Sunday, December 31, 2006

Is India beyond hope?

Civic services have reached their nadir in India. What are some of the basic needs of a citizen of a country for which he/she pays enormous amounts of taxes and how are they being fulfilled? (Remember that India is one of the most heavily taxed countries in the world.)

Water: Every home has its own water tank, many homes have their own water pumps. Municipal water is supplied for one or two hours per day in most Indian cities. The water is frequently contaminated, dirty, mixed with sewerage, coloured and heavily laden with chemicals. Almost every middle class home in the big cities has installed its own water purification system.

Electricity: There is no city or region in India where a stable and reliable supply of electricity is guaranteed. Every middle class home these days has an electrical inverter or a generator to be used when power supply is off. Every major appliance needs a voltage stabilizer because of huge voltage fluctuations at times. Politically backed illegal slums and colonies steal power in broad daylight from the power cables.

Air: Indian metros are amongst the worst polluted cities in the world. Unregulated growth of vehicles and rampant adulteration in petrol and diesel is playing havoc with the public health.

Health: Government facilities have almost broken down. There is disease, infection, fungus in dialysis and IV fluids, HIV-infected blood for sale, fake and overpriced medicines, corrupt doctors and surgeons, all have contributed to a fear in the general public of getting sick. Most hospitals in Noida, the place where I live, are notorious for taking out and selling organs of poor patients who come to get operated upon for routine problems.

Food: Even the basic food items such as milk, flour, vegetables, meat, soft drinks etc. all are so polluted that you won't be able to have them if you know how they are being produced. Milk is full of artificial chemicals, pus, hormones and eroding bone calcium of cattle; flour, pulses, spices are frequently seen infested with worms and coloured with artificial chemicals; vegetables and fruit are ripened in mixtures of borax and other chemicals; soft drinks have been repeatedly shown to contain pesticides and "foreign bodies".

Security and Civic services: Surely one must be joking. I have never, ever, seen a policeman patrol a residents' colony. There is absolutely no way, unless one is extremely well connected or knowledgeable, that one can get one's grievance redressed if wronged by an individual or a corporation. Almost all the public servants, especially the police, are busy serving the needs of the VIPs, the ministers and the rich. Every rich home has its own security guard(s). The rich and the influential are carrying loaded guns in their pockets, with an army of taxpayer-funded guards in their tow.

To see the real extent of how bad things have become, read the following:

"Holding up his six-year-old daughter’s picture high in his hand, Sunil Biswas sobbed quietly. He wanted all photo journalists and TV crews to capture the child’s face, hoping against hope she might still be alive and someone, somewhere might identify her.

Ever since Pushpa disappeared in March, Sunil has repeatedly braved the poor man’s fear of the police station.

“I have been to the police station at least 20 times, although I was scared,” he managed in Bengali before launching into a volley of curses aimed at himself for having left Calcutta for Delhi a year ago.

There was a crowd of parents today before the Noida house where the police have found the skeletal remains of at least 20 children in a gutter.

Sunil’s friend Subhrojit Haldar — his daughter Deepali, too, is missing – spoke of the recent dharna outside the Sector 30 police station by residents of Nithari village, the home of most of the missing children.

“We appealed to the police so many times. Children were disappearing every second day, but the police refused to even put up a check-post outside the village entrance,” said Subhrojit, a labourer.

A month ago, after the kidnapping of Adobe India CEO Naresh Gupta’s son Anant, Noida police had set up a check-post outside the home and another at the gate of Sector 15 A where the Guptas lived.

“How come that for us they could not provide any security guards?” Subhrojit asked.

“They had alerted the whole country for one child; here so many are missing and no one cares,” Sunil sobbed.

A tailor with a cotton garments’ factory, Sunil said he used to sew clothes for his daughter.

“We were poor and that was all I could give her — made of scraps of cloth left over at the factory. And she loved them.”

Standing across the road from the Noida house where police officers were totting up the number of skeletons, he broke down.

“It is so ridiculous of me to have any hope left now. She is probably there, with the rest,” he said, pointing at the general direction of the house, his eyes pressed against his sleeves.

Suddenly, he was looking up and running his eyes over the scrambling photo journalists and TV camera crews. He tugged at his friend’s shirt, excited.

A few minutes later, he was holding up his daughter’s photograph as tears ran down his cheeks.

“If not the police, maybe someone who sees her can help me. If she is alive,” he explained to this correspondent. “I will keep searching till I know for sure she is dead. My search will go on.” — Agencies"

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The fraud that is IIPM

Found the following posts on the internet:

Link 1
Link 2
Link 3
Link 4

I have had an inkling for a long time that Mr Arindam Chaudhary is a charlatan of the worst kind. Finally someone has investigated their claims and laid the matter open for scrutiny.

Gteat work, Rashmi and Gaurav. Keep the spirit of skepticism alive!

Monday, August 21, 2006

On Sikhism

Sikhism is an organized religion predominant in the state of Punjab in India. It is an offshoot of radical Hinduism and mystic Sufi traditions pravelent during the fifteenth century onwards.

Sikhism is thought to have started from the teachings of an Indian mystic, Nanak Bedi (circa 1469). Many saints in that period taught against the institutionalization of the Hindu religion and against the hegemony of the priestly classes which divided people based on caste, profession, etc. In orthodox Hinduism, the role and the place in the social ladder of a person is strictly determined by his profession and his caste (which in many cases is also based on race). Orthodox Hindus of that period also had an elaborate priestly class (membership to whcih was obviously restricted by race, caste or lineage) which wanted to maintain its power and control over people.

Spiritual and mystic saints of that period, who had no agenda to divide people, rebelled against these aspects of society. They saw the corruption that institutionalized religions lead to and propagated a message of equality, of personal effort and devotion, of the importance of individual experience, and of the authority of an experienced teacher rather than of books, idols, pilgrimages or rituals.

Most saints of that period were born in orthodox Hindu and Muslim families. Many of them, after having mystical experiences, rejected the lies being perpeterated by the religious and political rulers of that time. They formed a close group of disciples which carried on their traditions. Due to their egalitarian outlook, many people from the working classes converted to their teachings.

One of these mystics, Nanak Bedi (who is reverentially called Guru Nanak Dev) daringly rebelled against the prevailing rituals and exhorted his disciples to chant the God's name to have a mystical experience instead of following any rituals or priests. There were many contemporaries of Nanak who gave the same message but in his case, a lineage started. From his close disciples, Nanak appointed a successor to carry on his message.

The second teacher, Lehna (known after his appointment as Guru Angad Dev) carried on Nanak's message and stressed on divinity within a household existence (instead of the prevailing custom of leaving home and family for the life of a hermit).

Lehna appointed the paternal uncle of his son-in-law, Amar Das Bhalla as the third guru. Amar Das was again born in a Hindu family and regularly went for pilgrimages to Haridwar and Jwalamukhi. He was however, radical in his outlook and gave a message of social and gender equality and the abolition of cruel customs like Sati.

Amar Das nominated his son-in-law, Ram Das Sodhi, as the fourth Guru.

Ram Das, at the end of his life, nominated his youngest son, Arjun Sodhi (reverentially called Guru Arjun Dev) as the fifth Guru. Arjun Sodhi compiled the writings of many mystics including the first four Gurus and his own, into a combined text called the "Adi Granth". Apart from establishing a scriptural text, he put in place many other ritual and institutional measures amongst his disciples: Establishing a holy shrine in Amritsar (now known as the Golden Temple), authoring of prayers to be recited regularly at certain times of the day, founding of the towns of Tarn Taran, Kartarpur and Hargobindpur (the last named after his son), establishing an organizational structure of masands (authorized teachers), etc.

These measures, and some other political acts (such as helping the King's detractors) were justifiably seen as the formation of another political power center and the Guru was imprisoned, tortured and killed by the Mughal King Jehangir.

Before he died, Arjun Dev, nominated his son Hargobind (aged only eleven) as the sixth Guru and exhorted him to start forming an army against the regime. Hargobind Sodhi established the Sikh seat of power, the Akal Takht. He also started behaving like a regular king with a court, royal regalia, etc. Due to his miltiary overtures and some petty squabbles with the Mughal King, he was imprisoned many times and fought many battles.

Hargobind Sodhi formed the distinct identity of Sikhs as a warrior class. He had four sons. The eldest of them, Gurditta Sodhi, died when he was 24. As was common in patriarchy at that time, the eldest son used to be the successor of a King. If he is dead, then either the next eldest son or one of the grandsons from the eldest sons are the next candidates. Hargobind called the eldest son of Gurditta, Dhir Mal, to receive the succession but Dhir Mal did not come. The throne thus passed to the second son of Gurditta, Har Rai Sodhi (who was fourteen then).

Har Rai Sodhi continued to wield temporal power over the disciples and subjects. When time came to name his successor, his eldest son, Ram Rai Sodhi, disappointed him and he nominated his younger son (or the younger son was implicitly nominated after his fathers' death), Harkishan Sodhi (then only five years old) to be the next King. However, Harkishan died of smallpox when he was only eight years old.

Various stories abound as to how the ninth Guru was chosen but the fact that Teg Bahadur was a son of the sixth Guru, Hargobind had an obvious bearing on the matter. He was appointed the ninth Guru amidst much squabbling.

Aurangzeb, the last Mughal King, wanted the Kashmiri Pandits to convert to the Muslim faith. Teg Bahadur helped the Pandits keep their faith (he challenged Aurangzeb to convert him first) and infuriated Aurangzeb. He was tortured and killed by Aurangzeb. He had nominated his son Gobind Rai Sodhi to be the tenth Guru and King.

Gobind Rai was only nine years old when he became the Guru. He was a poet as well as a warrior and fought many guerrila battles with Aurangzeb's army. He had three wives, Jeeto, Sundri and Sahib Kaur (the third one is debated). He had four sons, all of whom died in his conflicts with Aurangzeb. (Polygamy was common amongst the powerful at that time. Guru Hargobind had three wives, Guru Har Rai had seven.)

Guru Gobind Rai instituted the baptising ceremony of Sikhs, gave them a distinct identity of being turbaned with long hair and beards, and instituted many other rules and rituals (giving every Sikh man and woman the last name of Singh and Kaur, respectively).

It is not clear what happened after his death, but since there found to be no worthy successors (or maybe there were too many fights going on for the title), the holy book compiled by the fifth Guru, Arjun Dev, was made (by whom? we don't know) the perpetual Guru for the Sikh community. Sikhs consider it to be their only teacher and it is accorded the status of a living person (e.g. it is covered with blankets and quilts on a winter night, is protected from dust and flies and is always kept under cover and on a mattress).


Well, Sikhs had come full circle. From rebelling against priests, power centers, shrines and holy books, they had all these of their own now.

The drive for mystical salvation had become a social, political and military movement. The focus shifted completely from salvation to social justice, which if required, had to be achieved by violence and torture. Banda Bahadur, one of the commanders of Gobind Singh, was a cruel marauder who burnt down Muslim villages and had his army rape and pillage the Muslims.

Today Sikhism is just another organized religion, with its own scriptures, rituals, temples, places of pilgrimage, code of conduct, division between Sikhs and non-Sikhs, a distinct identity, a corrupt priest class, huge donations at the altars for worldly gains, and so on.

Sikhs used to be easily identifiable by their turbans and full flowing beards, but as more and more youngsters are giving up the custom of keeping long hair and the tying of turbans, they are becoming more homogenized in the world (which is a good thing: separate group identities do nothing but promote hatred and bloodshed).

Most so-called true Sikhs protest this seeming devolution of Sikhism (which has been happening right from the time of the Gurus, but is thought to have started when the control of the Sikh temples went to the Akali Dal in the 1970s. Akali Dal is a political party in Punjab which claims to be the representative of the Sikhs.) and want the corrupt priests to be ousted and non-political people to, ironically, occupy the seats of power (forgetting that the fight for power is the exact definition of politics).

There are endless debates about the works of the tenth Guru (called the Dasam Granth) and whether Dasam Granth should be accorded the same status as that of the Adi Granth, whether sick people should be allowed to sit on chairs in Sikh temples, whether one should recite the whole book non-stop oneself or get it recited by paying somebody and reaping the blessings of the Gurus, whether the five rules established by the tenth Guru for having a "fully baptised Sikh" are to be considered still valid or not, and so on...

Nobody looks at the history of the Sikh Gurus, sees the obvious change from a spiritual sect based on the mystical experiences to that of a crass political movement in which the throne was kept within the family, even at the expense of making a five-year old a King, at the non-radical nature of the Gurus' *spiritual teachings* (everybody praises the radical socio-economic doctrine of equality and fraternity but nobody pays attention to what the Gurus said as far as spiritual guidance is concerned).

The basic tenets of Sikh spirituality are as orthodox as that of any other Indian religion: A timeless, formless, eternal God. Rebirth, reincarnation, sins and pieties, singing of hymns and asking for blessings and forgiveness, chanting and reading the holy book as the principle spiritual practices, protesting pedantry and pretensions, having a moral code of conduct, hagiography and miracle tails about the Gurus, intolerance of any criticism, the concepts of baptising, blasphemy, of being an apostate and a fallen Sikh, of holy water and holy baths, ...

And like every other religion, Sikhs claim to have the best religion around.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Quips on Indian Traffic

Most traffic lights don't really work. And even if they do, you better watch out.

There are no standards for road signs or for lane markings or the color or the markers. Sometimes lanes are divided by yellow lines, sometimes they are white. Sometimes they are solid white, sometimes the two sides of the road are divided by double yellow lines, sometimes just a single yellow, and so on...

There are no stop signs in India. There are speed-breakers (otherwise known as bumps) instead, at the most unexpected of places on a highway or on a road. speed breakers take various forms. The simplest one is just a huge bump. Another is a series of small bumps. Then there are small protruding discs or cubes(dozens of them) covering about a meter length of the road surface.

Lane discipline and lane markings, are non-existent. Lanes can only work in a nominally homogenous traffic. In India, one will find, in the busiest of highways in the biggest of metros, everything from bullock carts to Mercedes S Class sedans. In most places, three cars will occupy two lanes. Suddenly the lane will disappear and two lanes will become one.

There are no turn lanes. So if you are in right lane, you might very well get stuck behind a car that is waiting to take a right turn on an intersection. So, most people wisely stick to the left lane, even if they have to drive fast. When they encounter a slow vehicle, they honk at it (if unable to just overtake it by moving into the right lane.) The slower vehicle might move to the left or the right, depending on the stars. If it goes to the right lane, it will continue in it till the next honk...

One cannot be expected to follow laws if everybody else around is breaking them with impunity. Traffic cops stop you for an offense and then let you off after a bribe. It is easier to pay a bribe than to go through the legal process. Bribery to get off the hook is injustice to the other so-called common men who are following the traffic laws.

Indian roads and road-signs are not designed to deter breaking of the law. They actually encourage it.

Honking in the west primarily means either "Wake up, move" or, "Hey, what are you doing asshole." Both are exceptional circumstances.

However, in India, honking is done as a matter of course, but contrary to what many think, honking is not a harmless phenomenon prevalent due to the Indian psyche. Frequent honking actually signifies the persistent breakdown in regulated traffic and can mean either of these things on an Indian road:

"Hey look, watch out. I am coming."
(People make sudden lane changes without noticing whether anybody is already in the other lane. People drive through red lights honking loudly.)

"I am overtaking you, notice me."
(In other words, "I know you are in your own world, but be careful, I am coming into the lane next to you, so continue in your own lane and let me pass.")

"Invisible people beware!"
(Badly designed intersections need honking so that at least a warning noise is there when visuals are impossible. It is for this reason that Enfield Bullet is the safest two wheeler on Indian roads. As its ads say, "People hear you before they see you." The thump of a 350cc single cylinder. Bravo!)

"Speed up." or "Give way."
(Since the horse-power of vehicles on an Indian road is anywhere from 0 to 300, there is every possibility that both the lanes on a road are filled with rickshaws or cows or beggars or people just having a fun time spitting or haggling with the fruit vendor.)

"The light is green. Why can't I move?"
(As soon as the light turns green, the patient Indian roadster who has five cars ahead of him can't seem to figure out why, with the light green, he is not zipping at the speed of 60kmph.)

One finds an utterly remarkable device in Indian cars these days. It is the reverse-gear beeper. As soon as the car is put in reverse gear, the car starts sounding loud beeps or melodies. Now why would one need such a device? Two reasons: Hubris on the part of the driver (why look back when he is sounding such a loud beep that everybody should get out of his way) and unawareness of one's surroundings on the part of the other creatures on the road (the road is their property, what is this car which is slowly moving to and fro and honking, well he's honking, so he must want to get somebody who is in front of the car out of the way. Ater all, how do they know that his honking is for them. Oh, it is the reverse honk. Okay, sorry buddy, moving away.)

Since fuel is so expensive, so one finds imaginative ways to save it. Cars running on domestic LPG cylinders. Cars and motorcycles going the wrong way because to take a U-turn further up the road would be really expensive.

High beams!! As soon as the sun sets, a thousand suns rise on the Indian roads. Most drivers are actually unaware that there is a setting called the "low beam" for the headlights. The road seems brighter with a high beam, very nice, so why not?

Now there are many reasons why driving with high beams is so common. Firstly, Indian roads are very badly designed and constructed with an uneven pavement and usually no white lines at the road boundary. It is pretty dangerous to drive at 60kmph with only a low beam when the road ahead might have potholes the size of a bunker. The farther one can see the road, the better.

Secondly, the attitude is, "I am in a hurry and my life is more important than yours. So I need to see the road and to hell with you. If you are blinded, well, too bad. Just wait till I get past you and then you can carry on."

On many trucks one will find the painted messages, "Horn Please" and "Use dipper at night." "Horn Please" is simple enough: It just means "Honk if you need to overtake."

The second message is slightly more complicated. There are various interpretations. According to one interpretation, it asks the reader to use a low beam at night. According to another, it means that instead of honking, one should toggle high beam and low beam at night to signal an oncoming vehicle or to request a vehicle in front to "give side" (to let one pass). The irony is that the message is written in English, which a very small percentage of Indians are going to understand.

And if for some strange reason you curse the driver or the road or anyone in general, you are reminded in no uncertain terms, "Buri Nazar Waale Tu Zeher Khaale!" ("You evil eyed one! Why? Take some poison.")

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The crassness of Bollywood "art"

Some remarks on poor filmmaking techniques in Bollywood

Yesterday, I saw a movie having some good actors and with potentially a great storyline. The movie was "Dhoop" starring Om Puri and Revathi. To make a long story short, the movie was a lesson in bad filmmaking.

Here are some of the obvious things wrong with the movie, and with bad Bollywood movies in general:

Sound-editing in mainstream Indian movies is really inept. The sound of footsteps in almost all Bollywood movies is artificially generated and does not fade in volume as a character goes away. Non-verbal human sounds, e.g. whimpering, sniffing, taking a deep breath are mostly artificially done too, and are too loud to be realistic.

Dialogue delivery is a disaster. It is as if people can't wait to deliver their dialogues. The silent intervals between dialogues are never right. The facial expressions are too facile and crude. Example: The first interaction between Peehu and Professor Kapoor at the college staircase.

Comedy in Bollywood movies depends upon many hackneyed paradigms. Cultural sterotypes (Haryanvi Jaat, Punjabi Sardaar, dwarfish comedians etc.), repetition of the same phrase in different situations (Mogambo Khush Hua), seemingly funny costumes, unrealistic situations, ...

Emotionally, Bollywood movies seem to be ages behind their western counterparts. Be it parent-child relationships, marital or love relationships, friendships, siblings, everything is so badly un-creative and crude that you wonder if the movie was made for kids. Affectively, Indian movies are devolving instead of evolving. The affective themes in older Bollywood movies were stronger and deeper. Examples: Mrs Kapoor's reaction to her son's death, Peehu's response to her suitor, Professor's response to the SHO when asked about proof whether he is his son's father; all are crude emotional hysterics instead of real emotional responses of realistic people.

Too many songs, just to make a music album out of every movie, whether or not the song disturbs the continuity of the movie.

There is hardly any attention to detail. Example: Om Puri in Dhoop is going around in his car in Delhi without wearing a seat belt.

Bad camera techniques. No camera angles which would require even a moderate amount of effort or work. Example: Om Puri receiving a mysterious letter and the camera doesn't even focus on it, because Om Puri's position is too awkward for a good shot.

Convoluted dialogues and rationales. Just to further the story, debates seem to be without any strength. There has been hardly any Bollywood movie in India in which there is an actual debate and discussion about a topic. Example: Why should Om Puri go in for the petrol pump? What a nice debate (sic).

Laughable denouement at the end. So the prime minister intervenes so that Om Puri can get an electricity connection? And Om Puri, instead of recognizing the Prime Minister as the center of the whole system that he is fighting, instead naively appeals to the PM, and ridiculously, the PM suspends 16 officials including a few peons here and there. The ruffian who is ready to rape the mother and the daugther-in-law gets reformed in a second when he sees the framed photo in the couple's home. What a joke the whole thing is.

Let's see how a more realistic or mature version of this movie would have evolved:

"Dhoop" would have been a metaphor for the giver or sustainer of life, turning tormentor.

There are a college teacher and his librarian wife living in a small DDA flat in Delhi (instead of the posh bungalow with servants etc.). The wife is suffering from painful eyes which are always hurting from harsh lighting, especially direct sunlight.

Their son, a reasonably normal man (instead of the chivalrous brave handsome mother-loving hunk) is killed in the Kargil war and is awarded a medal and a "petrol pump connection" (as compensation) is given to his parents.

The parents debate whether to take the allotment or not, alternately missing their son and thinking of money to be made from the pump, to survive them in their old age, now that inflation is so high.

They decide to go in for the pump, but are thwarted at every level by government corruption. The father is at his wits' end and he develops back ache and asthma. He runs from pillar to post to get the sanctions necessary and finally manages, by emotional pleas and sheer persistence. When the father makes statements in the press, he is threatened and beaten by hired thugs. He suffers a fracture. The police frame a case against him for sexually molesting a college student.

He writes to the chief minister's office and gets an appointment. When he visits the Chief Minister's office, he finds him a little hazy. He hands over his file and comes back. The next day, he is arrested for the framed offense but gets bail by efforts of some friends. He gives up the idea of the petrol pump and sells his allocation to a local don. He moves to his ancestral village and starts running a nursery and a small school.

A few years later, he visits the pump allocated to his son and finds it in the midst of an adulteration scam (kerosene mixed with petrol). The day is very hot, the sun is shining almost right into his eyes. He buys a liter of petrol from the pump named after his son, a pack of sleeping pills, quietly goes to his earlier home (which is now in a decrepit condition, pending a court case), takes the pills, drinks the adulterated petrol and dozes off to death. A cloud obstructs the sun for a couple of seconds, and vanishes.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The newsworthiness of tragedy

It is a small single column news item in yesterday's paper: "66 people were killed in a bomb blast in Iraq."

Contrast it with another news item in Google news this morning: "Four killed, two injured in German seaplane crash."

All of us know that a plane crash killing 20 people in the west is much bigger news than a train accident in Chhateessgarh killing 200 in India.


There is no conspiracy behind it, it is a phenonmenon which can be rationally explained. Why is it that the death of a westerner is more newsworthy than the death of a third-world citizen? Why is it that a plane crash is a bigger accident than a train accident? Why is it that a protest involving 20 people in Capitol Hill gets covered by the worldwide media and a protest involving thousands in a third world country remains unnoticed?

Firstly, news is reported on the strength of its un-commonness and unacceptability. If train accidents, bomb blasts and rapes happen routinely in a third-world country, another of them is no earth-shattering piece of news. It is just routine, and will be covered accordingly. On the other hand, a plane crash in a western country is shocking and unaccpetable. Statistically, it is a rarer occurance. And socially, it is totally unanticipated and unacceptable. The sense of accountability and responsbility is much stronger in the west than in the third world. Citizens don't routinely protest in the western nations, and when they do, it is big news. Contrast this with public protests in a country like India, every city has at least a dozen protests and processions every day. People will lose interest in something which is common.

Secondly, news is an item of consumption. By and large, newspapers and TV channels are vehicles of advertising and marketing supported by the illusion of providing useful information to its readers. The kind of readership and audience decides which news is likely to spur their interest. Report too many news items regarding the poor people or the disenfrenchised, or the quick breeders, and your newspaper and TV channel risk being ignored in favour of another which is more entertaining.

Thirdly, investigation, in depth, of an incident is easily possible only where there is efficient technological and institutional infrastructure to support free and detailed investigation and enquiry. Most news items regarding a tragedy in the west are accompanied with enough details to sustain the interest of a reader. On the other hand, a train accident in Indonesia is just going to be reported in brief because it is going to be extremely difficult to get information about its causes, effects, implications, government response to it, names and details about the victims, etc. On the other hand, vast information is going to be easily available about an incident or the victims in a western society, because the institutions which provide such information are efficiently and professionally run. There are vested interests in suppressing details about an accident or loss of life in an immature society. As such, the "continued coverage" of an incident in the west is much easier and provides much food in terms of new information than in the third world.

Fourthly, individuation makes a tragedy tangible. A literate society which allows its citizens to pursue their interests and creatively contribute to the world around them, would place a higher value on human life than a society which only views people as economical units to be exploited. The accidental death of an IIT professor in India would command national headlines because of the uniqueness of that individual. The motif of uniqueness is much more prevalent in the west than in the east. In media, movies and newspapers, people in the third world are nameless, part of a herd, as good or bad as any of their counterparts. It is not considered a tragedy if a hundred men die who did nothing in their lives but live a traditional, conformant existence. On the other hand, in the west, since the social aspect of life is inferior to the the pursuit of individual goals, an accident has more unique and individual features attached to it. Each accident is, as it were, different, because there were unique individuals in those accidents. The uniqueness is sellable in the media to the multitudes, because of the vicarious nature of the audience. People want to know personal details about the victims, but such personal details will only be meaningful or interesting if the victims were not part of the herd, if they had a tatto on their forearms, if they were part of the local baseball club, if they were to be married soon. These are consumable details. Such details are juicy. The personal lives of such people are richer and more detailed than those of their counterparts in the third world.

Fifthly, the economic impact of an incident is directly proprotional to the resources spent upon its investigation, to its newsworthiness and to the width of its appeal. People who die in a plane crash are near the top of the economic heap. Poeple who die in a second class compartment in a train are near the bottom. The impact of a tragedy which occurs at the top of the heap is wider. The death of a rich owner of an enterprise affects thousands of his employees, the death of a labourer affects only his immediate colleagues and his family. A tragedy is as newsworthy as the people it concerns are influential.

Monday, April 17, 2006

On Sexual Advances

Harassing of women on the street, in public transport and at public places is a world-wide phenomenon. Many people debate as to whether the man is being an animal or is the woman attracting the wrong kind of attention. One comes to see outraged comments from women’s groups claiming their right to wear jeans and shorts in public etc. One notices the rules in effect in institutions and government offices for women to dress “conservatively”.

What is apparent, and what is being left unsaid?

Human evolution to its present state, in which humans have a large brain, capable of sophisticated thinking and planning, has left almost unchanged the genetic and brain structures responsible for instinctual behaviour. Fear, aggression, lust, greed, are endemic in the human condition. In the human species, men have traditionally been the predators (or defenders) in the mid to large scale arena. Women have been no less afflicted with aggression and greed, but their domain of aggression has remained more or less restricted (due to their relatively low physical strength and till recently, low excursive ability in the outside world) to their family and neighborhood.

Instinctually, men view women as objects to satisfy their sexual cravings; whereas women view men as objects to satisfy their emotional, financial and physical needs. The sexual act has long term implications for the woman, but little for the man. The possibility of pregnancy, childbirth and childbearing are of concern to the woman, whereas the man can choose not to get involved.

Men and women engage in preening gestures and attraction tactics in different ways. Men like to display their power and wealth, and women showcase their physical attractiveness and charm.

Now it is typical in most settings that it is men who tease women, try to harass them, make cat-calls, try to touch them, and so on, and not vice versa. Women’s teasing is more covert, by way of provocative dressing, by giving side glances, by a meaningful smile.

Why do men tease so distastefully, and so obtrusively? There are many reasons for that. Firstly, mostly those men engage in such acts who have no hope of attracting the woman by adhering to the rules of the game. Such men are not wealthy, are not high on the social ladder, have had many failures with women. Hence, their desperate aggression and their harassing tactics. Obviously, women are not attracted by such gestures. But how do such men go about civilly attracting the women (that they so tease)? I am not defending these men, but trying to show the reasons for their behaviour. The teasing and harassing begins when they don’t know how to make themselves look attractive, when they know they are inferior (psychologically or factually), when they know they stand no chance against a “worthy” contender.

Secondly, the more conservative a society, the more frustrated one’s sexual instincts. In absence of natural outlets for one’s sexual desires, criminal tendencies enter the picture. Surreptitious fondling, groping, making obscene phone calls, being an anonymous stalker, being a persistent jerk, are typical male gestures in face of sexual frustration. Women are more reticent about openly displaying their frustration because the cost of shedding their inhibitions is too high. They would not get a good (as in, one with a long term commitment, emotionally stable, financially successful) sexual partner, if they lower their bar, so to say. The rules of the game are that your worth is known by whom you are willing to accept. For men, acceptance is easy. They can have sex with a hundred women and forget about them. For women, it is not so easy. Their genetic make up makes each relationship an emotional experience. The feeling of being a slut who can sleep with anybody erodes their self-worth in a deep way. There are ways to cover up this erosion, but it takes its toll.

In neo-elite settings (e.g. a party of Bollywood stars) also, harassment, violation and rape happen. Why? Cultural habits die hard. Once a woman is seen to be dressed provocatively, is easy to talk to and to dance with, and to touch, the man in such settings assumes she is available and willing. Such assumptions are frequently incorrect, but are justified given the over-all cultural milieu from which the neo-elite come.

That is why, until recently, couples did not go beyond embracing in Indian movies. To do otherwise would attract public ridicule and voyeurism towards the actress. The vast majority of Indian populace has not seen intimacy in public, considers it prurient (but therefore, secretly enjoys watching others). Sex, intimacy, french kissing, dancing in the rain, being in love and singing lusty songs, are phenomena that we ourselves crave for, but condemn in others.

Men want to attract and have sex with as many women as possible, whereas women want to “hook” the right man. There is a difference in aims, in the area of focus, and in the repercussions of rejection and desertion.

The strategy of woman, in general, is to passively excite the man. Whereas, for the man, attracting the woman is explicit, he has to “make the move” (at least in most settings), he has to prove himself by overt acts.

But the strategy of women to provoke and excite the man, and the class division in men, means a lot of men would be excited whom the woman does not consider worthy. To ward off unwanted advances is the main chore of which women complain. If the advances become intrusive in nature, so much the worse.

However, the unfortunate thing is that even if the woman is acting non-provocatively, there will be frustrated men who will make advances upon her.

Now, in order to widen her reach, a woman has to be provocative all the time (after all, the right man may be found anywhere), if not by her gestures and such (which take constant effort), then by wearing charming clothes, perfumes, make-up and the like. Her dressing up is purportedly to look good in order to attract the man whom she would be willing to go to bed with, but what about the scores of other men who would be attracted and found wanting by her?

Rejection of one's advances is hurtful, it is a demonstration of one's inferiority. Hardly any man can take a woman's rejection stoically. And when it is known to the man that he would be rejected, what is to stop him from being vile about his advances, so that he can at least annoy, harass and tease the woman with whom he anyway stands no chances? Men like encounters in which they are anonymous (groping furtively in a public bus, for example) or when they are part of a group, so that their ego is secure against reprimand and rejection.

Women would like the legal authorities and police to protect their right to attract the man of their choosing and to be able to get away with rejecting a number of others. And of course, the law should protect them from criminal assault and harassment. But protecting, punishing or deterring men who break the rules does not take away the situation in which men are competing for women (and vice versa).

Laws and morals are meant to keep the animal instincts in check, but nobody would assert that they lead to demise of the instincts.

As long as the instincts are alive and kicking, rapes and murders and harassment and child abuse and flesh trade and trafficking of women and pornography and fantasizing and masturbation and provocative behaviour and eve teasing will continue.

Women rightfully demand that men abide by the laws. But if a man sees the dice loaded against him, he would abide by the rules unwillingly. And given a chance, he would break the rules. So what can women do? Should they dress “conservatively”, wear a veil, wear no make-up, allow their parents to choose their husband, never venture outside the home?

Of course not.

They should understand how provocation works, how almost all men are looking for another woman to fuck, how just touching a woman's body provides pleasure to a man, how remaining anonymous protects a man, the nature of outrage they themselves feel when violated, how their outrage and the male behaviour are both ingrained responses to stimuli.

There is no easy solution to prevent this nuisance. But it can be made unlikely by careful behaviour by women and by proper patrolling of public areas, elderly women and men acting as anonymous guardians of law in public places, workshops on dealing with the other gender in educational institutions etc. Women can shout loudly to attract attention when they feel a violation happening but they must try to tell the man individually first. Often, a random touch of someone's body against a woman's body (in a bus, for instance) has resulted in a public protest by her without first giving the man the opportunity of moving away from her. Sometimes over-zealous people close-by can resort to lynching of a (possibly innocent) man if he is pointed out by a woman. If nothing else, there is loss of face.

Regardless of whether a man is guilty or not, loss of face would mean further insecurity, further erosion of his self-image, and indulgence in further surreptitious criminal tendencies.

A remarkable facet of this issue is how courtship is shown in Indian movies. Uncouth, loud, childish, un-intelligent but smart and sassy heroes try to woo the heroine by unwanted gestures, seemingly unwelcome advances, forced kisses, by stalking, etc. The heroine finds all this annoying, but in a coy way. She secretly wants the hero to do all this and to woo her. Is it a wonder that such movies give ideas to the illiterate masses? The reticence and no-no of a woman is taken to be her coyness, rather than her rejection. And lo and behold, finally she does accept and fall for the guy who pursues her by hook or by crook. The villain in many Indian movies, is rejected for no other reason than that he has an evil face and tries to act too cocky with the heroine. Cockiness is permitted as an agreeable act, but only to the one towards whom the heroine looks favorably already. The hero, whatever he does, is found charming. The villain, whatever he does, is found vile. Such movies perpetuate the mind-set that all is permitted in love.


The problems of the real world cannot be solved. They can only be eliminated by moving to the actual.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

On Being a “Morning Person”

As I have passed through the urban landscape in the west as well as the east, I have come to note a curious statement that many people make when they are sleepy or lethargic in the morning. The statement is: “I am not a morning person.”

The birds and bees and animals and fish are not “morning” or “evening” creatures. They live by necessity and by an inner rhythm of wakefulness and sleep. The vast majority of humankind also has little choice in this matter. To earn their bread, people get up early, tend to their duties and start working by 8 or 9 o'clock.

Weekends and vacations are a relatively recent phenomenon in human societies. In agrarian settings, vacations are non-existent. If the crops need tending to, there is no weekend or Sunday
when you can choose to have a “day off”.

Urban life is a life of pressure. A synonym of urban life can be, “So much to do, so little time.” Frenetic activity, stresses to handle deadlines, obligations, commitments, engagements, meetings, shopping trips, parties, visits to places of “amusement”, calculated ways to spend one's weekend, all lend a rather non-leisurely tone to one's life. There is hardly any time to sit back, without anything to do, without phones ringing, without a thousand things on one's mind, and to reflect on nothing.

Of course such a life takes its toll on the physical organism. As mental stresses predominate the life of urbanites, physical activity becomes a way to take one's mind off the “usual stuff”. Going to gyms, yoga, doing weights, jogging, morning walks, after dinner strolls are predominantly urban phenomenons.

And one must not forget the over-indulgence involved in such a life. Overeating, binging, partying, staying up late, “playing hard” after “working hard”, take their toll on one's body.

The body, due to all this abuse, and the mind, due to all this stress, craves relief and escape. And if nothing else, the city offers plenty of escapes. Movies, bookstores, theaters, coffee shops, long drives, window shopping, pubbing, and of course, sleep.

The body, when stressed, needs proper rest to regain its balance. And in urban settings, it is usually short of sleep and rest. It is a rarity to find a modern, employed person who frequently gets up early in the morning (before five o'clock) in a city setting.

And this is to be expected.

However, the identity within, sees the damage being done to the body, and the lethargy the body feels every morning, the reluctance to go to work, the “Monday morning sickness”, the tendency to fall asleep at the workplace; but is loath to admit that the goals it is pursuing are harmful. For to admit that one is living wrongly means one has to get off's one back and actually do something about it.

Hence, it invents a justification of not being a “morning person”. There is, in actuality no such thing as being a “morning person” or an “evening person”. Otherwise, why do we find a predominance of people in the cities who claim they are “not morning people.” And why does one even hear this phrase, if not as a justification of being lethargic and sleepy in the morning? One almost never hears the phrase, “Oh, you know, I just can't stay in the bed once I am awake.” If the body has had proper rest, it is naturally relaxed, calm and ready for activity every morning. Having a cup of tea in the morning to shake off the lethargy, postponing the act of bathing, being constipated, all point to the abuse the body is being subjected to.

What is important is to live a stress free life, a leisurely life, a life free of cares. Living a life otherwise and then justifying it with false assertions about one's body's rhythms is detrimental in the short as well as the long term.