Saturday, October 3, 2015

Holy Cow!! Indian Media and the Reporting of Riots

A man walks into metro station, shoot himself. The story is a footnote on some inside pages of the newspaper. Even if someone reads it, it is security lapse which stands out. The dead doesn’t evoke attention, let alone sympathy. Without personalization, it is a lame news.

I am not a journalist. I am not even a student of journalism in proper sense. If I go by the wise words by Anne Lamott, and analyze the reports, the intent and interest of the journalist stands open for scrutiny. A murder in Dadri, sad as it is, outcome of rumor or fact, is reported way differently from the way, the gory murder of a reporter in same state or killing of a soldier in same state is reported. Annie Lamott tells us that we need to be presented with the actors in a story with human perspective, that what they were as human beings, beyond a statistics or a name.

We know the man murdered in Dadri was doing errands for the village, a soft-spoken man, who, with hard work did well to place his kids in life. One of his Sons is in the Airforce, an important point. For instance, with OROP and multitude of voices supporting soldiers on Social media, story gains interest with some soldiering brought into picture. Therefore, an unfortunate car accident is a prime time story, operative word being the victim as a war veteran. Rhetoric rise so high in the skies that the truth is barely visible. A perfect piece of journalism, and there is no dispute with it, except that the same perfect journalism is so selective that it seems biased. Why nobody wrote that Tuktuki woke up every morning, dreading her walk to the school through the roads, full of potholes in the middle of monsoons? That would have helped readers, miles away, look her as a little child that she is and empathize with her, worry about her.

What do we know about the soldier who was killed in Meerut? How many kins he had? What occupation his father pursued? Which school he studied from, under what conditions? So a serving soldier is reduced to mere crime statistics. One is always tempted to compete on numbers, 300 dead in Mumbai vs. 12 in Malegaon, which is an erroneous argument. The value of a human life is much beyond the statistical number it adds to. So I take the soldier from Meerut and put him here as contrast.

I don’t question the findings. I question the positions powerful people take. Politicians have their motives, whether it’s the one who makes televised visit to the place, claims the man was killed because of his religion, a trouble which one could totally have avoided if police has given 12 minutes to his infamous brother. He doesn’t even pretend to be bothered about loss of human life unless it belongs to his religion. That is the reason, he wasn’t there in Meerut or Kolkata to stand by a little girl, but he is there at Dadri, hailed as a great Muslim voice.

My trouble is with journalists, the opinion makers. The way debates are done, Op-eds are written indicates that either journalists are not having enough time to take what can be termed as considered view or are lazy to do the study to take an objective position. I will put forth some points in the backdrop of the current case.

  • There was no mass Hindu uprising, violent or otherwise urging people to rise and kill beef-eaters. There was no religious sanction from some Hindu high priest for the killing, not even from low priest like the Maulvi offering bounty on the head of Danish Cartoonist. Rowdy elements got together to kill the poor man. They are the same anti socials who would laugh at a Pandit and his dhoti and given a chance, would steam and smuggle old temple idols for profit.
  • I don’t go with the investigative culture minister, who speaks with authority, and claims that there was no planning for the murder. Well, Mr. Minister, the man could not have accidentally come in the way of blows by the rowdies, and killed himself. No Sir, the man could not have been so dumb, in spite of being a Muslim. The minister has no business on commenting on the legalities of the case. His job is to ensure independent probe and offer comfort to the grieving family which is in pain (well, actually it is Home minister's job, though comforting the aggrieved family could be his job as MP of the area).
  • The media projects this as if it has something to do with the religion, although they denounce the very idea, almost as an after-thought, towards the end of the program. Religion is a very dangerous device in the hands of unsteady minds. It takes a mind well-steeped in logic to dabble into religions without endangering the civilization. Let us not use religion so lightly.
  • Political mud-slinging is disgusting. BJP stands up as a defender of Hindus and Owaisi jumps in a defender of faith. The awkward efforts are on to somehow implicate the prime minister of the day. People demand comments from the PM. Sad as it might be, it is death of one person, of whatever religion, and PM has to comment on it. Well, expectation is not entirely unfounded when the PM is tweeting birthday wishes. But the game is not about the expectation, game is deeper and devilish. When law and order is state subject, why bring in the center and leave the state smiling obnoxiously, with its long nose upturned in derision at the disgust of the common people. In debates, media almost seem siding with the state government- the prime culprit in cornering the center. AAP, of course has jumped into it. Commenting on every national and international affairs has suddenly become important thing for this CM of a glorified municipality of Delhi, odd that the same man evaded questions on national and foreign policy when he was a candidate for national elections. Now, he is suddenly much aware of everything and of all the CMs of India, you can count on him to comment on anything where the PM is even fleetingly implied as implicated. That enhances and uplifts Kejriwal's stature and equals him with the PM as an opponent.
  • If all fails, attempts made to somehow link killing to Beef-ban and thereby implicate the center. Well, as much as BJP might want to take credit of (which actually they ought not), Beef ban is already there in all states but for five, BJP or no BJP. It was not enforced in UP post the formation of new government at the center. Even in J&K , Beef ban has been there since long, since the times of Dogra rulers. Media ought to introspect when they project Beef ban as a litmus test for democracy. Since when the killing of a mute animal become the sign of freedom of expression. Being insensitive to the plight of animals being slaughtered to serve the slavery of the tongue is the vortex of confused idealism. Same people who cry hoarse daring hindutva-brigade claiming to have eaten beef, go about and feed stray dogs in public places, feeling angelic as if white wings had suddenly grown around their beautiful shoulders. Do we want to say that since BJP government came, and since they imposed beef-ban, these loonies became protector of law, the village Batmans without appropriate dress and the car and went to kill people who had anything to do with beef? There is stringent anti-drugs law, when did we hear of someone killing a drug dealer in Punjab. Actions of criminals cannot define the actions of a state.

I would only submit that we as readers must not be carried away. Newspapers trade in tragedies. We find survival in hope as individuals. Therefore hope we must. And when the dailies tell us we are all doomed, let us take it with a pinch of salt and if they insist, noisily, throw your hands up in despair, exhale and whisper, “Holy cow” and walk away. That is important for our sanity as an individual and as a society. Religion is too deep and too sacred to be made the subject of primetime debate and to be left in the hands of ill-educated fanatics.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Some Unanswered Questions of Aylan Kurdi

Picture: Reuters
“Where was Rudy’s Comfort? Who was there to soothe him as life’s rug was snatched from under his sleeping feet?...He does something to me, that boy. Every time. It is his only detriment. He steps on my heart. He makes me cries.” – (Markus Zusak “The Book Thief”)

Here is Death, as the Narrator speaking about the death of fourteen year old, Rudy Steiner. Some souls weigh heavy even on death’s conscience. A dying child’s soul is like that.

In a world of 24 hours news and the information oscillating between insensitive and insane, some pictures hang about on our collective conscience. The hang like gray clouds hovering over our minds, tormenting our hearts, haunting our souls. The Book Thief (above) was written about the World War II. We would want to believe that the world has move far ahead in this time. Some events pull us up from our obnoxious slumber, wrench our heart and hits our head with hammer heavy enough to crush into powder the whole behemoth of mankind.  These pictures, these events tell us that we haven’t progressed, a primitive, feral, unwavering funeral pyre keeps burning in the middle of the Earth which threatens to engulf us.

What does a three-year dreams about? I always wonder about it. I used to ask my daughter when she was three year old. She would always tell me that she dreamt about Pink Giraffe who came to play with her in dreams. Same dream, same Giraffe, morning after morning, sometimes additional characters like a blue elephant or a yellow rabbit. A three-year old’s dreams are full of colors and imaginations and ah..hope.

When I first looked at the now-viral picture of Aylan Kurdi, on the beach, in his red Tees and blue jeans, I was hit by this thought- What would little Aylan be dreaming a day before, or the day before that? Did he also dream of Pink Giraffes like any other three years old?

He rests there, his face downwards on the sand, his head turned sideways as if he has put his ears to the ground. It seem as if he had heard the heavy steps of death walking to him, as the sea had sung him a lullaby  in whispers which he has strained his ears to listen to and put him to an eternal.
Some people indicate that why people did not raise, the world did not rise in anger when kids were killed in India or other places. Some gloat about the absurdity of the claim about the religion of peace, a veneer which peels off every day.

I find the sadness too profound, a grief too sacred in that picture. It is a child, who like any other kid of three would have dreamt of Pink Giraffe, would have trusted his adults to offer him a world in which to nourish his hopes. We have failed him. Our religion has failed him. Our politics has failed him. He would have looked up and watched all those older adults, hoping they would protect him, they would offer him a world which will have space for him. The adults in the meantime went about bombing Palmyra.  

Death is not a competitive plank. A child’s death definitely not. It is not a political argument. I cannot stop grieving for a dead child of your religion since you did not grieve mine. We cannot be by-standers any more. It has gone beyond drama-driven media- focused, assassinations and bombing of the cultural heritage. The quest for oil, imaginary WMDs, crusade for democracy, balancing the global balance and a pre-delivery of Nobel prize is beside the point, as is pretense of non-alignment which served no one in the past and fools no one in the present. These are all big questions for big intellectuals to ponder upon. My limited point is to find answer to the little child in front of whose face buried in the beaches, we stand naked, failed global society. We may debate endlessly in the rights to practice religion freely and about the exact point of violence when religion ceases to become religion and stops speaking to God, of whatever faith He might belong. In the middle of all those intellectual debate, the death of Aiylan Kurdi tells us that we are back in those primitive days, unfortunately, now we have not only fire with us, we also have guns, mortars and the nuclear weapons.  

The 3 year old dead child, hears the waves, the cruel, heartless waves hitting their heads on the heartless shores of Turkey as the world calculates the cost of waging a full-blown war against the face of an ancient feral fury rising in middle-east using the weapons left with them ostensibly to save the world and promote democracy, and amid all this chaos, in face of callous silence asks the question- Where did all the Pink Giraffe go? Why these grown up people did not save them? What is with those black flags and white faces? What are they shouting hoarse about? Why the water doesn’t keep me afloat? Why the water gets into my eyes and ears and nose? Why my father doesn’t pull me out? He always did when I would dip myself in the bathing tub. Where are these waves taking me? Which shores? Do they have fanatics on that shore like the ones we are running away from? Why did Papa allow these fanatics grow so strong in his country? Is it God's will? Why God hates Pink Giraffes and Blue elephants? What kind of God it is?

His voice dissolves in the salty waters but the questions of a dying child hang like noose around the collective conscience of global intellect. I feel ashamed in front of you, Aylan Kurdi, ashamed of the world that I had to offer you. I feel ashamed that we, as a world, left the hand of your father who desperately tried to hold you into it, who you trusted to protect your dreams. I wade through the hollowness of the terms like global leaders, most powerful nations- grand sounding hollow words, which could not afford to protect your life and others like you. I have no answer for complex economic cost of supporting a refugee (nor do I know the expense of creating a refugee), the biggest question which I am helplessly horrified about not having answer for is the question death posed in the novel I began this post with- who was there to soothe him when life's rug was pulled from under his drowning feet?  I am sorry for not having enough land to rest your little feet.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Metro On A Morning

Getty Images
Steel Capsule
Like a bullet
In search of some heart,
some flesh to 
inflict a magnificent wound.

Carrying in its womb
Captives of the cubicles.
Tall, Grotesque buildings
Silent, watchful and unfeeling,
Like gestapos,
Unsmiling, glassy faces, 
Cold and Smooth, on which
Humanity cannot find feet

We walk, fellow passengers,
Like prisoners of our chosen fate.
We don't look at one another
when we do, accidentally
we don't smile,
pretending to be 
the part of metallic enclosure
which holds us. 

The station,
a solemn, bored voice 
speaks at us,
like a curse thrown in our direction,
Phase III Metro Station,
and we take out our beings

A husband, a wife,
a father, a mother,
we take our being in our sweaty palms
sweat, threatening to melt away
the lines of destiny
ready to barter it 
for a number, a card
which is our identity.

Another day of 
captivity to our cubicles awaits,
A remorseless day,
explodes with rare reticence, 
no word, no voices,
keyboard clicks,
and the pawns and kings
To the depressing 
rhythm of Drudgery.

Each king is a pawn 
and each Pawn a king
At one level
and Another.
The Nimble noises
of people talking on phone,
Assuring urgent arrivals
and urgent surrender of self,
The rumbling of train
splicing through the soul.

(c) Saket Suryesh, 2015

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Patriotism on Social Media- Independence Day Thoughts

Patriotism is the flavor of the day. Social media is fun place- an amazing place to be a patriot. The time found between visits to Cafe Coffee Day and a well-stocked fridge with supply of beer on a dry day, a strong, eloquent vocabulary makes a good post on Independence Day. 

The ease of endorsement has made everything much commonplace as well. Many times I post a blog and in a split-second, I get a favorite. It is obvious that the post has not been read. I do not mind it much. It expands the reach of the post. Getting followers on a platform like Twitter is some kind of crazy algorithm and we have experts called SEO experts and Social Media Experts who understand that. But for a person to begin believing himself, or herself beyond what one is really stupid. 

There is a Twitter celebrity, who at first tweet of opposition, retorts with 'Moron'. His arguments begins and ends with the word. Insult is his chosen form of debate and his followers bend down in musical symphony, awed by the tantrums of the enfant terrible. We are moving swiftly into a society which has neither the patience nor the maturity to enter into a deliberation or a debate. 

Then there are others who are enamored by patriotism as they know it. Patriotism to them is people fighting war at the borders, the blood flowing, men wreathing under pain, brave men, men like God, men beyond other lesser mortals. There eloquence, their love for uniformed soldier is much like Raina Petkoff's search for Sergius Saranoff, when what we truly have are soldiers like Captain Bluntschuli of "Arms and The Man" of George Barnard Shaw. I trust, that book must be made a mandatory reading for the young men and women. Sergius Saranoff is a lofty imaginary soldier, flawed at heart, Captt. Bluntschli is the representative of real men who man the army, irrespective of the flags they fight for. 

The deification of the soldier is the biggest disservice we do to the soldiers. We look at them as toys to please our idea of patriotism. They are not. They are men and women like us. They have similar glories and similar failings wrapped into their personas. They are ordinary people tasked with extraordinary responsibilities. It is flawed to believe otherwise. This flawed imagination of a soldier as a solitary warrior, who welcomes death leads to our lack of consideration of a soldier's life. He, at the lower levels ends of being a fodder of political designs and at a higher levels, die a lonely death offering leverage to his political masters. Indira Gandhi gets the glory of the soldiers dying at the border and Sam Manekshaw's bold strategy. In the end, Congress heaps glory over itself for winning 1971 war and the old Field Marshal dies his death, attended not even by the Defense Minister. 

All Rights: Mine
My Father: 1971
Soldiers are much like us, living a life much difficult than us. They have their families. They are not romantic, lonely warriors of the myths. They are real people, who need to send Money orders back home to old parents. They are real people whose kids are uprooted every other year, parents whose hearts know that their kids will never have the friends of common childhood to see them through the life. Fauzi kids are outgoing, but do they have a choice otherwise. They need to be, when every year, you have new friends, new teachers. They are husbands who would also want to go watch movies in cozy PVR's of the world with their wives and families, but who instead end up watching movie through the rains in open air theater of Hasimara, bad prints, old, timed movies, two days of the week, repeat shows in the evening. His family will go out for shopping to nearest market an hour away by bus, with rationed hours- once a week. They have dreams like every one, feelings like everyone else and they put their lives on line for people like you and me. 

They do not live in stories. They are much alive. They watch in desperation, tied by discipline when the country which they are protecting is thrown under an emergency to please a mother-son duo. The disappointed soldier will then write a little poem and hide it in his trunk. The poem's heading will read, "I am a chained soldier of an independent nation". He is chained not only to the rules, but also to the glorious image we build for him, while we fool him into fighting for us. We never rise up asking for a role in lawmaking for kin of a soldier, but well, we will ask for a parliamentary nomination for the wife of a terrorist and make a movie on the sister of a terrorist. They are living people who watch helplessly as the lands back home to which they dream every night of retiring to, surrendering the false aura of extraordinary, gets split and distributed among siblings back home. He fights, watches over the fences as his land, gets slipped like water through the palms every passing day and as he approaches the time when he will be forced to retire, right in the prime of his employ-ability. Out of favors, he will be thrown back to the dusty lanes of his world, the world from where he came from. Initial welcome fades away as people back home had already written him off to a grand glory. Suspicion and fears creep in- Will he want his share in the inheritance. Everyone will go about his job, and this man in thirties is sitting at home, searching for his place in a hostile world. 

Ladies with lavish words, a soldier is much beyond the understanding of your years and your words. He is a human being. He takes care of you when he can. The nation needs to rise to take care of him, when he is no longer your best fighting machine. He needs you love more than your adulation. That is what OROP is all about. It is less about money, it is about the acceptance of a retired soldier into the society. It is therefore not about timelines. Soldiers at protest are not like bank employees closing the banks as a strike demanding the pay-rise every now and then. We get hurt when they do and we respond with alacrity. A retired soldier, does not impact our lives and we cynically look at them, in the knowledge that a serving one will never protest and a non-serving one will never matter.  While the PM has done his bit by reaffirming his commitment to OROP. Also correct is the fact that if something could not happen for 60 years, a committed government seeking couple of years should be acceptable. What is not acceptable is the manner in which Delhi Police acted, and that Government did nothing to distance itself from the way Police acted. They could have apologized, admonished the police for high-handedness. It is not absurd to claim that all uniforms are not equal. I have seen in Jammu, one side of the road, Police guarding the civilians and another army guarding Army habitation. The police guards, sitting on the chair, shirts out, buttons opened- the other side, properly uniformed, straight, stern and ready. There is a difference. It ought to be respected. 

We then post a glorious thought on twitter and amid kudos, post another patronizing tweet chiding soldiers to not lose their decency. We will not tell the politicians to not to lose their decency. They are still relevant, a retired soldier is not. We change the profile picture with a tricolor and claim our piece in the world of patriots. Wishing you all a happy Independence day and  requesting a thought for our soldiers, a real thought, non-patronizing, non-glorifying thought of soldiers as our brothers, guarding our fences. They are not unthinking, unfeeling numbers. Let us tell government that we can suffer a little on trade with the neighboring country, but we cannot talk to people who behead our soldiers, that is betrayal. 

My perspective on a Soldier's Thought through a Story written on StoryStar, The Death of A Soldier, Now posted on my Blog as well (Blog Link of the Story)

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