग शामिल है. सच्ची भारतीय वह है जो हर देशवासी के सौभाग्य को अपना सौभाग्य माने और हर भारतीय आंसू को शोक का कारण समझे. अपने चारों ओर खड़ी स्वार्थ की दीवारों को तोड़कर समाज के हर व्यक्तिकी आवश्यकताओं व आकांक्षाओं को साथ लेकर चलने में ही चिरस्थायी एकता, प्रसन्नता और शांति संभव है.

In search of fun and some God

Recently, I attended a wedding in Deoghar, Jharkhand. The marriage was a splendid affair. I had the time of my life, dancing, chatting with the rather beleaguered jeejajee, and indulging in exactly the kind of silly behavior that always made me roll my eyes at the dimwittedness of giddy onscreen saalis.

The next morning, many of us felt it a duty to go to the nearby Baba Baidyanath temple. Coming all the way to the holy town and not visiting the sacred jyotirlingam didn’t make much sense after all.

Suffused with early morning post- breakfast energy and enthusiasm, we decided to walk the distance between our hotel and the temple. The weather had turned pleasantly warm. Moreover, the unsaid agreement among us devoted pilgrims was that shunning the luxury of a car might help us earn ‘brownie points’ in our race to reach the closest to the Almighty.

The locality in which the temple is situated is quite like any other in the country. The streets become predictably narrower and the crowd denser as one gets closer to the temple grounds. Yet, once inside the mandir parisar, what first strikes any visitor is the sheer number of devotees thronging the place. Women, men and kids- all dressed in their brightest best- seem to converge in this single place of worship. Frenzied pandas sniff out uncertain visitors, materialize before them, and promise “trouble- free” entry into the main temple- the one that houses the Jyotirlingam itself. In return, he expects no less than a few hundreds, undoubtedly a meager price to be paid in order to be able to meet GOD Himself.

The main temple throws up a few surprises of its own. A solitary door acts as both the entrance and the exit. Crossing the threshold, you find yourself in a narrow, claustrophobic corridor, being pushed and pulled at the same time, wondering if this is how you feel just before you say your final goodbye. The corridor leads you into the small area in the middle of which the jyotirlingam is positioned. You look at other (visibly) more experienced devotees and do exactly what they do- fold your hand, throw the flowers and gangajal on the lingam, and then start thinking what will be there for lunch. That is exactly when your sweet, hired- help- of- a- panda hollers into your ears, “YOU NEED TO SIT AND PRAYYY!!” So you sit down and brayyy.

The battle to get out of the mandir is so tortuous and suffocating that you feel like Harry Potter trying to reach the surface of the sea, with the effect of gillyweed already starting to wear out. The faceless mass then literally carries you out and you step out of the intimidating shrine into the sun, breathe in gulps of air and promise yourself, “never again.”

And just when you think the worse is over, you notice a beheaded goat at a distance- a bali, an offering to please God and keep Him good humored. The headless goat keeps flailing its limbs, twisting in pain, obviously believing it is still alive. And then you try to recall if it was Einstein who once said he could not conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures.

In today’s day and age, religion does not pervade our day- to- day lives, or dictates our actions in as decisive a way as it did, say, a century ago. Yet, many of us still find it impossible to wiggle our way out of the complex web of dated and logic- defying (washing stone structures with milk and honey? Ringing bells to wake God up from His slumber?) rites and rituals. We join hands and bow before idols. We tie the red thread on our wrists. We expect married women to wear sindoor, and widows, white. And we do all this unthinkingly.

So religious rituals still remain the opium of the masses. By masses, I do not mean Asimov’s ignorant, gullible and yet- to- evolve multitudes “out there”. Rather, it includes educated, scientifically aware, modern young men and women like you and me.
And it is only after we go on a holy pilgrimage ourselves that the true meaning of Marx’s words hits us hard. Before any puja or holy trip, we forget that it is simply in the faces of men and women that we ought to see God. And no matter how excruciatingly uncomfortable the experience might be, we emerge out of these with a weird sense of… accomplishment and tell ourselves,

“Ha. Three dhaams down, one more to go!”