Feb 112016
 

This morning’s amusement was Amol Rajan, editor of the British Paper, Independent, stating that his paper was going to refer to Mumbai as Bombay, to prevent “Hindu Nationalists” from getting their way

“The whole point of Bombay is of an open, cosmopolitan port city, the gateway of India that’s open to the world. If you call it what Hindu nationalists want you to call it, you essentially do their work for them.”

Obviously, it caused a storm (also known as an outrage) in the twitter teacup.

The Independent, is owned by the Russian Oligarch Alexander Lebedev, and has been struggling for mindspace and audiences, since it launched in 1986.

Given that they are reacting to an even that took place over 2 decades ago – Bombay officially became Mumbai in 1995, and a few generations of Indians (at least 3 by my reckoning) have grown up knowing Bombay as Mumbai, one can’t but help wonder about the timing of this. I can understand, if they took this stand in 1995. But, 2016, is late reaction even by print standards.

But, given that one believes in the Freedom of Expression, and the right of people to behave in inexplicable ways, i have some suggestions for Mr.Rajan, in terms of nomenclature

  • Refer to the USA as The Colonies or The New World– that should be the simplest. The first lot of colonies to go independent. Post that there was the genocide on the native Americans, mass colonisation and violation of human rights and the rest. modern history (post world war) has 2 nuclear bombings, the devastation of south east Asia, the cock up in the middle east, the screw up in South America. And, these are just things that i can rattle off without too much research. there are a lot more, and the Brits should stand up for human rights and freedoms by reverting to the British name for America. Also it will cock a snook at Mr.Trump #justsaying
  • Caledonia – was the ancient name for Scotland. And, since we live in a post colonial world, it is time that we reverted to ancient names, and not allow the colonial apologists to win :) It will also, confuse the Scottish National Party.
  • Eire – well Northern Eire, sounds a lot nicer than Northern Ireland
  • Chai – well, chai is much nicer than Tea. Besides, Tea is a term associated with bonded labour, forced plantations, and environmental degeneration. Time to change that too.
  • Arabia – dudes, the ‘Middle East’ is to the west for most of the world’s population. Stop using geographically inaccurate terms, and those that  are intrinsically wrong. Revert to Arabia, or the Arabian peninsula.
  • Bedouins – before Saudi Arabia came to be, and it’s citizens were called Saudi Arabians, they were the Bedu’s – tribes that ruled the Arabian peninsula. They seemed a lot nicer than modern Saudi Arabia. Atleast they didn’t export Wahabism and Salafism, and set the world on fire. Can we please revert to that too.

I could go on and on, but you get the drift. Besides, in a start up mode, i cannot afford the time to be too snarky about the silliness of the world.

Sufficient to say, Mumbai is neither intolerant, nor is it non inclusive, and it is cosmopolitan – except not in a western, elitist definition of cosmopolitan. It just is a name for the city – an ancient name based on an ancient goddess who is the guardian of the place.

Before i sign off, a cynical theory. Why is a British newspaper taking a stand on Indian city names. The answer is quite simple. India is a major source of web traffic. The Guardian has 7.5% of it’s total web audience from India, and this does not include the Indian diaspora (so if you were wondering, why the Guardian carries so much content on India, you have your answer). And, the best way to attract audiences, is to cause a controversy in a twitter tea cup. Outrage drives pageviews (but, those don’t last).

 

guardian

(Guardian, source Alexa)

Similarly, the Independent has a sizable chunk of it’s audience coming in from India

independent(The Independent : Source Alexa)

If i were trying to increase traffic numbers, i hopefully will desist doing something this inane, and try and improve the quality of content :) And, to the team at independent, if you want to get a better insight into targeting Indian audiences, call me :)

 

Jan 262016
 

The Purna Swaraj Declaration, made on the 26th of January 1930, by the Indian National Congress, was a move away from asking for Dominion Status and asking for Complete Independence, as a Republic of equals (us) who will determine their own path and destiny. the full text of the declaration

“We believe that it is the inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom and to enjoy the fruits of their toil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth. We believe also that if any government deprives a people of these rights and oppresses them, the people have a further right to alter it or to abolish it. The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. We believe, therefore, that India must sever the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or Complete Independence.

“India has been ruined economically. The revenue derived from our people is out of all proportion to our income. Our average income is seven pice, less than two pence, per day, and of the heavy taxes we pay, twenty per cent are raised from the land revenue derived from the peasantry and three per cent from the salt tax, which falls most heavily on the poor.

“Village industries, such as hand-spinning, have been destroyed, leaving the peasantry idle for at least four months in the year, and dulling their intellect for want of handicrafts, and nothing has been substituted, as in other countries, for the crafts thus destroyed.

“Customs and currency have been so manipulated as to heap further burdens on the peasantry. The British manufactured goods constitute the bulk of our imports. Customs duties betray clear partiality for British manufactures, and revenue from them is used not to lessen the burden on the masses, but for sustaining a highly extravagant administration. Still more arbitrary has been the manipulation of the exchange ratio which has resulted in millions being drained away from the country.

“Politically, India’s status has never been so reduced, as under the British regime. No reforms have given real political power to the people. The tallest of us have to bend before foreign authority. The rights of free expression of opinion and free association have been denied to us, and many of our countrymen are compelled to live in exile abroad and they cannot return to their homes. All administrative talent is killed, and the masses have to be satisfied with petty village offices and clerkships. “Culturally, the system of education has torn us from our moorings, our training has made us hug the very chains that bind us.

“Spiritually, compulsory disarmament has made us unmanly, and the presence of an alien army of occupation, employed with deadly effect to crush in us the spirit of resistance, has made us think that we cannot look after ourselves or put up a defence against foreign aggression, or defend our homes and families from the attacks of thieves, robbers, and miscreants.

“We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster to our country. We recognize, however, that the most effective way of gaining our freedom is not through violence. We will prepare ourselves, by withdrawing, so far as we can, all voluntary association from the British Government, and will prepare for civil disobedience including non-payment of taxes. We are convinced that if we can but withdraw our voluntary help, stop payment of taxes without doing violence, even under provocation, the end of this inhuman rule is assured. We, therefore, hereby solemnly resolve to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing Purna Swaraj.

There were those in the liberal faction of the Indian National Congress who had an issue with the concept of civil disobedience. Dr.Ambedkar in particular. In the Nagpur session, a few months later,  on August 8th he made a speech at the Depressed Classes Congress:

he endorsed Dominion status, and criticized Gandhi’s Salt March and civil disobedience movement as inopportune; but he also criticized British colonial misgovernment, with its famines and immiseration. He argued that the “safety of the Depressed Classes” hinged on their “being independent of the Government and the Congress” both: “We must shape our course ourselves and by ourselves.” His conclusion emphasized self-help: “Political power cannot be a panacea for the ills of the Depressed Classes. Their salvation lies in their social elevation. They must cleanse their evil habits. They must improve their bad ways of living…. They must be educated…. There is a great necessity to disturb their pathetic contentment and to instil into them that divine discontent which is the spring of all elevation.”

Gandhi, however, was of the view that non violence and civil disobedience were the way forward.

“The Congress cannot stay its hands after having passed the independence resolution, “It was no bluff, no showy nothing. It was deliberate definite change in the Congress mentality. It is then as much up to the critics as to me, to devise ways and means of achieving independence.”

On those who had issues with the non violent part of the resolution, Gandhi had this to say

There is undoubtedly a party of violence in the country. It is as patriotic as the best among us. What is more, it has much sacrifice to its credit. In daring it is not to be surpassed by any of us. It is easy enough to fling unkind adjectives at its members, but it will not carry conviction with them. I am not referring to the frothy eloquence that passes muster for patriotism. I have in mind that secret, silent, persevering band of young men and women who want to see their country free at any cost. But whilst I admire and adore their patriotism, I have no faith in their method. I am convinced that their methods have cost the country much more than they know or care to admit. But they will listen to no argument, however reasonable it may be, unless they are convinced that there is a programme before the country which requires at least as much sacrifice as the tallest among them is prepared to make. They will not be allured by our speeches, resolutions or even conferences. Action alone has any appeal for them. This appeal can only form non-violent action which is no other than civil resistance. In my opinion, it and it alone can save the country from impending lawlessness and secret crime. That even civil resistance may fail and may also hasten the lawlessness is no doubt a possibility. But if it fails in its purpose, it will not be civil resistance that will have failed. It will fail, if it does, for want of faith and consequent incapacity in the civil resisters.

“We must cease to dread violence, if we will have the country to be free. Can we not see that we are tightly pressed in the coil of violence? The peace we seem to prize is a mere makeshift, and it is bought with the blood of the starving millions. If the critics could only realize the torture of their slow and lingering death brought about by forced starvation, they would risk anarchy and worse in order to end that agony. The agony will not end till the existing rule of spoliation has ended. It is a sin, with that knowledge, to sit supine, and for fear of imaginary anarchy or worse, to stop action that may prevent anarchy, and is bound, if successful, to end the heartless spoliation of a people who have deserved a better fate.”

On the New Year’s Eve 1930 (31st December 1929) Jawaharlal Nehru unfurled the tricolour at Lahore, and declared that 26th Jan 1930 would mark the beginning of Purna Swaraj.

It is a fascinating era in Indian history. India was lucky to be led by moral and intellectual giants – who debated vigrously with each other, at the same time as working for a common goal – a strong, independent India, where all of us are equal.

ashoka pillar

Jan 012016
 

Bond’s latest outing, seems tired, jaded and repetitive. It has jumps in (film) logic, leaps of sheer nonsense, and an overwhelming desire to create a Grand Unified Theory of people who hate Bond, and would try and destroy the universe to try and get to him.

Spectre-2015-James-Bond-Images-HD-Wallpaper-amkrn-Free

I quite liked Casino Royale. A fantastic relaunch of the Bond Franchise. I thought that the Quantum of Solace should have been 3 scenes that preceded Skyfall, which was totally awesome. I am not quite what Spectre was all about.

We have all heard of daddy and mommy complexes. If Skyfall had Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) in competition with James Bond for Mommy’s (M played by Judi Dench’s) affections, Spectre introduces us to the arch Bond Villain – Blofeld (Christoph Walken) who was in competition with James Bond for the father’s affection (thankfully the father in question is Blofeld’s biological father, not the new M (Ralph Fiennes ).

All the conflict and violence that we have seen in the Bond Franchise since the relaunch of the franchise, is caused by daddy issues. The soapificaiton of Bond, so as to speak.

The film could still work, despite this kind of convoluted back stories and desire for an inter-connected universe and story line, if they had focused on the script on this. That is just all over the place. More than that, you get the campiness of the old Roger Moore Bond films, without any of it’s cheesiness. When James Bond (Roger Moore) stole a plane or a car – there was an underlying sense of humour to it. And, we as the audience, were in on the joke. Here, the same events are constructed with the utmost seriousness.

Daniel Craig is efficient as 007. Monica Belucci, about whom so much was written about in the context of her being cast as a ‘Bond girl’ is – how does one put this nicely – a one night stand. Blofeld is so calm, that he appears to be sleepwalking through his role. And, Léa Seydoux who plays the Bond ‘romantic’ interest, is like one of those women in the old westerns – in need of constant rescuing.  And M needs to grow a spine. Ralph Fiennes seems to have none of the toughness that would be required to handle a unit of double 00’s, he doesn’t even look capable enough to handle Miss Moneypenny, the way he is currently scripted and played.

Is the film worth watching – definitely. There are breath taking moments there. The opening sequence, for example. The fight sequence on the train. The end sequence. But, the problem is with a script that sags between the sequences. Maybe Skyfall spolit Bond for me. Maybe, i expect that kind of excellence each time.

Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig (a co-producer of the film) and the remaining creative talent, will need to put their minds together if they want to see the franchise survive. This, may have worked 30 years ago – but, you need slightly more sophisticated story telling today.

 

(IN 2016, i plan to watch atleast 100 films. Last year i managed 4. This is the first to kick of the year).

Dec 202015
 

…very interesting article in CNN about an American  computer scientist, Zeeshan ul-hassan Usmani, who is trawling the web to figure what makes an ISIS fighter.

based on multiple data points, from various countries, he has coined a term – The Jillenial, the Jehadi who is a millennial.

Who are they and what are their key attributes? :

 

  • In their 20s (GWU found the average age is 26)
  • Predominately male (GWU found 86% are male)
  • Usually middle or upper class (Usmani estimates 73% of recruits and likely radicals are middle class or wealthier).
  • More likely to be 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants (Usmani finding. It is likely because they don’t feel “at home” in either culture).
  • They don’t like selfies (In Europe, over half of Facebook users post selfies, but only 1% of potential recruits do, Usmani found).
  • Far more likely to use Android (nearly 70% have Android devices, according to Brookings)
  • More active on Twitter than average Twitter user (Brookings found 62% of ISIS supporters had tweeted within the past month versus just 13% of all Twitter users).
  • Want to go abroad. (GWU found that about half attempt to travel abroad if they live in West).

If you take away their dogmatic, psychotic streak to murder those not like them, that profile list above, could be any millennial. Especially the intense news consuming, opinionated millennial, who has a massive chip on his shoulder about real or perceived slights by society at large.

About a 100 years ago, Emile Durkheim wrote his masterpiece “Suicide” – that looked at why people from certain communities or pockets (of Europe) had a greater propensity to commit suicide. And, he defines suicide as

Suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result.

And one of the key drivers of suicide is the sense of anomie – in layman’s terms the sense of not belonging. Having no social ties or concerns to ground you to the path of the straight and narrow. In modern terms, the sense of anomie and sociopaths behavior tend to go hand in hand. This is not just a killer. It is suicide preceded by mass murder. The person who is murdering, is clear that he will die

I am sure the same terms can be applied to young white men, who buy guns and shoot up schools and kill kids. But, for now, i find the term Jillenial fascinating. And, the question that policy makers, educationists, development specialists and  media practitioners, would need to work on is how do help build a world where this alienation that leads to people  turning mass murderers. How do you nip it at the bud. Post facto, you can do nothing. what can you do to prevent this from ever happening.

Damu Nagar - branches

 

Dec 132015
 

i went to Damu Nagar yesterday. One of my team mates wanted me to document this. I haven’t done this (documentation) since i took on my corporate role, and at a very basic level, i needed that reality check of being back to see ground level realities.

There are things that we know as broad level approximations – the price of privilege, i am guessing – and there is ground level reality. usually there is a wide chasm between the two.  Controlled interactions reveal less than organic ones.

As someone whose grounding is in the documentary form, factual narratives which are not in my voice, but the voice of the people i am shooting, i have learnt to go silent, use the camera as a barrier between the world and me, and i have learnt to observe. Talking is less important, questioning for expected answers is an exercise in futility , and therefore what is left is to observe. i have spent a day or two just rolling the camera in different places, absolutely sure that i will get unusable footage, because people tell you what you want to hear. The trick is to observe unseen. To shoot unseen. For, the camera rarely lies.You need to go beyond the obvious to pick that up.

Damu-Nagar---despairWhat you will see, whenever you to the site of a disaster is the seeming cheer. People trying to use an emotional defense mechanism to cope. It is when you see their eyes, you know the truth – and that truth is despair mixed with despondency. All those lofty things we discuss in the comfort of our air conditioned, and air purified drawing rooms, and offices have little or no bearing on the reality in these situations. Theoretical constructs are easy. Practical intervention is more long term.

And, the starting point is leaving behind all your preconceived notions, or even what your eyes see and your ears hear. Often, both are a product of your optimism. I have been doing this for a fairly long time, and one of the things i have learned not to do is self project my ‘ideal’ solutions – often brought about by complete lack of knowledge on the subject, on the situation. I used to do enough of this, and more — an eager beaver ready to solve all the problems of the world. And, then i realized how little i know. Sometimes the older me has a flashback of a younger me, and cringes in embarrassment. I have changed. I have no solutions. All i do, now, is document. The problem is vast. The solution is manifold and multilayered. And I accept, i don’t know the answers. Forget the answers, i don’t even know the questions.

As in most cases, the response of political parties and cultural organisations is more organised and more immediate than that of the administration. Some tarpaulins have arrived. Meals are regular. medicines have reached. Whatever is within the power of these players, is being done. But, long term rehabilitation is not under their control – it is between the municipality, the forest department and the state government. The Rs.3800 cheque offered as compensation is met with laughter. “hamare paas bank account bhi nahin hai, is cheque ka kya karoon‘ is a constant refrain.

Damu Nagar -the remains of the fire

the remains of the settlement, fire swept through the slums in Bhim Nagar, Damu Nagar. A gas cylinder exploded. then many more did. People ran through narrow, rocky, uneven pathways to higher ground. The fire consumed everything in it’s path.

We have lost everything, says one woman. it is echoed many times over. Women huddle together with each other, trying to form a self support mechanism. I see drunk men. And, i use the term with no value judgement. This is their way of coping. one clasps my hand with both his – ‘do something he says’ … i can see the barely controlled tears in his eyes. he then proceeds to tell Deepak Lokhande his story. Sometimes, you just need someone to listen to you. i feel helpless, as i usually do in cases like this.

Lost everything, even the basic confidence to pull through to the next day.

Damu Nagar – women waiting it out. Hoping tomorrow will be a better day. 

Different communities live in different part of the slum. I come across a woman. Are you Tamil, i ask. Telugu, she says. We talk for a bit – the story is the same. came from the villages with nothing. made something in mumbai. And lost everything in the fire. There is no way of estimating the loss. If someone told you 50k of savings, in cash, was burnt, would you believe it?

Damu-Nagar---everything-is-gone-bw

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it pathos i hear? is it desperation ? is it disbelief? the starting point is that no one knows how they are going to build back their lives. Do i have the answer to it – i wish i did. I don’t even know where to begin. Is this the government’s fault for allowing a settlement to come up in no man’s land? is it the resident’s fault for daring to dream, escape to mumbai and build 100 square foot homes in no man’s land? is it a tragedy waiting to happen and is it the price of development. All i know is one thing, and the only thing i have ever known – poverty and it’s impact are truly secular.

There is more i will write. we are trying to do something. i am not sure if that something is right or correct. But, i  am not sure any of us can sit back and afford to wring our hands in helplessness. As, one of the residents put up this paper on a burnt out tree ‘what do you want’ .. i want a permanent home.

Damu Nagar - Aamhala Ghar Pahije