Friday, June 29, 2007

To the far blue hills

This picture is of the Naga Hills. I don't have a scanned photo of the Khasi or Jaintia Hills, but trust me, there's a lot of places out there that would give Mr Tolkien's Shire a run for its hobbit money.

Not that human money will allow the Northeastern hills to stay beautiful. Its transforming power is everywhere in evidence: ugly buildings, dynamited hills, aspirational drinking holes and smokestacks.

Development zindabad.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rajnikanth for president

For the past few weeks, the papers have been full of news about candidates for India's next president, and none of it has been good. First there was talk of Home Minister Shivraj Patil being the UPA candidate. His claim was based on the same talent that got him the home minister's job: the ability to suck up to The Family. Then things came unstuck because allies didn't want Patil in Rashtrapatri Bhavan, at which some genius promtly replaced one Patil with another. Pratibha Patil's claim to the job appears to be based on the fact that she is a Congress party member, a woman, and a Shekhawat by marriage. It helps that she is also from Maharashtra, since it confuses the Shiv Sena. Diplomatic skills and political acumen are probably not her forte: her first widely reported pronouncement was about the Muslims imposing purdah in India. Since then, she has said nothing, and cartoonists have had a field day with images of her with a gag around her mouth.
She will probably win the presidential elections over Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, now that President Kalam has decided not to run. This will mean more control over the country's institutions for The Family and a new version of a 'goongi gudiya' in Rashtrapati Bhavan.
That does not bode well for democracy. It is unfortunate enough that the greatest and most important political party in India is one that cannot function without a Nehru-Gandhi at the helm. To have all the institutions of government in the service of The Family is to return once again to the age of empires.
In this situation, one can only hope that good sense will prevail, and a strong contender will emerge to take on The Family's protege.
Let's have Rajnikanth for president :)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mayawati and the caste system

Behen Mayawati has declared her intention to aim for the Prime Ministership of India in the next general elections. It will be wonderful if she does indeed manage to build the kind of 'rainbow alliance' she will need to take her there. After all, she seems to be the only politician in the country with the gumption - and the political position - to do anything constructive in the matter of caste.
For far too long, the vote-bank politics of reservation has been propagated by politicians as the cure to social and economic backwardness. The political classes - including the communists, with a few individual exceptions - became so greedy in their pursuit of Dalit, ST and OBC votes that they even refused to follow the Supreme Court's order asking for the benefits of reservation to be taken away from the rich among the backward classes. In other words, they wanted sons and daughters of ministers and IAS officers from these classes to corner the benefits intended for the backward.
Behen Mayawati has declared her intent to introduce an economic consideration into reservations. I am unaware of her position on the creamy layer. However, it is a positive start: even the so called communists in this country have refused to introduce economic backwardness as a criterion in determining the beneficiaries of affirmative action. They have justified this plainly daft position by much hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo. If Mayawati can at least remove caste as the sole criterion for determining backwardness, she will perhaps have done more to remove casteism than anyone since Babasaheb Ambedkar.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The new slaves

I know a lot of people who work very hard. Most of them are in their 20s or early 30s. They slog non-stop from morning to night, and often take work home after all that. There are times when they spend whole nights in office, working.
Their personal lives are usually pathetic or non-existent because they barely have time to catch a movie, let alone maintain a healthy relationship. They earn whatever it is that they do, and have no time or energy to spend it. The only release they get from all that working is the drinking binge, usually with colleagues, at some pub or bar somewhere. This is seen as highly a highly cool and rewarding exercise by many of the people who live this life.
To me, it looks like they have sold themselves into slavery. The definition of a slave is "one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence". The dominating influence in these lives is the job, which is done not for the love of it, but for money. None of these people - bar a few exceptionally stupid ones - really want to be living the kind of lives they are. They know they are not saving the planet or achieving self-actualisation by being corporate lawyers or ad filmmakers or glorified soap-sellers. Those idealistic goals often engender silly, fanatical behaviour. The people who spend all their youth slogging their butts off on money-making jobs - and then pissing the money they do it for down the pub drain - are different. They are lost souls, not fanatics. They are people who lost their way on the highway of life because they were misled by the fake 'glamour' of the 'hep' life. How else does one explain an existence whose weekly high point is a night out in a loud place with strangers, getting drunk? Or purchasing a certain brand of clothes? There is not much joy to be had in these activities - it is by telling people about the 'cool' place they went to, or showing off the 'happening' brand, that these people validate their entire lives.
If that is not a meaningless existence, what is?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Rain Rain Go Away

Perhaps you’ve heard of a place called Cherrapunjee. It used to be in the record books for being the ‘wettest place on earth’. It gets about 450 inches of rain a year. It’s 56 km from Shillong, where I grew up. Don’t give me all that stuff and nonsense about the joys of rain.
Rain is a wonderful thing to sing songs about and for when you’re a marginal farmer somewhere in the vast, dry backsides of beyond that make up our great country. I can imagine those poor unwashed sods singing “kaali megha” and doing Amir Khan-style rain dances. Just don’t expect those of us who come from the wet backsides of beyond to have similar sentiments.
In my part of the country – the Northeast – we get enough rain to flood much of Assam and a good part of Bangladesh every year. Luckily for us, there are a lot of hills out there. So the water runs down the hills – to Bangladesh. It’s terrible, what happens there every year. The scenes are like something out of Mumbai on 26/7. The trouble is, the awful situation lasts for many more days.
Bihar doesn’t fare much better. Every year, the floods kill a hundred or two there as well, and render some millions homeless. The situation always inspires ministers to hop into their helicopters and go sight-seeing.
None of this makes it to Bollywood movies. Since we Indians learn our responses to situations from Bollywood, the absence of an appropriate song-and-dance for the times when floods drown people leaves millions huddled, wet and miserable, and without a ready-made song on their lips.