Saturday, March 20, 2010

Intellectuals, Intellectuals.

There is a grave problem with that word – intellectual – and the way we have come to use it in contemporary conversation. When you think about it, there has always been a problem. In the days of yore, those who were well read, and usually on the side of the establishment were intellectuals. They were renaissance men oriented towards the classics, comfortably modern philosophy, scientific rationality, with refined tastes that only the elite could afford to successfully pursue. Those who were women, expressed ideas too radical or partook of common, vulgar culture, were not.

Today, an intellectual cannot favour the establishment. The scientist is not an intellectual. The bookworm, that vast repository of knowledge, expressing herself in awkward phrases, is not an intellectual. Anyone of the right wing is not an intellectual. Anyone who contradicts absolute equality is not an intellectual. And we still exclude the culture of the vulgar.

That leaves us with an inadequate sort of intellectual. One who has the wherewithal and panache to speak out in public, be a bit of an anarchist with a sufficient amount of patriotism, be able to speak with a hint of that global citizen accent, indulge only in the refinement of the elite, while only in word defending the equi-stature of other sorts of culture. An intellectual must also not be comfortable with technology, look presentably good and allude to literature, music and cinema that his company is unlikely to have heard of.

Allusion, in fact, is the most integral component of the sort of intellectual we savour today. Refer to things in order to be taken seriously. Refer to the most obscure. Creativity, at least in social company, the simplistic sort that reduces problems to apples and oranges, is not a sign of intellect. But watch out for that man over there, referring to a paper the latest neo-marxist toast of the season wrote for that journal. Watch out for the lady that just quoted Bertrand Russell, and name dropped Rembrandt and Umberto Eco. These collectors of information about other people have reduced the exercise of intellect to a contest – who can use the biggest word in the room?

I humbly suggest that if we are to so grossly misrepresent, and more importantly, usurp the word to pedestal some people, and omit those who are genuine and sincere in their entreaties, then do away with the word entirely. Because using Latin phrases will neither get your point across, nor serve the cause of intellectual human progress.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In light of recent awards, a review of 'The Hurt Locker', and bravo Kathryn.

One’s primary motivation for wanting so badly to watch The Hurt Locker was because it won an Oscar not too long ago, and because a woman has finally broken the mould to win the night’s most coveted prize. And also, I was getting to watch it at one of the University’s film festivals, which become all too ubiquitous when the first traces of election season are in the winds.

And then one was pleasantly taken by the cinematic experience itself. There is no short answer to the question ‘How was the movie?’, except this – it is an exquisite piece of filmmaking that deals with some great artistic paradoxes. How do you make a philosophical film, and keep it real, so it is not whimsical? How do you keep all the light heartedness of real life, and portray also, all the hell that life can be? How do you make something that is both serious and witty without being insensitive? Kathryn Bigelow is able to do all three things with finesse, and make a gripping war movie while she’s at it.

On the surface, ‘The Hurt Locker’ is about the theatre of war, and a few actors. What its really about, is reality. That is the one thing that will strike you – the complete lack of pretence. There is heroism, but behind the hero, there is a real everyday individual, without the melodrama of a superhero’s alter ego ordinaire. It’s a war movie, but the question of patriotism never comes up. The individual is always at the heart of the narrative. The mundane details of daily life blend easily with the terror and turmoil of war at its worst. The story in itself is not your mainstream, streamlined, ‘point A to point B’ plot line. Neither is it a complex labyrinth or a series of episodes. It’s something else entirely. It’s what real life is. 

This is not Hollywood style war, which inexplicably seems to reduce itself to dense smoke, shrapnel, and a carefully placed romance with all the effect of a Greek tragedy. Neither is it the typical Indie anti-war film with grand rhetoric about neo-imperialism. The Hurt Locker has all the artistic value of a candid photograph - the wedding ring among bomb parts and what follows it, the Iraqi man on his knees, begging to be saved, Beckham - the dvd boy, the supermarket shelves, the blood stained bullet, the work of a bomb diffuser, and one is in the midst of it all, without the dense background music of a thriller, but with a more real, grotesque sort of panic that affects the audience. 

One appreciates the honesty of it all. And when a movie is about American soldiers in Iraq, and its characters speak a language one completely comprehends even in a context far removed, one could say that one has watched a very successful film indeed. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Linguocracy: Fable One

Once upon a time, a woman put her elbows on her dining table and was asked to remove them and  be cultured.
“Cultured?”, she said, “If it’s my ancestors culture you are speaking of, I believe they didn’t eat on tables, so their elbows weren’t governed by any rules. If it’s my part of the world you referred to, most people eat sitting on the floor. If it’s your culture you want me to follow, give me one good reason I should. If it’s the culture of the dominant races, perhaps the nations that had colonized my community in the past, then I should reject your advise on principle. If you’re asserting that believing in this sort of culture makes you superior, then you’re unbelievably elitist. If culture is exclusively your property, then what do you call lifestyles of other communities? If the act of keeping your elbows off the table has been historically relevant, it doesn’t show me how it’s relevant today.”

Because you think you're always right

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned from having studied all sorts of political science in the last five years, and from living in one of the world’s most multicultural and diverse democracies for over two decades is the importance of keeping your ears open.

There’s a lot in this world you don’t want to hear. But there’s a lot you’re saying that no one else wants to hear either. So the only way out is for both of you ask each other to tea and listen more than you’ve spent your life saying.

Feminists need to talk to most bigoted, conservative chauvinists. If they don’t face each other, all they’re doing is handing out fliers on sidewalks.

Gandhians need to talk to governments waging war. And here’s the trick. They need to open their ears and listen to why war is justified.

 The staunchest freedom loving liberals need to listen to why social regulation and market intervention have advocates.

 All those who know for a fact that the world needs to be demilitarized, or that everyone in society must have equal opportunity, or that philanthropy is a virtue, should, in my opinion, do a little research on deterrence, differentiated rights and the merits of not being responsible for your own community.

We’ve reached a point where our function in society has reduced to championing our worldviews, instead of questioning them every now and then. Think about the last time you were wrong about something and what made you change your mind. And given that particular experience, what makes you think you’re absolutely right about every Goddamned issue in the world now?

The moment I get too fixated on the validity of something, I want to run to the first person who has a diametrically opposed Weltenschaaung from my own. And believe me; you learn a lot more from interacting with people who think differently, than you would from hobnobbing with those who are ideological clones.
This is not about tolerance, or cooperation, or democracy or an equal opportunity. It’s about genuinely expanding yourself. I advocate this as a purely selfish exercise. I’m going to listen to someone who disagrees with me, not in a condescending way, just to prove that I’m very tolerant to diversity. I’m going to listen because there may be something I’ve overlooked while I was so busy cementing my stands. 

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Men need a menism. Through the march of civilization, men have been denied the freedom to live life the way they would like. Women, it’s true, face a much more fundamental and existential sort of challenge from being encumbered within their gender, especially where coercion and law dictate their restriction. But the social oppression of men is far more widespread, absolute and psychologically binding.

Girls are brought up in a certain way that sometimes determines the choices they make. They are complimented on grace and beauty and loveliness when their brains are no more substantial than those of jellyfish. They’re bought Barbies or they opt for Barbies because of the way womanly ideals are described by their society and popular culture. Quite the same way, little boys are complimented on how strong and brave and tall and energetic and naughty they are – the GI Joe attributes. Their ideals and role models  shape their limits in the same way a girl’s limits are drawn.

But at least there’s a global women’s movement and a well developed consciousness about social and psychological freedom that is a part of public discourse. There isn’t one for men.

Why? Because being girly is an insult, mon amie. Being manly is a compliment. The stereotypes and mental blocks men grow up with are idealized ones. They are compliments as much for them as for the women who get them. The ones women grow up with are construed by men as insults. A girl who’s a tom boy is adorable. A girly boy is a sociological mess. A woman doing a man’s job is to be applauded. A man behaving like a woman needs to be slapped.

And that doesn’t just reflect poorly on the freedom of women to be what they want to be. It reflects poorly on the freedom of men. Society wouldn’t accept them wearing lace and frill. Or dresses. Society does not permit them to paint their nails or lips or arc their eyebrows. Boys can’t play tea party with their teddy bears and dolls. They can’t be too adventurous with the colours they wear. They have hardly any hair styling options. They can’t watch soap operas and Anne Hathaway romantic comedies. They can’t squeal and hug in public. Doors aren’t opened for them. Chairs aren’t pulled out. Jackets not thrown upon puddles for them to cross. They can’t grow their nails and then complain about breaking one. They can’t read Nancy Drew and heaven forbid if they were listening to Taylor Swift.

If you are a man/boy reading this... you don’t really want all this right? You don’t want the right to wear a skirt with a bow and high heels. Of course not.

But what if, when you were a little boy, you were constantly dressed up in pink frilly dresses and told you looked angelic? And if your other little boy friends did the same? You might have wanted different things today. And that’s where you’re not free. So don’t take your free choices for granted. Because socialization isn’t merely about what you consciously sell someone. It’s about what’s being unconsciously given.

There are many things I write that are tongue-in-cheek. I swear upon all that is holy that this is not one of those things. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What the Well Dressed Woman is Wearing

When she wore something less than what the vanguards of her faith considered appropriate, they called her indecent, immoral and obscene. When she wore more than what was acceptable to her peers, they called her a prudish conservative fundamentalist. No matter what she did, she was caught between being the daughter of Satan and an old fashioned loser.

When she wore denim, her college told her it had been banned. When she wore flip flops, her interviewers did not find her employable. When she tied her hair, she was a bookworm. When she left them open, she was untidy.

When her hem reached her ankles, she was living in the past. When it reached her calves, her body type did not permit it. When it stopped at her knees, she couldn’t ride a bike. Any higher than that, and the cultural police stoned her house, burnt her effigies, even though it was entirely the fault of the man who whistled at her on the roadside.

When she put on boots under her jeans, they were hidden. When she wore them with a short skirt, someone applauded in the offices of Vogue, but the cultural vanguards were lurking, so she quickly unbooted.

When her earrings were too long, they just didn’t go. When they were too small, she had to tie up her hair and then she was a nerd again. When she wore a shirt, they cried “Too boy-ish!”. When she wore frills they moaned, “Too girly!”. Anything with sequins blinded them, anything without them made her a plain jane.

When her heels were too high, she fell, not to mention the knee trouble she faced in the future. When they were too low, they were dowdy. When they were in between, the shoe wasn’t pretty enough. Full sleeves made her feel hot. Half sleeves were unprofessional. No sleeves made anyone with a gray hair gasp. When she went strapless, it was said violent crime might happen to her and she would be to blame.

If she wore a bright colour on the red carpet, the fashion police insulted her on prime time TV. When she wore the LBD, not one camera was flashed her way. When her toes didn’t peep, she was out of the loop. By the time they were peeping, peeping had gone out of fashion.

In school they said, be yourself. On TV they said, be like This. Her boss had an office dress code. Her religion had its own. And they almost never coincided.

Red made her look like a communist. Black ones made her look like the punks and emos the previous generation is disappointed in. In pink clothes, she was such a girl. In white she was old, or saintly, or something unbecoming along those lines. In green, she was a tree hugger. Let’s not even get into yellow. Without a tattoo, she didn’t fit in with the crowd. When she got one, her parents said they would throw her out.

A pant suit at work made the feminists say she was imitating the corporate male. A skirt suit made her colleagues say she was showing skin. Anything else made her bosses start drafting the termination of her contract. When she wore brands, the intellectuals clicked their tongues. When she didn’t, those same intellectuals at their wealthy parties clicked their tongues again.

When she put on pants, her family gnashed their teeth. When she was traditionally garbed, she wasn’t modern any more. She can’t wear a ball gown because no one wears them now. She can’t wear a sundress because no one around her does. She can’t wear a dress with bows and laces because, well, she isn’t a child anymore.

When she wasn’t following trends, she was un-cool. When she followed them, she was one of the herd, easily dictated to. When fashion wasn’t on her mind, they turned up their noses and said she didn’t care about herself. When fashion was on her mind, her teachers said she wasn’t serious about her career.

When she was moderate, whatever moderate meant in the context, fashionistas and artists and liberals and postmodernists all called out to her to break free of convention and do something new and creative and radically edgy. When she was edgy in any way whatsoever, all the prudent souls shook their wise heads and said, “Child, keep the occasion in mind, and dress moderately.”

And she did not know what moderate was, because skirts of all lengths, pants of all kinds, colours of all shades, shirts of all materials, dresses from all cultures, t-shirts of all collars, shoes of all heels and toes, accessories of all varieties, had all made someone unhappy.

So, honestly, I could not, for the love of God, possibly tell you, what on earth the well dressed woman is wearing.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Just Fruit

I was watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding again last night (I know it’s positively unbecoming to be so bored a week before my exams), and it had me thinking of something extraordinarily basic. It was summed up by the father of the bride towards the end, when he said the roots of one family’s name was derived from the Greek word for orange, and the other’s from apple. “So we have Apples & Oranges”, he said, “We’re all different, but in the end we’re all fruit.” I may be inexact with the words here, but you get the message.

The idea is pre-Mesozoic as far as intellectual memory goes. It isn’t something new. As a species, we have theorized about it, tried to build structures around it, eaten it, chewed it, swallowed it, and spit it out. What we haven’t been able to do, is digest it.

To some extent, the argument holds that people who exploit differences do so for vested interest and wage violence in the name of identity for the sake of power. But what about those so willing to be led? What, in other words, about us, who are so simply fed that differences somehow deny humanity itself to other groups and cultures?

If the idea was really so basic to human conscience, and so obvious that I didn’t really have to write about it, then why am I so full of instances of its flouting? States and federal units where leaders find it offending that someone should prioritize their national identity. People who throw stones at other people just because they stand a little differently when in the house of God, or because they speak another language to their divinity. Groups that can’t touch or eat with other groups of human beings because they were born in different families. Sexes that treat other sexes with disrespect because of a slight biological variation. People who measure another’s worth in bank accounts and poverty lines.

What if you didn’t know? Here’s an exercise in visualization, and my purely linguistic twist on the Rawlsian idea of justice. What if you only saw the person behind the curtain, the veil of ignorance, and didn’t see the curtain? What if you were blind to the colour of their skin, deaf to their accent, ignorant of their past? What if you judged people the same way you wanted to be judged? Not on the basis of how many terrorists are from your culture or what shades of pink are sold to your gender or what profession your community has practised for generations. Purely on the basis of who you are.

The idea of the unique individual is identical to this unencumbered universal humanity.

I’ve fallen from a grape vine, but I think like a mango, I feel like a guava, I look like a melon and I might just fall in love with a pomegranate. And you’re just as messy as I am.

So here’s the deal.

Forget the colours and orchards and smells.

And let’s all be fruit.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Cricket Sort of Person

Of course the Indian Premiere League happens to be the liveliest shindig to have ever happened to the gallant sport. And it has done more for it than perhaps has been done in recent years. The tragedy of it all, however, (and there is a tragedy to everything), is what the IPL has undone for cricket.

I'm a cricket sort of person. I mean, I respect and tolerate other games of the wheeled, racqueted and  goaled varieties, but the sort of person I am, is cricket. What it was before we made it this.

I remember, like all old souls do of their past, the days of yore. Something about the memory of cricket then was different. Watching India play a test match the other day felt surreal. The leisure of it all - the sinfully laborious five days of slow and quick sport became a part of life, and of the character of cricket. It was not a break you took from a recession-pressed world for three hours, or a tailor made fantasy league fiesta. It was cricket with all its old school paraphernalia. 

Commentary was lethargic, tea breaks and lunch breaks paused matches; God, was in the detail. It was a different time philosophically.

The whack of the willow followed by mad shrieks from the wicket microphones sound in so many of the finest, not just of my memories, but those of the nation. Cricket, epitome of a colonial hangover, commercialized, criticized, politicized, remains in our hearts the most magical of all sports.

Because a one-day international feels (felt?) like a weekend, even on a Tuesday. The perfect excuse to set aside an entire day; stall all duties and anxieties arising therein. Work feels like Friday when nothing occupies minds and discourse but the batting order of the home team. 

The problem with shorter sports is precisely this. The brevity of it all. You could argue otherwise and say today's hurried age will allow only for these. But the thing cricket represents is the kind of leisure we're trying to hold on to. The leisure to be able to spend an entire day watching a game, sans guilt, without it being considered sacrilege.

Television screens take us into wide meadows, surrounded by many tiers of partying, covered by azure, balmy skies. Coins twirl, captains call, kookaburras swing, flags flutter, lungs tire.

So many of us cricket sort of people have childhood memories of abandoned streets greeting a morning of an India-Pakistan duel. The third umpire’s pending decisions, while players gather around constitute some of the most anxious moments of our lives. We let dinners freeze on tables while the venerable Duckworth and Lewis decide what is to be done with a washed out game. The Australian cricket team gives us more nightmares than the Board exams ever did.

Snooty and prim, local and colloquial, colourful and loud, well mannered and heartbreaking, funny and tragic, cricket is everything.

Lately, many bad things have been said about our obsession with the sport, and worse things written. I thought it was about time something was said about the magic of a game which has withstood the vagaries of fickle opinion, vested interest, and allegations of decadence.

Every time cricket season comes, you feel the silly points in your bones. Because some times things are just magical. Beyond mundane debate. Magic is not about moving with the times. Magic is made of feeling and imagery and memory. And magic is cricket.

Did I mention I’m a cricket sort of person? 


Plato, through Socrates, had spoken of things being mere images of a pure idea. The city of Calcutta is suffering from a Platonic dysfunction – the idea of Calcutta, Calcutta-ness, is enmeshed in refinement and finesse. The city, as it is today, is an imperfect expression of that pure idea.

Visitors to the city are told fables of cultural wealth, as if Calcutta was a cornucopia of abundant beauty. They are told of great wisdom, the grandeur of its political ferment, the old world charm of its heritage monuments.

And what they find, in large parts of the city, is air turned the colour of steel and industry, vehicular anarchy, urban arteries choked with monstrous buses, trams and other transportation in various stages of dilapidation; a city badly in need of repair.

Calcutta-ness stings. It isn’t as if imperfect manifestation has negated the latent. The idea of Calcutta is more than the pure idea of many cities of the world. It’s devastatingly charming. And this is what makes the word ‘potential’ so delectable.

It can be done.

Imagine this city brought out from the dust, rust and cobwebs of its unkempt endurance. The oldest buildings woken up to life with a touch of paint here, and a coat of varnish upon those hesitant, hiding balconies. The yellow and black markings of curbs shining out.

Imagine if the tiniest café and tea stall, with its singular bench and jars of biscuits was elbow-greased and made prosperous with the magic wand of planning and resolve. If a spell of initiative replaced pre-Mesozoic buses with more efficient and, there’s no better way to put it, prettier, public transport – like we truly deserve.

Imagine Calcutta becoming cosmopolitan – accommodating, inviting, even alluring. A city that begins to matter again, like it used to when Indians were battling Imperialism and Bengal was the valiant frontier of that battle.

I fear that to some vested interests, and precisely those that don’t allow such visions to materialize, the preceding words are no more than a superficial whim.

To them, I have nothing to say but this. Got a better idea?

On the Question of Morality

I am not about to sound like a sermon, because morality in the sense of this piece of writing shall be spoken of not as a way of life or tenet, but as a notion given to much hypocrisy in today’s day and age. It is fashionable, nowadays, to speak of the idea of morality as preposterously redundant. It is cool to proclaim that logic and reason should dictate personal preferences and public policy, rather than any norms that lay down what is good and what is bad. And I don’t blame the advocates of such a stance because morality is a questionable idea simply because we are always at a loss to settle on one definition of it and each version tends to belong to a particular vested interest.

What I have a problem with are the champions of the anti-moral brigade who are quick to decry any attempts at being told the right thing to do. And I have a problem because they decry morality in the name of freedom. The question posing us is clear. How does one advocate any stance of freedom, while professing amorality (as opposed to immorality)?

Let’s begin at the very beginning. What is morality? It’s that thing that tries to lay down for you right and wrong. It is the thing that tells you what the proper thing to do is. It is that which dictates and suggests the correct way to be, and the improper path to tread. So whenever you advocate anything, are you not being, in your own sense of the word, moral? Let’s not be so cynical (and at worst so hypocritical), as to believe that morality is a bag load of superstition and that the word is equivalent to abuse. When you suggest that the freedom of expression in art should not be restricted in the name of morality and sensibility, then that’s your sensibility.

Perhaps, sensibility was a better notion to debate in this article. But they do all fall under the same category – morality, sensibility and the ‘shoulds’ of each individual. Agreed that the words today have fallen into disuse and that by virtue of their political colour, they must be treated differently from their dictionary meanings. Agreed. But in the light of this argument, we lose the larger picture. That of making morality and sensibility dirty words, when they really aren’t.

What I mean is that the people who say the head scarf is undue modesty, would perhaps not be willing to wear more revealing clothes than jeans, or a knee length skirt or a sleeveless shirt. So, as long as they are drawing the line somewhere, they are displaying their own brand of morality and their own sensibilities. Many of those who oppose censorship say that there must be freedom. They think that free is the right way to be. Isn’t that their own sensibility, then? Those who oppose the welfare state say that equal and free competition is the most appropriate and reasonable way to run societies. That is also moral sense, even though it may not be from a particular religious scripture. One individual’s morality may be positive discrimination, another’s equal opportunity. If abortion offends your sensibilities and your notion of morality, then opposing it may offend someone else’s. Simply put, there are only different kinds of morality and different sensibilities. There is no such thing as ‘amoral’. As long as you think there is a right and a wrong way, you have a morality, and you can’t look down upon the notion.

As a way of disclaimer – these words were not written to make a case for the defence of either censorship, curtailment of freedom, the headscarf, the welfare state or even reservations. They have been about questioning those who go around humbugging the idea of sensibilities and moralities, because they themselves haven’t been able to escape these. The right way, I believe, to go about things, is to put your brand of morality in perspective, question it, redefine it, and refine it. Don’t let your sensibilities stagnate, no matter how right they seem. Explore the grey areas, and make the white colourful. And even as I suggest all this, I have made clear what my sensibility is. Because, really, there is no such thing as ‘amoral’.

A Rationale for Peace

What a past it is that an entire generation is eager not to repeat history, nor to relive the bygone years. Conflicting ideas evolved into conflicts. Disputes into battles. And differences into cold wars. This generation, for this reason, more than any other, must redesign the present so that the future may feel that feeling that we have never felt – nostalgia.

Peace is not elusive. It is not in the character of peace to be difficult to be achieved. Peace is as simple as not raising those arms. As simple as not emerging on to battle fields and not drawing borders.

Why get so hell-bent on being ordained to those dark pages of history about which is remembered that the rich augmented their treasures over the graves of martyred soldiers, castles were built and huts set on fire in the fuel of prejudice and the cold uncaringness of elitism. It is not that hard to be writ as pages that shared and let live. So why do I fail to discover such pages even as I gaze down into many millennia of history?

Gold to ashes and peace to dust and an entire generation of leaders that seems to read history books blindfold. These are blindfolds of security that give vent only to a greed cushioned and cottoned by a distance to loss. Those who order conflict, war and terror are never the ones on the battlefields and on the front. And yet, young souls with blood on their minds never question why these lurking shadows never bloody their hands. So, generations eager never to repeat history, not only endure an age of resurrecting terror, they catalyse its unfolding, misled and blindfolded. But these are not blindfolds of security. These are even more dangerous masks which we wear merely because our ears are closed to voices outside of ourselves.

Peace is as simple as listening to the smallest, merest voice of them all. As simple as listening.

This generation is often found on self constructed pedestals, eye to eye, barbed wires between them, asserting identities, differences, cultures, conventions, belongings, pasts, presents, attachments and unique self righteousness. Never listening. Speaking into endless voids that run parallel and don’t intersect. Guided by victory alone.

What a past it is that many millennia have no era to offer that we do not dread to relive. The demands of evolution have not made us frantic. These are the compulsions of past and present disasters of greed and the irrationality of injury.

Peace is as simple as healing. As simple as looking at human beings and the families of human beings and the lives of all human beings as if they were your own. As simple as seeing the reflection of you and your humanity in those not of your views, your region, your colour, your faith, your varied ways of belonging to whatever you belong.

Does all this talk of peace and the simplicity of peace make you uncomfortable, self appointed, and like all others, valid representative of this entire generation? Does it sound repetitive and clichéd and whimsical? Abstract? Done many times over? Doesn’t it frighten and disturb you more that something as oft repeated and idealized has not ever found a place in our many millennia of history texts?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Mirror of Democracy

Interestingly, it is easy to see what we value as societies across the world. What the intellgentsia, if I may blatantly stomp all over diversity and use that term, holds 'good' and 'right' manifests itself in the multiplicity of attributes it accords to universally admired concepts. Take Democracy, for instance. Democracy, in textbooks of imagined consciousness, you are always warned, is not about representaive government alone. Democarcy is about equality, civil liberties, justice, duties, secularism... Love, most certainly. And with each textbook I read, the writer infuses his/her conceptualization of Utopia into the idea of democracy. Democracy, they say, is an idyllic pasture of cool breezes and the rising sun.

I'm personally all for democracy. I am only noting that its interesting how when something is largely accepted as the 'right' thing by a society, it is endowed with features that it was quite unaware of to begin with.

The Dirty F Word

I mean Female of course. Also Feminism. One likes to get things clear at the outset.

When a nation's resources are usurped, its decisions made by an authority outside of itself and its economic independance stunted, you call it Imperialism. When the same thing happens to a woman, its just the way the world is. When certain ascribed identities - castes - are denied entry into temples, you say its discrimination and grossly unfair. When a woman is kept out by a temple, you bring up the fact that a temple is in fact, private property, and can frame its own rules. You don't care so much when text books use the word 'man' for all of human kind or where it could have used the world 'people'. Heaven forbid if the text book said 'white man'. When a particular racial group is denied employment, a political crisis grips the media and the world. When a girl is prohibited from leaving her home to work, indeed, not allowed to seek employment, its family tradition and conservatism. When the upper classes, upper castes, the rich, the aristocrats, the manistream, the majority dominates or monopolizes something to the detriment of corresponding opposite groups, it's injustice. When men dominate a field, its perfectly normal.

It's all quite logical actually. Discrimination against half the world is Not Relevant.

Let's just accept that it isn't relevant to deliberate upon patriarchy and women's empowerment. Not intellectual enough, and quite disconcerting to say the least. It's both more important and more intelligent to talk about racism, imperialism, caste bias, communalism and tribal issues. But a group that constitutes 50% of the world's population doesn't qualify as a cool enough debate. It never has. Gender studies are a bizarre and irrelevant discipline to spend your academic years studying. Women are something that loud and screechy women NGO workers talk about, and ugly dishevelled women academics.

It's something a teacher once said during a lecture on 'Instability'. It is assumed that instability is a consequence of fairly widespread inequality. And yet, women who constitute half of the entire world's population and have been subject to the grossest forms of violence, discrimination and subjugation, have never caused any political instability.

They're Irrelevant after all.

The Not-So-Fine Line

They've told us time and again that the line between a terrorist and a freedom fighter is thin, and the labels depend upon perception alone.

It is not my brief to venture into technicalities on such a subject, for no doubt, scholars may have done much splendid work in the field. In my mind, 'terrorist' and 'freedom fighter' are
contradictory ideas. Simply because, a terrorist does not fight for anyone's freedom.

Is it for the freedom of his people that he fights? The people are the ones who suffer most, for he is one of them.

Is it for his cause that he spills his blood? The cause only becomes illegitimate for it is marred by violence in its means.

Is it for his rights that he terrorizes? He only takes away the rights of others, taking away his own and another's right to life.

Is it for God that the terrorist becomes a terrorist? God gives an individual life and never the right to take it away.

A terrorist may be fighting for a selfish cruel instinct but he is not fighting for freedom. A freedom fighter's is a real battle. A terrorist's is one that nobody wins.

Literature & Democracy - The Writer's Perspective

Literature is the arena through which I first became an articulate participant in the affairs of the world. I wrote, and became part of public discourse.  And then there is the notion that literature is, in many ways, a potentially perfect form of democracy, in which all ideas and possibilities are open for debate, and that it allows for ideas to be created, without being hindered at the very outset, by practicality.

The written word, like any other form of art, allows an immense freedom and opportunity to the artist, transcending all boundaries of age, class, colour and faith, to have a message heard and a perspective understood. And it is therefore, one of democracy’s most necessary and significant pillars.

There are some in every generation who fight their wars in ink. And it makes the arena of war more democratic. When I wrote my book, Wish Upon a Time, it was never purely intended to be an adventure fantasy for the young adult audience. It was always going to be embedded in the world from which it emerged – the world of the young adult faced with a horrific kind of violence against which she has no legal, coercive instrument.

It could not just have been about a treasure hunt, or superheroes. It had to reflect the way young people yearn to take it upon themselves to fight the worst crimes their world is subjected to – and therefore the antagonists of Wish Upon a Time became terrorists, criminal politicians, and the demon of violent ideology.
It was the platform I had, as a young citizen of the world, to put forth what I thought about injustice and political violence, and more importantly, that world peace to me, meant the equal freedom of people, to express themselves diversely, in non-violent ways.

Literature about democracy, literature as a component of democracy, literature as an arena of democracy and literature as an instrument of the advocacy of democracy, are all the different kinds of relationships that exist and endure between the written word and participatory polity.

Whether it was against colonialism in India and other former subjects of Imperialism, protests against discrimination, slavery, racism, and exclusion in societies around the world, revolutionary notions of the equality of all human beings, philosophical fiction against tyranny, ideas of feminism, socialism, the free market, civil rights, multiculturalism, and the freedom of expression itself, literature has been the mirror to society. It is in being read as a story that people are able to see themselves outside of their lives – and though literature is never neutral, it is a narrative, about real life and the way real life is perceived by different kinds of people and writers, even when this reality is hidden behind symbols, chimeras and parallel worlds.

Entire cultures are empowered through the development and emancipation of their unique literatures, and civilizations are brought together seamlessly when shared ideas resonate between novellas and poems across the borders of identity.

Breaking away from the canons of tradition has been a way towards freedom and personal identity for writers in every epoch of history. And often it is the resurrection of these very canons that grant power to communities to become part of a democratic cultural world.

Narratives not only furnish the opportunity to attempt answering questions about ideals, more importantly, here is the chance to ask the right questions. A character in my book, for instance, is asked if she has any right to be hero seeing how her conception of what is ‘good’ and ‘right’ can be very different from that of many others. As a writer with an idea of my own, I make her an advocate of the freedom to choose, not an advocate of a particular kind of good.

Literature lays out the language of the discourse more clearly than any other form. And it is important for democracy to not only know what is being said, but also how it is being said. The words and phrases and concepts used to articulate conflict and peace are not neutral, but these are the way in which individuals, groups and states communicate. Literature provides the democratic arena to re-examine the very language in which inclusion and representation is presented.

Literature enhances the democratic process by being a carrier of knowledge. Not merely the knowledge of things, but of varied conscience and opinion. It is the carrier of perspective, across political and chronological borders.

For the young in society, literature is one of the ways in which they can conceptualize the nature of democracy, and a way in which they exercise democracy, even before they are old enough to cast a vote.

I write, and am instantaneously made part of the structure of discourse. A writer is an audible representative of some interest – the same way in which a politician is. The writer is a political representative, without meaning to be one. The writer does not only participate in democracy as a citizen and an interest. The writer is one of the political manifestations of democracy – with a message that reaches out to millions, a perspective that becomes part of public discourse and a platform from which citizens reap opinion.

Literature, therefore, has not only a function in democracy, but is an avenue for movements to be waged and the most fundamental questions to be raised.

Ultimately, democracy is not just about representation, the same way literature is not just about creativity. Both are equally and profoundly about being aware and translating awareness into a reality that is more desirable than what was and what has been.

In literature lies the power of revolution – because in it are worlds without limits, possibilities that can be measured outside the constraints of the real world. Every idea is open for debate in an imagined world. And to me, in this is the power of the platform. To be able to use stories to tell tales of ideas and structures. To express an unspoken grievance. To throw up for deliberation, radical and different notions that challenge conservative and deeply embedded systems of society. And the acceptability of the improbable, even if it is momentary and fictional – everything must begin somewhere. And so, the last function of literature – as being itself a potentially perfect form of real and direct democracy.