Thursday, April 09, 2015

The Atlas of Life

The sun was bearing down oppressively on the caravan.  The desert was seemingly endless.  Occasionally a scorpion or a snake slithered from under the sands, and soon disappeared.

The caravan was carrying children, thousands of them.  It was being propelled by haggard animals.  The adults sometimes rested on the carriages with their children, but most of the time they too were walking alongside the beasts.

The journey had been contninuing for many thousands of years.  As the children came of age, they were forced to jump out of the carriages and to assume the roles of adults.

And the adults were distressed, but found pleasure in their eating and copulating.  That it only led to an increase in the burden on the carriages was well-known but disregarded.  There were a few who were appalled at this absurd journey, and they took vows of celibacy and broke away from the caravan.  But they too could not drift too far into the desert.  The few mad ones who did, died of the heat.

The caravan had been traveling for many thousands of years.

A child in the caravan, barely eight years old, had been observing this macabre scene unfold before him.  He saw children becoming adults, adults producing more children, and then being burdened with them, with the only aim of keeping the caravan moving.  He could not see what they were destined for, and nobody seemed to know.

One night, that child lay wide awake, looking at the stars.  The stars were twinkling from a fathomless distance, and the cold desert seemed to extend into eternity.  A stellar mist was visible in that clear night.  Maybe it was a constellation, maybe a cluster of gas.  But he could not avert his eyes from it.  He was afraid to close his eyes, scared that when he woke up, it would be morning and he would miss that beauty before him.

He looked around at the sleeping, groaning, snoring caravan.  Mothers tending to crying babies, feeding them, trying to comfort them.  The men sleeping fitfully and dreaming of rivers and geysers.  The animals, listless and hungry, stoically waiting for the morning when they again would be put in harness.

Suddenly the child saw a shooting star.  It was a brief sight, ephemeral and momentary.  For a moment, something blazed, went through a trajectory, and disappeared.

The child stood up with great energy, shouted to his mother, dusted off the sand from his body, and started running toward the horizon, to catch the beauty of that star.  He was heartbroken that something so beautiful could just disappear into nothingness.

He ran and ran, but eventually the night passed and the sun rose, and the sky lightened up and the stars disappeared.  Crestfallen and angry, he trudged back to his caravan.

As he again settled in the carriage, with his eyes dry from tears which flowed no more, he looked at his mother and spit out the words: "I could not catch the shooting star.  Life is pitiless."

The mother was nursing her youngest, and affectionately answered him: "There will be another shooting star tonight.  Its child.  And so on tomorrow night.  And till eternity."

The caravan had been traveling for many thousands of years...

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Suicide and its "abetment"

The dictionary definition of "abetment" is: To approve, encourage, and support (an action or a plan of action); urge and help on.

Abetment to Suicide is a crime under Indian law.  The law states:

"306. Abetment of suicide.—If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine. "

Indian courts and police have been routinely arresting and prosecuting people under this law when all they did was do something which caused another person a lot of agony - enough agony to commit suicide.  A husband having an affair, a boss transferring an official, a father refusing the demands of his son, a teacher failing a student, etc. are all situations in which the person at the receiving end can undergo an emotional upheaval.  If the upheaval cannot be contained by the person's inner or outer support systems, a grave outcome might result.  Such a person might harm himself or harm others.

But it is clear (to me at least) that doing "something" that another person strongly dislikes should not be a crime.  Even if the dislike is so strong that it leads to a suicide.  If that "something" is a crime in its own right (e.g. nepotism, theft, rape) then there are enough laws to prosecute the person for that act.  

But to prosecute a person because his acts pushed someone to kill themselves is a travesty.  Because emotional immaturity of one person should not be held against another.  Because otherwise, to indulge in something unpopular or offensive (not criminal per se) would be fraught with danger.  Because otherwise, any act can result in a person being jailed.

Suppose a woman has two lovers.  She ultimately decides to marry one of them.  The other man falls into depression and commits suicide.  No person in their right mind would criminalize the choice made by the woman.  But how is this situation significantly different from a husband who has an affair which pushes his wife into depression and suicide?

A non-criminal act which is not intended to hurt anyone but which ends up being unacceptable to someone does not thereby become a crime.  The law cannot be subject to emotion.

Emotional agitation of others must not be a factor in criminalizing someone.  We call a region a "police state" when people live in fear of being randomly prosecuted because someone in power disliked them.  Similar is this kind of "abetment state" where you have to be careful lest someone harm themselves because they felt bad about something you did.

Abetment of suicide must only mean a situation wherein a person actively encouraged someone to kill themselves, or helped them with the means for ending their life.  Merely doing something offensive is not the same thing.

I wish Indian courts and the Indian police understood this.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

How to prevent rapes in India

India, as I have often held, is a mostly lawless region where the powerful or the cunning can get away with almost anything.  The police and the courts are dysfunctional.  While the police is busy brown-nosing their political masters, the judiciary is stymied with horrific inefficiencies and badly designed laws.

This lawlessness obviously extends into sexual criminality which expresses itself in trying to gain sexual gratification without the consent of the woman.

Sexual gratification is an important human need, and it is worth exploring if there are special circumstances in India which lead to a prevalence of sexual crimes.

I believe there are indeed special circumstances related to sexual relations in India, and based on my (possibly flawed) understanding of these causes, toward the end of this article I will offer some suggestions on how to improve the situation.
  1.  Dating and premarital relationships are looked down upon, except in the highest echelons of Indian society.  Indians believe that sex is permitted only between married couples.  People do have premarital or extra-marital or casual sex, but it is surreptitious, dangerous and hardly fulfilling.  There are no private spaces.  Not even rent-able ones.  All but the top hotels refuse to serve unmarried couples, and there is always the fear of police harassment and unwanted publicity in case the couple is "discovered".  To paraphrase a well-known aphorism: If casual sexual activity is criminalized, then only criminals will have casual sex.  Hence, rape.

  2. Along with urbanization and formal education, the average age of marriage has steadily increased in the last 30 years.  This means that for 15-20 years after attaining puberty, a young person in India has to suppress/sublimate his/her sexual desires.  If we accept the scientific consensus that male sexual desire is far more frequent and insistent than female sexual desire, then no wonder women, when they venture out, feel like they are walking around hungry, rabid dogs.  Hence, rape.

  3. Due to rapid urbanization in the last few decades, a lot of single men have migrated from villages and small towns to big cities.  They leer at the urban women, who won't give them the time of day, and wonder why.  They feel castrated, frustrated, helpless, insulted.  Hence, rape.
     
  4. Most Indian women (especially in villages and small towns) are poor, undernourished or unfit (or if middle class and above 30, overweight), with bad skin or hair, and do not understand how to look good.  Considering the relentless exposure during the last 20 years or so to beautiful models and starlets on mass media, and to internet pornography, there is a wide chasm between romantic/sexual fantasy and reality for a young man in India.  There are just not that many attractive women around.  The few good-looking women that exist get a disproportionate share of unwanted male attention, and leave a lot of men frustrated with their rejections.  Coupled with an already skewed male-female ratio, this leads to even more of a sexual scarcity for men.  Hence, rape.

  5. Just as Indian women have no clue about their (lack of) attractiveness and have zero lovemaking skills (not their fault, it has been drilled into them that sex is sin), an overwhelmingly large majority (my estimate is 99.99%) of Indian men have no clue how to talk/interact/flirt/court with a woman.  Even their own wife.  Indian men lack game and are, for lack of a better word, beta.  Even the well-educated ones.  They can't for the life of them figure out why even ugly women keep on rejecting them.  Moreover, like their female compatriots, most Indian men are slobs and unattractive and have poor hygiene.  Were it not for the institution of arranged marriage, most Indian men would be forced to remain involuntarily celibate.  No woman would want such a man, unless forced.  (The ugliness goes both ways, but men are less discerning when they feel the pressure of their hormones).  Hence, rape.

  6. There is a social/religious/cultural/spiritual cacophony of "sex is desire hence worldly hence evil" in India which makes Indians flagellate their own selves for wanting sexual release.  The mass media is blaring this holy message on one channel, and AIB Roast and scantily clad women hungry for sex on another.  For both Indian men and women, sexual desire is full of conflicting feelings.  They want it, but are told that this is bad.  Moreover, Gandhi and Buddha didn't do it (after a while, at least).  So there is a lot of inward suppression of this desire.  But such suppression can only lead to neuroses and, if the circumstances align, explosions.  Hence, rape.

  7. Divorce is very hard in India.  Bad marriages are notoriously hard to get out of.  The marriage laws are heavily skewed in favor of the wife.  All kinds of false accusations are made in contested divorce cases.  Two people who hate each other in a marital relationship become even more bitter after going through the involved legal process.  And since they cannot legally marry someone else (bigamy is illegal, obviously) while being unhappy in their present relationship, their frustration mounts.  Hence, rape (marital, or otherwise).
And now I present my recommendations.  I sincerely believe that these, if implemented, will lead to a dramatic decrease in sexual crimes in India.
  1. Legalize and regulate prostitution in India.  Give all these sex-starved men an outlet.  Let them gain some experience.  Prostitution is already legal in India, but pimping and running a brothel or soliciting is not.  The police regularly harass both the prostitutes and their clients.  Human trafficking must remain illegal, but voluntary prostitution must be given special protection by the state, since it fulfills such an important social need in modern-day India.  There should be SPZs (Special Permissive Zones) with hourly love-hotel-rentals etc (like in Tokyo) and a safe atmosphere where privacy is guaranteed.

    Feminists, if they are truly against rape, must support legal ways for men to sexually gratify themselves.  The state cannot legislate away male sexual desire, which is what the feminists are trying to do.  Unless we want to fill our jails with millions of men.

  2. Implement a strict no-discrimination policy for housing rentals and hotels.  Hotels and PG hostels and landlords must not be allowed to refuse admission or rentals to anybody.  University and College hostels must get rid of their curfew and segregation policies, and slowly transition their hostels to be necessarily gender-neutral.  Obviously, parents will protest and there will be a stigma for those girls who "choose" to live in co-ed hostels or PG accommodations.  That is why sooner or later publicly funded educational institutes should simply outlaw segregation.

  3. Decriminalize "rape" based on promise of marriage.  More here.  Most rapes reported in urban India fall in this category.  This is not rape, not even cheating.

  4. Introduce the subject of grooming and hygiene and basic make-up as part of school education.  Build and operate inexpensive bath houses (with free soap and shampoo etc.), and inexpensive or free gyms with lots of stationary bikes and free weights.  Involve the religious charlatans, who have boatloads of money, to help.  And as S A Aiyar has repeatedly recommended, make available protein-and iron-fortified-flour for the poor.

  5. De-congest public transport and public spaces.  India needs better capacity planning.  People are willing to pay for train and bus tickets.  But there are just not enough trains or buses.  Overcrowding naturally encourages the bad elements to take advantage of the situation.  Reserved seating or compartments for women is a very short-sighted solution (and should be considered a stop-gap arrangement) to the problem of better planning so that overcrowding is avoided.  When it comes to public spaces, the situation cannot be improved without drastic measures since too much of illegal badly planned construction has taken place, but I believe better and efficient public transport facilities will lessen crowding within the cities, and also allow people to live in the nearby towns or villages and commute to work.

  6. Expedite police reforms.  Separate VIP security from police.  In fact, do away with VIP security in general.  Make it a fundamental right for a citizen to approach the police and for the police to register his/her complaint.  Unfortunately, this is still far from a reality in India.  Introduce stiff penalties for false complaints and for perjury.  Make criminal trials time-bound.  Punish prosecutors and investigators (like in other countries) for handling a trial badly.

  7. Make no-contest divorce easy in India and equitable for both husbands and wives.  If you are unhappy in your marriage, and the state forces you to stay married, all kinds of unwanted consequences ensue.
I am concerned that women and men do not feel sexually safe and free in India.  For the situation to improve, sociologists need to be involved, not man-hating feminists who scream "Patriarchy" whenever they hear of a woman's rape.  They must realize that before the rape occurred, the man (unless he's a deranged criminal, in which case patriarchy obviously is not relevant at all) was a victim too.  He must have been starved or otherwise prevented from experiencing a healthy sexual life.

Yes, punish him since he committed a crime. 

But unless you want more criminals, we must also address the unhealthy social environment.  The environment is unhealthy not because of patriarchy ( "... males predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property") but because of toxic attitudes toward physical beauty, sex and gender interaction held by both men and women.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The Market and its Discontents

In the United States, "monetizing" an idea or a book or a sporting event or an art form seems to be far more important than in many other cultures.  And this attitude is spreading.

Today morning I had a sobering reminder of this aspect of market-driven culture.  I received a mass email from the website associated with the book "The Five Love Languages".  I had read this book many years ago and found it somewhat interesting.  I don't remember if I went to the website.  I must have and it must have asked for my email address for me to access and read certain articles.

(As an aside, I believe that most books offering advice of some sort can be usually condensed to a couple of pages without any loss in information imparted.)

I don't think I am the only one to feel disillusioned and manipulated when a popular book, recommended to me by a friend or a family member, turns out to be a means, and not the end, for the author or the artist.

On the other hand, I feel glad when a piece of art or a book is an end in itself.  There is purity in that.

I felt dirty after getting that email, and promptly unsubscribed from the mailing list.  I did not read the email very carefully.  It was probably asking me to visit the website and buy something.  That is perhaps the love language the author understands.

There are very few artists or literary people or philosophers left in the US who are unconcerned with making money from their creativity and intellect.  It is a tragedy.  The greatest artists in human history did not operate from a desire for popularity or financial success.  Their passion for their art or ideas was too great to keep within themselves.  Marx or Wittgenstein or Bach did not seek to book yet another hall with staggered ticketing prices for their "performance".

In that sense, I think the modern fetish for affluence and comfort is a disease.  It makes for poverty of spirit.  An artist trying to make money from his art sooner or later becomes a sell-out.

An artist must be content with a spartan life, to devote himself to his calling and not try to please the gallery so that they will throw money at him.

What is happening these days is that, by fluke or effort or by a stroke of genius, a work of art attains popularity.  Because it expressed something in a right way.  And then, quickly, the "instinct of the vulture" descends upon those associated with that artwork and they seek to cash in on the popularity in one way or the other.  Maybe via a sequel, by producing and marketing merchandise associated with the artwork,

..., or via having the post office to print photos of 'Spiderman 2" on its tickets. It used to be that great artists and cultural symbols were honored on a postage stamp.  It is a sign of the times that a mass market cartoon character's big-budget movie's sequel's advertisement is on the stamp that I bought yesterday.

There is something going on in the world today which is making the thirst for money more frenetic, frenzied and farcical.  And in this melee, the culture is getting degraded.  "What sells is what will be produced" is the logic of the market.

But "what sells" is a wrong parameter for the arts.  An art is a furthering of human creativity and the horizons of the human mind.  To do market research ("what they want") and then produce a work of art is absolutely the worst way to be creative.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino

This is a peculiar film.  Its appeal is hard to argue against, and it is harder still to ascertain the reasons for the said appeal.

The characters are all outlandish, cool in an urban-ghetto way, witty and never lost for the right word, and very, very opinionated.

Enough has been written about this film. I want to focus on a peculiar feature of this film which seems to have been missed in all the reviews that I have read so far. Remember that this film won the 1994 Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

My theory is that "Pulp Fiction" is a film about the mundane details of American lifestyle and culture. It imagines some lurid story-lines to describe some common, crass, low-brow experiences in the United States which may seem perversely delightful to a literate audience. Watching Pulp Fiction is like being at the zoo.

The film contains self-conscious references to the following entertainingly kitschy aspects of American culture:
  • Los Angeles
  • A heavy dose of unusually profane language
  • Plenty of drug use
  • American fast food.  In fact there are many monologues and curious plot-twists about cheap food in the film: cheeseburgers (especially the quarter-pounder with cheese!), milk shakes, fries, "Sprite", diner breakfasts, "blueberry pancakes", pop-tarts, ...
  • Big cars and the American love of automobiles
  • Brawny prizefighters
  • Dumb girlfriends
  • An ironical reference to war veterans gloating over their stories
  • An exposition that American names are meaningless ("Butch", "Bonnie")
  • Motels
  • Choppers.  Not just any regular motorcycle, the American travesty that is a "chopper"
  • Over-the-top fetishes (the "gimp")
  • Face piercings
  • Suburbia: lawn hoses, "graveyard shift wife", big garages, "gourmet coffee"
  • The "nigger" culture of gangs, gambling and drugs
  • Having cereal for dinner while watching TV
  • An overindulgence in gadgetry: e.g. the useless CCTV at home
  • Shallow decor (the inside-out restaurant)
  • The "twist" dance and rock-and-roll music
  • Bible-thumping while doing everything the Bible forbids
The film made fun of Americana in a lighthearted, entertaining way.  All the characters in the film are moral and intellectual imbeciles and it provided a morbid kind of pleasure to watch these street-smart bozos messing up.