Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Cattle class" tera journalism!

"..But it’s the token of respect they have earned that the occupants of the crammed “cattle class” may appreciate more..", goes The Telegraph main story on the Railway Budget, titled "Cattle class to comfort zone".

Our "mainstream" media can so blatantly stoop to any low when they are sure nobody would take it up and make it an issue like they did with the Shilpa Shetty (non?) issue a few weeks back. They also seem to be assuming that the "class" that travels in general compartments don't read their paper.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Guess who are the Best Developed?

Guess which nation is the best developed in the world? When we say the "best developed", we mean it. Don't confuse that with something like "with highest per capita income" or "highest pollution rate".

Green Left, Australia quotes The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Global Footprint Network.s 2006 report, Living Planet, released last October:

"..human activities are outstripping the natural world's capacity to regenerate. The worst offenders are also the wealthiest. for example the US, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia and New Zealand produce 50% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.. It also revealed that Cuba was the only country to have achieved sustainable development.."

The report goes on to say that "Cuba's rating was based on the fact that it is the only country in the world that has a high level of social development, including good health and education systems, and does not use up more resources than is sustainable."

Now, what makes Cuba take the sustainability route, when everyone else is competing with one another in their race towards an impending doom? The communist parties, or the ideologies itself, have no special inclination towards environment-friendly development, or to be more precise, development that lasts.

The report says that "Cuba's achievements are all the more extraordinary because the country, already very poor, has pulled this off in despite the five-decade-long US economic blockade". Despite the blockade? I believe it was the Blockade itself that made this possible.

Cuba did not have much choice.

With a sanction in place for almost 50 years, they had to do with what they had within. They could not steal oil or share the benefit from those who did. They could not live in illusions.

Let us check what is happening in India. Our media has been raving about the new "shining" India, for which both NDA and UPA claim the credit. The "left", once widely seen as the "red" that stops this "development boom", is now going all out to beat everyone else in that game.

EPW Editorial ("Nandigram: Taking People for Granted", Economic and Political Weekly, Jan 13-19 2007) calls it a "race to the bottom":

"And with globalisation, capital, whether Indian or Foreign, has to be given better terms than what is on offer by governments in other potential locations in other countries. When capital finally decides to make an investment in the domestic economy, state governments then compete with one another in offering better terms to enhance their respective location advantages. The revenue loss such terms entail does, of course, compound their problem of financing programmes in health, education and other important public services, forcing them to either cut back on these programmes or turn to the "aid" agencies that willy-nilly impose their "conditionalities". Frankly, it is really a "race to the bottom" in which the state governments have limited options.."

[We had talked about this in the comments here once.

" is not profitable to account for the exploitation of our resources. Ooze all the water out of our wells and give it to MNCs. Shut all the schools down in the rural areas, have no hospitals, health care, or even better, shoot all those people..

The media, with enough money backing it, play the "let the market decide" tune loud enough to make sure any other voice goes unheard. [A boycott in Nandigram of newspapers or of journalists belonging to some news organizations suggests a feeling of media disenfranchisement, writes Aloke Thakore; Singur smokescreen: Part 1, 2 and 3 by Anirudha Dutta]

Unfortunately, even when a Singur or Nandigram makes it to the news, at best it is used to "expose" the double-talk of the major left parties in India (and to feel glad that the "Left" is also coming "our" way). Hardly anyone bothers to raise questions about the development model itself.

Friday, February 23, 2007

More Missing People, Crying Mothers

This time, Samjhautha Express. Killing about 70 people on the spot. Another shot at making fear prevail over any attempts towards peace.

[From India eNews: Diaries from Samjhauta: "It was exactly one year to the day that I had boarded the Delhi-Attari Express that would take me onward to Lahore via the Samjhauta Express from Attari. One year hence I cannot but be overcome by emotions to hear the news of the tragedy that took place last Sunday..", writes Rudroneel Ghosh.]

The tragedy, security lapses, images of the suspects, and an image of a BSF man on a horseback alongside the train (that one on the front page of today's The Telegraph) are all over the newspapers and television. And Pakistan and India getting into a word of wars again.

You think it's just the scale of the horror of the incident that makes the media jump on it so happily? I think thats just a part of it.

Now, think Nithari. Another feast that the media has had in recent times, despite the news of the missing children coming out very late. What made it easy meat? Missing children? Skeletons? Crying moms? May be all of that, but looking closer, I see something common: An easy villain.

(Almost every news report related to Nithari had Moninder Singh's photo with it. And for "us" on this side, there is an "easy villain" in ISI every time any act of terror happens in this country. This time it wasn't so easy, as many of the people who died were Pakistanis. Still the media is playing that "Pak hand" card, though in a more subtle way.).

Here's another story that had both missing clildren and people continuously living in fear. And yes, it has crying Mothers too.

Families of missing people from Jammu and Kashmir were on a day-long hunger strike yesterday (Thursday, February 22) in New Delhi.

I heard this from a journalist friend in Delhi. I try googling but can't find anything on it in our leading "National" newspapers. The only news article I could find on this is from "Greater Kashmir", that calls it a "part of a campaign to mobilise public support against human rights violations in the strife-torn state."

"Sixty family members of the missing people, mostly women, arrived here [Delhi] on Monday from Srinagar in a bus to participate in the campaign", goes the news.

[The false encounter killings in Kashmir came to news again recently, with former Superintendent of Police Hansraj Parihar and his deputy in Ganderbal, Bhadur Ram, arrested for allegedly killing five south Kashmir villagers in fake encounters after dubbing them as Pakistani militants, for reward money. I had read that news at a couple of places but all I could find now with Google was a single Indian Express article: "There is a man who says his brother, a Special Police official, was picked up from home, tortured to death and to hide the truth..."

Then a Kashmiri Observer article about a protest strike in Kashmir. And a statement in Peoples Democracy. Is there a filter working inside Google India like, say, the one in China? I am not sure.]

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An Iraqi girl speaks Malayalam

Sameeha translates her neighbour, a 13-year old Iraqi girl who lived in the next flat, who lost her parents when they were having a lunch together.

In English, it translates roughly as..

"I can't forget the childhood
That smelt blood
Ate bombs
Heard lullabies of gunshots

We will resist
At least with slingshots
Till our last bones are broken
We, children of Baghdad.."

"Who knows what she'll become tomorrow..", Sameeha asks. What will we call the girl, "insurgent", or "terrorist"? When will the rest of us realize War is not a matter of whether Saddam was a martyr or a villain?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mahendra Singh Dhoni: Low class cricketer


Dhoni-dom is not quite the stardom that we are used to in Indian cricket.

I am not refering only to the guy's cricketing skills here. MSD is a class apart, literally. He belongs to the lower class.

You'd know what I mean if you've seen the ads that feature him.

We have seen stars drink Pepsi or Coke (or Boost!), ride Santro, wear Mayur or Siyaram suitings, show off their Rbk (and RSS, of late), be part of the Samsung team, eat Chyavanprash.. Whereas Dhoni's larger-than-life figure is all over in the interiors of the country in billboards that target the labour and farmer class.

So unlike our "master"s, "Maharaja"s and "Wall"s, Dhoni comes out as the "common man" of Indian cricket.

(One does not forget an under-19 captain who brought home the world cup and later became part of the senior team, he had the common man appeal in him but he never became a sellable star on his own. Sehvag was another person who came close).

Coming from Bihar Ranji team (and later Jharkhand), MSD has a way of his own. In everything. (Ever heard of anyone from a Bihar team making it to the Indian team before?) And with his game, he makes sure he can't be ignored by anyone for long.

The Telegraph carries an opinion page article on Feb 15:

"What stood out from the beginning was Dhoni's confident poise, the fact that he played from the start like an adult.. Dhoni never looked the young debutant, he never seemed tentative. He seemed to know what his business was and went about it with a calm self-possession that contrasted nicely with the violence of his methods.."

The article tries to find the reason:

"This might have had something to do with his apprenticeship in first-class cricket, which was a relatively long one. He had played five years of first-class cricket when he was selected to represent India.."

One of the earliest articles I could find on the man says: "I am sure M.S.Dhoni would get his turn to play for India and if he can produce atleast 60% of what he had played against Pakistan A and Kenya, then my word is that this guy would be a resounding success in the near future.."

He lived up to those words. In style.

In a game that is dominated by the "whites" of this country.

Coming back to the Telegraph article, that calls him "part Bheem, part Ekalavya":

"Indian teams are organized around codes of deference: "junior" players behave a certain way around "senior" players.. Dhoni, like Sehwag, doesn't fit into that mould.."

Let us hope he stays -- as a dependable player, as a star, and as a common man.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Rain: Most unromantic

My friends are sleeping on a pavement. The water levels have risen, and it has become impossible to stay there any longer. I ask them where would they go, but there isn't much choice before them. All other pavements are already taken by someone or the other. The situation is not much better for them either, as the levels continue to raise. There's one tea-shop below ground level, and it becomes a pond when it rains. It is one of those smaller towns, probably somewhere in Kerala. Two little friends of mine, a boy and a girl, try to move to the nearby town. But by then, that town has become part of the first, as the city grows..

[It was raining last evening. It was also quite cold. I had an umbrella but my pants got wet. It wasn't so good a feeling. There have been times when I enjoyed getting wet (and rain was so romantic) but it wasn't like that yesterday. I shivered, my knees pained, the wetness itched. I changed to dry clothes as soon as I got home. I felt relieved. In the night, the blanket fell off my head for a while. It took so much for me to have a dream like that.]

Waking up from that dream took me to the Mumbai of 2005. The deadly rains. And that July 26. About four lakh people on the streets, their homes struck down by the authorities earlier that year. The Shanghai dream..

[NUMBER OF homes damaged by the tsunami in Nagapattinam: 30,300. Number of homes destroyed by the Congress-NCP Government in Mumbai: 84,000.

How agonised we are about how people die. How untroubled we are by how they live..

Some of us had read that one by Sainath. But even those who read it could not quite connect to what it would have been like for them during the rains. For many, it was about taxpayers' money, illegal occupation, stealing resources and cleaning up Mumbai.

We hardly cared to find out why so many people still keep migrating to our cities despite them being so unclean -- especially the areas they have to live in. And how bad their lives could be back in their villages. Not only in terms of being able to make a living -- also in terms of access to medical help, access to education for the children..]

..Some of my friends going door-to-door to collect relief. Disappointment on their faces, as they make many rounds and fail to get the message across.

The words are so powerless a means of communication!

[Wrting all this reminds me of another article titled "My Monsoons" that I read a few years back].

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Love in (and after) the time of Innocence

I remember one my friends telling about the love of his early college days, when he was sixteen or seventeen. Passionately in love with a girl in his class (and unable to convey his feelings) he would sing "Main duniyaa bhulaa dungaa.. / Teri chaahat mein.." (Aashiqui was hot then.)

When the girl started seeing someone, the track changed to "Ab tere bin / Jee lenge hum.. / Zeher zindagii ka / Pee lenge hum.."

* * *

I'm sure most of you would agree it is diffucult to love like we do at that age -- as we become, well, mature. (We are becoming marichor -- the dead, not mature, as another friend puts it).

It does make sense to me when someone says she is not immature enough to love, nor mature enough for it. So is the case with me, as with many others.

We can not hope to go back to the innocence, or rather naiveness, of our pre-degree days. Yet we can not deny the role of those naive days in what becomes of us in the later years of life. We realize many of the assumptions on which we based what we called love were wrong. We grow up to a better understanding of the world and our own self. More often than not with a bitterness somewhere inside -- a fear of the other, fear of oneself. It does not matter whether you "won" the love or lost it.

So what is it to be able to love without fear?

I love these (oft-quoted) words of Gibran, and envy those who can love.

["Elevation of the self": painting by Gibran]

* * *

Picture ki heroine jhoot bol rahi hai
Kismat se tum humko mile hain
Andar ki andar woh bol rahi hogi
Sach to ye hai
Kismat se hum tumko mile hai

[Thanks to Manaswini who once goofed the lyrics]

Pyaar ke Side/Effects

A friend, who used to spend virtually all day and all night actively on the web, says he does not check mail often now, and if he gets a spare hour, he'd rather sleep it.

That was a pleasant surprise.

There's reason to believe it has something to do with the relationship he's in. Cheers to the woman who made the impossible possible.

Love does have its side effects.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Domestication : the AB way and the Laljose way

AB baby on Rai: Cartoon by Chitra in Horticulture

"Now that theyre getting married, I am looking for new sources on the tv for comic strips. but maybe with amitabh making such bloopers I wont have to after all.."

[Cartoon strip by Chitra Venkataramany on Horticulture].

This domestication business does not begin with an Amitabh or does not end with an Aishwarya. Both in real life and in the reel-life. Take any of those so-called "strong" woman characters in our films, they are almost always sure to get domesticated. It is just a matter of finding the "right" man. (Chandni Bar recently in Hindi, films in which Manju Warrier played the tough woman in Malayalam.. Phir Milenge didn't attempt a romance between Shilpa and her Advocate saviour Abhishek, but the audience didn't seem quite happy that way).

The recent Malayalam hit Classmates took it one step further. Ok -- it had a proactive woman character (Suhra), something that we have hardly seen after the Manju Warrier days in mainstream Malayalam. The film didn't play safe with the 50+ heroes (Malayalam film viewers are supposed to dislike younger/newer heroes). It had a nonconventional storyline -- a thriller packed in some campus nostalgia. And an attempt at nonlinear story telling -- a commercially successful attempt, unlike Yuva/Ayudha Ezhuthu.

I was (like many others) happy the film became a runaway hit. Until I got to watch it in December, nearly four months after its release.

I was disappointed. It was still "better than the lot" as one my friend had opined, but a "better than the lot" film has more responsibility with it. Instead of taking that extra responsibility, Classmates just stretched our old prejudices, played out same old caricatures of "Muslim girl" and "Muslim girl's father", voyeured on the female body (it even had a re-run of boy-getting-into-girl's-bedroom-while-girl's-sleeping (supposedly heroic) scene lifted from the director's earlier film Meesamadhavan) and fed the male egoes.. What should have been a milestone that marked the new Malayalam cinema, stopped short of it.

What I found the most interesting was the way Suhra gets domesticated. It wasn't an easy task, as her man is dead. But Laljose does not give up. So it is the guy's parents who decide to "keep her" (the Bahu) and "take care of her". Shubham! What happier an end can one hope for?

Saturday, February 03, 2007


"I am afraid of certain words like fear, crime and foolishness.

I'm fascinated by certain words like brave, cool and peace.

But sometimes to be peaceful you have to grasp what is within fear.

And to avoid foolishness you have to be criminal.

To keep a voice innate you will have to be fool before so many.

I'm undergoin tremendous change in my mental make up. Trying to be able to accommodate so many bitter terms and be unconditional. I dont know where the ways will lead me to. But to be static is no dream, no truth and no goal. So I take up the journey now, if you meet me agin with same health richness and sanity, lets smile.

["bitter world. better world." by Sree, Towards a Language of My own]

She was responding to a talk we listened to at a seminar on Peace we attended,
trying to answer her inner and outer conflicts in this context.

Someone said at the seminar: "Conflicts are not necessarily negative. Without conflicts, you are static. Dead." And he concluded his talk saying dialogues are the right way towards resolving conflicts, not negotiations.

I found that observation interesting. The dialogue he talks about is not just between the State and Militant outfits. The dialogue between people, finding common areas to work with..

As we had observed before in this diary, our identities are becoming more and more rigid, and we are talking less and less. "The other" is becoming our enemy.

Can we hope to get back to friendly dialogues? I'm not sure. We have done enough damage to such prospects already. As a nation, as people, as religions.. But I still believe that is the way to go if we are to move towards a more harmonic existence (I'm not talking about one without conflicts).

I will sign off with a link to an article by the above mentioned speaker: Another 9/11, Another Act of Terror [pdf file].

"In this essay, I intend to narrate a story of another September 11, a story from the margins. It is the story of an ‘attack on democracy’, carried out not by ‘terrorists’ on a ‘suicide mission’, or through a military coup, but by the state in what is called the world’s ‘largest democracy’, and through an instrument of state terror on a section of its own population.."