Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Return of the Jedi, published in Financial Chronicle Dec 8th 2017

Rahul Gandhi’s Return

The Congress with it’s pleasant face, over the decades, always assured roti kapda and makan. They were like the nation’s lead actors…all of them had the glib assurance of a dynasty, of what in timid Sociological language, is called guile, cunning and tacit inheritances of political environment. This includes language skills, ability to wear turbans of different sorts, and to engage with the masses. For the Congress, the masses remained what they were, the rural proletariat. Within this they would occasionally target Muslims, women, third gender, industrial workers, farmers and Dalits. It did not make a difference to them. During Rajiv Gandhi’s term the Congress were assaulted by public outcry, when the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi was followed by a huge pogrom of Sikhs, many of them who fled to Punjab. In turn, they were followed by a mass migration of Hindu Pubjabis, who now felt that they would give Delhi the colour it lacked. As a result, they were the harbingers of right wing politics and a commercial revolution which brought in fast cars and shops and a spurious designer culture, which grew in time, to put Delhi on the map with other great haute couture cities of the world. To think that it took 33 or 34 years to change Dlhi from an iconic bureaucratic and university city to an untidy constellation of  consumer townships all jammed together. Rahul and Priyanka are amused by changes, they are not affronted by change. Rahul would quite happily sell the farmers with small landholdings to the industrial oligarchy of landowner and capitalist farmers. Rahul uses his bucolic charm to assure the poor that he is one of them, and now his sartorial attire mimics the University students of the 1970s who could come every day to college in blue jeans and ironed khadi kurtas. He is not offering anything new, or different, but he is saying that he enjoys politics and is here to stay. What skills he learns as he moves on, is hard to say.

When his father said “When a great tree falls, the earth shakes” he was met with aghast observations from the upper middle class, which certainly did not go  along with Rajiv’s banana boat republic of Mayo school and Doon school expatriates. While one remembers them with some alarm, one knows that as advisors to Rahul they could not have done any good. His current mentors are Kapil Sibal, Sheila Dixit and Mani Shankar Aiyar. None of them are known for democratic styles of functioning. So why would the proletariat want to vote Rahul back? The only reason would be, of course, because he has learned a new humility, and with it comes charm and humour. The Indian people, farmers turned clerks, peons and factory workers, are always ready to forgive. Finally, what they are really looking for, in caste biased India, is to be left alone so that they can worship their known Gods, (who might not be the Sanskritic  high Gods and Goddesses,) and to eat the food that they are used to, and have freedom of speech and action. The latter allows them to move across the country, and to find work, as citizens of India. They learn local languages, and while never trying to fit in, as the rules of commensality and marriage are as rigid as ever, they do try to accept the customs and conventions of the places they find work. This minimum requirement of  freedom and mobility is something that the secular Congress does promise. While homogenization, and theological colonization, (where the lesser Gods were extinguished in praise of the cult of the Warrior Ram,) were accepted by the working class, let us remember that they presumed that education and right to work, would go with it. The casteist Hindutva bandwagon does not provide this basic human right of education and standards set by the Man Mohan Singh Government, though the latter were a cartel of free loaders who neglected the poor economically and promoted industrialised agriculture. The present government has always claimed that it continued with many of the policies of the previous government, to the chagrin of the Congress workers. However, when it came to the Educational aspects, they preferred to pump up war machineries. Rahul belongs to a  nuclear family line of dynasts who have  simple oratory skills or learns them…Rajiv used to preface every speech with “Hum ko Dekhna Hai..” which even his speech writers could not dissuade him from. Sonia’s faltering speeches were polished over two decades. And now, the middle aged Rahul, says for TV and audiences, “ Gabbar Singh Tax!” for GST. The totemic cow has already been displaced from the Hindutva brigade’s list, and Rahul will play the Dalit card by offering Ishta Deva as his trump card.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ideologies and Us

Belief, Faith and Superstition in the Context of a Post Modern World

Green Movement activists are always puzzled, when wars are waged and gods are invoked simultaneously. Surely the arms industry is about politics, loot and commercial stakes, with a handful of diplomatic, or alternatively, virulently absurd hate speeches, thrown in? Similarly, when disease is linked by political oratory to past lives, we feel some anxiety. Is this the way that the politicians and their representative sadhus are evading social responsibility for illness and their institutional obligations?

Other people’s beliefs are thought by us to be superstitions, our own beliefs are imagined to be about real faith. However, “faith” could very well be in Science, which takes on the contexts of religious suspension, as well as toleration for other people’s imagined spaces.  Durkheim used the category of sacred and profane to argue that the two are divided, hierarchical and antagonistic. “Sacred” is anything that which is seen to be higher, and valued. The Indian flag was sacred till a young woman wore it as a designer garment and had to go to court to prove that its secular use was acceptable to society and the judge. The Indian flag is used to wrap the coffins of dead soldiers. Therefore, the idea of religious need not be an intrinsic part of the sacred. Anything, anything at all, can be considered sacred, as long as it is kept apart from the mundane or routine which profanes it.

Religious ideas are sacred to those who belong to a particular community, but may not be sacred to those who do not believe in that religion or its ideals.  Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss, two important Sociologists who survived the First World War, while many members of their Annales School died, suggested that if the Gods are not worshipped, they die. Therefore, God, religious texts, prophets and priests were social fabrications. Many of the ideological debates that surround us today represent the way in which individuals and communities position themselves vis a vis their religion, their faith, their dogmas and liturgies. So Fundamenatalists believe that if you don’t believe in their religion or their God you will go to hell, if you don’t join the jehad you won’t have houris welcome you to Paradise, and  that your karma gives you cancer.

 Ordinary people, in India, are exalted by their religious experience. They have an intense belief in this world, their place in it, their hopes and dreams are all laced by ideas of beneficence and joy. Their sorrow arises often from their sense of neglect because the Gods and Goddesses have ignored their prayers. As a result cults arise which offer wealth, jobs, and  dreams of travel and recognition are continuously pursued with the help of the guru, who commands the fates to deliver. Max Weber was immensely interested in the idea that the priest was the “magician of the mass”, the idea being that through his prayers, the bread turned into the body of Christ. In parallel form, we understand how simple halwa becomes prasad, an embodiment of the food of the Gods. Faith turns material things into spiritual presences, the aura of the divine is all around us, only if we are open to it.

Recognition of the divine is not given to everyone, just as logic is not the turn of thought of politicians. If it were so, the Nation State would not endorse 33 percent of jail records among  active politicians in parliament. The accumulation of bad karma is what they are best known for. Cheating, lying and looting is their usual modus operandi, ghettoization of the poor and killing them by leaving them to die in the cold or extreme heat  of hunger, is definitely contributing to politicians bad karma.

 Rather than  selectively imagining our past lives, ignoring human rights,  and conceding to the hegemony of cultural tropes, which impose notions of good and evil, based on a variety of religious symbols, we need to get to the root cause of sorrow and death. Sarvam Dukham is written in our biological inheritance, it is compounded by our degradation in an entropy ridden universe. In the last century, humans lived till forty or forty five years, and most likely, dental problems and bone loss killed them off.   Susan Sontag argued that Tuberculosis became the symbol of the 19th century factory system, Cancer of the 2ist century industrial society, and AIDS the curse of post modern professional and information societies.  Human genetic coding will change rapidly with the compartmentalization of the populations of the world into those who are exposed to severe radiation, personally by choice, or collectively by imposition, for who can escape the radiation from the  mobile tower? As Christ said “The meek shall inherit the earth”  translated as  we shall have Gandhian economics.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Coonoor: Chocolate Making : A Home Industry and Water Works

Tourists, particularly honeymooners, come to Coonoor from all parts of the country. The Sims Garden is laid out in such a way that it has all the appearances of miniaturization. There are landscaped lawns, many botanical wonders, shrubs and flowering trees and plants. There is a green house, and also a small pond for boating, as well as a children’s park with swings. The general sense of complacence the town has is partly because Ooty has absorbed the administrative buildings and the  bulk of tourists. Coonoor, Keti, Kotagiri, Udhagamandalam (Ooty) and  Gudalur have to be understood as a constellation of small towns. The tea estates predominate here, and local communities are also absorbed as labor into the cordite factory in Coonoor and the needle factory in Keti. Coonoor is  an army cantonment, and the British in these hill side towns so well known to the gentrified classes, left behind a legacy of cottages, with gardens. Even today,  the gardens support the same array of hydrangeas, magnolias, roses, pine, and interspersed are the exquisitely coloured hibiscus which bloom around the year, in company with the rhododendrons, miniaturized for bushes. The wealthy also come from various parts of the world to stay in hotels, and many of these are prototype British lodges, with typical bungalow architecture of the 19th century. In the digital age, house owners, who cannot stay in Coonoor year around,  advertise and rent their homes in “homestay arrangements”. For the residential elite, there is the Gymkhana, which provides an aura of seclusion, sports and good food. The town itself has temples from the 11th century onwards. It also has several churches, while supporting a Muslim population too and the Badagas, Todas, Kotas, Irulas and Kurumbas visit from nearby villages, for market purposes.
 Ranjit Varghese makes home made chocolates on  personal request. He says that the big companies like Campco and Cadburys provide blocks for about 350 rupees each, and the home manufacturers buy these,  from the local grocers, (such as the shop of  Kuriappan  and Sons,which has been in existence in Coonoor market, since 1910). The blocks which come from Poona and Mumbai, are then melted down, adding almonds, figs, dates, raisins and honey according to specific proportions, which  is each family’s secret. Ranjit and his wife melt the chocolate at night, which  can take three to four hours, before it is cooled in large metal tins they have brought from Kerala.  They have to be very careful as so much is invested in the production of home made chocolate. In the month of March, every home made chocolate manufacturer can sell upto 600 kilogrammes, and the annual production of chocolate in Coonoor is one tonne.

The biggest problem that the Nilgiris faces is shortage of water and the problem of waste disposal. The dam  which was built for a population of ten thousand now serves ten lakh. No collection  of waste happens, and the monkeys, crows, pigs, cats and dogs have taken over the town, as the waste accumulates.  Vijayan, a banker, says that the town has one water drain into which all the garbage is just flung in. The heavy rainfall in mid September 2017, came after twenty five years! The frightening aspect is that Reilly Dam has anachronistic pipes which cannot provide water to the city.  Repair of  the pipes is now postponed, because the dam is  now filled with water.  Worse, contractors are robbing the water from leaking points at the dam, and selling it in trucks. Manoj, a tea shop owner, says that when there is no rain they get municipal water once every ten days.  If separate tankers were filled,  for each locality, there would be queues and water wastage, and the poor would lose out. The domestic taps run only at night,  so the storage and clothes washing all have to be done between 9 p.m and seven a.m., which is very hard on the women at home doing daily chores. He says that Coonoor residents have become so used to water shortage, that they are now all for water saving devices, and even say that water provided to them every two weeks is alright, as they have managed to learn how to store water in syntax tanks, permitting them to self -ration water for domestic purposes. However, for the tea shop that he runs, he buys water.  With the longstanding drought, according to  Coonoor residents, Nitin and Nancy, forest animals had started to come into the town. A honeymooning couple in Sims Garden got killed  in the summer, while taking a selfie with wild bison ( kattu erima) and there are reports of bears taking over tea plantations, and as for wild pigs they dig up the gardens of local people every night, leaving  hoof prints before they disappear.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Looking Towards Tomorrow

20th September 2016

Swapna James is an award winning farmer from a village, twenty kilometres from Palakkad town. The bus to Cherpaullasherry from Olavakode junction, goes near her village, Kulakattikurusi,  four  kilometres on a country road, from  the mainroad at Kadampazhipuram Hospital Junction. Journalists and government officials know her well, and her name goes out to the committees which look to honouring farmers for the work they do. Her husband, James, is a successful rubber plantation owner and latex dealer, who says that “Swapna looks after the Krishi (crops)” which includes organic rice cultivation, along with vegetables and fruits, coffee and spices.  Since 2000, they have worked extremely hard, beginning their day at 5 am and winding up their duties at 12 midnight. They say that their profits actually come from the work they do as a couple, and that if they were to delegate, not only would the costs be high, but also the efficiency would be lower. They constantly reiterate that hard labour, and ownership management allows them to do what they do: grow vegetables for the table, distribute organic vegetables to clan members, and sell the excess to a neighbouring school, bringing in a steady income. Swapna has been recognized by the Kerala State, multiple times, because her output of fruit and vegetables is substantial. She has been able to generate an income of ten to twelve thousand rupees a month, has no expenses for fruit, vegetables, turmeric, ginger, spices, coffee and rice. She harvests honey with the help of workers, who are able to squeeze it from the hives  because it is work they are familiar with. There is a new interest in Kerala in orchids and ornamental plants, so these last two years, she has been able to expand her garden in this direction. She buys the ornamental plants from nurseries, and then multiplies them by growing them in optimum conditions using pebbles, tiles and coir for the base, then transplanting them on to tree trunks. School children, doing projects in Botany, often come to see her garden for their projects, assiduously taking down notes. 

Organic farming  as an idea is an offspring of the Kerala Scientists, who wanted to wean the population from chemically infused vegetables, fruits  and horticulture. It’s success has depended on the housewives and retired people of these small towns and  its adjoining villages. Swapna and James are representative of the interest that the rubber plantation owners have in negotiating with traditional Jaiva Krishi or natural farming methods, while growing cash crops and spices. They believe that coffee, for instance, can be interspersed with rubber trees, which is quite revolutionary, with nitrogen provided from runner beans, which are not used for the table.
Swapna is deeply integrated in social media platforms, and says that her exposure to ideas from other farmers comes from the posts they put up in their facebook pages. The couple also travels widely over the state, visiting farms, and nurseries, attending courses on organic farming, and also reading the vast literature that is being generated by the government employees who are committed to this programme. One of the innovations they have put together on the farm is a tube well, without motor. The well is six hundred feet deep, and it requires no electricity to pump up water.  The valve used  here is a “foot valve”, similar to that one used in a motor device, where water once it comes up, shuts, and water does not go back. Much of these simple innovations have appeared after much thought on their part, of simple and inexpensive ways of accessing water or good soil.
Swapna says that the earthworm count has gone down considerably because of pesticide use, and what one should strive for is a natural return to a soil which harbours earthworms. For this, they have devised various compost heaps, which are state sponsored in design, which allows them to place a base of cowdung manure, and layer it with leaves, rotting materials, including dead  farm animals, and everything is  organically broken down  into fresh earth fit for growing things in a matter of weeks. In these compost heaps, wooden frames like chicken coops are constructed with lattices that allow the compost to be aerated. They also use solar traps to catch beetles  which arrive at night to destroy fruit, flowers and vegetables.

In his spare time, as members of the Arts and Sports Club of Kadampazhipuram, they look after those villagers who are dying of cancer, and provide palliative care for people who are old, sick and incapable of looking after themselves. They are now collecting money from friends and relatives for a hospice for those who are in the last stages of their life, and live alone without children or attendants, a common problem for Malayalees, generally, whose family work abroad or in other cities in India.

Monday, September 11, 2017

From 'Metro' my new novella

Chapter 2, excerpt from ‘Metro’ by Susan Visvanathan, a novella
The waterlilies spun out in incandescent pink. In the middle of the water, was a tree, grown by the gift of winds and winged seeds. Somewhere, bees buzzed, tiny, brown, ephemeral. The honey from Neem trees was mildly tinged with bitterness, too subtle for the ordinary palate, which preferred the adulteration by cane sugar, the honey clotting at the dregs. People came from all over the state to buy sarees, gold,  and to eat in restaurants. No one knew the price of things, they just paid whatever was asked.

When it got too hot in that seaside town they pushed off to the hills, faster than the traffic could carry them, taking lesser known routes, past exquisite churches all dressed up like white icing cakes. There was only the semblance of normalcy, for hunger ruled the land. The world was diminished by war, and more so by fear, for even where there was no disaster, people feared for their lives. Every morning was spent reading newspapers where obituaries ruled the moment. The stories of past lives were more interesting than the stories of every day rapes and death. Obituaries told the story of people who lived normal lives, where there was no terrible occurrence of violence. These were people one probably knew, who lived in the next village, or a nearby town. Marriages and deaths had a statistical regularity to them, for people lived in anticipation of one, and fear of the other. Young people found one another through the investigations of their elders. Beauty was not a criterion, it was whether one could cook or take care of old people that decided the day for the  shy bride. It was the old world, caught between the eyelids.
Stella turned around in the wheel chair. It was another red hued day, with lightening flashes coming through the cardboard sky. The cracks which had formed were simply frightening, the thunder seemed ever louder. She knew that she would be here when the sky rent open, and they were vaulted into an open realm of stars, sun and nowhere to go. She shut her eyes and returned to the safe world of the past, which was indecipherable to those who had not lived in that familiar world. The past, so irredeemable, so ever present, so filled with latent desires before aluminium took over the world, and iron was constantly distilled for newer varieties of steel. No plants could grow in such an environment, and the desert approached ever closer, as did the captive hills, pushed by the energy of it’s galactic past to crush the present in its  imminent lava flows and gravitational pull to the surface. The sky always red and dusty, was shut out by the blue painted canvas, which mimicked the skies in digital reconstructions of how the sky should be, with its fleeting clouds which when counted, could tell that time was passing, for the wind blew them here and there. The artist knew how to manoevre the clouds, create shapes, filter light. It was like being eternally in a planetarium, where the cloth sky absorbed the infinite beauty of the night, and when the lights came on, why, we were back in the auditorium of our very own earth.

The waters spilled around the outskirts of our city. They had become dank and very dreary. Every year, men and women in masks went out, and cleared the sewage with machines that droned for atleast a week. The water was distilled in larger tanks, and piped out. We never knew if there would be enough retrieved to last us for a year. But magically, the machines pumped out that clear fluid so essential for us even though we were now in the last phase of survival before leaving planet earth. How many of us would leave, no one knew.
Stella thought of the time when she had first come to the city, full of hope. The earth had crashed around them, and each of them believed that death was better than living in the ruins of what was once their great city. Yet, day by day, they found that the will to live was greater than their sorrow. They had picked themselves up from the rubble, and moved toward what the politicians said were their new homes, prefabricated aluminium sheds which had been put up overnight. Here, there was no sound other than that of people weeping, reciting litanies of their lost loves, and then the sudden sterotorus sound of someone breathing heavily in their sodden sleep.
Where was Anjali? The girl had become lazy, and was never to be found. The wheel chair had a back, hard and resolute, which jabbed her spine. So, she sat a little away from it, leaning forward. The loneliness of being old was not the problem, that she had managed several decades ago. The music that played in her ears constantly from the little box in her pocket was the best invention of the previous century. Time was ephemeral,  it fleeted past. But the seconds pounded in her ears, as she thought about space travel, which the morning circulars had stated to be the next step in their sojourn on planet earth. They would have to leave soon. The question was who would be chosen, and who left out?
Stella asked this question of Anjali very often, who would desultorily turn her head away, not getting involved in the very real fear that Stella always communicated. How did it matter to her, whether the old woman went to Mars or not? Such a stupid question! She noticed as she looked out of the sparkling glass windows that the Administrators had simulated rain again. Clearly the sparkling bejeweled window glass was a gift from the lewd microbe replete troughs running outside the metro.  The used condoms, the disgusting trophies of late night copulation and the indestructible plastic that was thrown by young mothers who had not found a way to potty train their children had been digested by the incinerators.  The water returned to them, clean, flawless, with a lucidity that was no longer grey and worn out, but fresh, smelling of lavender. Everything was ofcourse chemically produced, but the effect was the same as if it was natural. As for drinking water, they had stopped accessing it from taps, or asking for it. It came to them piped every day, just as the food did.

Stella thought again of the days in Paris, when she had lost her memory, and was frightened that the State would notice. She had become frail, wind wafted, perfumed, bejeweled, not knowing where she was going, or how she would return. The days had been listless, watching the skies turn their incredible colours, as if congealed in the palette of the sky. She would lower the blinds, sleep till late in the morning, and then start again to wander the streets that her feet knew so well, she did not need memory, names, landscape, maps. Twenty years later, in another continent, with the tarpaulin sheds painted over the crumbling surface they knew to be ruined buildings of another century, long gone, she realized that life was only breath, breathing.
It was as if memory was a shard, sharp and double ended. At one level, she responded to the impulse to remember, and in remembering, live again in an opulence of a world which once she had known so well. The earth was tender and brought to her more gifts than she could have wanted. It gave her fruit and flowers, and the gentle gaze of animals, almost doe like in their captivity. Here, too, had been their protected canvas of the familiar, no one stepping out of their bourgeoisie tableaus. When the earth had rent apart, first by war, and then by convulsions unbeknown to them, they had realized that they were human, subject to geological change, galactic time. The newspapers reported the finding of new universe of stars and planets.  With that, hearts calmed down, they returned to the chores so familiar to them, waiting for the seasons to change, and the fruits and flowers that beckoned them from the gaily blazoning shops with their lights and perfumes. They were happy to have more days at hand, and then when the darkness fell on them, their own sense of belonging was quite gone. Everything that was theirs, fell to another. In a commonality of loss, the powers that be became profoundly tyrannical, creating an artifice of light, sound, life. And things began to move again, simply at first, but with a growing complexity as the years went by. Fear was camaflouged, and civility reigned again.

Stella had chosen to leave Paris when the first tarpaulins came up above the great cities, and the sky had become punctured by air craft which had to leave from outside the known radius of the world as people knew it. They had to choose their destination, tunnel to airports which like filigree jewellery appeared outside the metropolis. And then in a matter of days, they would have assimilated in another part of the globe, a little frightened, but somehow sure that they had done the right thing, yes, moved towards their own survival.
If she had chosen New Delhi as the site of transitioning to  outer space it was because she had been familiar with it in her youth. The intellectual world of writers always served to protect the narcissus, and she had thought she would walk through familiar streets in the new world, where the sign boards had changed, and the old became abused by neglect. She had no fear in the beginning, since her memories of her work world were somehow quite intact. And people had taken to her immediately, providing her with facilities and home, papers and Internet. She had served them well once, and the records of her brilliance were sufficient for the new municipalities, charged with electronic devices, not to repel her, or exclude her. Or so she thought,  but then her foreignness was so palpable, her accent so pronounced, that she fell out of the web of belonging again, retreating into silence. The young girl she had adopted was the only one she now could turn to, but over the years, the sense of familiarity had reduced them to non presence, each busy with their thoughts, living life by the day.
How completely hopeful the girl had been when she had come to the house, and offered her services, in exchange for learning new languages, and the scientific aura which surrounded the old woman who expressed her innate ability to keep up with the alarming technological changes that most people found difficult to handle. Yet, unfortunately, the problem of memory had surfaced as the greatest deficit, and both Stella and Anjali started to feel they were sliding into a place of great danger. Stella managed to keep composed, putting her blue eyeshadow every morning on her heavy lids with a trembling hand. She felt that if she could communicate that dressing up was important, then the girl would make greater effort to dispense with the casualness of her own attire. Anjali was often dressed in crumpled pyjamas and her blouses though clean, were never distinguishable. She had none of the sophistication of the women Stella had been associated with, the pallor of her face showed that she had never had food which was nutritious. She was born in the days of piped food, and if she survived at all, it would be due to her will power and that of her boyfriend, who stayed listlessly with them, always poring over his work without looking up, or out at the cardboard sky. He had over the years, grown a little dense, his short frame picking up the carbohydrates in the food with ease, as he never stirred from his chair. However, the couple were happy, smiling at each other peacefully over their many chores. The government was now keen that people should inhabit the houses they stayed in as if indeed they were in outer space. The simulation of the circumstances of floating in a vacuum were being increasingly made available. For Stella, who was from an older generation, the act of looking out of the window was still replete with images she was comfortable with, familiar with. For Anjali and Ashter the inner spaces of their minds, without the vinyl of reproduced images was quite enough.
Stella could hear the drone of their conversations, sometimes there was muted laughing. They were always aware of her presence, and sometimes they would appear, looking innocent and yet guarded. Had she called, did she need something. Then, when she shook her head, a veiled look of relief crossed their faces, and they disappeared again, into that world of which she knew nothing.
The warmth of their personas was sufficient for her, they were alive, they were human, they lived in the adjacent room, making the house accessible to her wheel chair by their quick inventions, all plastic, but unimaginably brilliant. It had been a long time since she actually got out of it, her limbs had atrophied, but in a second, they were able to roll her out painlessly on to her bed every evening, and slide her into the chair in the morning. She had stopped thanking them, for they shrugged their shoulders placatingly, placing an affectionate hand on her shoulder when she did.
The world was not spinning anymore, gravity was congealed in the last echo of the wall that separated them from the universe. It was not clear when they had lost their axis, but just as they never enquired, so too, they never doubted. The radio told them that they were lost people, and that the will to survive must be their own. They listened, placating one another, as the days shredded into countless anonymity, each moment going unrecorded except for the cries of the cicadas, which had survived the catastrophe. It was not cockroaches that had survived, for they got eaten up during the last days of the war, when all else had been cooked.
Stella shuddered. She called out again for Angel and her companion. They seemed to be rising, she could hear the house come awake, with it’s several sounds. There was the beep of the alarm clock, the radio playing music, the buzzing of their conversation. She could hear the water being filled carefully, half a bucket each of lavender fragrant distilled water. Yes, she knew the sound so well, that she was comforted. She heard these every day. They would come soon, she knew that. She waited. The old world, the memories drew her back.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Thinking Like a Planet, published in the Financial Chronicle 5th September, 2017

There are several ways in which we know that a new evolutionary step in the recorded and fossilized histories of the planet,  is on the way. Sometimes, when the earth seems more prone to disaster, we watch horrified as cities crumble into running water, when earthquakes and wars coincide, when bombing destroys beautiful terrains, and leaves them looking like deserts, without people or oases. Theologically, and experientially speaking, people during these moments wait for the world to end. The mortuary rites of people dead in large numbers, during disasters, are often quite different from the ones that such victims would have had, if they had died in due course, of old age or lingering illnesses. The idea of  “mass deaths” then, is represented through the morgues, the recognition of amputated body parts, the state funeral in the case of heroes, or the recital of sacred verses for the lost body at sea.
 The statistics of suicide also go up, during this time, as people who feel they cannot withstand the pressure of the times, lose their life by irrevocable individual choice. The crushing of the peasantry in the 19th century in Europe, was reflected in the large number of suicides that occurred in every country.  Based on these statistics, Emile Durkheim provided a typology of four basic kinds of suicides, since the subject matter of Sociology had to be foregrounded as a discipline.  By reading the Suicide rates, he understood that  firstly, individuals could take their life if they were too integrated in the society, and felt that their  very lives were being demanded of them, by Society, resulting in altruistic suicide. Cultic suicides belonged to this set, as did heroism in the battlefield. Then there were egoistic suicides, where individuals did not feel integrated in the norms of the society, felt alienated, and sometimes, (as with intellectuals) saw themselves as being different from their fellow beings. Anomic suicides occur when the norms exist, but have no hold on the individuals who commit suicide because normlessness is rampant, because of social crises. And the fourth kind of suicide, fatalistic suicide, occurs because the individual has no solution, no possible avenue for survival. Clearly, typologies are used only for the purpose of bringing some clarity and order to reality, which is blurred, fleeting, constantly changing.
The loss  for the Nation, of S. Anita, the young woman from Tamil Nadu, (Indian Express 2nd September 2017) who committed suicide, because there was a huge gap between the  syllabi and training of  Dalit students from the State run schools, and   that provided to more privileged students from CBSE schools, while entering Medical Colleges,  show us how much pressure is put on young people. In this respect, their lives are ransomed to death, because they take on the burden of their community upon themselves, and draw attention to the state of educational hierarchies which are  so evident in India. Such young people believe that mobility is the avenue to freedom, and that with education they can hope to achieve a better life, while at the same time serving their community. How can we protect these young scholars? Privatisation of education is not the answer.
The idea of Human Rights is placed in a planetary circumference, and globalization is the way in which young people initially draw their vocabulary and their strength. They find, to their horror that the established system with its hierarchies is larger than their motivations, and the despair they feel is so total, they take their lives. Durkheim proposed the institutionalization of guilds (associations) as the best way by which this call to suicide, could be restrained. “Currents of Suicides” have also been seen  recently with regard to Blue Whale Challenge. Durkheim excluded the element of psychological  disorders, while explaining rates of suicide, and presented the concept of social causes, as the predominant aspect of analyzing suicides. One of the most important films made by a young  contemporary director, Abhay Kumar, is Placebo. Here, he shows how completely alienated medical students can feel in their work place, the hospital, and the sense of constant panic they experience, when the absorption of other people’s pain, leaves no time for understanding one’s own.

 The questions that Ram Rahim, trickster godman, (in jail, now, for rape of devotees,)  poses to society, is essentially the same, “what or who will integrate the declassed?” By providing a make-believe world, the opium of the masses, (as Charles Dickens and Karl Marx diagnosed it) he provided solace to those who whether rich or poor, were already in the clutches of misery, by drug abuse or by hunger. By manufacturing illusion, through film and  pseudo architecture, he wished these people to understand that the experienced world, through hallucination and emotional manipulation, was easier to follow than the real.