Friday, January 30


Ramadoss and Gehlot have joined the anti-pub brigade!

It is against the "Indian ethos" according to these people. Really. Do you mean to say that people did not drink in ancient India? Or did they not socialize? Or did they not smoke? Oh right 'ganja' is reserved for saints. And booze for politicians!

Who cares about the economic repercussions of banning all liquor and scaring away people from restaurants that serve alcohol. Of what it does to the image of the country and the tourists (money) it attracts and scares.

Gehlot also talks against public display of affection. I have previously written about not being a great supporter of PDA, but that does not surpass my staunch support of individual freedoms. These moral police seem to be of the belief that exercising the right to act upon one's free will is equal to that person being wasted (vaya gelela to be precise). And then there is the "concern" that if women drink and smoke and mix around with guys they might be taken "advantage" of. As a woman I find it extremely insulting and degrading. I have a brain that knows danger and is completely capable of warning me. It can also do more than one thing at a time.

And then there are these people. Just so that he knows, we are no longer under the rule of imperial powers. The governments are elected by Indians themselves. So what Bhagat Singh and Jhansi ki Rani did do not apply to current circumstances. Killing innocent Indians is unpatriotic, not the other way round. You are no where close to the ranks of those freedom fighters.

I don't even want to say anything anymore. I am officially disgusted now. Or is expressing disgust against the spirit of being a bharatiya nari.

Thursday, January 29


Initially when the news appeared I was only appalled, furious, ashamed and sad. Today when the great Yeddyurappa said this I was at a loss of words. He says that "this (pub culture) was not a part of our culture and it led to unfortunate incidents like the one in Mangalore." It is wrong at so many levels. You are rationalizing the criminal and inhumane actions of the goons. You are asking women to not socialize. While it can be read to be in the same spirit as being told to avoid dark lonely alleys to avoid rape, it is not the same. It is rather in the spirit of "you invite rape" argument.

I am a Hindu, and proud of it. But with such incidents on the rise, with political parties and factions that "symbolize" Hindus indulging in such actions or passively watching these things happen, I don't know if I should be proud anymore. Since the Hindu religion, as we know it today, does not have the confines of one particular book or one particular God, it should ideally be all welcoming and encompassing. It is an amalgamation of centuries of what happened in the Indian subcontinent. We have no diktats, no commandments.* If there are any rules or guidelines they are more about rituals. And even they are not uniform. Each region has its own version. You can get married in thousands of different ways and still be married the Hindu way. With the millions of Gods, conflicting philosophical traditions all a part of the same Hindu religion, I thought it is the most tolerant of all religions. In fact the Indian subcontinent as a whole should be the most tolerant of all. We have lived for centuries with different religions, cultures and sub-cultures and developed a version of our own. Many attacked and ruled us, we took something from each of them and still maintained our identity, a continuously evolving identity. With economic progress and modernization we took more to the values of human rights and women's rights that were lost over the centuries.

And now we are regressing. Trying to define Hindu religion and Indian culture solely by what was wrong with it before. Sometimes I think that maybe if we had some set guidelines or one single book things would be different. But then the very spirit of Hindu religion, the Indian culture, would be lost. I remember asking my history teacher in school about how crusades and coercive conversions could be acceptable in any religion. And she said they are not. All religions preach peace and humanity. It is people who reinterpret them for their power struggles. What she said holds true even today.

But then it not only a matter of religion. It is more so about law and order, and the functioning of Indian democracy. If even the few fundamental rights of all sections of society cannot be ensured by elected government, can we claim to be a good democracy, the one where the rule of law prevails? If elected governments cannot act against anti-social and criminal elements in society, should we even have them? The central government has not said anything about the way the situation is being handled. I am all for maximum state autonomy and unintrusive center, but it is the center's responsibility to ensure that the State governments are upholding law and order. The home ministry has to ensure that the home is safe. Instead MNS is free and feared. This Sri Ram Sena is doing what it pleases. I am sure Lord Ram would be turning in his proverbial grave.

It saddens me deeply that our country is rapidly going down this path. Coming from a family where women are highly respected, where there never were any restrictions just because I am a girl, immense trust and encouragement and a very religious atmosphere, and then married into a similar family, I sometimes wonder if I am living a delusional life. If there is something wrong with my family, and we do not understand the real meaning of being Indian and Hindus. If all those people around me who grew up in similar backgrounds are also part of this long dream, and we all are gradually waking up to reality. Will we all survive this 'real' world? Or is the 'real' a dream and we will wake up to another beautiful tomorrow?
* This does not mean that religions with one particular book, God or set commandments are inferior or not tolerant in any way. It is not meant to offend or disrespect anyone.

Update: Ultraviolet has an open letter to the Karnataka government and reflects my sentiments about the violation of women's rights.They say it better than I would.

Tuesday, January 27

Lobbying the new administration

India is apparently making some significant lobbying efforts to be excluded from the South Asian group of problem countries. It does not want to be clubbed together with Pakistan. This reminds me of the numerous times when during discussions with friends and colleagues, I have made an effort to distance myself as an Indian from Pakistanis. Trying to point out how the bigger problem is Pakistan, not India; Pakistan is the rogue nation in the region, not India. In spite of appreciating that our nuclear program has been an act of proliferation, I never wanted it to be rated on par with that of Pakistan's in terms of the risks and proliferation concerns it raises. But the truth is that the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was largely in reaction to and to avoid the repetition of situations like the first Indian nuclear tests. It is also true that the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation treaty is very likely to undermine nonproliferation efforts.

While it can be flaunted as my patriotism and love for my country, it does not take away the holier-than-thou attitude inherent in it. We are a part of the problem. Maybe not as big as Pakistan or Afghanistan is, but definitely a part. And we should be willing to recognize and deal with it if the tensions in the region are subside. While I am with the government on not wanting to internationalize the Kashmir issue, it is unofficially an international issue. There is an UN mission in the region. The U.S., UK, China talk about it in the same breath with Pakistan. Various international non-profits are involved in helping people deal with the consequences of the constant conflict. It would be oversimplifying if I say that solving the Kashmir problem will solve all Indo-Pak problems. But it would definitely reduce them.

We, as a nation have to appreciate that we are part of the problem. And we will have to be an active part of the solution. We cannot go on with a holier-than-thou attitude forever. That will only alienate other countries in the region. We would be following the U.S. path if we do that. South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is not a big success because we are seen as the dictating big brother in the region. Being proud and being arrogant are two different things. We cannot afford to be arrogant if we really want to be an economic and regional superpower.

Wednesday, January 21

Some more reflecting

Nimish has an excellent post about the elections here. The following is my comment on it, which I am taking the liberty to reproduce since it ended up being so long.

"You raise some very pertinent questions about Obama, the historic significance in terms of what Obama can do and symbolizes for democracy, the expectations people have from him, if attitudes can change suddenly…

Like you, I was initially a Clinton supporter, or rather was in favor of Clinton over Obama or McCain. Part of it was to do with her being a Democratic member and a woman. I have a long standing question about why the US has never had a woman President, and I still have to find a really convincing answer to it. But that is a different story.

As for Sarah Palin, she was a glamour doll for a party that was desperate for some glamour. Had she showed some understanding of issues, I would have been sympathetic. But the minute she spoke, she was a disaster. It is wrong that election campaigns resort to mudslinging, but that is politics and no one has escaped it so far. It is admirable that that is not the only thing that happened there was serious policy debate too. And for that some character assaults could be pardoned.

I don't really remember when I was charmed by Obama, but that's what happened. For all my educational and professional background, I was finally charmed by his oratory and smile. I could see the "hope" everyone talked about. And after the initial daze subsided, I started listening to him objectively. He is an intelligent man. There were issues I did not agree upon, or was skeptical about, but there was the underlying fact that he was a rational intelligent man who could be expected to make policy decision based on facts, who would be able to grasp the various aspects of a situation, at least when informed about them, and that made him different. Of course it would be unreasonable to expect him to take decision without political and electoral considerations. But within the scope of his party ideology they would be rational. Obama’s victory is historic in that he is the first black President. But if it will end at that is speculative. There are unreasonable expectations of him. He will be closely watched because of that and because he is Black. And he will fail numerous times. How that is handled will tell us if that race gap has been bridged.

The question you raise about kalyankari neta saving the people is also very interesting. But that it happened here in the US is not a surprise because of the very nature of their political system, their democratic setup. Through a presidential democracy they have institutionalized the ek kalyankari neta idea for decades. The fact that they vote less on party lines, more for the actual person inculcates that within them. We in India are oriented into thinking about the party we are voting for than the person. There are very few leaders who we vote for individually. We vote for the Congress, the BJP, CPI, SP, BSP… The candidate might be a convicted criminal, but the party is good. We vote for a group of people. It is always ambiguous who the Prime Ministerial candidate is. But even then it is sarkar maibaap.

They way I understand government as an institution it came about because people need someone who will look after them, who will undo their problems, who will uplift them from their hardships. Even if we look at government as a group of people, as an institution, or even a bunch of buildings, we are still looking for someone to help us live our lives happily. Even a socialist, communist government is expected to do that. The idea remains and will continue to exist as we as people always need something that we individually cannot provide ourselves with. As part of a society, due to our interactions and interdependence we need someone ‘other’ to look out for us. The need for a kalyankari neta, the sarkar maibap continues."

Tuesday, January 20

Obama inauguration...Change has come!

It is a historic day today. I am watching Obama taking office. And I wish I was there in D.C. right now. After having lived there for two and half years, not being there today makes me sad. Its exactly one month since I left D.C. And so I am trying to blog live as I watch TV.

9.45 am (CT): The crows cheers crazily as Obama and Bush walk out of the White House. That man does have an infectious smile. And Michelle Obama is a charming woman. The crowds are enormous and considering how it felt that day in November walking down D.C's streets and reflecting back upon the last few days of the campaign, I can only imagine what the mall must feel like today.

9.55 am (CT): The motorcade is driving down to the ceremony and its a sight to behold. A sea of people cheering them. Not being an American, or black doesn't matter. It just feels amazing!

Did I ever watch an Indian PM being swore in with this indescribable feeling within me? Maybe when A.B. Vajpayee was sworn in. But I was too young to remember too vividly. I was excited. Having heard him talk had been a pleasure during the election campaign. And I must say he is one of my favorite orators. More on it later though.

10.00 am: Bush and Obama arrive at the Capitol to arrive at the swearing in podium on the West side.

10.05 am: Obama's cabinet members arrive.

Who is that announcer? Nice voice.

What are they feeling? Biden's mother and Bush's parents? And the Clinton's as they walk down to the ceremony? It could have been her being sworn in today! They have been through the ritual before. She looks happy. She is a graceful lady, no doubt. And Carter is walking in too. And the Bush kids.

10.28am: And there are Sasha and Malia and their grandmother. Those are two cute little girls. Smart kids. All smiles. They must be so proud. Michelle's mother too. And they are taking pictures.

They are showing the movers taking out the boxes from the White House. And apparently everything, the actual moving in is done during this ceremony. Having moved houses quite a few times, I think that is impressive. They have help. But even then.

10.32 am: Bush is walking down the corridor, and I feel a little bad for him.
Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have come out.
Cheney is in a wheelchair. For a proud man like him, that must be difficult.

10.36 am: President Bush walks out. The final few moments, and then he is back to Texas. Does he look relieved?

10.38 am: Obama is in the corridor. Looks proud, happy, a slight smile on his face. But contemplative. So many hopes and expectations from him. Smart man. So confident. I would like a John Malkovich moment right now.

10.43 am (CT): And there is Obama, walking out for his swearing in. Goodness!
There is humility on his face as Rick Warren reads the invocation.

10.57 am (CT): The actual swearing in to being... Biden sworn in.
A musical performance. Beautiful. Solemn. And happy.

It is 12.00 ET, which means that Obama is President now. Power transfer takes place at 12 ET on 20 Jan. according to the Constitution. Though there is some debate about what happens if the actual oath has not been taken till then. The White House website has changed to "Change has come." More about it later.

11.05 am (CT): Obama is finally being sworn in. He has taken his full name. And slipped for a moment in reciting the actual oath. Michelle smiles. And Obama is President. The crowds have gone crazy! Many smiles and tears. And now for the much awaited speech.

Speech: Says he is humbled by the generosity. Thanks Bush for his service to the nation. Mentions the many challenges and that they will be overcome together. What a wonderful speaker! Revoking the ancestors. Calls upon people to remake America. Taking bold and swift action. Question is not weather government is too big or small, but if it works. Talks of restoring trust between people and government. About accountability and regulation. America is friend of all, he says. And I want to believe him. He talks of reducing the nuclear threat. Addresses the Muslim world and says wants peace and friendship. "We will extend a hand if you unclench your fist." He refers to his father often. And the spirit of America and the possibility of doing right and good through hardwork. A beautiful speech. Such language. He is said to have written it himself. The language is consistent with his campaign speeches, and I think it might be his writing. He talked about so much in those 15 minutes. There was a strong call for action. Appropriate considering that it is his first speech as President.

11.40 am: The presidential party starts to leave. A beautiful ceremony. And yes, change has come.

Sunday, January 18

I.K. Gujral's advise to Obama

I am sure he meant to say a lot more than what he actually does. Foreign Policy asked world leaders for advise for Obama and there are some good things people have said. And if Mr. Gujral were to meet him, the one thing he would say to Obama is,

"I would tell Barack Obama that we are a country that is [like] Gandhi, and anything one wants to understand about India, one should read Gandhi more than anyone else."

As the former Prime Minister of India that would be his advise to the new U.S. President? Nothing about governance, policy-making, not even the Gujral doctrine.

And of South Asia, Obama should know that,

"We are [of the] same stock, India and Pakistan. I was born [in Pakistan], for instance. I lived there; then the partition came. We have a very warm feeling for [Pakistani] society. ... I hope from now onwards both societies will live as friends."

I think both Mr. Gujral and Foreign Policy could have done better.

Friday, January 16

Reality check

It is admirable how offensive people can be. This piece is a case in point. Starting with the title the post is offensively offensive. Not to mention that the author is also very generous in his observations of Mr Bachchan being a "no-talent" and "empty-headed."

I have watched and loved Slumdog Millionaire. It is a beautifully made film. But to suggest that a film like it depicting the "realities" of India could have "only been made by a westerner" and that the film industry should be ashamed that "it took a white man to show" how to to make a "honest" film is outright offensive and false.

India has its share of brilliant writers and directors who have portrayed the bleak "realities" of India, time and again. But poverty and slums are not the only realities of India, just as the growth of Bangalore or Pune are not. Indian filmmakers have handled social vices like corruption, caste system, dowry deaths, subjugation of women, disease, underworld and other "realities" of their times. We have films like Do Beega Jamen, Ankur, Shataranj Ke Khiladi, Water, Earth, Saaransh, Zakhm, Black Friday, Pinjar. Even commercial masala movies depict social issues one way or another, though they might not be the focus. Unemployment, hardships are all too frequent in Indian cinema. Amitabh Bachchan was the 'angry young man', and though the films might have been cheesy, the basic theme was a social problem.

Reading what Nirpal says one could be led to believe that Danny Boyle set out to make a film that opened the world's eyes to the "realities" of India. I bet he did not. He set out to make a film that sells, a film about hopes, dreams, and love. For all that it depicts, the fact remains that Slumdog is as escapist as any other film. What happens in the film is very unlikely to happen to a real-life slumdog. It is a fantasy, a Cinderella story. It is a masala film with song and dance, the good guys and bad, the gangsters, and love overcoming all obstacles. The rave reviews it has received so far are mostly about how it is a feel-good film, and a romantic fantasy.

Slumdog reiterates that the basic purpose of films is entertainment. It is a business and you produce what sells. An average film-goer seeks entertainment, not a bitter depiction of issues he has to deal with on a daily basis. He enters that cinema hall to escape from the bleak realities. To laugh, relax, forget his pains, failures and disappointments. He might not do so knowingly. But films provide him the opportunity to do just that. The films that Nirpal demeans as being escapists, allow the viewer to dream. Increasing prosperity, even if only for the middle class, is a reality of India. And there is nothing wrong in depicting it.

There is a reason why films handling social problems around the world are called parallel films. They generally bring awards but not money. I love parallel cinema. They attract some of the best talent. But I love my masala movies too. Just like I like to read a Harry Potter alongside State of Denial.

It would do Nirpal good to appreciate that neither life nor India is full of bleak "realities". It is also beautiful and full of good and hope. Indian cinema depicts all that and more. Western films do exactly the same. Slumdog Millionaire is a fantasy and The "white man" has made a good film. Nothing more.

Tuesday, January 13

Gut 'wrench'ing

When the campaign ended, I thought it was the last that we would hear of him. But he seems to be pushing his 15 minutes of fame. Joe the Plumber is now Joe the Reporter. I don't know what is more ridiculous, that McCain played him up during the elections or that he is being turned into a reporter because he sees "glaring oversight in the journalism field." No one told me that is the way to being a reporter and covering important world events. I have been wasting my time studying and trying to understand world politics and the "field of journalism." I should have simply trained to be a plumber, or maybe not.

Of course this does say a lot about today's news media (particularly 24 news channels) and its dependence on gimmicks and ratings. The Mumbai blasts showed us what the Indian news channels are up to. The newspapers are losing out to the news channels and it is ironic how the first major New York Times front page advertisement was by CBS.


The United States has finally come down (albeit softly) on Pakistan. It has imposed sanctions on A.Q Khan & Co. Though I am skeptical about the real benefits of such sanctions, it is a positive gesture. Particularly since the safety of Pakistan's nuclear weapons and facilities is a matter of grave concern. I have always worried about proliferation by/from/through/due to Pakistan, more than the threat of proliferation by Iran. Iran's program is a concern, but there is still hope due to the absence of any real weapons. With Pakistan, they have proved that they can and will proliferate if opportunity presents itself. Maybe even go looking for one. The consequences of their actions are for all to see in North Korea and Libya. And least we forget, Pakistan's program has Chinese blessings.

With Bush leaving, and Obama having displayed intelligence and understanding of issues, I am hoping that the threat from Pakistan is duly understood and appropriately dealt with. Musharraf might be out of the way, but the weak government, overly ambitious army and ISI combo can be lethal. And the worst part is that there are no real chances of this power structure changing anytime soon. All we can do is hope.

Sunday, January 4

..., to forgive divine!

In a recent post Gurcharan Das comments upon human rights activist J.S. Bandukwala's call to the Muslims in Gujarat to forgive the 2002 riots. This would bring closure and allow Gujarat to move on. Das adds that Modi should apologise for it.

The idea is in line with Gandhi's philosophy and would apparently resolve a lot of issues, if indeed people were able to forgive and forget. And I would like to believe that humans and societies are capable of it. But I seriously doubt it. I have personally encountered very few people who readily forgive their wrongdoer and move on contently. And unilateral forgiveness is even rare. So Das' addition of Modi apologizing seems more plausible to me in terms of generating forgiveness. But that would be political suicide. And I don't see him doing that any sooner than perhaps his deathbed.

Gandhi told us that "forgiveness is the attribute of the strong." And that is where the problem lies. I doubt how strong we as individuals and as a group are. We prefer shouting, yelling, building big tanks and weapons, our ability of attack and inflict maximum damage as the sign of our strength. The one with the biggest and greatest weapons is considered the strongest. Very few geographically small countries have been considered strong. We perceive a tall and heavily built person to be strong. We believe in strength in numbers. The idea of forgiveness and strength are paradoxical.

While Bandukwala's idea could be the ultimate solution for world peace, I don't think we are ready for it as yet.