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?

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?

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

April 24, 2010

Frenemies

Filed under: Random musing — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 5:36 am

is a disgusting pop-culture term. Sadly, it is also an appropriate one. The truth is that women don’t seem to know how to be friends with eachother without some sort of undercurrent of hostility and competitiveness. It is a phenomenon that I have always found disturbing.

It used to make me wonder why, when we already have so much to deal with in the male-dominated world, we are each others’ worst enemies. And then I found an explanation somewhere (and I am unable to locate that somewhere right now, so I’m afraid there will be a referencing problem).

Women are brought up to hate themselves and their own kind. It is a manifestation of our self-loathing that we inflict harm on our own kind.  The harm varies with the degree of self-loathing and the sphere in which a woman operates. But that’s where it all comes from: the brutalising of daughters-in-law, the picking on the pretty intern, the stealing of other women’s partners and sabotaging of their relationships, the disproportionate aggression with female domestic help,  the fake smugness that women love to project at eachother, the hurry to pass judgment on other women, the eagerness to bring them down…all of it.

So the next time you smile to yourself smugly because another women’s marriage broke down, or because you elbowed the only other woman in the office out of a meeting, odds are the you are smiling like a wrist-slasher at something that you did to hurt yourself.

And this is why all feminists are so passionate about the sisterhood. It isn’t just about being supportive of other women, or of combating boys-clubs..it is about standing up for ourselves, and learning to respect, support and care for ourselves. Because all these women – the friends, the daughters, daughters-in-law, bosses, employees, bus-conductors, saleswomen, stewardesses..they are all a part of who we are.

April 6, 2010

The Enchantress and the Author

Filed under: books, Random musing — Tags: , , , — Chinmayi @ 5:34 pm

I am working my way through Enchantress of Florence (finally). It is a great example of the magic of Rushdie’s writing. But there isn’t a single character there that I can identify with.

Rushdie’s is an unambiguously, exclusively male voice. As the magic, the flow and the erudition of the tale each gather me into the book, I still find that I cannot step into it fully. Every man has a woman. Every man wants a woman. Except the eunuch/ spy of course (who presumably doesn’t count as a man in the Rushdie world). What does a woman want? Do women exist other than to entice, charm , seduce, sleep with, long for or, compete for men? Do women exist except as satellites? Not in Rushdie’s universe. Sometimes I wonder whether dear Mr. Rushdie has missed a greater part of the last century. His books are sometimes like the adolescent male’s medieval paradise within literature. Modern books that never seem to move beyond the good old ways of woman= whore/ wife/ mother syndrome.

There are attempts at redemption here and there (the high-spirited Jodha as the King’s ideal wife is declared to be quite different from a boy’s fantasy of big breasts and small brains), but it is ineffective. The image that sticks in my mind as being quite appropriate as a description of the women of the Rudhdie universe is of Akbar and Mogor Amore moving through the harem, with all the women wafting past them like satellites around stars.

March 28, 2010

Filed under: Random musing — Tags: — Chinmayi @ 6:27 pm

Somewhere in the middle of a ridiculously regressive show that I watch sometimes, a newly married woman wakes up before her husband. She peeks at him and quickly whips out her make-up to fix her face before she wakes him. A happy marriage on American television.

I can understand wanting to look pretty for one’s partner, but makeup at all times??? What happens when you grow old together? Grey hair, wrinkles, sagging breasts, enormous bottoms, stretch-marks, bent backs, chin-hair and a hundred other signs of age will creep up. Does that make you not beautiful any more? Would it be unsurprising if the guy wants to ditch the weathered piece of a once ‘hot’ wife for a fresh young thing?

I know it sounds perfectly awful when I put it that way, but it does seem like the logical conclusion. I don’t understand how anybody hopes to avoid body-hair, morning breath, flatulence, fluctuating weight, and bad hair and skin days in a marriage. There will be illnesses – throwing up and worse – that the delicate man with delicate tastes will have to see you through. Bare lips are surely miniscule in comparison to everything else that comes.

And while we’re on the subject of women wanting…no, needing to look perfect all the time, why is it that the same women also feel obliged to be very kind about the way their partners look? What kind of idiot gets waxed, plucked, scrubbed, cleaned, toned, moisturised, bejeweled, beheeled, painted and sometimes even zapped with a laser for a fat smelly badly dressed twit? I mean, in the good old days, men were expected to ‘provide’ and women were expected to look pretty enough for a rich man to own. Now, the women still need to look the pretty trophies and the men…well I still don’t understand what their function is supposed to be.

The ugly old bum sitting on his couch and living off his mother still feels entitled to a beautiful woman. Except post-women’s lib, he feels free to tell her to earn and pay for her own make-up.

March 14, 2010

These past few months

Filed under: Personal, Random musing — Chinmayi @ 6:04 am

I have a new job in a new city. New books have been read, new genres are being approached, and for the first time since high school, I am at an institution in India which actually challenges and stretches me.

A bipartisan effort has been made to bully a women’s reservation bill past the lines of sulking men in the Rajya Sabha. Although I have no idea at all about what impact the legislation will have on women in this country, I am so very proud of the female politicians who got together, across party lines, to see it though. Hats off to the sisterhood!

After mourning a lost relationship and its attendant lost dreams, I have found my way again. This time it really is MY way. I am doing work I enjoy in a place I enjoy among people I enjoy. I don’t feel derailed anymore.

One person I love is much happier than I thought and one person I love is much unhappier than I thought. The former I celebrate, and the latter I shall try and fix.

All in all, despite all the killings, banning of mosques, suicides and global warming, the world looks and feels like a better place.

May 23, 2009

Giving thanks

Filed under: Random musing — Tags: , — Chinmayi @ 11:22 pm

Sometimes,  some beautiful times, one gives cynicism a rest and enjoys the beauty of democracy and the resilience of people, however deprived. I am in awe of the Indian masses. I know that this election was not won over facebook campaigns or fancy speeches in English. I also know that a lot of it had to do with which party was more cohesive. But I have learned that elections are not always won through hate speech (even if it seems to work in Gujarat, Karnataka and certain parts of U.P.). I have also learned that the joy of an financial package that helps the people is that regardless of how many politicians refer to it as vote-bank politics and how many money-grubbing capitalists call it populism, the people respond and vote for more. And hey, if vote bank politics means better lives for the poorest of the poor, I am all for it. 

This year, we have a promising party in charge. Not a perfect party but a secular party, and a party that acknowledges and talks of the large and invisible group below the poverty line. This time, they are in charge and out of reach of the highwaymen coalition partners that each try to force them in a different direction. This time, a man worthy of the title is still prime minister. And if not entirely pleased to return to a fundamentalist party run state, I will be delighted to return to an intelligently run country and I hope that reading the newspapers will stop being depressing for a little while.

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