Sunday, August 30, 2015

Killing a Writer with Bullets and Giving Birth to a Hundred Writers

(MM Kalburgi, writer and left ideologue, assassinated by miscreants)

Writers are no longer safe in today’s world. They are already refugees in the world of words, finding no solace in the real world or in the world of imagination. They create worlds where they pack words along with themselves exactly the way the refugees from the rest of the world try to migrate to the European shores. They may survive in the course of transportation or may perish, either within the containers and freezers or in the jails that they eventually land up. The lucky ones wander in the world of writing selling their talents and emotions to the ones who care. Writers have lost their land of security. They are now being hunted down by the fascists and fundamentalists. If someone has mistaken fascism as a thing of past, it is time for them to rudely woken up into the cruel light of reality. It is still there. If you speak up, they are out there to get you. There are no trials or confinements. The instant execution of justice takes you to the other world where words and lines no longer matter. Or does it matter who knows?

Ours is a time of intolerance. Last century saw how the Islamic fundamentalists issuing Fatwa against the internationally acclaimed writer, Salman Rushdie, who went into hiding for decades only to come up with an autobiographical volume that narrated his life as a refugee and exile, constantly fearing the bullets of the fundamentalists. ‘Joseph Anton’ told us how he lived in London and elsewhere, masquerading like a character in a cheap thriller movie. Reading ‘Anton’ makes things easier for the reader but the narrator had gone through some real hell. That is the virtue of the words and narratives; they make things look less threatening and even a potential death threat would look so desirable in them. Rushdie survived and perhaps the fundamentalists too have lost the steam in that pursuit. Then it was the turn of another Indian Muslim to go in exile. His name was M.F.Husain, the legendary painter though this time his attackers were Hindu fundamentalists from India. Taslima Nasreen from Bangladesh has been running for her life for the last two decades though the very running itself has brought her name, fame, asylum and love. She is safe in India and she has offers from elsewhere too. But she too lives on the edge for the Islamic fundamentalists of Bangladesh have not forgotten her.

(Salman Rushdie)

There was a time when the writers and artists got into trouble with the larger societies; often the point of difference was their writerly ethics. None questioned them for their religious beliefs or bigotry. They were free to express their ideas. Maximum they were questioned for their sexual deviance that challenged the morals of the Christian world. Sade, Castanada, Wild, Lawrence, Genet and so on were criticised for their explicit sexual narratives or even deviant attitudes in personal lives. They were arrested, trailed and punished. But none claimed their lives and none accused them of having done some wrong that demanded capital punishment. But our times things have changed. The world was divided into two by 9/11 when the Islamic fundamentalists attacked the twin towers in the world trade centre in New York. A new villain was born. But unfortunately, they went on consolidating the villain image for themselves by attacking the Dutch cartoonist for caricaturing the Prophet Mohammed. The vicious attacks continued in various forms and its climaxing was in Paris this year when Charlie Hebdo, the satire magazine was attacked and a few cartoonists were shot dead including its editor.

May be we are going through the days of the aftershocks. An earthquake of considerable intensity could raze down a city into nothing. There could be aftershocks that could bring down the rest that defied the first wave of tremors. The aftershocks continued in various forms interestingly in the Indian subcontinent. First it was an attack on U.R.Ananthmoorthy, the famous writer, pedagogue and public intellectual, as he said that he would prefer to live in Pakistan if Narendra Modi came to power. Moorthy was remembering the genocide in Gujarat allegedly masterminded by our Prime Minister who in 2002 was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Modi did win the elections and he became the Prime Minister of our country. But a group of right wing fundamentalists reached his home with abuses and a flight ticket to Pakistan. It was a public shaming of a writer by a faceless mob which was driven by the Hindutva ideology. Our Prime Minister did not do anything to stop such harassment of writers in our country. Moorthy, as he was ailing, did not last long. He left us leaving a strong impression in the society; he still tells us through is writings, how a society should protect its secular fabric.

(late U R Ananthamoorthy)

Violence spread to the rest of the regions and this time it was the Islamic Fundamentalists who picked up the weapons; literally crude weapons like swords and machetes. In Bangladesh, one after another three bloggers were cut down in the streets, in complete view of the helpless public. The attackers came just like any other person in the street and hacked them to death. Washiqur Rahman was the first and Avijit Roy who came from Canada all the way to attend a literary meet went down second and recently Anant Bijoy. What did these writers do? They wrote about the ruthless activities of the Islamic fundamentalists in Bangladesh. They stood for social justice, education and public accountability of the clerics and theologians. They wrote for the people and they strived to hold the democratic values up. Some of them were sounded like atheistic views. The easiest to way to silence them was to hack them into pieces.

The latest is near home. Former Hampi Kannada University Vice Chancellor and a much revered award winning Kannada writer, M M Kalburgi was shot dead today morning by right wing fundamentalists at his home. Being a left ideologue, Kalburgi has been very vocal against the growing right wing fundamentalism in the country, especially in Karnataka. He had been given armed security which was withdrawn a few months back at his request. Today morning, an assassin walked into his house, shot Kalburgi dead and left. The news has already shocked the country and most of the writers and intellectuals have condemned the attack. This incident has a chilling resemblance with the assassination of the rationalist Narendar Dhabolkar in Maharashtra in 2013.

(Taslima Nasreen)

What is happening to our world? Today, three Al Jazeera journalists are given jail sentence in Egypt for operating in the country without sufficient documents. That means, for the state and its fundamentalist wings, writers and journalists have become a threat and they have recognized the fact that the words could be more cutting than the rules and automatic rifles. In Northern India, of late it has become a habit of the goons turned politicians to do away with political bloggers. They are brutally assassinated when they refused to yield to coercive tactics. Writers are the people who still carry the conscience of the world, these incidents reaffirm. How long are they going to kill the writers for writing the truth? How many are they going to kill for telling and singing the truth out? Don’t they know that when one is killed a hundred is born? How can they cut the tongue out of the mouths of millions of people who are capable of writing and still write? Today it is Kalburgi. Tomorrow someone else. But the fight does not stop there with this terror against writers. The more you kill the more they write. They write from skies, from clouds, from rains, from waterfalls, from woods, from sand particles, from rocks, from birds, from animals and from the children who are born every day, they write from jails, schools, colleges, hospitals, asylums, borders, no man’s lands, airports, jogging tracks, gardens, mountains, forests, hills, coffee shops, liquor shops, bars, toddy shops, beedi shops, textile shops, from fish markets, from ships, from streets, and from holes and hovels, from mansions and hamlets, from planned housing complexes and from shanty towns...will you be able to kill them all?  You can kill but you cannot destroy the never say die spirit of a writer. Moving hand writes and writes on. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Along a Village Road

Onam used to drive people out of their homes. That was long back. Today it drives people inside the homes as there are more delicacies served by the television channels. Silence pervades the streets and the lonely street lights let sodium sighs into the air. I walk along the corridor of stillness. On either side I see gates remaining closed, not letting an inch of the outside world in. The moonlit night appears just above the balcony waiting for the maiden of the home to open the windows and witness the fullness of today’s special moon. But nobody opens the window panes. Television sets beam the programs of unintelligence rendering a few generations of people into passive consumers of dumbness. Chimneys filter the dark sorrows of women and send out bluish curls of smoke that carry the souls that crave for redemption that never comes. Laziness burps from a sofa. A black cat crosses my path.

I do not stop. I follow the cat stealthily. Across the road it has just drawn a line of bad omen. I want to know where the line would end. As the cat has appeared from nowhere, the origin of that ill omen should be somewhere there in that darkness. The cat is just a willing tracer of that line. I see it jumping over a broken wall and entering a dilapidated house which has been lying abandoned there for ages. May be all ill omens start from darkness and end up in abandoned houses. Drunkards balance themselves on these lines of ill omens and reach the old house where I am told that someone runs an illegal liquor business. Bad luck keeps the drunken men straight on this line. They hold the invisible pole with both the hands and walk safely into the hands of self annihilation. However, I should say that the drunkards in my village are the best entertainers. They appear before you exactly the way the cats appear from nowhere and demand money. Sometimes you oblige because you cannot forget those good old days when they were your classmates.

Memories make a tunnel and it is all slippery with the slush of things that you would like to forget. So you hold the brass railings polished with the chemical of alertness. The walls of the tunnels are full of pictures and graffiti. It looks like a museum which displays both the modern and contemporary works of art. The pictures and sculptures are properly lit. You tend to stand before them and contemplate. As you look on the stories around it roll out. You just want to run away from there as you know that you yourself had created those pictures and sculptures and you yourself had written their history. They reek with the smell of ancientness and most of its histories are filled with anecdotes of tears, blood, loneliness and cunningness. Perhaps, you are still ready to look in between the pictures and see the framed darkness and those are the spaces that you really try hard to ‘remember’. Why there are so many glaring gaps? Suddenly you realize that those are the gaps that are still with you, helping you pass through the tunnel. You have a dark light and you see your past well with that darkness and your present is all slippery and your future….yes there is always the other end to every tunnel which has light. But here you have an end which has opens into another tunnel made of a rainbow.

As I emerge from the tunnel, I see the lamp posts growing branches and marigold flowers blooming from every inch of those branches. The street is now filled with the fragrance of a thousand flowers. Thin silvery threads run everywhere and you wade through a sea of petals, removing the shining threads carefully. You stop at a threshold. And you see hundreds of people waiting at the either side of the threshold waiting for something to happen. A transparent veil hangs from the door frames and in the gentle breeze it moves. People wait on their winged horses, golden turtles, huge lady bugs, blue giraffes, green camels and crimson elephants. A thunderous noise is heard from somewhere. Everyone waiting rejoices at the noise. They all become alert. A huge procession passes in front of your eyes. A never ending carnival of light, sound and speed; it has languages, fashions, smells, manners and styles from different worlds in a lighting display. A carnival that looked never ending suddenly ends leaving a heavy silence behind. The curtain goes up automatically and the people waiting there on their ethereal animals cross the threshold and disappear. A thousand shiny red spot dangle in the air and move fast and disappear.

I also cross the threshold. Three is a sand path across it. Once upon a time there was a sea and angry master who taught us history drank the sea and it became a sand bed. Under the moonlight the sands sparkle. I see a lot of patterns there. Innumerable beings have walked on it and what I see are the foot prints. Here is the foot prints of a lion, here, of a camel, there those of a cat and horse, here a monkey’s paws, here is the trail of a butterfly that tested its walking feet, this is a mark left by a grasshopper, here is the trail of a the earthworms. Look, here you see the foot prints of a widow, there those of a martyr; can you see the hoof prints of arrogance and aren’t they the marks of disobedience. Here you may see the shadow of a spirit’s feet, and there you could see the feather prints of angels. Look there, isn’t it the shadow of a sword? There, that of a bomb. What is that mushroom out there? And can you see the foot prints of the refugees, still wet? This is the mark of a father who has just received his son’s dead body. Here is the foot print of a son who has just seen his father hanged by the state. At the far end of this sand path, do you see the foot prints of silence that has just received a bullet in its chest? Right there, let’s go and sit for some time. A moon up there, a few boulders here, at the cliff you and me and a raging sea down. Hold my hand, let us walk into that benevolent smile. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hard It Is, Hardik Patel: The Upper Caste Conspiracy in Gujarat

(An ugly face in 21st century Indian politics: Hardik Patel)

They say Hardik Patel has a baby face. They also say that he is all twenty two years old yet he could gather millions of people in Ahmedabad and ask for reservation in jobs and opportunities for his rich and powerful Patel community. He wants some sort of demotion for the Patils who are also known as Patidars from their upper caste status to the Other Backward Community status only because he, curiously and perversely feels like many others in the upper castes do these days, believes that the upper castes are left behind due to reservation policies. Jats and Gujjars in North India have been asking for this demotion for quite some time for the same reasons. They all want opportunities in education and job sectors as they believe that the major chunk of it has been taken away by the lower castes due to reservation. By late 1980s, when Vishwanath Pratap Singh became the Prime Minister of India, he had tried to implement the Mandal Commission Report that assured caste based reservation to many backward communities. North India had shown then the ugliest caste-ist face possible at that time by interrupting public life through strikes and even by self-immolations.

The demolition of Babri Masjid on 6th December 1992 could not have been the direct fall out of the Mandal Commission Report but the upper caste consolidation in the lines of reservation was definitely an outcome of it. With Babri Masjid, the upper caste-ist ideology of Hindutva could take roots in the Indian soil. There has been no stopping of it since then. Today, when Hardik Patel asks for the demotion of his own community in order to avail the fruits of caste reservation he attempts nothing but the perverse distortion of Indian history which is primarily ridden with caste burdens. Perhaps, the history itself is a caste narrative in India in which the upper caste always subjugated the lower caste and reservation policies of the Indian Constitution are the only protection available for the backward and other backward castes. Hardik Patel’s chubby face, which has now become a talking point, however does not lend any cuteness to his argument as his intention is not to read history but to distort it.

(Indian Talibans demolishing Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6th December 1992)

Hadik Patel has been in the making for quite some time. If you are a keen observer of the clues of opinion formation in the public domain as manifested in the postings seen in the facebook and other social networking sites, one could clearly see how cartoons and narratives make the SC/ST and OBC reservations look the dirtiest thing that has happened to Indian history. These pictures and narratives tell us how the backward and other backward communities have been eating away the major portion of the social opportunities leaving the upper castes high and dry. The upper caste supporters make it look like a social crime. It comes to us like a surprise revelation. See, have you ever noticed how our resources and opportunities are taken away or given away by/to the lower castes in the name of reservation, all these pictures and narrative seems to ask. If you repeat a lie several times it may look true to unsuspecting people. There are so many social theories doing the round like this. For example, the statistical falsities that propagated the idea of Muslims taking over Hindus demographically by 2050. A recent religious census conducted by the central government revealed categorically that Hindus are 97 crore and Muslims are a mere 17 crore. The difference is a whopping 80 crore. If Muslims have to overtake Hindus in number they may have to do nothing but engage in procreation.

The fear of lower castes taking away the opportunities of the upper castes is not a new thing. Through various ways of persuasion this idea has been injected in the social psyche ever since the reservation policies were made clear by the governments during the post-independence years. Taking the popular fiction and film narratives as a starting point of investigation, we would find out that in all those we see the upper caste heroes losing pride and property through the heinous activities of the lower caste villains. We hardly have lower caste heroes or heroic identities. In the popular narratives the lower castes appear as powerful yet comical and villainous only to lose grace before the righting capacities of the wronged upper caste villains. A lower caste hero is seen as someone who has usurped the space of the upper caste hero. He cannot stay there for a long time in his heroic throne. Sooner than later he would be relegated to side roles or villain roles. If not he has to migrate to other language movies where he could become either a righteous police officer or ferocious villains or outright comedians.

(Due to his lower caste origins Kalabhavan Mani cannot be a permanent Hero. He has to become villain)

The rise of the lower caste to the positions of power and affluence is a social fear ingrained to the psyche of the upper caste that has been trained to believe that the powerful positions are genetically, generically meant for them. But the new economics and the rise and proliferation of the urban spaces have brought in a different reality that blurred the demarcating lines between the lower castes and the upper castes. The newly emerged middleclass did not work in the lines of castes as the lower caste could raise his status while the upper caste struggled to maintain his position within the middleclass. The promotion as well as demotion within the castes has been driven by economic factors that worked functioned neutrally to certain extent. However, this was not an ideal scenario either. Surnames, complexion, region, language, education, sophistication, customs, rituals, marriages et al played very strong roles in further segregating the society. The blurring of caste lines in the urban spaces at times fails when the above mentioned categories become reasons for demarcating people within the economic level playing fields. While a dark complexioned girl is automatically pushed to the back office jobs despite having good skills in handling a front office, a fair skinned girl (obviously from an upper caste) is brought to the front desk even in the corporate offices where money makes sense than castes. In the hospitality industry also one could see caste working in these lines.

These stray examples are familiar enough to tell us how the caste system is still rampant in our country and it needs so many decades to bring around an even society that would perhaps be called as a casteless society. As of now, we have all the reasons to believe that this division is going to further widen than mending the ruptures caused by caste-ist thinking. Our politicians, policy makers, social engineers, social workers and so on have been working towards the annihilation of castes for a long time. But the demand of Hardik Patel and people like him is meant for collapsing all these efforts and to take India to the dark ages. Hardik Patel, while asking for the demotion of Patels to the OBC, does not consider the fact that the Patels do not need reservation as they have been enjoying power and affluence since the establishment of the caste system. Reservation is something that assures opportunities to the dispossessed. It is a long term process towards establishing an equal society. It is not a process that will continue till the end of the world. Once the caste based inequalities are erased through politics and policies and our country as a whole gain confidence to do away with reservation on caste lines, this will fall off naturally. In a society where everybody has merit in their respective fields there is no demand or need for reservation. In such a socialist situation only reservation for the lower castes will be taken off or reversed or altered to include the present upper castes.

(Manual scavengers should only produce scavengers, as they say)

Hardik Patel claims that his community, though affluent, still has so many poor people who lack in opportunities. Doesn’t he think that as a social leader of an affluent class, he could handle it from within through charity and equal opportunity efforts, exactly the way Sikhs do in their community? There are so many communities in India, for example Parsis and Jains, that do not ask for reservation but they maintain their society very well without letting it fall below a standard. The lower castes that get reservation today have been the victims of the very caste system that has created Patils, Jats and Gujjars. To become equal with their subjugators, the oppressed ones need equal opportunities in all the sectors for a long time till they gain confidence to stand up to their former oppressors. At present that is possible only via reservation. Though our current reservation policies cannot be called fool proof, the counter narrative against the reservation system is not the right alternative as it is ideologically ridden and carefully created to thwart the possibilities of the lower castes coming up in socio-economic and cultural lives. They are status quo-ists and they want the leather tanners to be leather tanners forever and the bhangis (scavengers) to be bhangis forever.

This large scale movement to take India to the old Feudal days is absolutely unjustifiable because Hardik Patel’s idea is not to give equal opportunity to his community though that is the claim, but in fact what he wants is the blatant demand of taking reservation away from the lower castes. He wants to be demoted to an OBC but a lion even if he is called a dog cannot be a dog. He will show his lion’s character if not today, tomorrow. He wants to occupy the social and political space that the OBCs have been occupying through reservation and by snatching that away from them by making further cut to it by enrolling his own community into the list, what he wants is to push out the other backward communities. Once he gets the reservation, he could at once avail the fruits of it and further subjugate the other OBCs. It is also curious why he would like to become an OBC; why not a Dalit? That is where exactly his hidden agenda of Ghar Vapsi lies. If he becomes and OBC he will be always a Patil converted to OBC for convenience. It is just for record sake. And the role of the OBC is ambiguous and is collapsible within the society. But becoming a Dalit means assuming a clear identity of being a Dalit. Being a Dalit means going several rungs down in the caste hierarchy. This will debilitate him from his false pride. He uses the same technique in his Ghar Vapsi. A Dalit converted to Christianity is never brought back to his Patel caste. Instead he is generically brought back to Hinduism and here Hinduism means Dalit.

 (The procession carrying the dead body of the Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal in Mumbai. It is not just Patel power)

Many people ask why there could not be the implementation of creamy layer and economic reservation policies. Though these suggestions sound really good and feasible there is another danger involved in it. Suppose, if we go by creamy layer, that means the economically affluent class within the castes should be taken out of the reservation schemes, there will be large scale corruptions happening in the implementation of it. The same thing would happen if we go by economic reservation. By massive bribing people could influence the officials and lower their economic status on paper and avail the benefits meant for the lower castes through reservation. The economically and socially deprived millions from the lower castes will be further pushed out of this scheme through the rampant corruption that is happening these days even in the case of availing the APL and BPL (Above and Below Poverty Line) ration cards. Many affluent families, by bribing the ration supplier and Panchayat members and political parties get BPL ration cards so that they could get more food benefits from the government while the deserving one struggle as they don’t have the ability to bribe the concerned parties to get a BPL card. This irony has been happening in our country for a long time and if we let the economic reservation to replace the caste reservation, the lower castes and the Dalits are going to be pushed further down the socio-economic hierarchy and it will pave way for the returning of feudalism. Though many people think that making some caste into OBC could solve the present problems in this country they are disillusioned and politically na├»ve. This demand of the Patels for OBC status is more of a social conspiracy than a political conspiracy and the baby faced Hardik Patel knows that he could stall the country for some time, if not forever. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Thin Dangerous Layer of Icy Ethics

(marking a space, from the Great Dictator)

There is no support better than the support of the people. They support you with all their might if you stand for them and stand with them. That also does not mean that the support could often be translated into electoral success. People may understand your worth, embrace your ability to work with them and for them, but at the same time they may even send you messages saying that you are someone who should be staying out of the power that corrupts. They may fail you in the electoral arena but they will love you and follow you. One day, when they decide that it is time for you to take up the reigns of the governance they will let you do it. People judge and when they judge they judge absolutely. That does not mean that their judgment should be right always. When their judgment goes wrong, they themselves pay for it with their lives, if not for ever but at least for five years.

When you read this, you may think that I am anticipating an electoral defeat of the AAP, a political platform that I have chosen to the serve the people or to articulate the issues of the people. I know that I am not that kind of person who has the ability to handle complicated political issues. But I understand political issues so long as those are about people and their problems, not about the legal tangles, technical complications and mazes of corruption. When you are not corrupt and you have the ability to work with the people and work for the people, things become much easier. Today morning I went out with my senior front who I consider as my leader in my village, and started writing ‘AAP’ large on the walls. There was not a particular intention to choose this auspicious day to perform this public act of graffiti writing on the walls. Today is a very special day for the Keralites as they celebrate Onam today by cleaning homes and lighting the lamps.

 (marking the walls in my village)

I am not so keen about lighting the lamps anymore. I like lit lamps but which I believe that should be lit everyday with the same verve that people show during the Onam days. Lighting the lamp means dispelling darkness. It is a symbolic act in the days of electric lights and illuminations. An ancient way of dispelling darkness has now taken a different meaning; symbolic and pious. When you light a lamp you light a lamp in the minds and hearts of the people. It is supposed to remove ignorance. But people in Kerala generally are immersed in ignorance. The more they light the lamp the more they go into the deep darkness of ignorance. Onam has become a shopping spree. People shop every day and they do shop on the Onam days also. People used to shop during Onam days once upon a time because those were the days when people gathered enough money to spend and celebrate. In a limited economy it was the only way to spend or buy new things. Today, people have a lot of money and they spend as if there is no future.

I have so many reasons to feel aversion towards Onam. First of all, I have not been celebrating it for the last twenty two years. And after my school days most of the Onams had bitter memories. During the school days we had anticipated the Onam days. We could play, feast and celebrate. For ten days, we did not open our text books. In college, I started understanding the economics of Onam. It needed a lot of money to celebrate Onam. Anything and everything had to be tallied with the money that one had to spend. Slowly I started moving away from it. The places of celebrations where one could enjoy Onam without spending money were taken over by concrete buildings. The public places were turned into the carnival of hooliganism. Today, the complexion of hooliganism has changed considerably. On its place a new Hindu verve has come in. I hate that. Onam did not have anything to do with Hindus particularly. All and sundry used to celebrate it here. Now, it has become a celebration of Hindus.

(Onam lamps)

Decision to go out to paint the walls was largely depended on the special nature of this day. At home, they said today they were all going to eat vegetarian food. But I could sense that they were going to make fish. People have fixed a day for meat also. That is on the third day of Onam. That is a sort of permissible adjustment. But what about drinking liquor. I was out to book the walls with my friend. I saw a few very ‘respected’ people in my village sitting in their cars and drinking liquor in the morning itself. I asked my friend why they could not drink at their homes. He told me that they were respecting the day. Ah…that’s it. They can drink inside the cars but they cannot drink at home. People drink as if there is not tomorrow. We went out to paint the walls because we thought it was the right day for doing it. WE DID NOT have anything to do today. Some people thought that we wanted to show our rebellion. But in fact there was no point in showing our rebellion to anybody. While they all want to go by the norms of the society, we just want to tell them politely, our path is different. We are in the same direction but the path is slightly, for them ‘off the right’ and for us, ‘right there on the track’.

I was cycling down to the party office in the evening. At the market junction I met a friend of mine. He has been working in some gulf countries and has come back just now to celebrate Onam. He told me that he was rushing back home to light the lamp. I said that was okay and we would meet soon. He asked me where I was going. I told him about my routine visit to the party office in the evening. He asked me to join for a drinking session once I am ‘over’ with my party work. I politely declined his invitation. He decided to dangle some carrots before me saying that he has brought some good ‘Scotch’. I smiled at him and peddled away. ‘Scotch’ is a catch. Many people would fall for it. I am not a new convert to the religion of non-drinkers who would preach from the roof top against the vices of drinking. My reason for declining that offer was simple and complex at the same time. Whatever scotch it is I am not tempted by anything in this world. If I want to drink I will definitely drink. If I don’t want nobody can force me, that simple it is. It is also complex because I do not understand why people show so much of Hindu fervor in rituals and once done they rush to hold the bottle? I do not like this hypocrisy and in multiple levels of perspectives that include religious, ethical, moral and political, I oppose such breaching of customs.

 (a scotch I learned to enjoy)

I really wanted to eat beef today because I wanted to tell my mother and sister that there is a lot of hypocrisy in saying that Onam days are vegetarian days and then eating fish covertly, finding flimsy reasons for making a non-vegetarian dish. I spoke to them of getting some beef or chicken today. But then they were like Hindu fanatics. They put their foot down and said that they will not allow ‘non-veg’ at home today. I could not understand the double standard of my own family members. If they are like this, how the other people would be. It is a difficult world of funny ethical standards. Hence, I decided to go and eat beef today at least to tell myself that I was not a hypocrite. But surprisingly all those shops that sell beef fry and parota were closed for lighting the lamp. What a pity! But people are very interesting. Whether they show double standards or not, if they show flimsy ethics or not, they are very poor and insecure. Hence they rush to judge people. But after judging, when they are left alone they face their conscience and they feel ashamed of themselves. So when they see you alone on the road, walk up to you and say, ‘Brother, we are with you.’ Thank you. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Boy who Received his Death, Smiling

(child and snake- representational purpose only)

I read a piece of news today; a small news item in a corner. I could have skipped it. But there was this face of a cute child. He found his space in news by his death. Birth of a child may be a familial event but the death of it becomes a public event. We too are like that. Many of us come to this earth hardly people knowing about it. But some of us, when our part is played well or ill and it is time to remove the grease paint from face, death could be an event that people celebrate or mourn. When miscreants kick the bucket people rejoice and when the pious ones depart even the nation mourns. There are some places in our country (also elsewhere in the world) where death is celebrated irrespective of the deceased person’s social standing. They take the dead body in a regal procession; death is a joker as the bard had said, but not always. Death is an event provided the dead body is found out. Finding out a mass grave is a historical event. Death of the powerful and affluent could change the course of history. At the same time, deaths of the ordinary people also could change the very narrative of history. In our own humble ways, we too contribute to the making of history, if not by life, surely by death.

The child in the news paper was bitten by a snake yesterday. His grandmother had taken him to the courtyard to collect some coconuts. She made him stand under a coconut tree. For a three year old child he was too obedient. He did not move from there. A slimy creature bit him. He did not raise an alarm. He stood there wondering at the creature that had left two red spots on his leg. When his grandmother came back, he told her that he was bitten by a snake. Horrified, she rushed him to the hospital. But by that time he was gone. I read that news again and again. I could not contain my tears. I was in a train, travelling to another district to attend a meeting. The morning was bright and the air was cool. The coach was full but I felt some kind of emptiness. I read the news again. I was just imagining that scene. A child, who did not know what a snake meant stood there and received the sting of those poisonous fangs. He could be a child who took his death so lightly and happily. It must be a sort of deliverance for him; who knows.

 ( a scene from Mischief Makers, Truffaut's film)

Children are like that, innocent and receiving; but not always. They could be caring and at the same time irritating and insulting. They could bring out that criminal hidden inside you by their insistent and persistent mischief. They could be truant and wayward. But what makes them distinct from the grownups is their ability to receive. They could receive even a snake bite without any complaint. They do not suspect people and creatures. Children do not anticipate danger. They could face an atomic explosion right in front of their eyes with a smile. What make them scared are the frightened faces of their parents. If parents stand smiling, children also would smile. They would overcome hardships if at all they feel, by sleeping. They will sleep till they find themselves ready to face the reality. By that time the atrocious events might have taken place. If there is a loving being around, they would not even cry. Even if they cry, they do so because they do not know how to explain the inexplicable.

The other day, a mother and two children got into the same bus which I was travelling in to the city. The bus was rather empty. But as the young mother could not handle both the small boys, she rushed one of them to my seat which could accommodate three and she sat next to the child with the other child on her lap. The moment bus moved the child on her lap fell asleep. I knew that the next was the other one’s turn. Sooner than later I felt that small burden on my side. I smiled and looked at him. He had already gone into a deep sleep. His mother was embarrassed. She was looking at me with apologetic eyes and was making vain efforts to pull him away while balancing the other child on her lap. I told her that it was okay. I let him sleep on my side and later when my stop came I took him up, laid him on the seat which had now become a small bed of sorts and came out. Today, in the train, while coming from the meeting, I saw a four year old child coming with his father and finding his nest on the lap of a young man in his early twenties and sleeping away as if it was his mother’s lap. Perhaps, what attracted me most was the young man’s selfless act of cuddling the child to his chest as if he was his mother.

( a female singer in an Indian train- representational purpose only)

Then came a song, accompanied by the rhythm of a crude device made out of two pieces of stone. The singer was a woman and the voice was a disembodied voice. I could not connect the voice with the woman. Her voice was shrill and she sang all the songs in the same tune. The tapping of the stone pieces was felt like another track. Her voice was just walking over that track, lazy and wailing. She sang the usual songs; Tujhe Dekha to yeh jaana sanam et al. The original tune has been forgotten. I was reading the history of the Saint Chavara Kuriakose who was instrumental in establishing the first nunnery in Kerala in 1866. I had just read a line from his teaching that none should be sent back without giving alms if they had come seeking help. Suddenly a small child, perhaps three year old, appeared in front of me. She was holding a bunch of coins in her little fist and the other hand had a fistful of ten rupees notes. I took out a two rupees coin and pushed into her right fist. What amused me was her unaffected stance. She had pride in her eyes and I heard a feeble humming. She was singing along with her mother! I trained my ears; yes she was singing along with her mother, perhaps much better than her. Suddenly, time came and engulfed me. I could see the future clearly. Some other place and some other train, a young girl is seen singing the same song and another girl child going around collecting money. It is a never ending cycle. And some miracle could happen. A music director or a film maker or some philanthropist must be traveling by that train. They could change her life. Suddenly the train changed tracks. I was woken up from my day dreaming. I could see each person travelling in that compartment, holding a small child resembling him/herself, in his or her lap, carefully and with a lot of  love.  

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blessings that Come from Nowhere

I do not know from where the blessings come. But they do keep coming. I do not push my way into anything, whether it is life in general or getting into a bus in particular. I am always inside the life so I need not rush or push myself into it. Those people who believe they are outside of it feel the necessity to elbow others out just to get in. When I am inside a bus with full of people, with no space to even stand, the moment I open my book and start reading space comes around me. People adjust their bodies to give me enough room and light to read. Some even offer seat that I politely refuse. There was a time, when I was less confident about myself I used to fight with people for leg room inside a thickly packed bus. Today, anywhere I go space is created for me. Or is that I do not go to a place where I do not find a space for myself? I am not talking about place, but space. One needs space to feel oneself.

The other day I was in a heavily packed train compartment on my way to home from Trivandrum. When I entered the jam packed compartment there was not an inch of space. But people seemed to be cool about it and most of them were at their own mobile phones punching and sliding fingers on the illuminated screens. This could be one reason for that none of them get irritated as a new one makes an entry. Fights used to erupt in a pre-smart phone era when new people came to the jam packed compartments. To make matters worse there used to be no working fans in those rickety compartments. These days there are fans even if three fans in a coupe are not just enough for those thirty sweating bodies under them. But people do not mind if a few people push themselves into it. I too was one yesterday squeezing myself into the compartment. I moved forward, without forcing myself and lo I saw the change. People gave me way. I did not look at anybody I kept moving like a snake and I found myself not so comfortably standing between two long benches facing each other, filled with people. They moved their feet and made space for me to stand. To my surprise an old person got up from the iron berth and asked me whether I wanted to climb up and sit. I politely declined that invitation. The other person who too was occupying the other berth did the same. I declined that too. I opened my book and read till I reached the station where I was supposed to get down.

I do not carry my simplicity, piety, compassion, love for the world and anything like that on my sleeves. Sometimes, when I watch myself at the glass windows of the showrooms I see my reflection quite ordinary and at times arrogant. I could be passed off for an ordinary man and believe that I am an ordinary man. However, people make me very special at times. One day I went to buy a pair of jeans in a textile shop. On the fourth floor where the men’s wears were displayed, a salesgirl accompanied me throughout and helped me in getting the right pair. I told myself that I should not have felt something special. Salesgirls are deputed there to make each customer special. But even after I made the payment, walked out into the streets people were giving me space and I was too special to be there. I wanted to run away from that place. You may think that I am joking or feeling unnecessarily self important. I can get into a place like a breeze and get out of there just like that. None will notice me. But I believe they feel me just like they feel a breeze.

As I said before, I never tell people that I am compassionate. I listen to people when they tell me their stories. That does not mean that I am compassionate. They may be feeling that I am compassionate; that is their problem. I look happy and I want to look happy because I believe that I am a happy being and every human being should look and feel happy. And every human being has got the right to be happy as his constitution is the constitution of happiness. People make themselves unhappy because they feel that happiness is a crime. Our religions have taught us to be sad. When you are sad the God comes to help you. If god does not come directly, his middlemen come. That is the way the religious business thrives. They scare you of punishment if you really feel happy. They connect it with some kind of sin. So you should feel sad and removing the sadness comes with a price tag. You pay and get your momentary happiness. That’s how people feel happiness. The more their sorrows the more they feel their happiness. Even a little bit of happiness makes them so happy when they are nose deep in sorrow. But I am a happy being and it is infectious I feel. When I walk into the classroom, students get with an exclamatory noise and clap. It embarrasses me. They are so happy to see me there. My students curse the peon when he rings the bell. Have you seen students like that who just do not want to leave a teacher? My students are like that. I teach them and let them to learn than to be taught.

I was climbing down the stairs. I did not know when the train would leave the platform. But I saw a girl struggling with a huge suitcase. She could not even balance her feet as the weight of the box was rendering her absolutely anchorless. While climbing down, I went to her picked up the suitcase and came down and kept it at the foot of the stairs and walked off. She came running behind me and said thank you. I did not turn my head though I said, do not mention. I walked off. You may ask if it was an old man or an old woman would I have done the same thing. I would have done the same thing in the given context. I did not see an old woman or an old man climbing down with a heavy suitcase. It happened to be a young girl. I did not register her figure or face because I was seeing her legs wobbling. I picked up the suitcase while she was still hauling it. She might have been really surprised. It was an instinctual thing to do. I did not think too many things. Nor did I try to justify or critically view my act. I did that the way my reflexes allowed me to, and walked off. This was an act which demanded no reward or recognition. Even if the girl had not said a thank you, I would not have felt bad because hauling that suitcase was not an act of compassion. It was purely a reflex and an instinct. I have done it before; pushing carts, helping someone to lift a heavy load, taking somebody’s luggage and so on.

May be blessings come from nowhere exactly the way blessings are given out from nowhere. I came out of a railway station. A friend came and picked me up in his car. He took me around and showed me things. He took me to the venue where he and myself were participating in a program. He booked us into a hotel room. He took me for a drink and dinner. We slept on the same cot at the either edges. We got up on the next morning and he treated me with breakfast. He took me somewhere to a large museum where he was doing a great project. Then he took me back to the station and fed me with lunch. He saw me off and left for his home. The moment he left I realized that for the last two days he has been taking care of me. He never allowed me to pay for anything nor did he make me feel inadequate. Just before he left I sang a couplet; ‘the one who protects and the one who punishes would forgive us if something has gone wrong’. He knew what I meant. He shook hands with me and left. Did I ask for that hospitality? I had never asked for it. They say there is no free lunch. But everything cannot be based on no-free-lunch theory and barter. There could be some deeds that are meant to be that, that alone, nothing more nothing less. The moment we define it we lose the quality of that deed. Blessings shower on me from places and people whom I have not seen in my life and the ones I know as well. But they are blessings; the invisible gifts that trace their way to us for the deeds that we have done unknowingly sometime, somewhere. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Well Timed Relief for Farmers on Nana Patekar’s Welcome Back

(Nana Patekar, Indian film star)

When a sixty four year old actor decides to help the poor farmers in this country where they would even travel miles to commit suicide in full view of the live media (cameras) I should not look at that helping hand with doubt or cynicism. Like many in the media as well as in the public domain I too appreciate the act of the Bollywood start, Nana Patekar who has just declared financial help to the widows whose husbands have committed suicide due to crop failure and debt. Patekar has also said that if anybody feels like committing suicide, before doing that act of self annihilation, he or she just remember him and approach him so that he could extend his helping hand. Social media is abuzz with the news and the news has gone almost viral. Once again I tell myself, behave. Don’t be cynical. But I have to take this news with a pinch of salt.

First of all Nana Patekar, though he is a methodical actor and has been successful in reaping good at box office, has never been a social worker in the true sense. In his younger days he had acted in films like Gaman and Salaam Bombay where he acted more like a Tapori (an urchin) and his matured films include Parinda, Prahaar, Krantiveer, Agnisaakshi and so on. While Amitabh Bacchan played the roles of a brooding angry young man, Nana Patekar presented his alter ego. His characters were highly vocal and in more than one ways incited people for executing street side justice. His characters expressed thorough cynicism for law and order and he waited till the evil displayed all its colors and the weapons in store. His characters waited and watched like mad men who were not affected by the presence of evil. He exhorted other people take up cudgels for themselves and only when they failed he came up to vanquish the evil.

(Nana Patekar in the film Krantiveer)

Nana Patekar became very close to the people in Maharashtra than the film goers in the North Indian Hindi speaking Bollywood lovers for he expressed the Marathi-Manus character. If Amol Palekar was acting out the timidity of a typical Marathi or Mumabikar who would do some tricks to survive in the big bad city and would show all skills to flow with the stream, Patekar was the aspiring side of the Marathi, who would take all the dirt on him till he is provoked and become a tiger. That’s why his filmi dialogues were the staple items in the Shiv Sena processions and the Marathi youth in those days liked the cassettes of Patekar’s recorded dialogues. They cherished his dialogues more than the mainstream Hindi movie songs. Patekar could complete Palekar or the other way round. Though they did not act together in films, they complemented each other tremendously and became integral part of the Marathi pride.

From the anguished but cynical lonely man, Patekar moved to characters that showed patriotism. They could kill anybody for clearing this society of all kinds of human vices. Patekar showed tremendous skill in acting patriotic characters and at the same time his performance was unparalleled when it came to the presentation of psychotic characters. As he moved from cynical characters to the villainous ones, his ranting and peculiar dialogue delivery became more poetic, shrill and intense but by the time he started acting the roles of cops, his dialogue delivery became much more controlled and grave. While Amitabh Bacchan moved from his monosyllables to long dialogues in his later movies, Patekar took the reverse routes. His guns spoke while his tongue rested in the holster of his mouth. Patekar’s acting abilities found full fruition in Marathi movies like Baba Amte and his tested his comic bone in the mainstream Bollywood multi starrer like Welcome. We could say, as an actor, Patekar has done all kinds of roles that an actor would cherish to do. Now what is left for him?

(Nana in Ab thak Chappan)

I remember Patekar in an interview with the television journalist Rajat Kapoor in his program ‘Aap Ki Adalat’ (Your Court/People’s Court) reciting a poem on water. He could eke out thunderous applause including standing ovation from the studio audience as he could impress them with his oratorical skills. In fact that was an enactment of the younger Patekar who had enthralled the audience with his dialogue deliveries. When people see a matured and old Patekar doing the same but with lot of environmental concerns, he once again becomes the darling of the audience. But at the same time, in one of the commercials we see a rough, reticent but no nonsense Patekar acting as a middle class shopper in a shopping mall where he is offered a chocolate in the place of change. He reacts by giving his shoes as the total amount for the grocery. To the surprised salesperson he says that as they would not take his shoes for money why should he take their chocolate for change? Once again Patekar was playing to the gallery.

The new move of Patekar is a populist move because all the film actors in the country cannot come forward and give away money to the people who have committed suicide and who are intending to do so. It is not the job of the film actors and actresses or anybody in this country to distribute their hard earned riches to the poor people. You may be surprised to hear this. Nana Patekar or anybody else in that case could do so. But it is not their job. Philanthropy and charity are good but they do not fundamentally change poverty in a country. Changing the socio-economic imbalance through political programs and will is the duty of the elected governments. The governments that take tax from people cannot expect the film actors to do the public charity. Even if Patekar does it, is he going to help all those who have lost their kith and kin in this debt related- crop failure related deaths? What would he do if a whole lot of people in this country come before him and tell him that they are about to commit suicide? When there is an elected government, we should not expect a society or country could be run on charity.

(Nana's latest film Welcome Back poster)

The second reason I would cite for not accepting this move of Nana Patekar is this that it is not a political act. It does not have any ideology other than human compassion (which too comes under cloud and I would explain it soon). Any act devoid of an ideological aim or theoretical strength cannot run a long innings as it is bound to crumble under the weight of practical problems. Patekar claims that he knows Phadnavis, the chief minister of Maharashtra and it is time that the government should do something towards this calamity called farmer suicide. In fact, by giving away money to the affected, we come to know that Patekar was not intending to shame the government. Had it been so we could have appreciated the move. But here the actor is just performing his role as a Marathi elder who ‘knows’ Phadnavis even before he became the chief minister of the state. If it was a really a political move which could create a long term result, Patekar could have gone on record implicating the successive governments. Instead taking an appeasing route, he could have boldly spoken against the government/s. But his intention is not that.

The fact that chokes me with indignation is the timing of Patekar’s move to help the farmers. On 4th September, his new movie ‘Welcome Back’, a sequel to the rom-com, Welcome is going to be released where he share screen space with Anil Kapoor, John Abraham and Paresh Raval. Just before the release of their new movies, most of the Bollywood stars either do something good to the society or they get into some kind of controversy. Amir Khan is the best example of a do gooder before the release of his movies. Some stars paint or exhibit their works and give away all the money to some charity organization (Salman Khan), some stars take their families to some European trip (Akshay Kumar), some stars fall in or fall out of love with their co-stars (the younger ones like Ranbeer Kapoor et al) or someone like Shah Rukh Khan appear on a stage show talking about Hindu-Muslim unity. They are all stunts that are meant to promote their movies. Nana Patekar knows who is going to get the media space by announcing relief to the farmers. Who else knows the Indian psyche better than the people who move them with their histrionics? Hence, I have all the reasons to doubt Nana Patekar though I like him as an actor. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Momentary Transgressions of Body and Desire: The Black Shirt- Off White Dhoti Syndrome

(a poster of the movie Premam that triggered a fashion trend in Kerala)

Films influence people. Only those who are aesthetically as well as philosophically dumb, deaf and blind could gesture that the films don’t. When a Police Commissioner says that certain films of recent times in Kerala have influenced the young people hugely and wrongly, some people thought the Commissioner was just saying something very retrogressive. Those who say that the films do not influence do it just for the sake of saying it and for the time being they may look like the champions of freedom of expression. But the recent organized frenzy, shown by the college students in celebrating Onam shows that the observation of the Police Commissioner is nothing but right. Some people again argue that such organized celebrations have been on for the last few years and nothing new about it. Something is new; the death of an innocent girl who was supposed to celebrate her Onam also with her parents in her village. The revelers have taken her life.

When I see the video clippings from those wild celebrations of Onam, I cringe in shame. What do you see there? A host of young boys and girls wearing some sort of uniform, adopted from one of the recent super hit Malayalam movies, Premam. Though Premam was not a violent movie in itself, the dress code of the hero (state award winning actor Nivin Pauli) seems to have taken the youngsters by force. The black shirt-off white dhoti folded to show the aggression has become a deadly combination which has inspired not only the boys but also the girls. A recent photograph published by a leading newspaper in Kerala showed a group of girls wearing this black shirt-off white dhoti combo and doing a power walk in their campus. In the video clippings of organized revelries within and outside the campuses show them wearing the same dress like an accepted uniform of aggression. They are seeing shouting and dancing on fire engines, open trucks and even state transport corporation buses. I would like to accuse the concerned government departments that let these boys and girls hire public service and utility vehicles for a nominal rent. While they stand accused, I do not want to dwell at length there.

(girls at St.Theresa's College, Eranakulam acting out the new trend)

My concern is more on that dress code worn by those boys and girls in their impressionable age. In their adolescent camaraderie it is natural that young boys and girls wear similar looking clothes in order to affirm their affiliation to that kinship and friendship. While in schools, they wear uniforms reluctantly but at the same time take a lot of pride in them when they come in real as well as ideological collision with other schools and while in colleges as there are no such restrictions on dress code, they enjoy wearing similar clothes on a stipulated day and reiterate their kinship. There is something primitive and tribal aspect about it and also the trust and bonding formed through similar clothes help them both in containing and flaunting their good and bad energies within a given milieu and context. Though this kind of dress related kinship does not give them any kind of authority, the imagined unity helps them to forget their individual weaknesses and act as one either to do good or wreck havoc in the society. Unlike the youth wing members of the political, social and religious parties, these boys and girls who wear similar looking clothes do not have any ideological adhesive to keep them going or together. Hence this temporal kinship acts like an intoxicant that hides as well as reveals the collective mind of a group of people.

Often a film or a music album triggers such common tendencies in a society. The reasons for emulating a dress code from a film must have something to do with the collective aspiration of a society or the members of a society. Though there could be logical routes that could be traced for the sake of some sociological and psychological arguments, it is not necessary that it always needs a logical reason for such emulations. People imitate manners, clothes, foods and so on for the heck of it. There are people in our society who behave in a certain way only because they work in a hospital, for example the nurses behave more or less the same way within the hospital atmosphere. Policemen and drivers behave in a certain way because of the conditions within which they operate. There are young people behave in a certain way only because they are working in the IT industry. I have asked a few young IT professionals for the reasons why they eat wafers and cola instead of some organic food or drinks. They all have answered me that they do it because the others in their ‘company’ do it. Some of them know that it affects health badly but still they continue with it only because it makes them ‘belong’ to a particular tribe of professionals. 

(casual as aggression)

Sometimes the imitating of dress codes from a super hit movie happens without much rhyme or reason. The best logical answer possible that you get if you dare to ask the question why to those who imitate would be a smile of embarrassment, a shrub or an ‘I don’t know’ or maximum, ‘everybody does it so do I’. This mindset or this mindlessness is what makes people (of different age groups) do things that they are not expected to do. For example, in Kerala people go to shop in a particular mall, travelling around four hundred kilometers and buy a pair of shoes or some furnishing materials and come back. If you ask why they did not by anything special, they would say that all those ‘special’ items are very costly and even if they wanted they would buy it from the nearby shopping centers. To the question ‘why’ they went all the way, nobody gives a particular answer but we could deduce that they went because somebody else had gone there to shop. There is no peer group pressure in such act and there are no external persuading elements like advertisements or anything. It happens because of certain abstract reason.

This abstraction in consumption or presentation of the self image (individual as well as collective) is well expressed in his novel ‘Black Book’ by the Turkish Nobel laureate for literature, Orhan Pamuk. In this novel, while talking about the life in Istambul, Pamuk speaks about the posters of a chubby little white skinned boy shedding tears from his one eye find their ways into the drawing rooms of all homes in Turkey. There is no explanation why these posters become so dear to the citizens in Turkey. Pamuk says that such phenomenon does not have any logical explanation; it just happens. The films try their best to create trends through music, special effects and fashion. Some do catch up with the imagination of the people and some don’t. Most often they fizzle out because the trend setting solutions are so ‘fantastic’ that none would like to imitate them in real life. One cannot fight ten people so skillfully like a well trained dancer and still win the hands of the heroine without biting dust. One cannot jump from many floors up and still land without breaking a bone. Maximum a boy or girl could do is speeding in their mo-bikes and unfortunately the real life is not performed in ‘controlled condition’, one gets the skin peeled off in the process.

Going by the Orhan Pamuk theory, I do not find any reason for these boys and girls wearing this black shirt-off white dhoti combination. I understand that it evokes an imagined sense of the film narrative in the real life situations and a sort of catharsis could be eked out by using it. It is in an imaginary plain that these fantasies of transcending one’s personality are played out. The film character who uses this dress code with a purpose as the film narrative demands and the stylist and the director find this suitable in the given frame, do not come to re-create the same conditions in the real life. Hence, the displaced satisfaction becomes a fetish, therefore Freudian, related to a nascent and nebulous erotic satisfaction, which in fact is not connected to sexual organs. The macho of the dress is not even macho because this macho in the social plane could also be hijacked and used by the girls. For them too, this becomes a part of role reversal in an erotic sense, cross dressing performed in/as a sexual act. This cross dressing, whether performed by a girl or a boy, in more than one ways de-sexualises and re-sexualises the bodies, opening it for further aggressions than suppressions. It takes away the gender attributes and the related social restrictions and within the given context, even if you are not wearing the same clothes, as dominated by the chosen dress code, the gender specificities of your usual clothes also merge or dissolve to take part in the collective orgy of aggression and displaced display of erotic prowess.

I would say that this erasure of identity as a male or a female by the adoption of a flimsy dress code from a film, without any underpinnings of ideologies helps the boys and girls to enter into a social space without obeying the rules already written there. For many, it would be and should be seen as an act almost like the ‘desecration of a holy space’ and also as an occasion to flout the rules of the state and the home as well. However, I would say that such momentary transgressions of identity into a nebulous radical identity devoid of gender specifications cannot be productive as a political act or thought with ideological clarity because in this flimsy transcendence or transgression, which unlike a carnival that celebrates variety and polyphony, promotes a high amount of homogenization. It becomes an aggressive mind with a hundred bodies doing the same thing because they are wearing a dress code. This single mindedness cannot be compared or likened with the uniformed bodies in the police or military. These bodies are trained to perform that one singular duty with a singular mind. Here in the case of these revelers even if they are united by the symbolism of a dress code they are not meant to do the single act. But their acts that desire some kind of singularity fail utterly when the act goes wrong and causes the death of a fellow human being.

 (Unheard of Onam celebrations with fire engine)

The most pathetic sight that I see these days in the streets is the presence of so many men, both young and married and settled types wearing this black shirt-off white dhoti combination. Ideally they all should sport a thick moustache. I see them in railway stations, bus stands, markets, shopping malls and so on. In their collective transformation into a singular identity homogenized by an imagination they populate the public domain with the little presences of mindless and stupidity. Emaciated dark bodies that imitate the dress code of a middle class well fed young man look so caricature-ish. The only solace is that this mindless orgy is enacted not only by the slum dogs but also by the ones who live in high rises that hate the presence of slums in their vicinity. Yet, even this dress code does not unite those bodies; the social difference of physical attributes remains yet another marker that divides the society vertically and horizontally too. The cheapness of the clothes and the color black is another topic that demands the scope of a full article.  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thesni Basheer’s Death and the Issue of Male Chauvinistic Educational Spaces

(a college campus- for representational purpose only)

Our educational spaces are fast turning into male chauvinistic spaces where the rules created by the males not only decide the complexion of the instructive spaces but also the quality of the possible recreational spaces. The spaces within the architectures of the educational institutions as well as around them are not really neutral spaces meant for imparting education and skills without heeding to the ideological undercurrents of the state and the agencies that run the given institutions. The rules that govern not only the society but also the homes get replicated in these institutional spaces where often the males get more freedom to move and also opportunities to play out his fantasies.

Stepping into the main gate of an educational institution itself is a territorial incursion as far as a female student is concerned as she suddenly has to re-design and modulate her movements according to the demands of the space design and decision. As I said earlier, there could a tremendous amount of social replications of ideologies within the institutional spaces, however the imaginary freedom that an educational space is supposed to lend to a student in fact facilitates both the male and female students to re-imagine the social space in a different way once he or she enters the main gate of an educational institution. But what she confronts is the reality of the sudden collapse of such an imaginary freedom and a forced introduction into the gendered spaces that clearly curtail the freedom of the students who do not agreed with the dominant (ideology of the male) therefore automatically rendered useless/weak/dispossessed/prone to be vandalized/overpowered and if need be killed.

(some bike stunt)

As our point of reference is a co-ed institution, perhaps the same observations look a bit falsified or exaggerated when it comes to the realities of a segregated educational institution. However, even within the female only/women only educational spaces one could see how the male ideology of the state or the agencies being operated through the principals, teachers , matrons, wardens, leaders, class monitors, house leaders and so on. The sight of the expressions of the ideological differences and confrontation (with the state and institution) taken up by the students themselves in women only colleges are so rare that if anyone attempts such an act would automatically curbed by calling names such as truant, gone, feminist and slut etc. Those who show confrontational attitudes but still are ready comply with the dominant ideology of the state and institutions automatically become leaders where as the ones who are called names for being ‘radical’, ‘different’ or ‘uncompromising’ become intellectuals and social activists. While the former group of people gets chances in the mainstream politics (till they are rudely shaken up to understand that no longer their kind of freedom is expected within the mainstream politics therefore they could relegated to lesser positions or no positions at all) the latter group or group members continue their agitation through playing and ideating identity politics, becoming public intellectuals and social activists.

While exceptional cases could be classified into two as just mentioned above, the majority of the students are supposed to obey the hierarchical spaces created within the educational institutions. There was a time even if the women students were a minority within the co-ed schools and colleges, they used to receive some kind of parity in terms of education if not in terms of facilities. There are not too many evidences or narratives from those educated women of the early twentieth century till the third quarter of the same century. Regimenting the educational spaces in the gender lines seems to be an outcome of the arrival of an economically affluent middle class. The middle class educational narratives as evident in the popular black and white movies of sixties and seventies show that women who go to study in colleges are haughty and ‘occupied’ a lot of space within the recreational spaces and narratives of such institutions till they were dominated and domesticated by the handiworks and persuasions of the heroic characters; who did not leave any stone unturned to curb the women that included a lot of singing and hugging and eventually a tight slap). A little bit of eve teasing was a reality in those days too as getting a BA Degree was considered to be a social as well as economic achievement of the slowly emerging middle class. However with the advent of the real middle class, post-Middle East boom and the post-liberalization, the women’s spaces within the colleges have become a bit more regimented and structured than their counterparts in the black and white era where the educated women went to become the sidekicks of the villain or the sidekicks of the educated hero. That was an educational ‘fall out’ but the spaces were free for them too within the educational institutions.

(Thesni Basheer who was killed in College of Engineering Trivandrum in a freak revelry accident)

The middle class brought all the changes that went absolutely wrong within the educational spaces. The corridors that were used both by the male and female students became the display ramps of the male dominating acts (of heroism). Turning of the corridors and partly the classrooms into the locations for displaying the ‘macho’ acts of boys and young men has immensely contributed in converting the liberal spaces within the educational institutions more male dominated and regimented. This conversion could be connected to the power to spend and flaunt (of the male students) their wealth and health, at the same time it could be connected to the domination of particular political parties and their students’ wings within these educational spaces. The fight for political supremacy has brought in a different scenario in colleges and schools where the corridors, canteens, courtyards, playgrounds and so on become not only recreational spaces but also spaces of/for violence and aggression, which would naturally push the female students to their class rooms, libraries, rest rooms and segregated spaces for recreational activities. The pillars, walls, trees, posts and so on become the spaces for displaying political propaganda that actually creates a sense of alienation as far the female students are concerned. The erstwhile spaces which were called the common spaces, the sidelines of the playground, canteens, corridors, tree shades etc  have now been occupied completely by males, male ideologies and male aggressions pushing women from such spaces. This displacement of women within the campuses has brought in a sort dispossession and disempowerment of women there. They are no longer free to use the pathways and walkways as they could be taken over anytime by the vehicular movements of the boys/young men.

Vehicular presence within the educational institutions also is a post-liberal and middle class phenomenon. There was a time when there were designated spaces like ‘waiting shed’, ‘cycle shed’ and ‘car shed’ within a college campus. Waiting shed was meant for people to hang out till the buses or other vehicles came to pick them up. Cycle shed, as the name suggest was meant to keep cycles. Car sheds were exclusive places for the professors who could afford to come by a Fiat or an Ambassador. It was a rarity. Cycle, though represented movement and modernity at one point of time was not an aggressive machine as it needed human energy to mobilize it. Hence, using a cycle was not ‘macho’ thing and differently designed cycles were also used by women. There was some kind of parity and democracy existed in the using of cycles by both men and women in the campuses. But unfortunately, this situation was terribly replaced by the arrival of 100 cc bikes. Over a period of time these bikes also changed their shape and power and became mediums than vehicles to express the male domination over not only the women, but the spaces where these machines happened appear. We may argue that now a days women also use a lot of two wheelers and occupy social space with their vehicles. But if you look at the design and power of these vehicles compared to the changes of the same amongst the male vehicles you could immediately notice the difference. The new age female vehicles are designed to show their modesty and elegance (with pastel and creamy colors to finish it). Hence, even within a campus, if girls come by such bikes, they do not stand a chance to compete with the aggressive engines that the boys bring in the colleges. The conversion of the erstwhile cycles into ‘bike parking’ and social and economic degradation of the cycles tell us clearly that the vehicular narrative within a social as well as educational spaces is absolutely male and they could kill if they want to assert this male ideology.

(The killer jeep in CET - photo courtesy- The Hindu)

Thesni Basheer was not supposed to die in a road accident. She died in a road accident in her own college campus. She was a B Tech student in the College of Engineering Trivandrum (CET). The campus was occupied by the Onam revelers. Onam is a festival of Malayalis who celebrate the existence of socialism in our myths. With playing in swings, making floral design and compete vegetarian feasts Onam is not at all aggressive festival. If at all Onam has something to do with aggression it is the only act performed by Lord Vishnu in the guise of Vamana who came to send the just king Mahabali to the nether world. However, Onam has nothing to do with aggression or violence. Somehow, the Engineering college students have mistaken all such festivals for occasions of revelry. I do not know why the aggression within campus has always been connected the professional courses in Kerala. Since my childhood I have been listening stories of brutal ragging and resultant deaths from the professional colleges like Engineering and Medical colleges. The college where I studied (University College, Trivandrum) was many times aggressive and violent, and it was completely a male space during the five years in the late 1980s when I studied there. But though known as a bastion of the SFI (Students Federation of India), it has never been connected male aggression over female students or deaths. Somehow these have been connected to the professional colleges.

I do not want to implicate the professional colleges only. The educational spaces have become male dominated. While reporting Thesni Basheer’s death most of the newspapers used exclamatory language while describing the vehicles used by the student revelers within the campus. They were using some Jeep with altered designs in which crude weapons like axe, sword and all are fixed on its body through welding. These design elements may be new to the reporters but these are quite common with a whole lot of vehicle designs especially when they are altered for a purpose. I am not interested in investigating the role of this jeep even if it had caused the death of Thesni Basheer as it was driven rashly by drunken male students. I am not really interested in the identity of the owner. I am not even seriously interested in the politics of the students who were celebrating Onam within the campus. What I am interested is the educational spaces/campuses that have been fast turning into male dominated spaces. The altered jeep which flaunts the weapon designs on it is nothing but a standing evidence to the aggressiveness of the male ideology within the campuses. Thesni Basheer, the unfortunate girl student was not a part of the revelry. Even if she was, she is not at fault as she was walking along the campus road to reach her hostel. But in a male dominated space within the campus where revelers had occupied each inch with their aggression, Thesni looked like a culprit who dared to ‘violate’ the male rules. Her violation was really ‘grave’; she dared to walk while they were driving along the same road. I do not say that the boys were intending to kill. But the idea is that if you trespass, you may be decimated and we are not responsible.

(Aadu Thoma, enacted by Mohanlal in Spadikam and his lorry called Chekuthan, Devil)

This violent death of Thesni Basheer should be a thing of concern to all of us. The boys had even brought an open truck with a name ‘Chekutthan’ (Devil), clearly suggesting their affinity for the character Aadu Thoma, a violent character who denies a Gandhian father in Bhadran’s film ‘Sphadikam’. The violent atmosphere and the aggression of the name of the truck which has been directly lifted from the movie are the clear indications of the thematic as well as ideological intentions of the boys- It is a male dominated place/space and you, girls do not have any role here’. The subtext of this film reference also tells us that even if there is a woman present there, she should be someone like ‘Silk Smitha’ whose body is available for the heroic male. Her body could be used, violated and if need be killed by the devilish desire of the hero, still he would be exonerated. This is a dangerous situation. And it is high time that we de-chauvinise our college campuses. There should be very strong protests against this incident and it should be fought both on ideological/theoretical and practical levels.

Post script: I am surprised by the fact that these boys are still referring to the films of those actors who are in their late fifties now and the ideology that they presented in their movies looks more or less defunct in our present conditions where films like Premam, Vadakkan Selfie etc make huge hits.