Dealing with Facebook-Wisdom.

I came across something on facebook that riled me up a little. A guy posted an offensive, arrogant, childishly superficial note on facebook about the social problems confronting Bharat Mata (Mother India)  and the ills plaguing the middle class. He did not have a coherent argument to present, he flitted from issue to issue like a reluctant, angry teenager with baggage, and he blamed practically everyone in the country for the problems – “most of Bharat Mata’s children, the women who are so stuck up, activists and youth marching on the streets for worthless causes, idiotic parents” etc. ad infinitum and garnished this potpourri of hatred, prejudice and obscenity with a brilliant quote that exposed the sexually frustrated young man that he probably is  … “Bharat Mata’s tits are sagging. FUCK HER.”

Generally I would have ignored this, but for some reason I was quite annoyed by his tone. I decided to comment on that thread where a couple more of his friends found the whole note to be some sort of a “brutal ass-rape” (if that is a compliment). They also wished that the note would “go viral” since it might teach Indian society so many lessons. After I posted my very-long paragraph-wise reply to his note, he and his friends decided to take the argument to the next level  (hahaha)  .

They decided to call me a faggot. They started publicly slandering me with obscenities – typical behavior expected when a pack of teenage bullies are confronted. They revealed both their homophobia, their intellectual shallowness, in not comprehending that an argument is always about the idea and not the person, and their flagrant disregard for any form of public decency. The guy who wrote the note decided to message me privately on facebook where, amidst the verbal diarrhea and the glut of invectives, he also managed to inform me that “everybody thinks that I am an idiot. ” , “seriously man, we are laughing at you” , “Learn english and some social science” . I found this bit mildly amusing.

I had always wondered whether I would ever be completely brutal with someone’s bullshit before, will I ever be impolite enough to rip someone’s arguments apart without the luxury of propriety. I found out that it takes the right kind of armchair-“know-it-all”-wannabe who brings that side out in me.  I do not feel guilty for doing this to someone I don’t know. Just a little schadenfreude.

Below is my reply to his note. The italicized portion is the guy’s note and my comments are interspersed. And I have not left anything out. 😛

—————————-The Note———————————-

“Indian society is currently going through a major transitional phase. We have literally been thrown into the globalized 21st century with the second largest population in the world. And what are the memes generated in this society? Porn, Rape, Floods, Unemployment, Competition, Poverty, and NarendraModi. “

Hi. I do not know you. I am commenting on this only because I found it interesting – in the sense, that I have never come across something so arrogant and devoid of coherent ideas at the same time!

Of all the issues that face India – the one that offends your consciousness is the memes generated?? It’s an iffy start to the note considering the section of society that generates memes in India (hahaha) is a minuscule minority and is primarily from the rich, globalized elite of India. I like your style of indirectly questioning your own social group.

 “Most of Bharat Mata’s children love their motherland a lot. But do they even know that their motherland only exists in their minds? India does not exist and has never existed in the unified utopia that the Kashmir enthusiasts and critics of ‘so-called secularism’ think.”

And I cannot see what is wrong with “loving” an idea? Our sense of self, our ego, our sex drive, practically everything only exists in our minds. India does not exist. Very assertive of you.

“ This country, if analysed historically is a political milestone achieved by the leaders of the Indian sub-continent of the 1940’s “

Oh, and now you go ahead and contradict yourself in the next statement! Sigh, did you suddenly remember geography? And clearly since India was politically realized only in the 1940s, we should be ashamed about it. If for instance, it was older, say an ancient civilization – things might have been better? .

“All those marching on the streets after getting inspired by Ajay Devgan (Bhagat Singh) and NarendrabhaiModi have no idea that they are neither fighting for a worthy cause or a lost cause. They are fighting for a cause that only exists in Tumbolia, due to their lack of knowledge about most things, especially the complicated notions of India, Bharat, Hindustan etc”

Yeah, those fucking idiots. Here you are writing a facebook note and changing the world! The first sentence is hilarious because it reveals the ignorant cocoon in which you have been hiding. Since you clearly “get” the complicated notions of India, Bharat, Hindustan – I am sure you have personally persuaded the Indian Govt. and bureaucracy to recently amend the Criminal Law for sexual violence, forced the politicians to bring in a legislation for Food Security, got us all RTI or RTE, inspired the Vishakha judgement by the SC, arm-twisted the Indian Executive into taking note of these “worthy” or “lost” causes — all by your vigorous facebook note-writing.

“A friend of mine recently remarked that we have the most stupid middle-class in the world. This reminds me of Justice MarkandeyKatju’s comment that “90% of Indians are idiots”. More and more people are realizing all over the world that intellectual mediocrity and lack of critical thought, in addition to a total lack of knowledge about anything are the prime causes for the world to be in the backward ass-fucked position it is in today. “

Brilliant evidence there — A friend remarked, Justice Katju thinks, more and more people are realizing. Did you know that some friend of a friend once said – “if only the elite could get off their high horse, we would be much better off”?

“India is no exception to this rule. A massive chunk of our youth is lost between imaginary causes due to their inherent conservatism and lack of awareness. A revolution like the kind that happened in Turkey recently, where couples made out in public in large numbers, is unthinkable in India at this time. It is a shame that even the middle-east is getting far more progressive than our middle-class. We are so caught up in family ties and mother-father, brother-sister, uncle-aunt crap that we have no idea that the worst dictatorship is the dictatorship of ideas which are enforced upon us by our less-enlightened elders. Why? Because elders get undue respect and authority in this country, the younger lot will never be able to change anything.”

A massive chunk of our youth is lost fighting for employment and daily wages. They have no time for imaginary causes. A smaller chunk of the youth thinks they have it all figured out on facebook. And I salute your imagination. Of all the revolutions that you could think of in India, the most pressing one is seriously PDA!  And this sentence reveals the unconscious racist/cultural bias you have – “it is a shame that even the middle east” , yeah because they are “supposed” to be more conservative? Wtf is wrong with you!

And then you go ahead and scoff at all kinds of familial/kinship ties. Family issues, eh? The younger lot will not be able to change anything if it has intolerant, pompous pricks like you.

“Why is pussy considered so sacred in this country? (Disambiguation required) Why are you girls so fucking stuck up? Do you not understand that if your fucking parents want to marry you off after college, its because they are conservative IDIOTS? The word idiot is key here. Conservatism is not to be blamed upon our parents, it is to be blamed upon their parents and their parents’ parents and so on. It is the hierarchical order of society imposed upon us from the start which is the problem. And this order is being maintained not so much by conservative authority, but more by idiotic parenting and idiotic respect for such idiotic parenting.”

Hahaha. The girls are fucking stuck up because they have to deal with idiots who think they have an inherent, congenital right to pussy. And I am sure your solution of disrespect, tempered with arrogance and lack of reasoning, will solve the problems of Indian society. Thank you so much.

“We claim to be very progressive, but we elect a political party to power in Delhi if they promise to build a temple. We have not even stepped out of religious boundaries and we claim to be a rising nation? The reason why most people in India are still religious is not their higher spiritual values. It is simply the lack of scientific knowledge that holds the people stuck to notions of Hanuman, Ram, Vishnu, etc. “

 I am an atheist. And I finally find something to agree with.

“ Bharat Mata’s tits are sagging due to lack of sex. FUCK HER. “

 The sexual imagery you use is very charming. And please do not consider this a personal attack on yourself. I was just responding to the stinking pile of bullshit that was hogging my wall. You should, by the way, delete this comment, in case your balls are sagging.   ”

———————————————————————

This blog-post is about trying to assuage my guilt at having spent so much time and energy on this fruitless activity and I feel that I might have been a little too mean. Maybe someone else will tell me if he had it coming.

Crime and Punishment

A lot of murky water has flown under the proverbial bridge, since last I blogged.

India hanged a terrorist.

Ajmal Kasab, one of the 9 Islamic jihadists who wreaked havoc in Mumbai on 26th-29th November, 2008 – and the sole survivor was executed after his mercy petition was denied by the President.  The terror strike had claimed 166 lives. The man was clearly guilty, there were photo-grabs of him sauntering around a railway station with an AK-47. He was given a fair, lengthy trial and a right to appeal to  the highest court of the land. And then he was killed.

People have hailed it as “justice being done”. Wounds of the past have miraculously healed as the man breathed his last gasps. Pakistani parties have, reflexively, denounced the execution. One terrorist outfit has warned of the “inspirational sacrifice” of Kasab and retribution against Indians in the future. Some mainstream Pakistani parties have also ratcheted up demands for a tit-for-tat execution of one Indian languishing in Pakistani jail.

Lots of grand-standing and self-congratulation. I have been left feeling weirdly uneasy about all this.

The first impulse is, well “Kill the fucker!” I am generally against the death penalty – but some crimes deserve it. Or, do they?

The young Kasab was brainwashed, an illiterate, poor lad whose family was promised money, for his sacrifice. It does not reduce his guilt. But it does make him human.

There is this argument that a modern state should be against the death penalty – which is a state-sponsored violation of life’s sanctity. There is the other argument where Kasab could have been a symbol to the world, that our prison system would “reform” him and thus send a message of peace. This argument is bollocks, I think. The only message that hardcore terrorists understand is – fear, un-breachable defence and security. That message, India can never muster up the will for.

A second argument for his death was the closure it might provide to the grieving families. They will get to see the perpetrator dead. But again, I feel that for the crimes he committed – death is not the answer. I hesitate to write this – for fear of sounding sadistic – but isn’t death a relief, an escape for this terrorist. He destroyed hundreds of lives. He deserves something infinitely more painful than a few minutes of asphyxiation. Comeuppance should be harsh. Imprisonment for life, maybe solitary confinement – should have been a far harder pill for him to swallow. What colder vengeance for the families, than the thought that the criminal languishes in a dark, dinghy cell — forever ? Such a daily diet of schadenfreude would have gone a long way in healing wounds!

But, as usual, no one listens to me. And the poor guy is dead.  And free.

Ideas on Modernity – Nietzsche, Marcuse and Post-Modernism.

This essay encapsulates my understanding of the historical evolution of modernity. As always, my philosophical hero – Nietzsche dominates, but I do find some time for Herbert Marcuse and Post-Modernism.

(at the person who corrected my inexcusable ignorance of Marcuse — gratitude and hi! 🙂  ..  )

Romanticism has lamented the loss of meaning in the modern world and to fill this void they turned to nature, religion and tradition.  But even after accepting the spiritual wasteland in which the modern man walks alone, I maintain that neither proximity to nature nor religion can provide the free man with peace, joy or certainty. The barbarism of all ages possessed more happiness than we do – let us not deceive ourselves on this point! – but our impulse towards knowledge is too widely developed to allow us to value happiness without knowledge, or the happiness of a strong and fixed delusion: it is painful to us even to imagine such a state of things! Our restless pursuit of discoveries has become for us as attractive and as indispensable as the hapless love of a lover. Knowledge within us has developed into a passion, which does not shrink from any sacrifice and fears nothing but its own extinction. It may be that mankind will perish eventually from this passion for knowledge! But will that daunt us ? I don’t think so.

For Nietzsche there was another reason why man could no longer rely on custom and tradition. Tradition oppresses- it appeals to a higher authority, an authority that is obeyed not because “it commands what is useful to us but merely because it commands” . The free man cannot therefore depend upon it. He is an individual, defying custom and norms of received morality. It is his will to depend on nothing but himself. Since the free man of the modern age cannot find solace either in religion or tradition, there are just two options before him;

a) he may abandon the search for an ultimate meaning; and

b) he may create meaning by his own will and action.
In exploring these alternatives Nietzsche did not merely reject the Enlightenment and its Romantic alternative, he questioned the entire tradition of western rationalist thought, beginning with Plato.

For Nietzsche all schools of thought had one thing in common: they had firm belief in themselves and their knowledge. They believed that they had arrived at the truth.  In the Athenian world of ancient Greek city-states Plato claimed that reason could give man access to the ultimate reality – the world of forms. In recent times, the Enlightenment claimed that the application of scientific method has yielded the truth about the world. Each in its own way thus claims that it has discovered the truth about the external world that exists independently of us. Further, that this truth has been arrived at impersonally and objectively; i.e., in terms of qualities that inhere in the objects themselves.

Men have, lived in this state of “theoretical innocence” for centuries believing that they possess the right method for discovering the nature of ultimate reality, and for determining what is good and valuable. Working under the influence of these childish presuppositions they have failed to realize that the external world is in itself devoid of all meanings and values.

Whatever has value in the present enlightenment world “has it not in itself by its nature”. Rather a value was “given to it, bestowed upon it, it was we who gave and bestowed! We ourselves have created the world which is of any account to man”.

In making this argument and suggesting that man is a “creator, a continuous poet of life”, Nietzsche was not undermining the significance of cognition. For Nietzsche knowledge remains a supreme value, but if pure knowledge as revealed by reason or experiments is the only end then we would have to follow whatever direction these faculties take us in. We have to be prepared, for instance, to follow the path that experimental reason leads us towards, be that of nuclear energy or genetic engineering. However, this would be complete “madness”. Knowledge has to be mediated by values that we regard to be worth affirming, values by which we may wish to construct the world.

The role of the artist is therefore of the utmost importance.

For it is the work of an artist that creates and unravels for us alternative worlds. While men of science aim to discover what is already there, the artist gives shape to a world, expressing human ideals. For this reason Nietzsche maintained that poetry and myths were a valuable source of knowledge for us. In Nietzsche’s works the artist was not just the ‘other’ of the modern rational scientist. He was, first and foremost, a creator; and as a creator he embodied the ability to transcend the boundaries of the social and what is designated as the rational. The artist as such stood alone, challenging the moralism implicit in western philosophical traditions. Thus it was through Nietzsche and the Romanticists that some of the basic tenets of the Enlightenment came to be questioned in a fundamental way. In particular the view that the present was the most advanced and civilized era in the history of humankind became subject to scrutiny.

These themes were revived in the second half of the 20th century by the New Left, most notably in the writings of Herbert Marcuse. In his book, One Dimensional Man, Marcuse characterized the post-enlightenment industrial society as “irrational” and “repressive”. Despite the apparent progress and increase in productivity, this society, in his view, was “destructive of the free development of
human needs and faculties”.

To many it may appear that political freedom is protected in this society and there has been an expansion in the liberties enjoyed by men. Today there is more to choose from: many different newspapers, radio stations, TV channels and a whole gamut of commodities in the market – from different varieties of potato chips to motor cars and washing machines. Yet, men have no real capacity to make choices of their own. Men’s needs are constantly shaped and manipulated by the media industry that furthers the interests of a few. It moulds and constructs images that determine the choices we make at home, in the market place and in social interactions. In a world where “false” needs are fashioned by the media there is no effective intellectual freedom or liberation of man. Men act and participate as “pre-conditioned receptacles of long standing”. Indeed through their actions they reinforce the instruments of socio-economic control and their oppression. According to Marcuse, the modern industrialized world constituted a “more progressive stage of alienation”. Its seeming progress, “the means of mass transportation and communication, the commodities of lodging, food and clothing, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers more or less pleasantly to the producers, and through the latter, to the whole. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood.

And as these beneficial products become available to more individuals in more social classes, the indoctrination they carry ceases to be publicity; it becomes a way of life. It is a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behaviour. More importantly, as men and women share in the same images and ideas there is less and less the possibility of challenging the present and seeking alternatives to it. In a world where images, presentation and appearance count more than even the content, these theorists felt there could be no real freedom, or for that matter, the possibility of “communicative rationality” asserting itself in the “life-world”.

For Marcuse as well as for other members of the Frankfurt School the Enlightenment had transformed what was once liberating reason, engaged in the fight against religious dogma and superstition, into a repressive orthodoxy. It had done this by visualizing reason as an instrument of control; and, as a tool for gaining mastery over the world rather than critical reflection and reconstruction. Instrumental reason that was concerned primarily with efficiency, economy and utility could not be expected to liberate man or construct a better world.

Postmodernism, taking its cue from Nietzsche, problematizes not just science but also philosophy and religion.

Each of these intellectual engagements, in its view, seeks foundations; that is, they look for absolute and unconditional basis of reality and claim to arrive at the truth. The only difference being that while religion locates the absolute in the world beyond, science points to the laws of nature as constituting the foundations of the world and philosophy places its faith in the capacity of reason to unearth that absolute truth. What remains unaltered is that each of them looks for, and seeks to discover the truth that is already there. Against this worldview, postmodernism asks us to abandon the search for foundations and universal truth.

Like Nietzsche, the postmodernist thinkers assert that knowledge does not involve discovering a meaning that is already there, pre-contained in the text. For the postmodernists, the task of every inquiry is, and must be, to deconstruct the text: to read it in a way that allows new meanings to emerge from it. Nietzsche had argued that the history of the west, from the time of Plato onwards, reveals a “tyranny of the mind”.

Plato claimed that philosophers armed with the power of reason would penetrate the world of appearances and arrive at the truth. He therefore banished the poets from the Republic. In recent times, the Enlightenment bestows the same faith in systematic observation and experience. Both are convinced that they possess the absolute truth and the perfect method to arrive at it. Countless people have, over the years, sacrificed themselves to these convictions. Believing that they knew best they imposed their ways upon others.

The idea that we know the truth, that we and we alone have access to it, has been a source of fanaticism in the world. Postmodernists add to this Nietzschean sentiment to say that it has also been the source of totalitarianism. To protect freedom that the modern man so deeply cherishes we must therefore abandon this search for absolute truth. And realize instead that others also believe that they know the truth and are acting in accordance with it.

Intellectual arrogance must therefore give way to a sense of deeper humility: that is, to a framework wherein meta-narratives give way to particular histories of people living in a specific time and place, and space is created for the co-presence of multiple projects and knowledge systems.

Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will

The ink-well of poetic inspiration runs dry. I thought it would be remiss of me to attempt some half-baked atrocity on the beautiful medium of verse, while on this uninspired, cynical island that I find myself ship-wrecked in. It is often true for me, far too much for my liking, that I seem to derive all the energy that I need – from my reading. How I wish there will come a time when I finally have one “original” thought. Just a stupid, little insight would also do!

But I am too comfortably nestled in the familiar worn-out ruts of my brain to be jolted by life whizzing past, to be shocked into “creative insight”, as it were. It is a pitiable state, when you have to resort to the reservoir of other’s cogitations to conjure up something. I am not just standing on the shoulders of giants, it seems I have constructed a nice little tent there — idling away on those mighty shoulder-blades! The view is great though!

But enough self-loathing.

Let me talk about the issue that I have encountered recently, and I shall make no attempts at coherence here.

1. Is the world a better place today than it was say 30-40 years ago ?

Before I begin to answer this – let me qualify – by saying that “better” is invitation to questions like “for whom”, “what does better mean” ?  I shall not attempt to answer these questions, because it is too broad for a puny blog-post. I shall try and list out certain areas where humanity has shown remarkable resilience and transformative ability. One of them is the sanctity of “free speech”. The internet and the whole host of inter-related technologies have meant a far, more democratic and level-playing field for citizens today. The culture of dissent is picking up and thankfully, it is not just the intellectual elites, who have realized it.

No one would have envisioned a Mohd. Bouazizi and the spark he set off, immolating himself and the entire facade of Arab dicatorships, a few decades back. There are a lot of dawns happening right now, in different parts of the world – the Malalas, the Venezuelan public majority that voted Chavez back (inspite of stringent US acrimony), the Mohd. Morsis of Egypt, the Julia Gillards (who delightfully put down chauvinistic politicians in media’s full glare), even Myanmar’s generals are reforming — in favour of free speech and democracy.  Some of these may turn out to be false dawns, as it often happens, whenever human nature is in play. But change is in vogue!

There are trenchant issues that still give cause for pessimism. The total lack of conviction from world leaders towards grappling with serious political, environmental issues. Witness the lip-service to Environmental Conservation that our PM Manmohan Singh dishes out at the recently concluded COP-11 Conference on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad. He promises a high-sounding $50 million “Hyderabad Pledge”, which is just pocket change — while at the same time, insidiously backing a draconian National Investment Board, to expedite and gloss over environmental concerns whenever serious business interests are in play. Going more global, the crisis is never-ending. the issues that need to be discussed are not. Pakistan – a far bigger threat to the stability of the world – than Iran or North Korea, keeps piling up the nuclear weapons like an avaricious banker! Israel and the US continue diplomatic calisthenics over Iran, carefully avoiding the stench from the Palestinian morass. Europe never seems to agree on a consensus on how to tackle its financial woes, flipping from austerity to populism at the drop of a hat. Japan and China are having another one of those days … their historic, and time-dilated menstrual cycles never ever seem to align. Now it is about the islands in Senkaku. Tomorrow, it will probably be about Nanjing war-crimes. Day after, it will just be about how both of them look too alike for each other’s comfort! I don’t talk about Africa because it is just too sad. And ignorance is better for my health sometimes.

But all in all, as long as the progressive left keeps making pro-active use of freedoms that technology gives us – I think there is still hope. The Vietnam War was not protested against until the US was 5-6 years in the conflict. On the contrary, massive public opinion and outcry prevented the US from intervening militarily in Libya or now in Syria (which is sad!)  — but all good things come with a bad after-taste, I guess. We have the tools now to weigh in and punch above our weight. Hierarchies can be defeated. Power structures can be unravelled.  It is up to us.

The left side of  Humanity.  (or should I say, the left morsels of our Humanity)

The cogent portion of the blog is over. Now for the headlines for this past day or so —

2. I hate stupid people. It’s true. I am surrounded by all these ignoramuses and I find that there is, actually, no point to their existence.   (Why am I so elitist? I am sure I will regret feeling this way some day.)  But these people do seem to be as evolutionarily useful as a mosquito is ecologically.

3. Stupid people can be understood and pitied. Which is something that I hold in their favour. But intelligent hypocrites are the worst — they are the dregs of humanity. Alan Dershowitz has recently been added to the rather short list of people – whom I would prefer to be a bit shorter (by a head maybe). Thomas Friedman, of course, leads the pack, grinning wildly like a typical moustache-host-organism. These educated “intellectuals” poison the lives of millions and shape their opinions and dogmas, all the while, maintaining their thin veneer of moral high-ground, which can be seen through so easily. I was watching Dershowitz debate Chomsky and all he could muster was lies, deceit, rhetoric and moral grand-standing. The sheer hypocrisy should have made the universe recoil in horror and swallow him up in the black hole where he belongs! These are the times when I wish there was a mighty Smiter up in the heavens, raining thunder-bolts.

4. “Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will”  is the latest mantra for me. Wonderful, because it combines Russell’s Skepticism with Nietzsche’s Will!   (you can have others, of course– Moore, Strawson, Hume for skepticism and Schopenhauer, more Nietzsche! for the will … pick your favourites)

5. I am finally beginning to understand a lot of the emotions that used to confuse me before. Distance is needed. And time. Memory and forgetting do the rest. The past is always beautiful, idyllic and tranquil. The future no longer looks as bleak. There is hope.

And I will survive.

Until I eventually die, of course.  Alone.  (but i will still be surviving right up to the last fucking moment. promise.)

P.S. on a happy note, this is something that everyone should watch. (well, every adult human being and no nuns/priests)                                      French awesomeness —  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPeaJBWXijo

Wislawa Szymborska and a reading in History

Hatred

“Look, how constantly capable  
and how well maintained
in our century: hatred.
How lightly she regards high impediments.
How easily she leaps and overtakes. 

She’s not like other feelings.
She’s both older and younger than they.
She herself gives birth to causes
which awaken her to life.
If she ever dozes, it’s not an eternal sleep.
Insomnia does not sap her strength, but adds to it.

Religion or no religion,
as long as one kneels at the starting-block.
Fatherland or no fatherland,
as long as one tears off at the start.
She begins as fairness and equity.
Then she propels herself.
Hatred. Hatred.
She veils her face with a mien
of romantic ecstasy.

Oh, the other feelings —
decrepit and sluggish.
Since when could that brotherhood
count on crowds?
Did ever empathy
urge on toward the goal?
How many clients did doubt abduct?
Only she abducts who knows her own.

Talented, intelligent, very industrious.
Do we need to say how many songs she has written.
How many pages of history she has numbered.
How many carpets of people she has spread out
over how many squares and stadiums!

Let’s not lie to ourselves:
She’s capable of creating beauty.
Wonderful is her aura on a black night.
Magnificent cloud masses at rosy dawn.
It’s difficult to deny her pathos of ruins
and her coarse humor
mightily towering above them columns.

She’s the mistress of contrast
between clatter and silence,
between red blood and white snow.
And above all she never tires of
the motif of the tidy hangman
above the defiled victim.

She’s ready for new tasks at any moment.
If she must wait she’ll wait.
She said she was blind. Blind?
She has the keen eyes of a sniper
and boldly looks into the future
–she alone. ” 

Pathetic, though it may seem to attempt to add a footnote of prose after these lines, I would nevertheless, attempt to draw attention to some oft-forgotten historical lessons brilliantly woven in these verses.

The history book of hatred is ceaselessly adding pages as well as epitaphs. Even as I type Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine province face existential threats, Syrian civilians are dying while the world “urges” restraint or “closely monitors” the situation, a mosque in Afghanistan blew up killing fifty or so innocents. Palestinians face a continually forgotten and denigrating existence under the shadow of US’s closest ally in the region – Isreal (a fact which both Romney and Obama mentioned at least half a dozen times in the last debate). Israel drums up anti-Iran hysteria. The ugly head of hatred is rearing up. But was it ever gone?

Hatred has leaped over, nay side-stepped with scorn, all impediments placed before it. A rapprochement was tried with Pakistan in 1999, and before that in 1984 and later in 2005– only to be unravelled by fanatic acts of minority elements within both nations. Pakistan’s grim tryst with the Taliban, British diplomacy of the 1930s bear testament to the fact that appeasement does not quell hatred. Hatred of the other, is itself, the cause of more hatred. She begets herself. Witness racial violence in USA of the 1960s, repeated communal conflagrations throughout India’s free history, anti-semitism and apartheid violence in South Africa. Many causes, many faces. And the lowest common denominator being the passion these feelings whip up. The Gandhis, the M.L. Kings, the Nelson Mandelas of history can only be mute witnesses to their world collapsing in front of them while Hatred’s frenzied minions tear their world apart, just before punctuating their victory with the finality of a gunshot, or worse -irrelevance. The Russells, the Chomskys, the Camuses,the Edward Saids of this world, the doubters, “the sane voices”,  can only wring their hands in vain as Huntingtons, Friedmans, even the Sartres and Hitchens stoop to becoming Hatred’s apologists!  (Sartre’s defence of French imperialism in Algeria and Hitchens’ credulous defence of the Iraq misadventure remain blots on otherwise exemplary lives) Clearly, Hatred is a wily seductress.

Ideologies are child’s play for her. Marx would have revulsed in horror at Stalin’s impression of Socialism, the very  egalitarian and ecumenical end for all- in the gulag! Or Khmer Rouge’s radical version of Mao’s philosophy, built on three million deaths. How easy it is to spin Mill’s utilitarianism or Adam’s capitalism into the napalmed, scorching reality of Vietnam or the tortured millions in Algeria (which was supposed to be France’s “civilizing mission”)? Sometimes not having an ideology is even worse, as Hatred twists the dagger of the world’s apathy into the hapless, eviscerated innocents (when 1700 civilians are butchered at Sabra and Shatila or a million Armenians are murdered by Turks, unknown and unheard).

And she has patience! It took decades of exploitation of the Middle East before the specter of terrorism was unleashed on the West. First came the Cold War, and puppet regimes and suppression of freedoms. Then came deliberate arming of desperate militias in order to battle another obsolescent ideology. Then came 9/11.

Hypocrisy is ever her most trusted confidante.

Iran’s official history of the 1980-1988 war shows that Iraq first used chemical weapons against its combatants on 13th January, 1981 — killing seven Iranians. Between 28 December 1980 and 20 March 1984, there were 63 separate chemical weapons attacks by the Iraqis. The world did not react. Never since the First World War had chemical weapons been used on such a scale and yet so great was the fear and loathing of Iran, so total the loyalty of Arabs to Saddam Hussein, so absolute the West’s support for Saddam against the spread of Khomeini’s revolution, that they were silent. These news items were never reported in the Arab press. In Europe and America, they were regarded as Iranian propaganda. Only in 1984 did New York Times grudgingly admitted that “Iraq used chemical weapons in repelling Iranian offensive.” The criticism was mild. There was no official criticism of Iraq’s policy. In 1994, the “United States Chemical and Biological Warfare-related Dual-use exports to Iraq and their possible impact on the health consequences of the Persian-Gulf war ” report acknowledged that government-approved shipments of chemical weapons were sent by American companies to Iraq from 1985 or earlier. Throughout the war, America supplied Iraq with battlefield intelligence — which was used by the Iraqis to defeat Iranian offensives using poison gas. Iraq captured Fao on 19th April, 1988 using gas. They then used hydrogen cyanide gas on the Kurdish town of Halabja , by dropping it from jets, accusing the Kurdish Iraqis of collaborating with Iran. The chemicals were German, the jet was American and the 5000 dead, Iraqi Kurds.

This was one of the charges which the West used when it invaded Iraq in 2003. “Saddam gassed his own people.” They forgot to mention how and why.

If hypocrisy doesn’t work, She just creates an “other”, very subtly at times. In time, the “other” can be objectified and dealt with.

There is a routine bestialisation of Arabs and Muslims in Western cinema. In the movie, “O Jerusalem” based on the eponymous book by Lapierre and Collins, there is an honourable, kind-hearted, moderate Arab who is friends with a Jew. Similarly, the movie Exodus, based on the Leon Uris’ novel of 1948, also has a “good Arab”. In the much-acclaimed  “Ben Hur” and “Lawrence of Arabia”, there are “good Arabs” who lend horses! “The English patient”, a brilliant movie, has a blatantly racist scene, where a British army officer is torturing a suspected German spy by chopping off his thumb. For this barbarous act, he calls a Muslim woman nurse forward, saying — “The Muslims, they understand this sort of a thing. What’s the punishment for adultery ? ” This abhorrently racist dialogue has no basis in the book.

Once we have thus established that there are “good Arabs”, out there, somewhere — we are, of course, free to concentrate on the rotten kind and treat them as we will! 

Hatred is calling us ever more insistently, luring us with the a delicious offering of pawns — it is our move. Let us not get check-mated again.

(Kasparov is getting increasingly frustrated by our ineptitude at learning historical lessons. While he continues to hate Putin and fight.)

Nothing bad has taken place

What is absurdity?

“In a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between a man and his life the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.”  — Albert Camus, in the Burden of Sisyphus.

For a moment, you might read the above lines and be swept into the grim Palestinian page of World History – “the memory of a lost home“, you might also note with irony that the Jewish page follows eagerly – “or the hope of a promised land“, but these are the dusty, worn-out nooks of our collective inheritance and revisiting graves is, most decidedly, out of fashion. Public memory, intellectual fashions, pseudo-intellectual ideologies do concern me though. And I heard that there is an election to be won, somewhere in North America, and the results of that election will determine how much the world loses, at least in the next four years.

Following the Presidential Obama-Romney debates has been an exercise in discovering absurdity, and the power it holds over people. The American Right and its sheer paucity of ideas needs no further excoriation.

Consider their views on rape :

“legitimate rape does not produce babies. Female body has ways to stop that.”  or

” birth of children out of rape is something that God intended” .

You would think that it could get no worse. That educated politicians could commit no bigger gaffes. You would be wrong. Recent statements about rape emanating from the anachronistic-medieval Haryana politicians would put above comments in a far more respectable light.

“Rape is caused by fast foods and resulting hormonal disturbances!” or “Rape can be countered by child marriage.”

This is what happens when religious dogmas seep into political discourse. A rape of ideas!  And talking about ideas, there were far too few of them from the Republican challenger. He promises tax cuts, increased military spending without a care about where the money comes from.  And his views are remarkable in their protean abilities. So changeable! A humorous take on his fiscal policy can be found here —

http://www.romneytaxplan.com/  . Obama, the silver-child of 2008, the White-Knight of idealism, the most undeserved Nobel Peace Prize winner in history, who has been taking painful lessons in pragmatism from long-dead G.E. Moore and Machiavelli for the last four years – still represents the much saner view of world-affairs. And that is all that we can hope for: a sane US President, who does not sleep with interns (Clinton), talk to paintings (Nixon), confuse movies with reality (Reagan and StarWars) or play bumbling idiot all the time (Bush Jr.).

Things much closer home seem far more “Up in the Air”!

Vadra. Gadkari. Virbhadra Singh. Navin Jindal and Zee, S.M. Krishna. Rajat Gupta. The closet is pullulating with skeletons!  Bal Thackeray says “India is a land of cheats. ” And I agree with him. Yes, I agree with Bal Thackeray.  Szymborska’s lines on the Soul should be required reading for Indians in this hour, ”

We have a soul at times. No one’s got it non-stop, for keeps.

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it. …… 

For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.  …… 

It’s picky:
it doesn’t like seeing us in crowds,
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.…….

It won’t say where it comes from
or when it’s taking off again,
though it’s clearly expecting such questions.

We need it
but apparently
it needs us
for some reason too. ”    

Let us not prefer silence now. When Europe and the world came face to face with the stark realities of World War 2, they chose silence. Konrad Adenaur wanted people to forget what had just happened. The scope of tragedy, the gloom of cynicism and the gargantuan efforts at de-nazification needed that interregnum – that pause, before they could open their eyes and question the past. We need not let things get that far. And if you think all this is hyperbole, think twice. Narendra Modi harbours realistic ambitions of leading the country. There exists a TV channel in Gujarat with the name “NaMo” . If that does not chill us to the bone and evoke Orwellian memories, I fear I might have to emigrate!

What is most certainly not desirable is to heed to this distinctly Indian-remedy, which was nevertheless, issued by Isocrates to the Athenians at the close of the Peloponnesian Wars:

Let us govern collectively as though nothing bad had taken place.

Arrant Nonsense

I don’t make jokes. I just observe governments and report facts.  — Will Rogers.

Laughter is supposed to be contagious. But I don’t see too many people guffawing at the world’s jokes. So, I shall try to spread the cheer.  (if you don’t find this funny, pretend this post is your lover’s text message and reply with ROTFL!)

ACT 1. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall,  Who’s the Second Greatest Indian of them all ?

Anil Ambani, CNN-IBN and History Channel did us a great service recently. An issue which was keeping me up at nights, gnawing at my insides like a claustrophobic termite trapped in me, has been resolved. Aah, the relief.

B.R. Ambedkar is the 2nd greatest Indian after Mahatma Gandhi .  How Ambedkar will be chuffed with himself !

Of course, the Greatness Pageant was decided by an online poll of young India. And Gandhi was excluded from the list of venerable nominees. Lest the world suddenly find out how much the Indian masses care for Gandhi today. Instead Ambedkar had to fight off stiff competition from stalwarts like Sachin Tendulkar, APJ Abdul Kalam, Jawaharlal Nehru, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lata Mangeshkar. Such august company for the man, who drafted the constitution, fought a lone battle against caste in India, revived Buddhism among other things.

Subplot 1. Obviously Gandhi is the greatest Indian mortal ever. Gandhi and Ambedkar cannot be mentioned in the same breath.

Even though, I actually agree with the first position – I find the fake idolization of Gandhi abhorrent and another reminder that we, as a society, are more in thrall of hero-worship than the ideas which the heroes represent.

Subplot 2. Since young India has voted Ambedkar to be the greatest Indian after Gandhi. It is clear that caste is dead. Let us forget the fact that dalit oppression, injustices and caste-violence continues unabated. Let us pretend that we have slain this evil. We, young India! Congratulations to ourselves.

This happy occasion gives me ideas for resolving one of my long-standing issues. So here it goes —

Issue-of-Grave-Importance :   Who is the second most Arrogant Indian alive ?

Yours truly, of course, takes the cake! My friends circle is also disqualified from the competition. (they are drooling at the prospect of winning this coveted prize. But this is a contest for human beings. Tanmai can scarcely be confused as one. Prasant is disqualified on account of being-in-a-relationship and getting all his arrogance squashed by his girlfriend. Amrita – not Indian!)

So, is it Narendra Modi, of the “hang me if I am guilty” fame ?  Is it Manmohan Singh for his arrogant silence and not deigning to even oblige us with a word or two in his entire term ? Or is it someone’s anonymous pet blind cat ?

You, young India, can now decide!

ACT 2.  Tweeting for Freedom of Misinformation.

Recent ethnic violence in Assam triggered a unique sequence of events. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter were used malevolently to spread rumours about grisly communal attacks against Muslims and a threatened backlash against people from the region. There was a mass exodus from major cities in India.

Which brings us to the Government’s considered, deliberate and astute response —

1.  It restricted text messaging and blocked around 300 webpages.

2.  It even blocked pages of newspapers like the Independent ! On account of the Independent carrying political caricature, which is such a crime.

3.  The government tried blocking twitter accounts of 300 malicious fellows. Unfortunately, it did not succeed in this endeavour in time. The accounts continued to operate for a day, spewing misinformation like a politician at an election rally.

4.  The Government however succeeded in blocking the twitter account of one prime suspect — (wait for it… ) Mr. Sachin Pilot — the Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting !   For a day, Mr. Pilot was tweet-less!  I am still speechless at our bureaucrats’  marvellous sense of humour.

5.  The Government also succeeded in breaking its own laws. It had laid down norms that blocked accounts will be listed online and a webpage with appropriate reasons shall be made public. None of this happened. I guess, breaking rules is just too much fun. Especially when the rules are your own.

Subplot 1. The new rules for governing the internet gives the government unacceptable and draconian powers. It is a curtailment of fundamental rights.

Subplot 2. Hate speech and deliberate dissemination of disinformation cannot be a right. There has to be a sustained debate on the checks and balances needed to monitor social media.

Subplot 3. Online media has given a powerful tool to the masses. It provides the individual with so much information that it is difficult to “manufacture consent”. But there is also a threat, that with ubiquitous communication, it is also very easy for malafide interests to wreak havoc with impunity and anonymity.

ACT 3.   Agricultural Imperialism and Special Exploitation Zones (SEZs).

In 1991, Meles Zenawi came to power in Ethiopia after a long civil war, in which he was backed by the United States. He recently died in August. He left behind an autocratic state where there is a single party, tight state control, where the ruling party has a direct stake in the economy through a business conglomerate. And he left behind a legacy of large-scale land acquisition by foreign investors.

Over the next 3 years, the Ethiopian Government plans to identify , prepare and transfer 3.3 million hectares of land, under the ironically named Growth and Transformation Plan, to foreign agricultural investors. Despite food scarcity in the country, the government offers these investors incentives for using the land for export crops. The resources granted to them include not just land but water resources.

There has been no consultation with local communities while giving away their land. There is a desperate threat to peasant agriculture, deprivation of pasture lands and lack of access to water resources for the people of the region. People are being displaced and resettled to provide the investors with “unencumbered access” to resources. Any additional employment generated is likely to be short-term, seasonal and low wage unskilled labour. The investors are under no contractual obligation to do something about the food security of Ethiopia.

Indian and American companies are in a mad rush to acquire lands, some of which are as large as the Delhi-NCR region!

But all this is not funny. Here is what is funny —

Nobel Peace Prize Winner and US President Barack Obama has hailed Zenawi’sunyielding commitment to Ethiopia’s poor .. his desire to lift millions of Ethiopians out of poverty through his drive for food security.

Unyielding commitment, desire, drive for food security indeed.   Quelle Horreur !!

ACT 4.  Searching for “sense” in Libya.  (Beware,  boring final Act alert.)

Last week, four American diplomats were killed when armed men attacked the US consulate in Benghazi. The attackers’ apparent motivation was that someone, apparently American but with an uncertain identity, posted a video on YouTube several months ago that deliberately defamed the Prophet. The attack in Benghazi was portrayed as retribution for the defamation, with the attackers holding all Americans equally guilty for the video, though it was likely a pretext for deeper grievances.

In order to make sense of these attacks, one must observe that they took place in Benghazi, the city that had been most opposed to Muammar Gadhafi.  The intervention occurred because it was believed that Gadhafi would carry out his threats in Benghazi and because it was assumed that he would quickly capitulate in the face of NATO air power, opening the door to democracy.

That Gadhafi was capable of mass murder was certainly correct.

The idea that Gadhafi would quickly fall proved incorrect.

That a democracy would result after the intervention proved the most dubious assumption of them all.

What emerged in Libya is what you would expect when a foreign power overthrows an existing government, however thuggish, and does not impose its own imperial state: ongoing instability and chaos. The opposition was a chaotic collection of tribes, factions and ideologies sharing little beyond their opposition to Gadhafi.

Opponents of tyranny assume that deposing a tyrant will improve the lives of his victims. This is sometimes true, but only occasionally. The czar of Russia was clearly a tyrant, but it is difficult to argue that the Leninist-Stalinist regime that ultimately replaced him was an improvement. Similarly, the Shah of Iran was repressive and brutal. It is difficult to argue that the regime that replaced him was an improvement. There is no assurance that opponents of a tyrant will not abuse human rights just like the tyrant did. There is even less assurance that an opposition too weak and divided to overthrow a tyrant will coalesce into a government when an outside power destroys the tyrant. The outcome is more likely to be chaos, and the winner will likely be the most organized and well-armed faction with the most ruthless clarity about the future. There is no promise that it will constitute a majority or that it will be gentle with its critics.

The alternative to one thug may simply be another thug. This is a matter of power and will, not of political philosophy. Utter chaos, an ongoing struggle that leads nowhere but to misery, also could ensue. But the most important reason Western human rights activists might see their hopes dashed is due to a principled rejection of Western liberal democracy on the part of the newly liberated. To be more precise, the opposition might embrace the doctrine of national self-determination, and even of democracy, but go on to select a regime that is in principle seriously opposed to Western notions of individual rights and freedom.

While some tyrants simply seek power, other regimes that appear to Westerners to be tyrannies actually are rather carefully considered moral systems that see themselves as superior ways of life. There is a paradox in the principle of respect for foreign cultures followed by demands that foreigners adhere to basic Western principles. It is necessary to pick one approach or the other. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that someone can have very distinct moral principles, be respected, and yet be an enemy of liberal democracy. Respecting another moral system does not mean simply abdicating your own interests. The Japanese had a complex moral system that was very different from Western principles. The two did not have to be enemies, but circumstances caused them to collide.

The NATO approach in Libya assumed that the removal of a tyrant would somehow inevitably lead to a liberal democracy. Indeed, this was the assumption about the Arab Spring in the West, where it was thought that that corrupt and tyrannical regimes would fall and that regimes that embraced Western principles would sprout up in their place.

Implicit in this was a profound lack of understanding of the strength of the regimes, of the diversity of the opposition and of the likely forces that would emerge from it.  What took Gadhafi’s place was ongoing warfare between clans, tribes and ideologies. From this chaos, Libyan Islamists of various stripes have emerged to exploit the power vacuum.

The desire to overthrow Gadhafi came from two impulses.

The first was to rid the world of a tyrant.

The second was to give the Libyans the right to national self-determination.

Not carefully considered were two other issues: whether simply overthrowing Gadhafi would yield the conditions for determining the national will, and whether the national will actually would mirror NATO’s values and, one should add, interests.

Unintended Consequences

The events of last week represent unintended and indirect consequences of the removal of Gadhafi. Gadhafi ruthlessly suppressed radical Islam. In the absence of his suppression, the radical Islamist faction appears to have carefully planned the assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. The attack was timed for when the U.S. ambassador would be present. The mob was armed with a variety of weapons. The public justification was a little-known video on YouTube that sparked anti-American unrest throughout the Arab world.

For the Libyan jihadists, tapping into anger over the video was a brilliant stroke. Having been in decline, they reasserted themselves well beyond the boundaries of Libya. In Libya itself, they showed themselves as a force to be reckoned with — at least to the extent that they could organize a successful attack on the Americans. The four Americans who were killed might have been killed in other circumstances, but they died in this one: Gadhafi was eliminated, no coherent regime took his place, no one suppressed the radical Islamists, and the Islamists could therefore act. How far their power will grow is not known, but certainly they acted effectively to achieve their ends. It is not clear what force there is to suppress them. It is also not clear what momentum this has created for jihadists in the region, but it will put NATO, and more precisely the United States, in the position either of engaging in another war in the Arab world at a time and place not of its choosing, or allowing the process to go forward and hoping for the best.

A distinction is frequently drawn between the idealist and realist position. Libya is a case in which the incoherence of the distinction can be seen. If the idealist position is concerned with outcomes that are moral from its point of view, then simply advocating the death of a tyrant is insufficient. To guarantee the outcome requires that the country be occupied and pacified, as was Germany or Japan. But the idealist would regard this act of imperialism as impermissible, violating the doctrine of national sovereignty. More to the point, the United States is not militarily in a position to occupy or pacify Libya, nor would this be a national priority justifying war. The unwillingness of the idealist to draw the logical conclusion from their position, which is that simply removing the tyrant is not the end but only the beginning, is compounded by the realist’s willingness to undertake military action insufficient for the political end. Moral ends and military means must mesh.

Removing Gadhafi was morally defensible but not by itself. Having removed him, NATO had now adopted a responsibility that it shifted to a Libyan public unequipped to manage it. But more to the point, no allowance had been made for the possibility that what might emerge as the national will of Libya would be a movement that represented a threat to the principles and interests of the NATO members. The problem of Libya was not that it did not understand Western values, but that a significant part of its population rejected those values on moral grounds and a segment of the population with battle-hardened fighters regarded them as inferior to its own Islamic values. Somewhere between hatred of tyranny and national self-determination, NATO’s commitment to liberty as it understood it, became lost.

….

Epilogue.  Why the boring final Act ?

Those who skipped Act 4 will be tried for sedition. It is the new rage.)  

I have always believed that things must even out in the end.  Religion, people say, has caused wars and bloodshed. Yes, but isn’t it boring to sit through a church service or a Hindu ceremony ? So it evens out.

Your doctor warns you about alcoholism and you are depressed. But then you go home and find your secret vodka stash, and you are happy. Things just even out. Let’s say you have a nice cupcake. You are happy and then you eat it. Cupcake is not there anymore! Or you are holding french fries and they seem to be not so hot. Then you put them in your mouth, and it is really hot.

You call your friend who is hosting a party, and he says that the party is cancelled. You call, in a different voice, and suddenly, there is a party.  You send someone a death threat and then the police come to your home, mysteriously, and threaten you. You notice an ant drifting away on a leaf in the water. Then you notice your aunt drifting away in life. Eventually, things must even out.

One day you ask someone to look at your skin rashes. Then the next day you are looking at their rashes. You see a pebble on a river bank, throw it across the water. It skips several times. Then the next pebble you cannot even pry it loose, because of this glue-mud!

Hence I write a few paragraphs and you laugh. And by the end of the post, you are crying and muttering for me to stop. Things even out in the end.

Teach For India — 10 days and beyond.

As I write about this last week in Pune, I cannot but be struck by a profound sense of affirmation and validation (even gratification) at the thoughts and choices that have brought me here and now. I have a constant, ego-burnishing realization that “I have thought” and it is this warm, mellow sunshine of my own self that I am basking in right now. And yet, on some level, I feel deeply alone here. All by myself.

I have met several interesting people (a few worth taking the extra mile for), otherwise this is a motley congregation of idealistic (sometimes to a fault .. and rising to naivete) but some profoundly nice people. The staff is very committed. The sense of humility and respect that people share is unrivalled. The joy here,  the pleasure of working together for a mission, is hard to miss. At the same time there are some powerful critiques that can be made.

People here seem to be thinking from their hearts, or the “gut” as Stephen Colbert puts it. We had very random exercises designed to make us “feel” part of the mission, or to inculcate “core values”, the “right mindsets” and to experience the “sense of possibility” — non-vicariously, for a change. Everyone “reflects” all the time, sometimes we are forced to — so much so that we would make mirrors self-conscious. We also “push ourselves” and the line between pushing and shoving is hazy. The jargon, the exclusivist language, very insidiously designed to make us feel “all special” is a very blatant, yet effective attempt to transform a bunch of nice, ordinary people into a coterie of zealots. Insidious, is a harsh word, considering the mission is well-meaning and noble (by any definition of morality). But the same doctrine would serve, with very little tinkering, as the bible for some popular religious cult. That is where the problem lies. Fellows seem to be getting indoctrinated — they have begun speaking the same language, making the same jokes. This leads me to think that all of the first 10 days were indeed transformative for a lot of people. That is sad. If fellows, our so-called “leaders of tomorrow” have not figured such issues out by the time they are adults, I shudder at the ignorant morass in which the rest of the youth wallows in. A lot of people here are for the right reasons and the wrong justifications. Will we remove educational inequity by following this model ? I highly doubt that. The big picture seems lost in the feel-good mist of moralizing and grandstanding. I do not find too many ambitious people here. Changing one life, doing good, transforming life paths for a class, is all good. But is it enough ? The top management seems to have their heads in the right place. The complexity is understood, though no one really knows what to do about it.

Something else that struck me was the uniqely caring, healthy environment in which things happen. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that the organization is run and managed primarily by educated, professional women. Corporate India should take some cues from the management here. All this is not to suggest that I have not had fun. If hedonism was a legitimate way of life, TFI is “Hedonism with a heart”. I have done things here the past few days that I would not have envisioned myself even attempting a few weeks back. I could come up with a short summary —

1. Go into a poorer section of the city and try to find some kid and “connect” to him. I found it really strange because here was a veritable army of fellows descending upon that section of town out of the blue … and looking, prowling for kids. It was hard to convince alarmed adults about “what the hell was happening”. I found that a Namaste and a smile go a long way in breaking the ice. Also I lured a bunch of 7-8 kids into “connecting” with me, by showing them some basic melodies on the harmonica — thus literally playing the role of the “Pied Piper of Pune” . It was fun.

2. Go into another part of town, with a mission to serve the people and the constraint that I could not speak. It was weird and I became acutely cognizant of the powers of non-verbal communication and gestures. ( We really should write that paper on alternate forms of language communication, Tanmai ) I swept poor homes, cleaned a few dishes, gave an injured old man a massage (back-rub) .. and all without speaking, much to the delight and surprise of the community people. It was an exhilarating experience. The conquering of your self, your inhibitions gives you an incredible rush.  I was quite pleased with myself and was reminded of Gandhi’s insistence on physical labour and service of others. That guy sure had things figured out.

3. We have had countless chants and songs and games here, both during and after sessions. It is almost routine and I don’t bat an eyelid when asked to do ridiculously silly things in public. Group or herd psychology assuages all doubts. I guess that is why Nietzsche abhorred the Herd so much —  lacking any individual will and living by group instincts, the democratic will to render everyone equal in mediocrity.I reel with constant reminders of that Nietzschean epiphany here !

In recapitulation, I would just say that although I feel even more committed to the Mission than before, coming here has made me realize the number of ways you should not go about doing it. The people you should not have in the team, the mentality you should not promote, the institutionalized idealism you should fight against and the spark that you should seek to preserve.

As Gandalf once said, ” It has begun. The great battle of this age is upon us. ”  We are still engaged in skirmishes. The battle is yet to begin.

Gibran-ic Conundrums.

I have been reading Kahlil Gibran . There are two standard reactions to this statement —

a.) Are you in love/wasting away/ or what is wrong ?

b.) The American reaction — “Who is Kahlil Gibran ? ”

The answer to the first question is “Not yet/Seriously, no/ Why do things have to be wrong if I read Gibran ?” . And I do not reply to Americans, as a matter of personal-mental-hygiene. (see postscript)

So I have had the pleasure of being exposed to some of Gibran’s terse verses and meandering prose. All very insightful. The problem seems to be that, in spite of thinking that I am such a reflective, introspective, smart, <insert-appropriate-eulogic-adjective> young lad, I seem to have no clue as to what Gibran means. And that happens quite a few times. It is almost unnerving. I feel that it is because of my lack of “experiential wisdom”, “not-having-lived-life-enough-phenomenon”. Some things must be felt before they can be understood.

And so, it is with trepidation and in spite of almost-violent-demonstrations by several factions of my mind (who insist that this tyranny towards our beloved Ego shall not go un-protested), that I invite readers and interested clever people to help me interpret Gibran. I shall provide some brief passages which have troubled me, and give my anaemic interpretations of the same. Help, O Wise readers !

This is from the book — Sand and Foam.

Once I saw the face of a woman, and I beheld all her children not yet born. And a woman looked upon my face and she knew all my forefathers, dead before she was born.

Does he mean that a woman understands a man and his past while a man can predict the future ? Female intuition and the emotional intelligence that women have, help them understand a man and how he came into his present condition (his past, his evolution) very well, whereas a man, with his rational judgement, can sense what direction the woman’s future will take. I know he sounds sexist. And is this related to the mysterious concept of love, in which case, I am clueless. On second thoughts, it is definitely, love. Got you, Gibran !

Another one : ” Give me silence and I will outdare the night. ” How does the night dare you ? Is the silence of the mind more powerful than the silence of the night ?  (pertinent query –What about the silence of the lambs ? No one can out-dare Anthony Hopkins.)  So here Gibran seems to be craving for mental peace and solitude, I think. The pensive silence, which is the progenitor of great achievement and profound understanding. I cannot go any further with the rhetoric.

The next one is beautiful.

Remembrance is a form of meeting. Forgetfulness is a form of freedom. ”   I understand this well. Thanks to Milan Kundera and his book of “laughter and forgetting”.

The prose passage below seems very apposite to our routine lives, with our inadequate relationships and our miserable friends —

On my way to the Holy City I met another pilgrim and I asked him “Is this indeed the way to the Holy City ?” And he said, “Follow me and we will reach the Holy City in a day and a night. “

And I followed him for many days, yet we did not reach the Holy City. And what was to my surprise he became angry with me because he had misled me.” 

I have only lived a short life, but I see this happening all the time. People blame others for imitating them, following in their stead. Any thoughts.

I shall end with a rather profound passage —

My house says to me, ” Do not leave me, for here dwells your past.” And the road says to me, “Come and follow me, for I am your future. ”

And I say to both, ” I have no past, nor have I a future. If I stay here, there is a going in my staying; and if I go there is a staying in my going. Only Love and Death change all things. ” 

Clearly there is a conflict between the desire to cling to the past in comfort, nostalgia, out of the fear of the unknown, while at the same time, there is a thrill to the idea of novel experiences, newer pleasures in the future. How will this conflict be resolved ? Gibran denies both. The present matters. And he says that whatever choice he takes — his staying is also a going (into the past) and his going is also a staying (I don’t know how) . And Love crops up again. What is this business of love, that changes everything ? I can tentatively guess that it brings about a calmness, a feeling that you are beyond reproach, above judgement — other than in the eyes of your lover. The past, the future and their querulous demands cease to matter. Just this moment. Entwined and in love.

Is there any other interpretation ?  I am curious.

The readers who can help me navigate these choppy Gibran-ic waters shall earn my ever-lasting gratitude. This gratitude, unfortunately, is an ineffable thing — it does not buy you the nice holiday you have been looking forward to.

Have fun.

P.S. To any American readers who stumbled upon this : There is nothing personal to the jibe above. I just lose a little bit of respect for Americans when I see Thomas Friedman writing op-eds every week, and Bill O’ Reilly, of the “tide comes in, tide goes out” fame and Rick Santorum, especially. Chomsky-fans, Colbert-watchers and all intelligent people can blissfully ignore me !