This New York Times article has attracted a lot of sound and fury, perhaps more than its inherent inaccurate silliness deserves. My take on it:
Journalists often have a habit of pre-writing an article in their heads and then going looking for quotes to support their premise! Asgar Qadri came to interview me for this piece and when he found I was saying exactly the opposite of what he wanted to hear, has wiped my views out of his article!
His take is totally inaccurate. The irony is that the current BJP Govt, while supporting yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, and other traditional Indian knowledge systems, and even a non-meat diet, has not pushed wearing of Indian costume at all! One cannot include the Prime Minister’s own outfits as ALL Indian Prime Ministers, of all political affiliations and parties, have always worn Indian clothes. In fact, Mr Modi is unusual in occasionally sporting Western wear suits on his sorties abroad.
Qadri says “the Indian fashion industry has been pressed to aggressively promote traditional attire and bypass Western styles. The effort aligns with the party’s broader political program: to project multi-faith India, a country of more than 1.3 billion, as a Hindu nation.”
This is really rubbish! The traditional Indian clothes that Indians wear – the sari, salwar kameez, dhotis, lehenga ordni, the lungi and the mekala chador, sherwanis, achkans and Nehru jackets, have nothing to do with Hinduism! They, their many regional variations, and Indian stitched garments themselves, (including Mr Modi’s own ubiquitous bandgala waistcoat and churidar-kurta), have evolved over the centuries as responses to climate, lifestyle, and influences from many other cultures and wearing styles across the globe.
In any case, as I told Qadri, far from actively promoting traditional Indian costume in India, the present Govt’s main efforts have been to attempt to push Indian handlooms internationally. It has been sending designers to Varanasi and other handloom centres to design western garments for the international market, scheduled to be launched at Fashion shows and Trade Fairs in fashion capitals across the world . This, and the Handloom Mark and Handloom Day, are part of an attempt to support our declining Handloom industry, not some dark reactionary agenda. In fact many of us in the sector feel that not enough is being done, given the double blow demonitisation and GST has dealt to small weaver communities.
ALL Indian Governments since Independence have supported Handloom weaving. This is not to propagate Hinduism, or even nationalism, but for the simple reason that it’s one of the largest sectors of employment, after agriculture, now increasingly threatened by mill and powerloom production. Incidentally, handloom has nothing to do with Hinduism, A vast percentage of handloom weavers, including those in Mr Modi’s constituency Varanasi, are Muslims! To conflate promotion of weaving or wearing handloom with a Hindu Fundamentalist agenda is as absurd as saying that the fact that I, as a Muslim, have worn Handloom sarees on a daily basis all my adult life, reveals some hidden Hindutva connection!
Perhaps it IS curious that a Government which has reached back into India’s cultural and spiritual past for much of its political rhetoric, has NOT really pushed national costume. Possibly because it doesn’t need to. Indians, while increasingly wearing Western wear, will always go back to our own wonderful garments as well. Though I am delighted that freedom of choice is with us in this arena, it is doubly irritating that Mr Qadri has tried to fit a cap onto our costume which doesn’t really fit.
Author’s facebook post published with her permission.
“I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office – or out of it. To anyone.”
– Harvey Weinstein
“I came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behaviour and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office – or out of it. To anyone.”
– Harvey Weinstein
The incomprehensible case of Harvey Weinstein follows in the close footsteps of the moral disrobing of Bill Cosby and the inexplicable rise of Trump despite “the Access Hollywood Tapes”. The over-the-top reaction of Americans to these revelations of sexual impropriety should come as happy affirmation to Indian observers that progress is inevitable.
America and Echoes of Third Wave Feminism
America, today, is at a pivotal point in the feminist movement: there is a mainstreaming of the gains from what is popularly known as second-wave feminism. Feminist writers and intellectuals proclaimed that this ended in the ’80s with the recognition of a public role for women in the workplace and legal rights over their bodies. But cultural undercurrents usually have an insidious way of overcoming intellectual ones. The elite may have arrived at their happy consensus but nobody actually informed the poobahs of industry that their behavior was no longer acceptable.
Harvey Weinstein was one of that set. As the youngest of the powerful men preying on young girls uninhibited, Harvey is 65 years old today. Most of the allegations against him crescendo in the mid-90s. Bill O’Reilly clocks in at a close 68, he too having come of age before the gains of second-wave feminism translated into a commonly accepted zeitgeist.
Even Cosby’s pattern of alleged sexual assaults crested long before steroidal men had fully confronted the evolving role of women at the workplace. So, in hindsight, we should not have been surprised when Bill Clinton’s white stain came along in the ’90s. The 71-year-old Clinton belonged to this club too and as an impressionable 20-year old in the middle of the ’60s, he bloomed in a deeply misogynistic decade that the TV show Mad Men recreates for us: A time when men could whack their secretaries’ bottoms without fear of repercussion; where they could say things like “won’t let a woman talk to him this way”.
As an Atlantic article headlined “Mad Men’s Very Modern Sexism Problem” puts it, “We’re encouraged to shake our heads at these men and their outdated attitudes, but by presenting discrimination as a shocking feature of a past era, Mad Men lets us imagine that it’s just one more of those things that We Don’t Do Any More.”
Today, these old men may be tumbling out of their closets in America, but there is hope on the horizon that this parade may soon stop, as the Mad Men generation approach their twilight years. Soon, a new generation will take their place – a generation bred in a world that came of age after the gains of second wave feminism were the social norm.
India’s Long Road to Equal Access
India is on now going through its version of the second-wave transformation. In some ways and in some parts of the country, Indian women have always been more visible in the public sphere than women in the West. Every major South Asian state has had a female head of state; women have been active in politics since well before Independence including as voters with equal rights.
But on issues relating to sex and sexuality, however, we are only coming around to addressing the issues faced by women, children and other disadvantaged groups. Even in big metros, the idea of a woman self-identifying as initiators in the “mating game” hasn’t been seeded. Male members of the species are still taught to define their ‘manhood’ by getting a female member to switch a “no” to a “yes” by any means necessary.
However, there is a small glimmer of hope. As a member of the group that came of age in the 90s, we may well be the last generation of men in urban India not acquainted with the language of consent.
In the last couple of years, our cohort have had supposedly progressive men like RK Pachauri, Arunabh Kumar and Tarun Tejpal brought to their knees on charges of sexual harassment.
The next generation in upwardly mobile pockets of urban India are evolving ways to talk about ‘hooking up’. They belong to a cultural moment where the very words pre-marital and extra-marital sex are turning into quaint anachronisms from a prudish past. Young men are beginning to recognise the indicators of consent and women feel empowered to give consent.
The twin forces of empowering female consent to sexual activity (taking it out of the domain of secrecy and guilt) and a slow cultural shift away from shaming the victim, have altered the contours of the debate in subtle ways. Even the strange case of Manik Katyal, while highlighting his own personal depravity, further underlines the dramatic shift in public shaming away from the victim in urban India.
It may be a while before this conversation is mainstreamed from the commanding heights of yuppie Mumbai to the outer reaches of Chattisgarh … but it will happen.
Misogyny and sexual abuse abounds in every power structure within Indian society. So far, the reckoning for sexual promiscuity has largely been limited to godmen and others of whom a high bar of moral purity is expected. However, it’s not farfetched to predict that India’s own sexually abusive cultural icons, of the stature of Harvey or Cosby are also hiding in plain.
It’s only a matter of time before our own public reckoning for our deeply sexually abusive society blows open our protestations of public prudishness.
A version of this article was previously posted at arre.co.in.
The first thing to know about air pollution in Delhi is that the situation is beyond redemption. The time for reacting, for making fundamental but realistic changes to how this city runs, for educating people, is long gone. We know it, the government knows it, the courts know it, even the media has given up on reporting this to us in language designed to compel us to panic.
You don’t need this chart to tell you the situation is hopeless, but it does confirm that this is so. The Air Quality Index (AQI) tracks several categories of pollutants and measures their values over a 24-hour cycle. By all estimates, it’s a fair, undramatic assessment of air quality. It isn’t a kneejerk number based off going out on Diwali night and concluding that the level of a category of particulate matter generated only by firecrackers is a bazillion percent higher compared with a normal night. It’s a responsible number, adopted after a lot of deliberation. And that’s precisely what makes it frightening.
India’s Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) literature on the AQI tells us that this number should ideally be below 100. Anything above it elevates risks for sensitive groups, those working outdoors and, eventually, everybody. At an AQI above 300, the CPCB recommends actions such as no-tolerance to visibly polluting vehicles, industries, and construction activities, and actively regulating traffic.
In the 24 months before this October, Delhi has endured 6 months, plural, where its AQI has averaged over 300. In 11 other months, it has averaged over 200. These readings conform to the pattern of a devastating sine wave – bad in the summer, worse in the winter. In the winter, colder, heavier air tends to settle more. In the summer, because rain is around and convection is your friend, the AQI is better. It’s likely, therefore, that the coming November to January will be 300+ months too, like they were last year, and the year before that.
Go up through the 300s, and the air eventually hits a point where it just breaks up and becomes a mess. It makes for a suffocating visual, let alone a suffocating reality. Go past 400, and that mark may as well be called the ‘you have no business living here’ line. Since November 2015, Delhi has logged 34 days above the 400 line. Thirty-four days worthy of an emergency declaration saying, don’t step outside, it would be actively endangering your life to do so.
Relative to recent history, 2017 has, so far, actually been decent. Yet, it took Delhi’s wettest June in a decade to drag the AQI numbers down after 8 months north of 200. It’s a decent year that still flattens out only to a fraction over one good breathing day, singular, per week. That’s how bad it is.
That’s also why the recent Supreme Court ban on firecrackers for Diwali is good for a bit of gallows humour, but not much more. In effect, the Supreme Court wants simply to observe air pollution levels without the variable of firecrackers in the equation.
The short answer is that, in 2015, AQI numbers for the Diwali week were statistically indistinguishable from the AQI average for the month. In 2016, when Diwali coincided with a large-scale crop residue burning cycle across north Indian farms that increased in scale by over 24% in some places, the Diwali week numbers were higher than normal, but the numbers were higher still for the week after Diwali week, when the crop residue burning persisted but Diwali didn’t. (AQI numbers for Diwali weeks 2015 and 2016 are marked on the chart in blue. If they weren’t blue, they’d be red, of course.) The CPCB, which has been summoned to the Supreme Court multiple times before, has been collecting before/after pollution data on Diwali since at least 2004. This data shows higher peaks on Diwali, but isn’t conclusive on its correlation with even medium-term effects on air quality.
As such, sure, a ban on firecrackers makes a non-zero amount of sense. But to pretend that it will make Delhi’s air “better”, whatever that means, or that firecrackers are the root of the problem, is laughable. Equally, some people have reasoned that firecrackers are fringe contributors to the problem, and that there must be ulterior, anti-Diwali motives at play. Perhaps that’s true, and the firecracker industry is merely low-hanging fruit. It does, however, take a special kind of gift for someone’s reaction to a bona fide environmental emergency to be to convert it into some kind of weird implied battle for religious victimhood.
Either way, it looks as if the firecracker ban is another way for the establishment to plug fingers in its ears about the real, entrenched causes of Delhi’s air pollution. The trouble is, requiring the construction industry to adopt cleaner equipment and methods would cripple the profitability of some very powerful people. Long-term restrictions on vehicles in a city abnormally dependent on them would invite public anger. Making fundamental changes to public transport or finding better ways of maintaining Delhi’s 28,508 kilometres of roads would involve overcoming inertia that’s almost a badge of honour at this point.
The problem is so extraordinary that the only parallels exist in Chinese cities hurting from industrial emissions. Their response was a brutal and coercive crackdown on thousands of factories. It saw private owners and local administrations toughen up and eat losses worth billions in industries like power generation and steel production. We have a government that, nearly three weeks after last November’s airpocalypse – when Delhi suffered twelve 400+ days in two weeks – said that there was “no conclusive study” that it knew of to suggest that crop residue burning “would always impact the quality of air” in Delhi.
Look, maybe this year’s Diwali pollution numbers will be lower. Maybe that’ll be because of the firecracker ban. Maybe it’ll be because this Diwali is earlier in the year than it has been recently, and the weather isn’t cold enough to hold the pollution down. Maybe it’ll be because it doesn’t overlap exactly with the sharp end of a crop residue burning cycle that torched over 2,000 square kilometres in Haryana last year. Maybe it’ll be because of wind patterns. I don’t know.
What I do know is that we’re hurtling unerringly towards the red zone for one more winter, firecrackers or not. If it wasn’t before, maybe it’s finally time to appreciate the scale and permanence of what’s happened to this city. It’s certainly time to understand that, as citizens, we’re pretty much on our own on this.
In May 2014, the Modi government inherited a crude oil import price over $100 per barrel and petrol selling in India’s four metro cities on average at over ₹76 per litre. For most of the next two years, international oil prices sank to record lows. Given India’s dependence on oil imports, it could’ve been game-changing.
Handed an oil buffer worth billions, this government instead hiked petrol excise taxes nine times in under 15 months starting November 2014, on top of higher state taxes. Yet, such was the largesse they were blessed with that the four metro average petrol price actually fell from ₹68.71 to ₹62.36 in that time. By January 2016, India’s fuel taxes were at unprecedented levels. For the 20 months since then, we’ve been in a historically bizarre position where, even if crude oil was imported for free, we would be charged upwards of ₹35 a litre for petrol. Even in India, where the ridiculous is commonplace, this is astonishing.
The defence offered for these measures followed a pattern that has now become this government’s signature – surface level logic about arresting fiscal deficits and cutting fuel subsidies, supported by moral justifications about the oil sector needing to take its medicine to correct the previous government’s excesses.
This past weekend marked 100 days since the latest government medicine. Starting June 16, oil companies have been permitted to change prices daily based on international market prices. So now, every morning at 6 a.m., oil companies tell us how much we must pay that day. It’s a bold decision because it should bring some transparency and accuracy to domestic prices. It’s a brazen decision because it shrinks the room for insulating people from short-term price spurts and rationalizing them into fortnightly revisions as was previously possible. It’s a smart decision because daily price changes are usually incremental enough for people to accept them. It’s a cunning decision for the exact same reason.
The trouble is, people start noticing eventually. The four metro average petrol price has gone up by over ₹6.1/litre in the last two months. The government has blamed this on high international prices due to hurricanes in America. Again, on the surface, that’s true. But that’s inherent to crude oil prices – they fluctuate at a moment’s notice based on unpredictable and utterly uncontrollable factors. It’s fine for the government say that it wants to stick with daily pricing despite rising prices. But it is also spectacularly missing the point by treating criticism as an opposition to free market pricing. Nobody really cares why international prices are high. People want to know why their governments are collecting over half the selling price of a litre of petrol as tax when they know that international prices are rising.
Instead, in recent weeks, the oil minister has variously claimed that fuel prices have started falling, will keep falling further, and may fall by Diwali. He said that the prices aren’t within his control because the finance minister imposes taxes, not him. He also helpfully suggested bringing fuel under the GST regime instead of subjecting fuel to the two sets of taxes it generates presently.
The finance minister, though, has point blank refused to interfere. He says that these revenues are needed to build highways. Highways to ply vehicles that run on fuel which is taxed to build more highways. He also says that the centre shares 42% of its excise collections with the states and, if states want to lower the taxes they separately impose on fuel, they can. But the states won’t because the centre won’t and the centre won’t because it needs the money. Neither wants to move to the GST because neither has an incentive to leave behind so much exclusive tax money.
This month, India’s crude oil imports at source have been $53-55 per barrel on average, and the government will proudly tell you that it hasn’t raised excise on fuel since January 2016. Once again, that’s true. But it also hasn’t paid more than $55 per barrel on average for the last 20 months. The last time India paid under $55 for 20 months straight – from November 2003 to June 2005 – domestic petrol prices were ₹40-₹43 per litre. Even adjusting for 2017 prices to reflect the beating that the rupee has taken in that time, petrol should still be in the ₹58-₹63 range. The four metro average price this morning was over ₹74.
That’s not price fluctuation brought on by unforeseen circumstances. That’s a fundamental shift in how this government feels it can make money. It’s not a coincidence that over half of all of this government’s excise revenue now comes from petrol and diesel collections. In the last three years, this share has doubled, and the contribution of petroleum products to overall government revenue has grown by something like 58%. It has instituted a cycle of extreme dependence on a volatile revenue stream that could affect the functioning of Indian governments for years to come.
Think of it this way: if you buy a litre of petrol a day in Delhi, that’s ₹13,300 you’re putting into this government every year. It’s a government fast growing addicted to your petrol money, charging you a different price for it everyday based on international prices outside its control and, for the moment, showing little interest in scaling back its demands.
To be clear, there are justifications – perfectly good ones, economic and otherwise – for each of these trends. It’s just my opinion that it’s flat out unconscionable that twenty-one-and-a-half rupees from every litre of petrol sold in this country goes into the central government’s coffers, come what may. Twenty-one-and-a-half rupees per litre, even though that amount was stapled onto oil imports when they were at 15-year price lows but now cost nearly twice as much.
If India’s outlay on crude oil imports at source were to cross $100 per barrel – as it did on average for four whole years between November 2010 and the first of the 2014 excise hikes – petrol under current taxation would be more than ₹92 to the litre, and people would be burning vehicles instead of filling fuel in them. Hopefully, international prices won’t go that far and, if they do, the government will pull back its fuel taxes. But international prices tend to be ruthless, and taxes tend to not go down.
Of all the objectionable decisions this government has been rightly and wrongly accused of making, this is might well be the most likely to decide an election or two.
First things first. I’m a Feminist. Period. Is there any other way to be?
Feminism is a huge job. We won’t get to retire from it anytime soon. The sistas know that too well. There are too many things to achieve and the deadline is always yesterday. But, we are at it and sooner or later we will deliver a job well done. We will.
One of our KRAs, if I may say so, at this job is to monitor and question the representation of women or lack of it, everywhere. This assignment is so huge that we got to see the story of black “Female Mathematicians” who made very crucial and significant contributions at NASA in the last century; only last year in the movie Hidden Figures.
So, I understand why people had reactions when Mr. Bachchan shared a photo of Team Pink to celebrate one year of the iconic movie, “Pink”, one of the very few sensible and feminist movies to have ever come out of Bollywood. The said picture didn’t have a single woman in it. Just men.
T 2549 – The team of 'PINK' .. all in one frame .. and .. ALL, independent, individual .. NATIONAL AWARD WINNERS !!🙏 pic.twitter.com/uQV55nUQsO
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) September 16, 2017
T 2549 – The team of 'PINK' .. all in one frame .. and .. ALL, independent, individual .. NATIONAL AWARD WINNERS !!🙏 pic.twitter.com/uQV55nUQsO
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) September 16, 2017
While I understand where these good folks who pointed out the irony of this picture were coming from, I was on the other hand kind of glad to see the photo. If you actually dig into the credits for team behind the movie Pink, you’ll see the core team is essentially male. Now, is that a good thing? No. It is not. We would love to see equal opportunities for men and women in all fields. That’s a WIP and we have no other choice but to be at it, till the time we make it work.
What made me happy was the realization that there is this bunch of guys, who told a powerful feminist story. This, by and large all-men team, got it right; the story, the message, the cause. They told a very important story and made a very crucial point and how! Girls, I looked at this picture as a bunch of very cool feminists, if I think of the movie Pink.
To know feminist women is a joy. To meet Feminist men is a wee bit more joyful and reassuring. We all need feminist men, so let’s give it to them this once maybe for not having a woman in that picture. If the movie Pink is what you want to preach us, preach away boys! We are listening. Am I on the right track when I am thinking so? I hope so.
One of the most disagreeable things about tennis is how it constructs shallow, lazy and frankly terrible narratives around its leading exponents. The worst of these employ the trope of polar opposites. McEnroe and Borg were fire and ice, Sampras and Agassi was server versus returner, and, in recent years, Federer and Nadal has been seen as artist against automaton.
It’s a bunch of garbage, really, not least for the insinuation that identifying a player as one opposite excludes the possibility of ever being the other. Listen to the shrillest voices in that conversation, and you’d be convinced that McEnroe threw tantrums every time he played or that Agassi never served an ace in his life.
It is an essentialization that arguably does a greater disservice to Rafael Nadal than any other tennis player in history, for it suggests a game entirely devoid of aesthetics or natural talent. He’s painted as gritty and competitive and tough, and not nearly enough as cerebral and diverse and endlessly resourceful.
The truth is that, without a lights out weapon to generate winners with, it has been intuitive for his game to take on whatever shape his opponent’s weaknesses require it to. Equally, without a selling point around which to fashion a default Plan A, his defeats can’t just be explained away by a serve that didn’t work or a forehand that fell apart on a given day. With his athleticism corroded in recent years by injuries, even his pressuring style has faltered on faster surfaces. His recent defeats haven’t just felt like had-a-bad-day defeats – they’ve felt like attacks on his entire tennis belief system.
Nadal’s top seeding in the US Open this year was met with derision. There were at least half a dozen players with better hardcourt games than him, and his early exits at Montréal and Cincinnati made it hard to imagine he’d make it through seven matches without running into an ace machine or a big forehand he wouldn’t be able to chase down.
But when play opened in New York two Mondays ago, something was wrong. The courts weren’t playing as fast as they were elsewhere, and nobody could figure out why. The four guys who’d made the Cincinnati semis just a week before were gone by the first Saturday, and of the twelve men to have won hardcourt singles titles on the tour all year, only two saw the second week.
In theory, slower courts favoured Nadal. But the bloodbath in the first week also represented a classically Nadal challenge – with the other top seeds falling, the information he had on the rest of the field shrunk. To another player, this would mean little, but Nadal hates inconsistent opponents, risky tennis, shorter points. In fact, over the last three and a half years, his win record up and down the tour against guys outside the top 20 is such that, facing them in a hypothetical non-clay Grand Slam, the average of his performances would see him exit that tournament in the fourth round. And eventually, the courts would speed up, and these guys with big weapons would blow him away.
With all this doubt swirling around him, Nadal went back to what he knew – taking time, downloading information, studying tendencies and finding weaknesses.
Nowhere was that more obvious than against Del Potro in the semis. Having given up the first set, Nadal computed that, instead of targeting an assigned weakness, unpredictability was key, and he pursued it relentlessly. What is the opponent not expecting? How well can he think on the run? Is the correction risky? A thousand tiny decisions went by in a blur. It didn’t even feel like tennis – it felt like high-calibre problem solving under intense time pressure, which just happened to involve a racquet and a tennis ball.
From the start of the second set, it took Nadal a hundred minutes to win three sets. It had taken him the same time to figure out Dolgopolov in the fourth round, and in the quarters, with mild annoyance and minimal regret, Nadal had bludgeoned Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in ninety-six minutes.
For the first hour and a half, yesterday’s final against Anderson meandered along in the plodding pattern of two players playing not to lose. Nadal won the first set but it was unconvincing. But, as Anderson struggled on serve, he found a couple of easy putaways to lead 4-2 in the second set.
Then, all of a sudden, it was happening again. Nadal was climbing all over second serves. He was dispatching his second and third shots into unreachable areas. He was using the threat that he could chase down anything to compel his opponent into playing bad shots. He was winning free points on his own serve more efficiently than he has at any point in the last seven years. It took him twelve minutes to win the set from there.
The third set against a fast-fading Anderson started with a break of serve, and a hold to fifteen. At 3-1, Anderson won five straight points and got a look at a couple of Nadal’s second serves. The second of these was in Anderson’s hitting arc but the ball kicked up, forcing him to mistime the return. The ball hobbled halfway up to Nadal’s side of the court. Nadal read it, glided forward, and sent one of those ridiculous whipping forehands wailing up the line. Anderson, no more than two feet from his last shot, scrambled to hack the return back. By the time he looked up, Nadal was already at the net to put away a forehand volley into the opposite side of the court. He threw a look back to the other side of the net as if to say, alright buddy, party’s over. Moments later, Nadal had won his seventh game in the last ten. The whole sequence took a little over thirty-eight minutes.
For years, Nadal had compensated for his weaknesses on faster surfaces by turning matches ugly. For years, his wins were Nadal by attrition over five sets or Nadal by strangulation in four. This tournament, though, none more so than the final, has been a showcase for a style that, for so long, seemed beyond him on faster surfaces – this was Nadal by knockout in three sets.
The sentiment that lingered after the final didn’t emanate from Nadal but from Anderson.
“I know we’re the same age,” he said, “but I feel like I’ve been watching you my whole life.”
It was powerful and evocative but a little incomplete. Nadal’s run in New York over this year offered not just a reminder of his constancy but of his evolution – a whirl of adjustments, variety, anticipation, and geometry, with bursts of explosiveness and intelligence to burn. It’s as if the one fundamental incongruity about Nadal’s game – the description of his tennis with adjectives that aren’t intrinsic to the beauty of the sport – had, at long last, been reconciled.
Rafael Nadal played beautiful tennis last week, polar opposites be damned. He is finally, indelibly part-automaton, part-artist.
The first time I came in contact with Gauri Lankesh was may be two decades ago. I knew her father P. Lankesh who had asked me the first time I met him – he knew about my problems with the management of Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore who were trying to get rid of me – “How much are they paying you?” I do not remember the amount but is must have been a couple of thousand then in 1989 or so. But I told him that and he said “We teachers are always scared of the unknown. Can’t you earn that much without their job? I am doing it, kicked my job, I am not starving on the streets. Kick their job or wait for them to do that. Do not give up on doing what you think is right!” After a few months when they had tried to dismiss me, he was one of the few who dared to write in detail about the Pais of Manipal in my support. Later on he supported me in quite a few things.
But, Gauri I came to know when she called me in connection with an alleged miraculous power of one Hanumantharayappa from Tumkur. It was some time in 1993 and that time I was on a tour of Karnataka and had heard of him having some supernatural powers. He was supposed to be identifying playing cards from their reverse side by the power of Shani! So, I had challenged him for a display of those and that I would give him an award of Ten thousand rupees to him if he could identify correctly nine of the ten I would deal him. She was the reporter of a now defunct English weekly called Sunday, published from Kolkata in those days. She wanted to cover that testing his powers because she said she had checked him and could not find out how he was doing it!
The testing happened in the chamber of Dr. H.Narasimhiah the former Vice Chancellor of Bangalore University which was in the National College and was the Mecca of the rationalists in those days. To put it in short it ended up in demolishing his so called miraculous powers because I ended up in doing what he was doing better than him! He could only tell the denomination of the card, I could tell even the suit which he felt was a higher power than his and ended up with his falling at my feet and acknowledging that I was his guru! So, the to be test ended up on a cordial note with two of us posing for a photo – but busing his myth of having supernatural powers.
So, that was the first time we had met. Subsequently she was working for Times of India if I remember rightly and there was not much contact between us. But, when she started editing Lankesh Patrike after her father’s demise they used to carry stories of interest to them and occasionally she used to get in touch but it was mostly through the reporters who used to get in touch for information and quotes. Subsequent to the dispute about her role as the editor of the periodical and her brother who was owning it she started her own publication called as Gauri Lankesh Patrike that she came into contact again, this time as an ideologue as well as a journalist . She used to carry the usual items about us which were of interest to her. In the meanwhile she was growing in public life with her stands against communalism of the majority with the organization called as Komu Sauharda Vedike, which I felt at many times was taking a soft stand against the excesses of the so-called minority organizations. We had shared public platforms quite a few times.
When I came into close touch with her again was at a protest we had organized against the murder of Dr.Narendra Dhabolkar outside the banashankarti shopping complex at Bengaluru. That was the time when we had put forward the demand that Karnataka Govt. too should enact the act like the Maharashtra one to eradicate inhuman practices in the name of religion. Later on the demand picked up and there were a number of individuals and organizations who took it up.
I can recall two of the campaigns in which we had worked closely together in the last few years. One was the massive illegalities, exploitation and murder at Dharmasthala near Mangalore. Through RTI Somanath Nayak of Nagarika Seva Trust and his colleague Ranjan Rao had collected thousands of pages of records and unearthed huge scams. They were keen on exposing them and had lodged complaints, cases , submitted memoranda to the ministers and also sent them on to the press. Despite of being so called free and objective not many of them had the courage to publish those. Gauri was the one with the courage to do that. One day she called me and said “ tell me is Somanath Nayak an RSS man?”. I told her he was but no longer is. She said OK I am going by your word and started going ahead with publishing the material supplied by him. As Somanatha Nayak told me as I was writing this, he was hoping that the latest in his struggle would have been published by her, but alas she is no more. So, the struggle against the atrocities there has lost one of its biggest supporters.
When I needed something to be supported she would put her reporter on that immediately. The most recent case in that was the murder of the RTI activist Vinayak Baliga. She lent us full support in our fight for justice for him. She reported the issues which the others were too scared to write on. Like the involvement of the kashi Math and the temple and their alleged role in the murder. She fearlessly reported on those issues. She supported our fight for justice for Vinayak Baliga by meeting the Home minister and the higher ups in the Police department many times when I had requested her. She took up the issue of the irregularities in the building of the Sharada Vidyalaya, Mangalore about which Baliga had filed cases with the commissioner and which his sister and I were pursuing after his murder. Since the head of those was M.B.Puranik the head of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of Dakshina Kannada not many had the courage to write about it though the documents are very clear that the built up area is twice the sanctioned and there is no way by which it can be condoned. She had carried the story very prominently.
When there was an attempt to attack me in March, 2017 she called me for details and carried the story very prominently when I asked her about her own security she just laughed it off. So, the concern for others security did not apply to her own self! Of course Gauri was not the epitome of an adarsh nari or anything that could be called perfect. She had her own faults and I can say that I did not agree with her on all her stands. She appeared to have a soft corner for some of radical Islamic groups under her excuse that they were the persecuted minorities.
But, certainly those who killed her have committed the dastardly act of silencing a voice of reason and a concern for the downtrodden of the society. Her social consciousness was the one which shone through whatever her shortcomings were. We have lost a supporter who was fearless and would support the issue regardless of what others said. Many times that lead to her taking up issues which were true and right but the evidence for which could not stand to legal scrutiny, the sentencing that she was handed down a short while back was the consequence of one such act. She must have hundreds of defamation cases filed against her!
So farewell Gauri and we shall continue on our path regardless of the threats that we may face. That could be the only fitting tribute to one of the gutsiest women I have known.
I walked with my eyes closed
and the voices helped.
Now I’ve opened my eyes
but the voices won’t go,
and I tread unfamiliar paths… not knowing where they lead…
Many of us were infuriated, appalled, incredulous, and so on about the famous (infamous) Gurmeet Ram Rahim situation.
It’s obvious that the Godmen scenario in India is a sham. Time and again several of these Godmen have proved beyond doubt the fact that they don’t really practice what they preach, inviting an avalanche of outcry against following them blindly on social media. Then why is it that our country continues being stuck in this mire and we can’t seem to stop buying packages of commercially marketed faith?
Societal chasm – Today’s day and age is connected beyond comfortable privacy boundaries. We have access to humongous amounts of information from innumerable sources. You would imagine progress and progressive ideas, therefore, should easily percolate to all corners of the country. We forget, however, that there is an equal amount of regressive content available. We don’t see it because targeted content creation and marketing makes us see what we want to see. In other words, there is social echo. I see a hemisphere that believes in equal rights for women, education for all, equal opportunities for transgender and is against discrimination basis sexual preferences. Someone else sees the hemisphere that believes in the contrary and conforms to their ‘ideologies’. Our individual beliefs are reinforced in two different directions that don’t meet or talk to each other. The earth is always half in darkness. Godmen and their target audience, therefore, survive harmoniously unchallenged in the universe this post won’t reach.
Vulnerability – No one has as shrewdly observed and leveraged the vulnerability and the fear inherent in our minds as self-appointed custodians of religion/faith. It is one of the the most successful Business Plan of entrepreneurial India and let’s face it there’s no shortage of demand. Underprivileged pockets of society with low self esteem resulting from centuries of oppression, people with depression, mental illnesses, people grappling with phases of hardships, the poorest of poor and hordes of people dealing with scarcity of one thing or another (cause if anything is in abundance in our overpopulated under-educated nation, it’s scarcity) – all easily fall prey to masquerading frauds. This is their sense of community and support – a socially approved and even a glorified one at that.
Moral Fibre – The most amusing part of this incident was how disciples’ feelings and support remained unfazed even when Babaji was convicted for a crime as heinous as rape. This is where a discussion on culture becomes necessary. Ours is a culture where women are not actually our pride but our certificate of respect as per the guidelines defined by patriarchy. It’s a culture that protects its cows more fervently than its women. It’s a culture where domestic violence/marital rape is condoned but divorce is shameful. With these values imbued and reinforced for generations, how can we expect anything different?
It goes beyond just women issues. The definitions of crimes are fungible. Charity, for instance, cancels out murders. Criminals are only those who can’t afford charity or a lawyer for that matter. I’m sure if it were a murder or any other crime, the reaction would’ve been no different. In such a scenario mistreatment of people with mental ailments, casteism and domestic violence become just “smaller” issues, which don’t even begin to get the privilege of any attention or debate. With a misplaced sense of values and bargained virtues embedded in our moral fibre; truth is – India wears a veil over its judgment. That’s why, content seizes to matter where faith has taken roots.
These are just a few amongst many plausible reasons that leave us wondering if blind faith is a problem or is it just symptomatic of a gravely blighted socio-economic ecosystem that we’re either unaware of or are too scared to acknowledge. Sadly, the majority of our population is part of that ecosystem and finding purpose in blind faith is a natural fallout of their atmosphere and upbringing. To imagine that the solution to this dysfunction that has taken roots over centuries is simple or easy, would be naivety. To expect everyone to be able to see these issues from our perspective (or to see them as issues at all) would be gross ignorance.
Nothing is obvious. Handfuls of us have chosen to build a fort around ourselves that maintains a semblance of order, but let’s not forget the chaos beyond our walls.
I have just finished reading all 547 pages of the Justice (Retd) Puttaswamy v Union of India (the Right to Privacy Case) comprising of 6 separate but concurring opinions.
Most of you would know that right to privacy has been held to be a fundamental right, albeit not an absolute one (as none of the fundamental rights are absolute) and amenable to reasonable attenuation to achieve a legitimate state interest – as long as the restriction passes the proportionality test. The key part, I think, is the use by almost all the judges of the concept of human dignity, articulated in the Preamble, to ground the fundamental rights. That is a major constitutional advance in India, even if many times other judges have said this before. This is the first time such a large bench has stated that each of us, as human beings, have an innate dignity of a magnitude that equalizes us and engages us in a collective constitutional project. That the CJI did not use the same concept to undergird his analysis in the Triple Talaq case, but signed onto that as articulated by CJI Chandrachud would be a mystery. That we will have to debate later.
The four fold test, for the attenuation of the fundamental right to privacy, that at least 6 (or was it 7) justices have explicitly signed off on are:
“(i) The action must be sanctioned by law;
(ii) The proposed action must be necessary in a democratic
society for a legitimate aim;
(iii) The extent of such interference must be proportionate to
the need for such interference;
(iv) There must be procedural guarantees against abuse of such
The judgement refers to a Justice Srikrishna Commission set up by the Government of India to frame the guidelines, norms and rules that would provide the procedural guarantees against abuse of such interference. This would, presumably, be looked into by the 5 judge bench that will decide the constitutional validity of the Aadhar Card Scheme. What the Government proposes, and sets forth as law, and whether it would satisfy the four fold test described in the Right to Privacy Case is something we would have to watch very carefully.
Additionally, the six opinions (that comprise the judgement) provide us with impeccable logical constructs and rich rhetoric, along with a thick ideological cover, to defend ourselves against and also attack the often ill informed and ill tempered trolls who pollute the internet. More importantly, the judgement provides us with the Constitutional rationale for an active role as citizens to stand up and be counted against fascist forces that seek to overrun this country. This would imply the need to educate others, both the elite and the vast masses, of the dangers that the political economy has posed and will continue to pose to the Constitutional project and all that is decent, progressive and vital in this country.
As a word of caution, I will also state that this ought not to rest at the level of mere anti-BJP rhetoric. If we restrict ourselves to that we would have betrayed the spirit of the Constitution and the incredible intellectual and ethical opportunity this decision provides for us. Many other political parties, including the Congress, have at various times attacked the constitutional foundations of this nation. That BJP is the one in power, and has launched, arguably the most potent of assaults on Indian constitutional structures, will obviously merit special attention. But, it cannot be the sole attention.
Irrespective of the party, we need to realize that not hewing closely to this incredibly resilient matrix of ethical and intellectual possibilities – rooted deeply in the collective wisdom (or should that be in the plural) of mankind, both here in India and all over the world – that our Constitution encodes and this judgement reveals, obviously partially but nevertheless powerfully, will kill our project of constructing India as befitting the genius and dignity of our people. All the people.
Over the next few weeks I will try to excavate, within the boundaries of what my modest capacities inscribe, some salient themes and philosophical constructs that this judgement brings to the forefront. Not everything may stand up to careful and critical scrutiny. That is the very nature of the process of constitutional adjudication and its assimilation for fresh rounds of debates. Nevertheless, there is much to cheer about in those 547 pages for now.
I would just note (for now) two features (of the many) that ought to strike anyone who reads all the opinions in this judgement:
1. In no uncertain terms the majority of the judges emphatically declined to be swayed by a fascist submission made by the Union of India: that the poor do not need fundamental rights, and much less a right to privacy as a part of their right to life and liberty. One sentence from the opinion of Justice Dr. Chandrachud says it all:
“The refrain that the poor need no civil and political rights and are concerned only with economic well-being has been utilised though history to wreak the most egregious violations of human rights.”
That is what Mrs. Indira Gandhi, and Sanjay Gandhi said in the mid seventies. And we got ADM Jabalpur, that enunciated a horrifying principle that procedure of law can be any law – good, bad or ugly – to even take away life. The son, Justice Dr. Chandrachud makes amends for the mistake of his father by expressly overruling ADM Jabalpur. I.R. Coelho had noted that ADM Jabalpur had been impliedly repealed, but it is always good to hear a constitutional body make amends.
(On a slightly different note: Justice Dr. Chandrachaud also castigated the judgement by Justice Singhvi in the Kaushal v NAZ Foundation, in as much as Justice Singhvi had erroneously decimated many constitutional principles in his opinion in that decision. Justice Dr. Chandrachud (joined, I think by at least 5 or maybe even 6 judges), using rather delicate judicial language stated that these two judgments ought to be confined to the archives. I think he meant the garbage can. In the Kaushal v Naz Foundation, adhering to principles of judicial discipline, he left the task of deciding the fate of Kaushal v NAZ Foundation to the constitution bench that is actually seized of the matter. To the extent that Kaushal v. NAZ Foundation represented a turn in the discourse – towards the assertion of majoritarianism as the only principle, of vicious assaults on principles of constitutionalism and naked assertion of power to do whatever it takes to perpetuate power and benefits to the cronies (or rather deepening of that) – this move away brought a hope. Albeit very small, because much that ought not to have been done has also been done. Yet, maybe – just maybe we can hope to fight?)
2. (This is an extension of the principles in the judgement – the judges themselves have not spoken about the trolls for Hindu Rashtra). For nearly a decade, and almost viciously, the idea that India and Indians are inheritors of wisdom from both India and abroad has been attacked. Again and again. Ill informed, ignorant but hate filled members of the right have attacked anyone and anything that they did not like, or was beyond the pale of their monotonic representation of what India is, as foreign and hence unworthy of consideration, of suspect moral foundation and also necessarily false.
In asserting that the concept of “human dignity” and hence the content of dignified “life” is informed by wisdom of mankind from all over the world, every one of the judges has emphatically shown the proclivities of the right wing trolls to be what they are: xenophobic. By canvassing, repeatedly and copiously, both Indian case law and case law from abroad, by citing both Indian and foreign authors, and by drawing upon sources such as ancient texts, both Indian and foreign, the nine judges have asserted (implied) that Indian Constitution does not envisage an India as an island that is self contained and adrift from the larger human project – of assuring the dignity of all individuals as the only means to assure fraternity.
For those of you who would want to be warriors for a progressive India, and an India that will continue to sustain the constitutional project reading this judgement – all six opinions – ought to be a categorical imperative. We are where we are today – combating both the steady creep of fascism and a moral abdication of concern for each other and all the others – because we have also failed to sufficiently protect the constitutional values when they were attacked. We also did not protest enough when the corrupt polity attacked our constitutional mechanisms and institutions. This judgement is an indication that the constitutional project still has some life left in it. It will breathe better, survive and thrive only if we fight for it. All that judges of the Supreme Court can do is to articulate the moral imperatives of the Constitution.
We, the people of India, have to give life to those moral imperatives. Protecting the Constitution and its project is our responsibility. As citizens, and as human beings.
10 Tweets That Reveal The True Nature Of Mumbaikars.
Please visit https://t.co/Mfc7xtJWxM if you are looking for a place to stay in #MumbaiRains. It is list of people who are ready to host you.
— Mehul Ved (@mehulved) August 29, 2017
Please visit https://t.co/Mfc7xtJWxM if you are looking for a place to stay in #MumbaiRains. It is list of people who are ready to host you.
— Mehul Ved (@mehulved) August 29, 2017
If you are stuck on the road , kindly dial 100 or contact us on Twitter. We will assist you #MumbaiRains
— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) August 29, 2017
If you are stuck on the road , kindly dial 100 or contact us on Twitter. We will assist you #MumbaiRains
— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) August 29, 2017
Enroute from Malvani to Juhu via Link Road in a car with a spot for one. Ping if you need a ride. #MumbaiRains
— Nakuul Mehta (@NakuulMehta) August 29, 2017
Enroute from Malvani to Juhu via Link Road in a car with a spot for one. Ping if you need a ride. #MumbaiRains
— Nakuul Mehta (@NakuulMehta) August 29, 2017
#MumbaiRains I will be driving from Chembur to Majiwada, Thane in a few minutes from now. I can take 4 with me from Chedda Nagar. 9820064178
— Anil Hebbar (@anil_hebbar) August 29, 2017
#MumbaiRains I will be driving from Chembur to Majiwada, Thane in a few minutes from now. I can take 4 with me from Chedda Nagar. 9820064178
— Anil Hebbar (@anil_hebbar) August 29, 2017
Due to the extreme weather conditions, churches & schools in the Archdiocese are offering refreshments & refuge to people stranded.
— ArchdioceseOfBombay (@Arch_Bom) August 29, 2017
Due to the extreme weather conditions, churches & schools in the Archdiocese are offering refreshments & refuge to people stranded.
— ArchdioceseOfBombay (@Arch_Bom) August 29, 2017
Gurudwaras in Mumbai are open to serve FREE food/shelter to ANYONE stuck in #MumbaiRains #Dadar #Andheri #Mumbaikars #Matunga #Sikhs #Sikh pic.twitter.com/spNoWPur3r
— Harjinder S Kukreja (@SinghLions) August 29, 2017
Gurudwaras in Mumbai are open to serve FREE food/shelter to ANYONE stuck in #MumbaiRains #Dadar #Andheri #Mumbaikars #Matunga #Sikhs #Sikh pic.twitter.com/spNoWPur3r
— Harjinder S Kukreja (@SinghLions) August 29, 2017
Cousin was travelling in a friend's car to reach home. Car broke down, thankfully a truck offered them lift. #mumbairains
— alkalien (@alkalien) August 29, 2017
Cousin was travelling in a friend's car to reach home. Car broke down, thankfully a truck offered them lift. #mumbairains
— alkalien (@alkalien) August 29, 2017
Anyone around? Please help.If not, please share and spread.#MumbaiRains pic.twitter.com/HX2Gzj5GiA
— Rahul Dravid (@RahulDrav11d) August 29, 2017
Anyone around? Please help.If not, please share and spread.#MumbaiRains pic.twitter.com/HX2Gzj5GiA
— Rahul Dravid (@RahulDrav11d) August 29, 2017
@Mirchimumbai is opening doors to anyone in the Lower Parel area, we have tea, maggi and love waiting for those in need. #RainHosts pic.twitter.com/bbtruOinXU
— Mirchi Mumbai (@Mirchimumbai) August 29, 2017
@Mirchimumbai is opening doors to anyone in the Lower Parel area, we have tea, maggi and love waiting for those in need. #RainHosts pic.twitter.com/bbtruOinXU
— Mirchi Mumbai (@Mirchimumbai) August 29, 2017
#MumbaiRains The BMC emergency helpline number is 1916. For traffic emergencies, call the police at 100. Stay safe everyone!
— emraan hashmi (@emraanhashmi) August 29, 2017
#MumbaiRains The BMC emergency helpline number is 1916. For traffic emergencies, call the police at 100. Stay safe everyone!
— emraan hashmi (@emraanhashmi) August 29, 2017
I’m not the type of guy to post about this on Social Media, but oh well, Mumbai you’ve compelled me to do it!
Amidst all the rant that will be going on about how the rains have screwed up everyone’s life, here’s a big thank you to Mumbai & every person in this city for reminding me that I live in such a kick-ass city with some kick-ass people!
I left home at 9:30 in the morning for Andheri, drenched wet within 10 minutes of exiting the house, waited endlessly for a Cab but couldn’t get one. Out of nowhere a Cab WITH a passenger stops by & the guy inside asked if me & the random guy next to me were headed for the station, which we were so we obviously joined him. To my surprise, this followed with absolutely NO conversation in the cab except for the initial thank you & welcome, as if it was taken for granted that single passengers are supposed to do an act like this.
Reached Andheri eventually, running late for my errand & not able to get a rickshaw, in the end I rushed & caught a Bus. FML; it was the wrong bus. Now I had to wait for the next stop… but guess what, the conductor stopped the bus mid-road just so that I could get down & also gave me the correct route (Conductor of Route 257, Thank You!). I was embarrassed yet amazed, he didn’t really need to do that, right?
An umbrella in one hand, my phone in the other, the arrogant me relied more on Google Maps than the people around me. Frantically crossing roads & figuring out where the hell am I supposed to go with a barely functional wet screen, this random Panwala who’s been observing me go in circles, calls me out from across the street, asks me where do I want go & gives me the exact directions. He could have just minded his own business, but no, this man helps me out.
Done with the work I head back, again no rickshaw so it’s a long walk to Andheri Station, saw a bike stuck right before the flyover, went in to help the guy sort it out, gave it a push & there he was off. And for some vague reason, the traffic cop at that flyover gave me an informal salute. As if in some way I helped him by helping this guy. But even if so, why did he need to do that? He could’ve just continued with his work.
Reached Dadar, again no cabs, but this time no buses either, the road seemed to be temporarily closed. Waited for 15 minutes or so, meanwhile I noticed this huge branch on the road in front of the Plaza Bus Stop. Tried nudging it, didn’t work out, tried to lift it, again no use. But in the course of these 30-35 seconds of me failing at moving the branch, 2 Random Guys joined in to get the branch off the road & yes we managed to move it. Again, no conversations between us, as if we were all doing our job.
Tired of waiting, I chose to walk home in this weather with knee deep water on the roads & for some god forsaken reason every person I come across struggling in the rains is actually smiling at me; strangers who I don’t even know, who I may never even meet in my life. But here’s the funny part, for some reason even I’m smiling back at them. As if we both know the ordeal that we are going through, as if they’ve had their own set of experiences today exactly like mine.
Experiences which make us realize that this city is not filled with rapists & murderers as what we see on the news, but with people like you & me who are living in this crammed up city, trying to get a life & at the same time understanding the pain that the others are going through. It’s days like these that make me realize how easy it is to rant & scream about how pathetic this city is, how bad the infrastructure is, & blah & blah… but in all this commotion miss out on those beautiful nuances that the people in this city have got to offer.
Whether you are from Mumbai or not, you gotta commend this city & its people! So here’s a thank you to Mumbai & to everyone who’s been a part of this kick-ass city. I’m sure in one way or the other, you have impacted my life. Maybe after reading this you are reminded of the moments that you might have missed… maybe after reading this you’ll live the moments yet to come a little bit more.
While Mumbai might as well stop in the coming few hours due to the rains, the People won’t; and I guess that’s what matters. Proud to be a Mumbaikar.❤
JUSTICE SINGHVI’S ABOMINABLE JUDGEMENT IN NAZ FOUNDATION HAS BEEN MAULED
Apart from being happy about the upholding of the right to privacy, as an essential part of both liberty and right to life, the nine judge bench has given everyone who supports the notion that the Indian Constitution exists to protect human dignity, and that such human dignity necessarily also implies choices of life which the majority do not find appealing. Including choices/orientations regarding sexuality.
YES. YES. YES.
The mind-numbingly erroneous (and deeply messed up) decision by Justice Singhvi in the NAZ Foundation case has been categorized as one of the two cases in the history of Indian Constitutionalism that “ought to have never been” and hence to be “confined to the archives.” In plain language, that the justices of the Supreme Court do not adopt, it means that NAZ Foundation ought to be confined to the dust bin. Technically, the nine-judge bench could not have overruled the NAZ Foundation decision as it was not squarely before it, and moreover it is being reviewed by another five-judge Constitutional bench. So, the Court left it to that Bench to essentially light the funeral pyre (and I think most of the judges on that case are a part of this bench too).
HOWEVER, the opinion by four of the nine judge bench of Court has destroyed every illogical argument that Justice Singhvi had raised in the NAZ foundation and demolished. Read paragraphs 124 to 128 in Dr. Chandrachud’s opinion, joined by three other judges.
Here are some really heartening words for those of us who believe that our “liberal constitution” was always intended to be a progressive one – that it would not only hew to what the founding fathers thought were to be protected rights, or what the Government deems as fit for Citizens (or some long forgotten saint or prophet) but as we progressed in time, and achieved greater understanding of human nature and the contents of what constitutes and ought to constitute human dignity, our Constitution would serve as a dynamic platform for bringing about social transformation:
“The view in Koushal that the High Court had erroneously relied upon international precedents ‘in its anxiety to protect the so-called rights of LGBT persons‘ is similarly, in our view, unsustainable. The rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population cannot be construed to be ‘so-called rights‘. The expression ‘so-called‘ seems to suggest the exercise of a liberty in the garb of a right which is illusory. This is an inappropriate construction of the privacy based claims of the LGBT population. Their rights are not ‘so-called‘ but are real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine. They inhere in the right to life. They dwell in privacy and dignity. They constitute the essence of liberty and freedom. Sexual orientation is an essential component of identity. Equal protection demands protection of the identity of every individual without discrimination.” (Paragraph 127).
One of the stranger explanations put forward by Justice Singhvi in support of his decision was what one would call as the “de minimis rationale“. The argument he made was that in as much as only 200 instances have been shown to the Court it cannot be concluded that Section 377 is being abused. This is what the Privacy Judgement says in para 128:
” The de minimis hypothesis is misplaced because the invasion of a fundamental right is not rendered tolerable when a few, as opposed to a large number of persons, are subjected to hostile treatment. The reason why such acts of hostile discrimination are constitutionally impermissible is because of the chilling effect which they have on the exercise of the fundamental right in the first place. For instance, pre-publication restraints such as censorship are vulnerable because they discourage people from exercising their right to free speech because of the fear of a restraint coming into operation. The chilling effect on the exercise of the right poses a grave danger to the unhindered fulfilment of one’s sexual orientation, as an element of privacy and dignity. The chilling effect is due to the danger of a human being subjected to social opprobrium or disapproval, as reflected in the punishment of crime. Hence the Koushal rationale that prosecution of a few is not an index of violation is flawed and cannot be accepted. Consequently, we disagree with the manner in which Koushal has dealt with the privacy – dignity based claims of LGBT persons on this aspect. ”
And yes, did you notice the observation regarding “pre-publication restraint?”
<Stay tuned for more on this topic! This is HUGE!>
Check out Kartik Krishnaswamy‘s list of 70 personalities who shaped India post-Independence.
Who would you pick? Tell us your top 5 influencers in a post-independence India.
A short message from Karthik:
I have this innate urge to create these countdown videos in my free time. So for India’s 70th birthday, I decided to take up this huge survey that would showcase 70 personalities who have influenced the country since Independence in various walks of life. This was actually triggered by a discussion I was having with a friend of mine who is in her 20s.I was talking to her about Rakesh Sharma (the first Indian to go to space) and I was shocked to know that she had never heard of his name before. That set me thinking ! I decided to come up with this compilation which is a countdown of personalities from 70 to 1 based on my survey. This, I thought would be a refresher for most of us and a good source of knowledge for the ones who were not aware of these contributors.
My original sample size target for this survey was 100…but at last count before compilation…the number hit a whopping 384. Immediate family, aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, friends, neighbours, colleagues, classmates, even my milkman, vegetable vendor and the local barber…I spared none ! From a 11 year old to my 91 year old Grand aunt, all generations were covered. Based on the sets of names I received from each one of them, I ranked them in order of the votes received and arrived at the final order. It was heartening to see nominations from all fields – Politics, Social Service, Arts, Entertainment, Science, Literature, Sports, Religion, Business etc. And about the video itself, I thought it would make it more interesting, if I showcased each person differently – some through a biographical introduction, some via pre recorded interviews and others just through a collage of photographs accompanied by music.
This 29 minute capusle would be useful for all (esp children) to get a quick intro of some of the major influencers in the last 7 decades
Working on a tip off that I got on Saturday from Vinod Solomon that the Union Minister for Finance/Defense/Corporate Affairs and the Union Minister for Commerce/Industry will be in town for a GST Conclave I was seized with the opportunity to meet him in person and to make a representation on the roll-back of GST on disability aids and appliances
You all know that we had been discussing the technicalities in various whats-app groups, Facebook discussions, live discussions with consumers and manufacturers of disability aids and appliances. Vaishnavi Jayakumar was researching and putting out data and information ‘out there’ for all of us to process, and use meaningfully in our advocacy. All we knew was that this is affecting Persons with Disability with increases in prices and that there is a burden to small manufacturers also.
It was providence that my friend Vandana Ramdeo is right now in the Ministry Of Finance and she facilitated a 2 minute appointment with the Chairman of the GST Council Shri. Arun Jaitley on 30th July Sunday morning in the pre-lunch slot where he was meeting Industry Heads from all over Tamilnadu. We were warned to restrict the delegation to 2-3 members only.
So Vaishnavi, Chaula Vyas and I with two more escorts ( Albert Rao and Olga Aaron) reached the venue where there was heightened security as can be expected. We had hurdles at various stages – gate/portico/lobby/lift/atrium of second floor/anti-chamber of Chairman. Don’t ask how we navigated each stage. Nothing but sheer boisterousness, pushiness, negotiation, persuasion. Honestly 2 persons in wheelchairs helped adding to the optics. (May I add 2 pretty women in wheelchairs).
When we finally came face to face with the Finance Minister Shri. Arun Jaitley ji, I went blank. I did open my mouth a few times, but I don’t know what I said. We were promised 2 minutes, but the meeting stretched to a good 15 minutes due to the keen interest of the Finance Minister himself in trying to understand the real issue.
I am reproducing for all who are interested the discussion during the meeting:
1. We gave him data about how prices of wheelchairs/axillary crutches/callipers (KFO)/walkers/sticks/tripods/cochlear implants/batteries for CI etc had gone up post-GST. Primarily the FM was puzzled as to how despite the significant difference between 5% and raw material costs of 18%, the price could increase by the 10-12% that it has.
2. FM called out his Chief Commissioner Central Excise ( GST), Mr. C. P. Rao and mentioned something about taking action on anti-profiteering as manufacturer is supposed to pass on the difference to the end-user.
3. We asked him to go easy on manufacturer as input tax credits can be availed only if the entire chain registers themselves for the same which takes time. Some small workshops/manufacturers will just charge end-user fearing paper work since at the end it doesn’t make much difference to them. Already the aids/appliances sector is not lucrative, and if there is this burden on them, they will just close shop and look for alternatives. This will only affect the PwD.
4. We asked WHY ITC and made a case for ‘end user exemption’ by making the entire value chain exempt with no input tax to complicate pricing rationale. He made a valid point that raw material can’t exempt as there is no way of saying what purpose it is intended for. Aluminium extrusion rods can be used for wheelchairs as well as for 100 other purposes.
5. So we asked for a special refund scheme for Input Tax which will be simple and quick for manufacturers of disability aids/appliances keeping in mind the necessity of inclusion of this sector in education/employment etc. (Due to preoccupation with why prices were not coming down, we were unable to explore the reduced rates of 0.25 and 3% offered to rough diamonds and gold respectively. It was made clear however that objective was of Nil rate with special refund scheme to claim input tax credit. We did also ask what solution he would recommend, to which he said he would come to that later.
6. FM mentioned that the ‘Make in India’ strategy was the reason for the ITC system. He really believed that the ITC will reduce the cost of domestically manufactured aids/appliances.
7. We mentioned what about IGST tax credit instead of countervailing – And in any case so many products only imported.
8. We spoke about how this GST #exemption should not be seen as ‘subsidy: or “concession” but as an investment into development. He accepted that.
9. FM asked Chief Commissioner (GST) to figure out why prices are not reducing.
10. FM was interested in the issue of affordability of disability aids/appliances but more focused on why prices not going down. He asked for paper on taxes of raw materials pre and post GST.
11. This was the moment Vaishnavi was waiting for. Vaishnavi immediately showed her favorite table (which she has been repeatedly showing us on her links/posts on FB) on her phone – FM removed his glasses and had a good look at the table. She told him about a manufacturer taxing at 12 instead of 5 as they had not received intimation of the same via a circular. He spoke about their website and app reflecting the new rates and was informed that as far as disability goods were concerned neither the rates schedule of July 3rd not the app had been updated to reflect 11th June changes.
12. Again he asked us to work with Mr. C. P. Rao and his office and to come up with viable options.
It was a good meeting. But this is just the beginning and we need to involve all stakeholders/different disability organisation-movements-associations-individuals/care givers/manufacturers in giving our recommendations for the GST Council to act upon.
Read the first part of this article here:
GST: The Price to Pay for Disability
You may feel angry / disappointed / shell-shocked in grief. Nevertheless please avoid back lash saying it is cowardly / selfish / weak etc.
If you really want to help read this link.
If you really want to understand, read this link.
If you really know the person in the real world, read this.
A couple of days ago when I was getting ready to leave for work, my friend, partner-in-crime, twin rebel and disability activist, Aiswarya called me.
No, it wasn’t a friendly call to check on how I was faring. She did not want to share something new that she had discovered or give me tips on my new hobby. It wasn’t anything so pleasant. Without mincing words she asked me the reason for my silence.
“Don’t you know that the GST is completely anti-people with disability,” she asked.
I pleaded ignorance. No, I did not know. Aish is not someone who will let go easily.
“Why don’t you know? Is it because you are not affected?”
I had no answer. I hadn’t thought about it. I told her as much.
“You are someone who is socially conscious. You use your Facebook to comment on everything that is happening. Then why doesn’t it bother you that braille paper and pens will cost 12% more after July 1st. And that hearing aids, braille watches and carriages for disabled people will cost 5% more. And the government will charge 12% GST on wheelchairs, tricycles and artificial limbs and 18% GST on cars for the disabled.”
“Do you know in the 1990s wheelchairs were taxed at 30% and crutches at 25%,” she continued. “The disability activists fought a long and lonely battle and managed to bring down the taxes to 5% when Jaswanth Singh was the Finance Minister, and down to 0% in 2006 when Chidambaram was the Finance Minister. Now, with the new GST rates, it is like going back to the 90s. All the work done by so many activists has gone down the drain. It is like we are back in a time capsule,” she fumed.
“I didn’t know any of this information,” I said again.
“Is your ignorance coming from indifference?” she asked.
“Well we don’t hear these things in the media. There is no information coming forth,” I put up a weak defense.
“That is because, a very small percentage of people with disability are educated enough to articulate their problems for the world to hear and understand. Do you know that in a country where the overall literacy is 74%, only 62.4% of disabled men and 44.6% disabled women can even sign their names. For the rest, getting out of their homes and communities is in itself a challenge. And even for that tiny miniscule which manages to get out, there is a very disability-unfriendly world, which makes even the most basic of services inaccessible.”
“There are 1.3 million schools in India and less than 19,000 schools offer inclusive education and have teachers trained to do that. How many schools have ramps?
How many banks, post offices, government offices have ramps, railings or even disabled friendly toilets. And I am not even speaking about places like parks, restaurants or theatres. And now, with this GST on even the most basic appliances and aids, the disabled will be pushed back into their world further, she said.
I listened horrified. Frankly I had no idea. And no it was not indifference. It was discomfort. All of us are ‘discomforted’ by disability. Many of us don’t even know a disabled person and when we do, we are not really sure how to deal with it. We don’t want to appear patronizing, so we do not ask if they are comfortable. We don’t want to appear insensitive so we do not talk about their problems. We so want to look at the person, beyond his/her disability, that we very often try and discount it entirely, even in our own minds. And from there emerges an ‘inability’ to speak about anything connected to disability.
While I was trying to process all this in my mind over a phone call, Aiswarya hung up saying she will let me think about what she had said. But before putting the phone down she reminded me of Martin Luther King’s famous statement:
“In moments of crisis, what we will remember is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
To learn more about the topic read this link.
If you believe in our cause, please do endorse this petition at change.org.
About Asma and Aiswarya:
Asma is a sometimes writer, a constant fighter and a disobedient dreamer.
Aiswarya Rao is a Pediatrician and a woman with a locomotor disability.
Between the last post and now, we have been continuing with lessons, lectures (Intro to Carnatic Music, Nigerian Economy, Gender and Caste, Bollywood, Gita for Westerners and Leadership in the Gita) and sight-seeing to the bird garden, the zoo, and more in Kerala where we spent the last weekend at a resort by the beach. Our long bus rides were daily summed up with all the windows completely open and various albums playing on a bluetooth speaker. I have to say, I think it’s an aesthetic to feel the wind chiseling your face with your eyes closed and Tame Impala’s album “Currents” in the background. Another is dancing away from the waves as if you are one with them.
Of course, describing everything in such detail might be boring so I want to focus on our visits to the Swami Viveka Tribal Center for Learning, the Viveka School of Excellence and hospital in Sargur. Our day began with 6 am yoga as usual, breakfast of probably idlis or dosas and a 2 hour bus ride to the first school. The school had hostels for the tribal kids and the teachers. I was amazed that people have so much drive for service to commit to living in this rural school with the children.
We interacted with people who were in teacher training and were introduced to them as musicians, and they asked us to sing a song. We sang “This Land is My Land” which I think is not the greatest song from America, but it is super American. The teacher trainees sang a song for us in return, and Steve (our professor) sang Bagyada Lakshmi Baramma. They didn’t really have that many questions for us, but they did ask what our names are, and how technology and education are different in the US.
Our response was that people here are taught so many different languages. They knew Kannada, English and Hindi. In the US, people really only know one language and maybe two.
Next, we saw the library which had collections that anyone at the school could read. They had English and Kannada selections, my favorite being “The Natural History of Stupidity.” Two first graders were inquisitively waving hello to us as we left to meet the young children in the classrooms.
The first classroom we visited had children that were around a pre-first grade age, and they were arranging the English alphabet in block letters on the ground. The next class were 6 or 7 year olds. They were busily writing in notebooks but as they saw us they immediately stopped. We mingled with them and some were extremely shy, but others had a myriad of questions like what our names are, how old we are, and where we came from. I sat with a group of four boys and took pictures of them, and when I showed them the pictures the smile on their faces were irreplaceable.
The next classroom was outside, because sometimes tribal children are so used to being outside they cannot focus in an indoor classroom setting. The class we visited outside was a Hindi class. First, they sang a song for us: “Hamko Manke Shakti Dena.”
They were then allowed to come talk to any of us. I think the ones who came to me were really confused as to why I didn’t speak Kannada, because I look Indian. However, they were extremely expressive and quite naughty. Allie and Sarah sang songs and danced with them, and I took pictures of them. Every time I looked up more kids were adding to the frame. They asked me about my parents, and brothers and sisters and kept asking for more pictures. I think to me, children are the embodiment of Krishna because they are so pure, but mischievous. They each are beautiful characters with different personalities. It was so easy to become attached to these kids that leaving them was actually difficult. As we walked away from the outdoor classroom campus waved outside the windows until we were gone. It is important to note that these children would not have another form of education if the Swami Viveka Tribal school did not exist.
The next stop was the Ayurveda clinic. The clinic had a yoga room, massage room, and lab. They make all of the medicines using natural ingredients that are grown on the campus. Apparently the government pulled support from the movement, so that the state would take more responsibility, but I am unsure if that is working. The movement, it seems, only has the best intentions and now the least financial support.
We ate at the canteen and the food was the most flavorful food I have ever tasted. Before eating we were allowed to purchase Ayurvedic medicines like Kashaya tea powder (good for colds), oils for hair and pain and other powders for other uses, and after eating we left for the Viveka School of Excellence in Sargor which was a 1st – 10th and Pre-University school. It was Wednesday so the students were allowed to wear what they wanted and not their uniforms. As a result, there were jeweled anarkalis and vivid dupattas adorning outfits. The school had a chemistry, biology, physics, and computer lab in addition to yoga room and library. We played in the “Science Exploratory Park” which was the most intense learning playground I have ever seen. Every structure had a description relating to science, and questions to think about while using it. There were over 30 structures to play with. Honestly, if I had gone to school there I would have learned so much by doing and questioning. I would also never not want to go to school.
The kids were let out of school by some middle-school looking boys banging on drums and blowing horns. They all lined up for some announcements, and then the Indian national anthem played, and they were dismissed by the horn and drum duo. Piles of little ones stuffed into autos and belted bye to us as they sped away and we made our way to the hospital– a short visit. We saw their community-based radio which raises awareness about health and social issues, and saw the different wards and labs.
I can’t help but wonder if everything is too good to be true? But then I think about the issue between equity and equality. These students are being catered to so that they can still fit into their rural backgrounds, but also get an education. They are being taught to how they can understand.
Our professor here told us that when he sees his class roster before a term begins, he imagines everyone as lotuses that will collectively grow together. Fittingly, the day I wrote this was Guru Poornima, which only makes me more thankful for the exceptional and dedicated teachers I have had. Seeing this passion in the Swami Vivekananda movement is not only inspiring, but refreshing to know that there are movements which are so good-hearted in the world.
More from this author:
The India Journals of a Dancer
Why the World Should Keep Dancing
We are a group of ten students, who are doing an India immersion program between the University of Michigan and the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement in Mysore to learn music, dance and yoga. The students on this trip, are all from the University of Michigan, and there is one Professor from the UM School of Music, Theater and Dance. As per the immersion program, the students can study an instrument, voice, or dance, and all will practice yoga.
Here is a page from my India journal:
Throughout this trip I am realizing I will never fully fit into one culture. I was able to pass with the 40 rupee ticket (for Indians) instead of the 100 rupee ticket (for foreigners) at the Mysore Palace– probably my biggest achievement yet.
However, I came here with the intent to dance, and to become a mindful person.
The usual schedule of our day is: yoga at 6 am, breakfast at 7:30, lessons, lunch, more lessons, and then group activities until dinner or after dinner. My lessons, and the mridangam lessons are after lunch meaning we have a whole morning free for “journal-ing and meditation.”
Ideally that is what we should be doing, but such a slowed-down period is something many of us are not used to. In the states, we are often overbooked with things to do. People in our group have a variety of majors: jazz piano with ecology, violin performance with communications, performing arts technology, cognitive science, screen arts and cultures, art and design, swirled with a percussion major. Everyone has brought a different view of life with them but also a constantly aroused mentality.
This group of 10 tops off with a Professor, who has been coming to India for over 30 years, and converted to Hinduism from an extremely religious background.
We have been in Mysore for a week now and are all beginning to open ourselves up to each other.
Our group dynamic comprises of playfulness and support. Gus has come up with a “hashtag wall,” in which we say hashtags ironically. The most popular are #chutney for the steaming idlis and crispy dosas made by the hostel, and #ahimsa, said after swatting away bulging mosquitoes. There is also a running joke that Rebecca needs to get married on this trip because she is the old age of 23. Being in a new country and culture also makes way for vulnerability, but our group has been upbeat about nourishing each other with support.
I am amazed at everyone’s personality. We are all such different people but we are able to connect over deep thoughts. Mysore coffee in the morning or mangoes at lunch beckon questions like “are the body and mind one, or separate?”
Coming to India without really knowing much about the culture or atmosphere is a large jump from the US, and I feel very thankful and refreshed because everyone has been so accepting of insightful about the culture and Hinduism, too. Our curriculum is set up so, that, we be introspective as well. Yesterday, we visited Chamundi Hills, a church, and passed through the Meena Bazaar which was in preparation with Ramadan items. Seeing the three together in the same city is proof that people, if they believe in humanity, can live side by side in peace. It is saddening to know that there is still discrimination not just in India but also back home. Here, everyone is still Indian no matter what faith they follow. And at home, people are still American no matter what ethnicity they are.
Lessons are difficult and bring out frustration in new ways because of such a vulnerable environment. Having learned Bharatanatyam for around 15 years, I think I have an easier time because I have skipped that learning curve period. However, I came here to achieve a deeper understanding of Bharatanatyam and what it means to be a well-rounded dancer. My guru introduced me to others as a foreigner, but “Indian-based.” She runs classes similar to home, beginning with adavus. But she makes every student perform the dances by themselves in front of the others alone, and the other students sing the pieces and put the talam. She has been describing all the aspects of a complete dancer to me, and we are going through basics of theory together.
I am barely sufficient in half of these, but I am committed to becoming proficient in all, and that satisfies my passion requirement.
India has an openness that is elusive in the states. The idea that we are all one with the universe and we are part of our environment can be seen simply in an auditorium. Every concert we have been to has kept the doors open to the streets, so the car horns are part of the music itself. People ambling in and out of a the veena performance in the temple we went to, carried on with their prayers without even acknowledging the sitting audience. Cows sit in the middle of the road and monkeys are unafraid to steal our food. It is that oneness that can really change our mindsets about the way we live and how our actions will affect something– anything.
Looking at the week forward, many of us are ready to dive into whatever comes next despite any difficulties in our lessons and our lives. We are ready to engage in conversation about spiritualness that are stimulated by our environment, and are ready to modify our minds.
Last night I met a Dalit activist. The meeting got delayed because I was at the protest. He asked me why I got delayed, and I told him that I was protesting because of the obvious increase in anti- Muslim and anti-Dalit violence. He was puzzled, and asked me why no one he knows of – and he knows of at least 2000 Dalit youngsters in TS who work regularly in helping other Dalits – seemed to know about the protests.
Today, Mohammed, my driver (or should that be chauffeur? Or would that, in either case, reveal a hierarchy?), asked me what all the fuss was about yesterday on Tank Bund. So, I told him that it was a protest about the violence against Muslims and Dalits. He asked me: “Woh poora angrezi mein likheto kis ko samajh mein aata….. agar police waale mussalmaan ya SC potton ke peeche pade toh in mein se koyi logaan aayinge?”
I am glad we did stage the protest if only to reassure ourselves that we care. Let us not over-estimate the influence we would have had, and much less make ourselves believe that the Prime Minister apologized primarily because of this protest. That is silly and we would be deluding ourselves. Even if we were to make the theoretical argument that every drop counts. Yes, that is what we were. Barely perceptible drops.
But in order to make the drops count, we need to make sure that this does not remain a one-off incident so that we can go and sleep with our consciences salved. Our protests on the social media have a very limited audience. Our discourse in English truncates our audience even more. We need to figure out a way of becoming more relevant. And for that, we have to figure out for ourselves a strategy to participate and help those who fight in the trenches. At least as a start.
The first thing we need to do is that we have to stop believing that this needs to be only about Mr. Modi. While there can be arguments that his rise to power has unleashed many forces, the fact remains that those forces, along with many other violent and unconstitutional discourses totally unrelated to him and his party, have been extant for a long time.The violence unleashed, with ever increasing frequency in the past few months/years, may have been a tipping point for us to show a wee bit of spine in real life. But this is not the only issue we need to be worried about. There are many more of them. And not all of them relate to Mr. Modi or the BJP. Many of them relate to the manner in which the policy, the economy, and the society are organized, debated about and fought over. Some relate to the larger political economy and broader structural changes. But almost all relate to the manner in which we, liberals, conservatives, Modi supporters, his opponents, the ones silent, the ones vocal… have all managed to define our roles and framed our conception of who we are as individuals and as members of a society. And even the world at large. We need to examine our own selves much more deeply, and also direct ourselves at setting many more things right on a wider canvas. We have barely even sampled a corner of an entire “thaan” of that canvas roll.
If yesterdays protests have to mean anything, we have to make sure that we resolve not just to talk on the social media. We need to build bridges with those who work at the forefront of these struggles. For that, we will have to go out and meet them. Those we claim to be fighting for. And those we claim are suppressing them. Both those on “our” side, and also those on the “other” side who might be willing to work with us on some issues. We have to have the courage to believe that recognition of the innate human dignity of every person is possible for every human being.
Above all, let us recognize this: it will be a long and hard road ahead. There is much that has gone wrong in the society and in our polity. We have also contributed much with our silences and our screams, our unstated and unexamined biases and not examining what our own relatively privileged existence means.
Finally, the “we” that I write about here includes “me”. We will not be perfect every single time. We will fail. We will fall. Many times, But let us also resolve to get up and keep fighting for what is right.
On June 21, 2009, when the Pakistan cricket team last won a big ICC tournament, their captain Younis Khan bypassed the standard anodyne post-match press conference formula to make a statement.
“I am requesting all of the countries, you must come to Pakistan,” he said. “Everybody knows law and order is not good but it is not our fault. Especially for youngsters, we need home series because, everywhere, there is no cricket in Pakistan.”
His words spurted out hurriedly, urgently, almost desperately.
“How can we promote cricket to our youngsters if there is no international game in Pakistan,” he asked, “how can I motivate my son and my neighbours’ small children?”
It was hard not to feel for him. The issues he raised in that press conference, though, weren’t problems that cricketers could solve. That was 2009. Pakistan have played out their international cricket since then under a near-blanket ban on home games. It has posed plenty of challenges to a team that has had to adjust multiple sets of incoming players to a pretty barren, soulless adopted home environment.
But an exile of this nature does more than that. It robs potential role models of a lot of their immediacy. It cuts out the possibility of transitioning new players into the team in familiar surroundings. It makes the kind of collective belief that drives the best teams in the world harder to develop because thousands of rabid fans don’t turn up to every home game and cheer every play you make. It can hurt the relevance attached to a lot of the cricket played by your country’s team. It broadens, in several little ways, the gulf in the level the game is played at outside the country by the best teams in the world and the level it is played at within the country.
In India, cricket extending its legs as the number one sport in the country over the past few years is a testament to cash and innovation and a TV-friendly sporting product making inroads into the attention of successive generations. In Pakistan, cricket still being the number one sport today is as much a statement of survival and defiance as anything else.
When this Pakistan team lost to India in Birmingham two weeks ago, it was a performance as poor as the ICC finals’ was complete. Pakistan looked like a team who’d recently had two of their longest tenured batsmen retire. They’d also lost Afridi, whatever role he fit in that team. That right there was hundreds of games of experience playing for Pakistan, and hundreds of hours of playing for Pakistan against India.
They’d lost another batsman who’d otherwise walk into this team because he was farcically found to be unfit after landing in England for the tournament. Critics asked, for the hundredth time, why their best spinner doesn’t play white ball cricket. They looked very much like the lowest ranked team at this tournament – a team that had to reschedule a series just so they’d have enough ranking points to qualify for the tournament at all.
Leading up to the ICC Champions Trophy final, we all knew the stats. That, coming into the final, India’s top 3 had scored more runs in this tournament than the entire Pakistan team. That, coming into this tournament, the entire Pakistan squad of fifteen had scored fewer runs against the white ball than Dhoni, Kohli and Yuvraj. That, if Pakistan got put in to bat, they’d have to break a sequence of eight games in a row won by the chasing team at this tournament. That, even forgetting the lazy nationalist spin that gets put on their games against India, Pakistan would have to overcome all this against a team that was 34-7 in ICC tournament play since 2011.
It’s tempting, therefore, to call the Pakistan team coming back from that Birmingham game to win this final a miracle. But eight years and zero progress after Younis Khan’s impassioned plea in London, it’s just as much a miracle that a Pakistan team was there at all.
And let’s be clear, this team going to struggle to find consistency for a while yet. It’s going to be hard for them because, in a world fast gravitating towards T20, their indigenous T20 league is only two seasons old, and has only ever staged one match in Pakistan. It’s going to be harder still because the generation most likely to supply fresh talent will have spent its formative years in a country under an international lockout and will take some time to catch back up.
But their T20 league has already produced someone who walked into a Champions Trophy final and smashed a game-changing hundred. And if there’s one thing still reliably Pakistani about this team, it’s that if they get enough runs to defend, their fast bowlers will take your lunch money.
As an Indian, I can’t say that I’m happy they won the finals. But as a cricket fan who recognizes the scale of what they’re attempting to do and how far they have left to go, I can’t help but wish them well.
Having qualified as a medical biochemist in 1976, and having been in practice ever since, the recent controversy over plastic rice, plastic sugar, and synthetic eggs hit me hard, and I started thinking about the probable reasons behind it.
Here is my perspective as a man of science, a teacher, biochemist and a consumer activist. One may bring in the perspective of scientific temper too, as it is the lack thereof that is causing people to believe in such fantastical lies.
If you are wondering why it is so fantastical, just take a look at the economics: good quality rice sells at around Rs.40 per kg, while the rates for plastic are no less than Rs.120 per kg. Add to that the labor, wastage, and all the other factors that go into manufacturing, and one is left wondering how anyone could try to make profits from “plastic rice”!
The same with sugar. With sugar retailing at around the same price as rice, why should anyone try to make a windfall out of synthetic sugar? As for “synthetic eggs”: with natural eggs selling at Rs.5 each, how can anyone expect to make huge profits by manufacturing them using unspecified raw materials, involving an extremely labor intensive process?
Looking at these examples reminds me of an event I had attended in a village near Chitradurga a month ago. It was a “simple” marriage organized by a member of the Karnataka Raitha Sangha and along with the ceremony, the invitees were to be made aware of many current issues. I was supposed to speak about consumer protection, while the speaker before me spoke about organic farming, yoga and a variety of other desi topics! From the absolute nonsense he spoke regarding a variety of issues, I could gather that the lobby which he represents is out to make a windfall from the promotion of various organic, swadesi products, and also to promote their agenda of Hindutva.
He spoke about how toothpaste can cause blood glucose levels to shoot up as it contains sugar! It could be a very serious issue for diabetics, particularly those who do not know that even if a pea-sized blob of toothpaste contained sugar as sweetener, it would not contain more than a 100 milligrams of it. The toothpaste used in a month would contain a teaspoon of sugar! This, notwithstanding the fact that no toothpaste uses sugar as a sweetening agent! They use saccharin or sorbitol or xylitol for this, the latter having another role as humectant too. Then he spoke about why edible oils are cheap – his reason was that they are adulterated with mineral oil, known as liquid paraffin! He was not aware that a high school student level chemical test can demonstrate that and if such adulterations were to be detected, the vendor would be prosecuted under the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, which prescribes imprisonment and heavy fines for what is a criminal offence. Likewise, he went on with a number of such blatant lies. Listening to his propaganda gave me an idea of what this organic lobby is after, and how they try to create a market for the expensive stuff they peddle.
Let us take a few examples of these: One of the main culprits pointed out by this lobby is sugar, REAL sugar i.e. sucrose from sugarcane, claiming that it is prepared using animal bone and that it is thus harmful to one’s health. They then try to promote what is called organic sugar and jaggery. While sucrose is not very good for lipid profile, it is a source of quick energy for those who need it, notwithstanding whatever source it may come from! While ordinary sugar (a substitute of which can also be made from plastic- which costs no less than Rs.120 per kg as rumored) costs Rs.40 per kilogram, the organic variety costs three times that! The whole idea of spreading rumors about animal charcoal, and other contaminants, is to promote the sale of this so-called organic sugar and jaggery.
How about rice then- the staple food of the Orient? Well, there is this new-found craze for millets (called Siridhanyas), which are claimed to be panacea for a number of diseases. This is what eminent physician Dr. Shrinivas Kakkilaya has to say about them: “Siridhanyas, or rich grains, are nothing but millets, such as Ragi, or finger millet. They have suddenly become a fad: After Yoga became a cure for all ills, now it’s the turn of these Siridhanyas. But just as Yoga is neither true yoga, nor is it a prevention nor a cure for any ills. The Siridhanyas have no “Siri”, and no preventive or curative properties against any disease. Only the selling middle men will become Srivanta or rich off of these! All these grains are millets – pearl millet (Sajje, Bajra), Barnyard millet (Oodalu in Kannada), foxtail millet (Navane), Kodo millet (Arka or Haaraka), Proso millet (Baragu), little millet (Saame) etc. And like ragi, all these millets have carbohydrate content ranging from 61-70%, about 4-10% less than that of rice and wheat. The caloric content, fiber content and protein content of these millets are also comparable to those of rice, wheat and corn, with minimal differences. Therefore, terming these millets as extraordinary, or as nutritionally superior to rice or wheat is wrong and totally misleading. (In comparison, most vegetables have carbohydrate content of 1-3%). Consumption of these millets will neither prevent any disease, particularly diabetes, nor will it help in the control or treatment of any disease, including diabetes. Moreover, there is no evidence to prove that these millets can prevent or cure any illness.” Besides, these are quite expensive, costing around Rs.100 per kilogram. To be fair, they do need far less water than rice, and are also drought resistant. But that is no reason to resort to rumor-mongering to market them. Substituting them for rice may be a good idea in the long run, but there is no need to spread lies about rice for that.
That brings us to another item: the egg. There is a whole Manuvadi lobby wanting to deny nutrition to the underprivileged classes. There are organizations like ISKCON, who claim to supply quality midday meals to schools. They were the first ones to lobby against the supply of eggs to schoolchildren. They along with some swamis opposed the move, and succeeded in replacing them with bananas, as if there can be any comparison between the two in terms of protein content. Anyway, the same lobby now wants to campaign against eggs in other places too. So, videos are shown where part of an omelet is held to a flame, which subsequently ends up bursting. This, in trying to prove that it is some plastic-like material. They do not even realize that egg albumen and other similar proteins are unique molecules which get irreversibly denatured and insoluble on heating. This is only to scare people from consuming eggs which are, at present, value-for-money wise the best sources of top-quality protein acceptable to most. In fact, the egg white protein, albumen, has been given a biological value of 100, the yardstick against which all other proteins are measured. The whole idea is to keep people from consuming eggs by spreading stories like this! That something like an egg can burst into flame actually has a scientific explanation- the process of cooking denatures the proteins and also dehydrates it. Making an omelet mixes the lipid-rich yolk with the white, and fats as we know are combustible. There is some oil used to cook it, which literally adds fuel to the fire!
Coming to adulteration: The most common example is that of milk, which is surprisingly not campaigned against at all! There are stories of buffalo milk being diluted, and color added to pass it off as cow’s milk. Not just any cow, but the desi cow, and this enhances its value by more than double! The same is done with ghee, with the addition of vegetable shortening (vanaspati), which is then passed off as pure desi cow ghee. Honey being adulterated with acid hydolysate of sucrose is another such example.
The vested interest behind this propaganda about plastic rice, plastic sugar, and synthetic eggs, is the lobby wanting to press their agenda of so-called “organic”, “pure” food, free of fertilizers and insecticides. Examples are shown of people who are now quite aged, with the caveat that they have lived for so long because of their diet, and that they are strong because of what they ate! People do not realize that to live up to that age, being born in the good old days, one had to be strong! The average life expectancy in 1947 was 31 or so. Now it has more than doubled, despite all the fertilizer, insecticide saturated food, polluted air, plastic rice, et al. As far as claims of taste go, even expert chefs have failed to identify better-tasting “organic” fruits and vegetables, when tested with blindfolds!
So, we should resist all attempts to thrust one’s own food habits on the basis of such rumors. Synthetic eggs, plastic rice, plastic sugar are neither practical nor economically viable. These attempts to mislead the gullible public through videos and WhatsApp messages should be strongly resisted.
Here is a simple test to detect whether the egg is “synthetic” or natural! Take a little bit of egg white and dissolve it in 1000 times the quantity of water, and mix well. Add an equal quantity of Biuret reagent- If it is natural, a violet color is seen. If it is “synthetic”, then this color will not be observed and the solution will remain blue. (I have not tested it with any synthetic egg because I could not get one so far, if anyone gets one, they could send it to me).
To detect “plastic rice”, add a drop of iodine solution to the cooked rice after it comes down to room temperature. It will turn dark blue/violet due to the presence of starch (which is supposed to be replaced by plastic in the synthetic rice). I have not tried it with plastic rice, but would be glad to do so, if anyone can supply the same.
Lastly, because it was claimed that only synthetic eggs would burn that way, I had prepared an omelet (ate almost all of it), took a little piece, and put it in the flame!
Needless to say, I am perfectly willing to share details about the preparation of the reagents mentioned, which can be made at higher primary school level by science teachers, or even just well-informed people.
Elliot: [solemnly] Stay…
E.T.: [puts his finger to his glowing heart] Ouch.
Elliot: [mimics the same action, tearfully] Ouch.
E.T.: [E.T. and Elliot embrace each other, then E.T. puts his glowing finger to Elliot’s forehead] I’ll… be… right… here.
Elliot: [tearfully] … bye.
I have been told that June 11 is the 35th anniversary of the release of E.T. I have been waiting for E.T. for quite some time. To phone home. My daughter is not Elliot, but she is as close as it can get. E.T. could have made another friend.
It’s the early ‘50s. A father dabbles incompetently with his camera… His son sits crying in the corner. The boy has just watched Disney’s Dumbo on the tube… Yet, he continues to watch… He sees the Night on the Bare Mountain sequence from Disney’s Fantasia. At night, he would shiver under the blankets trying to free himself from the monsters of his own imagination. They were everywhere, under the closet, between the quilts…everywhere. His relationship with them was eerie, they crept out of discreet creaks in the walls and spoke to him. He would freeze at the sight of trees, the clouds, the dark. He liked being scared. He found it stimulating. What can you say about a boy who considered his actual date of birth less significant than his birth year, 1947, when the phrase “flying saucer” first came into existence? A boy for whom science fiction was fact, and its depiction, a reality. A boy for whom life wasn’t a duel – it was a film…
He was a boy who never grew up. A man, who had never been robbed. A man, who had never seen a fight, or ever fought. A man, who had never seen a corpse. A man, who had never eaten Italian food, until he came to New York… A man who jumped off a Universal Studios tour bus on a whim, and ended up going down in history.
The back lots of Universal were not only vital inspiration for a guy in the throes of a dream, they also became his first abode, when he stumbled upon a decrepit janitor’s closet, and set up shop in its premises. The guy who had never made it to film school, and studied English instead, was perched on the precipice of his fantasies.
The world of “35 millimeter” for Steven Spielberg began with the unglamorous “8 mm”. His first recorded film depicted a three-and-a-half minute stagecoach robbery, and was shot on a shoestring sum of ten dollars. He was only 12. The possibilities were endless. He chose to exercise them. One year later, he made a 40 minute offering entitled “Escape to Nowhere,” and at 16, ventured into territory most comfortable to him, filming a 140 minute epic on UFOs. The film was obviously destined to make cinematic history years later, as Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Meanwhile, Spielberg found himself thrown off the sets of Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, and rusting in his makeshift studio, until his first big break came when Denis Hoffman gave him the opportunity to make a 20 minute short film. The project, titled Amblin’, attracted attention at the Atlanta Film Festival, and went on to give its name to Spielberg’s entertainment company.
“Before I go off and direct a movie, I always look at 4 films. They tend to be: Seven Samurai, Lawrence of Arabia, It’s A Wonderful Life, and The Searchers.”
Spielberg’s cinematic success was not only due to his pictorial perception and intensive analytical ability, but also due to his sheer drive. For instance, during the filming of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery starring Joan Crawford, the neglected Spielberg asked writer friends Barry Levinson and William Link to keep him company on the sets. Levinson talks of Spielberg’s rendition of their script, Murder By The Book, “Our script was awful, but Steve’s work was dazzling, electrifying. He took all sorts of chances. He’d do a five page scene in one take, choreographing the people and the camera.”
It was only a natural succession to filming episodes for productions like “The Psychiatrist”, and “The Young Sherlock Holmes.” The 1971 feature film, Duel, based on a Richard Matheson story, was filmed in a hurricane period of 16 days. His next film, Something Evil, provoked cult appreciation when it was released in America in 1972. The New Yorker called it “one of the most phenomenal debut films in the history of movies.”
In 1974 came the Goldie Hawn starrer, The Sugarland Express, based on a real-life incident that occurred in Texas in 1969. By now, Spielberg had firmly planted his roots in direction, and the character of his earlier Duel and Something Evil were evident in the film. Scriptwriters Matthew Robbins and Hal Barwood would later be immortalized as the two missing spacemen at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Unfortunately, the film turned out to be unsuccessful, and this was put down to bad ad campaigning. Producer Richard D. Zanuck said, “We couldn’t get any one visual idea that would express what the picture was.”
In the wake of Sugarland’s failure began the preparations for what was destined to become one of the biggest box office grossers of all time. The filming of Jaws, co-written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, began on the day that Spielberg was informed that The Sugarland Express was a disaster. Consequently, he had second thoughts about doing the film, as the shark-and-human-menace scene was similar to the truck driver scene in Duel. He almost didn’t make Jaws, because he was worried about being called a “shark-and-truck driver.” Taking the plunge despite these doubts, Spielberg set about the 52 day filming operation, that eventually ended up taking triple the time. The mechanical model of the shark, nicknamed Bruce, was a 24 foot long polyurethane structure weighing a ton and a half. This only added to the problems, sinking on its first introduction to water, and exploding at the next. It was also found to be significantly cross-eyed. The film portrayed the terror of the residents of a small town called Amity, and smashed the box office clean.
In fact, Spielberg was so confident that he would receive an Oscar nomination for Best Director for Jaws, that he invited a camera crew to film his reaction to the nominations, “Jaws is about to be nominated in 11 categories, you’re about to see a sweep of the nominations, we’re very confident.”
When proved wrong, however, he said, “Oh, I didn’t get it! I wasn’t nominated! I got beat out by Fellini. For my record, I am outraged that I wasn’t nominated for Best Director for Jaws. This is commercial backlash. When a film makes a lot of money, people resent it. Everybody loves a winner. But nobody loves a WINNER.”
The 1977 film Close Encounters of The Third Kind was destined to be a hit from the word go. With financial backing from Columbia, along with Spielberg’s own state of monetary well-being, the Paul Schrader-scripted original was slashed in the last forty minutes by Spielberg, into a storyboard that he referred to as “all phantasmagoria.” The majority of the filming was done at a deserted aircraft hangar in Mobile, Alabama in great secrecy. In the role of Roy Neary was actor Richard Dreyfuss, whose ability Spielberg was familiar with from the earlier Jaws. The film also has the bizarre claim-to-fame of casting noted French director Francois Truffaut as the scientist Lacombe. Spielberg says, “I wanted a man-child, ingenuous and wise, a father figure with this very wide-eyed young outlook on life. I didn’t want the stoic with the white hair and pipe.” For the role of the UFOs were cast 50 six-year old girls. Speaking about the tone of the movie, Spielberg said, “The movie is very gentle. I wanted it to feel like an embrace.”
Spielberg’s next big venture never attained the popularity or credit it deserved. The film, 1941, written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, was inspired by three real life historical events, namely, the sighting of a Japanese submarine off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1942, the following “Great Los Angeles Air Raid”, and the 1943 fights between sailors and unlisted civilians. It was originally intended to be directed by John Milius, but when he went on to land the direction deal of Big Wednesday, Spielberg assumed the role of director. For Spielberg, it was an opportunity to work with Toshiro Mifune, who played Commander Mitamura. Spielberg was acquainted with Mifune’s roles in the classic Akira Kurosawa Samurai films. George Lucas had this to say about the failure of the $26.5 million production, “Steve’s direction was brilliant. The idea was terrible.” In Spielberg’s words, “The film does cater to the lowest moral character in all of us, without licking the sewer. It’s just a tongue’s reach away from good sewer humor, but falls short of classic comedy.”
Big ideas always start with small dreams. Raiders Of The Lost Ark was a living manifesto to the statement, as its conception began when Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were on vacation in Maui in 1977, making a sandcastle. While Spielberg preferred to shoot a James Bond style movie, George Lucas opted to pay a tribute to Saturday matinee serials. The two concepts merged, ultimately resulting in the creation of Indiana Jones, a character named after Lucas’ wife’s pet dog. The Indiana Jones was played by Harrison Ford, after Tom Selleck declined the role, landing the former one of the biggest roles of his lifetime. The film borrowed scenes from other movies to prevent budget over-runs. For instance, the shots from inside the submarine were taken from Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot. Also, footage from the 1972 film Lost Horizon was used for the shot of the plane flying over the Himalayas. In addition to the scores of miniatures created for the film, Spielberg used 4,500 snakes to create the burial ground of the Ark of the Covenant. Raiders was created by combining the aforementioned legend of the lost Ark of the Covenant with Adolf Hitler’s passion for the occult.
“If a person can tell me the idea in about 25 words or less, it’s going to make a pretty good movie. I like ideas, especially movie ideas, that you can hold in your hand.”
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, released in 1984, was a sort of prequel to Raiders, with its ad campaign reading, “The Hero Is Back”. Yet, it never achieved the same level of success.
The 1982 classic E.T. was inspired by a project called “After School”, which was an experiment on what kids between 8 and 14 years of age did after school hours. Another project, an idea for a science fiction movie, titled Night Skies, was combined with the first, and soon, a guy called Carlo Rambaldi was entrusted with the goal of creating “ET”, which was supposed to be an alien human hybrid character. The character was supposedly got by morphing the facial characteristics of Carl Sandburg, Albert Einstein, and Ernest Hemingway. The film, as with all of Spielberg’s feature films, boasted a John Williams soundtrack.
Spielberg referred to this prized project as “a song of joy from a peerless popular artist who can sing it as though he believes every note. Only a heart of stone could not find it irresistible.”
The year 1985 afforded Spielberg the opportunity of producing the film The Color Purple, based on Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, composed of a set of letters spanning thirty years. When Spielberg approached Walker, her advice was that “the final cast must seem like they have stepped straight from the book.” For a director totally unfamiliar with the customs of a Negro Community in the South, it was another case of touch-and-go. Music producer Quincy Jones was the one who finally convinced Spielberg to make it, after Spielberg declared that a black person should direct the film, by replying “You didn’t have to come from Mars to do E.T., did you?” The film is famous in more ways than one, for it marked the cinematic debut of Oprah Winfrey. It also racked up its fair share of controversy, being criticized as racist for depicting African men as savage. Subsequently, when 3 of the nominated actresses for Best Actress lost out, the Academy was accused of racial discrimination against the film by the National Association of Colored People. Incidentally, the film’s 11 Oscar nominations did not include one for Best Director.
Spielberg’s visionary creative force is only substantiated further, in each of his subsequent films. For the Jewish lad whose rudimentary influences were the likes of Bambi and Dumbo, it has been a long journey.
For Spielberg, the vision lives on.
All else is a far encounter.
“I dream for a living.” – Steven Spielberg
In a week when President Trump invented a new word “covfefe”, and we learnt that the peacock is a Brahmachari, and 90 people died in Kabul and 17 in Baghdad from ISIS attacks (largely unnoticed by the media and public); the cooling showers brought welcome relief to all of us, especially those keeping the Ramzan fast in a particularly searing summer.
Ramzan is a month not just for fasting, but for reflection – and many forget that it means abstinence not just from food and drink but anger and violence as well. The latter injunction is much needed.
In India and all over the world, Muslims are suspect and under attack. Identified, inspite of themselves, with the handful of madmen who use the name of Islam to vilify, murder and bomb. It is important for the world to remember that a burkha or a beard does not mean an affiliation to radical Islam, just as Muslims must avoid developing a persecution complex, or boxing ourselves into insular ghettos, sound tunnels where we only hear our own voices and woes. Three quarters of the world follow other faiths, and we all have to live with and learn from each other.
At a time when a Muslim surname may lead to detention at international airports and a harmless parcel of mutton is a precursor to lynching and death, it is not easy to always be calm, positive, and objective. Not to feel hurt when we, who are equally victims, are held responsible for the murderous deeds of a few. Not to be upset, (as craftspeople tell me) at taunts, suspicion, and generic stereotyping by people among whom we have lived all our lives. Not to be afraid of hatred. But for us to take extreme positions ourselves as a way of redressing the balance, or justify violence as a “natural” reaction to discrimination, is both shortsighted and foolish. And silence is no longer an option.
I think all rational Muslims (and we do form the HUGE majority of our community) need to speak up: loudly and clearly –
Firstly to the world, pointing out the idiocy and danger of tagging all Muslims with the same fanatic, fundamental label. Muslims have actually been the biggest victims of the hellhounds who have hijacked our religion. 85% of those killed in ISIS, Al Qaeda and Taliban bombings over the years have been Muslims. In Manchester, the security forces had been warned about the suicide bomber Abedi by HIS OWN family and friends, and he had been expelled by the Imam from his local mosque for his violent beliefs. The warnings were disregarded, perhaps because they came from fellow Muslims.
But second, most importantly, Muslims must speak unflinchingly to fellow Muslims in all walks of life, especially the young – condemning ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other extremist groups whose actions are so contrary to the spirit of Islam, and collectively come together in a common stand against them. As our Prophet said: “The greatest Jihad is to battle your own soul; to fight the evil within your self.”
I’m going to tell you a dark family secret of mine. So, listen to me carefully. Once, in one of the half-yearly exams, my brother flunked one paper. Yes! It happened and we lived through it. Together, as a family, we survived this dark hour.
My mom was Nirupa-Roy-Level worried about my brother’s future. My brother was worried about his immediate future when papa comes home from work. I was worried that now because of my brother all of us will come under vigilance.
My grandfather asked for the report card. One look and he declared, “Nobody will say anything to this boy. He has failed but with good marks”. You see, he was only 3 marks short of passing marks. That’s almost like not even failing. To celebrate this, “Failing with good marks” we even got a treat of Softy Ice-cream from Kwality Ice-Cream cart that used to arrive in our colony every evening. It was a big deal also because it was almost winter, that time of the year when Ice-cream was officially banned for us. Winter was coming!
Today when I think, I can’t be more thankful to have a family that taught us, “You’ve failed but with good marks”. This is hands-down one of the biggest and most useful lessons of life. Because, the most common thing in life is that in various big or small ways, we keep failing. “Adulting” is all about learning to fail in new ways, no! As long as we can say that we’ve failed but with good marks, it’s all fine. Nothing is lost.
Cut to current times. Say whatever you may but a lot of good is happening all around us. Especially on the much-loathed social media. There are conversations and loud voices telling students how exam results don’t decide anyone’s fate in life. It doesn’t matter if you barely passed or flunked. This is not the end of the world. This is a good conversation to have. A very important one. That mark-sheet can be as good as nothing more than a birth-date proof in a few years. Just laminate it for that purpose.
However, there is another side of the same coin. Another conversation that we are failing to have.
There was a time when we used to get a certificate for distinction marks, which used to be a humble 75% and above. Today I hardly know a child around me who doesn’t score marks in percentages 90 and above. Marks in percentages of eighty is something you can’t berate basis any logical parameter but honestly, it doesn’t seem like stuff one would care for. What about those who score marks in percentages of seventy? Do they feel they have a “distinction”? Do sixty and fifty percent marks still exist?
How do you score hundred percent marks in a Language paper? CBSE topper scored 100% in English. How does that happen? Do they now have only objective-type questions for languages as well?
DU cut off list is stuff of legends. Going by DU cut-off standards, I wonder how all those Geniuses over the years have not changed the world as yet.
Many congratulations to all the students who passed with unheard of percentages. This is your moment. This is the result of your hard-work. Live it up! A big high-five to those who have to take compartment exam. Because, you’re better prepared for life ahead.
Real life is not like CBSE exams. In life, you never get hundred percent marks in certain subjects. That’s a rule. Anyone can fail with good marks, this way or that.
Tracking the advancement of the digital age over the past several decades is always a fascinating exercise. The timeline reveals unbelievable leaps in computer technology through the unearthing of vastly obsolete devices (ever heard of the other kind of PDA: Personal Digital Assistants?) and displays the embarrassingly feeble capabilities of the predecessors of devices existing today.
Exactly 17 years prior to this millennium, the 1983 edition of the Time magazine replaced its popular feature, ‘Man of the Year’ with ‘Machine of the Year’, elevating the personal computer to this pedestal. These were the nascent stages of the oh-so-familiar table-top system comprising a monitor unit, keyboard, mouse and a CPU. At the turn of the millennium, these systems were still commonplace, albeit significantly advanced. Handheld calculators in this era had a memory equivalent to that of Apple II released in the 1980s.
This progress is attributed to the exponential increase in the number of transistors that could be made to fit onto a computer chip, a trend popularly known as Moore’s law. A transistor is the basic silicon-based device that dictates digital logic in electronic circuits. New innovations in producing these solid state devices reduced their size while increasing their efficiency almost every passing year. The number of transistors in the Intel 4004 chip in 1971 was around 2000 when Intel co-founder George Moore foretold that it would double every two years.
Moore’s law graph
This amazing prediction was obediently followed over 5 decades, making people believe it to be a fundamental law. The wonders of exponential growth have made the number of transistors on the Intel i7 Ivy Bridge chip commonly used today to grow to 1,400,000,000.
Moore’s law made computers faster and capable of completing certain tasks beyond human capabilities through sheer brute force computations alone. Speaking in simple terms, the more transistors you have to operate in a computing device, the more calculations per unit time you can complete. But does speed and efficiency in performing computations suffice in making machines smarter than human minds?
The pinnacle of computational triumph came in 1996 in Philadelphia, when IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer was pitched against the reigning world champion Garry Kasparov in the game of chess. Known to be one of the most complex games involving a deep knowledge of various strategies and the ability to foresee possible scenarios several moves in advance, the world held its breath to see whether a creation would surpass the best amongst the creators.
Kasparov vs Deep Blue (Man versus Machine, the Ultimate)
In the very first game of a 6 game match, Deep Blue defeated Kasparov to become the first machine to beat a reigning chess world champion. Deep Blue achieved this feat through pure combinatorics, with the capability of calculating over millions of possible positions and their consequences before deciding the best possible move.
This was a remarkable achievement sparking debates over whether machines have finally reached a stage where they could mimic human minds.
The reality couldn’t have been farther off. While computers could multiply dozens of dozen digit numbers in a breath, they failed at tasks any average person could do in the blink of an eye, for example differentiating between a handwritten 8 and a 9. The algorithmic logic dictating their actions was all pre-programmed, making them super efficient at tasks they were meant to do.
However, what makes us human is our ability to make a decision in circumstances straying off from what we are used to dealing. Even if the decision is erroneous, we learn from our mistakes and re-program ourselves for the future. This is the essence of our intelligence, a quality absent from Deep Blue and its contemporary computers. Ironically, instead of Deep Blue getting plaudits for its triumph over human intelligence, the match of 1996 led to undermining the status of chess itself to a game which could be easily conquered by brute force.
British sci-fi drama series Black Mirror gives Machine Learning a new twist. S2E1 “Be Right Back” in a dystopian horror story asks whether we can have machines replace our dear ones after they die.
17 years post the turn of the millennium, we now have smartphone applications capable of beating Deep Blue in chess. This is another vestige of Moore’s law continuing to shrink computing devices. However, there’s a limit to how small we can fabricate our transistors and a large number of computer scientists believe that the Moore’s law has already reached its saturation point.
In spite of that, the progress in technology has been alarmingly fast. Not only has the size of our computational devices continued to decrease with the advent of wearable tech (smartwatches, I believe, would be looked at in a similar light as PDAs in the future), but machines are increasingly becoming smarter in addition to being faster. We don’t just see computers everywhere, we can feel their presence slowly creeping into our daily lives. And yes, they can now perform these little tasks which humans take for granted but computers just couldn’t digest earlier, like pointing out which people are smiling in a photo, comprehending human handwriting, identifying and differentiating between animals and objects and so on.
This second big revolution in computer technology was brought about not by improving their architecture, but by developing algorithms that make them learn and think like a human. The turn of this millennium heralded the era of Machine Learning.
Telling apples from oranges is just a part of the basics. Machine learning has revolutionized the modern world in more ways than we can imagine. It is a part of a big chunk of our daily lives. Netflix suggests new movies one can watch based on our past choices (which it uses to make ‘personality sketches’ of every person). We turn our photographs into works of art using apps like Prisma. Self-driving cars can visualize their surroundings thanks to Machine Learning. For a more comprehensive list, refer to the recent article published in the BBC magazine.
So are machines finally coming close to attaining true artificial intelligence? The answer is quite positively, yes. It took computers to beat another reigning world champion of a board game to convince the critics in this debate. The game played this time, was GO, an ancient Chinese game where two players place pebbles of two opposing colors on a 19 x 19 square grid board. The aim is to surround more grid territory than the opposing player’s stones. This apparent simplicity of the game hides an enormous number of possibilities that branch out with the placement of every stone. The total game configurations exceed the number of atoms in the observable universe. Writing a computer code to solve this game is a problem nearly impossible to solve using brute force, regardless of how much computing power one holds.
AlphaGO vs Lee Sedol
This is where machine learning was brought into the picture by software developers at Google’s DeepMind, to build a GO-playing computer called AlphaGO. The structure of machine learning algorithms does mimic the human brain in the sense that different stages of solving a problem are connected in a way close to the neuronal connections in our mind. These are known as neural networks. Using very simple rules, the computer is tasked with classifying a ‘test’ dataset and allowed to make mistakes.These are recorded as positive feedback which adjusts the strengths of these artificial neuronal connections between various stages. With a large number of iterations, the computer teaches itself different seen and unseen nuances in the task at hand and reprograms its network to better deal with them. Modern machine learning algorithms involve several hidden layers of neural connections which can adapt to address different applications very quickly, without the need of a human programmer to tweak its code. This, known as ‘Deep Learning’, holds the key to making machines truly intelligent.
Using similar deep-learning-based algorithms, Google’s AlphaGO played the game with itself multiple times before being pitched against the world champion, Lee Sedol in March last year. In a series of 5 games, the computer won a surprising 4 times. Such was the level of sophistication in AlphaGO’s gameplay that one of its moves in game 3 was so unexpected that it made Lee literally drop his jaw. Analysts later commented that the computer had explored the technicalities of the game beyond human reach. This feat truly opens up the old debates about machines acquiring human-like intelligence.
But somewhere it almost feels like we have such scratched the surface. How much more intelligence can a machine acquire is left for technological advancements in the future to tell us.
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What should education entail?
Education is important, one cannot argue against the validity of this statement. But what does education really mean? What kind of education should be imparted and in what way? There are many families in India who are increasing getting disillusioned by the regimental, one size fits all factory methods used in urban mainstream schools in India. These families have decided to take things in their own hands and educate their children at home, extending the space to cities and the world at large. Education demands dissent, debate and difference. However, most schools seem to promote standardized forms of learning aimed at churning out a job-ready workforce for the rising economic demand in India.
Class Of Our Own – A documentary that explores the relevance of current education system & alternatives that some families have embarked on
‘Class of our own’ is a documentary film, which questions the purpose of urban mainstream education the way it is imparted to children in the mainstream schools. The story follows the lives of four urban home-schooling families, a young man who went through rigorous competition to graduate from one of India’s premium institution- IIT, an individual who counters the home-schooling model and leading educationists in the field. Decades of research suggest that young children learn best when they use their hands, their senses, move around and play with their peers and adults. It is when they learn to create and invent, how to solve problems and think critically. But young children as young as three are assessed by their knowledge of numbers and alphabets and are expected to learn through rigorous instruction.
The documentary comes from a personal space, from my own schooling experience. I am amongst the privileged lot in India fortunate to have an “excellent” education from a renowned school. Throughout my schooling years, I found myself unmotivated, under confident and the fear of failure and authority crept into my being as a result of being an underperforming student. I despised going to school because I did not fully understand the lessons taught and was in perpetual fear of being singled out. I was a clear misfit but it took me many years to realize the damage the education system had done to my core. In my high school years, my academic performance improved because I took to rote learning. My grades were good, my teachers were happy which built a fragile confidence in myself. School years had exhausted me so much that merely surviving those years felt like an achievement. It took me years of self reflection to finally start engaging with things I loved doing. The process was liberating and exhilarating. While not all children had experiences in school similar to mine but the fact that many did and thousands continue to have is a testament to the fact that the system does not seem to work for everyone. Every child is an individual with different interests and potential, it is unfair to put them all through the same process and expect them to bring the same results.
I spent many months speaking to individuals, families, and educators while researching for the film. We have shot extensive interviews with the home-schooling and unschooling families and professionals in the field of education in Mumbai, Delhi, and Udaipur. The dissatisfaction with the schooling system seemed to resonate with many families. This allowed me pursue a documentary on the subject. There are families that accept the faults in the system but are too afraid to move away from the mainstream. This was especially true about urban working class parents.
There is a mass hysteria that plagues the middle class in India when it comes to educating their children in mainstream schools. Indian parents have very high expectations from their children, many projecting their own failed ambitions and insecurities onto them. It is seen as one of the ways to climb up the social ladder. Education in schools is complex as students are viewed as economic commodities. Only students who achieve good ranks are valued, the rest fall on the side tracks. It’s important to take a step back here and see if the system is broken or was it always designed to be broken. The film sets to explore some of the fundamentals of the modern education system.
The documentary intends to have the audience question the education system. Most people do what has been done for decades; send their children to formal schools. But is that really the best decision for the child? How many young parents really stop at that and question- why school? Is it just about knowledge or is it about learning values, being compassionate, building character and integrity?
With increasing number of unhappy but successful individuals, it is the need of the hour to begin a conversation about this. This is an urgent topic that affects all individuals on many levels. The decision about what kind of education should be imparted to children must be an informed one. Exposing new parents and educators to these ideas and helping them question the system as a whole is the paramount aim to make the film, for these children are going to be the future of the world!
The film is work in progress and So far, the film is self-funded with a lot of help from friends and family. The team is crowdfunding to raise funds, which would enable them to complete it. The details of which are here.
Last month, I had been invited by the Karnataka Raitha Sangha to speak on human rights at a simple marriage ceremony. This was combined with a house warming and also food for thought in the form of lectures. A book called Punya Koti about all the greatness of indigenous cows was also released by the seer of Muruga Rajenda Math on the occasion. This was duly done and we who were on the dais were to hold the copies of the book to pose for a photograph. In the interim I leafed through the book and found many objectionable portions and refused to pose with it which was noticed by the seer who asked me the reason and I told him that I would not like to pose with such a book which would amount to endorsement of the same! He mentioned in his speech about this and also appreciated me. It was also stated that electricity could be generated from gaumutra by dipping two electrodes of copper and zinc into a container of it! Well, that is the most primitive galvanic cell which functions on the different electronegative potentials of the two metals, one of which gets gradually corroded and gets deposited on the other! That’s not all, according to the book a whole pharmacy could be stocked with products made from gaumutra which could be panaceas for very disease under the sun, moon and stars!
Later, a person named Anantji took the stage next and started a long diatribe about a number of topics claiming to be an authority on human anatomy, medicine, nutrition and a number of others. By the time he had finished his harangue which was full of half-truths and damn lies, I was furious because he had murdered my subject in cold blood in my presence. Another person who was a surgeon by profession came on the stage and blasted the guy for his ignorance and misleading the farmers. The audience was full of farmers and other lay persons who were not educated enough to see through this man’s chicanery. The surgeon was particularly upset because the expert had stated that PCOD (poly cystic ovarian disease- a disorder affecting many women about which there are many theories) was a disorder of the uterus and also that iodized salt was causing thyroid disorders!
While we need to take a look at the whole lot of claims put forward by this man which are not his alone but of a lobby which is now turning out to be a powerful one consisting of a motley crowd of environmentalists, dietary faddists, vegans, yoga enthusiasts, organic farmers and such have been making claims which can be said to be starting from fads promoting pseudo science to dangerous nutritional advice.
The term organic denotes the dictionary definition of compounds made of carbon but the present adjective is to classify those crops/biological products without pesticides, fertilizers etc grown under fully ‘natural’ conditions. While the objectives appear to be laudable, the prices do not! For all products categorized under these are very very expensive some times more than two to three times that of the garden variety sold in shops and roadside! While there is not a shred of evidence that these provide more nutrition, cure any disease, promote well-being or even taste better, nothing prevents the proponents from making such claims! The same claims are made of the milk of the so called desi-cows with scientific jargon like A1 and A2 casein!
They say sugar is bad but jaggery is good! Facts state otherwise. The active ingredient of both is sucrose a disaccharide made of two components glucose and fructose. Both are made of sugar cane! Fructose is lipogenic whatever its source may be, and glucose raises blood glucose levels whether it is from sugar or jaggery! As for claims that it is cheap, sugar which is used in lesser amounts for one, being purer being another and can be stored for longer! The prices of jaggery being more and the capacity to sweeten is less too. Sucrose per se is better avoided and it coming from cane sugar, beet sugar, jiggery or any other source would not matter.
The same applies to honey too which is touted by many as panacea! The fact is that it is a hydrolysate of sucrose the process being carried out by invertase, an enzyme present in the saliva of the bees. While there are claims of the other things in the honey having therapeutic effects there is hardly evidence to back these claims. The only verified claims are about its healing power on wounds particularly one type called as Manuka honey from New Zealand. There are no other reported benefits of consuming honey. Even price wise it is a very expensive way to get energy because of its energy content is no more than 4 kcals per gram the same as sugar. Adding an organic label to it doubles the price.
Well another claim is about refined wheat flour and that alloxan is formed during the bleaching process. This has been used to produce diabetes in experimental animals. While no correlation has been shown about it in any studies one could take it at face value. But it would be very difficult to correlate this with the diet of Indians which does not contain much of this. The other culprit being pointed out was gluten the protein of wheat which is present in whole wheat flour as well as the refined variety! So, the claims of organic wheat being superior has hardly any evidence.
The other confusion made by the organic lobby is about GM wheat. The attempt is to confuse between GM and hybrid wheat. While GM(genetic modification) means the introduction of DNA of another species into it, hybrid means selecting the best of genetic traits for cross breeding. While those who know the subject would understand this, it would be easy to fool the lay public.
The strangest of the claims is that about common salt – sodium chloride. While this is a product derived from evaporation of sea water there are claims of natural salt, organic salt etc. While salt per-se cannot be an organic compound claims are made about that too! It was said that ‘natural salt’ has a brown color while the refined one is white! While excessive salt consumption can be linked to hyper tension, it is the sodium chloride content that matters and not its color! The same lobby has a strong objection to fortification of salt – their contention is that iodisation of salt causes thyroid problems while the fact is that the supplementation is done for supplying iodine which though is required in microgram quantities, deficiency can lead to severe hypothyroidism resulting in enlargement of the gland called goiter.
Another group of ‘organic’ grains they want to plug are the millets, which they call as siri dhanyas and are claimed to be panaceas. Here is what an eminent physician Dr. Shrinivas Kakkilaya MD, a consultant physician well known for his rational approach to medicine has to say about them – Siri Dhanyas or Rich grains, are nothing but millets, like Ragi, the finger millet. They have suddenly become a fad – after Yoga as a cure for all ills, now it’s the time for the Siri Dhanyas as the wonders to prevent and cure all ills. But just as Yoga is neither true yoga, nor is a prevention nor a cure for any ills, the Siri Dhanyas have no Siri, and no preventive or curative properties against any diseases. Only the selling middle men will become Srivanta or rich! All these grains are millets – pearl millet (Sajje, Bajra), Barnyard millet (oodalu in Kannada), foxtail millet (navane), Kodo millet (arka or haaraka), Proso millet (baragu), little millet (saame) etc. And like ragi, all these millets have carbohydrate content ranging from 61-70%, about 4-10% less than that of rice and wheat. The caloric content, fiber content and protein content of these millets are also comparable to those of rice, wheat and corn, with only minimal differences. Therefore, terming these millets as extraordinary, or as nutritionally superior to rice or wheat is wrong and totally misleading. (In comparison, most vegetables have carbohydrate content of 1-3%) Consumption of these millets will neither prevent any disease, particularly diabetes, nor will help in the control or treatment of any disease, including diabetes. Moreover, there is no evidence to prove that these millets can prevent or cure any illness. But to be fair these grains require far less water than the typical cereals and are draught resistant. Another point to be noted here is that they are all supposed to be marketed through cooperatives under the control of this lobby and are very expensive .
Then, what about Gaumutra ? The claims of the cows urine is panacea lobby as taken from their own web site are that the biochemical estimation of cow urine has shown that it contains sodium, nitrogen, sulphur, Vitamin A, B, C, D, E, minerals, manganese, iron, silicon, chlorine, magnesium, citric, succinic, calcium salts, phosphate, lactose, carbolic acid, enzymes, creatinine and hormones.
Of course science goes for a toss here as all these are excretory products, but since they originate from the urinary tract of the holy cow they must be hallowed indeed. Creatinine is an excretory product which has no metabolic role, while uric acid is the end product of purine catabolism in humans and can cause gout if in excess, but it seems to become a very useful product when it comes in gaumutra! Urea is claimed to be good source of nitrogen to which all of us have to agree but to whom is the question- of course to plants, bacteria, fungi and yeast! For the uninformed there is no entity called as Vitamin B because the term vitamins of the B complex is applied to a number of water soluble compounds needed for healthy living required in small quantities and the deficiency of which could lead to disorders.
This lobby does not spare the edible oils. While the lobby controlling them is quite close to the powers that be, even their machinations are not as bad as the allegations made in the enlightening speech of this expert. His allegation was that the edible oils were sold at much cheaper prices because of hold your breath – adulteration with mineral oils! While a simple test can identify this and any such is a criminal offence, and this so called organic-yoga lobby has no qualms in making such wild allegations.
The cow milk is considered divine. That too not of any cow but the desi-cow as a distinct entity to be distinguished from the videsi crossbred ones! Now there is a strong lobby in many places selling the milk of the desi-cows at exorbitant prices that too with the claim that fresh- which obviously means not pasteurized. Claiming to be pure milk from indigenous breeds without any processing they fail to understand that Pasteurisation of milk is a process which removes many pathogens and makes is safe for use. Besides the same lobby advocates the use of pure cow’s ghee made from hand churned butter prepared by curdling the milk of desi-cows, of course as to be expected at very steep prices! Though those who are marketing these are laughing all the way to the bank those purchasing are to think of the whole process as the worship of gaumata and their money as offerings to this divine entity!
The most fantastic claim of the lobby is about A2 casein. While the milk of the foreign breeds and cross breeds is supposed to contain A1 casein, that of the Indigenous breeds is secreting A2 casein in the milk. Well for the uninitiated it would be appropriate on my part to explain what this is. Casein the predominant protein of milk (of all mammals) is a phosphoprotein which curdles very easily. This is needed for the milk to stay in the stomach of the babies for the feeling of satiety and so that the contents are released slowly. Mutations in DNA cause changes in the amino acid composition of proteins and one such has caused changes in the amino acid composition of casein. There are unproved allegations that a peptide called BCM 7 released during the digestion of A1 casein cause anything from heart disease in adults to type 1 diabetes in children though there is no evidence to prove these contentions. As far as the claim that exclusively desi cow milk contains A2 casein it is a damn lie. A1 milk comes from breeds like the Holstein, Friesian, Ayrshire and British Shorthorn. Milk that is high in A2 beta-casein is mainly found in breeds that originated in the Channel Islands and Southern France. This includes breeds like the Guernsey, Jersey, Charolais and Limousin. Besides lots of milk from the dairies is pooled milk and contains cow and buffalo milk. All breeds of buffalo in India secrete only A2 casein! Going by Dairy news of India, India is predominantly a buffalo milk country 55 % of milk production is from buffaloes as the same seems to be very favorable for the farmers in terms of economics. 21% of the total milk production is from Indigenous breeds of cattle and 24% of the total milk production is from Cross-bred cows. This is as per 2007 statistics. Some of the whatsapp messages like indigenous cow milk because of the hump is rich in vitamin and it absorbs sun light therefore yellow in color are dubious claims. Cows, because they do not metabolize all Carotene into vitamin A, passes the same carotene into milk therefore it is yellow in color. Another claim that A1 milk causes virtually all diseases in medical encyclopedia like Down’s syndrome, spastic child, mental disorders, diabetes, Hypertension etc is absolutely wrong.
Well what are the vested interests behind these claims wanting to do?
1. Is it to promote the products which they want to sell under different dubious claims ?
2. Establish a hold over the farmers by establishing a monopoly through their so called co-operatives.
3. Use religious sentiments to market products with unproven claims.
4. Link well-being with yoga, Ayurveda and the product which they market.
5. Make pseudo scientific claims to ‘prove’ their contentions.
6. Scare people through unverifiable claims of all sorts of ill effects of using technology to improve quality and yield to make them buy their products at exorbitant prices.
Well, is it possible to feed a burgeoning population with so called organic farming- the answer is absolutely not. Improved yield, hybrid varieties, use of better storage conditions have increased the availability of food and these are responsible for India to become a grain exporting country from a basket case. If we go a few decades back, all the agricultural products in India were ‘organic’ as there were no fertilizers’ or insecticides. If we go by the statistics from the first census onwards the average life expectancy of an Indian in 1947 was around 34 or so. Now after the use of all the ‘bad’ technology it has come to 67 in 2015 or around that. Is it due to the fertilizers and insecticides? Is it inspite of them? Well it does not need much intelligence to understand how science has helped to increase the life expectancy.
The lies about Satvik diet There are people who give a call to opt for Satvik Food. According to some Satvik food or vegetarian diet causes changes in the mind set, makes people non-violent and less prone to commit crime. Well, looks like these people have forgotten that Hitler was a vegetarian! Or that probably German vegetarian diet does not qualify as Satvik food! As one seer of a math in Karnataka said more violence has been perpetrated by those who eat the ghee of the cow than its meat! Anyway, what belies this claim is the crime rates world over. The lowest recorded crime rates in the world are:
3. Hong Kong
and none of them is populated by people who consume what can be called as a Satvik diet.
Well what should one do about such claims?
First of all we have to understand that the claims of panaceas have never been proved so far! If one likes the taste of the so called ‘organic’ products it is a good enough reason to buy them. But even for that one needs to understand that it is the label that makes them so! Because studies have shown that when double blind trials were made with the same stuff labeled as organic showed that a large number felt that the one labeled as organic tasted better!
No need to believe that they are the cure for all the ills of the human body and the society! Remember that pesticides used in recommended quantities help to save crops. There is no difference between fertilizers say urea whether it comes from a cow or manufactured in a factory. Many of the refining processes improve the products quality, shelf life etc.
Finally extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. We would be happy with just ordinary evidence that the so called ‘organic’ products can cure or prevent any disease. So, one be beware before falling into such traps and pay through the nose for products of dubious quality and taste!
*This article was originally published in Mangalore Today in their May Issue.
Noun: a woman in relation to her child or children.
Verb: bring up (a child) with care and affection.
Few months back, when the whole controversy around Mira Rajput and her comments on working women treating their kids like puppies started, I was asked by a member of the Indus Daily team to write an article on motherhood.
I am not sure why she asked me – maybe it was because I am a mother of a four year old, maybe it was because I have two puppies, or because I am a stay at home mom for one half the day and a working one for the other half of the day!
Whatever be the reason, I chose not to write that day… I didn’t feel Mira Rajput’s words were worth so much of attention. And also because motherhood was a topic one could easily write a book on. How could I compress it into a few hundred words?
But, today is different. I witnessed something amazing and I had to write this piece.
13th May 2017, is a special day for me. It is one day before Mother’s day and it is the 60th birthday of someone who raised me and defined an important part of my childhood.
Story 1: The lady who raised a generation.
My parents had a love marriage in the 80s. They had to raise me and my sister, knowing very well that they may never inherit anything from their families; and that they had to start from scratch and save for us. Neither of them could let go of their secure government jobs.
When I was three, after having tried all neighborhood day care centers and failed, my mom approached a neighbor for help. She was more than happy to take care of me during the day. It was probably a day after I turned three that she started her ‘creche’ – me being the first child in her venture.
With time, the children under her care increased, and soon we were close to twenty of us spending our days in her two bedroom government quarters. Our parents packed our meals and dropped us in the mornings, and picked us up on the way back from their 9 to 6 government jobs. In absence of our parents, she mothered us.
We all grew up like one big family under her roof. We sat on the floor in one big circle and ate our meals. We slept (or pretended to sleep) on the floor, at fixed nap times, in a single file on a floor mat. We sat in a group and did our homework during study times, with the older children helping the younger ones.
We all had our responsibilities too. I watered the plants in the terrace for as long as I could remember. We all developed lots of common interests too, like our shared love for South Indian cinema; Telugu mythological movies in particular (note that this is 30 years before Bahubali).
Every summer we learnt something new – chess, badminton, watercolor painting, cooking – she tried every possible form of expression to keep us busy and mentally occupied. Some of us learnt to read and write Telugu (though all of us spoke and understood Telugu). She made us all learn swimming and she learnt it with us.
On days when our parents were too busy or unwell to pack our meals, we ate at her house. And thus started my lifelong obsession with Aavakaaya and Gongura. Even today, the one thing that can cheer me up, is piping hot meals at an Andhra restaurant.
She loved animals. When I first came to her house, there were three cats. With time, there came two white Pomeranian dogs, loads of puppies, a parrot and then two black Labradors. Looking back, how she managed so many kids and pets, and her own family – her husband and her mother-in-law, in a tiny two bedroom flat is beyond me.
A strong part of my identity, and that of the other kids in the crèche, comes from the time that we spent with her – the shared love for plants, animals, Telugu cinema, Festivals, and Andhra food!
Today is her 60th birthday.
While she lives far away in a small town in Andhra Pradesh, all ‘her kids’ are busy planning her birthday. Some of us are visiting her, while others are busy sending her gifts and wishes (Of course, we need to thank Whatsapp that help us all stay connected). On her 60th birthday, as wishes pour in as Whatsapp messages, it is evident that everyone of us feels the same set of emotions, same level of gratitude and the same level of love – for her role in raising us and shaping us into who we are today.
If a strong part of who I am comes from her nurturing, is that not a mother-child relationship?
Story 2: The few good men who raised my daughter.
One thing that most Indian families love to share in abundance is ‘unsolicited advice’.
Till I got married, I was lectured on the importance of marrying at the right age. Once I got married, it was about having a child at the right age. When I had my daughter, I heard plenty of advice on how to raise her.
Older women in the country love to talk in length about the wonderful journey that motherhood is. They will tell you that it was the best times of their lives. Looking back at the first three years of my daughter’s life, I strongly feel that these women suffer from selective amnesia. As much as I love my daughter, it was extremely hard and maddening to raise her alone without a proper support system.
Most of the women who advised me seem to have conveniently forgotten the support system that they had – the extended family, the maids, the neighbors, and the grandparents, who helped them raise their children.
After my daughter was born, my immediate family’s presence was felt at every important occasion – birthday, naming ceremonies etc. I do appreciate it. I am glad that they put an effort to make their presence felt on important dates of my daughter’s life.
But then what about the rest of the days of the year? The not so important dates of the calendar? The baby doesn’t read the calendar, and wait for the relative to visit, she cried through the night on the not so important days too. There were numerous days when my not-so-considerate maid disappeared, leaving me with a dirty kitchen and a howling baby. What about the days when I was sick?
When I cribbed about these days, all I got was more advice. After all, they had raised so many children, how hard could it be?
Well, it was damn hard. And the only people who seemed to sense it were the men in my life: my father and my husband.
Agreed, they were both clueless about changing diapers, feeding or putting a baby to sleep – but they tried to learn. More importantly, they did not trivialize my struggle and did everything they could do to ease it. And it was not just the baby they had to patiently deal with – it was also me. They shared my struggle, my frustrations, and even survived my mood swings and anger.
The first three years of my daughter’s life was a colossal mess – clueless grandfather, struggling father and frustrated mother. But, at the end of it all, I can proudly say that my daughter was raised by her grandfather, father and his 30-something male friends.
The very fact that the men in my life understood my needs, and that of my daughter’s, makes me wonder if gender has anything to do with the motherhood.
Looking back at photographs of a struggling father and clueless grandfather taking care of my daughter, I wonder: Isn’t this motherhood?
Story 3: The grandmother who kept my family together.
Very often in a group – there is always one person who acts as the glue.
If you have a group of friends, you will find that one person, who is the first to remember all the birthdays, the one who creates the Whatsapp group, or the one who is busy planning that long due reunion. He/she is the binding factor, and in their absence the group ceases to exist.
My paternal grandmother was one such person.
My late grandmother, who died in 2009 at the age of 85, was more liberal than any women I have ever met. Coming from a matrilineal Nair family, her views on life was way ahead of her time.
When my parents had a love marriage in the 80s, she defied every other member of the family, took a train on her own and came to Chennai to give my parents her blessings. She was the only member from both sides of my family to be present.
When I graduated and my parents bugged me to get married, she insisted that I live my life and not settle till I meet the right person. She could see beyond the norms of the society and felt no social pressure what so ever to confirm.
She had four children, other than my father, and she was the force that kept all her children’s families together.
She was an amazing cook. Her kitchen, and the large teak dining table in her house, never stopped serving a hot meal for as long as she was alive. I spent every summer at her house. The lunches that I had there as a child, defined me and my sense of family.
I was a very slow eater as a kid. I would start my lunch on her dining table at 1pm with my grandfather. My grandfather would finish his lunch within a few minutes, and my uncles would join me next, then my cousins ate, and then my aunts, and finally the last two people left on that table eating lunch would invariably be me and my grandmother. By 3pm, I would have finished my lunch, having eaten with every member of the family.
That two hours of sharing meal with every member of my father’s family, was probably the most important part of my summer.
Evenings from 5pm to 8pm, used to be my grandmother’s free time. She would sit in the verandah and chat with us. She would tell us stories about her childhood, gossip about neighbors, talk to us about our lives and fill us in on every relative’s life.
She loved to talk.
And at night, we would sleep next to her. She smelt like the fumes that came out of her wooden chulha. She believed that food didn’t taste good on a gas stove, and that it tasted right only on her wooden stove. I am sure she was right, but all those years of cooking on that wooden stove, damaged her lungs and she died of lung cancer in 2009.
Today, when I go back to Kerala, where the rest of the family is still there, it feels very different. The same families, the same cousins, seem disconnected and there seems to be an invisible layer of separation that has come between all of us.
The one woman, who made us all a family, was missing. One woman who kept eight cousins and five families together had died.
She created the very sense of a family, that all of us shared. Was that not motherhood?
What is all this to do with Mira Rajput’s comment?
By now you must be wondering what all these stories have to do with Mira Rajput’s comment and the commotion that followed. Well, here is what I have to say about motherhood, and in answer to all the discussions on the web around motherhood that never seems to cease:
1. Working parent is not a stigma, it is a reality that we need to embrace.
If a mother wants to work, her decision needs to be respected and she needs to be given the required support – by society and by her employers.
I work part time, but I make it clear every time I take a project that I have a four year old, and her needs to be accommodated into my work ecosystem. I have taken my daughter to most business meetings, offices and events – it is a clear message that you need to accept me for who I am, and then be willing to work with me.
As a society that chants “Matha, Pitha, Guru, Deyvam” – we seem to be terrible at accommodating the needs of the “Mathas and Pithas” in the workspace.
Try giving the parents a workspace that is truly child friendly, or maybe an employer who is sympathetic of the father who stayed up all night holding a wailing baby, or give that parent returning to work after a break for raising a child, more respect? How can we celebrate mother’s day or father’s day, when being an active parent is looked as a liability by some in the workspace?
2. The concept of motherhood extends beyond the biological mother. Don’t put the burden of motherhood solely on the mother.
When it is not possible for the biological mother to be present around her child; if the child has other forces in its life that are nurturing – the child is blessed. Children develops various levels of bonding with people around them, and as long as they are positive and nurturing, it is fine.
A mother is supposed to be selfless, caring, devoted, hardworking, strict, loving, friendly, soft, protective, nurturing… I can go on with the list of requirements that a mother needs to fulfill. Why load one person with such a heavy role? Doesn’t the rest of the society have a role to play? Why simplify and trivialize something like ‘motherhood’ by restricting it to the role of the biological mother?
Isn’t it the collective responsibility of the mother, father, family, neighbors, friends and society as a whole? It does takes a village to raise a child!
P.S: And as a final note, in reference to Mira Rajput’s comments, puppies need as much love and care as a baby. Do NOT leave puppies alone in the house!
Once in a lifetime you come across something so meaningful and so on-point that you feel you’ve been waiting for this moment all your life. All of a sudden all the dots connect and you realize that all this while every single event in your life was happening just to make sure you walk in this direction and discover this truth that solves all the mysteries of life.
For me that moment happened when one of the greatest Indian twiterrati, Shashi Tharoor, tweeted this great Indian tweet, “Exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations & outright lies being broadcast by an unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist”.
To discover the ultimate truth, we need to dissect macro into micro.
Let’s start with the, “Unprincipled showman masquerading as a journalist”. This self-proclaimed voice of nation and now of the republic; has been single-handedly responsible for making people be glued to prime time news bulletin as well as swearing off the TV news for good. I’m part of the latter group of people. But, to give the devil its due, he has given the nation a “loud” voice. I was just wondering why these tapes were not released earlier when he was the voice of the nation on another news channel? What was he waiting for? Christmas? Or shall we say, “Republic” day?
One of the pioneers when it comes to Indian politicians on twitter, Shashi Tharoor, has given the nation some of the most iconic twitter moments. Remember, way back in 2009, when he tweeted about travelling in cattle class? The series of tweets when his account was hacked just before the sad demise of his wife Sunanda Pushkar. The sudden, unnatural death of Sunanda Pushkar seemed to have all the ingredients of a whodunit for a common man.
Ultimately it may be exploitation of someone’s personal tragedy for personal gains and TRPs by a showman masquerading as a journalist; or Justice for Sunanda Pushkar. But we need to detach ourselves from this aspect and let the law take care of it.
My focus is this one line, “Exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations & outright lies”. The nation knows how much meaning this one line holds. For me, it’s the answer to every deep question I’ve ever encountered in my life. The answer to every helpless WHY; is this one sentence.
Don’t believe me? Here you go!
Every time your maid told you why she didn’t come to work. Every time you were told drinking tea can make your complexion dark. Every time you opened the cookie tin-box to discover needles and threads inside it. Every time as a kid you asked how babies are born.
Every time HR explained you your Gross and Net Salary. Every time your boss explained you your appraisal.
Every time someone broke up with you. Every time someone cheated on you. Every time you said to someone, “It’s not you, it’s me”.
Every time you opened your lunch box to find dudhi ki sabzi in it. Every time an autowallah shamelessly refused a ride by telling you, “khali nahi hai, bhada hai”. Every time you discover dal makhni and various forms of paneer ki sabzi in the name of, “exotic vegetarian spread”.
Every time you fell for those annual online sales. Every time you thought this SRK movie is going to be a different one.
Every time you explained to your parents why you came home so late last night. Every time you told yourself you’ll go to gym regularly. Every time you told yourself you’ll diet from tomorrow.
I can go on and on. I dare you to pick up any situation and this one sentence will fit in as the explanation.
To borrow from our mythology a la The Great Indian Novel, Krishna said to Arjuna, “Everything is in me but I’m not contained into anything”. Maybe the truth and lie are both part of the same construct but nothing contains the ultimate truth or ultimate lie. Because Whatsapp tells us what all UNESCO has declared on a regular basis. Breaking news on every news channel tells a different truth and thus a different lie about the same story. How is it news if it’s fake? But there is Fake News. There are so many facts out there that it certainly makes a case for, “Stranger than fiction”.
Bottom-line is there are so many truths out there that ultimately everything is a lie. That’s the curse of our times; when allegiances, opinions and verdicts have replaced plain and simple reporting. The pressure of TRPs has taken the edge off the search for truth and only truth and shifted its weight to story-telling.
My dear, respected, esteemed news folks; if no two of you have the same truth to tell then all of you are part of the same lie. As fourth and the strongest pillar of democracy, you owe us the truth. One and only one truth. Till then every news can be fake news. Till then, every story is going to be, “Exasperating farrago of distortions, misrepresentations & outright lies”.
Intolerance isn’t new to our culture – it is thousands of years old. The roots of untouchability and the caste system lie very deep in our so-called ancient culture. These can be, in my opinion, considered the heights of intolerance because in these the very birth of an individual fixes roles for him/her for the rest of their life. It determines social, cultural and professional roles. While traditionally what is held as the upper caste practices are seen as desirable trends, those of people lower down the caste ladder are looked down upon! This leads to the fixation of labels of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
It is precisely this Manuvadi system that is the breeding ground for intolerance in the Indian society. The practices, the appearances, the apparel, the social conduct are all determined by the laws of Manu; which becomes the foundation for all discrimination.
The so-called acceptable standards of behavior for all society are dependent on such Manuvadi diktats. For example, things considered normal for men may be looked upon as sacrilege when committed by women. What is considered normal for one caste may be looked upon as blasphemy when done by another. Our history and mythology are full of examples of such. Starting from Rama killing Shambuka for the study of Vedas, to taboos on widow remarriage and considering Dalits subhuman; our mythology carries sterling examples of this intolerance.
With the advent of foreign invaders, there was a change in the ruling classes. The invaders took over as the ruling class and introduced their own norms into the already divided, intolerant society. They brought their own foreign types of worship, standards of beauty and so on. This resulted in our indigenous population being measured, and beginning to measure others by their yardsticks as well! The already complicated situation became a maze with the introduction of these. The last of these invaders were the British who introduced their Victorian morality on a society already full of prejudices of its own. Our present situation continues to be a direct fall out of this cultural hotchpotch.
Let us go back to the first days of independence from British rule. Though India became a so-called ‘secular’ state it was so only on paper. Most practices, mindsets, and state machinery remained set in age-old Brahmanical rooted in puritanical Hinduism.
With the formation of Hindustan, long ago in the Vedic period, there had been a confluence of cultures. A more Aryan and purist interpretation of Hinduism had been formed. Traditional methods of worship of indigenous people were looked down upon as inferior, their diets as abhorrent, their culture as uncivilized. A type of Brahmanical culture which included dietary habits, forms of worship, clothing and prayer was gradually thrust upon others in the name of Indian culture. The calendar art of Ravi Varma defined the appearances of the gods and goddesses of the pantheon with most deities depicted as fair skinned with Aryan looks while demons were portrayed as dark with features of indigenous populations like Adivasis and Dravidians.
This resulted in the perpetuation of the stereotypes of good and evil: fair skinned being good and others the evil. There are a number of proverbs like dal men kuch kala hai, kale dhandha and so on that reflect this prejudice against black. This can be seen in the TV serials and movies even now. This also applies to the cultural practices of the Abrahamic religions which have been always looked down upon as alien due to their origin outside the geographical limits of this sub-continent.
These religions with their proselytizing zeal and rigidity have been looked upon as aggressors and bugbears responsible for the intolerance in Indian society. In fact, untouchability, caste practices and many such have been pointed out as off-shoots of the foreign rule though they existed much before that. In fact they are prevalent in Nepal as well, which was till recently a Hindu kingdom and was never subject to any foreign aggression or rule.
Sizable populations or followers of the Abrahamic religions exist in places where there has been no rule by external kings. A typical example of this would be Kerala which has been always ruled by Hindu kings but has a sizable Muslim and Christian population. Yet, funnily enough, despite all claims of equality of these under their original dogmas, the stranglehold of the caste system has not been totally eliminated by these conversions. So, the claim is that through one’s belief system has changed, their caste has not. The same prejudices and intolerance can be seen among the Roman Catholics of Goa and coastal Karnataka where they would prefer the same caste inter-religious marriage to an inter-caste same religion matrimonial alliance!
Anyway, more about that when we come to a case study about the rise of intolerance in the city of Mangalore of which I am very familiar having been born and brought up there. This city deserves a proper case study as it has been hitting the headlines from the past two decades for its intolerance in spite of having a very cosmopolitan population.
The composition is as thus:
Hinduism is the majority religion in Mangalore city with 68.99 % followers. Islam comes in second with approximately 17.40 % following it. Christianity is followed by 13.15 %, Jainism by 0.21 %, Sikhism by 0.08 % Buddhism by 0.08 %. Around 0.00 % state ‘Other Religion’ And approximately 0.12 % state ‘No Particular Religion’. The literacy rate is more than 94% and the standard of living is quite high. The languages spoken here are mainly Tulu, Kannada, Canarese Konkani, and Beary; with Tulu being the mother tongue of the majority.English, Hindi, and Urdu are also widely spoken in the city.
A resident of Mangalore is known as a Mangalorean in English, Kuḍlada in Tulu, Mangalurna in Kannada, Koḍiyāḷci in Goud Saraswat Brahmin Konkani, Koḍiyāḷco in Catholic Konkani and Maikalta in Beary base. A fair number of the population are fluent in at least five languages, and with the representation of all religions, the cosmopolitan nature of its composition should have made it a very tolerant society.
In fact, it has been such for centuries. Various communities and linguistic groups have existed in harmony or at least intolerance of each other for years.
This was till communal forces stepped in a few decades ago. The city which had a vibrant progressive left movement with well-organized trade unions of left parties where workers fought for their rights, received fair wages and educated their children who gravitating towards the religious right. In this atmosphere, the apparent ‘appeasement’ of the so-called minorities by the congress created an atmosphere for Hindutva forces to grow.
This growth resulted in the polarization of these forces and antisocial elements under the help and guidance of Hindutwa grew in strength. Their antisocial activities were needed by the political Right who used them as storm troopers and goons to threaten others. For political posts they wanted their own upper caste, middle or affluent class candidates to appeal to the ‘decent’ voter. This got the extremist groups into the pensive mood. They were being used but they did not have power. The caste composition was such that the workers on the ground were the lower castes while those at the helm of affairs were the upper castes. So, these people split away and started their own local level outfits i.e. the senas and dals. With this, the polarization on the communal lines had started in Mangalore and the intolerance was developing much before it started in the rest of the country. In fact, coastal Karnataka was considered as the laboratory of communalism and subsequent intolerance much before these things happened in rest of India.
The cultural-religious practices in this area were more related to the local culture than the Manuvadi Brahminical ones imported from outside. There were some local deities called the Bhootas which was a form of ancestral worship. They were all brought ‘under’ a chief, who was labeled as a ‘gana’ of Shiva called Annappa, who again was under the thumb of the Brahmanical priests! Thus, hegemony was established over these! These local Bhootas were all inclusive–there had various caste combinations, some animal-like forms, and even Muslim Bhootas like Ali were known to exist! These Bhootas were worshiped in ceremonies called as Bhootal kolas where they used to be taken in processions with flags of various colors. Now the picture has changed- there are only saffron flags- none other. Even the melas connected with these have banners that announce that only Hindus can put up stalls!
This area was under the control of various Rajas each one replacing the other. Then Tippu Sultan took over and when he got defeated the area came under British rule. After independence the linguistic reorganizations of states took place and Mangalore was brought under Karnataka not because the majority was those with Kannada as the mother tongue, but because it was the language used by the people as the other major languages spoken had no script. It was at this stage that the communal forces started growing and have reached the stage they are today. With the oil-rich gulf states employing Muslims from this area, money started flowing in from the gulf and the Muslim identity began asserting itself. Though the Hindutva growth was in parallel, it is difficult to say definitively what nurtured the other. However, over time, inevitably the smallest clash between members of the two communities would result in a communal conflagration.
If one looks at this, we get a feeling that the community is totally divided into communal lines with no dealings with each other! But, this is far from the truth. Mangalore is a very important fishing center and almost everyone eats fish. The fishermen are mainly a Hindu community called as Mogaveeras, who land the catch. The landed catch is bought by the traders who are Muslims only, who buy fish through auctions as soon as the boat lands. The catch is then sorted and sold to fish vendors who mainly belong to the fishing community. The Muslim is an intermediary between Hindu men and women belonging to the same community. Sometimes love affairs between them lead to clashes!
Mangalore is a major trading center and the trade used to be mainly by the sea route. So, the conversions to Islam were not by force – they predate the Islamic conquests of the North though some might have happened during the time of Tippu Sultan’s rule. The land and the buildings for trade are by the river side and are used by the Hindu trading community who are mainly Gowd Sarawat Brahmins, and the default setting for this community is Hindutvawad. They started trading in rented buildings which they gradually purchased. But, the coolies who do the loading and unloading are without exception- Muslims! Though one can expect clashes to happen they are not very common due to this symbiotic relationship. As already said, these upper caste Hindutvawadis are clever in maintaining their own businesses and economic status.
The ruling top level Hindutwavadis are usually the upper castes with their families well provided for and their children working abroad as software engineers, doctors, management professionals etc. It is the children of the OBCs who are infused with Rashtrawad, Deshprem and Bharatmata ki seva! They are also pawns in the communal disturbances and movements like Gauraksha etc. But, when they get into trouble with the law they are dropped like the proverbial hot potato! During clashes, some of they are even killed and hailed as martyrs to the cause! But, they almost never get the top posts. This has resulted in some of them rebelling and forming their more extreme groups, sometimes even winning elections. The funny part is once they win at the ballot box they are welcomed back into their old party!
While so-called love jihad is an old hat the Hindutva forces, moral policing which can be called immoral hooliganism is another tool in their box. Attacking couples belonging to difference castes and communities is one of the offshoots of this. Besides they also would like to prescribe dress codes, norms of behavior to all. The (in)famous pub and home stay attacks on parties of young people have hit the national and probably world headlines too. While it looks as if the communal elements of the two major communities are at loggerheads with each other, actually they are hand in glove and feed on each other’s atrocities! We know of cases where they have had cozy relationships with each other in fomenting communal trouble and gaining from it. In fact many times it appears as if their actions are synchronized by a central agency! This is also apparent from the politics of Gaumata!
Like one man’s food is another one’s poison it also happens that one community mata is the other community’s food! Though beef is not a banned commodity in Karnataka, the politics of the holy cow is a vote bank, a cause for conflict and a source of profit for the Hindutvawadis! While it is Hindus who keep cows for milk production it is the others who buy, eat and slaughter them! Beef is a good source of protein for a good number of communities particularly the dalits, muslims and the Christians in our area. Though lots of cow traders are Hindus, the purchase for slaughter and the sale of meat is by the others. This leads to a situation where a Hindus sells his old useless cow to a broker who belongs to his own community who makes a profit by selling it to a Muslim who has to take the responsibility of transporting for slaughter to his own area. The meat is sold in markets and served in restaurants owned by these communities. It is during the transport of these cattle is that tensions arise and clashes happen. There are numerous gau raksha samities all over the district who specialize in catching those who transport these cattle for slaughter and hand them over to the police who promptly transfer them to ‘shelters’ run by these people. Many times these people are hand in glove with their own butchers who slaughter these and sell the meat! We point out that if the Hindus would not sell their cows then the whole trade would stop!
The case study of Mangalore my hometown is a good example of how a society can be made a hot bed of communalism and intolerance in a few decades. I am sure that this story is being replicated in thousands of places all over the country and the world. We have examples of liberal democracies being converted into primitive theocratic states with all the consequent intolerance.
Well, how did that happen? We have the examples of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and the whole of the middle east going that way and now we have India heading in that direction.
This is because of electoral politics and the game of expediency. It is also because of public apathy and the mindset of the people. Our societies have made a lot of progress in terms of technology and the conveniences which are their offshoots. The communications have reached the speed of light, tools developed which can carry visual and audio messages from one end of the world in seconds. This also needs a mindset which is equally modern and liberal. This has not happened. We have a society in which the technology is of the 21st century while the mindset remains in the 16th or even behind. In India say if something happened in the 16th century in Kashmir it would take at least a few months for the news to reach Kanya Kumari. But, today the same happens in a few minutes.
The primitive mindset of our people with only the capacity to use the technology but not the mindset to interpret the event in a secular civilized manner reacts to it the same way as it would have happened a few hundred years back. Besides the force of the reaction is also multiplied through the very same technology! So, this makes a very explosive situation. If you take an example an army with swords and horses would make a lesser impact as a marauding jihadist army than one with modern weapons and tanks. The very tools of science are used to negate science itself!
Well, how does one change the situation?
We have to have reforms of the whole system. The combination of the capitalist, imperialist forces with the multinationals out to exploit the market by any means is one of the forces behind these things. If you want an example just take the market for the so-called whitening creams – one of the most useless products on the earth which are sold exploiting our prejudices against dark skin! Take the matrimonial ads in our newspapers. The so-called liberal Westernized English print media should have carried these suitable for a modern developing society but if one reads them the preexisting prejudices come into full form here. The caste, sub caste, color, religion and every other prejudice is exhibited here including superstitious beliefs in things like astrology. The schooling system (I do not call as is as education) helps to strengthen these by teachers who enforce them by their language and body signals. It does not help matters when the schooling system itself is the stranglehold of these religion, caste and regional groups everywhere. The media which should have helped to do away with these is actually promoting them by fanning the flames with their biased reporting.
It is the time that we wake up to this situation and stop being mute spectators. If the country has to become strong, self-reliant and prosperous it cannot be with the present mindset. We shall get split into more and more narrow-minded regional, caste and religion based entities if we keep going at the present rate. Reversing the situation is possible only by a system of proper education and not the present system in which only literacy is being imparted. The present education system is actually becoming more primitive by emphasizing on mythology as history, fiction as science and bigotry as ethics. Prejudices are imposed on children as morals, a distorted sense of nationalism being imposed as civics and symbolism for progress. So, we need a wholesale reform in which the examination based system of education is replaced with a learning based one. The true nature of the constitution of our country and the aspirations of its makers can be fulfilled only by that. Finally a few words of advice to fellow citizens of what the eminent parliamentarian Edmund Burke said
All it takes for the dark forces of evil to take over this world are enough number of good people who want to do nothing.
This is what is happening in our country today. We have enough and a higher number of good people who want to nothing who are mute silent spectators to these evil forces of bigotry and intolerance taking over our public life. We being ‘good people’ are just mute silent spectators.
I stumbled into theater by accident.
After being raised in Montreal for the first 17 years of my life, I found myself in college, in Kochi, where my family had relocated to, and it was a college professor who convinced me that I would be good at theatre, given my fluency in English.
That was in 1991. I joined a group called The Living Theatre, worked on a few productions with them, and then moved to Chennai to continue studying. And that’s when things took off.
Starting with college productions while at the Madras Christian College, and then subsequently, with groups like the Madras Players, the Little Theatre, and Masquerade – The Performance Group, I dabbled in different types of roles, all the while maintaining my interest in music, as a singer.
I got involved in handling sound for shows, lighting for other shows, set design for others, and learned the ropes about all aspects of producing a play.
Then in 2004 came the opportunity to direct my first musical – “Grease” – and with that came the inception of Stagefright Productions, the theater company I founded with my wife, Neesha, the late Roshni Menon, and indirectly with Denver Anthony Nicholas.
Which means that theater has been part of my life for over 25 years now.
It has shaped me, emboldened me, nurtured me, and at times, it has even frustrated me. But there’s no denying its irrevocable impact on me.
Yet, I’ve never made money doing theater. When I started as an actor there was no concept of paying performers for theater, but I stuck with it for something much more valuable than financial returns. Theatre taught me about myself, it taught me how to interact with others, it taught me how I want to perceived by others as well, and it showed me what I’m good at.
The lights on your eyes, the applause in your ears–nothing matters. It’s just you, and the character you’re playing.
And that’s why I became a director. I wanted others to share in this joy of being onstage. Ever since I started directing plays in 2004, I have been working to stage theater productions of varying genres, in an amateur forum. The reason I use the word ‘amateur’ is because I’ve never earned any income from staging shows. I have been fortunate to not LOSE money, but I have also not gained in any monetary manner. Nor do I wish to.
The opportunity to be on stage, and then to bring acting, music, dance, sound, lighting, costumes, props, and a set altogether, and thereby create magic for an audience, has been among the more satisfying pursuits I have ever engaged in all my life.
To see first-time actors’ faces light up with glee when they step onto a stage, and to see the pride in their friends and family members’ faces when they achieve the goal of overcoming stage fright is one of the main reasons I do this, despite the rigour of rehearsals, despite the lack of encouragement by society at large, and despite the lack of income earned.
Today, while I use theater as a method for the work I do as a behavioral training consultant, it’s onstage that I truly believe I belong.
Only, in India, the performing arts are not always encouraged so, it’s a constant challenge to find the funds that we need to make live shows happen. We are dependent on sponsorship from corporate organizations, and often – and rightly so – they look at what kind of return on investment they will get. In other words, how they would benefit financially, which is not necessarily something we can offer in huge amounts to them.
And that’s why I’ve put together a crowdfunding campaign at http://ket.to/rockofages. I’ll be using a combination of expected revenue from ticket sales plus the sponsorship I generate through this campaign to cover my costs for this stage production. This is the bare minimum I need to produce the show, and as mentioned earlier, it does not factor in any kind of financial profit for me personally. All the funds we generate will go towards the various costs associated with this show.
If you can contribute something – however small – towards this project, you’d not only be doing me a huge favour, but you’d also be supporting the aspirations of about 35 young performers and our 5-piece live rock band, and you’d be enabling the people in the city of Chennai to come and enjoy our show.
Based on the amount of sponsorship I have generated from corporates so far, my goal is actually quite low, and any amount you can contribute will go a long way towards helping us make this dream happen.
Make a donation at: http://ket.to/rockofages
For more information on the initiative, comment below, or write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Sundiya from Madurai (Tamil Nadu, India) has the body of a woman but feels like a man.
She wants to be called Raja.
Raja has been receiving threats for years for his identity.
When they became life threatening, Raja and his mother had to quickly move to a temporary home in Chennai.
Can you imagine being stuck in your own body?
Can you imagine wondering why your thoughts differ so much from your anatomy?
Like a jigsaw puzzle, some of us live, with pieces of our own scattered.
Give Raja six minutes of your life tonight.
Not for him, or for debates on ‘pronouns’, but for the sake of identities.
Video Courtesy Frank Röhrig.
We would like to thank Mr. Gopi Shankar to bringing this video to the notice of the editorial team!
A couple of weeks ago, when I was on my way to the swimming pool from my residence, early in the morning, when it was still a little dark, two strangers on a motor bike pointed out to the front tyre of my car at the junction, where the cross road joins the main road and said “there is no air”.
The first reaction of any sane person would be to stop and check whether it was so. But, since I do not come under that category and have been facing threats, I did not stop but drove straight to the nearby petrol pump to check and the boy who was at the air pump told there was no need for me to get out of the car, as he could make out clearly that all four tyres were inflated properly. Later after a day or so, when I had gone to check the blow, it was perfectly all right.
Giving a thought to the incident, I later realized that it was the favourite modus operandi of the gang that had brutally murdered Vinayak Baliga a year ago. They had stopped him early in the morning near his residence under the pretext of asking for someone’s address and attacked him from the back. Pointing out that the tyre is deflated seems to be a good method as one would naturally get out of the car to check and would be distracted into looking down at the wheels when the attack could be from the back. In retrospect it seems to be foolish on my part to have ventured out alone that too when it was still a little dark. Anyways, a complaint has been filed, and the police are investigating the case and I am quite sure that the culprits would be apprehended soon. Anyway, when that happened my mind went back to all those years that I have been facing threats and attempts to finish me off.
Being in the rationalist, consumer and human rights movements, for more than four decades would naturally earn a lot of enemies. The first time I received such threats was nearly three decades ago, when I had moved to the High Court of Karnataka along with several others challenging the grant of land to a mosque at Mangalore Harbour. As a rationalist I had felt that this would open the flood gates for a number of such demands and it would be better to nip the move in the bud. We had made a mass petition signed by thousands of people and handed it over to the then chairman of the Port Trust. Since no action was being taken on that we had obtained a stay order from the high court. Since it was alleged that quite a good amount had exchanged hands for this, those who had wanted the land were furious and were out to get me. But, nothing happened.
I have been provided with a gunman by the police since July 2016, and now the security has been enhanced to round the clock.
Later on, I started working for the Consumer movement and we started the Consumers’ Education Trust of Mangalore, a monthly newsletter “Balakedarara Chalavala” and started taking on quite a few vested interests. There were supposed to be gangs of the gas distributors, the road contractors and a host of such whom we had exposed, who were out there to get me.
But of the lot, one ‘agent’ of the weights and measures took the cake! We had exposed a nexus at the Department of Weights and Measures, where a process of ‘verification of weights and weighing machines’ has to take place every year. One can never get this done if a direct approach is made. It has to go through agents who hang around the premises. If someone goes directly they are asked to come through these people, who even give receipts as service charges. We had exposed one such wheeler dealer and had written about him. I had forgotten about it till I was reminded by a technician in the college. It seems this man had gone for ‘lunch’ to a local made liquor shop, where he met the proprietor of this enterprise who showed him a knife and said that it was reserved to stick into my chest! The technician had to climb the stairs that day as there was no lift and since he was tired after the strenuous lunch during which he had liberally imbibed spirits, took rest at each landing and told all those who were within earshot that someone is coming to stab Nayak sir! Since our department was on the third floor by the time he had reached there was a crowd of half a dozen following him and occasionally looking behind their backs to see where the would-be stabber was! Again nothing happened and since I was one of directors of Karnataka Consumer Protection board, the incident was taken seriously and the man was arrested and warned! Paradoxically, he was a Muslim and he confessed that he had a drop too much to drink – probably the unaccustomed to consumption of alcohol might have caused a unusual reaction!
A very ingenious attempt to get rid of me was made twice. One day when I was riding my two wheeler and came out of my house early in the morning I heard a ping like a wire getting cut. Getting down, I looked all around. Old scooters had innumerable cables for changing gears, accelerator, two brakes etc. I could not feel anything in those. But, always on the cautious side I looked at the rear brake cable and there it was! The thickest cable for two wheelers running under the chassis and nearly three times as thick as the other cables was hanging by a few strands. I took it to the garage and the mechanic said it was not due to wear and tear but an attempt at sabotage. They had not cut the cable through and through which I would have realized immediately, but kept it on few strands, so that it would get totally cut when applied with some force as in an emergency or at a high speed! They also told me that in all the decades of their service none of them had seen any rear brake cable getting cut by wear and tear. They replaced it. They advised me to check it every time it has been parked for a long time unattended. And Lo, it happened again after a few months! This time the service mechanics put a rubber tubing over the exposed portion where it could be cut, and strongly advised me to check it every day. Thankfully, it did not happen afterwards.
In 1992, we had a miracle exposure program at Town Hall, Mangalore. It was our 125th program and my anti-guru late B.Premanand had been invited too. It went on a for a long time and sometime during the Q-A session one person came and asked me whether there was bhoota (ghosts). I said I have not seen so far. He then said in that case what is this? He started shivering and jumping around and tried to damage the sound system. I came down from the stage and asked him to come over. I gave him a tight slap and asked where is it? He said I am okay now and ran off!
After an hour or so he came back with a mob who started attacking me and wanted me to say that I believe in god and that one exists. I flatly refused, the police had to be called and the crowd was dispersed not before they threatened that no program of mine will be ever held in Mangalore again. Of course, hundreds of them have happened since and no one could stop them is another matter.
Another time I was seriously attacked was in 1995. Though it seemed that the attack was a reaction against offending ‘religious sentiments’ the motive was something different. The motive was to avenge the exposure of a sexual exploitation racket at an orphanage run by the Arya Samaj, which had rubbed quite a few of the exploiters on the wrong side. The raid and the subsequent publicity had caused an outrage and the forces behind the same wanted to extract revenge. They got the opportunity in September, 1995 when the famous ‘miracle’ of Ganesh idols ‘drinking milk’ went viral.
I was demonstrating to people how it was due to a phenomenon called as surface tension with various models. A mob gathered and threw stones at me and I had a scalp wound. The perpetrators were identified and convicted too. An attempt was made to ‘compromise’ by offering to pay for the damage but I put my foot down and refused the same.
The latest attempts had started after the assassination of Narendra Dhabolkar, though he was the vice president of Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, and they should have started with the president, they chose to eliminate him! He had been offered police security which he had refused. Then came the turn of Pansare and Kalburgi. During that time a list of the persons on the hit list was made and I was the seventh. Number one on it was Prof. K.S.Bhagvan, and when I joked with him that I was relieved to be no 7 and they had to finish six before getting to me, he retorted as to how I could be so sure of their integrity that they would abide by the order in the list!
Anyways, with the increase of intolerance and attacks on all forms of dissent, it is a difficult task indeed to pursue the calling of one’s conscience. But some like me refuse to learn, for it is better for us to be swift, rather than die inch by inch putting up with all the injustices and the like. Perhaps these are not the times for the likes of us. But, in the sands of time one would like to go with the message that he tried his best for a change.
As the eminent parliamentarian Edmund Burke said,
There is a courageous wisdom; there is also a false reptile prudence, the result, not of caution, but of fear.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
But mind you the second one is not what he actually said, what he said was this,
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.
So, to all of you if you do not protest against injustice fearing the consequences, you too are a part of the problem and not the solution.
At the stroke of the midnight of 15th August, 1947, when Independent India woke up to a new dawn, it unknowingly also sent lives of lakhs of Indians into a “Black Box”. These Indians were dubbed as: of “Unsound Mind”, Lunatics and Insane; in the lexicon of learned framers of the Constitution of India.
The fate of these Indians was sealed, by none other than Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the father of the Constitution in the Constituent Assembly Debate on 8th January, 1949, with his final words:
“We all agree that every person who is of unsound mind should be deprived of his vote. We all agree that unsound persons should not be included in the voter list. But the question remains as to who is to determine whether a person is of unsound mind or not. It seems to be that unless the qualification which is introduced in this motion say that a person can be excluded from the electoral roll only when he has been adjudged to be of unsound mind by some impartial judicial authority, seems to be sound proposition. Otherwise, to give the authority to a village Patwari not to enter a certain person in the electoral roll because he thinks that he is of unsound mind is really to elevate a cabin boy to the position of the ship captain”
As a sequel, the People’s Representation Act, 1950 de-barred those declared of “unsound mind” by a court to be excluded from the voters’ list (they were also made non-citizen under 800 odd Legislations), other seriously mentally ill not dubbed of ‘unsound mind’ were declared Lunatics (Item No-16, Schedule-VII, The Constitution) left to be dealt under Indian Lunacy Act, 1912. The country got a new Mental Health Act in 1987, but, in true sense it was a window dressed version of the Lunacy Act.
Then, suddenly the discourse around mental illness and mentally ill has changed over last ten days. The country today stands at the cusp of a New Revolution.
What brings this transformation? Well that is what this article is all about.
It started on 24th March, 2017, when after months of agonizing wait (the Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha on 8th August, 2016) the Mental Health Care Bill, 2016 was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Mr. Jagat Prakash Nadda, Honorable Union Health Minister and, the Bill at once ignited the Lower House. With unprecedented support during the six hours long uninterrupted debate over two days, it saw 29 Law Makers from the entire galaxy of political spectrum speaking (it was memorable, passionate, involved and erudite debate), to commend the government for bringing this historical and revolutionary bill, that was passed unanimously on March 27th with bipartisan support. A day earlier, in his Man Ki Baat, on 26th March, 2017 the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had himself, changed the narrative and ignited the Nation by bringing the subject of depression and mental illness to the national main-stream.
Yet a close examination of reports and articles about the Mental Health Care Bill, 2016; by this Member of the Commentariat, reveals justice is not done yet to the full import of this disruptive (it disrupts the status quo) and transformational Bill (it transforms the status of mentally ill from non-citizens and brings them to the centre stage). This article attempts to simplify, demystify and do justice to the Gestalt of the Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016 as passed by the Parliament.
Here are what makes the Legislation transformational and ahead of time:
1. It makes clean break from the past:
The new legislation marks clean break with the past in a country mired with statues of colonial era (Indian Penal Code that criminalizes Suicide Act is of 1860 vintage and Indian Contact Act of 1872, denies right of making contracts to mentally ill). The new legislation repeals Mental Health Act, 1987 (that was rooted in Lunacy Acts of 1858 and 1912). Also the new legislation has overriding effect (section 120) not withstanding anything inconsistent any other law for the time being in force. This is a death knell of all existing legislations that deny right to mentally ill. The full import of this Clause will reverberate for decades to come.
2. Decriminalization of Suicide is incidental and not central to the Bill:
News papers and TV channels have reduced the discourse of the legislation substantially to the decriminalization of the suicide attempt. The writer posits, such narrative misses the tree for the wood. The main object of the Bill is “Mental Health Care” and not decriminalization of the suicide attempt though in its miscellaneous sections (Section 115) the Bill makes brave attempt to ward off penal provisions of Section 309 regarding suicide attempt by spiking it with the provision-“notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have serious stress and shall not be punished under the said code”. Despite this attempt to take sting out of Section-309 of IPC, knowing the culpability of Indian Police, this innocuous provision ‘unless proved otherwise’, may turn to be a Frankenstein.
The complete decriminalization of suicide attempt is possible only with substantive removal of Section 309 IPC from the statute book as per the following recommendation of the Law Commission of India (report no 210 of 2008 headed by Justice A R Lakshmanan) –
“In view of the views expressed by the World Health Organization, the International Association for Suicide Prevention, France, decriminalization of attempted suicide by all countries in Europe and North America, the opinion of the Indian Psychiatric Society, and the representations received by the Commission from various persons, the Commission has resolved to recommend to the Government to initiate steps for repeal of the anachronistic law contained in section 309, IPC, which would relieve the distressed of his suffering. It needs mention here that only a handful of countries in the world, like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and India have persisted with this undesirable law.…. The criminal law must not act with misplaced over zeal and it is only where it can prove to be apt and effective machinery to cure the intended evil that it should come into the picture.”
3. Power of the Legislation is in the Preamble:
The preamble provides clear intent of the new legislation. It aims to harmonize Mental Health Care Act with the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) ratified by India. More importantly, it provides for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and, protects and fulfill the rights of such persons. And what a 360 degree change it is from the Mental Health Act, 1987, that centered on detention of mentally ill (word borrowed from the Act) in psychiatric hospitals (euphemism for asylums), to “protect the society from the presence of mentally ill persons (read lunatics as per the Constitution) who are a danger or nuisance (what a description) to others”. The Gestalt of the new legislation ushers in a paradigm shift.
4. Mentally Ill only for Treatment Purpose
The legislation bars classification of an individual as a person with mental illness, except for purposes directly relating to his treatment of mental illness. It also untangles the past with the caveat that, though past treatment or hospitalization is relevant, but not in itself will justify any determination of present or future mental illness.
5. Deemed Capacity to Take Decision
The Section 4 of the legislation, makes it well ahead of its time, as it puts mentally ill at the centre and presumes that mentally ill will be deemed to have capacity to take decisions regarding their mental health care or treatment except in rare cases. What a shift it is from the centuries old concept of lunacy and insanity to describe mentally ill as currently is prevalent in various existing statutes. The good news is that Section 120 of this legislation obliterates most contrary provisions in myriad of prior period legislations.
6. Rights, Rights, and more Rights:
The Mental Health Care Act, 1987 was regarding institutionalization, institutionalization and institutionalization, and the removal of a severely mentally ill person away from the society to the lunatic asylum – and by merely changing the name to “psychiatric hospital”, the reality had not changed.
In contrast, the new legislation puts mentally ill at the centre stage and gives them Rights, Rights and more Rights. This right based approach is its singular defining feature. In the previous Act, severely mentally ill were branded as those “other persons”, who were nuisance to the society.
Such rights include but are not limited to:
7. Powerful Power of the ‘Right of Advance Directive’
The provisions regarding the “advance directive” accepts the irrefutable truth that majority of mentally are not always so incapacitated that they cannot have capacity to take decisions regarding their treatment.
The advance directive Clause gives mentally ill, the right to make an advance directive in writing specifying the way a person wished to be cared for and treated for the mental illness or the way he/she wishes not to be care for and/or treated.
The advance directive, also entitles the person to appoint an individual or individuals in order of precedence as his nominated representative for the purpose of the advance directives. Few things about this all powerful power in the hands of mentally ill are important:
Advance Directive is the most novel concept of this legislation, sadly also has attracted maximum adverse comments from mental health professionals. Indubitably, it transfers the power from the shrink to the patient and changes the status of a mentally ill from a guinea pig to one of a human being.
Like any physical illness, he or she now can decide how to be treated or how not to be treated and who can take decision when he/she loses the capacity to decide. The most controversial criticism of the clause is that it is a concept borrowed from advanced countries and not suitable for Indian conditions. Well the jury is out and the time will provide the answer. Needless to say, the Central Authority to be constituted under the Act is empowered to review and suggest modifications in actual working of the advance directive.
8. Time to say Good Bye to Controversial Processes to Treat Mentally Ill
The new legislation prohibits Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) in children and puts a virtual ban on the controversial practice of psychosurgery. It also makes mandatory for ECT to be performed on adults only with anesthesia or muscle relaxants.
This was a long due reform. When I visited a premier Mental Health institution under Central Government in 2011 as part of Mental Health Policy Group, I found the institute was performing 600 ECT procedures on its inmates every month (including children) all direct, without an aesthesia.
Let me go candid, in drug resistant uni-polar and bipolar depression and Schizophrenia ECT often is a choice with good efficacy. But the horror I witnessed in a Mental Institution is unpardonable.
Nonetheless, Mental Health professionals have a valid grouse. Like psychiatrists (less than 5000 in the country), doctors with expertise in anesthesia too are a vanishing tribe (10000 or less). There is a strong case for time bound action plan to increase their numbers. Else, despite the ban, the abuse of direct ECT will continue unabated.
9. Care Giver Re-defined:
Both Lunacy Act, 1912 and Mental Health Act, only defined relatives; that circumscribed the definition of the caregivers. But the new legislation, re-defines the whole concept, when it defines a care-giver as a person who resides with a mentally ill person and is responsible for providing care to that person and; it includes a relative or any other person who performs this function either free or with remuneration. With many care-givers asking the question, who will take care of my son/daughter suffering from mental illness, such definition opens a window for professional care-giving. It also brings people other than relatives in the ambit of care givers. This makes the legislation forward looking.
10. New Responsibilities of the Government:
The toughest part of the new legislation is that it enjoins many new and onerous responsibilities on the government which are essential for the legislation to be put to effective use. These include at the minimum the following:
11. Admission, Treatment and Discharge from a Mental Health Establishment:
Mental Health Ac, 1987 and its predecessor Lunacy Act, 1912 were all about institutionalization and reception order (for arrest/ detention of mentally ill or lunatics). Both the statutes had similar draconian provisions. The new legislation breathes fresh air. In a right based Act the entire subject of “admission, treatment and discharge from a Mental Health Establishment” has been subsumed in three chapters with radically different approach. The new legislation distinguishes itself specifically in the following areas:
Now once the Presidential gives his consent, the Statute commences the next stage of its journey, of setting up Central and State Authorities, framing rules and regulations that match the lofty ideals of the Act before proceeding to the execution discipline!
While doing M.Com, the lure of Army drew me to it in 1961, which I served for 35 years. Besides attaining the 7th highest rank of a Brigadier, I held coveted appointments, including as Instructor in School of Artillery, Deolali and Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. While still in service, I had achieved MBA with a Gold Medal & M Sc (International Studies & Defence) with Distinction, at the age of 50!
Unfortunately, two domestic tragedies over a decade forced me to quit uniform in end-1995.
Writing was always one of my passions. I had contributed articles in Tamil, English and Hindi to College magazines in 1958-60 and at Indian Military Academy in 1962.
Decades later, on constant exhortation from my daughter(s), in 2004, when I was about to turn 63, I sent a humorous piece to one newspaper and it was accepted. So I tried with another paper and was lucky again. That meant I could be a writer after-all!
Then I started travelling around the world and saw UK, West Europe, Singapore, Thailand, Australia, Dubai, and very recently Vietnam and Cambodia. I wrote Travel articles and they too appeared regularly in two papers.
Since 2005, I started writing articles regularly for Deccan Herald, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Asian Age, Praja vani, Fauji Magazine, Silver Talkies and others.
I also authored two books: “Straight Trees Are Cut First” ( a quote from Chanakya) and “Many Laughs and a Few Tears“. I have self-published the second book, which is a collection of 53 very short stories, with the aim of donating the proceeds to a foundation for scholarship to poor and meritorious students.
The book is a panoply of life’s journey of a soldier, from his home at Tiruchi in 1961, through the Academy and 35 years in the Army, and later at his retirement abode at Bengaluru – in the framework of the ever-changing society, people and cultural norms. While it is not an auto-biography in a chronological order, it’s a book that follows the themes of my experiences, with anecdotes, snippets, tradition, cuisine and travel.
“Many Laughs” are for the humour within, and “A Few Tears” are for my comrades in arms who fell to an enemy bullet/shrapnel. From those, you will easily understand how transient life can be for army personnel, especially those facing the enemy.
Here are some extracts and some sketches from it:
MY MOST UNFORGETTABLE BIRTHDAY
There was not a drop of petrol in the scooter and the nearest bunk was two kilometer away in Upper Coonoor. All other student officers had gone, well before me. And I was in an uphill climb, Luckily, I was able to push it for a while and reached up to the next turning. I parked it in a friend’s home telling him that there was some mechanical problem. He asked me to take his scooter, but I politely declined, as I was worried as to what I would do if his scooter too went into reserve and I had to fill petrol. (That was my 32nd and a tense birthday in 1973, with not a paisa on me.)
“NO SMOKING, NOT EVEN ABDULLAH!”
In 1981, at a major cocktail, the VIP, a senior officer went around the bars set up by each unit, as is customary for huge functions; thus he could meet the officers and ladies informally and ‘feel the pulse’ (morale). When he came to us, I was smoking a cigar and so was he! I tried to keep my cigar away as a mark of respect.
Telling me NOT to, he asked me where it was from, what brand and if one was available. I produced the humidor of La Corona; he placed one of his against this over the bar-counter, measured the length, circumference etc and said something, which if heard by the ladies close-by, would have been embarrassing. So, I gave only a subdued smile.
Realizing his faux pas, he said with a twinkle of smile through his big mush: “I meant the cigar, Surya” and made a quick exit!
“HAVE YOU BEEN CALLED NAMES?
On a holiday in Australia, my name in the manifest of many planes, ships, tour buses created funny laughs and grimaces at the counters with an invariable question: “How do you pronounce that?”
I counter-questioned them the first time, asking if they could pronounce Arnold Schwarzenegger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Ottavio Quattarochi. They pronounced all correctly! I then told them to say ‘SURYA’, they did; and then I said, say ‘NARAYAN’.
They said ‘The first time we saw so many A’s and N’s we got confused’!
HUMOUR FROM ABROAD
One has heard about Churchill’s ready wit. During a dinner in Virginia before the Second World War, Churchill requested for some ‘breast of chicken’. An American woman scolded him for using a ‘vulgar’ term, saying he should have just said ‘white meat’. Churchill, who never missed a chance, sent the woman a corsage the next day, with a note: “Pin this on your white meat”.
Beef Eaters (wardens) in traditional robes conduct visitors on a free guided tour at the Tower of London. Our guide was humorous. The first question he asked: “How many from Asia?” A few hands went up. How many from America… New Zealand…Australia etc. Having got the replies, he said, tongue-in-cheek: “I must apologize to my friends from the US, Australia and New Zealand, that commentary for this tour will be in English” and we all burst out with laughter.
If you like the extracts, and want to contribute for a cause, you can mail the author and request for the copy of the book. UNSIGNED copies by Registered Bookpost will cost Rs 250 (in advance) and if signed copy is needed, charges shall depend on the location of delivery.
The much talked about maternity bill is a significant measure for mothers and a step forward in the right direction. I am heartened to see the inclusion of adoptive and commissioning mothers in the Bill, a section of mothers who were not in covered in the 1961 Act that the Bill aims to substitute.
However, it seems like adoptive mothers were incorporated in the Bill without adequate insight into the unique requirements that set them apart from biological mothers. The parental rights for adoptive mothers, commissioning mothers (surrogacy) and single men has been given the short shrift compared to biological mothers. Single men adopting have been completely excluded in the bill, so why include them in the category of those who can adopt as per this logic?
The earlier bill which provided 12 weeks of maternity leave to biological mothers has now been increased to 26 weeks. The Bill introduces maternity leave up to 12 weeks for a woman who adopts a child below the age of three months, from the time the child is handed over to the parent.
Here’s why this is both impractical and inadequate.
To begin with, children are rarely adopted under 3 months as the rigorous adoption procedures under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 make it difficult to adopt a child below three months. The child can be considered available for adoption only after the requisite reports have been filed by the Child Welfare Committee, and this includes a legally mandated waiting period of two months from the time of surrender, giving time for biological parents to reverse their decision in case of surrender or to trace the parents in the case of abandoned children. Add in the time taken for the other formalities, and the three- month period is exhausted even before the child is up for adoption.
Next, it is humanly impossible to squeeze the emotional and physical needs in such a short time. All parents need time to bond with their child and the child needs time to bond with them. This is especially important for adoptive parents.
Research has shown that babies start to bond with the mother while in the womb, as they become attuned to her voice. Biological mothers too start to bond with their baby during pregnancy. Adoptive parents and their children have not had this nine month period to bond. Moreover, adopted children have often been looked after by multiple caregivers, making it more difficult for them to bond with a new set of parents. Extra time is needed between the adoptive parents and adoptive child to ensure a secure bond is built.
Gaps in development milestones and nutritional benchmarks are usually more prevalent among adopted children and bridging these gaps in 12 weeks is improbable, especially in the case of older and special needs children. The impact on the birth mother during the gestational and after delivery varies as most of them come from economically disadvantaged circumstances. Understanding the extent and magnitude of these problems especially within the golden 1000 days of child includes from the date of conception till the child attains 2 years of age is very important.
Gaining acceptance from and bonding with the immediate social environment is also an aspect that may take a while in the Indian context.
It brings us to the main point on the law and policy makers who seem to be operating at an immeasurable distance from the ground reality of adoptive parents. One needs to bring in all stakeholders involved in adoption, who can sensitize policy makers to the needs of adoptive parents and children so that a truly parent- and child-centered law can be formulated. This can be made more robust with comprehensive data on adoption within India, something that is sorely lacking today.
Motherhood, irrespective whether one opts for adoption, surrogacy or a biological route deserves to be looked as one whole and the unifying goal being the nurturing of a child; the focus being the child, irrespective how families are formed.
In conclusion, the number of legal adoptions in India is a shockingly low, with 3011 in-country and 666 inter-country (2015-2016) refer this link , and without laws and systems that make it easier on adoptive families, more children will slip through the cracks. Giving adoptive parents (not only mothers) the support and respect they require will go a long way in getting more families together in the future, and it has to start with the law and policy makers at the top.
* The author is an adoptive mother and not a legal expert.