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Saturday, September 26, 2020

    The death  of SSR and the Quest For TRP  

Neal Postman said long back, in his book Amusing Ourselves To Death , ‘television is …… most dangerous when its aspirations are high,'. One may add that when it proclaims nobility of motive, it is absolute disaster. TV set out to secure justice for SSR, a very noble aim no doubt. But that justice seems nowhere on the horizon and with every passing day, like images in a hall of mirror, it is receding further away.

The malign, if unintended, consequence of its crusade has left the memory of the man disfigured , a legion of his admirers dismayed ,the lives of those around him, whom he may have loved ,at one time or the other, in tatters , the hitherto unknown details of his private life, his financial dealing , the bitter factitious quarrels of his loved ones at Patna and those at Mumbai are now the subject matter of salacious gossip, prurient scrutiny and idle speculation. A full retrospective on his life, is being played out, 24/7, not as an act of homage to the departed soul , but as successive fixes of ‘pudiya’ for the voyeuristic clientele.The general presumption is that the investigative agencies buckled under prime time pillory, under the plebiscitarian pressure to do something , anything to keep the lynch mob, primed up for revenge by the braying media beast, peaceful and pacified.
Whether SSR was bi polar or not is still being investigated but India itself has been split into a world of bi polar opinion . Even while the official investigation is on rival channels are holding a referendum on whether Rhea is at fault . Half-truths, facts torn out of context to fit particular narratives , half truths that further reinforce partisan beliefs, are driving viewers deeper into fanatically shared opinions. People seem to be living in different worlds of facts and judgments and no dialogue seems to be possible.
Meanwhile Chinese soldiers are breathing fire down our borders, and in their viral avatar as Covid 19 they are raging inland , the economy is tanking , distress and discontent are rising like a tide threatening to engulf the social order but we are busy marshalling arguments and support behind another war being fought on the side lines, between Ms Kangna Ranawat and Ms Rhea Chakraborty. Could George Louis Borges have scripted it better ?

Friday, September 25, 2020


Sushant Singh Rajput - The Revenant Guest During Election Season In Bihar
BJP's Poster Campaign on Sushant Singh Rajput


The cultural cell of the BJP has taken out a poster of a winsome  Sushant Singh Rajput, “Na Bhoole Hain Na Bhoolne Denge”( Neither we have forgotten , nor will we let  others forget)His death, bemoaned as a huge loss is, in fact, a huge gain for the party, both in Bihar and in Maharashtra. While in Bihar the issue is expected to help them exploit Bihari sentiment, in Maharashtra it may rock the boat of its bete noir, the Shiv Sena, a bit. 

From the day a political agitation for investigating SSR’s death originated  in Bihar, one could foresee that Sushant  will be  forced to be a revenant guest,  to  help  the NDA come back to power in the forthcoming assembly  elections in Bihar. Therefore, it is only natural that the twice useful ghost of SSR should be granted, what Jacque Derrida  says , “the right. .to... a hospitable memory...out of a concern for justice.” 

What is a ghost?’ Stephen Dedalus asks in Ulysses, and promptly answers his own question. ‘One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners.’ Not a figure who is entirely unreal, just one who has become a little faint, lacking in physical immediacy.     SSR was not quite as demonstrative about  his Bihari roots, as in the manner of say,  Shatrughan Sinha. He  was certainly not the most recognizable  Bihari   when alive.        But thanks to the never ending campaign(engineered?) of a section of the mainstream media  and  many groups on social network platforms  SSR  has  come to be viewed as the quintessential Bihari genius, cut short in the prime of his career by metropolitan jealousy or the machinations of a deeply entrenched mole acting on behalf of some shadowy mafia. 

The assembly elections in Bihar are  a few weeks away.     When it comes to voting ,  appeal to  the reason of the voters in Bihar  is  pointless.  Illusion is  the key, drama is  the essential  requirement ,  catchy  identarian phrases, startling images, uncompromising and simple, that should occupy his entire  mental space and nullify  the capacity of the mind to think.  The “art of impressing the imagination of crowds is to know at the same time the art of governing them, ”   and governing elites have read  Le Bon with care and with great profit. 

For fifteen years,“social justice,” a fetish under which all sorts of political fantasies and personal ambitions of the supreme RJD leader  were lumped together, but never made explicit, stoked and  sustained  the subaltern enthusiasm . It  helped create some sort  of a generic loyalty of a military kind to the supreme  leader,  ready for the moment when direct action could be taken. Primed by occasional war cries like  Bhura Bal Saf Karo(Eliminate Bhumihars,Rajputs,Brahmans, Lalas,(Kayasths ) ). But the illusion wore off when it was realized that under the garb of ‘social justice’ there marched the more dogged  political morality  of power as a means to self-aggrandizement  and  dynastic ambition. A competitive offer needed to be put in place to outwit the earlier charmer and the deeply alienated  forward caste, still a force to be reckoned with was ready to be charmed , beguiled, enchanted . 

 The successor  NDA government  promised to inaugurate the millennium which  would take care of present miseries  and future problems . It dedicated itself to the task with gusto and Bihar  seemed  to be well on course  to a glorious future but in the absence of a credible opposition and a fawning  media  it gradually  lost steam.  The illusion was  however sustained by means of  emotional stimuli of Bihari pride , and tremendous media  out reach. Together with the accompanying spectre of a return to the nightmare and undifferentiated chaos of the Jungle Raj kept the people interested in the  idea of  Sushahsan.  

The  images of  of the migrant workers,  “the invisible” Biharis , who contribute heavily to the domestic economy by their remittances, undertaking  impossibly long journeys  back home on foot shocked the global imagination. Many of these stragglers were reduced to being  mendicants on  charity of strangers  and it  blew  away even the fig leaf form the already  frayed  vestment of Bihari pride. 

 In this stark setting  the most visible achievements of the government , monuments , museums , mediation centers,  forced the realization that Bihar was so heavily invested in the “past” that our present concerns , woefully inadequate  medical centres and no prospect of getting absorbed in gainful activities at home  seemed to have been neglected . In an atmosphere like this the illusion of  Sushasan  as a  march to  ever more promising future  would  have been  difficult to sustain. “Justice for  SSR”  appears to  have just the right proportion of   sentimentality, generalized grievance and unfocussed resentment  to  anesthetize  the questioning mind.

Whatever the final outcome of the case the pot can at   be  kept boiling till the elections.  After the elections getting rid of a ghost which has served its purpose, would be that much easier, because ghosts leave behind  no  dead bodies, no evidence , set in motion  no official  enquiry . The Biharis would be depended upon to disperse to the four corners of the country in search of jobs, education, health care after having performed their most sacred civic duty.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

देश में व्यक्ति-पूजन का जो दौर चल पड़ा है इस सन्दर्भ में यह तथ्य ओझल हो गया है कि वह व्यक्ति वस्तुततः क्यों पूजित हुआ? हम भारतीयों की तो बस एक ही आराध्या हैँ - भारत माता। जो भारत की अखण्डता की रक्षा करेगा वह हमारी नज़रों में सर्वश्रेष्ठ होगा। जो निजी राजनैतिक स्वार्थ या अपनी छवि धूमिल होने के डर से राष्ट्र के हितों के विरुद्ध कोई निर्णय लेगा , वह चाहे जो भी हो , उसके प्रति हमारी कोई निष्ठां नहीं होगी. यदि देश किसी व्यक्ति में अपनी संपूर्ण आस्था व्यक्त करता है तो वह भी अपने समर्थकों पर विश्वास करे, उन्हें राज़दार बनाये. मैं मान सकता हूँ की समसामयिक परिस्थितियों में भारत चीन से युद्ध नहीं लड़ सकता , इसके लिए अनेक सामरिक एवंअन्य कारण हो सकते हैं परन्तु उसके लिए ऐतिहासिक तथ्यों की बलि चढ़ दी जाय , हमारे जवानों के बलिदान की परिस्थितयों को विवादित कर दी जाय , यह अस्वीकार्य है। यह कहना कि चीन ने अतिक्रमण किया ही नहीं यह अपनी नाकामियों पर पर्दा डालने से विलग आने वाली पीढ़ियों के साथ अन्याय होगा. वीरगर्भा भारत कभी तो निस्स्वार्थ भाव से मातृभूमि पर उत्सर्ग होने वाले नेता पैदा करेगी,कभी तो एक दूसरा मानेकशॉ पैदा होगा। लेकिन जब हम खुद अपना दवा खारिज कर देंगे तो क्या बचा? कल मैंने अपने वाल पर अपनी पीड़ा व्यक्त की थी। १० वर्ष की उम्र में ही ६२ के ज़िल्लत और भयंकर अपमान का दंश झेलने वाली पीढ़ी यह आस लगाए बैठी थी कि शायद हम लोगों के जीवन काल में ही उस अपमान का बदला ले सकें। साथ ही मन के कोने में यह भी आशंका थी की कही और दुर्दिन न देखना पड़े। वह भी देख ही लिया।I

Friday, June 19, 2020

Meditations In The Time Of War

I was a ten-year-old, but the memories of the ‘62 debacle are eidetically etched in my mind ; that feeling of helplessness of the elders, their sense of shame, the silent imprecations, the muted curses in private but dignified poise in public, were a temporal marker in the growth of my consciousness as an Indian. The short war, while it lasted, was an unending season of solemnity and sadness. My father tried to explain to me the enormity of the loss, the depth of our humiliation. I don’t know how much of it sank in me cognitively, but the emotional equivalent seeped through me, as if by a process of osmosis. That moment forever lodged itself like an iron in the soul. My young mind, perhaps in a compensatory behaviour, supported a belief that someday, we will be able to pay back the debt of history.
As I grew up and became wiser in the ways of the world - especially when I became aware of the contretemps of political power play and the metrics of military confrontations - I modified my unstated wish into a more moderate plea: Oh,God, please don’t let us face the same humiliation, at least not in my lifetime.
The recent traumatic events of our soldiers fighting, unarmed, under some weird protocol, against a devious and barbaric enemy, soldiers being clubbed , being pushed off cliffs and dying of hypothermia, though not in same category of misfortunes, are rooted in reasons quite similar. I was reminded of Brigadier Dalwi's lament in The Himalayan Blunder, “This is a record of the destruction of a Brigade without a formal declaration of war”. This time round, at least twenty Indian soldiers died, and many more were injured, in an ‘absurd’ engagement, without so much as a chance for our men to fire a shot - something straight out of an Italo Calvino or Kurt Kusenburg story.
In 1962 we had a Prime Minister who felt more at home strutting on the international stage, peddling his peculiar nostrums of non-alignment and Panchsheel to enhance his personal standing in the world. Getting China - which was perceived to be an enemy by everyone else except him - its due place under the sun was his seminal concern. Despite repeatedly being warned of the bellicosity of the Chinese by those who knew, he refused to square up to the reality, because how could he - a man of peace - countenance the thought of war? It seems he was prepared to lose territory rather than lose his face. His paranoia about the military eyeing his ouster led him to deliberately starve it of resources and stunt its growth. Finally, when the moment of reckoning came, he entrusted the conduct of war to those who had no other credential than that they enjoyed his trust: Krishna Menon & General Kaul. But talent for intrigue and currying favour does not come in handy in fighting a war. The rest, as they say, is history.
We have now a high profile PM who is also a global player, bonding on equal personal terms with POTUS. At the same time, in a seemingly deft act of diplomacy, he sleeps with America’s and our own arch enemy - China. Reportedly, he has established a personal equation with President Xi Jinping. But other than diplomacy, he has also let himself be known as a decisive man of war, and has tried to live by this image. All the spectacular military feats against Pakistan, our idée fixe - are supposed to flow from his iron will.
General Kauls seem to be an undying tribe in the army, and even now, reportedly, an unhealthy proximity between the military and political leadership has grown. And it has consequences. History bears witness that China strikes at an opportune moment (in '62 the world attention was riveted on the Cuban missile crisis, today the world is snowed under the Wuhan Virus avalanche originating from China) and in such a manner that the ‘friend’ feels obliged to cover up for the enemy and go into denial for fear of losing face. 2020 is not 1962, and such matters are independently verifiable. Hence his government has been in denial, and has felt obliged to prevaricate, obfuscate, and tell downright lies to domestic audience. Now that the truth is out the government finds itself hard-pressed to admit and explain the killing of soldiers. From denial, the government has come down to the familiar mournful tune of 'stabbing in the back.' When a war seems to be the only course of action, policy planners seem to have discovered that the national interest is best served by diplomacy, peaceful negotiations and avoidance of war. And China loves, as always, has plotted the mortification of its ambitious neighbour just as it did in '62 ; it is China's way to tell the world who is the hegemon The situation is still live, and one can’t look into the seeds of the time, but there does not seem to be much cause for joy.
But what about the simulated war being fought with greater seriousness within the borders of the country? Going by the social media posts, one would think that a large number of Indians take the reality of the disputed “Modi jee’s 56 inches” quite seriously. The mobilization on both sides is impressive; a sizeable population is attacking their bête noire with all they have : invective, satire, mockery and moralism, and an equal number defending their bête noire with all they have - lies, chicanery, and recourse to the history of Congress. Of course, Mr. Modi’s jugular is quite a prised trophy for his detractors, but it is way too insignificant compared to the Chinese jugular. Of course, political scores need to be settled but not when we are in the process of a debt that the nation owes to history. Admittedly it is a lying, self-obsessed government, but unfortunately this is the only government that we have at the present time, and the conduct of war is in the hands of this government. Persistent questioning is all right, the right to be told the truth is spot on, but this rubbing brings in defenders, the battalion of Bhakts, and the discourse becomes divisive when the call of the hour is to put everything in abeyance. Similarly, the Bhakts who try to hang their “56-inch” on any peg that is available, are sure to bring, in retaliation, the demolition squads in droves.
On Twitter there was a bare as bone tweet - “twenty soldiers killed in Ladakh.” Pat came a retweet form a journalist of repute, a leading light of the left liberal brigade, with the following comment: “Knock, knock, Modi jee, are you there?”
Social media is overflowing with callous and crass remarks and this is just an emblematic example. But little do they realise that they are trivialising the tragic death of our soldiers fighting under impossible constraints. To offset it, there is another example of a paid, commissioned anchor of a Hindi TV channel trying to salvage the image of the government by shifting the blame on to the Army. Whose war are those brave men fighting anyway?
I remember the emotional climate of ’62, and I can definitely say that a feeling pulse in our national heart has atrophied, gone dry. The difference in the public mood between ‘62 and now is dramatic. In ‘62, Indian women - for whom gold means a part of their lives - came forward to freely donate it to the national defence fund without demur. (When boycott of Chinese goods is mentioned today, figures and fine economic calculations roll out . This gestures of solidarity against the enemy is not economically feasible, we are told!) The unlettered, untutored masses knew that it was matter of life and death and the nation spoke in a chorus of approval for the nation , for the army. I exclude the communists, because they are a class apart, a different species.
If ever there was a case of not learning the lessons of history, this is the one . Or is it that in a globalised world profit is placed above patriotism? May be some favourable economic deal with the Chinese will act as a healing balm and we will again be dining with the Dragon till such times it makes a decent dinner of us.
Tonight I will tell my God that He should consider my unstated prayer as withdrawn.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Two Short Of Three Score And Ten

When I was young, I crossed my rivers,
sprinting down bridges,
though bridges there were none.

Now, I hesitate on banks of rivers.
They drag me across, saying the rivers are in my mind.
Under my steps there are none.
Years have come and years gone by.
Never cared once, as to whence they came, whence did they fly.

In the evening of my life, I thought it was time to consider.
“Where are my years,” I asked fellow traveller, Time,
“I could account for none.”

He just fixed me with a mirror. “Your silver hair”, he said,
“it takes some doing, it takes all of days and all of nights,
all your yesterdays and all your yesteryears to paint them white,
something that was jet black.

And that frown? No amateur’s act is that.
Pencilling each single line, folding every individual wrinkle,
then laying them in layers, nicely papered,
it is them that account for your days, months and years.

I am a tidy record keeper.
No cuts, no erasures, no crossing out nor clerical errors”,
he said, laying down the mirror.
“The small gifts that I bore you, from year to year,
Though you flung them into the cellar, they add up my friend, they add up to a lot ,
and turn up when you have the time to consider.”

“You stole in on your tiptoe, you sneaked in like a thief.
“I didn’t, weary traveller, you were busy with your affairs,
I walked by your side but you watched your shadow
Shrink or grow in size or just take fright
And collapse at the approach of night.
You were carefree, you were blithely unworried ,
you were not taken for a ride.”

“Now, what?”
“Now nothing. Now is no time to consider,
Now is no time to defer or to dither.
It is no part of living to go search for lost years.
Live your life as you’ve done all these years.
Just let them glide by.”

Sunday, May 31, 2020


Disclaimer : It is meant to be light hearted but some people can make heavy weather of it.

There was a time when time was money, and one never had enough of either. But now in the lockdown times, money has become inconsequential and time as valueless as trash. Quite consistent with the global problem of disposal of waste ,time at my disposal poses a similar dilemma : what to do with it? You cannot do what you want to do. But there are occasions you simply have no idea of what you want to do, you have become so alienated from yourself. Boredom! Books do alleviate to a great extent- even in their digital form- but boredom has a habit of seeping in. If the doors and windows are closed, it blows in through the crevices and crannies . Yesterday, I decided to take this bull of boredom by its horns. Encouraged by George Wittgenstein ‘s assurance , “ The way of philosophy lies in showing the fly the way out of the fly bottle”, I picked up 'A Philosophy of Boredom' by Lars Svendsen (it has been with me for quite some time, unread) looking for it to show me the way out of my ennui and high angst, anomie and situational boredom. Was I expecting deliverance at the end of the thin book?(178 pages in its digital form) I was!
The very first line enticed me , “My reason for writing this book was this: I was deeply bored for a while.” I knew I had got my man who was going to lift me straight out of my unhappy situation. “It is usually a blank label applied to everything that fails to grasp one’s interest.” Precisely. As I proceeded further I was able to recognise in other people’s symptoms my own malady, only described better: “ like some sort of dust. One comes and goes without seeing it, one breathes it in, one eats it, one drinks it, and it is so fine that it doesn’t even scrunch between one’s teeth. But if one stops up for a moment, it settles like a blanket over the face and hands. One has to constantly shake this ash-rain off one.”
Pages after pages I discovered more and more people with whom I shared this community of affliction. Byron summed up the situation for the lockdown generation, “There is little left but to be bored or bore.”
The authority of Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard , with whom I had considerable familiarity on my own, was enlisted. Then I was hauled over the coals- familiar turf again from Pascal to Nietzsche, from Lovell to Beckett . Next followed the categories of boredom. I was beginning to feel that my malady was becoming worse with every page. Mistrust mounted to dismay when I faced the spectre of wading through 'Ontology : The hermeneutics of boredom. ' It shattered my resolution completely. I was fearing for my life now, afraid to catch contagion of these great minds, seriously considering that I should retire to my condition of primitive and native boredom. But as they say, you can only choose your doctor, you cannot choose your medicine. So I soldiered along, ignoring symptoms of allergy and reaction. Like a bitter but promising medicine I kept ingesting until I arrived at the end:
“…. human life is boring? Well, life often is boring. Different people are afflicted by boredom to differing degrees, but it is practically impossible not to be affected by boredom sooner or later. If boredom strikes hard, one is inevitably brought to an existential borderline situation where one has to question the nature of one’s entire existence.” If it is inescapable human condition, it was pointless , the pursuit of this philosophy! I shut the book .I felt as if I had escaped a psychiatrist who tells you that being mad is condition of normalcy and congratulates you on your achieving this blessed sate. For good measure he advises you never to attempt to get out of this situation.
My mind had gone in a state of hum, so I reached for my chest of medicines, looking for antidotes to boredom and allergic reactions to an overdose of wisdom. Thurber is my first physician of choice and I surrendered to him , till sleep overtook me. You have suffered vicariously my fate and deserve a bit of his soothing balm. Or as a night cap
The weary scientist, tramping through the mountains of northern Europe in the winter weather dropped his knapsack and prepared to sit on a rock. "Careful, brother," said a voice.
"Sorry," murmured the scientist, noting with some surprise that a lemming which he had been about to sit on had addressed him. "It is a source of considerable astonishment to me," said the scientist, sitting down beside the lemming, "that you are capable of speech."
"You human beings are always astonished," said the lemming, "when any other animal can do anything you can. Yet there are many things animals can do that you cannot, such as stridulate, (of an insect, especially a male cricket or grasshopper) make a shrill sound by rubbing the legs, wings, or other parts of the body together.)
or chirr, (of an insect) make a prolonged low trilling sound.) to name just one. To stridulate, or chirr, one of the minor achievements of the cricket, your species is dependent on the intestines of sheep and the hair of the horse."
"We are a dependent animal," admitted the scientist. "You are an amazing animal," said the lemming.
"We have always considered you rather amazing, too," said the scientist. "You are perhaps the most mysterious of creatures."
"If we are going to indulge in adjectives beginning with 'm,' said the lemming sharply, "let me apply a few to your species--murderous, maladjusted, maleficent and muffle-headed."
"You find our behavior as difficult to understand as we do yours?"
"You, as you would say, said it," said the lemming. "You kill, you mangle, you torture, you imprison, you starve each other. You cover the nurturing earth with cement, you cut down elm trees to put up institutions for people driven insane by the cutting down of elm trees, you--"
"You could go on all night like that," said the scientist, "listing our sins and shames."
"I could go on all night and up to four o'clock tomorrow afternoon," said the lemming. "It just happens that I have made a lifelong study of the self-styled higher animal. Except for one thing, I know all there is to know about you, and a singularly dreary, dolorous and distasteful store of information it is, too, to use only adjectives that begin with 'd.'"
"You say you have made a lifelong study of my species--" began the scientist.
"Indeed I have," broke in the lemming. "I know that you are cruel, cunning and carnivorous, sly, sensual and selfish, greedy, gullible and guileful--"
"Pray don't wear yourself out," said the scientist, quietly. "It may interest you to know that I have made a lifelong study of lemmings, just as you have made a lifelong study of people. Like you I have found but one thing about my subject which I don't understand."
"And what is that?" asked the lemming.
"I don't understand," said the scientist, "why you lemmings all rush down to the sea and drown yourselves."
"How curious," said the lemming. "The one thing I don't understand is why you human beings don't."

Sunday, May 24, 2020


 If anyone ever had any doubt, handling of Covid19, all over the world has left scope for none. There was a time when politics occupied a corner of the turf and looked up to the larger society for its value system. But now politics has grown like weeds to occupy the entire turf and the values of politics are now the moral lodestar of the society. Conduct which society would have been aghast at is the new normal for politics and is accorded partisan approval.
Covid19 attacks the human race. Therefore, one should have thought the entire human race would put up a united front against the common enemy. At least that has been the common sense on warfare. If Donald Trump were to be believed, the ‘enemy’ of the entire human race , Covid19 , is a spiteful creation of China. His sabre rattling against China and his domestic strategy, were clearly politically driven, and aimed more at his rivals in the forthcoming elections .It has left America shattered and its people dying like flies. But even if we discount his hyperbole , the rest of world also believes that China has certainly struck some kind of a deal with the ‘enemy’, bought some favourable terms for itself , in lieu of ensuring its conquest of the rest of the world. Covid19 has spared its vast territory from contagion. The Chinese lives lost in Wuhan are being viewed as a sacrifice that will help it immensely in its trade wars with its enemies. Surely, there is some fifth column activity on the side of human race, going on in its war against Covid19.
Let us consider the situation at home . In the past we have given a great account of ourselves when China or Pakistan attacked India. They found every Indian, to a man ,ready to shed his blood in its fight against the enemy. We are faced with a situation far graver than that, it is an enemy that does not claim territory, it threatens life itself . Our present fight is with anti-life, a threat of universal reach that even the concerted effort of the greatest and most resourceful governments could barely cope with it. Covid19 attacks our human vulnerability, at the cellular level , and cells are not known to express themselves in political or religious terms. In so far as we are humans, we should be fighting the common enemy to save our cells not our political affiliations or religious identities, but are we? It looks like every party , every stake holder has raised its own army, claiming to fight the enemy. There is bound to be a squabble for positional advantage, much to the advantage of the enemy.
I put my query before those who know: how can an incumbent government and how can a party which has been for seventy years in government, fail to iron out a wart, like the bus issue? The media, birds of the same feather, are having a field day speculating, awarding marks to this or that party, but never holding them to account together. I have no preference, so I simply put it to their cussedness, because at the end of the day, there are going to be political victors and political losers, and they are playing for that . Meanwhile the migrants are lined up, ant like, trudging their way on their journey to nowhere. More than four hundred have already fallen by the wayside. Some of these also may also end up as more meat . Indians will debate, till cows come home , from the position of their respective political parties, as to who was to blame. But unless one makes an astral projection, and view the activity form a point above, one can’t beat the mirage. Viewed from that perch , the vocation of politics looks like a feast of vultures.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Get lost , the poor of the world !

The poor of the world have a nasty habit of disturbing the even tenor of ordered life, the status quo; they threaten the peace and calm when it is least expected of them. As if it was not labour enough for the governments, in centre and in the states, to have evacuated several lacs of those better off Indians by aircrafts and ships, this problem of migrant labours leaps up. Those who jet around the world in search of profit , those who scour the Chinese markets in search of goods at bargain prices to sell at premium in India, or those who make their dirhams , dinars , dollars in Middle East, US etc. brought the Covid19 too. Brought it , and then cheated the system, beat the quarantine . Not a difficult job; it is not much of a system really, porous to corruption and resilient to privilege. Those with influence , politicians , judges, IAS officers got a free pass, many took, paracetamol in the aircraft to avoid being quarantined but Covid 19 is the most democratic of diseases, it spared no one. Having got it themselves these people generously gave it away to the unsuspecting poor who were at their service, as domestic help , or drivers or in any number of ways in which poor in their concentric circles make themselves useful to the rich. The elite nicely quarantined themselves. The entire economic activity had come to a standstill so what to do with these people who had outlived their utility? They could no longer account for their existence. Those who had nicely fit in, in their sardine like existence, posed the threat of community transmission. How could they give it back to the rich , it is always the poor who are the recipients? Troublesome limbs which were better cut off, abandoned!
And then several millions of them erupted like lava during earthquakes, a mass of seething humanity of migrant labours, disgorged from the hidden underbelly of shining Mumbai , Surat, Ahamadabad, Banglore, Delhi . Their slums and shanties spilled out their secrets, well known but studiedly forgotten. And now they are walking, like ghostly shadows in cities , alone and in family strength, carrying all their earthly possessions with them, are spilling like liquified mass of humanity , across on highways, along railway tracks. We never knew there were so many! Why are they forced to undertake the impossible journey of thousands of miles on foot ,on a meagre diet of biscuits and water? No body seems to know why they have to make this certain tryst with death: starvation, being run over by buses and trains, or sheer fatigue lie in ambush and many are falling every day . Why are they not on the trains which were supposed to carry them? It is a tower of Babel here, the many governments speak with many voices , sometimes a single government itself speaks in many voices. And now the court of the last resort the Hon’ble Supreme Court has refused to intervene.
Treated like dirt by the system, the wretched of the earth have put their own and the lives of their families at great risk The misery of the march will earn a few Magasassy awards for our journalists, those India baiters who had nothing sensational as yet ,will capture some memorable images, but no one ,but one will square up to the real answer. In a market driven society the poor cannot create demand nor step up the market, hence they stand in stark contradiction to the logic of the neo-liberal order. In a world order which is meant to cater only to the aspiration of the rich and powerful , they are quaint absurdities. Jean Baudrillard has the solution for the poor ,in his book America. Attacking in scathing terms the American system where ‘power’ has no contact with the poor he says “ …..the have-nots will be condemned to abandonment, disappearance pure and simple. Utopia has arrived ,if you aren’t part of it , get lost.”

Thursday, May 14, 2020


Meditations on man and microbe
The closing lines of The  Plague by Albert Camus s   the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city,  just about sum up the attitude  of a medicalised society which  treats all of  germs , pathogens , microbe , lonely, lost strands of RNA  are  its sworn  enemies. During the last couple of days, I have come across articles in respectable journals ,  wherein the Covid 19 crisis  is being termed as a man vs microbe thing.  I too did it in  a post in order to spite the scientific hubris of man.

Humans as we are, we cant but think in human ways. The us vs them binary is the commonest way of explaining our predicament, our need for enemy is  explainable in
terms of the essentialist definition of  human - from Aristotle to Aquinas ,  from Hegel to Husserl-  in opposition to the animal, where man is in possession of logos, spirit, subjectivity, etc. while the latter has none.
In his  The New Ecological Order, Luce Ferry(I hasten to add  ‘deep ecology’ is not my cup of tea) mentions a very interesting fact that  pre scientific man was fair to a fault: he  put  even  troublesome beetles and leeches   on trial , and  the rats of Autun were issued summons, as late as in the 16th century.  Francis Bacon’s injunction ‘nature must be hounded into yielding her secrets,’ was duly picked by the new science of Newton and together with  Descartes  “a perfect model of anthropocentrism was  put in place in which all rights went to man and none to nature.”  Man invented an existence for himself, as the jewel of the crown of creation, as the master of all he surveyed.

 But  history  of evolution of life forms suggests otherwise. Microbes  have been here  for as long we have the recorded history of earth while , mammoths and mastodons, the dinosaurs and big reptiles , stellar sea cow and Tasmanian tigers stunning, successes in their own days have come, dominated the scene for  a while , and then  disappeared. But the viruses are sticking it out. Would the viruses, lords and  masters of the earth , for the last  4.5 billion years, be interested in   picking up a fight against a species  that is just a million years old, is  essentially fragile and has been dangerously  lurching form one threat of extinction to another, and sooner or later will  do itself in,  with or without much  outside help ?  Stephen J Gould  says in Time’s Arrow. What could be more comforting, what more convenient for human domination, than the traditional concept of a young earth, ruled by human will within days of its origin. How threatening, by contrast, the notion of an almost incomprehensible immensity, with human habitation restricted to a milli microsecond at the very end!

Man and microbe, no matter how highly men  think of themselves live by the same rules , are governed by the same laws  of natural selection. We are swimming in a sea of bacteria and such other life forms , which constitute a large part of the biomass. But frankly speaking most of these microscopic creatures have no interest in  human beings , they mind their own business, many of them are in fact friendly , the ones which inhabit the root nodules of plants , the others that are  furiously busy in our guts for our benefits.
 Viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites  from unicellular  animalculae to 80-foot-long tapeworms take up residence inside animals, but we’re safe from these things. Mostly, these disease-causing agents stick to one host species. Migration from one to another is not an easy business .Many  barriers stand between each of us and that previously unknown infection hosted by an unfamiliar animal. Breaking  down of  the barriers between animals and people,  a zoonosis is a rare occurrence.  Jarred Diamond in his  Guns Germs and Steel  has written an extended history ,  drawing upon a wide variety of geographical , ecological  and historical sources  from ,  of past  11 – 12 thousand years  years when man first domesticated  animals. That  was also the beginning of zoonotic diseases. The human( Chinese ?) taste for  exotic meet of Bat and Pangolins and snakes led  ultimately the corona virus to jump from its original habitat in the bats to man .  So the Covid 19  did not  come with a belligerent intent to wipe out the human race, it was  invited in, so to say. It is  our hedonism that has brought us to such a pass. It is our  essentialist concept ,  our  attitude towards nature in  which we tend to treat nature  as our zoo , vault and park that is at the root  cause of our trouble. We radically need to change our way of thinking  followed by our way of living but  what  we are  furiously seeking   our redemption in a vaccine. Wrong again. We can never match the ingenuity of the shape shifting virus.   SARS1  came in 2004 , it released in an updated cleverer version in 2019 and it will come again , and again , and again. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020


A very eminent professor of economics at Cambridge, of Indian origin, with whom I conversed once or twice, Tweeted to an absolute excess on the disproportionate focus on Covid-19, quoting the number of deaths from other causes to make his point. So, I engaged him one day. It was not its capacity to kill, but the anxiety on account of instant contagion, that has brought down this world.
When you are in sound mental health, you are never hounded by the idea that someday you may commit suicide, even though a very high number of people do it every day. If you sit in a car, you never for a moment think that you may die in a crash because the lives of an unconscionably large number of people - much greater than Covid-19 - are lost in accidents. Despite the higher probability of these, you do not plan for these contingencies. But today, when you step out of your house, if you get into the Metro, occupy a seat at the airport, go to the park - you wonder if the virus released by the sneeze or cough of an active or an asymptomatic patient is still suspended in mid-air, or if the doorknob has been infected. Have my hands been properly washed? The anxiety is ubiquitous, the danger all pervasive. People have been driven to commit suicide at the merest apprehension that they may catch the contagion. Of course, the anxiety is unreal, insubstantial and disproportionate to the lethal potential, yet it has shut down the world.
But he would not give up. He said a mosquito bites you and you wonder if you have caught malaria, but here a starlet holds a party and Lucknow is locked down. I was not prepared to give up: Forgive me for being persistent, I said, a mosquito bite may give me malaria but I can’t pass it off to my wife even if I bite her, a Covid-19 infected man can cause havoc in concentric circles of people whom he meets by just being himself. Once you are delivered to an anxiety, you are beyond help.
Admittedly, the Wuhan virus is nothing in terms of lethal potential compared to SARS, in the very recent past. SARS came, occupied a slice of global concern for a while, and caused some loss of lives. So did the Avian Flu and Nipah, and quickly receded into history. In India, it was heard rather like a distant rumour. But the Wuhan virus has shaken the world and India. The devastation that it has caused to each one of us in our personal lives, to us as social creatures and to us as economic beings would be unimaginable - if it were not true. We cannot even begin to estimate the damage.
Paul Tillich, existentialist Christian theologian of culture, makes the distinction between fear and anxiety, in his book “The Courage to Be” as follows:
"Fear has a definite object which can be faced and attacked, endured or conquered, whereas anxiety has no object. Without an object or a tactic to defeat it, anxiety surfaces as the pain of impotence, negation and disempowerment.....He who is in anxiety is, insofar as it is mere anxiety, delivered to it without help.”
This anxiety on account of Covid-19 is not a naturally occurring germ or virus; it is anthropogenically created information (or deliberate disinformation) riding on the Chinese propaganda juggernaut. Once brought into being, it has mutated and multiplied of its own to create anxieties, inadequacies, and paranoia on an apocalyptic scale. The images of people dropping dead in the streets of Wuhan, the stores of thousands of cremations - true, false and apocryphal - helped build up the Wuhan Virus as the Horseman of Apocalypse, and lockdown as the only protection against it. China was economical with the relevant data, and when the invasion of the virus took place, the world locked itself down in response to the propaganda, reminding me of the immunologic response of a Horseshoe crab, a marine animal which lives around coastal areas. In response to invasion by a certain bacterium, the crab deploys a complete array of battle responses - everything that it has at its disposal . The outcome is widespread tissue destruction, as in the generalized Shwartzman reaction, or outright failure of the circulation of blood, as in endotoxin shock. That is what it looks like.
An objective scientific assessment of the lockdown is yet to be made, but not only the Indian economy but the entire system is in state of shock, and we are struggling to get back to our feet. The poor , as always,are the worst victim of bad planning, and the fate of masses of loitering migrant labours will someday, when the great Plague Novel is written about our crisis, occupy the centre stage of the writer's concern.
Meanwhile, now it seems we are resigned to coexist with Covid-19. In some quarters, herd immunity, nature’s way of doing things, is already being talked a bout. We will think about economic growth another day.Survival now occupies the centre stage of our concerns Is that how China wanted to reorder the world nearer to its heart’s desire?

Monday, May 4, 2020


When time stands still, when the present is deferred and the future prorogued, when you can’t tell the hour of the day or the date of the month, when your biological clock is seriously disjointed, how do you cope with yourself? In a plague the only activity, says Albert Camus, is to mark time. The illusion of time passing, its bare chronicity, is sustained by weaving it into a meaningful plot of activity. In quotidian terms the prospect of living in the future, planning for tomorrow, is a sign of being alive.
All of us invest time with shape and significance in our own different ways. The office going creature, a civil servant, a sub-variety of the species Homo Sapiens, spends his day and half the evening working in the office, creating more work for everyone around, up and down, fills the emptiness in his life with files and endless palaver and gossip about matters concerning this activity. No wonder extension of service is so much coveted for its own sake in government circles. After retirement many take to golf to while away time. Books have been my solace for very long and now that I am the complete master of my own time, we have become inseparable companions. During the lockdown, trapped away from home in distant Delhi, I am cut off from the source of my sustenance, my hoard of books, well leafed, dog-eared, some tattered as well but loved nonetheless for it, to each one of them, on every shelf, I could reach with the instinct of a homing bird. If Philip Larkin were to pose the question to me “ What are days for ?” I would unhesitatingly say, ‘ for reading books, what else are days for?’
But what do you do when you have the time but you do not have the freedom to organise it around activities meaningful to you. Eliot's poetic projection, “all time is eternally present” suddenly becomes a dreaded reality and you begin to wonder whether it is not a stroke of good fortune to be able to lament you “have no time to stand and stare?”
I was introduced to Andrew Marvel - and other Metaphysicals- more than fifty years ago, as a teenager, and I have maintained very cordial relations with them ever since. I admired Marvel’s metaphysical conceits as a young man but at the ripe old age of sixty eight, I discovered the prophetic nature of his poetry which is at the same time pragmatic too. Marvel was aware of the dual nature of time, the one that hangs on your head and the other which slips through your fingers. In his poem 'To His Coy Mistress', he holds out a formula for coping with the phenomenon of time dilation during indefinite lockdown: praising,
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
Plan B addressed the issue in a forthright and practical manner. Knowing full well that time is a cheat, it has to be given a run for its money “like amorous birds of prey,/Rather at once our time devour/Than languish in his slow-chapped power/... though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
(I have done my share of gazing and praising and all that forty five years of happy conjugal life entails. I have discovered my wife’s heart and I can vouch that it is pure gold. But that is not the issue in the times of lockdown. The more important question that folks are asking is what do we do about social distancing? Get a bed broad enough to maintain the norm, get another bed or have separate bedrooms? Modi jee did not tell us that! Obligation without explanation is the norm for us, we have become used to taking orders with sweet docility! We are the lock-down people, our homes are our prisons, we are our own warders.