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Friday, July 5, 2024


On Political Correctness
I am only nominally on Facebook because it is now like a crowded country market place where there is not much of interest left for you . Obtrusive hawkers hard sell you things you hate or could not be bothered about. Complete strangers solicit your time and attention to “like” what they purvey, you are conscripted to random groups and then get bombarded with invitations to join their activity. Your time on Facebook is no longer your own, you are drawn in a situation you had never opted for . So a couple of days ago , or may be a couple of weeks or months ago, who cares , when the Facebook threw up a ‘memory’ of an old post , in a rare departure from norm , I shared it on ‘Facebook ’ . It was not such a soul stirring post . Someone called it “wicked” and there were a few titters .That was that. Then comes the Facebook political correctness police, removing the post and reprimanding me for violating community standards . I tried to repost it for reference but I think it has been snuffed out of existence .What could one do about it, for theirs is the kingdom! It was my fantasy to set up a debate between my two women friends, equally cerebral , equally articulate , but diametrically opposed in their views and ideologies and sit back , like a lady up in the pavilion , and watch them slug it out. It enjoyed a few years uneventful existence on Facebook. It was kosher when FB dug out the memory urging me ‘share’ it , but by the time I shared it , the lexicon of “woke” taboos had expanded in those few days to encompass it as a taboo .
That is when I said to myself : enough is enough. Facebook has gone too far, way too far in its “wokism”. The( PC ) political correctness police are now all over the turf .You have to constantly watch out what you say and yet you may end up saying something that you ought not have said because the “woke” never sleeps; he /she /it /LGBTQ or whatever alphabet soup they are into , keep inventing and adding something new to the lexicon of political correctness. Those of us who are not card carrying members realise our gaffe only after we have committed it . Sentiments and norms that travel under the name of political correctness are now lurching down the lunatic lane. It is time to call them out .
Every day in our quotidian lives we are faced with a situation where on important matters of concern we refrain from expressing our true feelings. In a hierarchy of silences, the silence imposed by dictates of political correctness is the most dangerous and corrosive. What Laing calls “sanity today” is perhaps akin to indoctrination: inner feelings are sacrificed to correct beliefs, and becoming a recognizable member of a group is the overriding aim. He pictures a real person with an “inner personal life hidden behind an ideology.”
But this, as is evident , is not silence born out of paucity of thoughts, not because you having nothing to say , this silence represents, what Tim Morrison, the Black Nobel Laureate calls the “tongue suicide” of intelligent thinking minds, those who have been forced to adopt a politically correct stance, for fear of being cancelled. Political correctness and rational discourse are incompatible ideals. Free expression is an absolute; seeking to balance it is to destroy it. In that sense of the term political correctness saps the spirit of democracy , which is even otherwise being murdered on an hourly basis. The rise and rise of political correctness has seen the decline and free fall of intellectual honesty in public discourse.
We grew up in the late 6os and early seventies, much before we received Slavoj Zizek’ wholesome advice of bonding with that “wonderful sense of shared obscene solidarity.” We were innocent and we could swap obscenities and remarks with women friends . We had not heard of sexism and sexist but nevertheless we were never lacking in respect for women . But today any departure from the official vocabulary in addressing the “person” would invite the reprimand of being a cis gendered Hindu male chauvinist begot.” For the nouvau admis( Cis gender “means most people who are assigned female at birth identify as girls or women, and most people who are assigned male at birth identify as boys or men. These people are cisgender (or cis).”Political correctness is galloping away like the Fifth Horseman of Apocalypse into an abyss of jargon and gibberish .
While we are it we may remind ourself the origin of political correctness. The story may be apocryphal but there is enough recorded evidence that Lenin had raised lying to a state of religion, and then, unofficially , adopted lying as the religion of the state . When confronted “Comrade, your statement is factually incorrect.” Lenin, reportedly, said “Yes, it is. But it is politically correct.” Lenin is dead but Leninism lives on, Lenin’s ways of thinking continues to spread gathering more and more followers, especially among students and academics who go to elite colleges and universities. The intellectual marines have landed and planted the flag of political correctness firmly . Salute the standard or stay silent .

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

The Metaphysics of Politics

In individual political events one begins to perceive the eternal verities of life. In wake of the return of the native the mystical couplet which says, “Where does my mind find infinite bliss? Like the proverbial bird, it takes flight from the deck of a ship only to return to the ship”, came unbidden to my mind. The stream of association flowed unabated, like a river in spate. An insight of rare vintage dispelled the dialectical darkness (does metaphysical disquisition automatically generate alliteration?) and all was light. Gautama, the Buddha, one of the greatest of men in the Indian tradition described himself as Tathagata. The word Tathagata admits of two meanings, depending on which way you de- couple the word. Read as Tatha-gata it would mean “thus he has gone”. But as tatha-agata the meaning would change “thus he has come”. Arrival and departure, coming and going, these are all tricks played by the illusory nature of our perception. Great leaders are beyond the tawdry records kept by political innkeepers. Those who are wise could foresee the event foretold. It was the veil of Maya which hid this fact from our eyes.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

बैठे ठाले। ( व्यंग्य ) मिल गया है कोड़ा ,बस चाहिए जीन लगाम और घोडा

बैठे ठाले। ( व्यंग्य )
मिल गया है कोड़ा ,बस चाहिए जीन लगाम और घोडा
मैंने कथा , कहानी , किस्से, काल्पनिक उपन्यास , आदि पढ़ना बहुत पहले छोड़ दिया है. दिल बहलाने के लिए मैं अक्सर उच्च सरकारी पदाधिकारियों या अपने प्रिय राजनेताओं द्वारा घोषित निजी संपत्ति का व्योरा देख लेता हूँ. एक पुरानी फ़िएट मोटर कार ११०० स्क्वायर फ़ीट का एक फ्लैट , पत्नी के ११२ ग्राम के सोने के जेवर , बैंक में ६४०२ रुपये , हाँथ में ८९९ रुपये की नकदी। यह सब पढ़कर मुझे वही आनंद सस्ते में प्राप्त हो जाता है जो अन्य लोगों को क्रिएटिव फिक्शन पढ़ने से होता है.
बैंक से पैसे लेकर उड़नछू हो गए महान विभूतियों की सूची का नियमित पाठ करना भी मुझे बहुत भाता है.ईस्ट इंडिया कंपनी में लूट ,पाट, शोषण , धोखा धड़ी से अकूत धन कमाकर कंपनी बहादुर के लोग इंग्लैंड में बाकी जिंदगी नवाबों की शान शौकत से गुज़iरते थे। हमारे उद्यमियों द्वारा अंग्रेज़ो द्वारा स्थापित इस महान परम्परा के निर्वाह से मुझे बहुत प्रसन्नता होती है पर उस लिस्ट में किसी बिहारी का नाम न देखकर मैं बहुत हताश हो जाता हूँ। न जाने मुझे ऐसा क्यों ऐसा लगने लगता है कि ब अक्षर ही अभिशप्त हैं। ब से बेवकूफ, ब से बुड़बक,बांगड़,बकलोल, बलबल ,बताह , बउल, बौड़ाह , बकचोंधर , बम्बड़, बुद्धू, बैल, और भी बहुत सारे विशेषण हैं जिनकी चर्चा यहाँ नहीं की जा सकती। दुर्भाग्य से ब से बिहार भी होता है। अतः वाणी और वांग्मय में प्रचलित धारणाओं में बिहार के साथ ये विशेषण भी जुड़ गए। ब से बकरी भी होती है. बिहार के बारे में संभवतः सबसे सभ्य और गैर अपमानजनक उक्ति है कि बिहारी बकरी की तरह निरीह और सीधे होते हैं। मैं अपने शोध से इस निष्कर्ष पर पहुँचा हूँ कि बिहारी और बकरी इन दो शब्दों के युग्मिकरण का श्रेय बहुत हद तक , एक और सिर्फ एक विद्यालय को जाता है. इस विद्यालय के पास आउट दुनिया भर में अपने अपने क्षेत्रों में शीर्षस्थ पदों पर हैं। सही मायने में वे बिहारी एलीट हैं. परन्तु एलीट की भी एक सनक होती है. सबसे अलग दिखने की। अभी हाल में इसी विद्यालय के ऐसे दो मित्रों ने मुझे एक महानगरी में वहां के सबसे अच्छे क्लब में रात्रि भोज पर आमंत्रित किया। हम कुल छह जने थी , हम तीन और हम तीनों की पत्नियां। पर रह रह कर उस पॉश क्लब में भी बकरी बाजार में बैठने का आ भास होने लगा। ये दोनों बंधु जीवन भर " मैं " बोलने के लिए कृत संकल्प हैं । हम लोग कभी कभार मौके की नज़ाकत देखते हुए बिहारी ‘हम’ की मर्दानगी को छोड़ " मैं " का लबादा भी ओढ़ लेते है , पर यह पूर्ण रूप से तात्कालिक व्यवस्था होती है. इन कुलीन बिहारियों की गर्दन पर आप तलवार भी रख देंगे तो ये मैं -मियाते ही रहेंगे। अब अगर आप आरा के हैं , या दरभंगा के हैं ,या वैशाली, छपरा, सहरसा, जहानाबाद के हैं तो आप कितना भी यत्न कर लें , आप के "मैं" के पीछे का झांकता हुआ टोनल इन्फ्लेक्शन - रेघाना , र और ड़ का भेद भाव मिटाना , बिहार से अपनी दूरी बनाने के लिए स का परित्याग करके श के शरण में चले जाना - आप की पोल खोल देगा। एलिट की बात तो छोड़ ही दीजिये , स्नॉबरी उनको शोभा देता है , ये साले टूट पूंजिये बिहारी भी देश के कोने कोने में रिक्शा ठेला चलते हुए ये नवाबी शौक पाल लेते हैं.
आज से बीस पच्चीस तीस साल पहले की बात है. मैं अपनी पत्नी एवं बच्चों के साथ दिल्ली एयरपोर्ट बहुत देर रात गए फ्लाइट से उतरा। उतनी रात को मैं अपने किसी मित्र या परिजन को डिस्टर्ब करना उचित नहीं समझा। दिल्ली एयरपोर्ट पर उस कड़ाके की ठण्ढ में बहुत मनुहार करने पर एक टैक्सी मिली. बीच रात में ड्राइवर ऊँघ न जाय इसलिए मैंने आगे की सीट पर बैठ कर उससे बात चीत का सिलसिला शुरू किया। लिहाज़ा मेरा पहल प्रश्न था कि उन्होंने दिल्ली पर उपकार करने के लिए किस ग्राम , नगर , राज्य को सूना किया है. जैसे ही उन्होंने मुंह खोला बिहारीपन की चिरपरिचित गंध हवा में तैर गयी हांलाकि उन्होंने इसपर पश्चिमी उत्तरप्रदेश का इत्र छिड़क कर मुझे भरमाने की कोशिश की थी . एक बिहारी दूसरे बिहारी को कुत्ते की घ्राण शक्ति से सूंघ लेता है क्यूंकि हम कही भी जाँय हमारी अंडरडॉग की विरासत छाया की तरह हमारे साथ चलती है. बिहारी भाई का बिहारीपन अचानक खुल कर सामने आ गया जब हौज खास के पास गाडी लगभग उछल पड़ी. क्षमा याचना के स्वर में उसने कहा, "का करें सर, सरक बहुत ख़राब है. " एयरपोर्ट पर मुझे बाहर तक सी आई एस ऍफ़ पदाधिकारी गण छोड़ने आये थे इसलिए उसे ये मालूम था कि मैं कोई हैसियत वाला आदमी हूँ वर्ना गाडी पटक कर भी माफ़ी कौन मांगता है? बहर हाल मैंने मौका ताड़ा और उसे धो डाला। " बिहारी बहुरूपिये , ये तो बताओ कि तुम दरभंगा , मधुबनी , सहरसा कहाँ के हो।" व्यंग्य वाणों से विद्ध सम्पाती तुरत धरती पर आ गिरा। मधेपुरा जिला के सिंघेश्वर थाने के गम्हरिया गाँव के रहने वाले भोला राउत ने उस दिन आधी रात में अपनी पूरी आत्मा कथा सुना डाली।
, ब से बकैत भी होता है और बिहार भारी बकैत होते हैं। यह पोस्ट किसी और आशय से लिख रहा था और क्या क्या कह डाला। मूल मुद्दे पर मैं अब आ रहा हूँ.
बिहार में एक तालाब की रातों रात चोरी हो जाने की घटना से आह्लादित होकर मैंने अंग्रेजी में फ़ेस बुक पर एक पोस्ट लिख डाला। "A bridge was stolen in Bihar . Now a pond has been stolen too. Wait till we steal a whole ocean so that we become a coastal state and then our economic growth would be unstoppable. We are almost there . "
मैने सोचा था साल के अंत में ऐसी धमाकेदार खबर से हम बिहारियों का मनोबल बढ़ेगा और अपने सुनहरे भविष्य के प्रति आस्था जागेगी . लेकिन अधिकांश पढ़े लिखे लोगों की प्रतिक्रिया देखकर बिहार की बदहाली का राज़ समझ में आ गया. कई लोगों ने बड़ी ही कुटिल , व्यंग्यात्मक शैली में कुछ कुछ लिख डाला। हम बिहारियों को धनोपार्जन के इतिहास के बारे में कुछ खास नहीं मालूम है। असल में बिहार का यह भी दुर्भाग्य रहा है की बुद्धसे लेकर गाँधी तक जितने इस किस्म के महापुरुष हुए हैं उन्होंने अपने आड़े टेढ़े आईडिया को टेस्ट करने के लिए बिहार को ही चुना. कोई अहिंसा की बात करने लगा , कोई सहिष्णुता ,कोई संतोष की। नतीजा यह हुआ कि विश्व के सबसे महान चिंतक पियरे जोसेफ प्रूदों द्वारा दिए गया मूल मन्त्र All Property Is Theft पर कसी का ध्यान ही नहीं गया ।
बिहारी बुद्धू हैं इस बात का इससे बड़ा प्रमाण क्या हो सकता है पूरा बिहार आई ए इस / आई पी एस / आई आई टी जैसे मरीचिका के पीछे भागता रहता है। इतना टैलेंट किस काम का जो सिर्फ , कुली कबाड़ी , आई ए ऐस , आई पी ऐस निर्मित करे लेकिन एक नीरज मोदी , माल्या , चौकसी , पारेख नहीं पैदा कर सके? इनमें से एक- एक हज़ारों आई ए एस और आई पी एस को मुनीम , कारपरदाज़ की तरह बहाल कर सकता है. नैतिकता के कुछ ठीकदारों ने धनोपार्जन के सबसे कारगर तरीको -चोरी चकारी -के खिलाफ ऐसा माहौल तैयार कर दिया कि लोग इस मामले में पिछड़ गए। मेरे एक पुराने शिष्य है , उनकी वर्दी उतर गयी लेकिन सेवा निवृत्त हो जाने के बाद भी चोरी भ्रष्टाचार का जिक्र होते ही वो "जागते रहो" की टेर लगाने लगते हैं. देर आयद दुरुस्त आयद। यह बात बिहारियों को समझ में आ गयी है कि धन सम्पदा एकत्रित करने का एकमात्र जरिया है चोरी।. लेकिन बिहार का दुर्भाग्य है कि बिहारियों की टांग बिहारी ही खींचते हैं। रेल लाइन की चोरी, पुल की चोरी ,तालाब की चोरी आदि खबरों पर इतनी हाय तौबा मचती है कि बेचारी नव उद्यमियों का मनोबल टूट जाता है. आप मेरे पिछले पोस्ट को ही देखिये बहुत लोगों ने अपने हर्षोल्लास को इमोजी के माध्यम से व्यक्त किया वहीँ कुछ लोगों ने बिहार के नैतिक स्खलन पर बयान दे डाला।
बहुत पहले किसी मनीषी ने बिहार की बदहाली का सबसे सटीक कारण बताया था, बिहार एक लैंड लॉक्ड राज्य है, तटीय राज्य नहीं है . इसकी गरीबी को इसका भाग्य समझकर स्वीकार करना होगा. जिस तरह भगीरथ स्वर्ग से गंगा लाये थे कुछ बिहारियों ने क्रूर भौगोलिक नियति से निबटने का संकल्प लिया है कि वे अपनी उद्यम से इसे तटीय राज्य बनाकर दम लेंगे. ये छोटी मोटी चोरियां उसी महत प्रयास का हिस्सा है , ड्राई रन. हमारे बिहारी भाई इसी आशय से मुंबई , चेन्नई , विजयवाड़ा , कोच्चि आदि जगह पर लाखों के संख्या में चुपचाप कार्य रत हैं। एक दिन जैसे तालाब गायब हो गया मुंबई का अरब सागर नखोज हो जायेगा। गंगा को हमने नमामि करके पटना से दूर भेज ही दिया है , मरीन ड्राइव बनकर तैयार है , चौपाटी , जुहू पर पागलों की तरह भीड़ लगाने वालों की फ़ौज बहाल हो गयी है. अब बस बम्बई के अरब सागर को पटना के मरीन ड्राइव के किनारे लगा देना है। अब वो दिन दूर नहीं है. पटना मुंबई होगा। मिल गया है कोड़ा, बस चाहिए जीन लगाम और घोडा.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


The Bihari : A Sucker For All Seasons
V S Naipaul in his Nobel Prize address observed that his novel The Mimic Men was not about mimics, it was about colonial men mimicking the condition of manhood, men who had grown to distrust everything about themselves. It shows how the powerless lie about themselves, how they lie to themselves about their own condition because lying is the only resource that they can command. The fact of the matter is that Bihar has been reduced to a colony for the rest of the country , catering to its burgeoning needs for cheap, uncomplaining labour .It brings up the bottom of any index of development and prosperity and yet the only way Biharis can rid themselves of their shame and ignominy is through fantasy. Bambai Mein Ka Ba, a dramatised rap , is our own version of The Mimic Men. In a classic case of lying to oneself about one’s own condition , a migrant sniggers at Mumbai for its mean, brutish life by making wild claims of prosperity and bluster of well-being that the migrant Bihari has left behind in his native Bihar .
But it is not only the powerless in Bihar who thus cope with conditions of poverty , mal development and lack of job opportunities . Even governments wedded to the concept of social justice, enjoying absolute power for more than three decades , are no less prone to fantasy and filibustering; by quoting figures to prove Bihar is doing just fine, thank you very much. I know I can be beaten down on figures , electricity, roads , hospitals , social empowerment, quality education are all available to the Biharis in some cuckoo land . But figures can be fudged , figures can be debated , inflated , manipulated , so let us deal with the corporeal , concrete facts- the plight of migrant labour from Bihar .The issue is topical, several Biharis are trapped in the tunnel that collapsed in Uttarakhand .
Uncertainty and vulnerability are the foundations of all political power: it is against those twin, vagaries of the human condition, against the fear and anxiety that they tend to generate, that the modern state promises to protect its subjects through planned strategies of economic growth . It is this promise that commands its citizens’ obedience and electoral support and keeps faith in the democratic hypothesis alive . For more than thirty years , Governments committed to social justice have been winning the trust of its voters with the same regularity as it has been betraying their trust in it ability or willingness to create avenues for employment.
According to an informed estimate close to two million Biharis migrate to distant states because of poverty and lack of opportunities. The last time I checked up, in the after math of Covid the only working data available were the NSSO figures up to 2007/8 as later figures were yet to be sanitised . Biharis don’t even constitute real numbers , they are imaginary numbers .
Seasonally Biharis travel – are transported like human cargo in overflowing trains- to every nook and corner of the country to satisfy the demands of the labour markets. Biharis are game for any job, from the most menial and hazardous to most intellectually demanding , because beggars cannot be choosers.
On a recent visit to Kashmir I found a Bihari selling golgappas at Betab valley in distant Pahalgam, another one was there, manning an ice cream cart near the Dal Lake in Srinagar . On a visit to the High Altitude War School, Gulmarg, I ran into some one who suspiciously liked look a Bihari because of his Khaini break . I fell back from the team that was escorting us to the museum to confirm my suspicion . He was indeed from Bihar and ,what cut the knife closer into the flesh , he hailed from a place which must be 15 20 kilometres from Ara which is where I come from .He was part of a detail which was stocking up constructions materials and other stores and supplies , preparing for the snow bound winter in coming months . I congratulated myself on my ability to spot one of my own kind from a distance – an underdog sniffing the presence of another underdog .
These human flotsam are in a continuous state of drift, they can be found all over the country . Wherever cheap and uncomplaining labour is required you will find Biharis in great demand . With such uniform distribution all across the country the law of probability ensures that whenever man made crisis or natural calamity strikes , it is bound to claim a couple of Biharis. Later in the evening at Srinagar , during the course of dinner I learnt that sometime back somewhere near Gulmarg four people were struck by lightning, one of them was a migrant labour from Bihar. They have been coming here , for the last several years and even the worst phase of terror held no terror for them. They are just everywhere , like hardy weeds, who will not die of sheer hard times , no matter how hard .
These waifs are victims of double jeopardy . Left out of the scope of state provisions at both ends – the “source” and the “destination” they discovered this to their horror during the nation-wide lockdown in wake of Covid 19. It was the moment of truth for the migrant workers. Suddenly so much indispensable manpower which had kept the mighty heart of Indian urban conglomerations beating became not only so much disposable waste but it was felt that it was dangerous to have them around. The much awaited state intervention for planned and regulated movement - either by the host States, home State or the Central government – was too little and too late in arriving . Staying put meant starvation and worse as all modes of affordable travel were suspended . So hordes and hordes of them chanced their luck and took to desperate measures of going on their own .
Thus began the long march, the kind that even us old timers had not seen . On occasion these migrants undertook a journey of 2000 kilometres on foot . There were epic stories of determination and filial devotion, like this girl carrying her father on her bike all the way to Darbhanga from Noida . In conditions of complete moral melt down and social chaos we came across demeaning stories of Biharis afflicted by hunger, of being reduced to mendicants on people’s charity . The media had a feast of its lifetime reporting on migrants’ plight, degradation and stories of suffering .
Layer after layer of the vestment of Bihari pride frayed, became a patch- work of rags, until the migrant labour crisis blew away even the fig leaf and Bihar stood in its entire nakedness and vulnerability . But the very next season Bihari migrant, dusted and done up , was yet again ready to be carted to those heartless lands which had discarded it earlier as objects of urban consumption which was past the use by date. Of course this time round they were escorted in airconditioned buses , some tasted the thrill of air travel for the first time. But again without any guarantees, without any insurance against such contingencies !The the lessons were learnt and forgotten quickly by all concerned- the victim , the callous employer , and the care- do - little supplier of cheap labour . The history of this infamous episode is written in invisible ink . ( Excerpted from a long writeup )

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Sharing an old article which was published in Sunday Observer and Times of India, more than twenty five, thirty years ago. Video cassette recorders were quite the rage in those days as this article reminds me.
Revenge Now Reason Later
The office going creature, a sub-variety of the species Homo Sapiens,is seriously disjointed during long vacations. His biological clock, attuned as it is to the office- lunch- home- office syndrome becomes seriously flawed, once this routine is interrupted for any significant periods of time. He falls into a time warp where time seems to have been eternally dilated. Condemned to sit it out he keeps re-examining his watch, looking for signs of disrepair. By training and temperament, he becomes accustomed to spending the best part of his day working in the office which consists of creating more work for everyone around up and down. The emptiness in his life can be peopled only with files, endless palaver and gossip about matters concerning this activity. Leisure is something he has not learned to cope with. No wonder extension of service is so much coveted for its own sake in government circles.
Thanks to my children, who are keen video buffs, I was obliged to sit through two full-length Hindi films recently. The films were so similar in theme and content that all I have retained about the viewings is an undifferentiated . impression of blood and gore ,and a gloomy feeling that society is somehow coming unhinged.
Inddrajeet and Pratikar, the two films in question, had rape and revenge ( as the wages of the above act) as their theme. Rape and murder are not unfortunate calamities that affect the even tenor of life in these films. They are the normal common, workaday activities of young men who have nothing else to do by way of a vocation.
The norms of a civilized society and the appurtenances of the law-enforcing machinery are depicted on screen only to emphasize that they have become totally effete and irrelevant. In fact, the two films depict the police as accomplices, even active perpetrators of crime.
Cinematically, we have traveled far from the days when the cop chased the criminals and the heroine, and the audience empathized with every bit of his adventures. In a curious reversal of roles it is the police who must also be vanquished in order to ensure that the wheels of retributive justice travel full circle. The established apparatus of the law can no longer be relied upon to secure justice.
In Indrajeet the action proper begins only after the hero, Amitabh Bachchan, has hung up his gloves after a long and distinguished service in the police force. Impatient with colleagues who connive with evil doers, he also invites the hostility of a powerful politician criminal combine. Along the way he acquires an orphan whom he has brought up as his own daughter.
Indrajeet’s past deeds-trying to fight crime et al haunt his present. The gangster police combine abet the rape and murder of his daughter and also the killing of his son-in-law. Indrajeet’s effort to secure justice are bound to fail because of the obvious-police indifference. He then sets about clinically and methodically eliminating the assailants. In the last scene with upraised hands, he remonstrates on the propriety and ethical validity of his deeds with god himself and God himself appears to be on a sticky wicket.
In Pratikar the foster-mother-teacher (Rakhee), demands that her foster son, Krishna (Anil Kapoor) finish off the rapists and killer of her daughter. The long lost son of the heroine makes an appearance as a police officer in the latter part of the film. He becomes an impediment in the execution of the designs of Krishna as he would like the law to take its own course. But soon the police officer son throws away the fig leaf of pretence and enthusiastically joins in the murder and blood letting of the rapist murders. The not so subtle message is that the police, howsoever well intentioned, just cannot deliver the goods.
The standard finale to the films of former times, in which the police appeared in the last scene to collect the debris and escort the criminals to the doghouse has also been dispensed with. Are we to presume that society no longer believes in the efficacy, utility or validity of the legal system?
The police of course has been the butt of many a joke. Inefficiency occasional deviations from sobriety and a marked tendency to have their palms greased were accepted and well recognized stereotypes. But relief and redressal were still obtainable from the force at some level or the other. And if things got a bit too tangled the dependable and incorruptible CBI chap could be relied upon to make a dramatic entry and flash his I-card just when it seemed that all was lost. The audience could leave the theater satisfied and reassured at the affirmation of the victory of good over evil the law above the lawless.
It is this familiar sense of the ultimate victory of the forces of righteousness that seems to have dissolved over the years. With brutal and inexorable logic these films demonstrate the inadequacy of the legal method. The overdose of violence in intent in gestures and in deeds has a curious nihilistic tinge. The ethical dilemma is resolved, if at all, in favour of untrammeled violence.
These exaggerated themes of revenge and reparation have been with me ever since I saw the two films and I have been turning them repeatedly in my mind seeking the springs of their motivation; investigating the source of their visceral appeal on the masses; trying to piece together the logic of vendetta.
Are the films unrealistic and grossly exaggerated examples of ritual violence or do they in fact, reflect what is taking place all around as? After all art-even such an unashamedly escapist art form as commercial cinema-must draw its sustenance its themes and experiential content from life. The continued success of such films at the box office does indicated a strong measure of audience support. This has dangerous implication. As John Ruskin once remarked “Tell me what you like and I’ll tell you what you are”
One can, indeed visualize many scenarios where macho male posturing and senseless violence on the silver screen melts into the real thing mass killing of innocent railway passengers, pilgrims or down-town shoppers. To by standers, they may appear as acts of senseless insane violence but somewhere, some group or the other is bound to claim responsibility for these killings, dubbing it as an act of revenge against injustice.
Streets reverberate with the call to the faithful to vindicate and avenge a wrong done unto them in historical time . Every available square inch of wall space in cities and villages is taken up with scrawling vows to build the temple at the designated place. Policemen and their relatives are bumped off for alleged excesses; Sikhs perish in pogroms calculated to display the adoration felt by followers for a slain leader. All of us are on a tight schedule, duty bound to seek revenge or reparation, singly or in groups irrespective of consequences, uncritically embracing the most fantastic causes and grievances. Revenge now, reason later!
The motives for revenge are just about as logical or as full of contradictions as the patchwork themes in commercial cinema. The idea is to have some action-in cinema, with an eye on the box office; in public life, for personal influence, for office for vote banks. The leading characters in cinema and politics could do a trade off of their activities. The public man weaves a spell, mesmerizes and converts followers by his stratagems, by his oratory, by his capacity to manipulate the atavistic fears of insecurity by inflaming irrational desires and passions he has you by the throat. The thespian achieves the same result by his spellbinding performance. He forces you into a voluntary suspension of disbelief.
While the performance lasts, both appear as convincing and as real. Is that why men from the world of cinema are increasingly being welcomed in the sphere of politics and are finding themselves perfectly at home? The whole world is a stage after all and the sphere of public affairs is just another locale for another magnum opus.
At a time when revenge is the leitmotif of all our preoccupations, in cinema as in life, it is difficult to believe that only half a century ago, in this country, lived a man who shook the mightiest of empires about him it was said: “Scarce will the generations to come believe that such a man walked in flesh and blood”. The memory of his deeds, his vision of a deeply compassionate society ricochet on our minds preoccupied with that single obsession revenge in Ayodhya, in Rudrapur, in Srinagar or Sangrur. The whole nation is in the throes of this all consuming frenzy, each one of us has to enact his own little part in a complicated plot which is just a variation on the same theme.
Meanwhile in New Delhi, dignitaries visit Rajghat to pay their tributes to the man who was the apostle of nonviolence under the shadow of menacing Black Cat commandos with their weapons on the ready. It is just as well that Gandhi’s three monkeys are stone deaf, purblind and preternaturally dumb.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Helpless before history

Helpless Before History !
Let me tell you upfront: I am not a right winger. I am not a left winger either. I may also add that I am not a Muslim hater nor am I a Hindu baiter. I was not at the hot gates of Ayodhaya wielding crow bars and axes, nor was I leading the lynch mob clamouring for 'death to Kamlesh Tewari ' or rejoicing at the beheading of Kanhaiya Lal. The grief was mine, on all those occasions. So was the opprobrium for saying so. Painfully aware that to be ideologically uncertain in times of single truth constituencies is to court the enmity of both groups. I have all but given up joining debates where front-line fighters in the mental wars of our times are slugging it out. The gesture would be quixotic. We are a society which now lives by an old ditty that I came across during the Black Panther movement , “They say in Harlem Country / There are no neutrals here / Whose side are you on? / Whose side are you on?”
This question was put to me a couple of days back for the umpteenth time, whose side am I on ? I am on the side of my country. Till yesterday to be an Indian in India was the end of the matter. But unfortunately the times are out of joint ,that country has ceased to exist. Now you have to be the right kind of Indian. You have to love the authorised icons in a certain measure and you have to hate with the right degree of intensity objects and people who are not of the right kind. Between loving and hating there is no half way house. But hate does not go unrequited and in recent times there has been a frightening and competitive expansion of trained ignorance and malicious feelings . A sudden spread of impenetrable moral and spiritual darkness has engulfed us all, where you can no longer say right from wrong, but the pall of darkness provides hate mongers on both sides the cover to do their thing. They are inflicting by turns , one wound at a time , an wound for an wound , drawing blood for blood. I dodge the draft . That leaves me – and many other people like me – shipwrecked, stranded, marooned . Stateless refugees, castaways, drifting aimlessly, unwelcome at either shores because we cannot show our papers of allegiance. We are the new boat people.
PS :There is a context for these musings which I will share some other time

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The book has had a chequered history. Finding a publisher subdued my desire for a while and stifled my authorial ambition somewhat. Then a publisher materialised out of the blue – I later realised he was a small time con man , possibly a plagiariser or quite simply a prestidigitator. He praised the manuscript to the skies, offered to publish the book pronto and then promptly disappeared- back into the blue. The collection of stories written over so many years remained in a state of suspended animation. In my own estimation the worth of the unpublished text waxed and waned . When I looked up to the models that I have admired, the great story tellers, peering down on me from the shelves in my library, I had an impulse to consign the fruits of my protracted labour to the trash bin.
My close family pooled whatever talent they had , from proof reading , editing, laying the book cover . I explained the situations to the renowned cartoonist Pawan jee of Pawan toon fame, and gave him the quips in the bubble and he cobbled some illustrations . The book was ready . But that was not the end of the journey .
I have been eager to get to this stage where I could talk about my book. But now that it is here before me, in fact it has been with me for quite some time now , I am overwhelmed by a growing sense of terror. In my own eyes it looks like an act of “incredible effrontery”, in Saul Bellow’s word. Offering one’s book to the reading public, submitting the fruits of one’s labour to the scrutiny of an audience, one can never be sure of what the reader wants, one can never be sure whether all readers want the same thing. Jean Paul Sartre devoted one whole book to the question : For whom do we write? And yet the question is still as open, as it ever was , for everyone who dares write. For whom do I write ? I write for people like myself , for kindred citizens, befuddled by the system, lost in this maze that is both maddening and easily lends itself to mockery .
Power is portable magic. It almost certainly transforms the holder of power but the exercise of power is a comic spectacle to behold. Achieved either by force or held through delegation, or deceitful manipulation, power manifests itself in much the same fashion but leads to hilarity in different ways . To see how easily the elite can be made to deny their ideals, to bend themselves to the purposes of power , to watch the coy and cautious moves of the civil society toward accommodation makes you laugh till you begin to cry .
Intellectuals , generally speaking , to whom the task to speak truth to power has been traditionally assigned , have become complicit with the violent realities of the situation, have crept into bed with power. Truth deflates the bloated ego of power like nothing else but telling the truth has never carried more risk.
“We only joke (about things) to avoid an issue with someone,” said Robert Frost. ‘Humour is the most engaging cowardice’. So it has fallen to the jesters of the world to take down the Humpty Dumpties’, toppling them to earth, belly down; to bring the high flyers crashing on terra firma , belly up.
Where is Banana Republic ?Nowhere and everywhere. Banana Republic has lost its historical context which referred to a specific economic and political trope created by and in service of US interests. Kleptocracy, legislators for sale, the phony majesty of the sovereign citizen, intolerance to the stories contrary to officially ordained truth are now the givens in democracies. Even Donald Trump apprehended that we may “become a corrupt banana republic controlled by large donors and foreign governments,”. To lend some comic relief Imran Khan recently bemoaned that his country was turning into a Banana Republic ! The meaning of Banana Republic has been enlarged to include a diminished democracy, a dysfunctional system, a deranged society .
Anchuria , the original banana republic was a fictional country created by O’ Henry , where , “Outside in the shade of the lime-trees the crew chewed sugar cane or slumbered, well content to serve a country that was contented with so little service.” We find a little bit of Anchuria everywhere, every day; in government offices , in banks , in customer care centres , even in the emergency wards of hospitals. When life begins to imitate art, artifice becomes redundant. To joke is to tell the truth and vice versa.
Ten stories linked by the common theme of fatuity - and corruption -of Power, Tales From Banana Republic casts an amused look at those who wield power and the ecosystem that flourishes around them, from the point of view of an observer who is not only outside the system but, in a manner of speaking, suspended somewhere in mid-air. The stories do not lampoon any particular person, certainly not any particular public figure , civil servant or police officer , though they frequently make their appearances in the stories . Dwelling on character traits that are shared by those in power, the Tales From Banana Republic attempts to capture the essence of the grotesque , the quirkiness, even the absurdity, in the contradictory and duplicitous exercise of power. It is some sort of Everyman of power .