Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Humongous Hypocrisy Behind the Cracker Ban

The recent debate on the cracker ban in Delhi as with just about everything else has proved to be contentious and controversial. Chetan Bhagat picked up cudgels on behalf of the beleaguered fireworks industry, though every time he tweets, it works against whatever he is espousing. In the cacophony of voices that have been raised for and against the issue, as always it is reason that has been silenced. 

            Supposedly the ban on the sale of firecrackers in the capital city is to ascertain whether this can make a palpable difference to the dangerous levels of pollution in Delhi. Needless to say, this decision is most certainly going to prove inconclusive and ineffectual simply because this simplistic measure fails to tackle the root causes that led to such a deplorable situation in the first place. People burst crackers only during the Diwali holidays and probably during the occasional wedding or party. But thanks to the relentless smear campaign against the fireworks industry and the little town where I live, which is reeling from crippling losses and may never recover, this is hardly a regular occurrence and the finger of blame can’t be pointed solely at sparklers and chakras.
Let us turn our attention instead towards the major causes of air pollution, though the aetiology behind Delhi’s affliction is hard to pinpoint. However, we do know enough. Vehicular pollution is a major offender and the solution of course would be to use public transportation, car – pooling and avoid driving and flying as much as possible. But I simply cannot see a future where people walk to work or cycle to get their grocery shopping done after those environment – destroying, gas – guzzling vehicles are banned for good, can you?
 The umpteen industrial processes that have the unhappy end result of spewing that toxic looking black smoke into the atmosphere, the burning of agricultural, factory and just about any waste are eco miscreants as well. But of course, we are not freaks to stop progress in its tracks and roll back the industrial revolution, so that we can go back to living like tree hugging hippies. We are cultured people and in India we believe in underpaying the help to keep our houses sparkling clean and dump our trash outside but we certainly cannot shell out for the expensive process of treating wastes and disposing it responsibly. However, while holidaying on foreign shores, we are willing to rant on Facebook about our stupid government that has failed to give us sanitary living conditions and has forced us to endure the unsightly squalor of the squatters in slums.
Tobacco is a proven, lethal source of air pollution but why should we ban the cancer stick and incur the wrath of a gazillion billion dollar industry when we can simply force telly viewers and the movie theatre crowd to listen to Rahul Dravid’s cautionary voice about the evils of smoking with graphic pics of tumours in extreme close up?  Our refrigerators, fans, air – conditioners, room fresheners and even the paint on our walls contain chemicals that have not helped the cause of the much lamented hole in the ozone layer. Surprisingly all these products are endorsed by our revered celebrities who then exhort us from their twitter or instagram accounts while reclining within the cool confines of their fancy, imported cars to celebrate Diwali without those pesky fireworks which are the bane of the environment.
The thing is we all care about our creature comforts far more than the possibility of a tragic catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions in the future. So we are not going to give up our cars, cigarettes, or any of the by – products of the industrial revolution that has made our lives so much easier. Instead, we will be hypocrites and voice our support for the cracker ban across social media so that we can feel better about destroying the world.


Fatal Fascination with Fame

Not many of us would admit it, but the truth is that we are ridiculously obsessed with celebs. Everybody will blame the news outlets for making headlines out of stories featuring fabulous and famous folks especially since news is not really news until Twinkle Khanna has written about it. Hence we are pelted with pellets of piddling information, pertaining to pricey movie stars, cricketers, star sons and daughters, overhyped reality show participants and social media phenoms who rose to fame by making sex tapes.
Consequently there is no way of not knowing that Kareena Kapoor is working out for 10 straight hours because the twitterati denounced her chunky legs and Sonam Kapoor has squeezed her painstakingly dieted, sculpted and massaged bod into yet another haute couture outfit. In other enriching news that we simply cannot live without, Jhanvi Kapoor may just make her debut after she has been lovingly groomed by Karan Johar opposite Shah Rukh Khan’s son or Shahid Kapoor’s brother.
And of course everybody knows the story of the century - Hrithik Roshan and Kangana Ranaut are slugging it out in court to decide whether an illicit relationship, harassment and stalking actually happened. Given the morbid fascination with the twists and turns of this case, interest in which refuses to die despite doleful reports of death and destruction wreaking havoc in the real world, one would be forgiven for thinking that the very fate of humanity depends on how this almighty kerfuffle is resolved. Never mind that gender equality will remain a distant dream, unfortunate folks who live below the poverty line will continue to starve, struggle and defecate in the open, those who embrace an alternate sexual identity will do so in the closet, anybody who dares to speak against oppression or injustice will be slapped with an expensive lawsuit if not killed outright and India will remain India while the World continues to go to hell, irrespective of the shenanigans of the glitterati. 

Blaming the media is silly. We are served up the only kind of news we care about and want to read these days. A closer introspection would indicate that a part of this fascination for stars of the non -astronomical persuasion is that we see in their overexposed aura what we aspire to be as well as the things we loathe about ourselves. Hence it is fun to place them on pedestals or spew hatred and tear them down. Be that as it may, it is high time we acknowledged that by allowing ourselves to become obsessed with celebs or obsessed with becoming one, we are frittering away valuable creative energy, on things that cannot be construed as constructive. 

Famous people are just regular people who look nicer and always get tables at fancy restaurants. Besides they are as miserable as the rest of us though they are admittedly able to be lame in five star comfort. How do I know? Because Deepika Padukone admitted as much! So let us get real, and resolve to do something useful with the little time given to each of us to make a difference personally, socially, or culturally. Or anything at all that doesn’t involve star gazing.  

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express

Jimmiki Kammals and Kangana Ranaut's story

Move over Kolaveri di, Jimmiki Kammal has arrived and how! This trippy, peppy Malayalam number, composed by Shaan Rahman, appears in Mohanlal’s Velipadinte Pusthakam, and when a bevy of belles grooved to the beat for their Onam celebrations, the song went viral with even popular talk show host Jimmy Kimmel professing his love for it. Men of all ages declared themselves enamoured of the lead dancer from Indian School of Commerce (ISC), and even started WhatsApp groups in her honour.

One intrepid radio jockey tracked her down for an interview frankly declaring that traditionally, a Tamilian dude’s heart beats faster when in the vicinity of a beautiful Malayali girl. Around this time, Kangana Ranaut joined hands with All India Bakchod (AIB) for a satirical video on the rampant sexism in Bollywood. Between interviews, she dished the dirt on abusive relationships she had been involved in with married men from the film industry of varying star voltage.

As always, her cheerleaders applauded her for the frank exposé of taboo topics, while critics wondered about her sincerity given her tendency to bring up scandalous issues just prior to her fi lm’s release. Her supporters countered that if Aamir Khan can embrace pressing social causes, timing it to promote his latest cinematic offering and get applauded for his keen business acumen, why can’t Kangana? But all was forgiven, thanks to the AIB video and the gales of laughter it induced.

Even the worst chauvinists who refer to feminists as feminazis, warmed to the witty Ranaut who sizzled in a midriff-baring crimson outfit. Both videos got me thinking about the male gaze and the sexual politics behind it. In visual media, as Laura Mulvey pointed out in her famous 1975 essay, it refers to a sexualised way of looking which empowers men and reduces women to mere objects of desire. Yet, in both these videos, where the female agency is apparent, somehow the male gaze is successfully transformed into something that is no longer ickily voyeuristic and creepy, but strangely endearing, notwithstanding the touch of ‘scopophilia’ or the sexual pleasure derived by simply looking.

Seeing grown men get so excited by the terpsichorean grace of a girl next door, or the prospect of watching a movie because Ranaut ‘has a vagina re’, reminded me of a simpler time when it was okay to see provided one wasn’t seen seeing. When it was perfectly okay to whistle at a pretty girl without getting pulled up for eve-teasing.

The flush of satisfaction on being at the receiving end of an appreciative glance since it did not pose the risk of stalking or rape. Conversely, with regard to the feminine gaze, surely a lady has the right to ogle an intense and sexy Rafa without getting accused of lewd and lascivious staring? Thanks to the gender wars we have been fighting for so long, we are losing out on so much that is awesome about being male or female, including the playful interplay and banter between the sexes, which need not be limited to intercourse or incendiary politics. Let us celebrate and satisfy masculine and feminine scopophilia, Jimmiki Kammals, Kangana’s vagina, Rafa’s hot bod and bring friendship, fun and flirtation back into our relationship with the opposite sex. Political correctness be damned!

Originally appeared in The New Indian Express


Let’s get this over and done with. India is no more a Hindu nation than it is a Hindi speaking one. One of the nicest things we can say about this country is that since ancient times it has provided a home for diverse people who have little in common aside from the shared identity of being Indian. But what exactly does that even mean?
The more misguided among us would insist that the real Indian is a vegetarian, devout Hindu, Cow and Cricket worshipper, Hindi speaker, and Bollywood lover. Anybody who begs to differ of course is an anti – national terrorist who deserves to be lynched or trolled with the most abusive language that can be conjured from the diseased depths of a sick, extremely prejudiced mind.
Never mind that an overwhelming majority loves animals fried or roasted, buys all things made of leather at exorbitant prices, have been known to tuck in with relish into a steaming hot plate of chilli beef or go to town on a triple whopper. Some of us belong to other faiths or proudly declare ourselves to be atheists or agnostics. You wouldn’t believe it, but there are too many of us who prefer chess to cricket, don’t speak a word of Hindi, and haven’t yet hopped onto the Bollywood bandwagon, thank you very much.
   All those possessed with half a brain and a shred of decency would admit that preferences need not be confused with principles, that jingoistic nonsense cannot be tolerated let alone actively endorsed and the ridiculous notions upheld by those who ought to know better but don’t are beyond ludicrous. But how do we deal with those who cannot be reasoned with and are deranged enough to stoop to murder over idiotic ideology?
It behoves us to take a stand against those who would try to beat us into submission and force their divisive beliefs on us, which goes without saying. Yet, for the love of all things holy and unholy let us be Gandhian about it and rise above violence in word or deed. There is too much of hatred induced madness going around and it is tearing apart our motherland.
We need to acknowledge that for better or worse we are all Indians, despite the glaring differences between us. Without exception, we belong to a sprawling, extended family that is scarily dysfunctional and as far removed as it is possible to be from what Sooraj Barjatya would like to believe. And it is all the more reason for us to put up with each other’s nonsense, make nice even when it seems the hardest thing to do and find a way to live with each other. Getting mad at those who don’t see eye to eye with us will never help. Ever. Unless of course there is kissing and making up involved afterwards.

  Being Indian is a beautiful thing, which a lot of us take immense pride in. It is something worth doing everything in our power to preserve even if that means killing only with kindness and standing together, no matter what.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express 


In the aftermath of the Haryana stalking case, where Varnika Kundu was shamefully harassed by the Haryana BJP chief’s son Vikas Barala and his crony, Ashish Kumar, one feels assailed by a sinking sense of déjà vu. The accused were booked under lenient provisions for stalking, driving under the influence and wrongful restraint, all of which are bailable offenses though the victim had clearly spelt out in her statement that there was an attempt to abduct her which has far graver repercussions. The perpetrators who incidentally are law students were released in double quick time. 
            The rest of it is predictable. The Chandigarh BJP Vice President, Ramveer Bhatti weighed in and began the victim shaming in earnest enquiring whether a respectable girl would be out by midnight, driving all by herself. When outrage mounted against him and party colleague Kirron Kher called him out, he amended the statement saying that he merely meant that parents ought to keep a better eye on their children, male or female to prevent this sort of thing from happening. This is a remarkable example of victim shaming before pooh – poohing the suggestion that anything of the sort was done.
            Hollow assurances have been made asserting that justice will be served and those who are claiming that vested political interests are pressurising the police to let the privileged perps off the hook are talking out their butts. Needless to say nobody is convinced, and with the cynicism born of too many instances where our judicial system has let us down by failing to mete out timely and effective punishment, we know almost for certain that once the media furore has died down, the case will drag on in perpetuity, inevitably testing the resolve and the endurance of the victim who will be asked to establish her credentials as a ‘virtuous woman’.
            The striking feature of this case is that it drives home the point that after all this time and effort spent on creating awareness on how it is not okay to stalk, kill, harass and rape women, which is bloody obvious in the first place, for far too many people belonging to both sexes, every time a crime against a woman is committed it is invariably for the same reason – She had it coming!
            Though this antediluvian attitude in all probability will be looked at askance by men and women who read this respectable publication and by any discerning audience when it is brought up in panels to create awareness for women’s rights across the country where we all nod along uniformly, the fact is that the great majority which spawns the scum who violate the rights of women believe that she had it coming and of course she asked for it. How then do we deal with this malignant mind-set that has led to such profound tragedies?

            The answer could be not to expect male miscreants to change but ultimately, to stop being afraid that every guy out there is out to get you. Admittedly #NotAllMen are pricks though all pricks are men, so why make your life about the rotten apples? Fear is the drug that impels monsters to come out of the shadows to play their cruel games. Don’t be ashamed when you are slut shamed. It is obvious that those who refer to wronged women as whores are potty mouths with shit for brains and their crappy opinions are beneath you. Never ever let these execrable examples of excrescence get to you or make you question yourself. They are rat droppings who are underserving of your precious time and attention. Finally, don’t feel bad about treating a douchebag with the disdain he deserves. You know, he had it coming.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express 


The resurgence of all things mythological in the literary space is a welcome phenomenon and not only because many authors including yours truly have made a career out of this seemingly insatiable interest. Any book that can distract youngsters from their addiction to fancy gizmos designed to make douche bag zombies out of them by harkening back to the glories of an ancient time must be considered a truly marvellous accomplishment. In fact, offerings in this sphere have helped people from all age groups suffering from smartphone syndrome. Which is why it is encouraging when books in this genre especially when penned by the likes of Amish Tripathi, Anand Neelakantan and Kavita Kane sell like hotcakes with a little something illegal stirred into it. 
Yet, in keeping with the adage that where there is a demand there must be an excessive supply this trend has led to aficionados overdosing on the stuff and reaching saturation point. Publishing houses are spewing out endless mythology related titles featuring every single character from the Ramayana and Mahabharata into the sea of books that have already been written on the same, Many aspiring writers who dream of getting published feel that mythology is the way to go and contribute steadily to the massive influx.
In fact, there is even talk that one enterprising author has successfully pitched a book – proposal to a leading publishing house about a fly on the wall who happened to be present when Ravana and Mandodari were engaged in a heated debate over the unmitigated gall the former had displayed in kidnapping another man’s wife which the latter felt was a scathing indictment of the fact that her looks where no longer what they had been before she had borne him the warlike sons, he had insisted upon. The eponymous character is saving the details about the make-up sex that followed as well as his familiarity with Ravana’s bowel movements for a sequel. 

If this sort of desperation does not put off the faithful adherents to the genre then the infamous ‘Gau Rakshaks’ and religious doggerel spouting extremists will definitely do the trick. They have managed to take a lovely tradition and found a way to make it something unspeakably ugly by using it as a weapon to spread hate. 
If they had their way India would be a nation of clones brainwashed into toeing the line for jingoistic goons who would have us believe that ideally we should all turn vegetarian, embrace Hinduism, speak nothing but chaste Hindi, enforce modesty upon women by forcing them into clothes that cover up every inch of their bodies as well as chastity belts and figure out a way to reproduce by swallowing tears. Partying, kissing, hugging, sexual intercourse (Gasp!) and questions of sexual orientation (Double Gasp!) ought to be made taboo in the interest of preserving our culture of course.
Such regressive thinking has to be contained in order to prevent folks becoming allergic to all things related to Indian mythology, especially those who have been victimized and marginalized in its name. Which is why it is more important than ever to read retold versions of beloved tales in order to stop those who would purvey distortions and half – truths to further their twisted agenda. It is imperative to understand and familiarize oneself with the compelling philosophy, complex truths and pearls of wisdom bequeathed to us by the best minds of the past through this medium. And no, they were not intolerant jerks who sought to belittle and prosecute others over petty nonsense.
The noblest and greatest of our ancestors sought to teach us how to be better people and live rich fulfilling lives by learning to do the right thing by ourselves and others. There is nothing in the knowledge imparted to us over the eons that encourages us to be judgemental, badly behaved buffoons who would bully others into behaving in keeping with misguided beliefs.
By preserving the proper spirit of the past contained not just in Indian mythology but in those belonging to different parts of the world, passed on by storytellers, wandering minstrels, bards and yes, present day writers on the subject, we can find a way to deal with the horrors of the present in order to usher in a better future where sense prevails.