Sunday, February 21, 2016

JNU: Thus spake the insomniac

The past few days have affected me more than they had a right to. I do not like staying up nights being worried about serious stuff. These days I typically close my eyes and bowl leg-break to world-class batsmen till I fall asleep. It works.

But JNU, and subsequent events, have shaken me to the core. Do not get me wrong: I am rarely affected by events of such magnitude, and am perfectly comfortable in my comfort zones.

I had a discussion with one of my friends (who prefers to keep his name undisclosed). We had conversations about numerous points. Thankfully, we agreed on almost everything. Most importantly, we agreed on exactly what was scary.

I have rarely supported or opposed Arnab Goswami, for I do not watch Times Now, or, for that matter, any news channel, unless something major breaks. My television set is almost always tuned on to cricket, a movie, or what they call ‘infotainment’ these days.

But I did see the clips. I do know what is morphed. Even if I did not know that it was morphed, the clip bothered me. It bothered me more because I am now a part of journalism.

The clip made me realise something I knew deep down, but had refused to believe: facts and cold logic are almost always drowned by decibels.

I have seen people do the same on social media. They do have responsibilities, but it is not part of their profession. However, it is the not the same for news anchors, who have the power of influencing an entire nation.

But this blog-post is not about Times Now, for they are in a competitive business, and must earn their bread. There is no point criticising Arnab Goswami for ripping a student apart on studio: why were you watching it, in the first place? Don’t you know that the best way to stop a programme is to hit the TRPs? You were equally responsible for the news show that evening, remember.

Where was I? Ah, yes, sleepless nights. I decided to put them to an end, and what better way could be there than to talk with myself? I let an imaginary interviewer talk to me, and come up with an answer.

Do you celebrate the national anthem?

The national anthem does have an impact to me. Unlike several others I know, I do not mind standing up to the anthem when they play it in the theatres.

In fact, I get goose-bumps it is played, and often sing along.

Did you hoist the national flag as a student?

I have seen teachers hoist it at my school, twice a year. It had zero impact on me. In fact, I was annoyed when ordered to salute the flag once it was up.
Celebrating my school’s foundation day had a deeper impact on me. But then, I went to the best school in the world.

You did not like saluting the flag? That is sedition!

Do read carefully. I was annoyed when I was ordered to salute the flag. I may or may not choose to salute the flag (or respect the national anthem). If I do it, I will do it out of choice, not compulsion.

In my opinion, saluting the national flag is neither good nor bad. It is a matter of personal belief. If you get a kick out of doing the same, do. But do not force others. Patriotism cannot be forced.

Are you a patriot?

I can hardly be classified a patriot. I never went to war, and given my age and fitness, I do not think I will go in future.

But I do pay my taxes that fund the Army. I know I am forced to pay taxes, but I do pay my taxes. And my country is supposed to be benefitted from that tax.

Is the lack of patriotism not a serious issue in the country?

I do not think there is a lack of patriotism in the country.

Right now, there are bigger issues in hand. Intolerance, honour killings, crime against women, corruption, bigotry, and farmer suicides are just a few a few examples.

Do you believe India is the greatest country in the world?

No. I do not.

Go to Pakistan, then!

No. Why will I?

You are anti-Indian! You are a Pakistani!

Let me be clear on this. Some Pakistanis hate India, but most do not. Some Pakistanis, like some Indians, are extremists, and try their level best to provoke the rational ones. These provokers are neither Indian nor Pakistani.

I have talked to Pakistanis on social media. They are perfectly rational. Obviously they support Pakistan against India in cricket, just the way we support India against Pakistan. That does not make them anti-Indian.

Don’t change the topic! You are anti-Indian!

I never said that. I simply said I do not believe India is the greatest country in the world. What I do have is hope that India will someday emerge at the top. I believe in India. I know it is madness to, but I do.

Don’t you think India is your mother?

No. I think of India as a very large collection of people who own passports issued by the same authority. I consider only one of them as my mother. Though she watches Bengali soaps, she is generally a nice person and an excellent mother.

What is your take on the JNU issue and subsequent reactions on social media?

Let me start with the JNU issue. I do not think anything wrong was said by any student. By now we (hopefully) know what was morphed and what was not. If the students have not said anything wrong, there is no reason I will not support them.

Let me come to what is bothering me the most. The extent of extremism on social media by both sides bothers me to no extent.

Subtle satire is fine. Direct attack is not (but once again, that is my opinion). It is foolish to expect to change someone’s opinion by having an argument over social media.

What also bothers me is the vitriolic use of phrases like chaddi and sickular (these are the politest ones). I do not have anything against the phrases in particular. The venom that is spewed (from both sides) troubles me.

It has affected me more than I had thought. I have mentioned above that I strongly oppose the arrest of the student(s), or some of the BJP/RSS comments on media.

However, what has also bothered me is the lash-back from people who are against BJP. I have always believed that temper stops even the rational from thinking logically, which is probably what is happening right now.

Why so much anger, people? Why the direct attacks if someone confronts you with reason? Is that not what the uncivilised do? Are you not armed with education? Why the hatred?

You know how to combat this, do you not? Do you not know that the only way to bring this to an end is to elect a new leader (a well-chosen one)? Do you think calling someone chaddi and verbally abusing them on social media will solve the problem?

Anguish and irrational behaviour from educated people does not affect a lot of people, but it disturbs me. I believe in being polite, and I always will. If anything brings out the animal in you, you should probably do a stocktaking of your personality.

Do you feel all BJP supporters are extremists?

No. Some of them are, but most are not. Recall BJP’s landslide win in 2014. That many people could not have been extremists. Had all of them been extremists, this nation would have ceased to exist long back.

But there are extremists, many of them. Unfortunately, some of them are in power. Some others expose their fangs and talons on social media. They are essentially the same.

So, do you feel everyone in other parties is good?

No. There are good and bad, intelligent and stupid people who vote, or have voted for, Congress, CPM, TMC, or any other party. Some RSS people are good. There are probably some good Talibans as well who feel a twinge of guilt deep down.

Unfortunately, the vocal extremists dominate proceedings to such an extent that the decent ones find it difficult to express their opinions.

Similarly, there is evil everywhere, in all political parties and their supporters. There are some in JNU as well.

Don’t you think those at JNU did the wrong thing by shouting anti-India slogans?

First of all, there is serious doubt over the authenticity of the video.

But even if it was true, I do not mind. As a voter and tax-payer of the country one has the right to oppose the goings-on in the country. We adjust, for we are too scared and busy. They were vocal, because they are brave, and are students. They pointed out. They dared.

Don’t you think the JNU students mutilated the memory of Hanumanthappa Koppad?

Did you spell that name, or merely copy-pasted it?

What if I did? He fought for the nation. He went through so much pain to protect our country. These students do not have any respect or honour for his valour.

Seriously? Did they mention him?

But such slogans are an insult to the memories of Hanumanthappa Koppad!

Dude, can you send me links of what the Government did to honour the man? Why does he suddenly crop up in everything? Who would you have named, had he not died tragically a few days back?

Now you are insulting the memories of Hanumanthappa Koppad! Do you not think he died to protect us? Does not that make you feel anything?

Yes. Civilians and The Army form an excellent symbiotic relationship. They protect the frontier so that we have a major worry less in our lives. In return, our taxes make sure they get paid sufficiently.

Does that mean I was not hurt when he died? No. I cannot imagine walking without a sweater in a Kolkata night. I cannot imagine the horror of getting stuck and dying in the cold of Siachen. The very thought is horrific.

PS: Please abstain from copy-pasting the name.

But you did not express your grief on social media!

No.

Do you not feel indebted towards our soldiers?

I feel guilty of being the part of a species where an army, or even warfare, is a basic need for a nation.

Based on the same reasoning, I feel guilty of being part of a species where welfare states are needed.

Are you fine with your taxes funding the colleges?

Absolutely.

Why?

It is my money, and hence, my business.

These students thrive on your money, and still are anti-Indian!

First of all, there is no proof that they are anti-Indian. More importantly, it is my money: why exactly are you concerned?

If you really care about my taxes, will you be kind enough to provide me a breakdown of exactly where every paisa I pay is spent?

I see. So you do not love India.

A lot of that depends on what India is. If India is a bunch of extremists trying to bully me into shouting “I love India,” then I do not.

My India is not about yelling Vande Mataram or Bharat-maata ki jai. Neither is it about the flag or the anthem. They represent the nation. They are not the nation.

***

My India is about the boy who carries his cricket kit to the ground at the crack of dawn.

My India is about the girl who endures long walks across grounds with the dream of becoming a doctor in her own village.

My India is about that taxi driver who sings perfect Rabindrasangeet.

My India is about the crowd that assembles in club-rooms whenever India plays.

My India is about parents looking affectionately at their children in albums.

My India is about children looking at their parents in photographs, their visions blurred by tears.

My India is about people standing up for a cause.

My India is about the Big Bazaar customer care boy whose eyes light up when he exchanges furtive glances with the girl who works as security-guard for INOX (he often passes by her).

***

I believe in the power of love and logic. I know this is a counterintuitive statement, but it is a fact. I also believe in the power of art and sport and humour. Embrace one of these, and I do not think there will be any need for jingoism.


Hope. I still have hope. I know all is not lost.

Friday, February 5, 2016

It is February. Again.

A cruel month, this, February. So cruel that it should be banned.

It is not Mumbai’s fault that it does not have a February in the same way that it is not her fault she is not Kolkata, for no city is Kolkata.

Kolkata is not a nice city. She has her highs, but it is a city generally full of lows. There was a time we Kolkatans used to boast of our culture. We still do. The problem is, our pride is based more on a glorious history than on the present; worse, it is not based on the future at all.

If you doubt me, switch to any Bangla channel in the evenings. Check the serials they air. Check their TRPs. That is Kolkata 2016.

If you doubt me, go to a book-stall, roadside or otherwise, and check the number of books written by Bengali authors being sold. Text books do not count. That is Kolkata 2016.

If you doubt me, drop in for a play. Check the number of connoisseurs for the stage. That is Kolkata 2016.

If you doubt me, check the billboards and television channel tickers and Facebook memes in Bangla. Check the spellings. That is Kolkata 2016.

But Kolkata is home. Even the 2016 edition.

And it is memories that make a place home.

And Kolkata has memories, plenty of them, for me. I cannot vouch for others, but the airfare spike in autumn is a decent indicator.

Kolkata whispers back to me. Even when I am in exile, she whispers back to me in the long nights if I keep the windows open, if I listen to the last train pass by, to a rare gust of wind in the only time of the day when Mumbai air is devoid of pollution.

Somewhere in the distance, you feel her almost inaudible sigh. You could almost sense her bosom heaving, her eyes stare at her own feet, her eyes trying their level best to ward the inevitability of tears.

Does she shed a tear for everyone who has deserted her? Probably. Or maybe she has simply let us go, for she knows that missing us is an exercise in futility.

But she does shed a tear for me. Especially in February, when she is at her exotic best, for I have seen her blush when our eyes had met in February.

There is a dash of February in Mumbai as well. There is a dash of February in the teenage girl who tries out hats from a hawker as she waits for her boyfriend. Once he arrives, they walk away, arms linked, her head bare. The hat-seller knew she was not going to buy, but he did not mind. He was not even annoyed, for he knew she was impatient, and how could she not have been? It is spring…

This was in front of Regal, Colaba, which could easily have been Metro, Esplanade. I was reminded of Metro the first time I had stood in front of Regal. Located in a corner in one of the most ‘happening’ parts of the city; next to a lane; and at the end of a long chain of hawkers, selling everything from magnetic compasses to sand-clocks to lyrics of Kishore Kumar songs: how could it have not been Metro?

Where was I? Yes, February in Mumbai. Yes, Mumbai has a month that coincides with February, but is not February, for it does not whisper to me. It does not whisper back to me. Februaries are supposed to whisper, the way they do in Kolkata.

I miss February.

I miss walking in sad February afternoons, minuscule, almost invisible beads of sweat all over me.

This is not the sweat that causes discomfort or makes you cringe.

This is the sweat that makes you fall in love and lust all over again, the kind that brings back memories of a clock ticking in the afternoon and a calendar flapping on the wall, desperate to escape the shackles of time.

This is the sweat that makes her glisten.

And that happens only in February.

And February happens only in Kolkata.

It is there, in the prettiest of all cities, that schoolgirls dress in yellow-and-red sarees once a year, in February. They go out in groups, giggling and exchanging furtive glances with boys, boys not old enough for their minds to be corrupted by ways of the world…

All that seems a distant memory, even that girl I once saw in Manohar Pukur Road; I never dared to ask for her name, but she looked different from the others in the group. Her eyelashes were long — long enough to linger with me for a quarter of a century.

But all that is a memory of a February from another era; or probably from the present, for my daughter will step out in yellow and red.

But even if she does not, others will, and it will still be February; and it will forever be February, for you cannot escape the red of the polash, the geeky glory of the Book Fair, now reduced to a mind-numbing, gimmicky ten-day period of pride for Kolkata.

For it is in February in Kolkata that you wake up to freshness. One month, every year.

One month, every year, the world will bow to Kolkata, despite the soulless hybrid monstrosity she aspires to become in a couple of decades.


Even if it is the shortest month of the year.

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