30 December 2007

In a Perfect World...

...mundane things like Exams would not threaten to take over one's life. Alas!

Bhutto's Dead

Has the initial shock worn off? Not quite.

The media reactions are worth examining. After occurrences like the assassination of a political leader, what does the media do? Try to fit things into discursive model ‘stories’ already available.

There will be speculation about how exactly she may have died. (link, link, link)

Or gossip about who exactly is responsible. (link, link, link, link, link)

Or details about her funeral. (link, link, link)

Or glorifying accounts in her memory. (link, link, link)

So what does Bhutto’s death really mean? I don’t know. I reckon it’s too soon to accurately judge the ripple effects. But it does benefit to look into who directly or indirectly profits by it:

Musharraf? Because blaming it on “the terrorists” would seem to give him a justification about the Emergency slapped earlier; give him a basis to show how Pakistan is not yet ready for constitutional democracy?

Bush? Because it would become an excuse to show how the “war against terror” is still required; how the so-called "struggle against the forces of terror and extremism"must continue as it threatens democracies everywhere?

The logic of Nation-States everywhere? Because acts of terror, which constitute their existence, would appear to justify it?

It definitely does not benefit the people of that country. Or this. Or the rest of the world.

19 December 2007

Babyji

I have been reading Abha Dawesar's Babyji. What is so wonderful about it is the nonchalant manner in which it questions deeply entrenched notions about sex, sexuality and morality typical to an urban Indian middle class. It is provoking as it brings out in the open things propriety would dictate taboo. In short, I love it! And yes, there are several things I find problematic in the novel, but 'morality' has nothing to do with it. Maybe I'll write down those issues later. For now - some excerpts:

"In the Delhi I grew up in, everything happened. Married women fell in love with pubescent girls, boys climbed up sewage pipes to consort with their neighbors' wives, and students went down on their science teachers in the lab. But no one ever talked about it." ***

"Science had told us this century that nothing was certain. The universe was chaotic and relative; these aspects measurable. There were few hard facts on which one could base a way of living one's life. I'd always scoffed at religion as a crutch for the masses, so it wasn't even a consideration. We'd spent two thousand years only to find out that we didn't know. That moment, sprawled on my bed, changed my whole life. I was free all of a sudden. Free of the burden of knowledge and therefore of any morality that proceeds from knowledge. Only feelings counted. And sensations." ***

"Everyone was complacent and measured success and failure by the same yardsticks- car, house, electronic goods. Jhuggi [slum] people like Rani thought that a government job was the epitome of power and that a government servant was a very big sahib. She wouldn't understand why I adored writers and scientists, intellectuals who could only be measured by the volume of gray matter in their brains. She probably didn't even know what writers and scientists were. If you didn't have any education, could you know how knowledge itself was classified? But she did know what a doctor was. Almost everyone knew what a doctor was."

10 December 2007

Begging to Differ

A few days ago, on the radio, the RJ remarked on the “nuisance of beggars” at street corners and red lights and asked for listeners to phone-in with entertaining ideas to “tackle the problem”. The RJ’s own suggestion was to apply some sort of check (visa was her word) on immigrants into the city. (Because, of course, beggars = immigrants. Also reminiscent of certain international immigration policies.) Other phone-in suggestions pointed towards torture, imprisonment and various other forms of state intervention – all disguised in entertaining ways. Of course.

Curious, I posed the RJ’s question to several other people – people I considered more sensitised than the morons on the radio show. While most among this group seemed to sympathise with beggars in general, they seemed quite opposed to the notion of begging itself. Several followed the policy of buying everything and anything that a kid at a traffic light may sell them, but refused to part with any money if it was plain begging. Because the effort to sell something, however useless, seemed to be an effort and willingness to do some kind of work. Whereas to beg was a downright refusal of the same.

Going by the above, the opposition to beggars is not completely equivalent to the sort of contempt a privileged class may reserve for the non-privileged (though it comes dangerously close.) A major part of the opposition seemed reserved for the nature of the act rather than its agent.

So then, what is so wrong with begging? Perhaps it is the fact that it poses a threat to the concept of work itself. A unidirectional flow of money without a corresponding flow of a good or service (in the opposite direction) is radical for the reason that it challenges the capitalist idea of work which grounds itself on the notion of exchange. The same logic applies to theft, burglary, etc since they question the capitalist separation of ‘your’ money from ‘mine’. It is also not surprising then that the above is a legal crime – legality being the medium of suppression used by the state machinery.

But the threat lies not in the act in itself, by itself. One beggar or thief isn’t going to shake the entire system. But one beggar or thief does present an alternative. Something that goes to show that the current system is not the only possibility, that several other means of exchange are also possible. And therein lies the threat.

9 December 2007

A PhD in Persian? Who needs that?!

This is pure terror. Especially for someone planning to take up the same career. With shortage of jobs and cutting down of departments, of course, Persian, Urdu (Tamil, Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, ...) would be the first to go. And with them research on various literatures which some would insanely consider precious. Of course, we don't need PhDs on Persian poetry. Milton will do for now. And later, when even English departments become too cumbersome, (what with their study of English translations of Chughtai, Premchand, and such like) they too must go.

8 December 2007

3 December 2007

More Manto

I have two pending posts, neither of which I can seem to conclude. So till the time I can figure out my dilemma, I’m going to fill this place with one of my favourites: Saadat Hasan Manto. Below are some really short pieces of his writing (translated from the Urdu by Khalid Hasan, Mottled Dawn).

Some basic things to be observed:

-- The depiction of horrifying violence and insanity which informed Partition (and hence also Manto's works)

-- How women were among the worst affected since they were/are constructed as repositories of 'honour'; 'honour' which, by a perverse logic, needed to be protected and upheld in context of the Self and plundered, looted (and hence raped) with respect to the Other.

-- The systematic involvement of state machinery...

--...as well as how regular people became both victims and oppressors.

-- Mano's characteristic dark humour and irony.

-- And most importantly, the absence of mention of any particular religion or country, which goes to reveal how underlying a "pretense" of difference is actually a terrible sameness.

Enough said. The sketches:

Invitation to Action

When the neighbourhood was set on fire, everything burnt down with the exception of one shop and its sign.

It said, ‘All building and construction materials sold here.’

Losing Proposition

The two friends finally picked out a girl from the dozen or so they had been shown. She cost forty-two rupees and they brought her to their place.

One of them spent the night with her. ‘What is your name?’ he asked.

When she told him, he was taken aback. ‘But we were told you are of the other religion.’

‘They lied.’ she replied.

‘The bastards cheated us!’ he screamed, ‘selling us a girl who is one of us. I want our money refunded!’

Resting Time

‘He is not dead, there is still some life left in him.’

‘I can’t. I am really exhausted.’

Out of Consideration

‘Don’t kill my daughter in front of me.’

‘All right, all right. Peel off her clothes and throw her in with the other girls!’