Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Indias Identity

The colour of India is its Identity. It's the religious tolerance and multi cultural characteristics defines it. If you impose Hindi/Hindusim, then you are breaking the foundation of Indian civilization. I don't know Hindi, but I am still able to live happily in India. My muslim friends are able to live happily in India without knowing the concepts of Hinduism. By practising different culture, we are reinforcing its identity. Western nations have just become democratic but we were always democratic. Proud to be an Indian because we know democracy from time immemorial and we are still surviving. Please dont play with the foundation, because one billion people live on top of it.

Guest post by,
Prakash Gomathinayagam

Monday, April 24, 2006

Of liberalism and conservatism

It is now cliche to talk at lengths about Information Technology and how it has turned India's image and lifestyle on its head. So, let's cut it short.

Post-recession era - "India Shining" - Lots of money and spending mood with middle class - we are a big global market.

Indirect gainer of this feel-good factor is the entertainment industry. It has capitalized on the sudden inflow of money and seemingly consequent liberal attitude among people, to come up with tons of sexually explicit Hollywood lift-offs in the name of diversifying into relatively bolder subjects like infidelity (ex: Murder) and homosexuality. Thanks to Mahesh Bhatt and few other copy machines, we have nearly a hundred hot girls who are willing to strip and Emran Hashmi who is kind enough to smooch them at least two at time in every movie.

Ten years ago, the same thing would have raised a few eye-brows. Today, be it the curious kid, the restless teen, the cool collegian or the nostalgic middle-aged, all take it in their stride. If they do mind they don't come up with their objection very publicly. So that brings us to the question of interest in the discussion OverTea. Are we a liberal society?

What is liberalism? The idea that has freedom as its core. A liberal living is a life according to ones own freedom, provided it respects others.

What is conservatism? A idea of discipline and convention. A conservative, leads a life that conforms to specific rules, mostly drawn by religion and to a lesser extent, but still significantly drawn by the society.

If we view the Indian society in the light of the above definitions, the truth becomes evident, especially if we ask ourselves certain questions.

- How prevalent and welcome is inter-caste and inter-religious marriage in our society?
- How are a certain sections of our community like homosexuals, AIDS patients treated? Do they feel important in the society?
- How tolerant are we to ways of living that we don't really understand or agree to?
( A good example is the traditional Tamil Nadu Vs Rest of India cold-war)
- How much freedom does the female community enjoy when compared to the male community?
- How many physically challenged people enjoy the same level of independence and mental well-being as a normal person?
- How many adopted children are adopted by potent couples?

None of the above questions evoke a positive answer. In all the above questions, some one's freedom (inter-religious love-birds, women, homosexuals, etc) is over-ridden by some rule (marriage within community, having an opposite sex partner, "all should know Hindi" or "I wont speak in Hindi even if I know it", "Women should be more disciplined than men").

So, my take is that we are far from a liberal society. If we assume ourselves to be a liberal society based on the increasing number of pubs and modern ways of dressing, I am afraid we lack reasoning. Of course, social drinking and liberal dressing are constituent of a liberal society, but such aspects are not substantive to liberalism. In our case, those are just effects of media-driven fashion trends and half-baked knowledge about the western culture. Such aspects are not necessarily wrong, or as conservative extremists may say, destructive to Indian culture. But it is not very progressive either.

The day when it is common for a totally potent couple wants to adopt a child, and is not opposed by the immediate relatives (thus granting them total freedom) is when the society is liberal. The day when a physically challenged person enjoys the freedom to move around with minimal or no help, and evokes a feeling that his impairment is no real impairment is the day a society becomes liberal. In short, a society achieves liberalism only when it matures to recognize and encourage a progressive trend especially when such a trend opposes a convention.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sarathy and Trash

"Fresh" after sixty five push-ups in a Garnier Fructis Push-ups challenge at Forum Mall, Bangalore, Sarathy, Suresh and I went straight to Sri Krishna Cafe for the afternoon double-lunch. On our way, outside Forum was Ford Fiesta challenge, that pushed people to repeat "Go Fida" for the longest time without pausing for a breath. Unfortunately not a single person who took that challenge had a tolerable voice. All it achieved was nauseate people away from The Forum. I had a sense of pride having participated in a worthier challenge.

Sarathy is the guy who was visiting from the US for a months holiday. He is the reason why I was in Bangalore rather than Hyderabad. Suresh is the Bangalore local boy. He is our map inside Bangalore. We entered Krishna Cafe tired of walking and half-an-hour later exited, totally intoxicated by the authentic South Indian Mega-Meals. As we walked back towards Forum - none of us knowing why exactly there - we were totally involved in bringing out girls' Kismet with Suresh. Whichever girl Suresh meets, gets married within months. With somebody else that is.!

As we turned a corner, Sarathy's angry voice came down from above me, "HEY! Pick that up!"

For a brief moment, I stood there wondering "Pick what?". I looked at Sarathy puzzled. His long arm and bony finger pointing down to the ground is still vivid in my memory. Then, it dawned on me. That was the used paper towel from Krishna Cafe that I was carrying in my hand. Lost in the lighter moment with Suresh and Sarathy, I threw it in the nearby newly constructed open sewer line, that is yet to be used.

I was in the US too, I talked at lengths about how irresponsible people are towards their own society. I too have even carefully practised what I preached when I visited India for a month's vacation or so. But, now that I am back in India for good, I am obliviously got used to the despicable, yet inherently Indian ways. Sarathy's words pierced my heart as an arrow and killed the fast growing hypocrite in me.

Still, the rude awakening to the embarrassing truth was unbearable. I meekly protested with a grimace, "Machi, its in the ditch, daaa". That was too weak to move Sarathy. The open sewage was still under construction, so there was no sewage whatsoever.

Sarathy rudely and slowly repeated. "Pick.....that.....up".

I meekly surrendered. That was the death of the egoist in me. Sarathy was probably impressed. He cooled down fast and we started walking once again.

Not more than five paces from there, he spotted a trash can by the nearest bus stop. "See there? put the trash there. You do what you are supposed to do. The others will do theirs". The situation was so engrossing that, even now, I don't remember what Suresh was doing the whole time.

The good thing about the whole incident was that it was a good opportunity to re-learn what I have conveniently and sub-consciously unlearnt after coming to India. What's the bad thing? Every time, I see a trash can or every time I carry a trash in my hand, I see Sarathy's face, his long hands and bony fingers pointing towards the ground.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Gay association in Chennai: A Reflection

CNN-IBN's report on Official Gay Association in Chennai is significant in two ways.

1. For the first time in India, gays have a chance step out of the closet and lead a normal life. Even possibly increase public awareness. Awareness about what?

- about the fact that being gay is not a choice, but a feature imprinted on ones self at birth, as this article in CBS might indicate. Its as plain as saying "Just like you are attracted towards girls, I am attracted towards guys".

- gays are more criminally inclined when suppressed and ill-treated and the only way to avoid this is to recognize them as normal humans.

For the records, I am not gay! To be honest, (at the expense and getting defensive, and inviting criticisms involving the word "hypocrite") if I know that somebody is gay, I WILL feel awkward and insecure. But the support for gay-rights is as much ingrained in me as the insecure feeling itself. An organization to protect a community marginalized for no conscious fault on its part has to be welcome.

2. The second significance is personal. Chennai is considered by many as a conservative, or worse, an intolerant city (primarily with the ancient anti-Hindi sentiments that filled the air in Tamil Nadu a decade or two ago). In all honesty, Chennai is conservative to a large extent. But, this news report clearly vindicates Chennai from the allegiance that it is intolerant. The limited media coverage has turned out to be fortunate and unfortunate at the same time. Fortunate, since the news has gained enough public image to really interest the self-styled guardians of Tamil Culture. Unfortunate, since if it had gained more national attention, it would have done its bit in bring Chennai's true image to light.

Those who disagree with me and quote the Kushbhoo episode and The Park episode as counter, please consider the fact that the "Dharna" against Khusbhoo was wholly by executed by a caste-based political party which linked her comments to Tamil Culture when Kushbhoo said nothing about it. The Park episode was a misadventure by a small time reporter looking for cheap media publicity and a thoughtless and panicky approach by the government to avoid another controversy. The general public did not participate in both the instances and, more importantly, there was no violence.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Life of alarms

If my life has to be abridged to one word, the word will be "Sad". The ones like me are almost always ill-treated by their masters. Some of them are are lucky enough to end up in a decent and gentle family. Or just a family with no funky, spoilt college guys. Girls of the same age are nicer, though there are some exceptions in that too. But the luckiest ones are the ones who get to work in an office or a shop or anywhere else but a home environment.

I work tirelessly 24/7. But I never complain. We are built to last long. Most of the time, my work goes unnoticed. When someone does seek my services, they don't thank me. If there is a truly thankless job, it is mine. People of my profession very rarely become famous. There is a Ben somewhere in Europe who fits the example well. He had been doing the job for a long time now. He doesn't work indoors. I hear he is a monster. So, they made him work in some place where there are a lot of tourists. I am sure there are others like him all around the world. But they are of a much lesser stature and are known only locally. Most of them are huge and work outdoors, like railway stations. But this is one job where size does not give you the luxury of choosing your retirement. All of us are servants. Servants who toil all day, all night and all the time till they can't keep going anymore. In that context, the more famous servants are the less fortunate ones. When they breakdown, people work on them, revitalize them and bring them up to speed with the present.

I work for a family. They are so thankless and unpredictable. They order me to sing early in the morning for them. They give the order the previous night and go to sleep, while I continue with my job. I almost never forget. When I sing in the morning, sometime they just get up and just move on and I feel fortunate. But most of the time, I get beaten up for doing exactly what they asked me to do. Especially the spoilt brat, The College Kid. He always targets my head. To make matters worse, I am too little for his size. Once, he threw me so hard that I hit the edge of the wall and fractured one my legs. He didn't even bother about fixing me up. The elders in the family took a look and felt sorry. But thats as much attention I got. Why should I endure so much because I have a bad voice? Why should he order me to sing if he doesn't like my voice? I guess he just enjoys molesting me the way he does. He would prefer that I have such a bad voice, so that he has a reason to abase me the way he does.

There is no respite from work. There is no retirement. There is no one to whom I can turn to for empathy. There is no law protecting us. And obviously we can't change our voice, if that might stop them from ill-treating us. If there is some thing called rebirth, I would want to be anything but an alarm clock.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

An unimportant post

Since I have joined the company I am currently working in, the predominant form of entertainment is Table Tennis (or as the Americans know it Ping-Pong). I don't consider myself the expert in it, given the fact that I have not had much chance to play TT before. But I am at getting good at it pretty fast.

Being a popular entertainment here the table is almost always busy and playing a singles game should be considered a windfall, and a double's game doesn't improve your skills very much. I play with colleagues who are of varied talent. District champions to learning-to-hold-the-bat. I find that there is so much variety in the way one can approach a ball, be it while serving, returning, smashing or blocking. The key is to develop a varied skill-set and to know what to use when, and do it consistently correct. I have a friend-cum-roomie, who in my observation neither has a varied skill-set in the game, nor is conventional. But he is surprisingly correct, and consistently so. The win-loss ratio between the two of us is already heavily tilted on his side. During the last two days it only got worse for me. I lost 3-4 yesterday and 0-7 today. It didn't really bother me till we finished the games. But now that I am alone, it is humiliating. It completely clouds my mind. Thoughts like,

"There a few instances that I pulled back from behind to level, only to give it all away".

"The fact that he has been playing longer than me doesn't help. I have been playing long enough to start winning. After all, I do have some skills that I have learnt".

annexes the mind. The mind refuses to relinquish the thought and move on to more important things to do. On the contrary, it only compounds the problem. Now I don't feel like doing the more important things to do. All of a sudden, I feel like I am doing a useless job, I reject the evening plans to roam around because, all of a sudden, I don't like the city anymore and want to go back to Chennai, and I get unreasonable when friends play a harmless prank on me.

This post is as unimportant as the game of TT itself, but it has undone what the loss in TT has done to me. Well the humiliating defeat will stay on, but at least it kept me reasonable. I don't feel like I don't want to go back to the TT table and pick up the bat anymore. Maybe I will lose another series 7-0. But what the hell, that’s just a droplet, if my life is an ocean.