Monday, September 24, 2007

Randomness... and the Ram debate too!

Yay!! India are the new Twenty20 World Champions! It's unbelievable... I was crossing my fingers and hoping they don't go and mess this up. It seems my wishes do come true sometimes. :-) Anyway, what I really wanted to write about is rather more serious than India becoming World Champions. The ruckus at the BJP's Tamil Nadu office yesterday is condemnable. I said, in a post a few days ago, that mixing up faith, fact, myth, economics and politics is just plain dirty. While I still stick to that statement, I feel that politicians would do well to refrain from commenting on things they don't understand. Yes, I am talking about our esteemed Chief Minister's comments that Ram is as imaginary a character as those in his novels, and that he was a drunkard. While myth and legend can certainly not be proved or disproved by historians and archaeologists, we would do well to remember that people do not simply cease to believe in the myth one day.

A politician's claim that a revered Hindu God is both imaginary and a drunkard is condemnable. I believe in Ram. Not in his existence as an individual, but in the sway he holds over millions of devout Hindus across the world. If I choose to believe that Ram existed in the Treta Yuga and that he was of divine descent, so be it. Who is a State Chief Minister, who owes both his position and his authority to the millions of believers like me who elected him to call me an idiot? I agree that the right to free speech is fundamental in any democracy. But, my freedom of expression only goes as far as my neighbour's ear. If my statement hurts another in any way, or strikes at the root of his religious belief, I automatically lose the right to free speech. If this holds true for a normal citizen like me, it should rightfully hold true for the Chief Minister too. After all, in a democracy, all are equal.

The question now, is one of economics, not religion or politics. Will the Sethusamudram Project benefit India in the long run? If so, there is no question that it must continue. The existence of Ram or our belief in it is not the Chief Minister's business. That said, I also came across a news item (I can't find the link now...), where a senior DMK leader has exhorted his party men to behead anyone who dares to talk about Ram or his existence. Now, I will say exactly what I please. Why the hell should anyone kill me for expressing my religious beliefs? Are we really living in a democracy. Yesterday's television images of DMK party men vandalising the BJP office and declaring to kill anyone who believes in Ram on camera was shocking. These scenes remind me of Poet Subramanya Bharati's statement, "Pey aatchi seythaal pinam thinnum saathirangal." A bad translation of the line would be "When demons rule, the law eats corpses." That seems to be an apt description of what is going on with the Ram debate in Tamil Nadu. Why must I fear for my life if I am a believing Hindu? Isn't India supposed to be a secular state? Or is secularism just symbolic? I don't know. I have many questions...and no answers...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mobile phones, cricket and much more...

Before you start wondering what the connection is between mobile phones and cricket, let me clarify...NOTHING. I simply have two unrelated things to say and did not want to publish twice on the same day. Ok...mobile phones first. I have been obsessed with mobile phones lately. The introduction of the new MotoRazr2 (V9) did nothing to diminish it. I don't pretend to be an expert in mobile phone technology, but the MotoRazr sure has a special place in my heart. Maybe because it was the first mobile phone I actually had a choice in buying. I remember going with my dad to buy my very first mobile phone in December 2003. I had just started working at the Alliance Francaise and Dad had agreed to buy me a phone on the condition that I would pay the bill. As he was not very happy with having to buy me a phone, he settled for the cheapest available model, a Sony Ericsson T105. It was a rather boring phone that one could use for nothing other than making calls and sending text messages. Just my luck that it stayed with me for nearly 21 months, until August 2005.

Then came the Nokia 3120. I did not want that phone. I wanted to go out and choose a decent one myself so that I did not have to embarrass myself with the T105 in France. In fact, I was not even sure it would work there. My aunt chose to surprise me with a new phone and went out and purchased the said Nokia. It lasted exactly a year. It conked out the minute its warranty expired. I have no idea why. After using a borrowed phone for a couple of months I decided enough was enough. I wanted a proper phone, one that I would be proud to own. And it turned out to be a MotoRazr. It's been 9 months since I bought it, and I have not had a single complaint so far. That is why I was so excited when I learnt that Motorola was launching an upgraded version in the MotoRazr2 (V9). I don't care what more it can do and how different it is from the V3i that I own. I am totally in love with the way it looks and am wishing someone would offer to buy it for me as a birthday gift. :-P

That said, I come to cricket. The semi-finals of the T20 World Cup is currently under way. I am praying, like millions of other Indians, that India beat Australia in this match. But you never know. The Indian team has the habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in crucial matches. While I am a supporter of the Indian team, my desire to see India win goes beyond patriotism. To be truthful, I am sick and tired of Australia winning all the time. A good game needs to see some decent competition. I wish India would fell the giant and get to the finals. It would be sensational to see India play Pakistan in the finals of the T20 World Cup. Personally, I prefer the longer 50-over version of cricket. Watching a match of T20 feels like watching a match of football disguised as cricket. The feeling was reinforced when I heard that there is something similar to a penalty shoot-out if a match is tied. Anyway, to each one his own. T20 is here to stay and it generates interest. Let's see what happens to Team India in the T20 World Cup...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Remembering...

I just realised I will turn 25 next month. I also just realised that it has been 4 years since I left college. I hated everything while I was there; the library, the department, the rules, the restrictions...everything. Now, I wish I could go back. Go back to the carefree life I led while I was at college. My worries, my problems, my crushes: all of them seem trivial now. It's amazing what four years can do to you. My biggest worry at 21 was whether I would be able to sneak out of college to go watch a rock show at Saarang. Now, I would give anything to be able to worry about that. I suppose it is only normal that people change. In college, I got into trouble every other day. But, come what may, I knew there was one person who would back me up and stand by me. Nandini. Today, I remember those times when I did not value her. I remember those times I did not bother to call and find out how she was doing. It's been a year. A year since I learnt I would never hear her scream into the phone in excitement again. A year since I learnt that I could never again kick her for screaming into my ear. A year since I lost someone I truly loved and never told her that I loved.

I know people don't come back from the dead. I know I am not being realistic in expecting her to call. I still pick up my phone and dial her number sometimes. Yet, I know I need to stop. I wish I could wind the clock back a couple of years. I wish I could have spent more time with her. I wish I could set all the wrongs right. I wish I could have at least told her how much she meant. Unfortunately, all that we wish does not come true... Why her? I suppose it's just fate. I don't know who else to blame. I don't know how else to reconcile to her death. I hope she knew she was loved...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Being Feminist...

I came across a rather interesting blog a couple of days ago. In fact, what attracted me in the first place was the URL rather than its content. It is called beingfeminist.blogspot.com. When I read the latest post, the content interested me too. I bookmarked it, making a mental note to go back in a few days. One of the blog authors, Christina, is an old friend from my days in WCC, Chennai. It was quite by accident that I discovered that I knew the author. Anyway, what really caught my attention was the blogpost titled, "NRI husbands, homemaking and domestic violence...." Hmm...what can I say? The authors are really passionate about what they say, and aren't scared to speak their mind. I must compliment Christina for having said things many other women wouldn't dare say.

That said, I also believe that the views expressed in the above post are not sacrosanct and can be criticised, countered and debated upon. I think Christina is perfectly right when she says that the concept of being a homemaker is so ingrained in the psyche of some women that they cannot imagine themselves as anything else. I personally know many such women. An aunt of mine is so dependent on her husband that she is incapable of stepping out of home and buying vegetables to cook. She is so terrified of getting lost, being harassed, being slandered or being kidnapped (among other things), that she prefers to stay in the safe haven of her own house. She thinks I am a rebel because I went abroad and lived alone for a year and a half. But, have we ever stopped to think why such women exist? What makes them so timid and diffident? Is it society? Family? Chauvinistic husbands who expect their wives to cook and clean for them? Yes, all these factors definitely contribute to the problem.

But, we must not forget that half the problem comes from the women themselves. I personally know many women who regarded a post-graduate degree as a passport to an NRI husband, and consequently, a better lifestyle. Other women who create that mindset are mothers, grandmothers, mothers-in-law and sisters-in-law. It would not be an exaggeration to say that women are other women's greatest enemies. Working with other women can be unbelievably complicated. The same holds true within the family. It would do us some good to reflect upon what we tell our girls in their growing-up years. Mothers and grandmothers advise the girls to learn to cook and clean, to groom herself well and get a degree, any degree, so that she can find a suitable boy. It is therefore not surprising that we bring up our men to expect complete submission from their wives. Ever heard a mother tell her daughters to study well so that she will be able to find a great job and a stable career? Somehow, marriage seems to be the be all and end all of a woman's life.

Ok...so what am I saying that is different from Christina's views? In her rants against a male-dominated society, Christina asks how men can be husbands to homemakers. She wonders how a woman can discover herself in dishwashing and mopping of floors. I simply think it is unfair to blame the men for the state of affairs. Ever wondered why a man must work? Ever wondered why it is shameful for a man to take up the performing arts or choose to be a homemaker? No. We don't. The problem is precisely that. As women, we are so caught up in the web of our feminist lives that we forget to stop and look at the other side. Nobody ever questions the necessity of a man's work. It is expected that a man earn his bread and feed his family. It is very easy for us to blame the men in our lives for everything that goes wrong with us. But, think about this. Are men not human beings in their own right? Do they not have the right to want to be homemakers? Can they not cook and clean and take care of kids? Why is it that feminism thinks that women are people but that men are necessarily evil and are out to ruin our lives?

Believe in equality by all means. I completely agree with Christina's views that marriage is not the only thing in life. I also agree when she says that women must not lose themselves in dishwashing and dirty diaper. But, I feel sorry for men when she launches her tirade against them for accepting a homemaker as wife. I think being a homemaker is a more difficult job than feminists would have us believe. Whether you are a man or a woman, try staying at home for a week. And yes, get rid of that maid servant, forget your morning newspaper. Cook, do the dishes, sweep and mop the floor, cook a delicious meal, wash clothes, put them out to dry, remember to get them back in the evening and fold them up, clean up the kitchen after dinner and do the remaining dishes before you go to bed. You will find that your brain is probably more active then, than after a long hard day as a software professional. Mothers don't do this work because they are forced to. My mother would probably feel insulted if someone offered to pay her for this. So would yours; whether she is Indian, American, European or African. Mothers do it because they care. Don't believe me? Ask your mum.

Finally, the question of domestic violence. I completely agree with Christina on that one. Men who beat up their wives, or subject them to emotional abuse deserve to be hanged. Everyone makes mistakes. I won't blame parents for getting their daughter married off. The ideal solution would be the universalisation of love marriages. But since that seems at least a couple of centuries away, I would settle for asking parents not to advise their daughters to "forgive and forget" or "adjust" to such bullshit. A man who beats up his wife deserves no sympathy. Nor do parents who condone such behaviour.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Politicising religion

They are at it again! Yes, you guessed it right. Our esteemed representatives in and out of Parliament are fighting again. Making a mountain out of a molehill and inciting communal tension. With the Left politicising the US-India Nuclear Deal, the Congress government already had enough on its plate. Now, the BJP and its cronies are politicising what should be a normal development activity. And yes, I am talking about the much-delayed Sethusamudram Project. The BJP is up in arms, yet again, against the affidavit filed before the Supreme Court by the Archaeological Survey of India on behalf of the government yesterday. In the affidavit, the ASI has said that there is no historical or archaeological evidence that the Ram Sethu Bridge (Adam's Bridge) was man-made, or more specifically, built by Lord Ram. The BJP, in its protests against the affidavit says that the ASI, and by consequence, the Central Government, has "hurt the sentiments of Hindus worldwide" by doubting the veracity of the Valmiki Ramayan and other Hindu scriptures.

Now, this is getting ridiculous. The ASI has said that the said Bridge is simply a natural formation of shoals and sand dunes that have assumed the form of a bridge over the millennia. Should the ASI be made to back-track and apologise for stating an archaeological fact simply because the BJP thinks it hurts the sentiments of pious Hindus across the globe? Apparently, the ASI's statement that there is no archaeological evidence for the existence of Lord Rama is blasphemous too. So what if there is no archaeological evidence? Are we going to believe any less in God because the ASI doubts its veracity. The Ram Sethu is a tricky situation. We leave the well-knows realms of history and travel into the hazy world of myths and legends. How can the ASI be blamed for wanting to stick to established fact? The ASI is called the archaeological survey for a reason, it relies on archaeological data and not on theology. How can the nation's best historians be expected to accept the word of a centuries-old story of Ram, handed down to us through oral tradition, until it was finally written down by Valmiki, without question or concrete evidence? Being a historian is tough. Say it and you are damned; and don't say it, and you are damned anyway.

As for the BJP and its entourage, less said the better. I was once a sympathiser of the party, but now, am ashamed to admit I ever was one. Ram is not a national idol as Advani makes it his business to claim. He is simply another God in the Hindu pantheon. He is, no doubt, venerated and worshipped by Hindus across the world, but that does not mean a project as important as Sethusamudram can be stalled for him. It is time we learnt to distinguish myth from reality.

That Ram built the Adam's bridge is myth. That he defeated Ravan who has ten heads, is myth too. Well, maybe he defeated Ravan. But the said Ravan certainly did not have ten heads. That millions of Hindus across the world venerate and worship him as God is faith. That the BJP and Co. is mixing up faith, myth, reality, history, legend, development economics and politics is just plain dirty.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What's wrong with the nuclear deal?

There has been considerable confusion about the now-infamous 123 Agreement, with the Left parties threatening to bring down the government if it goes ahead with the deal. For long, I wondered what was so wrong with the deal that it threatened the longevity of the government. Finally, I lost patience with all this politicking and decided to check out the agreement myself. The full text of the agreement is available on the site of The Hindu (link above). To me, it appears that the two governments have thought out every possible problem and addressed them all in the text of the agreement. Personally, I believe that a deepening strategic and political relationship with the United States can only be beneficial to India in the long run. The 123 Agreement only cements that growing relationship with what is arguably the world's most powerful state.

Having failed to detect anything objectionable in the agreement itself, I decided to check out the site of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is leading the protest. What does the Party say against the deal? A whole lot of things, some of them, factually incorrect. In an open letter to Members of Parliament, the Party states that, "Under the terms set out by the Hyde Act, it is clear that the Indo-US nuclear cooperation would not cover the entire nuclear fuel cycle. It denies cooperation or access in any form whatsoever to fuel enrichment, reprocessing and heavy water production technologies." However, the terms of the 123 are quite clear. In Article 2(2), there is a guarantee of "full civil nuclear cooperation". The Communists' fears of the US dictating terms in India's foreign policy are entirely unfounded. The principal objection of the Left is to the Hyde Act of 2006 that requires that US foreign policy be directed to securing India's cooperation to actions against Iran and in securing its participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative. However, a detailed examination of the said law reveals that the Hyde Act merely requires that the US Government "encourage" India to take the above steps and cannot, in any way, force India's hand in the matter. I fail to see how the US can pressurise India into taking a foreign policy stand inconsistent with its existing policies, or detrimental to its national security.

That said, I must observe that India's Left seems to be stuck in the Cold War-era of anti-Americanism. Blind opposition to the US is neither sensible nor desirable in today's situation. India will only stand to gain with an enriching and deepening strategic partnership with the US. Proponents of non alignment must realise that there is an increasing interdependence in today's world and that the world cannot work around India. The inverse is also true. In an increasingly unipolar world, it is impossible for India to continue avoiding any serious strategic partnership with the US. It is better for both the countries if we rid ourselves of the Cold War-era scepticism and approach the new dynamic with a positive attitude.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Journalism...or is it simply business?

A few days ago, we were told, by television news channels, that one Delhi schoolteacher was selling her students off for prostitution. We were all suitably shocked and outraged at the news. Teachers are supposed to be seconds parents. We were justifiably furious at this teacher whose actions went against all norms of humanity. Then, we were told that the entire expose conducted by Live India TV was fake and that the said school teacher was blackmailed by a Delhi businessman into posing for the "sting" video. Not just that, the schoolgirl who was reportedly propositioned by the teacher turned out to be an aspiring journalist keen to make it big in the business. She posed as a school girl for Prakash Singh, a friend who promised to help her establish herself as a journalist.

All this leaves me wondering what journalism means in today's world? Am I a fool to expect some ethics out of the Fourth Estate? The media is supposed to be the fourth pillar of democracy. Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned ethical journalism? In the TRP-driven world of broadcast journalism, anything is acceptable. The poor school teacher, Uma Khurana was charged with immoral trafficking by an over-zealous Delhi police inspector, the parents of the affected girls beat up Khurana in public. Even worse, nearly two-thirds of the girls attending the school have been forced to drop out by parents who fear their daughters' lives and honour. Is the media, like the judiciary, being deified and sanctified so that any criticism of media practices is seen as an insult to democracy? Is the media above the law? Why do we not hear news channels question the role of journalists and news channels in shaping public opinion? Enough is enough. The media is answerable to the law and to the public for its commissions and omissions, just like any of the other pillars of democracy. A responsible and ethical media is indispensable for the functioning of a good democracy.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Teachers' Day

Yesterday was Teachers' Day in India. For those of my readers who don't know, it is the birthday of India's former President Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan. The man was better known as a fantastic teacher that as a President. I remember looking forward to Teacher's Day every year when I was in school. To me, it meant a day off from studies. It meant students of Class 12 taking over the role of the teachers for one day in the year. It also meant a rare opportunity to socialise with my teachers the way we had never done during the rest of the year. We could see our teachers take a well-deserved break from teaching, participate in a game of Antakshari, dance to the sound of a popular Bollywood song and try their luck at quizzes. On the whole, it was a fun day, both for the students and for the teachers. I wonder if Chinmaya Vidyalaya retains that tradition today. The purpose behind such a celebration was not just to give the teachers a day off, but also to teach those poor students of Class 12 just how difficult a teacher's job can be. These celebrations were a way of giving them the responsibility of running the school for a day even if the gesture was simply symbolic. It helped in cultivating a sense of involvement in school life.

That is why I was rather surprised to learn that Teachers' Day was a holiday for the SBOA School near my house. Apparently, the school administration decided that the best way to give the teachers a break was to give them a holiday and force them to sweep and mop and cook special meals at home instead. Or maybe use the day to catch up on pending work at the bank or a government office. When I asked the kids why they had a holiday on Teachers' Day, they seemed genuinely surprised to learn that the day was supposed to be Teachers' Day. Then, with a look of dawning comprehension, one of them told me that it was a holiday for teachers to enjoy. That is the sad state in which many of our schools find themselves. To my neighbours' kids, the teacher is simply someone who is paid to repeat what is printed in the text book. There is a clear absence of personal rapport and respect for the teacher. In fact, the situation is so bad that I heard an irate parent tell her daughter that she would only end up as school teacher if she continued to do badly in studies. It is a sign of our decadent times that the last profession a parent would want her child to take up is teaching. Is it so bad to be a teacher? I am a teacher myself, or rather, was a teacher until August 2005. Some of the best experiences I have had as a human being are as a teacher.

I remember very little of my kindergarten days. That is normal given that I was barely four then. But, it is impossible for me to forget the wonderful "Sulochana Miss", without whom I would have refused to attend even my second day at school. She made my life school a joy. I looked forward to seeing her every morning. She made my innocent, four-year-old life worth living. I wonder where she is now. I wonder if she knows that I have come this far in life. And, I wonder how she will feel about it. Along the way, other teachers have made their impact. Mrs. Kanti Ramakrishnan at the age of 15, Mrs. Titty Phillips at 18, Mme Brigitte Maury at 21 and Mr. Eric Chevallier at 24: each of them has been a positive influence in what would have been an uneventful and mediocre life without them. Each of them has had a lasting influence on my career choices and made me what I am today. I have not had the opportunity to tell them this ever. I wish to say thanks to each of them through this post. Thank you for making me what I am today.

Monday, September 03, 2007

I am not an engineer...

I am not an engineer...and no, I am not a doctor either. Nor am I in the IT industry. In fact, I have nothing to do with computers, except when I blog, browse or check my mail. "Then what the hell do you do in life?", I hear many of you asking. This question has been hurled at me a million times over the last seven years, when I chose to do a BA in History after managing to secure 84% on my Class 12 CBSE Board Exam. I can almost hear my readers exclaiming, "History? Why? Did you not get admission anywhere else?" Don't worry. I won't take offence. I am used to that question by now. This is why I could relate to this article on Rediff. I was checking out my friend, Nita's blog, after a long time. And I found a link to this. I could relate to it so well that I could not resist posting on it.

To be truthful, even my parents had no idea I was going to do so well in life. I am pretty sure my mother let me do what I wanted to because she knew there was no point in forcing me to do engineering. I have never been a great fan of the hard sciences. Small wonder then, that just Class 12 was a nightmare I never want to relive again. In fact, my nemesis has always been mathematics. As the author of the article mentioned above recounts, many mothers have asked me what I intend to do with my life with my dislike for the subject. In fact, one of them even went to the extent of offering to coach me for free so that I could try and catch up with her daughter's marks in the subject. It was depressing. At one point, I was convinced that my dislike for mathematics would only ruin my life. Only my parents' reassurances and my own self-confidence stopped me from becoming a manic depressive. Today, when I read that article, it reminded me of Dad's words after a particularly nasty meeting with my teachers. The meeting took place a few days after the school's annual day celebration during which I had got a prize for attending school without a day's absence. My school decided that such regularity in attendance was commendable. I got off the dais feeling extremely happy about the event, when my Math teacher stopped me and said, "Enjoy this occasion while you can. It is not as if you are ever going to get prizes for anything else in your life." I came home and cried. Then followed the meeting where the said teacher told my mother that she should think of getting me married off at the age of 18 as I was not going to get admission into any college anyway. I came home shattered. I remember what Dad told me then. He said, "Every person has some talent that remains hidden. I would rather my daughter be an excellent lawyer than a mediocre engineer. Do what interests you most. And you will do well." I have not forgotten that lesson to this day. I have always done what interests me most.

To some, it may sound like sheer madness to do a Bachelor's degree in History, a Masters in French literature and a second one on International Affairs. But, I have not regretted any of those choices to this day. I love my work. I enjoy what I do. That is all that matters today. As the author of the Rediff article says, I am happy and can sleep peacefully at night. Money, fame and everything else will come with time. I will say just this to any parent who is reading this post. Let your children do what they like best. Don't force your children into becoming mediocre doctors and engineers just because your neighbour's son is doing so. Trust me, you won't regret the decision.