Tuesday, December 20, 2022
Here is a fable for modern day Bihar reeling under the healthful effects of complete prohibition.
The Bear Who Let It Alone
IN THE WOODS of the Far West there once lived a brown bear who could take it or let it alone. He would go into a bar where they sold mead, a fermented drink made of honey, and he would have just two drinks. Then he would put some money on the bar and say, “See what the bears in the back room will have,” and he would go home. But finally he took to drinking by himself most of the day. He would reel home at night, kick over the umbrella stand, knock down the bridge lamps, and ram his elbows through the windows. Then he would collapse on the floor and lie there until he went to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.
At length the bear saw the error of his ways and began to reform. In the end he became a famous teetotaller and a persistent temperance lecturer. He would tell everybody that came to his house about the awful effects of drink, and he would boast about how strong and well he had become since he gave up touching the stuff. To demonstrate this, he would stand on his head and on his hands and he would turn cartwheels in the house, kicking over the umbrella stand, knocking down the bridge lamps, and ramming his elbows through the windows. Then he would lie down on the floor, tired by his healthful exercise, and go to sleep. His wife was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened.
Thursday, December 1, 2022
Perhaps we are all occasional existentialists .To many of us , sometime or the other in our lives , is revealed that life is pointless. In Tolstoy’s description of things “moments of perplexity and arrest of life, as though I did not know how to live or what to do…”This is just one of those days and I don’t know what is bothering me. Nothing has changed, I tell myself . Nothing that I can notice, except for a slight sensation of being ill at ease. In the middle of contentment and well being a sudden surge of ennui, an onrush of undiminished acedia ,some heartfelt bitterness overtakes me . I become aware of a profound indifference to everything. Reduced to a kind of clockwork condition, the zestlessly ticking human machine goes on. In absence of a better definition I would say that I am in the grip of “pink sadness”. “Pink sadness” says Mary Ruefles, “ is not your fault, and .. even the littlest twinge may cause it, …” But that does not help alleviate the condition. Nirmal Verma’s observation ‘उदास’ शब्द ‘उदासी’ की जगह नहीं ले सकता। suddnley assumed a new meaning .People medically inclined will be quick to judge me depressed but they would miss the point.
Intrigued by a small passage in Camus ,early in my life , “ Have you ever had this feeling of a sudden withdrawal from your surroundings and you start wondering, who are you, why are you, what you are. All those urgent concerns which left you restless and distracted melt away leaving no trace . The mind dies and the promised truth is far from being delivered”. I tried to transport myself into this state of being. I was young, I had many commitments, small incentives could send my spirit soaring up. Even serious problems could only knock me down, transiently. I would be up on my two feet , ready to face more blows should they come my way. The prospect of being alive tomorrow in itself was worth living for .I, like everyone else of my generation took tomorrow for granted , it spread out in the future beyond the horizon as far as eyes could see or my mind could wander. I could laugh away the thought that plagued Antoine Roquentin ,“why this eagerness to live in limbs that are destined to rot?” as an existentialist excess , a bit of theatrical posturing .
I guess as you grow old your appetite for future starts getting weaker. The present tense belongs to youth. Its optimism is not shaken by events expected of the future . The memory of that carefree existence is now only a memory, beyond active recall or recreation. It has been replaced by a vague, constant longing for something or someone- or apprehension- beyond the horizon of reality, outside the realm of the approachable. I seem to be longing for “the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited”. May be it is a secret wish that I could turn the pages of my life like one turns the pages of one’s favourite books!
My love of books served me well during dark times. Even some well-thumbed volumes never lost their appeal and they could thrill me to the core . I turned the best past of two shelves the other day to find a book to drown that dull tom- tom in my mind, which kept me restless and anxious. But without much help . Betrayed by the books in which I found an inexhaustible font of solace and comfort , I realised , too late , that the pleasure was not in the books per se , it only came through them. The recipient was as important a part of the process. I have all the time in the world , I am free to read or write as I choose, when I choose but I don’t . Or more precisely I can’t . The words were at my beck and call. Summoned in ones or twos they would be swarming in great numbers , jostling with each other , clamouring to be considered . But suddenly they have turned renegade , have chosen to seek refuge behind some iron curtain , beyond a shout , beyond a call. The little wretches are out of temper; disobliging; disobedient; dumb. What is it that they are muttering? “Time’s up! Silence!” as Virginia Wolf would say .
But the baffling silence within clamours to be muffled in a cacophony of voices. Not necessarily a raucous jaaz , even a sad tune on an old battered trombone will do . I am not much into Urdu poetry but these two couplets form Firaq Gorakhpuri floated into my mind .
सुकुते -शाम मिटाओ , बहुत अँधेरा हैं। सुख़न के शमअ जलाओ ,बहुत अँधेरा है.
Let the silence of the evening break for it is very dark. Initiate a conversation to dispel the darkness which is very deep .
चमक उठेंगी सियाहबख्तियां ज़माने की. नवा-ए -दर्द सुनाओ बहुत अँधेरा है।
It will begin to illuminate the ill-fated darkness of the world . Sing a sad song for it is very dark .
Whose voice shall it be? In that moment of fecklessness I could not care less. “If the sea is destined to breach the dikes/Let all the brackish water pour into my heart.”
Monday, August 8, 2022
My Facebook post dated 3rd May 2022. Why Writing A Memoir/Autobiography Is Not A Good Idea
A friend's suggestion that I should write my memoir plugged straight into that universal vulnerability; we all believe that we have a story to tell and the world is eager to listen to it. Well, not exactly. Not everyone, but there are a fairly large number of people who would probably want to tell their stories should they have the requisite skill, the time and the logistical wherewithal. In that sense of the term autobiography is the proper democratic genre; it admits to its portals people without any distinction (pun intended). Civil servants and police officers as a class, are as eager to make their contribution to the society known as anyone else.
There are many ways of framing a life. Police officers generally like to be seen as swashbuckling heroes, chasing gangsters and drug peddlers, hunting down terrorists and desperate criminals. Those looking for inspirational or sensational literature of this kind will find their expectations undone. To them, it will not quite appeal as a readerly text. As an IPS officer, I did not kill anyone in hot pursuit nor in the heat of battle; custodial interrogation to the accompaniment of aesthetic torture was never a part of my professional repertoire. Never admitted to the first circle of power, never enjoyed the confidence of chief ministers, nor lent my services to Mafia dons, therefore, never performed tasks in the stealth of night for them - the cloak and dagger stuff - which should be now ripe for sharing.
An autobiography must be a frank, bare all document, to get the monkeys off your shoulder. But I do not have any confessions to make. I never felt called upon to atone for my sins and to find solace in spiritual activities. Salacious stories of secret liaisons, scandals, or adultery, would also be found missing from this account. I am afraid I have nothing to confide by way of intimacies or intrigues. So, of what interest will be the career of someone who had simply walked through life ‘without a horse, a saddle, or a sword’ ?I feel honoured but I feel mystified too.
But there is another style of policing. It is less spectacular, affords no drama, has no climactic moments; it is the determination to act, and go on acting, strictly according to the dictates of law. It is a lifelong painful grind, the humdrum of the routine, the refusal to accept the law of the implicit and unstated “exceptionalism” that colonial police was grounded in, and has become part of the unstated ethos of Indian police as well.This ultimately becomes the brick and mortar in which the strongest pillars of a society governed by the rule of law is rooted. But the formula that clever professionals apply in their pursuit of that bitch goddess called success, is to recognise the special rights of people who matter, by recognising their enclaves of privilege marked by crossed bone and skull. Their lives become easy, their reputation in circles that matter soars and they have the best of both worlds. You have to make your choices early, changing horses midstream is not the best bet. The effect of your routine quotidian effort begins to show in the confidence and respect of the people you serve. If you are consistent, if you persevere despite reverses or setbacks then your reputation travels by word of mouth which is much the more durable and authentic.
My father was a lawyer, my grandfather was a lawyer too and my great, great grandfather, Munshi Chatrapat Sahay, was a judicial officer who, according to the family folklore, stood up to the British dictate of using law as a weapon of revenge in 1857 and paid the price for it. So the belief in the supremacy and majesty of law was imbibed with my mother’s milk.This belief, what Kafka’s Zurau Aphorisms defines as “a belief like a guillotine, as heavy, as light” began to gutter as I grew in service .
My forty years in the IPS was a painful journey from innocence to experience. Layer after layer of the myth of law being the weapon as well as the armour of the policeman has frayed, has become a patchwork of rags, until the grand deception clothed in its phoney majesty of Latinate expressions like Fiat Justitia Rauta Calum (Let justice be done though heavens fall) has come off revealing it in its in complete nakedness and those who put faith in law it at the mercy of powerful offenders .
I could make a game of my suffering, I could flaunt the elegant scars from my wounds like badges of honour. But I was troubled by thoughts which gnawed at my deeply held beliefs. One single pain would be multiplied in many hearts of all those close to me, my wife, my children. The cross that should have been mine and mine alone became a family burden. Those were the occasions that all this seemed like a moral self-appeasement , an illicit indulgence. But if you have good samskara the self-doubt is transient.
I have been meditating intently on the last few years of my career, on the desirability of sharing my experience of how a police officer committed to acting in accordance with law becomes a quixotic figure, an object of mild derision as well: whether there is any value in memorialising the sharp decline from rule of law to rule of men. Evolution , it is said is a barbed arrow in time. A biped cannot regress to be a quadruped, vertebrates- those who develop spines over a period of time cannot descend the evolutionary ladder to become invertebrates. For ten years I have waited, equivocated, felt alternately enthused and deterred looking at my own story through critical, even hostile eyes but I have not been able to gather enough courage to present my case to an audience mesmerised by the exploits of Singhams. It is not worth it. As the Bhojpuri saying goes, “ का पर करूँ मैं सिंगार पिया मोर आंधर.” Who should I bedeck myself for, my lover is blind.
Saturday, July 2, 2022
Only the other day I had pleaded for a political consensus on the number of times democracy could or should be murdered during a year or during the term of a legislature. Too frequent a killing of democracy does not bode well for its good health. More importantly after it has been murdered , the body should be interred, cremated, or otherwise disposed of with greatest dispatch . No matter how vibrant our democracy is , it does not make a beautiful corpse. Like lilies that fester it smells far worse than weeds .
Even the merest patzer hooked on to Agatha Christie or even Jasoosi Duniya could tell you that the recent murder was not planned well enough. It is easy to mock the wisdom of planners which saddles them with the responsibility of dragging the corpse all over the country, leaving tell-tale blood stains and marks of dragging. A murder should be executed swiftly , bloodlessly and the disposal of the corpus delicti must be done with clockwork precision. The sight of the dead body of democracy lends some credence to the rumours about its ill health, because it is only those who are in the great game of politics know that democracy is like the Schrodinger’s cat : it is both alive and dead. Or if you are the type who has literary inclinations, democracy is like the Cheshire cat, the cat has disappeared but the smile lingers on and on .
Democracy is all about deception. A rather crude description of it compares it to a balloon sent up in the air in a village fair, and while you were watching it your pockets are silently picked. I can tell you it is much more sophisticated than that . ‘Free elections’’, says the maverick thinker, commentator and polemicist Slavoj Zizek, “involve a minimal show of politeness when those in power pretend that they do not really hold the power, and ask us to decide freely if we want to grant it to them.” Could a Kafka maintain the illusion of an ordinary voter, in all his phony majesty ,seated on the make believe throne, playing king and granting ruling rights to all and sundry? The art and sorcery of politics lies in maintaining this illusion.
How does politics achieve it? The primary trompe de l'oeil is to make their constituents believe that politics is adversarial, that there are good people and evil people. The good should rule, the evil should go to jail. But it is not a fact. Politics of all shades of morality, from black to jet black , are connected through subterranean capillaries which feed each other . It has a palimpsest identity and masks of good and evil are revealed according to expediency . Whenever there is a regime change people impatiently await the evil predecessor whose corrupt practices stood exposed, about whom copious documents were flashed , will now certainly end up in jail . Have you ever seen any politician of consequence go to jail ? Bergson’s quip, “Stop !Only God has the right to kill his own kind ,” is merely an exercise in rhetoric .
Politics has over the years evolved a very complex code in which it conducts its intra mural transactions. That is how it keeps its followers engaged and constantly enraged because the concept of enemy is central to the political enterprise. They cohabit merrily while their followers are at each other’s throat. Umberto Eco let me in to their secret code , “the politician, when speaking in obscure terms, is actually sending a message in code that emanates from one power group and is destined for another. The two groups, sender and receiver, understand one another perfectly well, and the wittiest of rhetorical turns is not, for the right people, mere flatus vocis but so many promises, threats, refusals and agreements. It is clear, moreover, that in order for communication between power groups to carry on undisturbed it must go over the heads of the public, just like the coded message passing between two armed camps in a war situation, which might be intercepted by chance by a radio ham but never understood. The fact of its not being understood by others is the indispensable condition for the maintenance of private relationships between power groups…. ( I)t leapfrogs the citizen and denies him any room to agree or disagree.” The art of politics is about making suckers of people. The best, the most illustrious conmen of them go down in history as great leaders .
Arthur Miller’s observation that our political life, thanks to 24/7 TV is now “profoundly governed by the modes of theatre, from tragedy to vaudeville to farce”, is now obvious to all . The political actors are past masters at feigning conviction and the television is an accessory to their deception. Instead confronting politics ,collectively, to account for the mess in detail, the TV manages to stage a fixed political reality show and we are reduced to being mere voyeurs of the antics of the fake fighters in political arena.It is a spectacle of the “strange symbiotic relationship between power and resistance.”
I am afraid it is a long convoluted way of getting to the point, but TV is the greatest ally of debauched politics.Together they make suckers of people .
Sunday, June 19, 2022
I held back this post which was written at the height of farmers' agitation and to that extent it is a little dated . But the violent protests over the Agniveer policy has firmed my views and provides me the impetus to share it now .
Initially I was also skeptical about the idea of ultrashort term service in the military but better informed as now I am, I think it is quite in consonance with the trend all over the world. A respected military officer and an objective strategic analyst like general R W Panag , considers the idea worth a try. Of course , it needs to be fine-tuned to suit local conditions but per se it is not something to be dismissed out of hand.
In Bihar, specially, employment in the government sector is the overriding concern of young men. We have experimented with this idea of using the education sector as a generator of mass employment - with spectacular results. Millions of unemployable illiterates employed as teachers have mass produced many more millions of their own kind, so much so that “Educated in Bihar”, has become a statutory warning. But the military is a matter not to be fooled around with .
And yes, dear Biharis , burning trains will not hurt Mr. Modi; BJP can be defeated on the electoral battle field only , not on city squares.
MODI AS IDEOLOGY
Mr. Modi wields a charismatic authority, in the strict Weberian sense of the term, over his large number of followers. Adored by them as a man of exceptional skills , exemplary in many ways , even infallible, Modi Hai To Mumkin Hai, has been elevated to a gospel truth. As his stranglehold on power becomes firmer Mr.Modi himself has now become the ideology, an ideology without words .
Karl Mannheim thought that ideology acts as an unseen glass that systematically distorts our perception of the social world. Marx holds that it relieves the masses of the burden of thinking for themselves, induces a state of mind in which conviction precedes the validating facts .A basic, constitutive naïveté is an essential requirement ,which Modi’s followers possess in abundance. The stronger the belief in their leader or the cause he espouses the weaker become the rational, critical faculties and the ability to pose pertinent questions. So a very large section of Indians refuse to see the tree for the wood , refuse to see anything else other than what Mr. Modi wants them to see. Strongly held beliefs after a period of time become internalised to such an extent that attacks on these beliefs are treated as attacks on the person . It is not uncommon for friends of fifty years standing to come to blows because of their divergent views on Modi. The Modi ideology is deeply divisive.
His democracy is built around the idea of absolute and unquestioned obedience. New and ideologically compliant forms in name of digital democracy have been built and our civic and even private lives are under ever increasing bureaucratic gaze . His style of governance calls for a voluntary suspension of disbelief, it enforces obligations without explanations. The handling of Covid is an emblematic example. We lighted candles , we clapped , we went into suspended animation because of the most brutal lockdown , marched with suicidal resolve in face of hurtling danger of the second wave of Covid, ignoring Covid protocol to attend election rallies or Kumbh snan but never questioned even once. There is not to reason why , there is but to do and die!
There is a wide, irreconcilable divergence between the reality and the official views on several policies - demonetization, the Chinese crisis , GST and handling of Covid . But of late, notwithstanding their belief, there is considerable disquiet over his handling of Covid, especially the second wave has spread to some section of his followers as well. The truth managers are quite aware of losing many of those who voted for the party in a state of happy mindlessness . So in order to hold them tethered to their beliefs , illusion becomes the chief reinforcer , drama becomes the key, compelling and startling images— “absolute, uncompromising and simple”—that “fills and bests the mind”. As Gustave Le Bon said in his book , The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, the “art of impressing the imagination of crowds is to know at the same time the art of governing them.” To keep the hope in impossible promises alive, chicanery and mendacity have become an important part of statecraft, propaganda has become the main pillar of government. They are experimenting with an applied epistemology which Theodore Adorno once described as , “a lie experienced as truth.” Hand in hand with this strategy goes the negative PR campaign of tarring those opposed to official point of view , a specific and compelling necessity.
But then Mr. Modi is much larger than that. He not only commands his followers and elicits their responses whichever way he wishes ,he holds complete sway over the minds of even those who are opposed to him , the “liberal, “ left ,” “moderate” thinking section. Opposition to Modi, irrespective of the merit of the case , is their ideology , and finding reasons for all that is wrong with this country because of Modi is the chief reinforcer of the belief of the followers of this ideology.
The farmer’s agitation is an emblematic example. As far its economic benefits are concerned , economist and experts have not been able to find much fault with the farmer policy of the government. It was part of Congress agenda which the BJP had vociferously opposed it, just as Congress was stolid in its defence. So the farm bill is not a farmers’ issue but a political issue. Had Congress been able to pass the farm bill the cue lines would have been different and BJP cadres would have been sitting in solidarity with farmers behind the barricade. Exploiting their proximity to national capital, farmers , mostly from Punjab and Haryana, Western UP are bivouacking for several months on the borders of Delhi and . To this they have added - and carried out on 26th January - the threat of marching to Delhi and holding it to ransom. A national capital under siege would make a global headline any day. As Slavoj Zizek, the maverick Slovenian philosopher said , "The actual pressure must be made more pressing by adding to it consciousness of pressure, the shame must be made more shameful by publicizing it.”
Both the parties employ the logic of today’s populism which can be characterized as “democratic fascism.” Farmers invoke the democratic right to protest, which is fair enough but to claim that democracy and legitimacy is limited to their side is not quite democratic . Their refusal to back down unless the government is brought down to its heels is how “fascism that smells like democracy” operates today.
Critical debate , one of the key components of an open society has now quietly yielded to a phenomenon called guided apophenia .
Apophenia earlier identified as an affliction of a schizophrenic patient who could perceive meaningful connections between unrelated things, has now been normalized as political behaviour. In Indian politics Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s habit of attributing every political difficulty to “foreign hands” and later on to the ISI is an old habit but people took it with a pinch of salt. But now all of us cutting across political divide believe in conspiracy theories with the conviction of a schizophrenic.
The farmers say that the government is sold out to Adani and Ambani and this bill is only to prepare for corporatisation of the farm sector and the immiseration of farmers.( This is quite plausible but where is the evidence?) Government, and the media conscripted to government , have not lagged behind in finding the real reason for the protest : it is financed and orchestrated by Khalistanis and their Pakistani and Chinese masters. Pakistan, China and proponents of Khalistan are enemies of India and anything that can discomfit the country is fair game for them, but where is the evidence?). As Alain Badieu said :“Tout ce qui bouge n’est pas rouge” – all that moves (leads to unrest) is not red. ”
The second example which is an even more convincing proof that those opposed to Modi have embraced the Modi ideology is the anti-vaccine movement which finds its culmination in Prashant Bhushan’s open opposition to vaccine . To quote just one highly irresponsible tweet. “ These mass protests against vaccine madness are now taking place across the world against vaccine mandates , lock downs and mask mandates are now taking place across the world . Despotic rulers are using these measures to keep their people under subjugation after it is clear that these don’t work . Time for mass protests in India too.” The deaths due to oxygen were equally the fault of the state governments but they are missing from the charge sheet against them and Modi finds himself as the sole accused.
At the height of cultural cold war, the non-communist left intellectuals found themselves pitted against another fanaticism of a particular variety, its mirror image. As the American literary critic and essayist Philip Rahv said "Anti-Stalinism has become almost a professional stance. It has come to mean so much that it excludes nearly all other concerns and ideas, with the result that they are trying to turn anti-Stalinism into something which it can never be: a total outlook on life, no less, or even a philosophy of history." Modiphobia becomes a total outlook on life. Mr Modi must be loving it. To become the sole point of discourse in a democracy of 1.4 bn people with infinitely divergent interests is something unprecedented in history.