Friday, October 10, 2014

The Convenient Nobel Laureate

This morning I woke up to news about the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala Yusufzai and a certain Satyarthi had won the prize. The fact that I knew Pakistani Malala's full name and story while I knew nothing about Indian Satyarthi is perhaps most telling. About the... I am thinking travesty, ridiculousness, meaninglessness, but the use of any such term will perhaps make me the center of severe criticism. But you get the gist.

So here is why I hold my opinion. Malala's father owns a bunch of schools in the Swat valley. He is an activist, who has been very active in the politics and social activism in the area. Years ago, BBC Urdu wanted to profile the life of a school kid in the area via a blog. They picked a student, whose parents, fearing the Taliban dissuaded her from participating. Malala therefore, was the only other option. No doubt, she did a good job with the writings, and the soon blossoming poster child of Western media got center stage. The Taliban were devils, no doubt and they were suppressing female education. Everyone knew that, thanks to Khaled Hosseini, and a whole host of other artists, journalists and common sense. What better way to add color to the whole war on terror, than support a politically inclined family into projecting their living room conversations into the world stage? A BBC documentary followed.

The Taliban did what they do best, threatened, and followed through on their threat, in a very typical and expected act of idiocy. They shot at her, she survived and shot to fame. She began to speak about the known plight of girl children in Pakistan, who couldn't go to school. Again, everyone knew that. But the idea of a sixteen year old who survived a Taliban shooting was too fairytale-ish to not promote. The story was doing wonders to BBC. People who might not have bothered to see news about the Middle East stopped to admire the story of the girl who was shot at, speak to people about what everyone knew. For that's what she did. Speak. A sixteen year old addressed audiences in her coached oratory skills and spoke about what everyone already knew. Book deals, documentaries, international appearances and a Nobel Peace Prize. Every news website had her name as the headline this morning. She did what the BBC told her to do, she blogged, she persevered.

Kailash Satyarthi has been a champion against child labor for decades. In a country where children born do not mean more mouths to feed, but rather are more hands to earn. He left a promising career of his own free will and dedicated his life to working for the well-being of children. He established a system called the 'Rugmark', which can be carried by rugs that are not made by the innocent hands of little children. He has worked to protect the lives of 80,000 children. He has founded NGOs that work for children, worked with the UN to develop plans and goals that work towards the eradication of child labor. Yet his Wikipedia page is one third the size of Malala's.

I absolutely do not decry what Malala has been through. For a child, she has shown courage. But growing up in an activist household, with the BBC and international media as her Fairy Godmother instills a certain sense of courage as well. But does that require a recognition of the highest order? She now harbors political ambitions, sits in the UK and delivers well-rehearsed speeches and she is a household name. Her fellow-awardee, with a life of work, who left a promising career to follow a calling has been working and is still working and making a difference. Not just by talks, but by tangible action. To be feted at once, perhaps decries his achievements and stops painfully short of Malala's potential.

The only saving grace though, is the fact that this is the Nobel Peace Prize that has in the past been given to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (in the year when they were used in Syria), the EU for not having repeated a nightmare called the Holocaust (no, seriously the reason they were awarded the prize was, the EU's over 6 decades of contribution to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe), Obama (for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples; seriously? a year into his presidency?) and Yasser Arafat. I don't even want to go into talking about the last person.

So Suu Kyi, Mother Teresa and Mr. Satyarthi - better served not thinking too much about fellow awardees. Their true award is only in their body of work.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Kashmir and kid gloves

10 months since I wrote anything here. And I guess it takes a true work of art to inspire the creation of something else that in my opinion masquerades as art. Anyway, this weekend, after having read a dozen dependable favorable reviews, we trooped over to go see Haider. Yes, I am extremely apprehensive, given the travesties that pass off as Hindi movies these days - old man romancing a terrible tam accent pyt, or a refuse-to-accept-I-am-old actor choosing to act in a ridiculous rip off of The Prestige, the list is endless. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw a truly good movie and I am glad I broke that jinx with Haider. Before you conclude that this is yet another, albeit late review of the movie, NO, it isn't.

So, while I consider the movie a true work of art, and one of the best possible takes on Hamlet, the subsequent cries of foul, hashtags asking for a ban on the movie, serve the role of a comedic element on a grander stage. Hamlet remains one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, for sake of the sheer fallibility of the hero. Again, if I were to start penning the various virtues of the story of Hamlet, I would go ranting, a little like Polonius, so, no Oh! Hamlet is soooo good, over here. But in a nutshell, Hamlet is about a betrayed young man, fighting a crisis of ethics. He cannot understand how the mother he holds in high esteem could so hastily marry his uncle, who he has always had scant regard for. He is unable to decide whether the ghost of his father claiming betrayal is true, or just an object meant to lead him astray and cause his own downfall. He is unable to decide whether vengeance is the end to all problems, or whether it is but a start to a new cycle of problems. And it is this conflict that adds beauty to the story.

Being very true to Hamlet's premise, the story of Haider has all these elements - betrayal, death of innocence/ trust, questioning the very meaning of existence, despairing helplessness at the turn of events, quest for the high ground, while questioning the virtues of this high ground. A million sources would extol the performances of the protagonists and settings and so on. But the beauty lies in the audacity of the plot. For years in India, or in the minds of any Indian, Kashmir is a taboo topic. Article 370 of the Indian constitution, or the granting of special status to the state gives it that whole 'handle with kid gloves' caveat. Which suits everyone, the neighbors, the higher powers, and also the internal politicos of the state, their allegiances notwithstanding. And today, after all these years, the issue is out in the open. Again.

Only this time, the open secret is out. That excesses have happened in the past. Power exists to be misused at some time or the other, as has been proven right from the time of the Mahabharata. So why the whole brouhaha? Excesses did happen, people were frisked, checked, ID cards were required at all time, and for good reason. Till just a few years ago, people were expected to take off their shoes only at a temple. Not at every airport security checkpoint. But security guys did not just suddenly wake up to decide on a weird procedure. Some devious mind thought this through. Just like how Hamas decided to send its terrorists to civilian populated areas to perpetrate attacks. So people with their own agendas in J&K or even entities desirous of fomenting unrest in the region would throw in the odd wolf in the sheep's clothing! But that does not in any way detract from the pains and perils of everyday life in J&K. And that is beautifully brought out here. What I don't get, is why the apprehension towards calling a spade a spade? Yes there were terrorists. Yes, to some extent, some entities were seeking vengeance against what was taken to be the face of power. Personal rivalries piggybacked on larger inter-country disputes. But one terrorist in the midst of civilians does not make the whole state a terrorist state. Likewise, the acts of some people in the armed forces, does not make the entire force evil.

Crimes had been committed against Muslim Kashmiris. Crimes had been committed against Kashmiri Pandits. Even today, for no apparent reason, armed forces going in to help flood victims are pelted with stones. Why? Everyone screwed up some time in the past! This is like the old fable of a lion going to hunt a deer going to drink at a stream. When asked why it was being killed, the lion replied that the water downstream was being polluted by the deer. The deer replied that it had no hand in it, to which the lion said that if not this deer, some ancestor would have done so, and so this deer would have to pay the price.

Which is exactly the apparent case in Kashmir today. But the call for a ban on a movie that artistically tries to depict what might have been the case, is a regressive step towards the whole treading on eggshells that has happened thus far. The first step towards fixing an ill is recognizing the existence of an ill. While there has been a movie depicting one man's personal fight in the backdrop of excesses - Polonius heartlessly murders 3 people and brands them as terrorists to fetch himself some money, or one officer's car horn deciding the fate of a man and his family - maybe it is time to reconcile, agree and decide to move on. Maybe we stop dealing with Kashmir as the Indian outcast and treat it as the crown of India as it once was! Ban the movie, because you lack the guts to see what might have been true, not because it hurts some non-existent sentiments.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rahul Gandhi needs the Jnanpith Award! Such is his profundity!!!!!

Ah well. I am not going into an analysis of the whole Rahul Gandhi interview. The complete transcript is out there for everyone to read. And admire. Given that I wasn't able to watch him talk live, I did manage to guffaw several morsels of food out while catching him go on and on about empowerment of women and the right to information, when quizzed about his views on Modi and corruption, respectively. Guffaw I mean, when I stared at my screen awestruck by such a literary genius!!!

While I did find the entire interview empowering, informative and very uplifting, I do believe that he had a very strong point to convey. Before I begin, let me clarify that I believe we are a true democracy and that if we have elected anybody to power, he is a true representative of us. And I for one strongly believe I am not bone dumb.

With that caveat, here is what I chose to see. When quizzed about his views on Modi, Rahul spoke of women's empowerment. In other words, he thought that Modi, given that the name ends in the sound of ee, is female! Like billee or cat is a she, beedi or cheap cigarette is a she, lakdi or stick is a she, why ladki or girl is a she!!!! So, Arnab got it all wrong, claiming he had to ask Rahul his views on Modi 4 times. Rahul had answered before the question had even been asked!

Now, when asked about whether he was willing to allow the Right to Information Act to be applied to his party, he gave such a deep and profound answer that all those Facebookies are silly to have laughed. Look, he just said that under his governance, he will ensure equality of all, allow RTI to flow like one of those rivers of energy of a billion Indian youngsters to pervade everything and not just bombard the common man with information about the corrupt practices within his party. That would be unfair and unequal. What if someone wanted to know what Arnab Goswami had for breakfast? That someone would be denied such crucial information, since the press is out of reach of the RTI. He even in fact, showed Arnab a future career path, which Arnab so rudely refused to recognize. By saying that the RTI would be reviewed to cover all pillars and ceilings and walls, before touching the Congress party, Rahul in a way said that the media would be expected to fulfill the role of a ruler too, given that they have already acted in a judicial capacity (Jessica Lall anyone?) And look at Arnab, blatantly saying that the press doesn't rule the country. I swear I saw Rahul mouth the word 'yet' between that sweet dimpled grin.

When asked whether he would apologize for 1984, he made yet another STATEMENT. He showed he was young! See, if he wasn't in the party in 1984, he is definitely not 70 years old, which typically has been the average age of Indian Parliamentarians! He thus underlined yet another CV point! And you tweeters, absolutely acted like twits!!! Poor kiddie boy, Rahul!

When asked about his degrees, he said he has filed an affidavit. Meaning he has a law degree under his belt as well! He doesn't believe in just showing his degree certificates. He goes above and beyond what is expected by knowing how to file affidavits. Even in responding to an open question about the credibility of his studies, he follows due legal process. What better way to show that he is indeed a man who follows what he preaches! And look at the media! Calling him an ostrich who buries his head in the sand. For your information, you naysayers, an ostrich does not bury it's head in the sand. Hence legally speaking, Rahul doesn't either!

You all are silly since you couldn't notice the Kafkaesque statements oh so deep in transferred epithets and metaphors and synecdoche (it's pronounced ducky and not dosh!!). This guy has just elevated the average Indian IQ to over a billion! All you overcritical, never-to-be-satisfied-with-even-the-best-of-the-best. You mean mean people!!!!!

And lastly, one thing perhaps all of you absolutely did not notice, was that by repeatedly yelling 'women empowerment' off the rooftops regardless of the question, our man, in as metaphorical a way as possible, was saying, "I AM NOT THE PM CANDIDATE. MY MOM OR MY SISTER IS!"

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

DearChief Minister, you are not Batman!!!!

For some reason, the song that has been stuck in my head all of today is Taylor Swift's 'I knew you were trouble when you walked in'. I kept wondering why, and it is now that I realized that that song is exactly what Delhi is singing to it's current chief minister! Don't believe me? Here is why!

Once upon a time a few mistakes ago
I was in your sights, you got me alone
You found me, you found me, you found me
I guess you didn't care, and I guess I liked that
And when I fell hard you took a step back
Without me, without me, without me

Which is sooooo true. Mr. IIT IRS decided he had had enough being a babu and so decided to go where everyone goes to serve the people while making a little money on the side. And therefore, he set his sights on the city, while always acting like he didn't  care about floating a party, let alone being a CM. So when the city as always goes through the crap it has always been going through, he does take a step back and do what he does best! Faux satyagraha!

So, at the outset, he started off being the man of the moment. Well actually Anna Hazare, a true Gandhian started off the whole concept of having a Lokpal, to bring in some kind of an overseeing entity to curb rampant corruption in the government. Mr IIT IRS joined in and decided to take it to an all new level. At first he presented himself as being a selfless educated government servant out to do good for the people of Delhi, while explicitly claiming he had no political ambitions. But as time wore on, and seeing that he had indeed managed to grab enough mindspace amongst the voting public (of course! whoever would have remembered his name otherwise? But everyone also remembers Rakhi Sawant's name! never mind), he decided to help the people constitutionally. Ah! so he did know that India had a constitution!!!! Which is surprising, since his subsequent governance methods really made me wonder whether the UPSC (civil service examinations) have changed their curriculum to include only Nolan's Batman series!!

Seeing the promise he brought, in the wake of the lack of governance, given the long list of scams and scandals against our elected politicians, people unwittingly voted for him. Well let's face it, every educated voter wishes for a good candidate, one who really comes into politics with marksheets and not chargesheets. So here was a man, a potential 'none of these' option to the ruling dynasty and the new pretender. And they voted.

Alas! Who was to know that the new dude would take his role as Batman so seriously. So much so, that even when he became the ruler, taking support of the same guys he dissed, he stayed a vigilante. Only now, he became the Joker. Seriously, what does he mean when he looks into a swanky new house and says 'People are upset, but I am only living in a house given by the government'? Isn't he the government? He took offense when people said that he wasn't a man of his words. Well, he wasn't. He said he won't run for office, he did. He said he would bring the corrupt in the then ruling Congress Goverment to book, only to later ask for 'proof' that they were indeed corrupt. 

Now, in the recent drama that goes on to show that the whole ruse had been engineered with a view to holding on to peoples' imagination in the wake of national polls, there was an unconstitutional protest against a crime against women. Honestly, the slew of comments has me confused over the motive behind the 'strike'. BY THE GOVERNMENT!!! So was it to protest the rape of the Danish tourist? Or was it to protest a Dowry death? Or was it to protest the fact that a certain cop refused to give in to high handed, non-rulebook behavior of a vigilante sidekick, who decided to barge into a few peoples' houses claiming they were prostitutes, This same Law minister, in another occasion decided to manhandle and trouble store employees of a 24/7 shop at midnight under the pretext of asking for the store registration details. Or was the 'dharna' another ruse to usurp more power? Again, he is the government. What on earth does he mean by saying that if a crime were to be committed against a woman in Delhi, his Government will raise a protest? YOU ARE THE GOVERNMENT MR. AAP. You are there to be the solution. Not an error log. Not the class snitch. Please understand that.

But then again, like Ms. Swift has rightly said in one of her lines - 'I reeeealize, the joke is on me, yeah'. The joke is really on the true Aam Aadmi. The common man who voted for someone who portrayed an image of being one from amongst them, the pack of lies notwithstanding.The common man, who was sick of his hard earned money being taxed to fill corrupt coffers. The common man, who suffered in the wake of this lame 'dharna' that had been engineered to fill home TV screens, give Barkha Dutt a reason to scream about and serve as a flashcard to the voter in the coming Lok Sabha polls. I guess by now the common man does realize that Mr. Kejriwal is not really one of the commoners, since he has explicitly stated that he is a chief minister and he can sit where he wants; he cannot be asked to move his protest to another place so that common people who WORK for a living won't be inconvenienced. He is a chief minister who had the nerve to question the legitimacy of Republic Day celebrations, that have been going on in the capital for the past 64 years!! Imagine a real aam aadmi doing any of the above!

A few months ago, this same person had taken offense at a comment by another known, blatant politically connected 'businessman' who had referred to him as a mango man in a banana republic. Ironic that the actions of Mr. CM have done nothing but prove the politically connected son-in-law right!

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Happy birthday, Michael

It's his birthday. On this day, 45 years ago, he was born in Germany as were perhaps several kids around the world. On this day though, 45 years ago, no one knew what this man was capable of achieving. And he for sure, could not have imagined what his life would come to mean to millions of human beings worldwide.

Several people and events have significant influences in one's life. For me, Michael Schumacher, or Schumi, or Weltmeister or Rainmeister or any of the typical epithets he personified, was a constant source of inspiration, throughout his career. Every Formula 1 race, till the time he raced used to be a celebration. An event I would look forward to all week. Sundays without a race would be dull. Come October and Suzuka, a new gloom would set in until March and Australia. People who grew up with me would know that the Monday after a Michael victory would see an ecstatic me clad in red at school. And a Monday after a Michael loss would see me crabby for two weeks! I cheered when he cheered. I despaired when he despaired.

While one may argue that it was in vogue to support Michael, since nothing succeeds like success, I idolized his attitude towards his chosen line of work. And I believe that this commitment was what produced his stellar success. Whether it was the way he practiced, or the way he dealt with unexpected situations, what came through was his commitment to perfection.  And the willingness to go that extra mile to push and achieve what he set out to achieve. In the book 'Driven to extremes', there is a section that talks of how his arrival into Ferrari transformed the team into a championship winning team. Not just because of his talent, but because he would talk engineering-speak with his team and be involved in that common goal of getting Ferrari to victory, by providing that key input to help build that perfect car. Something hardly anyone had ever done before. 

Sport, they say brings out the truest of human qualities. It provides non-verbal clues of what lies beneath the veneer that a man puts on. And by all accounts, one accepts that man is not perfect. He has his positive attributes and he has his flaws. So when several detractors keep at criticizing some of Michael's ruthless behavior on track, or even his seemingly brash squabbles off it, the only rejoinder I have is that everything is always fair in love and war. It is all about tact. On hindsight, maybe Michael himself might regret some of his actions, which then appeared to be under the guise of an indefatigable killer instinct, only to now look, for lack of a better word, cloaked in an immature need to win. But then who isn't guilty of wanting that position of supreme success? And how many of his colleagues wouldn't have done anything to be where he had been? Why how many of us wouldn't want to fight for what we really really want? At the end of the day, we are all human. And the typical foibles of mankind apply to us all. How is he any different?

I admired his spirit, his will to win, and his attitude to commit his all to that goal. And to me, that is a quality that shines through and success verily follows. Many say he was lucky. Some say he was blessed in that he had talent. Some others say he had his team's biased support that was wrongly skewed towards him. Well, granted. He did have talent. But then the wheel of fortune is never biased. And in any team or organization, someone who has consistently shown results will always find perennial backing. Everyone of us, let's not even go to a sport, is guilty of having accepted such biased treatment.

So, when I look at MSC, and what his existence has meant to me, I see a personification of all things human and an application of what I call quintessential human faculties - determination, a will to succeed, diligence, commitment and the willingness to go above and beyond what is required - to that which has been ordained as our task in an effort to achieve the highest possible quality in executing that task. So seeing him win, was like seeing the perfect recipe for achieving success. Watching how he went about his occupation was a life lesson.

So today, as he turns 45, lying in a coma in a hospital in Grenoble, I wish him Happy Birthday, and I pray for all those human faculties that he had perfected throughout his career, to shine forth and pull him out of this mess, and give us back, his simple admirers, the Schumi we have known and loved!