Friday, December 23, 2011

Why We Should Listen to Lalu

Lalu Prasad Yadav made a speech in the Lok Sabha yesterday denouncing the Lokpal and calling it the "end of democracy". He accused the BJP of tying a noose around its own neck by supporting the civil society movement against corruption.

This is why we should listen to this old epitome of high corruption:

Lalu represents everything that is wrong with the country. He is the most visible face of flagrant political corruption in the country. He has established, over the length of his career as one of the most dishonest of public figures in the history of the country, new heights, new lengths and breadths, and new depths of public loot and depredation. He represents the deterioration and decay of the Indian political mind. He represents the bases of signature Indian politics: apathy, exploitation and selfishness. He is everything that every politician in this country aspires to be: a self-serving behemoth, a thief and a criminal.

We should listen to Lalu because he represents all of these. Yesterday, when he made his speech - pointless, full of gas, unintelligent and reeking of an utter lack of intelligence as usual - parliamentarians hollered and cheered him on. He said that democracy cannot be "run" from the "footpath" and that parliament is supreme. "We are the lawmakers," he said. We should listen to him because he represents the peculiar hatred of the people exemplified par excellence by Indian politicians, by Indian politics as anti-people per se.

We should listen to him because he is the scourge that the Lokpal seeks to be rid of. And those who applaud him - hypocrites like Gurudas Dasgupta and Sonia Gandhi.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Untouchability

The latest edition of Outlook has an incredibly horrifying article about caste-hierarchies in Karnataka ('The Leftover God'). It describes the three-day Champa Shasti festival at the Kukke Subramanya temple in Dakshina Kannada district, where the Shivalli Brahmins are served meals at the temple. After their meal, they are expected to leave their leftover food on the ground - so that the local Dalits can literally roll over the remnants. In this disgusting spectacle of caste-discrimination, the Brahmin priests actually encourage the 4,000-strong band of Dalits and local tribesmen to buy into the pernicious belief that the leftovers ("jhoota") of the Brahmins have a curative power. They are taught to believe that their wishes and prayers will be answered upon completing this demeaning ritual. Social workers who, over the years, have fought for ending the ritual have surprisingly met with a lot of resistance from within the Dalit community, who believe that a ritual conceived for their "benefit" is under threat. One official on deputation from the government was actually physically assaulted by the Dalit "devotees".

Reading such an article in urban India today is a surreal experience, which indicates how cut off we are from the magnitude of injustice and the lack of dignity in many parts of the country.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Karachi, 14.12.11

Yesterday, the front pages of newspapers declared that more than fifty children had been rescued from forced captivity in an allegedly Taliban-controlled madrassa in Karachi, Pakistan. Some of them were found wearing chains around their necks and ankles, literally tied to the ground. The police acted on a tip-off that some children there were being beaten and abused. Upon their release, most of the children said that they had been enrolled there by their parents for drug addiction, physical and mental problems (fits and seizures) construed by "healers" as curses, and spiritual training. The parents paid a monthly fee of three thousand rupees. One of the boys was beaten around 200 times and threatened with being forced into joining the militant jehad.

In the recently held Bonn conference, countries debated and discussed the "fate" of Afghanistan. Post-911, human rights and religious extremism became a prominent part of political discussions about Afghanistan. Today, there is a shift in perspective and such conferences do not discuss human rights so much as "political solutions". A lot of uncertainty surrounds the "fate" of women and children. Politically correct journalists and policy-makers are wary of becoming involved in the socio-religious fabric of "Af-Pak" society. For many of the poor who are thus figuratively and sometimes literally held in captivity, there is seldom any political solution.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

About The Wasteland

Eliot's The Wasteland is a complex poem, obviously. It has a difficult time in the master's literature classroom. It comes from an era of war and turmoil, which is hard for the reader to imagine vividly today.

At that time, the old European order seemed on the verge of a drastic change, perhaps dissolution, to be replaced by a new politics of military warfare. The aristocracy was putrefying and war was propagated by "Democracy", "Imperialism" and "International Wrong" (Auden). Never had so many lives been sacrificed to war before the beginning of the twentieth century. WWI was the first time that aeroplanes were deployed for combat; it was the first war in which the convention of no-fighting-after-sunset was disbanded; the world had never seen such weaponry before. Everything changed in the inter-war period and human life was uncertain like never before. The Wasteland comes from this uncertainty, this lack of solid ground. No reader today can trace that terminal feeling in the inter-war years.

What I dislike about The Wasteland is its obscurity and its allusiveness. What I like about The Wasteland is the subtle morbidity with which it brings alive the spectre of certain death. Death is so ghostly, so intangible in the poem, and yet so certain. Death is not an idea, it is people. Marie, Stetson, Lil, Albert, Ferdinand, Phlebas, the drowned Phoenician Sailor, all embody death in their own ways. What I also like about the poem is its treatment of the frustration of desire. Desire, in an age of mortality and war, is impotent. Tiresias, the old visionary with wrinkled female dugs, the futile meeting of lovers - Eliot's images of desire in the time of war are overshadowed by the threat of failure.

I thought The Wasteland was complex when taught in class, because of the focus on annotations, but looked at otherwise, in the privacy of your reading time, as a poem emerging from the anxiety of living in a time of unprecedented violence, it is a very emotive poem.