Of Cabbages and Kings

June 6, 2011

Friends, irresponsible countrymen: spare me your fears

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing — Chinmayi @ 12:49 pm

For too long I have been watching this little circus around the Lok Pal Bill. First I tried the ostrich trick – bury your head in sand and may be all the silly noisy folk’ll go away. Given that the Indian media has the attention-span of a fruit fly, it was worth a shot. And it very nearly worked too until this silly Ramdev man marched up in a swirl of saffron robes. So since all this irritates me at multiple levels, I’m going to indulge in a ranting fit.

Every person I know, every single person, who is a Lok Pal fundamentalist has two things in common with the rest of the faithful that gather around this cause. One is that none of the lot of them have read a word about democracy or governance. Yes,  and for all their very vocal espousing of their cause, they are even more persistent in their ignorance. None of the lot of them can be bothered to learn the basics about the subject that is their so-called-passion. Instead, they watch NDTV open-mouthed and read newspapers well-known for a complete disregard for truth and research, and sitting on their plush couches, they work themselves up into a righteous and beautifully compressed rage. Oh yes, I forgot – they also read some blogs by people who would be better placed to design a funky website than to explain the difference between a liberal and pluralist democracy.

The other thing they have in common with each other is that they have absolutely no issues paying bribes. Sorry, let me phrase that correctly. Yes, they do resent parting with their precious money, but they will gladly part with it to get what they want rather than inconvenience themselves a little by doing the right thing (which is to avoid paying the bribe and fight for their rights/ gracefully give up what they are not entitled to as may be applicable). Very interesting moral position isn’t it? They seem to think that corruption without two people (like clapping with one hand) is what is going on in this country. That the problem lies solely in the hands accepting the bribes. Confront these people about their own contribution to corruption and they will always throw up their hands and say they ‘had no choice’.

So here we have a nation full of whiny middle-class babies. When they want candy or a driving license or a passport or to be excused from a traffic violation – they are happy to whip out their wallets and get instant gratification. But they don’t like that their pennies are going to the big bully. Suggest that they keep their precious pennies and help exert pressure for good government by refusing to pay a bribe, and they will giggle and tell you that you are ‘too idealistic’ and that they are ‘realists’. But here they are. all these realists, all up in arms against the corruption that they routinely encourage rather than inconvenience themselves even a little by exercising a little self-restraint on a regular basis.

It would be much to easy to wave off these spoilt babies saying that they are not in the best moral position to throw tantrums about corruption. But regardless of who raises it, corruption is inarguably a bad thing. No one would argue with that. The only trouble here is that the spoilt babies  are not content with pointing out that there is a problem. They want it solved their own silly way (“I want the same biscuit my sister ate Mommy, bring it back!). And here’s the thing about solutions that come from all our nation’s spoilt babies. They are solutions designed by people who have plenty of demands to make of their country but who don’t don’t want to work or take any responsibility for the solution.  They are unhappy when the big bad world intrudes and they just want someone to shut it away so that they can go back to playing with their expensive shiny toys. The Lok Pal is in essence a product of this sort of thinking (or lack thereof).

We already have a democratic structure. We already have laws on corruption. And we already have the Right to Information. Use these three together and it offers us the perfect (democratic) way to put a stop to corruption. The next time an officer refuses you a passport try to record a request for a bribe, try to RTI the basis for rejection/ delay, try to RTI the number of passports issued and the basis on which he delays/ rejects some while expediting others. Use that information and make a fuss. That is how a system is fixed. Every time it falters, some notices and tweaks it a little.

Do you even know who your democratic representatives are? Find out. Find out everything about them. Find out everything about their opponents. Run for office if you have to. If you are not the right person for the position (and yes, you do need to know something about governance for this also) find someone who is right – fund them, help them, campaign for them. Be involved. Do some work to get yourself a good representative. And don’t be silly and use this to install your friend who gave you a free laptop in a position of power (yes yes, don’t all the spoilt babies love their ‘high connections’) – find the right person for the job. That person could be the person who drives your car or the person who washes your clothes. If your judgment is flawed, which it probably is, start reading. Give yourself the education you never got because our education system is as messed up as our government.

This silly Lok Pal thing is an invitation for crooks. No one with any common sense would set up a committee full of despots that have over-arching power over everyone and accountability to no one. We already have one of those. It is called the Supreme Court and look what’s happening there. Fortunately since there is some amount of training, some basis of selection and some flak to take after, there is also some measure of restraint. So there are judges with integrity and they do us a world of good.

Dear Anna Hazare and dear civil society, with all due respect, you are complete idiots. You were correct in saying that corruption is a problem that we need to tackle. And that is indeed a wake up call that is necessary. You were very very wrong in gathering all the spoilt babies and to throw mass-tantrums insisting that we find you all a new mommy. Grow up. This is a democracy. You don’t get a mommy. You have to be your own mommy. If you do want to create an all powerful despotic institution that will take all the power out of your hands (and the responsibility off your shoulders) darlings, the right word for what you are asking for is ‘monarchy’. Yes – go read the political science text books. That is exactly what you want. When they said that democracy was ‘by the people’, they didn’t mean other people, they meant you. So if there is corruption in our system, it is because you put it there, and it will not go away unless you take it away.

So stop making this tiresome noise, sit up and take some responsibility you twats. Step one – stop paying bribes. Step two – Stop being lazy and take action against people who ask for bribes. Step three – go read about democracy and what you can do to help it work. Step four – get involved and build the democracy you would like to see in this country. And yes, it will take many many years and that is a good thing. Part of growing up is understanding that anything worth getting takes a lot of work and a lot of time.

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April 17, 2011

Universities and Unhappiness

Filed under: Personal, Random musing — Chinmayi @ 8:28 am

Almost everyone I know who studied at the university that I went to describes it as the worst period in his/ her life. Sure, there are a few people who said it was the best period of their lives but these people were the mean, the inconsiderate and most prominently the uneducated – it was their playground.

Isn’t it a terrible thing? To create an institution where young people come, spend five years being wretchedly unhappy, and then spend another five recovering. Why would anyone do that? Why would anyone permit that?

PS – Yes, yes, I know that very very few Indian Universities can actually claim to have educated anyone. But this is a step worse isn’t it?

March 29, 2011

Voyeurism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 1:49 pm

Ever wondered about personal blogs? All my blogs seem to turn personal at some point. And I ask myself – what sort of idiot would write this stuff and put in on the internet for the world to see? You write the same stuff in your diary and have a mini meltdown if anyone so much as glanced at it. But the same stuff on the internet is worse perhaps than bathing in a room with a large bare window.

And then there is the reading of personal blogs. Who would? Why? Why why would you want to know about the lives of strangers? Why would you read a friend’s blog rather than ask the said friend about anything/ everything you want to know. Why the voyeurism?

I’ve been living alone of late. It is nice for a large part. Plenty of time to be me. No compromises, no letting my future self down. But sometimes, some rare times, it is difficult to process the world all on my own. And then it helps to read about someone else’s world. And I’ll take anything I get. Literature, if it is honest. Friends, if they are honest. And blogs, because they are the most honest.

See here’s the thing. The author may filter her innermost thoughts so that you like her, you bend to her wisdom. The friend may edit what she tells you rather heavily because she is afraid that you will judge her. But the blogger doesn’t know you, and doesn’t have a clear agenda. She just comes home and writes a little about her day and sends it flying out to the internet. She may edit what she says a little, but she doesn’t a whole lot. She can’t. She doesn’t know whose benefit she’d be editing it for. And since the act of writing is cathartic for her, she isn’t going to muzzle herself completely.

And hence the voyeurism. Here is someone who isn’t a friend, who isn’t going to be a friend. You may know her casually, and then again, you may never have seen her. But she’s living a little like you are. She is happy sometimes and sad sometimes. She has triumphs and tragedies, fulfillment and disappointment. And like you, she looks for ways to understand it and move on. And reading about her conversations with herself, sometimes helps you with your conversations with yourself. But mostly, it tells you that you are not alone, and that the world is full of people, ordinary little ants-in-a-hill people who know what it is like and who find a way to move forward and find a way to be true to themselves.

And so you write – to talk to yourself and that blur of a person who is reading what you write. And you read about strangers because sometimes they tell you more about yourself than people you have known all your life.

February 6, 2011

Growing up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 11:26 am

I’m trying to catch up with my age, an inch a year. It helps sometimes to be an adult in a room full of kids. To look at some of them and see your younger self, and to wonder where that self-possession and generosity vanished to…and to reach within yourself to find it again.

There is really something very special about teenagers – the hopes and dreams of children and their journey into the adult world. Some of them shy away. Some step in steadily, looking straight ahead. Others run in so fast, that you feel a deep sadness for their suddenly stifled childhood.

Endlessly fascinating. Sometimes it makes me determined never to have kids of my own, and at other times, it makes me want my own little person to watch over, love, protect and teach through her journey to adulthood. Then again, it is too much work!

November 17, 2010

Oh happy day!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 5:03 pm

Today I have tons and tons of work. My work is going to help many people.

Today, I conquered my temper. And realised that I have been doing this rather more often than I have in the past.

Today, everything looks wonderful and rosy. My lovely home. My wonderful career (and my show of courage in going for it despite everyone’s best effort to frighten me into the rat race). My healthy relationship with the ex (which both he and I deserve credit for this) which has been hard won and has the ancillary  benefit of teaching how truly wonderful it is to learn to forgive (while at the same time not deliberately putting oneself in the way of hurt).

I feel stretched. And I know that I will feel even more stretched in the years to come.

I feel in control. I know that there will be problems but after so long, so very long, I know that I’ll be able to handle them.

Happy happy day!

The Elephant in the Room

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 4:36 pm

I was never really good at ignoring the elephant or hell, even the kitten, in the room. My very sensible and very feminine friend has advised me to do it this time. I wish I knew whether the advice was coming from the sensible aspect or the feminine aspect of her persona. I don’t do feminine. Yes, even my flirtations have an underpinning of very male cynicism and acquisitiveness to them.

You see the trouble with ignoring the Elephant, is that it gets in the way all the time. It is this big invisible communication gap that colours everything but you are not permitted to talk about it. So what if you get sick of it all and yell, ‘But there’s a bloody big elephant in this room!’? Well I’ve done it in the past. And to be fair, it hasn’t worked out so well in the past. But this is my first time tiptoeing around the elephant. And that isn’t really working out so much better anyway. A old and very very dear friend is drifting out of the door.

I’ve noticed recently that one tends to have exactly the same kind of fight with particular people over and over. Yes, the context can vary vastly but bring the fight down to its bare bones and it is about the same things. Mostly about things that we don’t say to eachother. ‘You lied to me’; ‘I don’t like your smugness’; ‘I don’t think you really like me’; ‘I think you are stupid’; ‘I think you think I am stupid’; ‘you don’t really love me’; ‘you love someone else more’; ‘you don’t trust me’; ‘I don’t trust you’…and so on and so forth. Silly things. Often unfounded. Often so insignificant compared to all the other big things that bind people and make them love each other. But ignoring them seems to mean that they wriggle into tiny regular disagreements, and inflate them into large, ugly and insurmountable problems. And then these problem stand between us along with that good old Elephant and we can’t reach each other any more.

What if one day – one special day – we were all made to say exactly what we thought to each other? What would happen?

I’d love one Brutal Honesty day. It’d drive out all the elephants and leave my friendships to stand or fall as they would naturally.

November 13, 2010

Winter

Filed under: Random musing — Chinmayi @ 6:18 pm

This city is wrapped in a thickening mist that floats alluringly above its ankle. A shadow of the emphatic fog that shrouds London or the deep smoky air of Delhi. Someone looking at it through a window would swear there it chilly like a real winter. Although there are no greatcoats and shared street bonfires, there are mufflers, sweaters and people with flus everywhere.

It is surreal: you can see the cold but you can’t feel it. Not at all. This is the only time of year that you are not sweaty and uncomfortable. But you are very far from feeling the winter. Even if you can see it and smell it. Even if you feel like it is standing next to you in a dark room and bending out of reach every time you put you hand out to touch it.

November 8, 2010

What one wants

Filed under: Random musing — Chinmayi @ 5:20 pm

seems so constructed sometimes. We chase so many things which, when examined, seem a little empty. This isn’t a depressive post. It is just a bewildered one. I’ve been puzzling over what I really want. And honestly, I don’t know…I have no idea at all.

At my age, people chase money – I’ve done that and it is fun but too easy, and green only to the person on the other side really. People chase power and fame but I suspect that the same can be said for both of those. I’ve been to good universities and I’ve done a couple of things that should have sent me over the moon. Did it make me feel good? Yes. But only as long as I was looking at myself from someone else’s eyes. When I stepped back into my own shoes, I was still me – my earning capacity, my universities, my achievements don’t change that. Winning a competition may tell other people that I’m reasonably competent at something but as far as I am concerned, nothing changes really. I could be happy being me. Or not. If it takes validation like competitions to make me happy then it is only a question of time before I will start craving more validation, and more…and it won’t really end.

The rat races never actually end. You hop from one to another and then another. I don’t notice the ‘achievers’ from the past being secure. They may have won one rat race but it just took them into another. And then another. And then another. With all the attendant stress and fear. The sense of achievement seems fleeting, and the desperation to win again seems to drown it out.

The people I know who want to ‘save the world’ are also confused. They aren’t quite clear about what their contribution will be – is it better to responsible for 100 people’s literacy than to bring up one really good and generous human being? Is it better to help a country shake off colonial rule than to ensure that your family doesn’t die of grief and starvation from your neglect? When we say ‘hero’, do we only refer to people about whom books are written or do we include the sweet old lady next door who has suffered much but has only ever loved everyone around her and done her best to help everyone who came her way?

I go through my phases of the usual ‘dreams’. But I wonder – how many of them are really constructed? Bits and pieces cadged together from other people’s expectations, directed at getting other people’s approval. How many of us truly know what we want – what makes us happy…divorced completely from the way in which the world, or at least some small part of it, sees us? Relationships, power, fame, money, climbing up this ladder or that one… how much is really a choice?

July 17, 2010

Restlessness

Filed under: Uncategorized — Chinmayi @ 6:44 am

This isn’t a diary, it is a blog. So many blogs are an exercise in self-aggrandising narcissism that I have come to fear them. Although it feels like typing and releasing something into a large void, it isn’t really. We’re writing for a tiny audience. One that would barely fill a room, let alone a city. We’re giving each other attention and importance, much like friends do in the ‘normal’ world. Sometime we aren’t interested in the audience and have chosen for some reason to do our private scribbling on the web. I don’t know why. I’ve never thought about it. I treat it like some sort of sophisticated back up system for the writing that I do because I feel that I should write. That I must write. It is like a gigantic exercise book. An extension of the little ruled ‘English Language’ notebook in which I wrote essays and stories on assigned topics.

How do people’s personal diaries read? I’m curious. Seriously. We must all write for different reasons…so it follows that our diaries must be different. Is it true that a woman’s diary would stick religiously to inter-personal relationships as her thoughts are imprisoned in that little world that she is taught is her highest priority? Would the stereotypical male diary be all about sex and money/ power? Would this change as we grow up? Are their people who think all day about how they can make the world a better place? How they can grow plants better or cure cancer or make sure nobody goes hungry…

Or would these people not have the time for a diary? I wonder sometimes – is the internet really a big waste of time? Instead of expanding our horizons, do we chop up our thoughts into tiny inconsequential pieces and scatter them around where they would make the least difference? Like a giant supermarket full of some things we need but a hundreds of shiny things that distract us and drag us to places that we don’t really want to go to.

June 10, 2010

Bhopal

India is outraged about the injustice of the recent Bhopal tragedy related judgment this week. I gave up on the Indian news channels years ago but I am pretty certain that if I ever did get round to gritting my teeth and switching the television on, I would see Barkha Dutt and her colleagues all breathless and worked up about how the judiciary has wronged the Bhopal victims. And they should be. The senior management of the company that killed 25,000 people (and the numbers will grow as long as the poison remains in the earth and water in the region) gets a measly 2 years in prison. Chairman Mr. Mahindra seems to have had a successful career and is CEO of a Mahindra company. For an amount which is probably far less than their fortnightly expenditure, they are all out on bail.

The man primarily responsible? Warren Anderson is living it up in his $900,000 home in the Hamptons and is whizzing around in a Cadillac. He does not like being asked about the Bhopal victims.

Just so we’re clear, the primary damage in this case was done over twenty years ago. But both then and now, this case says terrible terrible things about the world. Apart from the corruption or utter foolishness of Indian politicians and the lack of courage shown by the Supreme Court (judge who was later rewarded with a glamourous post-retirement positions) is the utter and complete callousness demonstrated by the people who were, and still are, in a position to do something. Shame on you Mr. Obama. And shame on you, ‘free’ American press.

Someone told me that all this sordid Bhopal stuff isn’t really Obama’s problem, and that he is morally justified in shielding mass murderer Anderson. When educated people start talking about 25,000 deaths in terms of bureaucratic errors, it gets fairly apparent that the education system, the media all other institutions that influence public morality are beginning to putrefy.

Concentration camps were everybody’s problem. Slavery was everybody’s problem. Genocide is everybody’s problem. Terrorism is everybody’s problem. Mass killing of human beings is and has always been everybody’s problem.

This is where I would usually start talking about the UN Charter, human rights treaties, extradition and suchlike. All of that, though it does exist, just builds on an idea. And that idea was best expressed by John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee

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