Sunday, October 29, 2006

"the line is a dot to you!!"

‘The market decrees that the scarcer something is, the more expensive it becomes. But there is a difference between valuing water and putting a market value on it. No one values water more than the village woman who has to walk miles to fetch it. And no one values it less than urban folk who pay for it to watch it flow endlessly at the turn of a tap.’

A friend sent me this paragraph during an MSN conversation, and I haven’t been able to get Arundhati Roy’s words out of my head. The differing values we ascribe to.

My thoughts returned to it when I read that the US military has a law which allows ‘psychological warfare’; and so planting US success stories in the Iraqi media to disillusion the Iraqis was perfectly legal. Republicans called for an apology from John Kerry who brought up the issue in the past, claiming it was immoral to do so and asked how the Bush government could sanction it. So, let me get this clear: Now that it IS legal, outrage is unnecessary? Sometimes laws DO need to be changed, and your instinct might tell you which direction you should be going.

But let me return to India- the mother country; where I have returned to understand it better. No longer the quasi NRI that I have been living as, I am back in Delhi, doing the Delhi things; living the Delhi life. During a conversation with a friend who restores vintage cars, I asked him how much he pays he workers. He said his head mechanic makes 10,000 rupees a month. Is that a lot, I asked him, because I know that is about the starting salary of a HT city journalist? Of course to a large extent, the HT city journalist is probably still living at home and using this starting salary as pocket money, while for the head mechanic, the 10,000 rupees goes a long way in maintaining a family.

Now allow me to harp back to the concept of democracy for a moment. I’ve been reading Shashi Tharoor’s book ‘The Great Indian Novel’ and through the voice of the narrator, VV, Tharoor raises some interesting questions. One of those is the reign of Priya Duryodhani [alias for Indira Gandhi]. The picture he paints is not pretty; perhaps the most horrifying sequence comes to us in the form a dream where Priya Duryodhani and her trusted advisor Shakuni decide to play Yudhishtir at a game of dice (fixed of course) and she watches in glee as Shakuni attempts to disrobe Draupadi in vein. If Draupadi serves as a metaphor for democracy, then her attempted rape for the sake of political victory is enough to condemn our erstwhile Prime Ministers as one of the vilest villains in history. Of course, this is merely a dream, and VV does accept that some good came out of the Emergency although Indian democracy took a severe hit. Now, the question that is raised is this: while democracy was restored and perhaps the Emergency forced a now complacent Indian population to actually use the democratic tools they sweat blood for, can the subversion of democracy really be that easy?

I have to allude to Star Wars at this point. In all the talk about Jedis, the Force and Yoda, one can forget that it is a chilling story about how the Chancellor Lord Palpetine hijacks the Republic by creating a false threat which forces the Senate to bestow him with emergency powers, which he never returns, until his protégé kills him. [Of course this is where the story differs from our own, because Mrs. Gandhi willingly called for fresh elections, although she grossly miscalculated how well the Emergency had gone down with the public]. The lesson in it is that the value we prescribe to things- water, morals, democracy and the like are relative. In a beautiful scene in the movie, Padme watches the Senate hand over emergency powers to the Chancellor who she knows will only use them to his own end and not the greater good, and remarks ‘So this is how democracy dies… with thunderous applause’.

And now here we are, tackling domestic violence. Women can now be protected from their husbands and live-in partners from actual or threatened physical, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. A step in the right direction, certainly. However, perhaps forms of abuse need to be defined closely because this new law is ripe for more and more problems cropping up and enforcing agencies will have a field day with it, as suggested by many including Soli Sorabjee in the Indian Express. On the other hand, and as predictable a development as any, you can see the panic setting in with the male populace who are scared their wives and girlfriends may take them to court for quasi-abuse, or no abuse at all. When it comes to domestic violence, most women don’t even own up to it, law or no law. On top of that, abuse can come for many reasons; bad mood, bad food, crying children, the women went out without permission; you name it, you have it. So qualifying it may serve as a problem. What goes in one relationship can be completely horrific in another. Again, it’s the value you ascribe to certain things, and drawing boundaries can be an impossible task.

So let me end with a quote that sums it up for me: here’s Aristotle who studied under Plato and taught Alexander the Great-

‘We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather we have those because we have acted rightly’.

16 comments:

Ksingh said...

personally this has been one of my favourite posts, for its simplicity and the parallels drawn from such different scenarios.

as for the americans well everything is now legal for them , the geneva convention to quote bush is " too vague", listening into every call is required so that the american families can be saved and of course " cut and run" is not an option, even though "staying the course" sees iraq already in civil war.

i think im going to get tharoors books, sounds interesting , anyone who calls indira gandhi duryodhani has my attention.

keep the flow boss, good stuff

p.s - isha you can be head mechanic on judo anytime

Anonymous said...

wow you certainly do jump around a bit.. but it certainly makes for a challenging read.. and of course you had to put in a star wars analogy..

hmmm.. jus keep writing.. and keep forcing us to think...

Aye Davanita said...

Ah.. Tharoor's last good book - The Great Indian novel. His only other good book - From Midnight to Millenium. Everything else was a boring read including his attempt at an epistolary novel - Riot. Once you get past his flowery english, you see there isn't much substance. You might fight with me -but I think this of Fareed Zakaria as well (fairly useless in my opinion).

In any case, morality and ethics (the basis for virtue and acting rightly) are inventions of man, as is "Government" -another invented entity intended to uphold the aforementioned inventions. Mostly, these are a function of an individual's circumstances. E.g. Cannabilism - is a morally sound and practiced act somewhere else in the world. Elsewhere it is "frowned upon" - at the very least. All I'm saying is that there is no such thing as morality and ethics - albeit definitionally they do exist. This can get confusing -

My analogy: "Red Riding Hood" the STORY (in writing) exists, yes. But there is no REAL red riding hood prancing around in the forest, nor a wolf that dresses like granma and speaks. <- Invention to preach some determined moral value.

'Right' and 'wrong' (outside of science and scientific fact) is an invention of man - crafted to provide logic to actions of past, present and the basis for a hopeful future.

Saptarshi said...

Ok I have no Idea who you are.. but chanced on ur blog through a friend..

Excellent read, Tharoor does paint an interesting picture in his books and you have drawn intelligent parallels extending the boundaries between quite diverse but related. topics..

Though to sum up with the particular quote from Aristotle, did not make sense in totality but maybe I am missing on something.

Keep Writing.

Saptarshi

The Dude said...

Hey, long time, nice post...

Really likes all the referances and the first para really gave it just the right feel...

it got a little crazy cos you jumped around so much, but a lot of it hit home. Given that you used Star Wars so well, heres another connection to it - like Palpatine, Dubya is creating a world of fear for a country full of people that live in a bloody bubble anyhow... makes him another palpatine dont it?

Anonymous said...

Hey - came across your blog very randomly - and just had to comment on your first paragraph.

In case you are interested, this line of thinking is actually a pretty old debate - known as the diamond water paradox - why is water (more valuable) less expensive than diamonds...

What is really really interesting is that pretty much all of modern economics was actually developed while trying to answer this question

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_value


Ray

mahima said...

wow! thanks! i'm going to check it out, no wonder it caused me to think too!! hehe..

Aye Davanita said...

(Unrelated to blog): so weird - was watching 'Entourage' last night and you look exactly like Emmanuelle Chriqui!! (Character: Sloan McQuewick)

scary... thought I was seeing you on TV!

mahima said...

hahahaaa! not yet, not yet!!

Anonymous said...

I miss you.

hedonistic hobo said...

Can the restoration of democracy be that easy? Maybe Thailand can tell. Or Nepal. Or even the 'Democratic' Republic of Congo that only just had elections after 16 years. Or as of today, USA (hope!). Is the subversion of democracy easy? Apparently. Why? Is there something inherently unstable about the democratic form of governance that makes it so susceptible to appropriation of public power by private interests? Is it actually possible to probe this question without once considering the other forms of social organization that exist alongside democracy that perhaps would give us a clue as to why the political realm can be so easily be dominated by a few? Is it possible for a certain set of principles to apply to the political relam that of democratic values and collective responsibility and have very distinct values ordering organization in say the economic (capitalism) and social (patriarchy) realms? So many questions. My bad. I overthink.

And here's another. I've always pondered over the distictiveness of the Indian case where democracy has endured (trundled along the path of time) however mutated a form of democracy, a tyranny of the majority if you must. Nonetheless it is one that time and again generates the highest percentage of anti-incumbency outcomes despite the penury, financial and educational, of its people. It's amazing how we've made it, and it's amazing how there are as many reasons to consider India as a robust democracy as there are to think of it as a mere mockery of.

Anonymous said...

Try not to end a sentence with a preposition.

hedonistic hobo said...

will do. let's make a deal i better mind my grammaical manners and you try not being so pedantic. though ending with a preposition is fun sometime quite against the established norms and effective nonetheless.

mahima said...

oii whats this anonymous missing me going on?? who eees it? heh heh i miss you too i'm sure!

Anonymous said...

The need to have opinions is clearly important. Needless to say, the opinion of things...objects, institutions, morality...being relative is not new. The world, however, as we know it, is shaped by people who did something with their opinions... So here's my question to you...Given the fact that you're now sure that, say, the issue of domestic violence is not as simple or one sided as it may seem, what do you do about it?...Stick to the status quo?...Suggest a few amendments?...You know the rally's wont help...so then what?

Anonymous said...

Miss you...