A final thought on AIB Roast

I arrived on the “Roast the AIB Roast” scene a little later than others, so obviously I am going to write about it for slightly longer than others. Here’s a list of questions that a lot of people put to me as well as to others who said there was something wrong with AIB’s show and, more importantly, the way AIB responded to criticism.

Nobody asked you to watch the show. Why did you watch it?

I look at Karan Johar’s disclaimer as AIB’s first and final line of defence. Ignoring it taught me a valuable lesson: never take any warning lightly, even if it comes from a seemingly harmless man, even one with a history of producing films so impossibly sweet you can still feel some of it lodged between your teeth.

(It was like clicking “I agree” on the internet – I may be about to promise them my soul, but damn that won’t stop me.)

So yes, I didn’t take the disclaimer seriously; I wouldn’t have gone beyond it otherwise. But apart from the disclaimer, AIB did all it could to draw in as many people to watch all the instalments of the show.

AIB Roast wasn’t a private party that the public gate-crashed and then trashed. When AIB shared the video with the public (and they share a video because it brings them money – always remember they are in it for the money) they really, really, really wanted the public, and not just those who bought tickets to the show, to watch it.

People watched AIB Roast not only because AIB advertised it heavily (I clicked it after at least three days of its ads and “shares” plastered all over my social media walls), but also because they had done some interesting work (which had their own problematic bits but more about that some other day) in the past, so the show held promise.

Also they roped in Arjun Kapoor and Ranvir Singh, two mainstream Bollywood men who are popular beyond AIB’ s niche audience, which made ignoring the show practically impossible.

“Nobody asked you to watch” is not and can never be a valid defence for any film/book/ show in public domain, particularly one which is virtually begging and screaming to be read or watched.

Almost everything in the show is part of normal, everyday speech these days. From ma-bhen ki gaali to making fun of a person’s dark skin to gay jokes – we are all increasingly comfortable with all of it. Also, it’s just comedy. Why must you take comedy so seriously?

Not everyone uses cuss words or indulges in sexist or racist jokes. Even if they do, it shouldn’t necessarily become an absolute standard to follow and approve of.

In fact while there is a sort of general agreement on regulating media content for children, an adult who expresses misgivings about foul language or abrasive humour has to face ridicule, hatred or unsolicited suggestions to return to the dreary world of Hindi television shows.

A general assumption about grown-ups is that they must abide by a single, immutable code of grown-up behavior. This code includes the ability to not once flinch at foul language when we come across it in normal conversations and also in popular media.

This licence goes completely unchallenged when it comes to the sacred art of comedy even if so much of it is rooted in and perpetuates historically bigoted views about what is essentially normal and what is abnormal, what deserves to be mocked and what doesn’t, and what’s attractive and what far less so.

Failing to adhere to that code of conduct draws derision. Overly sensitive, prude, boring, “butthurt” and Feminazis are some of the terms swiftly bandied about at the hint of a discordant voice.

It looks like a few laughs is too big a price to pay for even beginning to realize, for example, that laughing at “dark enough to be screened for Ebola” destroys whatever good we do by signing up for Nandita Das’s “dark is beautiful” campaign.

Humour has a deeper, more lasting impact than most other kinds of speech or writing. Ideas and ideologies spread faster through crisp, bite-sized jokes, pictures, tweets and FB updates than through detailed discussions. In fact, I have half a mind to dump this article and generate a “Batman slaps Robin” meme instead to drive across an insult if not a point. But I also think it isn’t such a bad idea to take a genre so powerful a little more seriously. Not ban the video/block the channel/burn the cinema hall down kind of seriously, but carefully enough to see through the average comedians’ “we are mere clowns, neutral observers, with malice toward one and all” kind of harmless looking persona.

AIB’s humour is informed by its members’ worldview, which isn’t perfect even if they have mastered the art of delivering their message effectively. Tanmay and company have many things to say and some of them are funny and evolved. Others, however, are regressive and shocking simply because they couldn’t think long and hard enough to draw upon, say, racial quirks in a funny yet inclusive way. A line exists between edgy and vile humor – it is often blurred but is still there – and recognising it is simply a matter of common sense and not really a body blow to free speech as feared by so many.

If you don’t like it, why do you have to talk about it? Why can’t you just shut up?

Because it is really difficult to shut up about things. Just look at my Facebook newsfeed, for example. People who found criticism of AIB Roast unnecessary are also responsible for an endless stream of complaints and opinion on everything. By everything I mean everything, including people who send others Candy Crush requests, people who complain about those sending them Candy Crush requests, traffic jams, bad music on FM while stuck in traffic jams, clingy friends and indifferent friends, hot summers and cold winters, ridiculously happy people and people who drag you down by their endless whining, meddlesome Delhi and rude Bombay, and so on.

All of us talk about stuff we don’t like. It’s human nature. I actually enjoy all of it. It takes all sorts to make a world, and my Facebook newsfeed as well as all other discussions happening online and offline are just a reflection of that. There’s got to be some kind of give and take here. And if it’s too much to ask for, then there is always the “unfollow” button to be considered.

I am still going to insist. Why could not you ignore it?

As a matter of fact I did. Twice.

The first time was when I watched the show and decided, not unlike most others, that it was funny in parts but not extraordinarily so.

The second time was when I casually scrolled down to the comments section. This was when I (half) sat up and (barely) noticed about 200 AIB fanboys attacking a woman and saying pretty nasty stuff about her, mostly along the lines of how she is “an ugly s****h I****n darkie” who “deserved to get raped in her ugly dark c***”. Her fault? She said she enjoyed the show but didn’t like “dark people” jokes.

There is a line of argument which says that it is normal for cult followers to use violent language against those who do not whole-heartedly endorse the specific area of culture they worship so ardently. Most of us avoid corners where we aren’t welcome, but your heart does go out to those who learn the hard way the importance of lying prostrate before a cult leader and pledging eternal allegiance to him.

Anyway, I finally decided to write something only after AIB released their letter which proved that quite like the actors/studios they criticized they were a smug, hypocritical and understandably scared little bunch of young men.

Smug because they went on and on about the support they got from a mob-like fans who got far more hurt than those who criticized the show.

Hypocritical because AIB had no word of advice for their angry, mob-like supporters. As a group of people who make a living off telling others to take the proverbial chill pill, AIB’s silence reeked of double standards.

And cowardly because for all their bravado they were also quick to pull off the video without even being asked to.

They could not do all of that and hope to get away with it with not even a polite blog or two about it all.

Why should I listen to Amir Khan? He was associated with DK Bose.

Once upon a time, Amir Khan backed a song called “DK Bose.” And that makes some of us think he has double standards because now he has a problem with AIB.

If Amir found AIB Roast offensive then he should have ideally apologised for DK Bose as well. But here’s a little something to jog your memory. Even before “DK Bose” Amir did movies such as “Dil” which set feminism back by a thousand years. He has said sorry for all of that and now he does Satyamev Jayate.

While we are at it, Shahrukh Khan played a stalker of women, an eve-teaser, a stalker and killer of women and, once again, a stalker and killer of women in Darr, DDLJ, Baazigar and Anjaam, respectively. He is now talking about setting a good example for his kids.

Amitabh Bachchan’s “Jumma Chumma” became the anthem for a generation of road Romeos. The man now wants the nation to save their girl children.

If we dig up dirt on every Bollywood star every time he says a remotely good thing but still annoys us because we choose to be weird like that, then we are perhaps letting our myopic, small-minded whataboutery overwhelm our better judgement.

Like it or not, Hindi film actors have great influence over your kids and your neighbours’. So we could consider stop being such all-knowing dirt-diggers and shaming them on the rare occasion when they are not being completely insensitive and are saying the right thing after all.

There are more important matters in the world that people should worry about.

Predictably enough, there were those who suddenly decided to discuss GDPs, violence against women and low allocation toward education in a strange, unrelated sort of defence of AIB.

Well, the mind is capable of entertaining more than one thought at a time. It can reflect on real-life crime and online crime, violent actions and violent words and bankruptcy of states and bankruptcy of ideas.

I gladly gave those who were outraging over what they felt was needless criticism of AIB (as opposed to valid criticism of child labour) the benefit of doubt that they must be quietly doing their bit for the society in the form of donations, volunteering and backing social awareness campaigns.

But I also wish that the same faith could have been shown by them towards those who expect better from popular media. It’s unfortunate that matters of poverty or underprivileged children erupt most forcefully in public discourse as a way to drown out uncomfortable noises against a trend or cult or industry that one is personally fond of or has a stake in.

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तुम किसी के जरखरीद गुलाम नहीं हो, ए.आई.बी के भी नहीं

शार्ली एब्दो के एक कार्टून में एक अजीब, असंतुलित सी दिखने वाली, भागती हुई नग्न मुस्लिम महिला की ass में बुर्क़े का एक छोर धँसा हुआ था और दूसरा हवा में लहरा रहा था। उस चित्र पर मुझे बिलकुल हँसी नहीं आई। पूरी कोशिश की कि हँसी आ जाए पर नहीं आई (पर्दे से इतनी सख़्त नफ़रत है कि अपने विवाह में भी सर ढाँपने का इरादा नहीं है, लेकिन उस दिन न उस कार्टून को समझ सकी न ही उसे बनाने वाले की इज़्ज़त कर सकी)।

ठीक उसी तरह ऑल इंडिया बकचोद (ए.आई.बी) का “रोस्ट”कार्यक्रम भी मुझे कुछ खास मज़ेदार नहीं लगा। एकाध चुटकुले अच्छे थे। तन्मय भट्ट की भाई-भतीजावाद पर चुटकी से कुछ तसल्ली मिली (हमारा एक तरफ़ डेमोक्रेसी की बीन बजाते-बजाते दूसरी तरफ़ अर्जुन कपूर और आलिया भट्ट जैसे बुरे कलाकारों को तबतक मुँह बंद कर झेलना जबतक वो रो-धोकर थोड़ा-बहुत अभिनय नहीं सीख लेते, दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण है)।

लेकिन अगर आपको ये लगता है कि ए.आई.बी की आलोचना का सवाल ही नहीं उठता तो मैं आपसे सहमत नहीं हो सकती। सबसे पहली बात तो यह कि “आप इतने काले/मोटे/भद्दे हैं” वाले जोक इंटरनेट पर सैकड़ों-हज़ारों की तादाद में फ्लोट करते रहते हैं। इस तरह के घिसे-पिटे व्यंग को नई शैली का ह्यूमर मानकर ए.आई.बी की ओर हमेशा-हमेशा के लिए कृतज्ञ या नतमस्तक हो जाने की ज़रुरत नहीं है।

दूसरी बात ये कि शो में गे जोक्स और माँ और बहन की गालियो की भरमार थी। लेकिन अगर गे जोक्स, माँ और बहन की गालियां (और शार्ली एब्दो के कार्टूनों में मुस्लिम औरतों की ass में बुर्का) मेरे तथाकथित प्रगतिशील मित्रों को अच्छी या क्षम्य लगती हैं तो इसके दो ही मतलब हो सकते हैं|

एक यह कि वो बोलने की आज़ादी छिन जाने की सम्भावना से बुरी तरह चिंतित हो गए हैं| बोलने की आज़ादी छिन जाने की घबराहट वाजिब है लेकिन उस घबराहट में सोचना बंद कर देने का क्या तुक है? चाहे सेंसर बोर्ड की मनमानी कैंची हो, चाहे किसी मुस्लिम धर्म गुरु द्वारा जारी किया गया फतवा या फिर किसी हिन्दू साधू की बेकार धमकियाँ, कोई आपकी वैचारिक स्वाधीनता पर विराम नहीं लगा सकता। डरिये मत; बन्दूक की गोलियों से शरीर छलनी हो सकता है, जज़्बा नहीं|

दूसरा मतलब ये हो सकता है कि शायद आज़ादी छिनने से ज़्यादा डर इस बात का है कि कहीं कोई आपको उन फतवा-प्रेमी या चड्डीवालों की तरह दकियानूसी न समझ बैठें या आपकी प्रोग्रेसिव छवि न खराब हो जाए या कोई आपके “सेंस ऑफ़ ह्यूमर” पर सवाल न कर दे| इसलिए आप अपने उन्हीं उसूलों को अनदेखा करने के लिए फटाफट तैयार हो जाते हैं जो आपको एक दो-पोस्ट पहले तक इतने प्रिय थे। अगर आप इतनी जल्दी डरकर अपने उसूलों पर यू-टर्न मारते हैं तो वो उसूल कभी आपके थे ही नही। आपकी तो बस एक इमेज थी जिसे आप किसी भी कीमत पर बचाना चाहते थे, चाहे वो कीमत आपकी अपनी विचारधारा ही क्यों न हो।

अगर माँ और बहन की गाली जायज़ है, तो कल लोग रेप जोक्स को भी जायज़ ठहरा सकते हैं। अगर एक बड़े गे निर्देशक की फिल्मों में काम करने के लिए मर्दों को अपनी पैंट उतारते देख आपको हँसी आ सकती है, तो आप तथाकथित “लूज़”, “चालाक” और “अपनी शकल और देह के सहारे आगे बढ़ने” वाली औरतों पर कटाक्ष करते लोगों को आड़े हाथ लेने का अधिकार भी खो देते हैं। अगर आप मुस्लिम औरतों का अभद्र प्रदर्शन देख कुछ ख़ास परेशान नहीं होते तो आपका नारीवाद बेहद खतरनाक रूप से खोखला है।

शार्ली एब्दो के हत्यारों से मुझे घिन थी और उनसे भी जो उन हत्याओं को न्यायसंगत सिद्ध करने में लगे हुए थे। धर्म, धार्मिक कर्म-काण्ड या फिर धार्मिक पुस्तकों के प्रति गंभीरता मेरी समझ से परे हैं। लेकिन मेरा मन दुखी भी हो रहा था क्योंकि उसे पता था कि इस बर्बरता के बाद “शार्ली एब्दो” की निंदा नामुमकिन हो गयी थी| चलो धर्म भूल जाओ पर उस पत्रिका के पन्नों पर हो रहे नारी के अपमान की, रंगभेद की और होमोफोबिया की चर्चा तक की सम्भावना ख़त्म हो चुकी थी|

शार्ली एब्दो की आलोचना करना भारतीय बुद्धिजीवियों के लिए कितना इनकनवीनिएंट है, ये मैं समझ सकती हूँ। पर ए.आई.बी से डरना तो हद ही हो गयी। मैं मानती हूँ कि तन्मय भट्ट ने आपको हँसाया होगा। मैंने भी उसके शो देखे हैं। मैं दिल से आज भी ये दुआ करती हूँ कि तन्मय और गैंग फले-फूले और ऐसे लोगों को मनोरंजन के विकल्प दे जिन्हें न सिमर की ससुराल से सरोकार है और न डॉली की डोली से। लेकिन तन्मय की हिम्मत से इतना अभिभूत न हों कि तन्मय के औसत दर्जे के ह्यूमर की आलोचना के हक़ के नाम तक पर आप बौखला जाएँ और खुद गाली-गलौज, पैसिव-एग्रेसिव अपडेट और “आमिर ने खुद क्या किया” जैसी whataboutery पर उतर आयें।

याद रखिये राह चलते हर लफंगे के मुँह से निकलने वाली गन्दी बात भी कई लोगों को हिम्मत वाली और मज़ेदार लगती हैं। बुरा मत मानियेगा (और कुछ लोग तो वैसे भी फ्री स्पीच की इतनी कदर करते हैं कि मोटी-मोटी गालियों कहे या सुने बिना उन्हें नींद ही नहीं आती होगी) लेकिन आपका ह्यूमर “ह्यूमर” और राह चलतों का ह्यूमर “ट्यूमर” समझना अव्वल दर्जे की मूर्खता और दोहरे मापदंड का उदाहरण है।

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.

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.

India at 60:what next?

India at 60: what next?
India poised. This is what an imposing billboard tells me every day I pass it by on my way from home to my beloved college in north campus. I travel by the Delhi metro, feel proud of it and rejoice at the news that more Indian cities will soon get the gift of efficiently-run and well-maintained metro railway in the near future. The dazzling malls, impressive high-rise corporate offices and glittering multiplexes in Gurgaon and Bangalore impress Indians and visiting foreigners alike. The GDP is pegged at an all-time high of 9.2% for the current fiscal, more and more foreign companies are exploring Indian markets and finding them an attractive destination for massive, long- term investments, Indian business houses like are quadrupling profits and merrily buying out international giants, the latest example being the much in news takeover of Corus by Tata Sons, and Indians living abroad are making their presence felt in their chosen fields, be it science, medicine, business, or arts and entertainment. The green revolution has resulted in a steep rise in domestic food production and has therefore ensured that India no longer suffers the humiliation of begging the western world for poor quality food grains in order to feed its hungry millions, and has also brought India to a position where it can help other nations meet their food requirements. Health care provided by several hospitals, with exceptionally well trained and qualified medical staff and state-of-the-art technology, is at par with the best in the world. Roads are the backbone of a country’s infrastructure, and the ambitious ‘Golden Quadrilateral Project’ aims at strengthening this very backbone. Apart from ensuring faster movement of people and finished goods, this project will result in quicker transportation of agricultural produce from villages to town and will therefore benefit rural and urban development programs alike. Nehru’s brainchild, the IITs, along with IIMs and several colleges in universities across the country are counted among some of the world’s best higher education institutions. Alumni of these colleges have proved themselves to be exceptionally capable of handling positions of responsibility as teachers, administrators, political leaders, sociologists, scientists, theatre personalities, movie makers, painters, doctors, engineers, and so on, and have thus contributed positively in the emergence of post- colonial India as a strong, dynamic, confident, and increasingly self- dependent nation.
To catalogue all of India’s achievements in the past 60 years is an uphill task, as there are just so many of them. Yet, today, the position that most of us find ourselves in is one which oscillates between the two extremes of tremendous optimism about what the future holds for us and scepticism regarding our ability, as a collective force, to overcome factors which can act as potential hindrances in our path to progress. In fact while we have been enormously successful in fields as diverse as space exploration programs and the IT sector, our sense of pride at these accomplishments diminishes a bit when, a closer look at the graph of the country’s development reveals some rather discomforting, below par performance in certain key areas. Inadequate focus on primary education, especially in rural areas, has resulted in only a marginal improvement in the country’s literacy rate, which is currently 59.5%, a far cry from what can be deemed even remotely respectable. A list of individual Indian women like Ms. Indira Nooyi, Dr. Kiran Bedi, late Ms. Kalpana Chawla and Ms. Shabana Azmi who’ve disregarded gender barriers, and combined hard work, perseverance and sheer genius with certain favourable factors such as great educational opportunities and supportive families to reach the acme of achievement in their chosen fields will be a seemingly endless one. But the high rate of female foeticide and abysmal sex ratio of the country as a whole and of some of the most economically advanced states such as Punjab, Haryana and the NCR in particular, throws light on continuance of a rigidly patriarchal society in which gender bias still appears commonplace. As other aspects of life get increasingly modernized, one observes an alarming rise in the hypnotic influence of extreme right- wing groups such as the Bajrang Dal over large sections of people from all over the country. Not even the most bullish week in the history of the Bombay Stock Exchange salvages the nation’s pride when dented irreparably by such monstrous acts such as the Godhra and post- Godhra riots, or the spine- chilling burning alive of Graham Staines and his two sons by frenzied religious fanatics. Reliance’s newest petrochemical refinery might make their Jamnagar project appear child’s play, and the Tatas might declare their intentions of taking over the planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto tomorrow, but as long as we keep getting such interesting news through newspapers delivered to us by malnourished, half- clothed child immigrants from Bihar and eastern UP, we’ll continue to languish at an embarrassing 126th position in the Human Development Index. The inhuman beating up of peacefully protesting Honda workers in Gurgaon, the recent Nithari massacre and the brutal atrocities perpetrated by police and army in sensitive areas such as Kashmir and Manipur, all reinforce the disheartening conclusion that unless your status equals that of someone like say, the head of Adobe in India, you’ll find it tough getting recognized as someone who holds the right to demand social justice. Hyderabad might be hailed as the IT capital of the country, but this information means little to the families of those farmers from Andhra Pradesh who are driven to suicide due to failure of crops every year.
At this crucial point in time, the immortal words said by Pundit Nehru on the glorious eve of India’s independence almost sixty years ago, come back to our minds. He had also said that freedom and power brings responsibility. Today, several of us find ourselves vested with great freedom and power, and therefore, with the responsibility of bringing about a meaningful change in the lives of the less privileged majority. There are several ways of doing this. A balance needs to be achieved between say, inviting MNCs to set up base in India and ensuring that they do not violate environmental standards while building offices and factories and also provide ample compensations to the project affected persons (PAPs). To decongest big cities like Delhi and Mumbai, immigrants should be provided with enough reasons to stay back in their native states by focussing on infrastructural development in not just the metros, but also in smaller capital cities like Patna and Ranchi. Governments should dare to dream big, as dreaming big is the first step towards achieving big. There is no reason, for example, for there to be only a single AIIMS or a single Delhi University in a country of over a billion. Just as every village deserves a primary school and a dispensary, every stat in the country deserves at least one fully equipped hospital and a well- run university. Adequate funds should be poured in rural development programmes to make them attractive enough to young, energetic individuals to be able to turn their backs to the currently much more alluring prospects in bigger cities. Most importantly, the nation should strive, as a whole, to take firm stands on issues of national interest. If a government dares to misuse tax money, or chooses to do nothing to stop the mass murder of a particular community, the rest of the nation should make it clear that they won’t stand such regressive policies by voting it out of power in the next elections.
Finally, to go back to Nehruji’s words, and modify them a bit, the achievement of 60 years of independence marks not the beginning of a period of rest, but one of incessant striving, to end the poverty and ignorance of the suffering millions, to wipe every tear from every eye. And as long as we fail to realize the great visionary’s dream, our task will be deemed far from over.