Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Illusion of Politics- The Politics over Land Acquisition bill

We live our lives in kind of mixed reality. It is a world of illusions and smoke-screens. There are people whose only purpose is to act as props for people who sit in the background. They make a nice picture- that of a kind, ethical doctor, the hardworking engineer, the moral teacher and the latest media darling- the poor farmer.

The very purpose that these props are carefully cultivated by the media is because they make us emotion and throttle the reasoning. You cannot talk much to a reasonable man. He will see the reason together with you, if it exists. He cannot be persuaded by your literary skills. If you cannot talk much to a reasonable man, you can, as well, not much write to him and as a media entity, if you cannot write much, what do you do then?

So what you need is a prop that elicits emotions, thereby impacts reason and then create an outrage around that image which, even if untrue, brings forth human feelings. That is what is happening to what is being termed as Farmer agitation. The prop here is the hungry, poverty-stricken farmer, which Munshi Premchand wrote about. He sits about in the village, lives in a hut, begins the day early, and toils through the day to make ends meet. He lives in absolute hopelessness. He is a sorrowful figure, who sweats in the fields, while the owner of the field sits at the village chaupal, smokes a hukkah and discusses important things like how jeans causes rapes and maggi is a social evil. The man who toils in the mud, sits on the electoral placards and the man who deliberates and debates in spotless clothes, makes the government.

The poor man in the field, needs roads, schools to change the course of the fate. He needs it to be able to hope for the sake of his kids. He is the landless farmer. His ancestors lost out on wealth distribution when it was being distributed. He is a farmer without land. He does not know anything about reserve price, which is a big electoral game for those who are agriculture industrialist. They have lands they do not want to part away with. Their acres ploughed and nourished by the sweat of the landless farmers bring them the riches to fuel their SUV, and funds the nightly adventure of their young to malls in neighboring suburbs. The farmer, the real farmer has no hope for himself and thanks to these land-sharks, has no hope for his future generations.  

One need not be an economist or a financial expert to understand that only way to wealth which can appear out of thin air is knowledge and all it needs is opportunity. The man, the last man in the line, doesn't have the transportation to walk to the development growing in patches in one of the fastest growing nations. You need to bring development to him, opportunities to him. You need to get him schools and roads and hospitals, so that he can ensure that his next generation can move out of the squalor that he has been doomed to. That is the farmer who needs caring, not the pretense-farmers who run diktats in the villages, from behind their hukkahs. Latter only claim to be farmers and are in fact, for better part of their times are what they truly are- the land capitalists. It is plain logic and you do not need to go away to foreign lands to introspect in order to gain insight about it. 

Let’s not fool ourselves. This protest on Land acquisition is not a farmer’s protest, it is a protest by landlords to maintain the status quo. They would not, with their chubby cheeks and well-fed body look good on the protest placards, therefore the less –privileged farmer comes in and sits in as a theme-picture of the protest and make up for the numbers to threaten a government, fulfilling the political dreams of the status-quoists, is desperate to come back to power, who for sixty years maintained the status quo with all its ugliness of social disparity unchanged.

If the land acquisition policy, the new one, needs amends, let there be amended. Let this not be a mean to create unrest solely for the purpose of paving the road to ruling the nation for a listless, disinterested and undeserving crown prince. A writer is not a social scientist, not he has the brains of a financial guru. He only has a heart and penetrating eyes which can see through the lies. His is only to share his vision of truth with those who are being misled by cultivated images of untruth, to tap on their emotions. Don't throw your intellectual force behind the illusions. See to it that for the child of landless or even marginal farmers, the only way out of the quagmire of social injustice is joining the army or becoming a migrant labor.  Let us not use farmer suicide as an argument. That farmer would not have committed suicide even in case of failed crops if he had rural infrastructure to give him parallel employment option, to carry his produce faster to farms, easy bank finance to support him, and a roof over his head by affordable housing. Let the truth be out in all its ugliness. Then the experts can walk in and measure things on facts.

(Until 2013, Land acquisition was governed by Land Acquisition Act of 1894, through sixty years of congress rule and no land lord, who now pretend to be poor farmers,  was outraged, since it followed the British policy of keeping the landlords on their side. The incensed and outraged political side, in a rush to crown their prince, forgets that while they object to five sectors which are kept out of ambit of consent requirement- Industrial Corridor, PPP, rural infrastructure, affordable housing and Defense for sixty years had all the government acquisitions immune of dissent and the first son-in-law happily acquired the land around the DMIC Industrial corridor. Now, with the latter three, no-consent provision, I don't think anyone whose heart bleeds for the real farmer would have an issue, the other two need to be made clearer, but then as I said above, let experts do that.). 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Love and Forgetting

As I readied myself for a two-day business trip, I saw my six year old, just up from the bed, looking at me from the bedroom doorway. She walked unto me, hugged me. Then, she signals me to bend down, so we may indulge in our ritual of running our noses together. The hugs me with all her strength and then sit on the chair in front of me as I have my tea.
She smiles. Her smile is somber and sad. I ask her why she was sad. She whispers something inaudible. Did she say that she will remember me when I am gone for the two days?
I prod her again and she smiles, with that smile which only kids have when they are six year old, with broken teeth and unbroken faith.
"Why are you sad?" I ask her.
"I am sad because I will forget you once you go. I will go play and forget that you will not come back in the evening. I will think that you have gone to the office in the city only." Says she.
I am stunned by the profound honesty and the denseness of the feeling which wraps around us- me and my daughter.
I want to console her, to alleviate her sadness by telling her that Bangalore is couple of hours flight from Delhi and that I will be back tomorrow. But the sad truth that she just spoke cannot be sullied with grown-up's rationale. It is so sacred that one can only kneel before. The truth that when we say that we will remember, we may not be always truthful. But what can be more loving than the lamenting the possibility of forgetting those we love. That is
most mature thing one can hear anyone speak, let alone a six year old girl.
Loving, remembering and forgetting, will happen and coexist all our lives, shadowing all our relations, like passing weathers. We may not be able to remember those we love all our waking moments. But love would mean we will lament the fact that we are not able to the remember them always. It would also mean that when we remember them, we feel the tinge of pain over the moments during which their memories left us alone in the cold. This is all
that one should hope for, not to be remembered for all the time, but when remembered to be remembered with the same fondness which stay unblemished under the dust of time. That is love and that is remembrance.
I whisper to my self that this love and this forgetfulness, I shall grant my daughter and I wish this innocent honesty of her to last her lifetime. I remember the poem in Urdu I read long time ago, when I was a studying, which went something like, granting translation error and errors of age
"O Ocean, whose name you call with such longing
As you rush towards the shore?
Is there someone of your own
That you are looking for?
You might have forgotten the  love itself
But you must be still remembering forgetting that love."
As long as you forget me and remember forgetting itself, I will still sleep in peace believing that I am loved. The damp weather will still bring the smile to me, long after you have gone to build a world of your own. Like many other things I have learnt from you, love is not being with you always, not never losing you, not even forgetting you, Love is not forgetting the act of forgetting. There are of course incentives of poor memory as long as it is innocent as Nietzsche would say, "The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.”   

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Nirbhaya's Plight- Lost on Noise?

There are matters on which one cannot take sides, at least not clearly. Things are, at times, so hazy and complex that whatever side you take is wrong. The matter of Leslie Udwin’s documentary “India’s Daughter” on the infamous Nirbhaya rape case, is one such matter.
It is hard to understand the opposition of the documentary. Beyond a decibel level, every truth ceases to be truth. The noise on rival channels makes one doubt their outrage. The same channel sometime back got the same lawyer for the accused rapist on their debate. How come the same man making similar arguments in a debate is not outrageous while doing exactly the same thing on a documentary proposed to be run on a rival channel is insulting to the victim? The whole campaign smacks of hypocrisy. It is absurd to be up in arms about the documentary on the fact, and not be concerned about the fact itself.

Eloquent politicians who went silent when their own party chiefs made obnoxious statements like ‘Boys will be boys’ have suddenly got their eloquent tongues back from the cats. In parliament, they cry hoarse that this is insulting to the victim. It is not the public admission of thoughts which is a matter of concern; it is the thought itself which is of concern. What good it would be if the lawyer, the convicts, does not speak but the thoughts keep on creeping into creepy minds, looking for a dark alley, an empty bus to come out like evil creatures of the night? Why not introspect, not only about the ghastly crime, but also the response of the establishment to the spontaneous outrage which spread out on the street in response to the crime. What happens to the false murder case slapped on young men who went to protest? Who orchestrated that brutal action, which failed only because the movement could muster enough numbers to challenge the might of the state?

On the other hand, the making of the documentary itself was an act of absurdity. The claim of the maker of the documentary that her making of the documentary is justified because she herself is a rape victim is similar to the claim of erstwhile Home minister that he could be trusted with rightful action since he himself was father of daughter, and is as erroneous.  Her rationale for making the documentary itself is skewed. What is there to understand about the mind of the criminal? It always leaves me uneasy. This whole club of untrained psychologist is an institution of idiocy. All men (I mean, Human beings by men) are not same. There are people who are evil. There is no reason, no logic of them being evil. Why would one want to understand them? They are evil whether rich or poor. It has nothing to do with their societal status or economic status. Evil rich is evil because he is rich and evil poor is evil because he is poor. This is just crap. Evil is evil because it wants to be, not because it has to be. Chesterton wrote famously, “..This is a real objection to that torrent of modern talk about treating crime as disease..of healing sin by slow scientific methods..The fallacy of the whole thing is that evil is a matter of active choice whereas disease is not.

Furthermore, there is nothing specific about Indian men. It is a universal situation. We consider moral education outdated and legal system lingers on forever without reaching anywhere. Now that the documentary has been made, however stupid that endeavor is, blocking it is even more stupid. Leslie makes strange arguments like this is an attempt to understand the  mind of an Indian man, as if Jack the Ripper had migrated from India, and so are all the ISIS fighters. On the attempt of government to block the documentary, a guaranteed to fail attempt, she says, “This society is sick” which I would hope was a statement out of desperation only. The resolution of such matters is not censorship; it is to look inside, inside the smallest unit of humanity- the family. The way to counter crime is not to restrict crime-reporting, it is to restrict crime. We are being stupid. Why are we not asking why the Nirbhaya fund is lying unused, and what is the point of adding another 2000 Crores to unused 1000 Crores? Why that fund cannot be used to put CCTV cameras, to light up the dark roads, to fund fast tract courts?

Also when it comes to this particular case, it wasn’t even crime. It was evil. It was not the act of criminal passion, nor was it the question of illegality or immorality alone. It was all these things added. When a person in power exercises it merely to crush those who are less powerful, it is not crime, it is pure, unadulterated evil. If such evil was ever allowed to propagate, human race or any race for that matter has little chance. It was not a crime against woman, it was a crime against nature. Therefore it was evil and there is no point in wanting to understand evil. She would have done better to have interview the earlier CM of Delhi and asked her, what did she mean when she advised women to not be adventurous, or asked the earlier police chief about who directed him to file false cases against the protesters and also she ought to have asked the news channel anchor crying hoarse as the guardian of social morality that when will it stop giving air space to the political party whose chief made the Boys will be boys statement. She should have interviewed the power –that-be that why justice is such a long-winding road when the criminals are not even attempting to deny the crime, they are merely explaining the crime. This study of evil is plain stupid and this banning of the stupid study is stupider. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera

My Rating: Must read. You will Like it if you are, going to be, have been in Love.
The book was first published in 1985. The translation in English was republished by Alfred A. Knopf in the year 1988. Nobel winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is known to be proponent of magical realism. This book is truly an example of that.

Apart from being a literary benchmark, it is so true about the life itself. The most magical moments arise out of the simplest ones. There could be a glance thrown in your direction, a hand holding your arm, innocently helping you from slipping- there are stories building up of magical beauty out of these seemingly commonplace activities. Sometimes these stories get written and sometime it is only life which writes them. But then there are some worthy minds to which life at times, offer this great opportunity to pen them down for the future generations to believe in the extraordinary magic of the ordinary. Gabriel Marquez is one such worthy mind. His pen rises to the meet the magic of love in this novel ‘Love in The Time Of Cholera’. He actually said as much in his Interview to The Paris Review where he states, “The trouble is that many people believe that I’m a writer of fantastic fiction, when actually I’m a very realistic person and write what I believe is the true socialist realism.”

This is a story of love, a love accomplished and sure in its being, a love thirsty and waiting to happen, sensual love, a love which is more of an act of habit, an unrequited love and a deep love, which sustains till it seeks, patiently and painfully lying in wait. The true art and capability of a writer is visible in not inventing sharp turns in the stories, and still keeping the reader hooked on the story by the sheer honesty and intensity of the life as we all know it. There are no sharp edges in the story. It is not a story told in hurry, nor is it written with the cunningness to impress the reader with the drama. It is a soulful river running through a beautiful and silent, blue night.

In very short, this is a story of a love, very ordinary, but very touching by the virtue of its sheer ordinariness between the almond-eyed beauty Fermina Daza and Dr. Juvenal Urbino, an old couple grown old across the decades of togetherness. The man, a very habit-driven, custom-oriented hero for the community with a pronounced sense of societal propriety and his wife with a simmering sense of rebelliousness, come up as a creature of habit, a lovely couple very much in love. Then it is also the story of unrequited love of the eternal optimist, Florentino Ariza, who finds solace only in the end.  

The story begins with the visit of Dr. Juvenal Urbino to the death of his acquaintance, an Antillean Refugee, Jeremiah de Saint Amour- who quickly slips into a backdrop, not to come back again. The beginning seems merely to serve as a foundation to describe the social stature of Dr. Juvenal Urbino and his personality. He uses the journalistic devise of picking up and incident and builds a character over it. He is a dispassionate story-teller, whose allegiance is only to the story, not to the character. If one looks very carefully, one would find that he doesn’t attempts to get love, hatred or even sympathy of the reader to his character. He places the characters out for your scrutiny and allows you to wander through a maze of changing emotions towards them as the story progresses. He explains with a sense of passive seriousness which is descriptive to the extent of being journalistic. His facts create a world of fiction in which you not only believe, you also fall in love with. To quote him, he once said that it is, “a journalistic trick you can also apply to literature…” ..and that “…Journalism has helped my fiction because it has kept me in a close relationship with reality.” He gets you to believe in his fiction with factoids and imagery which may not always be true in strictest sense.

He is a master in total control of his art. He is not helplessly flowing through the story, he steers it. He said in an interview that there is a purpose to the even the first, seemingly purposeless river trip of Florentino Ariza, that is to describe the river, so that it need to be described the second time over. Every word written serves the purpose of plunging you as a reader deeper into the story, so that you feel as if you know all the characters as the ones you knew from your own life. He carefully architects a world which the lady love of Jeremiah calls the death trap of the poor, in which to quote the author, the great old families sank into their ruined palaces in silence, as the world around collapsed into “the condition of honorable decadence..” We find the visual imagery of Joseph Conrad which makes a fictional world breathe in front of us.


The character of Dr. Urbino is defined through a comfortable abode with all the assurances of familiar certainty, a parrot, a library, lovely house, throughout which one could detect the good sense and care of a woman whose feet were planted firmly on the ground. From here we slowly become familiar with Fermina Daza, the good doctor’s wife, who is seventy two when the story begins. Gabo writes that, “Her clear almond eyes and her inborn haughtiness were all that were left to her from her wedding portrait but what she had been deprived of by age she more than made up for in character and diligence. The lady is sharp-witted, even if subtle and their story is a story of mild humor which makes up every decently happy married couple’s life. The wife loves pets, husband doesn’t as he tells her, “Nothing that does not speak will come into this house” and she responds by bringing in a parrot. The doctor teaches parrot Latin and spends evenings with the parrot until one day the parrot eventually causes his death by falling.

As the author describes the loving couple, one could almost fall in the trap of traditional romanticism, almost. But then with playful innocence of a journalist, Gabo describes that…they were not capable of living for even an instant without the other or without thinking about the other before one is lost into the mushy-mushy feelings, he comes back ..neither could have said if their mutual dependence was based on love of convenience, but they never asked the question with their hands on their hearts because both had always preferred not to know the answer. I would presume this is what is meant by magical realism. There is an interesting description of their life, a charming life of togetherness, wherein she clung to last threads of sleep to avoid facing the fatality of another morning…while he awoke with the innocence of a newborn.. and her compliant that..the worst misfortune in this house is that nobody lets you sleep. This was a daily ritual, a game that all married couple play, that Marquez calls, dangerous pleasures of domestic love.

Then there is an endearing episode of missing soap in the bathroom, which hits their blissful lives in thirtieth year of togetherness. He proposes that they go to the Archbishop and then seek his intervention on whether the soap was there or not that day in the bathroom. Fermina responds with the near-blasphemous thunder of “to hell with the Archbishop”. By the time, after four months of sparring in silence, one evening as Dr. Urbino waited in their bed for his wife to come out of bathroom “It felt so comfortable to be back in his grandparents’ featherbed that he preferred to capitulate  and says he “Let me stay here,…there was soap.”, the reader is sunk deep in the feeling of a love so subtle, so dignified, so ..lovely that one also loves the couple. With this peaceful conclusion about the couple in love, about our own love for the couple, suddenly catastrophe hits with the parrot which tries to escape and trying to catch the parrot, Dr. Ubrino slips. It is brings too close the fear of old age death of someone deeply in love when he writes about the dying moments of Dr. Ubrino.

‘He recognized her despite the uproar, through his tears of unrepeatable sorrow at dying without her and he looked at her for the last and final time with eyes more luminous, more grief-stricken, more grateful that she had ever seen them in half a century of a shared life, and he managed to say to her with his last breath: “Only God knows how much I loved you.”

It is not often one reads such writing which so poignantly reminds one of the eternity of love and ephemeral nature of life as Fermina Daza

‘..prayed to God to give him at least a moment so that he would not go without knowing how much she had loved him despite all their doubts, and she felt an irresistible longing to begin life with him over again so that they could say what they had left unsaid and do everything right that they had done badly in the past…the grief exploded into a blind rage against the world, even against herself..” and one is hit by the immensity of the widow’s sadness when, before the coffin is closed she, ‘..took off her wedding ring and put it on her dead husband’s finger, and then she covered his hand with hers, as she always did when she caught him digressing in public.”

 This is when Florentino Ariza appears, during the funeral, a useful and serious old man. While we wonder about who this man is, he to utter distaste of the readers, tells the grief-stricken widow, “I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love” Before being thrown out of the house. From then beings a love story of the past, a love story of innocent youth, of young Fermina and Florentino. The story goes more than five decades back when Florentino was a poor young man, whom, Fermina’s cousin at one point calls, “He is ugly, but he is all love.”

Florentino is any other young man, reading love poems, believing in the infallibility of true love, and aware of the difficulty in such dreams of love given his own social station in life, as a fatherless child and poor young man. He finds Fermina, a lovely girl of a rich by dysfunctional family under the care of her aunt Escolastica. There is then, long period of waiting for the girl in park facing Fermina’s house reading his books, mustering courage to write to her. Then the first letter, and then more, letters, hidden in one place or other. There are such lovely descriptions of soaring, innocent love of youth which is brave and afraid at once. As he writes about Fermina who would lock herself in bathroom at odd hours and for no reason other than to reread the letter, attempting to discover a secret code, a magic formula… the hope they would tell her more than they said”.  One forgives the first appearance of Florentino, after the death of Doctor Ubrino as one goes through the yearnings of Florentino’s struggle as young lover and eventual failure. The rationalist in Marquez comes back as eventually young Fermina is able to get over her love for Florentino as surprisingly as she fell in it. This was after she had formally accepted his love with a note sent to him which said, “Very well, I will marry you if you promise not to make me eat eggplant.” This after she fought with her formidable and brutish father when  he found her a wounded panther who would never be fifteen years old again.

Her aunt is sent away and so is she, but when she comes back, she finds her love is not there, that she has gotten over the love which she once had for Florentino Ariza. She goes on to marry Dr. Ubrino and Florentino slips into a dark abyss of lonely wait for the love which he still hopes to win back. There are flings which Florentino has in between, but they are more in line with the realism which Marquez writes about, but those flings are never able to touch, disfigure or damage the love, the magical love which flows in his heart for Fermina. Florentino is a dreamer, much like Jay Gatsby of Fitzgerald, who continues to hope even after Fermina’s marriage to Dr. Ubrino. He struggles through sadness and solitude, and eventually at the funeral of Dr. Ubrino once again confesses his love. Shunned by Fermina initially, and once again oppose by the society which stood against them, when they loved young, this time they bring out enough courage to sail into the sea together right into the sunset of their lives.

Marquez once spoke about this book in an interview, “This book was a pleasure. It could have been much longer, but I had to control it. There is so much to say about the life of two people who love each other. It's infinite.” As a reader, I would agree to him. This is a book you end with a tinge of sadness, not because the story is sad, but because the story has ended.  This book is a work of love, it celebrates love in multiple forms. Rare is to have one story which can contain so much of love in so many forms, hues and colors.
Amazon Book Link: Love in the Time of Cholera

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