Thursday, August 30, 2007

oft when on my couch i lie

Yes, I know that’s from Daffodils. And yes, it might just be totally out of context. Big woof.

Alright, let me explain what’s going on in my head, if that’s possible. See, yesterday I read a post on desicritics by Bhaskar Dasgupta about rage. He talked about this Kashmiri man that bloggers had identified from pictures who went to each and every rally with an Islamic slant to it to protest against any and everything. And in cyberspace, he talked about bloggers who also rant and rave about everyone and everything. They hate America. They hate the Middle East. They hate fundamentalists. They hate secularists. Industrialists and environmentalists in the same breath. You know that I mean.

Anyway, then there is that other kind of rage which I am trying to understand. The news has been filled with horrific scenes. Agra is burning. Bhagalpur saw a mob frenzy over a man stealing a gold chain. This, that, and everything in between. And I was wondering what makes people so worked up that they are ready to burn down their own city, kill complete strangers at the drop of a hat. I understand that when a truck killed four Muslim boys in a procession in Agra, it was tragic. The same way I understand that when a scooterist does not give you way when you’re impatient to get somewhere it’s bloody frustrating. But to give into mob violence or road rage is just absolutely alien to me.

Yes, there are reasons. In the case of Agra, if we move beyond unemployment, poverty and the frustrations of urbanisation, you still have to ask, how does groupthink lead you to this moment where you are ready to KILL someone? I was told by someone that they are pretty sure the incident in Agra was fuelled by Mulayam Singh supporters to show Mayawati’s handle on law and order in a bad light. So, order and life is up for grabs. Well, I suppose that’s nothing new to us right?

One of my favourite Angel episodes is set in the 60s where a girl blames Angel for a murder she committed. Because of the fear induced due to McCarthyism, people are quick to blame and the crowd gets so worked up, they hang Angel. But the moment they realise what they have done, they are ashamed and slowly slink away.

But then what we witness in India, the kind of violence that spills on the streets is immensely different. Right after I saw the footage of the policeman on a scooter dragging the gold-chain thief through the streets of Bihar, NDTV had their evening entertainment show, Night Out. And as they went through scenes of old Hindi movies (nostalgia surrounding old brother-sister Hindi movies) my dad pointed out that some of those scenes, where the good guy avenges his sister’s honour on the streets, well, it’s really no different from what we see in real life.

I read this article by Rajdeep Sardesai, actually I think it was a blog, where he says that we have become so damn complacent as a country – but it couldn’t have been like this even a little while ago. It’s as if once we got independence and had no gora boss over our heads, it was a free for all. And he’s right you know. This month we carried old Indian Express editorials and articles that were written around the time of independence as a tribute to 60 years of independence. There is so much hope, there is so much responsibility in those words – I mean, these people were crafting a nation for god’s sake. And they really did have the weight of the world on their shoulders because they were creating the law by which India would function. In fact, the article I was most impressed with was when the Express decided to stop production in 1942 because the British did not allow them to publish information about leaders (including Gandhi who was in jail). Ramnath Goenka said he rather not publish at all than publish crap and pretend the movement wasn’t happening. Do we have that kind of integrity now? Are we moving closer to standing up for justice?

Or maybe this is just a middle class dream. It never really existed for everyone. I mean, when Dr. Karan Singh came to the office for Idea Exchange, he said that in 1947, with independence, everyone really thought that caste would slowly become a thing of the past. As India became a free country, we would really be free from these shackles. And look now, 60 years later, and caste is as important, no probably even more since its gone from social to political and we’ve gone and bloody institunalised the damn thing. I’m not saying reservations are bad, what I’m saying is the dream that something like caste would not even be a factor in this country has been totally shattered.

And then you have pockets of this country that are so poor, so backward, that you wonder if we can ever make it out. Where was that volcano… yeah, Pompei? Damn, it’s too late. But anyway, the History Channel had this show about how the ruins had been discovered. The commentary was something like this – clearly this town was a ‘developing’ or ‘underdeveloped’ one because at the time there was no mechanism for sewage removal and the city stank. And my mother turned around and looked at me and said, he could be talking about our country. This, civilisations later.

This is what bugs me about the Left. While I understand that in theory what they stand for might be all very good but in practice how the hell can it ever work? They oppose the nuclear deal because they think our foreign policy will become subservient to the US? Well, goddamn it, but isn’t the point of having our foreign policy to be able to make a decision to actually consort with whoever we want? And so what’s the crime if we want a deal with the US? We chose to take technology that can help the country develop. You know, India has great reserves of thorium but we lack the technology to get it. But once we have it, man, even people like Mukesh Ambani say that watch me, I will set up 40 plants and generate power. But ONLY if I can get the damn technology.

I think it’s a poem by Philip Larkin – The Whitsun Weddings – where he talks about a train journey he took and watched the various people on the platforms. And one thing he says (and again, I’m not quite sure I’m referring to the right poem here!) always stuck with me. He talks about that train ride as a moment they all shared in time – he and this bunch of strangers – and how they all have different beginnings and different ends but this is a moment in time they just happened to share.

I guess we are all a bunch of strangers living in this country together, bound by what we see on the streets and on TV. But you know what -- it’s an experience we share together. So let’s not pretend it doesn’t matter.


pankaj said...

we are a medevial society. humanistic values like individuality, self determination, a reasoned approach, humans as ends in themselves, are alien to us. collective internalization of these values is what makes for a liberal society.

i guess we suffer from problems all poor nations suffer from. the psyche of want perhaps. i am hopeful things will change somewhat with material progress and a shift of emphasis. seems like we need to clamber up a few rungs on maslows ladder(too simplistic eh?).

at the same time. mob rage is not something unique to india or even developing nations (although we seem to do it a lot more often). the germans did it to the jews during ww2. hooliganisim in football matches. and most of all - the romance of war. it had to do with an undeniable animal side to humans, ever looking to break the chains of social restrictions, and unleash itself.

egg style said...

Among the victims of McCarthyism were the poor Rosenbergs. There are many in America who still regret the lynch-mob hysterics of those ideologically charged days.

The little things matter. One can say that.

The big things matter more. That is also what you'll hear.

Is Justice little or big?
Was Fat Man bigger than Little Boy?

As the shocking lynch report from Bhagalpur shows, horrid things can happen when there's such a supercharged gang-up.

Ganging up is not a crime in itself, though the motivational atmospherics are a "leading indicator". This matters because by subsuming their actions in the dubious legitimacy of a larger unit with overwhelming power (as self appraised), overcharged people are only too relieved to abandon individual rationality and morality.

Gang-ups can also lead to dangerously delusional psychic states that ignore obvious constraints and begin to persecute rather than promote messages of peace.

But if a lone cloud can still be an inspiration, if flowers are still in bloom, and some thoughts are still free, good reason can find cause for good optimism.

IR said...

the reason why there is a mob reaction to every incident in india, is beacue there is lack of assertive leadership in this country.people dont care and are not scared of the law.

Gujurs can block a national highway and paralyse delhi without fear, alomost as if they know nothing will happen.

Traders in delhi can hold the city to ransom without any fear of the law.

nobody will condemn agra, since muslims were behind the riot, and no political party wants to loose out on votes,they dont care about correct/incorrect.

india in 1947 was idealisitic and ambitious because our leaders then had vision.

political leaders today are a fractured lot.and our socitey reflects that.

Anonymous said...

Ir, on Agra, facts are still unconfirmed. Anwar's case is under private discussion in places far from Agra

The Dude said...

no rants this time:
humanity has always grown the most and shown its best when faced with the worst, this is human nature.. dont ask me why...
as far as india's concerned and the mob mentality that youre askin about.. its not just here, its all over the world, just watch the news. why? well its simple - despite (and sometimes because of) our amazing development and globalosation blah, blah, blah.. the world is smaller and the old story of the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is just getting more obvious and more people know more things than ever before..
whether they admit it or not, people are pissed and saddened and angered and bubbling with dark emotions and thoughts under the surface almost all the time and like so many things in life, its the stupid little thing that acts as the last straw that breaks the camels back...
theres your answer according to the dude.. hope it answers your questions, if not, well keep looking and questioning - its the only way to stay sane.

mahima said...

its going take us a million years to hang right?
but, to what you said, it scares me... the level of violence that is acceptable.
tell me, does it strike u that there is a diff between the mob gourging someones eye out (or damaging it) and setting a car/car to fire? i dont agree its all bad but im saying is there a diff in the levels u see?

mahima said...

i have a few corrections

1. hang OUT
2. shop/car
3. i DO agree its all bad...

i just put on a buffy dvd after a VERY long time ... it might be the beginning of the end

cuz.. happy belated, colin told me! we're all closer to the quater life crisis now aren't we? :) i love it

The Dude said...

thanks, yup we're all gettin older but i see it as a good thing. i get to say stuff like "back in my day..!" and besides, youre only as old as you let yourself feel anyhow!
yeah, it sure looks like its gonna take the better part of a million years at this rate... but hope springs eternal right? ;)
it scares me too, and in obvious terms, sure there are differences - but in the big picture/the real world theres no difference.. we can call it levels of violence and such, but hurting another person and taking from them that which is not yours to take or they dont deserve to lose is equally bad across the board..
the concept of an eye for an eye for me is simple - if it applies to everyone, irrespective of any distinctions then i accept it. its not the kind of thing that we can say is ok here but not there. know what i mean?
what pisses me off about mobs is that it becomes a way for people to do horrible things while remaining mostly anonymous and getting away with murder (literally), godhra and gujrat being prime examples.. have buffy dvd's?

mahima said...

season 1,2,3 and angel 2,3

im a nerd cmon u shd know that by now!!!!!

Kedar said...

Well said Mahima. And I simply fail to understand these "Left" parties may be they should be called "Left Behind" parties. The Nuclear deal yes may not have all we would want. but then we cant just ignore America (who incidentally seem to have all the patents for various technologies) and assume that we will develop our own technology. Why reinvent the wheel??

Anonymous said...

now that the left parties are looking good (saved economy from being thrown open to wild forces of finance, refused to sell sovereignty in every other way), do the western educated citizens still hate them so much? INDIA wants britishers rule to return it seems like