Monday, November 14, 2011

A love story beyond right-doing and wrong-doing

Since Bollywood has been making love stories by the dozens every year for the past 100 odd years, one can be forgiven for thinking that Bollywood has explored all possible love stories within this period. There has been the obsessive love story (Darr), the incestuous love story (Lamhe), the teenage love story (Bobby), the adulterous love story (Silsila), the sanitised love story (DDLJ), the unrequited love story (Devdas), the tragically unfulfilled love story (Sadma) and all shades in between. What new shade could one impart to a done-to-death genre like the humble love story? Imtiaz Ali succeeds in doing the impossible and creates a love story with a soul. A living, breathing, pulsating soul which flows like a river - wild and tempestuous, but also enriching and rewarding. Sometimes placid like the Ganga in the North Indian plains, occasionally turbulent like the mighty Brahmaputra.

The movie begins with a voiceover in Hindi (Ranbir Kapoor's voice) about there being a field beyond right-doing and wrong-doing and he will meet his beloved there. The same quote is flashed at the end of the movie, where it is attributed to the great Sufi mystic Rumi. The rest of the movie is a flashback.

While Rockstar is an original movie, if asked to pick any literary classic as resembling it closest in spirit, I would pick Wuthering Heights - the great work of Gothic passion and romance, with Ranbir Kapoor being Heathcliff and Nargis Fakhri being Catherine. Theirs is a taboo love, though for reasons different from those in the book. And yet, it is a love too great to be confined within the bounds of societal morality. It frequently threatens to erupt, spill over and destroy the sanitised life that Nargis seemingly lives. At the same time it is a love which is un-selfconscious. A love which blossoms through friendship and through breaking taboos ironically never needs to say those 3 words in the entire movie.

The movie spans several years and the narrative jumps back and forth. However there is never any confusion about which point in the narrative one is in. Imtiaz ali takes care to avoid all cliches. He does not go for neat and artificial solutions. There is no last minute elopement, no long drawn out teary farewells and no proclamations of undying love. After a fun filled quarter of the movie, Nargis gets married and goes off to Prague to live with her industrialist husband.

It is in Prague that Ranbir and Nargis meet again after an interlude the length of which is never specified, but during which a lot has changed. In a scene reminiscent of Jab We Met, where Shahid meets Kareena Kapoor after a gap of 9 months when she has been abandoned by her lover, Ranbir Kapoor comes across Nargis. She is obviously trapped in a loveless marriage and all life and vitality have gone out of her. She is on her way to an appointment with a psychiatrist, who has been telling her in previous sessions that there's nothing obviously wrong with her. With Ranbir back in her life she learns to live and dance and sing again. And love again. However this is a love that goes against societal proprieties and has to be kept hidden. A series of unfortunate but inevitable events follow and their love does not remain hidden. Ranbir Kapoor self-destructs, Nargis Fakhri contracts a life threatening ailment, and just like Catherine in Wuthering Heights she dies.

The ending of the movie has been kept deliberately ambiguous. The movie ends at the same point where it had begun. Ranbir Kapoor having been beaten up by goons in a backstreet of Prague arrives bloody lipped for a concert, and the quote from Rumi is flashed again. The message is obvious - for a world which feigns inspiration from Gandhi, Christ and Buddha, it is a world which is surprisingly scared of love. Love in our world is a bigger taboo than war. For someone who is in an all-consuming love, society has no tools to control him with. Priests cannot threaten and politicians cannot entice the lover, so love is the biggest impediment to politics of power, dominance and religion.

The direction is multi layered and full of subtle nuances, which are suggested without being made explicit - lesson for the Madhur Bhandarkars of the world. However, no review of this movie is complete without talking about the music and the cinematography. The movie is shot at some beautiful locations in Prague and in Kashmir, and the cinematography is grand in a way which reminds one of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's creations. The music spans genres and is one of the pillars of the movie. After several middling efforts over the past few years AR Rehman comes into his own and shows us what he is still capable of creating if he is inspired. Faya Kun, Hawa Hawa, Nadaan Parinde and Sadda Haq are all superlative songs and each is as different from the other as the proverbial chalk is from cheese. Faya Kun in particular is the perfect devotional qawaali and is simultaneously elevating and gut wrenching.

I have seen critics quibble about Ranbir Kapoor's guitar playing skills as displayed in the movie or the inexplicable availability of a bike whenever Ranbir and Nargis want to go on a romp. Frankly that is nitpicking! Who cares about bodily imperfections when the soul is immaculate?

After inundating us with some soulless monstrosities that dementor like, suck all well-being and reason out of their audience (Bodyguard, Ra.One, Ready and Housefull come to mind) Bollywood redeems itself with Rockstar. After watching the movie I had told my friend that Imtiaz Ali has become to love stories what Farhan Akhtar is to tales of friendship. Having thought about it for 2 days I see no reason to retract my statement. Thank you Imtiaz Ali. Thank you for making me believe.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Himachal Diary

Nestled between Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, is the state of Himachal Pradesh. It lies in the lap of the majestic Himalayas and is often called Dev Bhumi (land of the Gods). Characterized by pristine woods, majestic snow capped mountains, rapidly flowing mountain streams, and beautiful and hospitable people, Himachal has something for everyone. Blessed with some of the most spectacular and beautiful landscapes anywhere, it is a travelers' paradise. Lofty snow peaks, deep gorges, lush green valleys, fast flowing rivers, enchanting mountain lakes, flower bedecked meadows, beautiful temples and monasteries steeped in time, Himachal has it all.

I had been thirsting to visit Himachal for a long time, and when opportunity presented itself in the form of an invitation from a friend to spend one week with him in the pristine locales of Himachal, it was too good to resist. After applying for and getting a week of leave from my office, I set off on a voyage of discovery. As it turned out, the voyage of 8 days, across a 1500 km route, with mind blowing scenery and back breaking roads, changed my life in more ways than one. We started off on the 16th of June and returned back on the 24th.

16th June :

Caught an early morning flight from Pune to New Delhi. The flight landed at 11:30 am due to delays in landing, but we were left with sufficient time to have lunch and navigate to ISBT (Kashmiri Gate), in time to catch the 4 pm bus to Recong Peo, capital of Kinnaur district. The weather Gods were kind to us, and Delhi was much less hot than it usually is, around that time. In fact it had rained just the day before, and puddles of water were visible in certain parts of the town. The bus itself was an HPTDC one, which while not in the league of a Volvo, was comfortable enough.

17th June :

The crescent shaped capital city of Shimla had arrived sometime in the night, and when we woke up early morning, around 6 am, we were already in the laps of high mountains. The majestic Sutlej was to keep us company for several hours. Beautiful river, dramatic landscapes! We reached Karchham around 10 am in the morning, and wishing to start our itinerary with the enchanting Sangla Valley, we got down from the bus there. From Karchham to Sangla is an hours journey by bus or car, but since buses were infrequent, and we had missed the previous one by a few minutes, we decided to hire a Tata Sumo.

Sumos ply on a shared basis, between the two points regularly, but the drivers are loath to commence, until they get at least 10 passengers, the fare being a paltry Rs 30 per person. Not wanting to wait till the requisite 10 passengers arrived, we struck a deal with the driver. We would rent out the entire vehicle, and pick up what passengers could be found on the way and once we reach Sangla, we would compensate the driver for whatever shortfall he incurred. As it turned out we picked up 7 more passengers on the way, and we had to pay up only 90 bucks for the 2 of us.

A house in beautiful Sangla

It was nearly 12 noon by the time we reached our destination. We had booked a double bed room in Prakash hotel, with geyser, TV and a nice view for 800 per night (taxes not included). After a lunch of aloo paratha and mixed veg, we set out for exploring. Two kilometers downhill was the lovely Baspa river, surrounded by several mountain peaks, most of them heavily forested and some of them snow capped.

18th June :

We set off early (or as early as one can get up on a holiday), and started towards the market. Located a kilometer downhill from our hotel, we could see a lot of construction activities going on. Migrant labourers from far off places like Bihar and West Bengal frequently come here in search of work, and since heavy snowfall post October prevents outsiders from staying here, they finish off their work by September and leave.

The river Baspa in Sangla

We had a brunch of delicious steamed momos (a large plate of 10 for Rs 30) and veg noodles in Tibetan cafe and we were all set for a day's exploration. Apple orchards and lush green alpine orchards were enough to keep us enchanted, and further ahead was the beautiful Baspa river with crystal clear water. We tried climbing some mountain peaks and were rewarded for our efforts with some breathtakingly scenic views.

19th June :

We left for our next destination - Kalpa. Since no direct transport was available for Kalpa, we had to improvise. We took a cab to Karchham and at Karchham boarded a bus to Recong Peo. From Recong Peo, we boarded another bus that would take us to Kalpa. We had booked an HPTDC hotel room in Kalpa, which was so far from the Bus Stand that it took the better part of an hour to reach there, along with much effort, considering the heavy travel kits we were saddled with. But the climb was well worth it. At Rs 1200 for a night, the room was fabulous, with a king sized bed, carpeted room, TV and a captivating view.

A visual from breathtaking Kalpa

Kalpa is located at an altitude of 2759 m and also offers some fantastic early morning views of the Kinner Kailash. According to legends, Kalpa is the winter abode of Shiva and all the gods of Kinnaur assemble before him during this time for an annual conference. And when the supreme god himself seems to be so impressed by the beauty of Kalpa, how can human beings be far behind?

20th June :

Time to leave for Kaza. This journey necessitated getting up at 5:30 in the morning to catch the 7:00 am bus from Recong Peo. As the bus left Recong Peo we soon left the green, forested hills and got on a narrow, bumpy path that was to stay with us for the next 8 hours. The landscape was bleak, desolate and harsh and miles would pass by before we would see any human. On the way we saw several glaciers, many of which were progenitors of mountain streams, which would coalesce hundreds of miles away to form distributories of the river Indus.

The harsh and barren landscape of Kaza

At Kaza too we stayed in an HPTDC hotel (which was named rather unimaginatively, Hotel Kaza). Kaza being remote, and located at a very high altitude, had a topography similar to Ladakh – barren, arid and desolate. But it had a charm all of its own. On the flip side, power supply was in acute shortage, and on the second day of our stay, we encountered a power cut of 10 hours duration. Water too was scarce, and the hotel staff would supply us water in buckets.

21st June :

Spent most of the day exploring the unique topography of Kaza on foot. As neither of us had been to Ladakh, Kaza held a novelty for us. Trees were a rarity, and we learned from the locals that post October, the roads to Kaza are blocked due to heavy snowfall and landslide. To deal with the next 6 months of seclusion, the inhabitants of Kaza hoard supplies of essential commodities, including food items and medicines, and wait for the winter to get over.

22nd June:

Our next and final stop was Manali. After making enquiries we came to know that there were two Manali bound buses from Kaza, one at 4:30 in the morning, and the other at 7:30. Not wanting to waste our time sleeping, we decided to board the earlier bus. The bus was going to pass in front of our hotel at 4:45 which spared us the trouble of going to the bus stand so early in the morning.

The journey to Manali took us through some of the remotest places I have ever seen. The journey from Recong Peo to Kaza paled into insignificance compared to this one. We passed through roads that were so close to icebergs that we could extend our hands out of the windows and touch them. And midway through the journey was the famous Rohtang pass. Located 4120 metres above sea level, it was snow covered and choc-a-bloc with tourists of all hues – honeymooning couples, families, hikers and students. For honeymooning couples, writing their names on snow seemed to be a favorite activity.

Manali was only 51 kms from Rohtang and after a brief halt for lunch, we sped towards our final destination. We reached Manali at 5 in the evening. Our hotel - another HPTDC outlet, called Hotel Beas, because surprise, surprise it was located on the banks of the mighty river Beas - was very close to the Bus Stand and due to traffic congestion on the bridge we were able to get down just at the gates of the Hotel.

23rd June :

The sound of the river Beas was a constant companion to us during our stay at Manali. The constant gushing sound of the river, which is very different from the slam dang sound of an ocean, acted as a therapeutic on our senses. By now the realization had set in that our journey was about to end, and that realization made the remaining few hours even more precious.

We caught a paraglider on camera en route to Manali

The morning was spent visiting the Hidimba temple, which was 2 odd kms from our hotel. Despite a variety of transport facilities available, we preferred to walk down there. Majestic Deodar and pine trees shaded the entire journey, and the temple itself was breathtakingly beautiful, built in the Tibetan style. However, the temple being a favorite tourist spot, there was a long queue for darshan. Being short of time we could not afford to spend too long to get inside so we decided to skip going inside the shrine. Also close by, was Ghatotkach temple (the son of Hidimba and Bhim, for the uninitiated), which again we had to skip for the aforementioned reason.

Manali pleasantly surprised me as a hill station, because I was under the impression that popular tourist spots in India (particularly hill stations), quickly degenerate into crowded, unaesthetic places, with plastic bags and garbage strewn all around. Manali was surprisingly clean and very green. The roads were spotless and devoid of any garbage, the tourist spots were well maintained, and there was no rampant deforestation to cater to the obviously large no of tourists frequenting the place. This was thanks in no small measure to the initiatives taken by the local people and the government. Manali was a treat for the eyes. The only problem I saw was with traffic congestion, due to narrow roads, but I am sure this is something that can be worked out with dedicated effort.

The return journey

23rd evening and it was time to return. We took a DTC Volvo from Manali to Delhi (the tickets had to be booked in advance) and reached Delhi around 10 am the next morning after a relatively uneventful journey. Needless to say, the journey back was anticlimactic and not unmixed with sorrow. The weather Gods were kind to us on our return as well, and we did not get to suffer the famed scorching heat of Delhi.

I caught the return flight to Pune in the afternoon, and while landing I noticed that Pune had been visited by the rain Gods in my absence. There was a wet and green look pervading the city landscape, which helped lift up my gloomy mood by a bit.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The artistry of intolerance

Finally the truth is out. And it was uncovered by the Commission for Racial Equality. After doing years of painstaking research into the causes of racial segregation, bigotry, intolerance, ghettoism and stereotyping people by their skin color, race, language, nationality, religion, the Commission discovered the real culprit. No, contrary to our initial suspicions, the venom that poisons the minds of several millions of people in the world, causing immutable segregation isn’t caused by the bigoted, orthodox and absurd religious texts that people are taught to revere and live by. The colonial and imperialist activities of nations are not to be blamed either. The chief culprit behind all these activities was, and always has been the tuft haired comic book character, Tintin.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a commission member told us, that apart from the various crimes of omission and commision that Tintin was guilty of, what sealed his fate was his maltreatment of tribal Africans.
"This book contains imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice, where the 'savage natives' look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles," he said. He added that the only place the book was acceptable was in a museum - with a sign accompanying it, saying "old-fashioned, racist claptrap".

Not content with banning Tintin in Congo, we heard
that the Commission is next considering a similar offensive against other such racist and offensive works as The Merchant of Venice (which stereotypes the Jews) and Othello (which satirises the Blacks). Enid Blyton's books are also on the hit list for portraying girls as homemakers. Going by this trend we can imagine how our classics will end up some years down the line.

In the years to come we can look at a sanitized version of the Ramayana, in which Rama gets His comeuppance for being an Aryan, and in the best traditions of political correctness the Dravidian guy (Ravana as claimed by our liberals friends in the media) gets to marry the Aryan woman he has abducted. Sita is divorced by Rama to facilitate the marriage and to give it a fig leaf of acceptability, and to further the Dravidian - Aryan alliance Rama accepts Surpanakha's proposal for marriage. No war takes place, there's no spilling of Dravidian blood and no Aryan conquest of Lanka and all communities live happily everafter in a sort of liberal paradise.

From there we fast forward to medieval era. Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and Othello are reworked to remove all traces of prejudice. Next the axe falls on Dickens' Oliver Twist, where the very existence of Fagin is anathema to liberals. From being a Jewish money lender Fagin becomes a right-wing reactionary, horror of horrors - a conservative. He is opposed to global warming, and big government and is the very stereotype of the ugly capitalist. After suitably purging Oliver Twist of evil, they turn their attention to Sherlock Holmes. How dare Conan Doyle project Mormons in an unfavorable light in A Study In Scarlet? Isn't that religious discrimination, bigotry, hatred? Snip, snip.

At the end of the exercise we are left with sanitized literature. Literature in which everyone lives happily everafter, there are no conflicts along racial, religious, gender or sectarian lines. Everyone is nice to everyone else, and all disputes are resolved amicably by talking. Characters who suffer too much stress and are on the verge of going bad, visit psychiatrists who psychoanalyze and treat them and bring them back to normalcy and all is right with the world again. Great and lofty literature and inspiring stuff I am sure. Except that it bears no relation to the world as we know it. And somehow I get the feeling that changing literature that depicts the ugliness of the world, without changing the ugliness of the world itself is an extreme example of putting the cart before the horse. An example of liberalism having gone mad.
The Boy who lived

This is the re-post of an article I had written long ago, but never published. I noticed this post, and another one on Tintin in drafts. That too will get published soon! In the interim 4+ years since this was written a lot of Harry Potter's intricacies have escaped my mind. Point out if I have made any obvious mistakes, and you will have my gratitude.

21st of July, 2007 marked the end of an era. An era lasting 10 years, in which Harry charmed his way into the hearts of millions and created a parallel world for both the young and the not-so-young. A world as fascinating as it was unreal, a world of wizardly magic and human folly. Considering that Harry Potter is the most analyzed set of books ever, apart from the Bible, nothing I can say will shed any new light on the phenomenon. For that to happen, I will have to lay a confundus spell on my readers to make them forget all they had read about Harry Potter.

That said, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is a deserving end to the saga of the Boy Who Lived. Before the book was released, apprehensions were being raised whether JK Rowling will be able to tie up all the loose ends, and complete the quest of the remaining three horcruxes within a book of 610 odd pages. Needless to say, she manages beautifully, and the reader comes away fully satisfied, if not satiated.

Apart from the symbolic fight between good and evil, which of course was not invented by JRR Tolkien, there is very little that is similar between Harry Potter and LOTR. There are occasions where one of the horcruxes starts to act up due to its evil constituents (Lord Voldemort's soul, for the uninitiated) and one discerns some similarity to the evil ring, but that's where the superficial similarities end. However, there's much in the last 2 books and the final book that seems to echo the contemporary world. The phenomena of spreading lies about one's adversary, obfuscating the issue, putting ones own people in positions of authority would be recognizable to the denizens of all authoritarian societies, and many democratic societies (cough ... cough ... India).

Early this year the final installment of Harry Potter movie was dished to us. They called it Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. It will be safe to assume that the book was split into two movies to rake in more moolah for the studio. Deathly Hallows is not the biggest book in the Harry Potter saga. That honor goes to Order of the Phoenix - the angst ridden fifth book of the series. Yet Order of the Phoenix was made into a single, action packed, and relatively small movie famous for the death of Sirius Black and for the climactic battle between Professor Dumbledore and Voldemort.

Watching Deathly Hallows on the big screen in 3D was a bittersweet experience. It was the culmination of a ride that had begun in 1997 with the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. While we knew how the story is going to end, much before we reached the theatre, yet we had to watch the movie out of a sense of loyalty. There were some fabulous sequences in the movie that made us cheer until we went hoarse in the throat. The confrontation between Harry and Professor Snape at Hogwarts, and Harry shouting at him "How dare you stand where He stood?" made the most stoic of us go misty eyed. Professor McGonagall saying with a twinkle in her eyes "I have always wanted to use that spell" alone was worth the price of admission. Hermione's act as Bellatrix, and Griphook taunting her with "Good Morning? You are Bellatrix Lestrange, not some dewy eyed school girl" was another gem.

However, it was the climactic battle between Harry and Voldemort which was a letdown. The biggest farce was Voldemort giving a whoop of delight when announcing Harry's death to the school. Voldemort is THE evil guy, the second most powerful wizard of all time. Him beating Harry in a duel was never a big deal. If Harry was not under the protection of Professor Dumbledore, Voldemort could have made mincemeat out of him in the batting of an eyelid. If this was bad, what followed was worse. Harry and Voldemort start duelling, but unlike in the book, they duel in a private, secluded place with no one around to watch the battle of the century. And I cringe when I see Voldemort engaging Harry in hand to hand combat. From there it is all downhill. We know that tragedy has degenerated into farce, when we see Harry break the Elder wand and throw it down a hill - an act of sacrilege if ever there was one. This was a needless deviation from the book and it did not add anything to the story. I wonder why JK Rowling allowed this butchery of her book.

The final sequence was magical. When JK Rowling had said in her past interviews that she had written the final chapter of the Harry Potter saga right at the time of writing the first book, and kept it safe in a locker of an unnamed bank in London, I guess this is what she was referring to. A Daniel Radcliffe digitally enhanced to look older, and the rest of the gang have come to platform 9 3/4 to see off their children to Hogwarts. The youngest son of Harry, Albus Severus Potter, is being teased by his older siblings that he will be sorted into Slytherin when Harry steps in for the last poignant moment of the saga. He says to his son, I have named you after the bravest headmaster of Hogwarts, who was a Slytherin.

Hogwarts Express arrives, the movie ends, and with it ends a chapter of our lives. We will move on for sure, but a part of us will remain latched on to Harry Potter, to the boy who lived. Like a Horcrux Harry Potter will remain embedded within us. And decades later, we will be hard put to explain to our children what Harry Potter meant to us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In defence of anarchy

Let me tell you a story today - the story of a totally immoral, debauched, greedy and sectarian person. This is an opportunist, who breaks his promises at will, who changes the rules of the game unilaterally - to suit himself, and while he pretends to be a modern day Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to pay the poor, in actuality the poor never see the money that he collects on their behalf.

Before I proceed any further let me tell you some characteristics of this guy.

*He extorts money from people.
*He does this claiming that he's going to help the poor and then he goes and spends all the money for himself.
*He spreads rumours about people of one religion/race/ethnicity in front of other religions/ races/ ethnicities and creates infighting between them.
*He incites people against one another, to such an extent that they even get ready to kill each other.
*He claims his right to everything you own.
*He doesn't let you live your own life your way, instead keeps telling you what to do and what not to do. In the words of George Orwell he often functions as the "thought police" and uses his goons to preach his version of moral behavior and enforce his "morality" on everyone.
*He forces people to pay him for favours they don't want and which, in the end, he doesn't grant
*Everyone hates him, but he's so powerful and his promise of doling out largesse, so potent that most people who hate him, invest in his evil company of thugs.
*He's such a swine, that he legally attacks unarmed victims and people who oppose him are incarcerated or handed out other similar punishment.
*His company, guarded by thugs and looters, doesn't allow respectable & hard-working people to operate in his area and forces people to buy essential commodities from him, since he's the sole supplier. He in effect creates a monopoly and artificially decreases supply and inflates prices solely for benefitting his thuggish supporters who run such enterprises.
*This guy and his friends have killed, looted, raped, burnt, molested, threatened, murdered, conspired and connived people for years and yet, no one dares to rise against him.

NO friends I am not alluding to Dawood Ibrahim and his gang. I am talking about what most of us know as, "The Government". The Government which in Lincoln's words is "by the people, for the people, of the people"; but which in today's terms does so much harm all the time, without fail that people are inured to it. If two or more alternatives are available, we can count on the Government to choose the most unsavory one, ostensibly in "the larger interests of the people" , but actually for the sole purpose of creating vote banks. And where such considerations do not apply, government action is characterised by ad hocism, meanness or plain indifference.

Governments are supposed to collect taxes from the citizenry (depending on certain criteria) and use those taxes for general welfare. A story comes to mind regarding the government's collection of taxes and its usage.

"Once a passer-by sees two people working in a field. One person digs a hole and the other fills it up. He is surprised at the strange nature of their enterprise, and unable to hide his astonishment, he approaches the workers and asks them about task. One of the workers' says " Three of us had been hired to plant trees on this land. To save time we divided our work in the following way. One person would dig the hole. The second person would place the sapling in the hole, and the third person would fill up the hole with dirt. Today the second person is absent. But we see no reason why we should stop working.""

Government's tax collection works in the same way. Their tax collection department is quite efficient, and the finance ministry burns the midnight oil nightly to come up with new and innovative taxes every year. However, not even a fraction of the thought or the effort goes into spending that tax amount for citizen welfare. Way back in 1986, the then Prime Minister had said in the Lok Sabha, to protests of righteous indignation, that only 15 paise of every rupee spent by the Government reaches its target audience. We can safely assume that that figure of 15 paise per rupee has further declined. Ad yet the Government steadfastly refuses to relax its stranglehold on public life which can reduce corruption and introduce some probity in public life.

Most people (mistakenly) think that an absence of government would lead to rampant lawlessness, social disorder and (horror of horrors) anarchy. Why is anarchy such a bad word? Will anarchy lead to more or less social disorder than is now present? Are the enormous amount of resources that are currently invested in the government, and which lead to an artificial order being imposed from the top, justified for the sole prupose of preventing the society from slipping into anarchy? Is the social cost of anarchy greater than the cost of maintaining a dysfunctional government, which in any case leads to oppression of the poor, and results in creation of a society based on flawed principles? Bankuin
spoke of this when he attacked "official" authority, but defended "natural influence", and also when he said:

"Do you want to make it impossible for anyone to oppress his fellow-man? Then make sure that no one shall possess power." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, p. 271]

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was famous for his quips (such as "property is theft") and took to himself the word anarchy. As if his purpose were to shock as much as possible, in 1840 he engaged in the following dialogue with the "Philistine".

"You are a republican."
"Republican, yes; but that means nothing. Res publica is 'the State.' Kings, too, are republicans."
"Ah well! You are a democrat?"
"What! Perhaps you are a monarchist?"
"Constitutionalist then?"
"God forbid."
"Then you are an aristocrat?"
"Not at all!"
"You want a mixed form of government?"
"Even less."
"Then what are you?"
"An Anarchist."
Considering the obvious failure of all forms of governance at all levels of human society, and the obviously human and flawed nature of those who govern us (elected or unelected), I think its time we did away with all forms of governance. Consider, that democracy is by another name "tyranny of the majority", and as Ayn Rand had said "The smallest minority on the Earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities".

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Why this blog?

I had created this blog last year and since then off and on I have been writing to it. My posts are sporadic. In fact compared to several other more prolific bloggers who update their blogs at least once a day, my average so far, has been one post in 2 months. Now that I think of it, another difference is, my posts tend to be much longer. Today, that I discovered some free time, I thought I should note down some points which impelled me to create a blog, and in the process add another post to my (for long dormant) blog.

First and the most obvious reason was my narcissitic tendency, which delighted in seeing my name in print. The possibility that no one else may read my blog (which has been borne out by circumstances) seemed to bear little on my mind. After all I am the master of my own universe, and for all practical purposes I am a closed system, which cannot interact with any other being, without the aid of some commonly defined protocols which include language (both written and spoken) and gestures. And even with the aid of language there is so much that will lie undiscovered, and undetected because there is no adequate way to put it into words. And if a closed system is what I am, then how does it matter who interacts with me and who doesn't? My being the master of my own universe was enough to fuel and keep alive my narcissitic tendencies.

Then again, I belong to the category of people who believe that they have an opinion on everything. So I had an opinion on global warming, on deforestation, on extinction of species, on Pune's roads, on the state of Indian politics, on the relative merits of Leo Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky as writers, on Hindi cinema, on Manmohan Singh and his sleazy cabinet, on US presidential elections and a lot many things. I would give vent to my thoughts by sending lengthy, rhetorical mails to all the people in my address book. The lack of responses led me to suspect that a lot of my mails were being diverted to the Trash folder, with or without seeing the boundaries of Inbox or Personal folders. Like the Bible says - and I paraphrase - "The truth shall set you free", and this realization set me free. The seed of doubt was always there, which crustallized when one of the long suffering targets of my numerous mails suggested that I start a blog. Not content with mere passive suggestions, he also sent me the link of and followed up with me until I had actually created a blogger account. Then he pointed out smugly that now that I have a blog I can redirect all the trash I write over there. So that, in short was how I officially entered Blog-dom.

Now the question arises, as to why I did not write so prolifically on my blog as I used to in my mails. The reason is deceptively simple. One often comes across children who love eating chocolates, or adults who love eating rosogollas (I love both). Such people mistakenly believe that they can eat an unlimited no of chocolates or rosogollas and always complain that they don't have enough. They exaggerate their capabilities for eating chocolates or rosogollas. To such a child, gift a large packet of Lindt's or Hershey's and see how many they can finish off. In a similar vein, to expose the rosogolla-philic nature of an adult treat her to a large dabba of KC Das' and see how many she can bump off. In both the cases, the final outcome would be a disappointment both to the subject as well as to the conductor of such an experiment. The child will probably eat a dozen chocolates, the adult will eat half a dozen rosogollas and their appetite will seemingly be satiated. The point I am trying to illustrate here, is that there is often a disconnect between wanting and needing. So it was in my case. Once I got a platform to vent myself, I found that I had surprisingly little to say. But one benefit my blogging presence did accord to my hapless friends was, my frequency of mailing reduced.

I had started this blog mainly with the purpose of writing on topics of academic interest. My intention was to avoid commenting on issues that were even remotely controversial, which explains the lack of posts on OBC reservations, Iraq war, terrorism, Manmohan Singh's shenanigans (though I maintain that the university which granted him a PhD should consider withdrawing it, in the light of his extreme imbecility) and Himesh Reshammiya. Every now and then I would get a sudden bout of energy and find a topic interesting enough to write on, though finding one such topic would be a more daunting task that actually writing on it, considering the shackles that I had imposed on myself. Like on a half dozen similar occasions, I made a mental resolution today as well, that I will be more regular in maintaining my blog. But unlike most other times, I followed up on my newly made resolution by actually writing two posts.

This blog will not solve the problems of global warming, of poverty, of rampant corruption, of terrorism or of hundreds of such evils of similar or lesser magnitude that plague our planet. But if it makes the reader pause for a while and think, I will consider my endeavor to have succeeded. As I had noted in an earlier post, the single most important distinguishing factor of modern age, from the countless ones before, is, the proliferation of media and communication devices, which makes communication and collaboration so much easier, and which makes dissemination of ideas possible on a global scale. While it makes it easier for terrorists to plan their moves in relative ease and secrecy, it also makes it possible for us to catch them or to build public opinion against them. Professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum had once noted that transport and communication are having a race and whoever wins will make the other obsolete. Communication has won, but transport has still not become obsolete. And it is the victory of communication which makes our age unique.

All critique and
comments are welcome. If you have accidentally located this blog, don't go away yet. Write some comments and share your views with me. So long and thanks for all the fish.

Friday, May 11, 2007

If you existed, but no one knew of your existence, would you still exist?

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

When words fail

Alone on a train aimless in wonder
An outdated map crumpled in my pocket
But I didn't care where I was going
'Cause they're all different names for the same place.
The coast disappeared when the sea drowned the sun
And I knew no words to share with anyone
The boundaries of language I quietly cursed
And all the different names for the same thing.

How do you feel when you walk down a lonely beach? A sandy beach, filled with white, firm sand, palms swaying in the distance, just a hint of a breeze, littered with large rocks just on the point where water meets land, and that noise of waves crashing against sand, shattering into a million shards of glass time after time and yet continuing their relentless persecution against land. The distant horizon, where the ocean meets the sky; the bluish gray of one, meeting with the deep blue of the other, creating an illusion (or is that reality) of all pervading oneness. Have you ever tried to put your experience into words and failed?

The amateurish attempt at describing a lonely walk alongside a sea beach was meant to drive home a more fundamental premise. Is there more truth in the expression “words fail me” than we allow ourselves to believe? How often do words fail us? How adequate or otherwise are words as a medium for expressing our feelings? Not much it would seem. It is an utterly futile attempt to try to capture nature’s beauty in words. One can never hope to share with another her feeling when she beheld a particularly beautiful sunset, or a majestic snow capped mountain peak, or a gargantuan wave crashing against the shore and shattering into a zillion droplets. If one cannot adequately describe nature in words, what hope does one have, of describing God or religion or enlightenment?

It is a well known story that the Buddha, following his enlightenment, initially hesitated whether he should bother to share his discovery with anyone at all, reflecting that:
"This Dhamma, won by me, is deep, difficult to see, difficult to understand . . . But this is a generation delighting in sensual pleasure . . . And if I were to teach Dhamma and others were not to understand me, this would be a weariness to me, this would be a vexation to me."

Whereupon Brahma Sahampati (a deva [demigod] from the Brahmaloka) intervened, pointing out to the Buddha that there were some beings with little dust in their eyes who would profit from him teaching them.

The experience that the Buddha had undergone was beyond description, and for most humans, as he pointed out, beyond comprehension; for the boundaries of our language are so often the boundaries of our world. We immediately discard that which cannot be expressed in words, deeming such experiences to be unreal. We fail to realize that it is not the experience which is unreal; rather it is our language, bounded by words, which is inadequate for describing our experiences! The primary purpose of language was not to make ourselves understand our experiences; it was to communicate our experiences to the other. Yet in a curious travesty of the need for language, we have started using language to convince ourselves of our experiences, to translate our experiences in a manner which can be palatable to the world. What a waste!

It is this realization, which has led me to wonder about the plight of the poets, for it is poetry, and poetry alone which can attempt to say what prose dare not. Are poets ever properly understood? Are they ever able to put their point across? Do their readers always understand what it was that the poet was trying to convey? And last but not the least; is the poet’s interpretation of her poetry always the only correct and sensible one?

What did Robert Frost mean, when he said :

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

I picked up this particular poem to illustrate my point, when I might as well have picked up some mystical stuff from Blake or Coleridge, because Frost will resonate more with modern readers, and his evocative imagery of nature, and winter (the harbinger of death) is so beautiful and yet so simple that it can connect with the reader at several levels. Like any other Frost poem, this one can be interpreted at many levels, and yet you might want to discard all such interpretations, and enjoy the poem just at the surface level which is still wonderfully evocative for its description of a snow filled journey.

There is a delicious ambiguity in the words "Whose woods are these I think I know?” Now what could have Frost meant by that? That there is a human owner of the forest where the poet stops, and his name is what comes to Frost’s mind when he thinks of the owner of the forest? But can a human ever own a forest - or the mountains - or the oceans - or rivers - or other fellow creatures? Can anyone possibly own something she has not created? If so, by what right? If she owns a land, how did she come to acquire it? If it was sold by another human, how did that human come to acquire it, because sure as heaven, God never sold any of Her creations to a human being! The forest, just as everything else in the Universe belongs to God, but She out of love for us has leased it to us, to take care of, to sustain ourselves with and to share with the ones we love. Can we always claim to have done that? Perhaps not!

When I read that line of Frost’s poem, I think of the divine ownership of everything, but was that what Frost had in mind when he composed the poem? If not, was his interpretation more correct than my interpretation? Does a piece of art belong forever to the artiste who has created it, or does it go into the public domain once the artiste has completed it, to be done with as the hoi polloi feel like? Does Shakespeare have sole right over his plays, or does humanity own it, to interpret as it thinks fit? Baz Luhrmann had set his Romeo and Juliet in modern day crime infested Miami, moving away from the original setting of medieval Rome for the play. Who knows Shakespeare might have chosen Rome due to the paucity of options available to him. He might have considered New York underworld and its warring mafia families to be a more apt setting for this epic love story had he been acquainted with NY when he wrote!

But we digress. To come back to the topic at hand, a very generous allowance can be given to the assumption that a description, if accurate, should somehow convey the thing itself; if I accurately describe 'water', the reader would then be wet. Similarly, it can be assumed that a person who has had an experience, should be able to describe the experience, in such a way as to convey the actual experience itself, to the reader. Failing that a verbal description is of no avail, for the listener has no means of independently verifying the accuracy of the description. What good will it do to describe snow to a Saharan dweller, when she in all possibility will never have seen and never will see snow in all her life? Even after snow has been described to her, and she perchance goes to a foreign land and encounters snow there, remote is the possibility that she can recognize it as the same object which had earlier been described to her as snow.

To extend the analogy further, is it possible that an experience can be shared by the narrator only with them who have undergone a similar experience, while those who have not, may have no inkling as to what is going on? To put it conversely, can it be possible to teach someone to think? Can someone be made to experience an experience by mere dint of describing that experience in words? And if not, aren’t all words futile, mere placeholders for reality, placeholders for what could have been?

Have I been able to convey anything in this essay apart from my inability to convey what I want to convey? And if not, why make the attempt to say anything at all? Why not learn from the mistake of the Buddha and keep quiet? Because silence speaks to the heart, when words fail.