Saturday, March 25, 2006 

Rattle and Hum

The first sign that something was wrong was in the frenzied and raucous behaviour of the crows, swooping and rising. I slowed down and went to the stormwater drain on the side of the road, and saw the snake. Even as I watched, it struggled to raise itself over the smooth sides, and slipped back halfway.

A prominent bulge midway led to my initial guess that it was a baby python. It had probably swallowed something a bit too much, and its movements were sluggish. Or maybe it was just tired, after several such futile attempts.

I looked around, and almost absurdly, the area, overgrown with rough grasses and shrubs, did not seem to have a single tree nearby from which I could break off a branch. Feeling slightly foolish at my trepidation, I gingerly placed a hand on its tail. Furious hissing resulted, and I hastily backed off.

It’s a python, I told myself. The vast majority of the snakes in India, especially this part of the country, are harmless. The scales were not diamond shaped, which fact, I dimly recalled, was supposed to indicate it was not poisonous. Snakes do not have the ability to whip back over their length, so if one lifted the snake by its tail, it should be OK. Thus fortified, I tried to lift the snake again. Or rather, I managed to wrap my fingers around its tail and lift it an inch or so off the ground. If the hissing earlier was furious, the snake went into frenzy this time. Again, a hasty backpedal and communing with self resulted.

Look, you REALLY think you know enough about snakes, asked a voice. Well, it should be safe enough, don’t be a wuss, said another. Yeah, right, you know it should be safe enough, the point is that the snake may not, said another, and I never had found that joke funny earlier too. I am only trying to help, said a voice. Refer earlier reply, said the other. What do you intend, say here, snakie, snakie, nice snakie to convince it ? Run a bit ahead, you’ll get a branch, suggested one. Look at the crows, and the snake is already tired, said another. I filled in time by using the phone to snap a couple of pics, and the snake showed no signs of amiability with respect to the helpful bleeding heart human trying to help it out. Yeah, super, I thought, idiot, if only you had spent that energy in climbing.

One lovely fact is that our Bharat Varsh never lacks for rubbernecking crowds. 5.45 AM on a deserted hill road, with no soul in sight, when I stopped. 20 minutes later, the list included watchman from somewhere going back after night shift, a family out for Sunday morning walk, and three assorted tramps with no credible reason to be there. All of whom seemed to spring out of nowhere. Here, use my stick to kill it, urged watchman. I requested him in polite tones to put it where the sun did not shine, and he lapsed into aggrieved silence. The husband, thankfully, proclaimed in loud tones that there was nothing to be frightened of, this snake was non-poisonous. Son looked up with admiring eyes and wife clung for support to the intrepid hero, who maintained a safe distance from the drain. The tramps were discussing in avid tones about the possibility of cooking and whether it would be better to boil it or just turn it over a fire. I noticed their bravado too stopped of actually approaching the snake.

The sun was starting to come up, reminding me that I had a long way to go. Inspiration struck, and I asked the tramps to help me lift up a couple of stones. Their eagerness seemed to indicate approval of my supposed plan to crush the snake, but it was replaced by sullen silence when told to just lay them a couple of feet ahead of the snake. I prodded the lazy sonofawhatnot in the tail again. It hissed, and I said wearily, less of that, pal. Just move. Eventually it trundled onto the first stone, and then emboldened by the grip, climbed up and out.

The sun was really hot for the last 45 minutes of the walk back, and I cursed snake, bleeding heart, incipient summer, hill and world in general heartily.

A friend rang up a day before Holi. A common acquaintance had died, leaving behind 6-year old in hospital with a heart defect. One sympathised, with the detachment of distance and lack of contact, and gave useful tips on change of bank accounts and insurance. He rang again a couple of days back. Major paperwork had been completed, and accounts and insurance and pensions taken care of. The kid was now safe to travel. Parents had arrived and attempted to take care and needed care. One had been remedied, the other was being done. Tickets had been booked and hell he had a backlog of work. And he couldn’t believe it, one moment the man had been rummaging for money in wallet and the next moment he had keeled over dead, and a puddle of blood was on the floor. And things would never be the same and… Of course they won’t, I said. Go to the place and see, they would have placed a rack over the discoloured tiles and it will have strips of Frito-Lays wafers and shaving blades now 5 in one, newly introduced. No sanitary napkins, because in India PoP buys are mainly made by men. He paused, and asked in different tones, what PoP meant. Point of Purchase, I said neutrally.

Slapping, I believe, is not the recommended way to stop incipient hysteria, but it is effective. Err, yes, he said, got to go, lots of backlog. And hey, I’ll be in your town sometime next week. Zindagi, mere ghar aana, I said, and bring your own bottle. Heh, he said, better rush, and I’ll see you when.

And I looked at the phone, and the pictures of the snake. And wondered if helping with bank accounts and stormwater drains, all add up to subliminal obeisance to unacknowledged gods, urgent pleas to unknown ears. Or, like long distance affection, a desperate attempt to put together a puzzle in which one knows a piece is missing.

Thursday, March 23, 2006 

Morning Raaga

I conform.

As I conform, I revel in the knowledge that I don’t have to, and haven’t in the past, but I now successfully conform. Because I have to rebel, and if you have to rebel, conformity is rebellion.

The sort of epiphany that springs fully formed, as one stands in early morning haze on the edge of cliff. And with the confidence of standing firm, just let one foot explore nothingness , and write with your toes indistinct letters to unknown people in the haze that drifts lazily from below.

Possibly. I wouldn’t know, just guessing.

For me, it came as I dangled feet in usual fashion, sitting on the balcony railing facing outward. And a sudden wind blew the newspaper open on the lap onto the face. So I jabbed a hole in it with a finger and continued smoking. Jet-Sahara marriage not made for the heavens heading for divorce even before saying I do, and Airtel of mmmuhhhhmmmm ta nen nyaanoo tune now heard on no mobile but every car reversing launching Easy Music downloads. Words about matters of such import envelop the face, but the newsprint is too near to distinguish good news from bad.

But not even the best of the Hindu’s efforts can make it anything near an acceptable filter for the morning cuppa, so we regretfully put the cup down, and pull the paper off, leaving soggy bits of paper (that are actually quite palatable) sticking to lips.

Thereby causing early morning marital discord in the family with balcony opposite where the wife had called out the remaining janata to look at earlier scene. The scorn of the still tousled boy was withering; the resignation on the husband’s face spoke of one who has been made to tag along for choosing matching blouse pieces. And the wife, cheated out of the joy of shared absurdity, making mental notes to embellish it (“drinking at 6 AM, what do you know”) when she told kaam waali bai, thus establishing social cachet over teesre ghar waali Sumitra, who had after all only inferred from observant watching that college ladki on another balcony only studied in fresh air for the duration of married uncle on opposite balcony doing morning exercises in gym vest with Chicago Bulls written on it.

Conformity, morning newspaper and cuppa, a breeze. Really.

Sunday, March 19, 2006 

"Kya Karen, Josh-e-Junoon ..."

This was probably fated,
the variable being speed.
We see every such need
as just trivial once sated.

Needs that we don’t voice
and meet with some shame.
At implied mindframe
That led to this choice.

We were brazen, else rude
(fast to minimise
Windows thought unwise)
when life dared intrude.

With you, we were free.
Even pausing sessions
for enforced lessons
on trite poetry.

Reality, Life's curse
has now stepped in.
Ruthless in its win
sparing just this verse.

So those bunking morning runs, and stolen late nights, they are through;
Fare well ; when atavistic bloodlust strikes, I’ll always remember you.

Thursday, March 09, 2006 

Jericho and The Power of Noise

Warning : Not normal programming. Cept of course, it follows the principle of using 12 words where one will do...

Several of the blogs I read have contributed to the Blank Noise Project on harassment of women.
Now, one has rarely been reticent when it comes to a good rant at something one disagrees with on some blog. In this case, however, I did not, because firstly, the overall objective was laudable, and criticism of the means would have been easily converted to criticism of the end. Plus, I really don't have issues with these bloggers, and I do know that sensitivities on the topic are heightened. So commenting, of course, would be the sort of dubious move one tends to avoid nowadays. However, a good rant IS in order, so here goes ,before lapse into spewing our usual quota of puns and sentimental tripe.

Firstly, about Blank Noise.

Blogging, obviously, is a sort of "letter to the world" and soapbox in the middle of everywhere activity. Now there are plenty of blogs that devote themselves to discussing topics of economics, politics and issues of much import. Several of them cross the line of projecting a point of view to taking a moral high ground. All to the good : since I strongly believe that mine is the only correct viewpoint on any issue, I always appreciate someone (however misguided :) ) who shows similar conviction. As long as it is clear, of course, that it is a point of view alone that is on display.

However, the strident tone of blogs that purportedly seek to sway opinion towards a cause puts me off no end. Some time ago, I was an avid reader of one of the desi blogosphere's gurus. Now this person, at that point of time, was holding forth in no-holds-barred tones about one of my pet rages, the Shiv Sena/VHP combine and communalism. As usual, the post elicited the usual flood of hate comments and retorts from sympathetic souls, assorted wannabes commenting in hopes of pushing some traffic their own way, etc. It attracted comments like qtpie_on_cam in a Yahoo chat room would attract view requests. Now, unlike Blank Noise, this blog makes no explicit claims to being a catalyst for social change ; the proselytising tone, is however, unmistakable. A faithful acolyte till then, the tone of some of the posts started to disturb me.

Finally, I said :
"But I wish you'd seriously sit and think how the liberalist extremism is also worsening the situation. OK, it's easy to get worked up over the bigots. But it also repels the fence sitters: many of whom are decent, honest ppl when they see venom on one side and frothing mouths on the other."

Upon which the reply from one other ardent supporter was
" such times, even fence-sitting amounts to taking a side ..."

Now this is the sort of thing that starts warning bells ringing in my head. At one point in my life, I wanted to be a politician . And as anybody with political sense will tell you, there isn't any point preaching to the converted. You want to win, talk to the fence-sitters.

I said
"here's a sample. Before you jump to it's defence, just show it to somebody out of context and listen to his/her reactions. Which is precisely what will happen to this quote.” From where I sit, it seems to me that the greatest threat to my country is this half-baked Hindutva. "God knows I froth at half baked Hindutva myself ( idiots whose sole aim is feed on the insecurity of the majority , yes, there is such a thing, trust me, to garner votes). But man, if you are looking to be a voice of sanity, you need to avoid injecting such stuff into an already overheated atmosphere. Call us timid, but when Ms A Roy ( more advances to her pen) gets into the act, most of the janata gets switched off. A few more unthinking lines like this and you will join the bandwagon- defeating the very energy that made you sit up in the first place. Again, look at Michael Moore. Despite his extremely well researched articles/books on Bush's perfidy, his maniacal zeal pushed him to a fringe, leaving the neocons centrestage."

Sure enough, the reply from the blogger was

" should take note of: the "take-it-easy" policy that was even the subject of a popular (Telugu?) film song some years ago...
...Let me be frank. From where I sit, I see this thing called Hindutva is the greatest threat to my country. Others may not see it that way, and that's fine with me. This is in the end a battle of ideas, and I make no apologies, nor want any favours, for expressing my ideas."

I think I already knew by then that this was an exercise in futility. But given the fact that I frankly thought that this was one of the bloggers widely read enough to make a difference, I decided to give it one last shot. I had (unwisely) likened his own fanaticism to those issuing fatwas .. and he had responded with derision. I wrote

"_The blogger_ : I am not asking you to dilute the strength of your convictions.What I am asking for is moderation in their expression, unless the goal is more to get off your chest than create a groundswell of opinion against bigotry. Let us see it as opening a closed door. You may knock and hope it opens. When it doesnt, you try to take a step back and launch a mighty kick at it to break the latch. When you let your skills at writing blend with force of ideas, you can create such an effect. When you let your frustration at what you see as the uncomprehending and passive attitude of the populace take over, it is akin to stabbing the door with a knife. Spectacular, maybe, but not really effective. As _one commenter_ says, it IS about mass communication and emphasis is on mass. You wish to display the strength of convictions in taking on the bigots: do you have it you to stop playing to the chatterati gallery and actually get into the hard work of moving people? As for the comment that your line isn't equivalent to generating hitlists: obviously it isnt. One is venom meant to kill and the other froth generated by righteous anger. If you think the means of combating those who scream hate through rabid articles is being vociferously loud, its your call. I would think attempting to build a chorus a better and more effective reply though. "

The exchange ended there ; a look at recent times to cull these comments assures me that there is no change in the blog's outlook.

In my opinion, Blank Noise and such other projects, at best, are the chatterati indulging in mutual backslapping and much self-congratulation. Hullo : all the people contributing, and the people reading, are already converts to the cause. At best, this is intellectual onanism of the most obvious kind. At worst, it is equivalent to my rant on a patient blogger's review of Rang De Basanti : that such movies are insidious, allowing people to outsource righteous rage into a 3 hour movie sponsored by MNCs, happy with nihilistic and unreal kill 'em all endings, so we can finish our popcorn and go home, equivalent to the patriot in us jerking off to centrefolds of glossy but essentially seedy magazines.

You want action, get out and get people on your side. The fence-sitters are there for a very good reason; there is bigotry on one side and self-satisfied smugness on the other. On an issue like abuse of women, there are no fence-sitters like above; however, there are plenty of people who are at a loss when they read unthinking, almost celebratory rhetoric.

Since space is limited, we shall deal with just two examples ...

One post claims that due to being raped, she now retaliates in the following manner:
"When I thought rape was about sex, I decided to de-sanctify and de-mystify sex completely. It meant sex with a certain randomness. ......In fact I lied to men to get them into bed. This is how I rape. I fuck with your emotions. I ruin your sexlife by telling you that yours in the shortest and that you are simply not hard enough. That you couldn't get me to come even if you powered your penis and fingers with AA batteries".
errrrr.... could I have your phone number ? And now that you admit that you "rape" men cos you got raped, it is of course perfectly OK if I continue the chain by raping women post a session with you ?

Another, much avidly read (and worth it too), states , inter-alia

(a) Every day, every hour in India is about being groped.
Hmmm. Now anything I say as a guy would be trashed by definition, so shall stop at saying I don't think so.

(b) (paraphrase) Since you haven't castrated a molester yet, you deserve to be branded along with him.
Hullo. That means every one of you who buys a pair of shoes for an obscene amount while people die in Darfur is an active cause of their death. cf my comment about being rabid and alienating people.

(c) Indian/Hindu mythology and "culture" leads to harassment. Free porn and the threat of lawsuits makes the Western world safe.

Hmmm. (We shall desist at quoting very obvious examples from other mythologies as sexist, if not more.) Then this movie's claims of being a true story were obviously false. So is this widely discussed issue. And Hollaback NYC of course, consists of people Photoshopping images of those they hate.

There are ways and means of making a difference. Even with just a blog-a-thon. ( Feel free to mail when in need of advice). But this is not it.

And when you want to make a difference with noise, please remember that this
(a) is essentially a myth.
(b) involved a concerted effort , not just trumpeteers.

Finally, a disclaimer : I haven't linked to the blogs I have quoted, as all this kin-I-link-to-you business is tiresome. Plus my issues are generic, and not to do with the specific bloggers concerned (who are all, I am sure, perfectly honourable).