Sunday, June 09, 2024

THE CATASTROPHIC CANINE CRISIS

 


Cases of strays or pet dogs, routinely attacking citizens and claiming lives, including those of children regularly makes it to headlines. Recently, a 5 – year old girl was mauled by two Rottweilers at a Nungambakkam park leading to a widespread public outcry. This prompted a typical knee – jerk response with the TN govt. declaring a ban against the import, sale, and breeding of 23 dangerous dog breeds including Rottweilers, Pit Bulls, Terriers and Rhodesian Ridgebacks, similar to the one issued by the Central govt. in March only to withdraw it within a matter of hours because the Madras high court and a few others had stayed the directive in response to protests by pet owners and breeders.

This non-resolution to the canine crisis in India is typical and has re-ignited the debate on how to deal with the problem with animal lovers and activists arrayed against concerned citizens demanding stronger guidelines to deal with the strays and aggressive pets. The statistics are chilling. India accounts for about 36 percent of the World’s rabies deaths. Deaths related to attacks by man’s best friends and dog bite cases are staggeringly high. Worse, many such instances go unreported, especially in rural areas. Packs of strays running wild on the streets and roads, are ticking time bombs, endangering themselves as well as the citizenry.

A suitable solution is possible provided committed action is taken by the Animal Welfare Board, state administration and the general populace working in tandem. Strays need to be gathered, vaccinated, neutered, and rehabilitated in dog shelters and sanctuaries to curb the burgeoning stray population and prevent attacks. Concerned citizens need to chip in with their time, money, and a willingness to adopt in order to supplement the efforts of the government. Pet control laws must be strictly enforced with owners ensuring that the four – legged members of the family are responsibly cared for and when taken out in public are suitably collared, leashed, and muzzled if necessary. A common complaint is that many people arbitrarily feed strays without taking overall responsibility for the dog’s welfare which leads to these animals becoming territorial and more prone to attacking the unwary, when they are not fed. Which is why raising public awareness and educating people about how best to protect themselves while dealing with strays, treatment options for rabies, etc. are key to making it possible for humans and animals to coexist without harming each other.

Ending the canine crisis entirely is going to be a challenge simply because heavy funds are required to sterilize and shelter these animals. Municipal bodies that aren’t corrupt or committed to enriching themselves at the expense of others tend to divert the limited resources towards more pressing concerns prioritising human over animal welfare thereby endangering both and allowing a bad situation to worsen. There is also the question of euthanasia or culling unwanted strays demanded by practical necessities, but which raises questions about promoting cruelty to animals and failure to safeguard their rights. A sustainable, lasting, and humane solution to the canine crisis is not impossible to achieve but it remains improbable.

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express.

COUNTERPRODUCTIVE CENSORSHIP

 


Imtiaz Ali’s biopic on Amar Singh Chamkila is a wakeup call. The singer, known as the Elvis of Punjab and his singer – wife, who sang wildly popular ‘dirty ditties’ were gunned down in 1988 and their killers were never caught. Chamkila’s detractors accused him of peddling sleaze with his ribald lyrics and raunchy beats, though the man seemed to have prided himself simply on giving the people what they wanted. Which was mostly horny humour and catchy tunes. After all, sex sells. Then, now, and forever more. But back then as is true even today, folks needed to pretend for the benefit of fellow hypocrites that they were committed to worthwhile pursuits that did not include appeasing the demands of the flesh. Few admitted to listening to his music, let alone liking it even as Chamkila’s records were sold at exorbitant prices on the black market. Many continue to mourn his loss and celebrate his legacy, but our collective commitment to false virtue and callousness makes us complicit with the criminals who hounded, harassed, extorted, and excoriated him in life, before inflicting the violence that ultimately claimed his life. 

This senseless tragedy made me wonder about the kind of dubious individuals who consider themselves the guardians of societal morals while committing deeds so far removed from morality that permanent denizens of hell would weep and curse the degree of monstrosity unleashed. Which begs the question… What manner of creatures are these? What happened that left them incapable of compassion or basic human decency? Did their parents hate them and leave them to fend for themselves in foul cellars while they were off dancing up a storm at raves? Or is it more likely, that in the land where the Kamasutra was written, we have the unhealthiest possible attitude where sex is concerned? Which, in turn breeds hell spawn who feel compelled to inflict pain and death on the innocent over their artistic or personal choices.

Sex is considered ick in this country where it is more socially acceptable to piss than kiss in public. We don’t bother with sex education for our youngsters or even creating a safe space for them to address their questions and concerns about their bodies or desires, preferring to leave that irksome job to pornography and pop culture. Forget the youth, so – called adults are very far from reconciling bodily needs against societal stigma and shame even as they obsess over the sex lives of others which ensures that their own is entirely lousy. The overall dissatisfaction and resentment boil over creating a toxic environment ripe for violent deeds.

Then we turn around and blame films and artists for corrupting the minds of murderers in the making and failure to preserve our supposedly pristine culture. Artists are subjected to endless persecution, simply because they are easy targets unlike the many others who are far more deserving of public ire. Such censorship is almost always counterproductive unless it is directed at the self. If we can muster the courage to look ourselves in the eye, we will think twice before turning a destructive gaze upon others. 

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

Interview with Shinie Antony



Shinie Antony - writer, editor, novelist, and columnist, is the winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize, co – founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and has the dubious distinction of inflicting Chetan Bhagat on India. Her latest novels, Can’t and Eden Abandoned: The Story of Lilith were released this year. In a freewheeling chat, this wordsmith is every bit as witty and wicked as the fierce ‘fallen woman’ from her tales.

1. Most authors hereabouts are jealous that you have managed the incredible feat of releasing two exquisitely crafted novels back-to-back, especially since AI has prompted many a writer to throw in the towel. How did you pull this off?

It was emotional crafting vs. ‘thinking up’. With Lilith I had readymade texts to refer from: Gilgamesh to Talmud, Ben Sira, Genesis 1, Hebrew Bible, George MacDonald… Lilith told her own story, I was like a stenographer taking it down. With Can't I was on my own. I thought both Nena and Tata up, what they wore, what they spoke, their quirks, eccentricities, back stories. Writing Can't was a more complex and conscious process. Lilith happened on its own.


2. Can’t features a woman in her seventies traipsing off into the unknown with a seventeen-year-old, on a quest to track down her husband’s illicit bed mates. What is it about straying spouses and incompetent lovers that unleashes the rabid beast within?

Gender equations are lopsided. We are all going by that one old sepia portrait of womanhood hanging on a peeling wall in a mouldy haveli somewhere. In The Girl Who Couldn’t Love, Rudrakshi looks on from the other side. She will dump a man before he dumps her.


3. In your subversive take on Lilith, the original witch and ‘something which rhymes with it’ from the Bible, lasciviousness is rendered luscious while depravity is downright delicious. What drew you to Lilith, reimagining her as an indomitable force of nature, who refused to surrender, not even on pain of spiritual death and worse?

Like all mythological vamps, Lilith is bold. She has this dangerous beauty that lures men to their doom, and she snacks on little babies. Middle-aged women are proverbially considered invisible. After forty, they say, poof, you’re gone, you no longer exist. Male anger is celebrated, made much of. It is macho and presumed protective. ‘Angry woman’ is supposed to be an oxymoron – even the way we laugh is prescribed in the syllabus: softly, without noise, into your fist etc. if you must be so vulgar as to laugh at all. But this is the thing, ageing is a superpower. Being single is a superpower. Not having kids is a superpower. Female anger is a thing of beauty. An articulate woman in a temper is a work of art.


4. Nena from Can’t as well as Lilith are dealing with the nuclear fallout of a failed relationship. Previously, you wrote about the Girl Who Couldn’t Love. Have you declared war on coupling since most swear by marriage and love despite the damning evidence on hand?

Both books are about female resurrection. Women resurrect all the time. Life leaves them for dead – and each time they are like I’m here, still here. Female foeticide, infanticide by midwives with salt in their fists, honour killing, dowry deaths, widows thrown wherever. As a nation we don't know where to dump our garbage, but we always knew where to dump widows... The planet is divided not into men and women – we are the animal kingdom, after all – but into the powerful and the powerless, predator and prey. If women go take a nap the sati system will be back.


5. What do you think is stopping women from channelling feminine rage and agency to live life on their own terms without having to live in mortal terror of consequences?

Women stop themselves, because they buy into the rumours about themselves. They want to conform and toe the line, do the done thing, say the said thing. But one day they get it. And then heaven help Earth!

An edited version of this interview was published in TNIE magazine.

Rendering Religion Redundant

 


Karl Marx famously disparaged religion as “the opium of the masses”. Though my German is even poorer than my Hindi, I take it that that Marx felt religion was a clever tool wielded by the powerful to not only oppress the overworked and underpaid majority but to make them feel better about their oppression by encouraging them to fixate on faith – based fixes since they couldn’t afford opiates and float their way out of poverty and pain on a pleasurable cloud of oblivion. Since Marx’s time, politicians and their billionaire backers have come up with many innovations to further subjugate the suppressed with liquor guaranteed to end suffering via cirrhosis of the liver, freebies and pornography to delight the heart and loins, and cheap entertainment accessible 24/7 on mobile phones. Religion, however, remains the favourite with the ridiculously and rabidly religious rapidly becoming a plague on an already diseased civilized world.

Ironically, though the core doctrine of most religions endorses love, peace and compassion, the revival of faith-based conflict and violence witnessed in recent times has seen religion commonly associated with hate, intolerance, and heightened aggression. Even as the situation worsens in Gaza and people across the world are slamming Israel and its allies as perpetrators and enablers of genocide, the slaughter of the Islamist population in that contested strip of ‘holy land’ continues unabated. Religious fanaticism has raised its ugly head elsewhere too.

In China, Uighur Muslims are routinely persecuted and herded into labour camps, as are the Rohingya in Myanmar. In the middle East, Sunni and Shia Muslims battle it out for domination as do the Muslims and Catholics in Bosnia and Kosovo. Islamic extremists wage their global jihad undeterred by concentrated efforts to shut them down. Hostilities have increased against religious minorities be they Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and Catholics in many parts of the world. Closer home, in India the ruling party has been accused of actively promoting Hindu and Hindi interests to the detriment of all else.

To be fair, religion and the religious leaders who are not actively invoking violence in the name of faith have done some good in this divided world. The devotees who have not become radicalized or taken up terrorism have actively involved themselves with helping the poor, marginalized and victims of war. Relief and charitable efforts have been made possible through the efforts of the faithful mobilized by temples, churches, mosques, synagogues working in tandem with humanitarian agencies and welfare organizations. Interfaith dialogues have also facilitated initiatives to promote peace, human rights and non – violence.

Even so, if the security blanket of religion is taken away it is possible that people wouldn’t be so preoccupied with the futile effort to secure a ticket to paradise using the currency of blind faith, prayer, and ritual worship. Without the highs and lows of religious relief they may be forced out of their collective torpor to address the widening wealth gap and income inequalitythat impacts them directly. Combined effort might even create a better world where all are equal and there is absolutely no need for a toxic drug like religion.

 

This article was published in TNIE Magazine.

Sunday, March 10, 2024

MAHASHIVARATRI 2024

 

Mahashivaratri 2024 was a tremendous experience. Nityanjali, our dance troupe performed in Thiruvaiyaru (10:00 pm) and Thiruvidaimarudur (4:00 am). As always, it was a lovely experience. The insane travelling with the packed schedule and rehearsals can be gruelling but the entire process is never less than amazing thanks to the good company, yummy food (which included homemade murukkus), surprisingly clement weather, live music, dance, and a taste of the divine in all its sacred and scary glory.

While people’s faith is entirely private and all are entitled to their beliefs it has to be admitted that the faithful, especially when they turn up in droves for religious celebrations can be a public nuisance. I was appalled by the surging crowds at the temples and the terrifying lack of crowd control or event security which would guarantee the safety of the heaving masses which included the elderly, babies, and disabled people. There was zero consideration for others as I witnessed folks forcing their way into narrow entry points which doubled as exits, uncaring that they were shoving and hurting others. Traffic snarls were apparent in every road at all hours of the night and the lack of civic sense was apparent in the way people discarded paper cups, plastic bags, and unfinished food across every inch of available space be it a temple or toilet. 

The risk of a stampede loomed over our heads although, it felt like I was probably the only one who was deeply concerned about getting crushed beneath the filth encrusted feet of the faithful. (On a related note, why are holy places in India such an unholy mess?) The devotees seem to think that just because temples are sacred spaces nothing bad can happen never mind that history and recent news is filled with tragic events where hundreds lost their lives in stampedes which occurred during large gatherings at temples when religious festivities were being observed. Examples include stampedes in Vaishno Devi Temple (2022), Rajahmundry (2015), Andhra during the Pushkaram festival, Gandhi Maidan (2014) in Patna after Dussehra, Ratangarh temple (2013) in MP during Navratri. Incidents have also been recorded in Puri Juganath, Kumbh mela, Sabarimala, etc.

Mercifully, our dance troupe stuck it out by taking care of each other and keeping a wary eye against the more aggressive of God’s fervent followers of all genders who are not above using their chests, elbows, and stomping feet to clear a path. There is always the risk of chain snatchers, pickpockets, and perverts as well. Surely there is a way to celebrate religious occasions without endangering life and limb? The divine can be truly experienced only in silence, solitude and space not in cramped enclosures where hapless deities are caged in sanctum sanctorums almost as a defence against the insane crowds who will literally kill for a glimpse of their God.


FRUSTRATING FOMO AND FINDING FULFILLMENT

 


There is only one thing worse than being inundated with invitations to an endless array of ‘happening’ events I feel compelled to attend even though I would rather be chilling in bed with a show and cheese popcorn on the side and that is not being inundated with invitations to the aforementioned shindigs. That is when I find myself staring morosely at the Pringles, I am going to hate myself for scarfing down while watching Mike Flanagan’s latest attempt at elevated horror on Netflix, liking him a lot and hating him a little for having such a happening career, forcing me to contemplate the many boxes left unticked on the achievement front. Between episodes, I scroll aimlessly through social media feeds where everyone seems to be doing something that could pass for exciting, aggravating the ever-present FOMO. For the uninformed, that is the ‘fear of missing out.’

Some of us are preoccupied with ageing and the terrifying inevitability of it prompts us to counter this by packing every single moment with momentous activity, because nobody wants to confront death, filled to the brim with regret. As some tiresome wiseacre unwisely said, once upon a time, you only ever regret the things you didn’t do. Which is why I am forever trying to push myself out of comfort zones with the intention to broaden the horizon a bit just so I can feel that I am doing something worthwhile with life’s finite supply of time. This commitment to future me who is on the brink of kicking the bucket and needs to be comforted by a barrage of memories celebrating glowing achievements and epic milestones is exhausting and endlessly frustrating. What is the point of berating myself for not doing enough when it ends up feeling like it is all too much?

Nowadays, I am teaching myself to do little things that generate fulfilment even if it does not qualify as useful or productive enough to be featured on my resume or Insta post. I might be missing out on doing something awesome by saying no to an invitation because my gut registered a protest but that no longer feels awful. Nor does it seem like a catastrophe of earth – shattering proportions because invitations aren’t forthcoming, except when it does. But that is nothing a soul – satisfying activity like an extra hour of yoga, playing with my pups, or a long conversation with a good friend can’t fix.

As a society we have become fixated with using time efficiently to rack up economic as well as experiential gains, that will allow us to fully flourish. We are expected to maximise not just work but leisure time, because our value is calculated by the things we do or at least seem to be doing. All the damn time. This ‘let us live life to the fullest’ and ‘make every moment the best one yet’ business is a crock of crap guaranteed to kill us quicker via hypertension. There is nothing wrong with ambition and aspiration, but it is also okay to simply survive without feeling the need to thrive all the time.

This article was published in TNIE Magazine

Saturday, January 27, 2024

A QUESTION OF MEAT AND MORALITY

 

An abiding love for mythology can never be a bad thing and yet, somehow, we seem to have found a way to take something wonderful, toss it into the blender with faux Hindutva dogma, distort it past all recognition and use it to serve vested interests keen on divisive politics.

How did it come to this?

 For starters, everybody, it seems, is an expert after glancing through a book or two and listening with half-an-ear to granny’s tales, speed – reading a lengthy Whatsapp forward or having returned from a session with the friendly neighbourhood storyteller who likes to expound at length on Puranic lore while high on bhang. Considering themselves scholars who know everything there is to know about the veritable sea of obscure, oftentimes, contradictory facts that constitutes Indian mythology, uber-patriotic pests feel free to clump together and lynch or abuse those who are not infected with whatever it is that has turned their brains to mush and hearts to lead.

Nobody is exempt from the excesses of these modern-day rakshasas, but the so-called ‘evil eaters' of meat in general and beef in particular have been targeted with tragic results. While there is no denying that the cow is revered in Indian mythology, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that meat—any meat—was consumed with relish by the ancients, including the Brahmins. In fact, there is a tale from the Periya Puranam, which reveals how Shiva paid a visit to his devotee, Siruthondar, in disguise as a poor but haughty Brahmin and insisted that he must be served non-vegetarian (maamsam) cuisine. Being a poor man, who could not afford to buy any food let alone meat, the great man, slew his son, made his wife cook the choicest cuts and serve it. For this act of faith, which in this day and age would be considered to be the foulest kind of murder (rightly so), he received an express pass to partake of the vaunted delights of heaven and remains revered as one among the 63 Nyanmars. 

Sage Agastya, similarly, according to a tale from the Mahabharata, was a gourmand with a partiality for meat, and consumed the demon Vatapi, with great gusto. This rakshasa had a weird fetish for taking on the form of a goat, which his brother Ilvala would chop up and serve with misleading generosity to the Brahmins, some of whom would regularly bully their way into homes demanding 'maamsam' meals uncaring whether their unwilling hosts had the means to serve up such lavish feasts featuring meat as the main course. As for the rakshasa brothers hellbent on teaching the Brahmins a lesson, once the mutton had been greedily consumed, Vatapi would tear his way out from the entrails of the gluttonous Brahmins killing them instantly. They carried on this murderous sport for many years, till Agastya, famed for his iron constitution and superior powers of digestion put paid to their serial killer ways and prompted his fellow Brahmins to re-examine their dietary preferences.

 In fact, there is reasonable evidence to suggest that it was not till after the Bhakti movement believed to have taken place in Medieval times which saw a large-scale reformation and revival of Hinduism, that Brahmins adopted vegetarianism as a way of life. Prior to that it was the Jains and Buddhists who endorsed vegetarianism in the interests of upholding the rights of all living creatures, although by that logic plants should also be spared in this writer's opinion and we should all learn to subsist on love and not - so - fresh air.

 Chew on that for a bit before forming erroneous notions about how best to enforce the glories of a distant past that may or may not have even existed!

 If cannibalism in the case of Siruthondar and Agastya was not exactly frowned upon back in the day, then couldn’t there be a remote possibility that more than a few of the ancients especially revered beings born into the Kshatriya race had a partiality for meat? And surely, it is probable our famously compassionate gods would have partaken of the non - vegetarian fare offered to them in worship mainly because they cannot possibly be the jerks their extremist devotees clearly are?

 Recently, a furore was raised over the question of whether Rama ate meat. As a Kshatriyan Prince, it would appear to be in the affirmative. The warlike caste’s preferred pastime was hunting and since waste was the only thing that was considered a criminal offense in those days, it goes without saying that slain game was cleaned, cooked, consumed with the hide, claws, horns and every bit of the carcass stripped for parts to make sure that nothing went to waste. When Rama, Lakshmana and in a later age, the Pandavas, were sent into exile, they were allowed to take only their weapons and a basket into the forest so that they could live off the land using their skill as hunter gatherers. And it goes without saying that meat was part of their diet. However, insisting that the Princes subsisted solely on fruits, roots, nuts and berries which may have been included in their meals but not limited to it is pushing the limits of credibility. For all we know, even the fabled Akshaya Patra gifted to Yudhishtra by Surya, the Sun God might have produced a dish to delight the tastebuds of the true carnivore!

Some scholars point to a verse in Valmiki Ramayana where it is suggested that Rama took an oath with his mother, Kausalya, bearing witness that he would not touch meat for the duration of his exile. This is hardly definitive proof of anything because Valmiki’s Ramayana was never ever set in stone. Originally, narrated orally, the epic was verbally handed down for generations before written texts as we know it today emerged. The narrative must surely have undergone many changes over the eons in keeping with ever changing norms and codes of conduct, that are inevitable with the passing of the ages. Therefore, insisting that there is only one authentic version of Valmiki’s Ramayana, preserved exactly the same as when it emerged from his lips, disregarding the many regional texts and folk tales based on the Ramayana is an inaccurate as well as fanatical, extremist way of looking at things, bereft of the spirit of tolerance, compassion and acceptance that is one of the most beautiful aspects of Hinduism.

Surely, the gods in all their infinite wisdom would not see it fit to abuse, mistreat, or condemn to the thousand hells of Yama those among their mortal offspring who consume meat or live life as they see fit? Would they condone the senseless violence, hatred, intolerance and killing that is carried out in their name? I should certainly hope not.

Ultimately, anybody who knows anything at all about mythology will tell you that it is a constantly shifting narrative that is metamorphosing even as this is being written, and 100 years hence will be unrecognisable from what we know of it today. Therefore, it would be lovely if people stopped using mythology, religion, morality, or any of the flimsy excuses being bandied about for their insupportable and unconscionable behaviour that is a disgrace to this nation.

 

P.S: I have written many versions of this over the years. This piece contains bits and pieces from older ones (links below) and I have added inputs based on current issues, which is mostly more of the same old crap.

 When Mythology is Misused and Misunderstood

Vegetarianism does not Equal Virtue


Mom Myths and Murder

 

Few things can shake us out of our collective apathy, but the death of a 4-year-old, murdered by his mother has done the job. Public fury continues to mount as gruesome details are dutifully doled out by the media around the clock. People find it impossible to process the fact that a mother could do this to her child. After all, in India, we firmly believe that all mothers are miracle workers capable of juggling a billion demands, candidates for goddesshood, and master chefs who can whip up mouthwatering feasts in seconds. We turn a blind eye to the fact that it is a thankless, gruelling job which requires superpowers that no woman is blessed with or that few if any can do it without breaking down on a daily basis or plotting desperately to open a portal into an alternate dimension where newborns become fully – functioning, toilet - trained adults within seconds of birth so that their moms can get back to having a real life.

Yet, murderous mothers are not as rare a phenomenon as we conveniently like to think. A quick Google search reveals that there are too many cases where children have been murdered by their not so loving mums. In 2023 alone, an unmarried teen mother from Navi Mumbai allegedly killed her newborn by throwing the baby from her bathroom window; an 8-year-old was poisoned and killed by his mother, for having seen her in a compromising position with their neighbour; in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli, a mother poisoned three of her children, following a domestic dispute; at Halvi village near Kurnool, a 3-year-old and 6-month-old were  killed by their mother following a domestic dispute. If one has the stomach to go back further in time, there are many such harrowing cases featuring killer moms. Some like Indrani Mukerjea (who allegedly had her daughter, Sheena Bora, murdered by throttling) are famous and far from languishing in prison may be spotted at literary festivals while others don’t quite manage to capture public fancy but may have also eluded the less than exacting arm of the law.

Murder by mom, is not the only issue plaguing our poor kids. Different forms of child abuse are prevalent with child pornography and sexual exploitation of minors for commercial purposes on the rise. Millions of children across India are denied access to education, healthcare, clean water, or a home that is not a biohazard. The issue of childcare and child rights hereabouts is lamentable at best and the situation gets grimmer by the day.

In the meantime, we are content to pretend that it is mainly a mother’s job to ensure the safety of her child and that ‘natural’ maternal instincts will suffice to work miracles and keep the forces of evil at bay. If that were not bad enough, we will also pressure people to bring forth babies by the dozen irrespective of whether they have the emotional or economic resources to do the hardest job in the world, uncaring that the stakes are too high, and we cannot carry on allowing children to pay the price for adult folly.

This column was originally published in The New Indian Express.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Before Breaking News Breaks

 

Thanks to false modesty, I did not show off. But that is no longer an excuse because it is finally acceptable to brag about mediocrity across every available platform. In fact, if you are willing to embrace the holiday spirit, and discard the wise teachings of Scrooge pertaining to parsimony, you can Tom-tom the fact that you won an award (that you paid for) declaring you the International Human of the Year, and make sure it reaches the furthest reaches of the galaxy. My talent on the other hand is tremendous news. And it is related to the news. I can predict the news with pinpoint accuracy, long before it happens or supposedly happened. Feel free to share this news with everyone, so that I can get the recognition I richly deserve.

For sticklers who demand proof, I am happy to provide the same, provided you are willing to set aside disbelief, scepticism, and the tendency to think the worst of human beings just because most are fraudulent tricksters who will shove their kids or pets off the roof to make a viral video.

The breaking news tomorrow and in the days to come will be outrageous and defy all belief, which is precisely why people will believe it implicitly. Especially since they are not going to read anything beyond the headline. Readers are a critically endangered species, and nobody reads anything longer than 280 characters without the liberal use of emojis to hasten comprehension. Believable or not, this news will be forwarded on WhatsApp where more will hit forward, without reading it first.

You might already be gobsmacked, but I have more to ensure that your head is dangerously close to exploding unable to withstand my brilliance… In future, news will be bad. Much worse than today’s and yesterday’s news which was also bad, but since we have become immune to bad news, we will only respond to worse news which is on the way to becoming horrifying. If that is not exactly good news for people praying for peace in Gaza and an end to the war between Russia and Ukraine, it can’t be helped.

This is all true, because as a columnist for a major news publication, I cannot lie. Unless I am paid to. Which I am not, because the truth is, writers were paid peanuts long before they agreed to work for less since AI types don’t demand salaries or benefits. It is a good thing I am gifted. Now, I know. And thanks to me, you do too. It will rain again in Chennai and there will be flooding because politicians are too busy playing the blame game and siphoning away funds allotted for damage control and preventive measures. Tennis fans will argue over who is the GOAT and things will get ugly when Thalapathy Vijay and SRK fans jump into the fray. Bollywood will continue to make movies featuring nepo babies with less and less to recommend them by way of talent. I could go on… but what is the point? It is bound to get worse from here. Just like I predicted.

This column was published in The New Indian Express.


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Stop the Step – Motherly treatment of the Seven Sisters!

 


I was at the Arunachal Literature Festival, held recently, and enjoyed the ‘author life’. But this piece is not about the things authors do to convince themselves that despite the advent of AI, writing as they know it is not entirely redundant. Rather, it is about the things that struck me as I made the arduous, 7 – hour trip by car to Itanagar (after schlepping from Madurai to Chennai to Guwahati) because the flight thither from Guwahati had been cancelled at the nth hour. Some big-name authors used the excuse to absent themselves from the event, but not this author, who will do just about anything to convince people in far flung parts of the country, that they should read books in general and mine in particular.

It was appalling how little I knew about the Northeast. I was ashamed to realise that I didn’t even know which language was spoken in Arunachal Pradesh. I was told there are between 30 – 50 tribal groups in the state, who have their own distinct language, dialects, and sub – dialects. Most spoke Assamese, Nagamese, English and a smattering of Hindi which served as link languages.

During my session on ‘Reimagining Mythology’, I realized that my knowledge of folklore pertaining to the region was non – existent. My only exposure to it was from Easterine Kire, the award-winning author from Nagaland, whose work I have read and admired. Members of the audience wanted to know about the representation of tribal folk in the itihasas, and I was happy to answer though it must be conceded that the limited narrative is almost entirely problematic and needs to be part of a corrective discourse. Rama justifies his abhorrent slaying of Vaali, a Vanara by saying that a kshatriya is well within his rights to hunt and kill animals using any means necessary! We agreed that indigenous legends and myths must be reclaimed. You must be the ones to tell your own stories, I pointed out. Yes, they conceded, but nobody listens to us!

The main issue is that this part of the country has been treated shoddily. There is limited connectivity with the rest of India, poor infrastructure, and a criminal negligence of the needs of the people. Most Indians have vague notions about insurgency and security issues cropping up in these parts, the imposition of the controversial Armed Forces Special Protection Act (AFSPA) leading to many human rights violations and vociferous protests led by the likes of Irom Sharmila. The AFSPA was withdrawn from parts of the region between 2022 – 23, but the Centre keeps a wary eye concerned about security threats from Myanmar and China.

It is not enough to pay attention only when gifted athletes from the area like a Sunil Chettri Mirabai Chanu, Hima Das and mighty Mary Kom emerge, though it is not like India deserves credit for nurturing these talents. We must do more for our brethren hailing from the seven sisters so that they can take pride in being Indian without being made to feel like unwanted children. It is to our eternal shame that we haven’t done so already.

This column was originally published in The New Indian Express.

Diwali Celebrations: Sugar, Sins and Salvation

 


The festival of lights is upon us! That time of the year when we overdress, overspend, overindulge on ghee laden sugary treats, and argue about whether we ought to burst crackers or not before doing it anyway. Feeling guilty over the excess, we wonder if there is a point to all this…

This is the moment when we dredge up legends of yore for their entertainment and edification value. My favourite Diwali story is the one where Narakasura, a legit villainous type whose every pore supposedly oozed evil was slain in a twist worthy of Hitchcock. Naraka was born at the end of Krita Yuga when Vishnu in his Varaha (Boar) avatar took out Hiranyaksha, another legendary baddie whose shocking shenanigans ensured that Bhumi Devi sank to the bottom of the ocean. While Varaha bore her to the surface on his tasks, a single drop of sweat which was the only sign of his mighty exertions, landed on her, impregnating the Goddess.

Besotted with her boy, Bhumi Devi, asked Lord Varaha to grant him immortality. She was gently refused but told that Naraka could only be slain by her hand. Breaking off his tusk, Varaha offered it to Naraka, urging him to stay true to Dharma. This advice was disregarded and Naraka, armed with the promise of invincibility began his reign of terror. His stronghold – Pragjyotishapura, was impregnably fortified and guarded by the deadly Mura.

Naraka eventually went too far, when he raided Indra’s capital – Amaravathi and carried away 16,000 damsels but not before snatching the ear - rings mother Aditi was wearing. Krishna was asked to set him straight. He was with Satyabhama, who had just been complaining that he was always too busy for her. Playfully, grabbing her by the waist he placed her on Garuda, and they took off on a date/perilous mission.

Krishna made short work of Pragjyotishapura’s vaunted defences and slew Mura, earning himself the title of ‘Murari’. Naraka acquitted himself more respectably and using the tusk gifted by Varaha, managed to strike Krishna in the chest. Seeing her husband drop in a dead swoon, Satyabhama realized her date was officially ruined. Enraged, she picked up a bow and released an arrow, which to their combined surprise, mortally wounded Naraka. It was then, that Krishna rose and allowed the truth to shine through. Naraka understood that Varaha’s weapon could not be used against an avatar of Vishnu and that Satyabhama was an incarnation of Bhumi Devi, his mum. Prostrating himself before his parents, he died peacefully having been cleansed of his sins, embracing dharma in his dying moments, fulfilling his purpose in the grand design of the universe, and achieving moksha.

A tearful Bhumi Devi asked Krishna to ensure that Naraka’s memory be preserved for all of time, his life and death celebrated with lights and sweets so that his legend may remind humanity to dispel the evil in their hearts and stay true to Dharma in order that someday, they too may be deemed worthy of redemption. Krishna acceded to her request. True to his word, Diwali has been celebrated ever since and we continue to fight the demons within and without, knowing that damnation is always closer than salvation, but that is no reason to stop trying to be better than we are.

An edited version of this piece was published in The New Indian Express.

A Simpleton’s Guide to Smart Solutions

 


Perhaps being an ignoramus is indeed bliss. Especially in a Fools’ Paradise which some compelling but not entirely credible types claim is what our planet has become. In this blasé and not so brave new world it is not necessarily the height of folly to be foolish. It might even be for the best to be a top of the drawer numbskull who has sworn off all forms of intelligence to better endure the travesty that is life.

Take the global warming crisis for instance. George R.R. Martin fans are not the only ones waiting in vain for The Winds of Winter, his long – awaited book, for their Game of Thrones fix, which it is hoped will make amends for the large-scale trauma inflicted on the unwary by that disastrous final season of the infamous show. This year has remained face - meltingly warm in October, which is definitive proof that global warming is not a conspiracy theory eco warrior nuts pulled out their grass – fed backsides but an unfolding reality. The intellectuals would no doubt have ingenious and commensurately mind – numbing solutions for averting an end – of – the – world crisis but it is better to ignore it in favour of doing something more enjoyable like wiling away rapidly dwindling time by logging in endless hours on handheld devices. Whoever said fools have more fun was not kidding!

The heat must be getting to everyone. It could explain why Russia and Ukraine have been slugging it out without a definitive outcome barring the burgeoning body count. Hard as that was to stomach for those invested in world peace, things worsened when a deadly terror strike launched by Hamas escalated into a full blown catastrophe with Israel, the aggressor and occupier of Palestine, receiving carte blanche from powerful allies like the US and UK to engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing which is what they have been doing to lesser and greater degrees for decades with impunity. Brainiacs with a firm grasp of the geopolitical situation and awareness that Hezbollah is not a euphemism for Hamas, would have some inkling on how best to restore peace. But for the rest of us dingbats, it makes more sense to tune into the cricket world cup because it hurts too much to see children slaughtered and civilians die en masse with the ringing endorsement of the so – called civilized world.

Speaking of cricket, while the performance of the boys in blue has been most heartening, the jingoistic misbehaviour of some of the home crowd evidenced during the matches against Pakistan and Bangladesh has been less so. Smart folks have been equating this with the hyper muscular Hindutva nationalism prevalent today but the fool’s move has been to dwell on preferred reality shows between matches and mine the harrowing footage of tragedy livestreamed worldwide for vacuous entertainment. Exploitation, intrusion, and voyeurism has become the opiate of the moronic masses because it allows you to snicker at suffering rather than become a part of it. Long live the dunces!

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Sweep and Swab more for a Swachher India!

 Loving your country is a lot like loving your spouse. It is complicated. You get mad at him for responding honestly to your query about whether your grey hair is noticeable. But you wouldn’t be too pleased if he flattered to deceive. Honesty is a damnable thing because you are damned if you do and doubly damned if you don’t but according to some famous white and therefore indubitably wise dude, honesty is the best policy especially if money and the future is at stake. Which means, you have to be truthful, even if it makes people accuse you of being anti – national and ask you to remove yourself to a hostile neighbouring nation we play the occasional cricket match with and make a killing via jacked – up ticket prices but not before inundating you with death threats. Of course, I am spared all this because barring a few bots who can’t be bothered to bicker with me, nobody cares about my carping.

Therefore, I can complain about an oft ignored issue that has rendered our country grotesque. India is not just an EYESORE but an EXCRESCENCE upon the face of this planet. Of course, this nation is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, but we have only Indians to blame for literally crapping over it and begriming the bounties of Mother Earth with our disgraceful tendency to prioritize godliness and just about everything else over cleanliness and making a godawful mess.

Of the millions of tonnes of garbage India generates, precious little is segregated, treated, and responsibly disposed. Carelessly discarded trash that does not choke up every inch of available public space ends up in hastily erected dumps conveniently close to slums where they become the problem of the poor. The responsibility for dealing with detritus rests on rag pickers who receive no formal training and no safety equipment to protect themselves from hazardous wastes and safeguard their health. Indiscriminate burning in these sites causes pollution and the cancer – causing smoke which lingers thickly in the vicinity for days is a menace. A lot of the debris is discharged into sewers, drains and rivers poisoning our water and food.

A majority of the populace has no concept of waste management that requires you to reduce, reuse and recycle. There are too few dustbins for public use and even these are always overflowing. Worst of all, are the citizens who are forever littering, spitting, pissing, and defecating wherever they please. Our government has introduced solid waste management rules and apparently there is improvement in door – to - door collection of garbage, measures have been implemented to install waste processing and recycling plants, convert landfills to parks and preserve our water bodies but there is a lot more that needs to be done for stricter enforcement of hygiene measures over and above the nattering about Swachh Bharat by celeb types on social media. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before India is submerged in a sea of sewage.

This article was originally published in The New Indian Express.