Monday, October 18, 2010

Drown in a Palmful of Water

Even as India’s ranks in 67th IFPRI's Global Hunger Index of 2010, placing it lower than any other Asian nation other than Bangladesh, the Indian press wets themselves over the successful Commonwealth Games and the good it has done for India’s “image”.

Well, P Sainath in a scathing article, disagrees somewhat:

“The point simply, is this: The Commonwealth Games were no showcase, but a mirror of India 2010. If they showcased anything, they showcased Indian crony, casino capitalism at its most vigorous. To build such a society and then expect The Games won't reflect its warts and sores is high optimism. But never in our history have an elite been so in love with themselves, so soaked in narcissism; so anxious about what ‘the World' thinks. So contemptuous of what our own people think, about anything. (Though the Commonwealth wouldn't exist without them. Indians account for over 55 per cent of all people in the Commonwealth.)”

If, even after 20 years of liberalisation, Nepal (Nepal! NEPAL!) is still better at tackling hunger than us, then I’d have to agree with Sainath that something is very,very wrong and resurrecting our image is the least of our problems.

Or maybe what the real problem is the “If, even after” in the previous sentence; if we replace that with “Because of”, will it make things better?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Here’s a brilliant outline of the super-rich class of Delhi by Rana Dasgupta published in a 2009 edition of Granta:

“Delhi is a city of traumas,’ he says. ‘You can’t understand anything if you don’t realize that everyone here is trying to forget the horrifying things that have happened in their families. Delhi was destroyed by the British in 1857. It was destroyed again by Partition in 1947. It was torn apart by the anti-Sikh rampages of 1984. Each of these moments destroyed the culture of the city, and that is the greatest trauma of all. Your entire web of meanings is tied up in culture, and if that is lost, your self is lost.


That’s why Delhi is by far the most consumerist city in India,’ he continues. ‘People buy obscene amounts of stuff here. Delhi has an impoverished symbolic vocabulary: there hasn’t been enough time since all these waves of destruction for its symbols to be restored. If I don’t have adequate symbols of the self, I can’t tell the difference between me and mine. So people buy stuff all the time to try and make up for the narcissistic wound. It’s their defence against history.”

And if you like this, or like Delhi (if that’s possible) or live there (there, there...) you should have a look at Ahmed Ali’s Twilight in Delhi, a book about an elite family of Shahjahanbad set in the early 20th Century. The book is actually badly written and its language is oddly archaic considering it’s not a very old book, but it does paint a fairly vivid picture of the elite classes of Delhi in those times and the contrast with the present—kaboothar baazi vs racing Bentleys; indolent poetry vs frenzied bhangra and so on-- couldn't be starker .

Maybe that explains why Delhi is so neurotically in-your-face (or at least, relative to most Indian cities it is)—changing who you are, so drastically and so completely, must really be tough on you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Reaction to the Verdict and a Few Other Bits

Much of the mainstream media has accepted the lack of reaction as a sort of unquestioning acceptance of the verdict from the Indian Muslim (the Hindu and the Outlook are two exceptions, though). However, opinions are now being aired as people stop cowering in fear of another communal conflagration and cautiously peek over the parapet.

Vidya Subrahmaniam of The Hindu in a sharp article on the Muslim reaction to the verdict:
“They spoke calmly but clearly, a small minority with a sense of resignation but almost all others feeling pained that 21st century India could substitute reason with faith. There were no raised voices, no uncontrolled flashes of anger, no talk of invading the streets or starting an agitation. Mr. Shamshad Khan was “deeply disappointed” with the “extra-judicial” verdict but felt Muslims had other far more important matters to focus on: “Are we going to be held hostage to this issue forever?”
Lots of smug talk of India having “moved on” in the air as well, as if 20 years back Indians were a bunch of retards who didn’t even have the good sense to “move on”. Of course, after experiencing the horror of 1992/93, moving on might not be a decision to take—it might be the only direction left to move.

“Yet conversations revealed an impatience to leave behind the past and embrace the future, however uncertain. There were complaints about biases, about being shut out of opportunities, about a sense of alienation. Yet even by these yardsticks, the world ahead was better for the young than the violence and darkness of the past. Their parents would know: All that mattered to the community in the decade after December 6, 1992 was their personal safety. Mulayam Singh in U.P. and Lalu Prasad in Bihar became saviours not because they delivered jobs but simply because they pledged to protect Muslim lives. A constant refrain heard in those troubled times was: “Hum hi nahin to aur kuch ka kya matlab?” (If we are not alive what use is anything else?) Who would want a return to that blighted past?”

Javed Anand, in the Indian Express, also makes a similar point in a somewhat disjointedly written article. Rhetorically asking whether there was “justice in India” in relation to the spate of communal killings after 1947, he questions the platitudes floating about with regard to "reconciliation" post the verdict:

"In the last week or so the media has discovered a magic word: reconciliation. Nelson Mandela has shown the world that in certain circumstances there could be an alternate route to peace — Truth and Reconciliation. But in the land of the Mahatma there is no Mandela in sight and the demand of the hour is reconciliation minus justice, minus truth."

Interestingly, he also advises “Muslims to unilaterally relinquish their claim to the disputed plot” , a claim echoed by many including the VHP. It’s tough to understand whether this is a genuine suggestion or something that Anand says almost in frustration or even anger. But assuming it’s the former, I fail to understand how Muslims, as a collective, would be able to do anything about that plot of land? I mean what does the word “Muslim” mean here? Do the Muslims of India own that land? When the court awarded 3,500 acres of land to Muslims (the language of at least one of the judges not to mention the Times of India on the day after the verdict) did it mean that each of India’s 14 crore Muslims got a fraction of that land? Or the do the Muslims of India control the Sunni Waqf Board to which the land actually went? Are there elections where Muslims from Kerala to Bengal vote to elect the members of the Sunni Waqf board? What could the Muslims of Bombay, who suffered grievously in 1992, have done to change the Board’s mind and their fate? Fired them? Voted them out? Gone en masse to UP and lynched them? I mean, how do you give up something that's not yours, that you have no control over?

Jumping tracks, at the very least, it’ll be interesting to see how this reaction is handled by India’s political class. The Congress, as usual it seems, is beset by indecision and the greed to have a finger in every pie. The BJP, as would be obvious, is over the moon, its vicious campaign of more than 20 years being bought to a neat end endorsed by the Judiciary, no less. Provincial satraps like Mulayam might try and sledgehammer their way into the Muslim vote banks of the heartland, a strategy that might not have the same resonance as it did in the late 80s and early 90s when the situation was a lot more, well, violent. The CPI(M) has come out strongly against the verdict, though; somewhat expected given the verdict’s reliance on faith as well as the coming elections in West Bengal. Interestingly, Mamata Banerjee has so far kept mum on the verdict; something that would, in all probability, change.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Protector or Protectee?

In a review of Ramchandra’s Gandhi’s Sita's Kitchen: a testimony of faith and inquiry, historian Vinay Lal recounts this episode from the life of Swami Vivekanada:
The famous Indian monk had gone to Kashmir towards the end of his life; anguished over the invader's desecration and destruction of countless images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, and filled with rage at "this humiliating testimony of history", he approached the Divine Mother in a Kali temple, and falling at her feet, asked: "How could you let this happen, Mother, why did you permit this desecration?" On the swami's own testimony, Kali is reported to have said: "What is it to you, Vivekananda, if the invader breaks my images. Do you protect me, or do I protect you?
Of course, the irony of men having to protect God completely escapes some people.

Today, the Times of India reported that the VHP has come out against the Allahabad High Court judgement which awarded one -third of the land on which the Babri Masjid stood to Ram Lalla; the organisation feels He deserved the full 67 acres. And just in case the irony hadn’t been enough, the VHP also said that only the VHP-affiliated Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas could build the temple at the spot as it had that authority from Ram Lalla himself.



An earlier post on why we feel the need to protect our gods: Oh My God