Feb 062017
 

It is election season, as it usually is the case in India.

Which means, we the people, are subject to full on rhetoric, revisionism, silliness, and of course, empty promises. And, this isn’t one party or the other. It is the whole blooming tribe (or as they would say in Hindi netaon ki jaati) that is trying to up the ante on being silly enough to make the headlines, get spoken up, rouse outrage, and then ride out the outrage, till the next outrage.  After all, as we all know, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Don’t believe me, search for articles on the Trump campaign. The more outrageous his statements, the firmer his base became.

Normally, i avoid the temptation to rant about election speeches. One expects them to be outlandish. I don’t even publicly laugh at acronyms; not because i am scared, i am not, but because it just helps make stuff like this the new norm. I have spent 20 years of my life dealing with management consultants of various shapes and forms – and acronyms,  are the norm. We laugh at work, we laugh in public life. And we move on. But, i digress. This isn’t about acronyms. But, this. This is just too much

 


Election rhetoric is quite one thing, and reality is quite another.

180 million people. many of whom loathe us, and want to destroy us.  Most of whom will not lift a finger to  help. They may like us as individuals, but not as India.  Parts of us may speak similar sounding languages. Parts of us may have common history. But, most of us don’t.

And, suggestions of a referendum, even as election rhetoric, is wrong. Think of all the soldiers who have died. Those who have been beheaded. Think of all the breach of promises. Think of 26/11. Think of the Bombay Blasts. Think of all the terror attacks. And, support of terror groups. And, think, if for 70 years Pakistan could have maintained hostilities against India, without the tacit support of the people.

Not that they are clamouring to join us, not that we have got a red carpet ready.

But, thoughts like these need to be countered, when they come up. Before they become the new normal.

Yes, he has the right to say what he wants. But, as Home Minister, he is also answerable to us, the people.

Seriously, there needs to be a Private Member’s bill that prevents the executive from campaigning for the 5 years that they are running the Government. Go do your work. Let the party campaign. Govern the nation, that is your job. not campaigning.

 

 

Jan 232017
 

I Write for the DNA today

To understand the issues surrounding Jallikattu, it helps to look at a changing India and the fault lines that arise from it.

The first thing we need to understand is that Urban India is made up of immigrants. Immigrants from rural to urban areas and one region to the other, where primarily the reasons to move are both, economic and social. While we follow the customs that our ancestors did, they are more in the nature of rituals than in the spirit of these customs. For example, Holi in the city is fun and about colours and water; however, in the rural scenario, it is far more than just a festival of colours. It is also a very important harvest festival where people thank the land for the bounty and celebrate a better tomorrow.

In Tamil Nadu, Pongal is the harvest festival which, in the cities, is often reduced to the food we cook – Pongal, a type of khichdi. And while we may carry forward traditions like tying sugarcane outside our homes and decorating pots and pans with haldi and kumkum, it really is not the same as in the villages. There, it is about genuine and heartfelt worship of the tools of the trade, the animals who help with the crop, and the land that gives the bounty. Mattu Pongal, during the Pongal festivities, is done to honour all farm animals, of which Jallikattu is also a part. Most of the festivities are built around thanksgiving and community congregation. Every region in India has its own set of harvest festivals. Most of these cut across community, caste, gender, and economic status – which means, everyone involved in the rural economy participates enthusiastically as equals. Is religion a part of it? Yes, but not in the way most city people understand religion. Rural India is far more fluid in the matters of religion and far stricter in terms of caste. Urban India is the other way around. Harvest festivals are when most of the differences are set aside and you celebrate as one. For long, the concept of village art, music, culture, sports, and dance were looked down upon with the underlying message that villages had to adopt the ways of the more ‘cultured’ urban dwellers. Less than 20 years ago, the joke, in rather poor taste, would be ‘the only culture in villages was agriculture’. However, with increasing education, prosperity, political participation and rural transformation, Rural India and rural culture is making its voice heard. It is partly in this context that we need to understand Jallikattu.For most commentators and activists (city-based), the choice is binary – between animal rights and cultural practice. For the rural economy though, it is far more multi-layered – economy, culture, tradition, achievement, aspiration, self-image, and a sense of community are all tied to the festivities.

(image from here)

The second equally important thing to understand is the concept of the Tamil identity which subsumes all other identities that one may have. It cuts across your birth area, religion, caste and education to make everyone in the state a Tamil first. To feel the sense of Tamil identity does not need you to be born a Tamilian, so it’s less about birth and about the emotion. There are enough and more non-Tamil borns who consider themselves (and are considered to be) Tamilians. Rajnikanth, MGR, Jayalalitha, Khushbhoo – just to name a few.It also cuts across religious lines and caste lines. I cannot quite recall any other group where the sense of identity is so strong and so pervasive.The last time the Tamil identity came into play in a big way was during the anti-Hindi protests in the 1960s. The consideration of the imposition of Hindi as a national language was enough for the Tamilians to believe there was a threat to their identity and culture. The Central Government of the day, capitulated. Needless to say, Hindi is one of the official languages not the national language.

The third thing to understand is that regional parties in India are going through a flux. Most of the issues are to do with succession. Be it Shiv Sena in Maharashtra or Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu or the Nationalist Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra. The ruling party of Tamil Nadu, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) is no different. After the death of Jayalalithaa, the power seems to be split between Chief Minister Panneerselvam and Sasikala who was Amma’s companion and is now the General Secretary of AIADMK.The Jallikattu protests were vital in both, asserting the claims to protect the Dravidian identity (The D in both DMK and AIADMK stands for Dravidian) and the Tamil way of life. No political party in Tamil Nadu can stand against the assertion of the Tamil pride. And for parties like the DMK and AIADMK that are looking to revive their game and become relevant to a new Tamil Nadu, this was a Supreme Court-sent opportunity to bask in the reflected glory of the protest, while claiming them as their own and the victory as its result.

The final thing to understand is that there will be organisations – NGOs or even the State – that will challenge local customs because they are no longer in sync with the law. Be it child marriage or animal cruelty, polygamy or devdasi cult, many practices were culturally acceptable once but legally challenged later. This will continue and it will step on the toes of the ‘customs’ – and the local custom will fight back. It is all a part of being a thriving Democratic Republic. If everyone agreed on everything, it would be a terribly boring place to live in. And whatever else you may say about India, we are not boring.

The recent capitulation by the Central Government by pushing through a hastily drafted ordinance and its request to the apex court not to rule on the validity of this ordinance, is the culmination of these four seemingly non-connected aspects.

The protests to hold Jallikattu have been going on for a few years. This year’s demonstrations have been as much about Jallikattu as they have been about the other things. There has been an underlying sense of resentment in the state towards the way the ‘North’ has been treating them.The North is a combination of the Centre, the Supreme Court, the media, and anything else that is not from Tamil Nadu. Be it the Kaveri water dispute, the treatment of the refugees from Sri Lanka, or the reaction to the Chennai floods, or the Hindi used in government advertising — it has all been building up for a while. It has been seen as a gradual whittling away of federalism and the Tamil identity and culture. The last rebuff from the Supreme Court on Jallikattu was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Centre and the State reacted and peaceful protests by Tamilians across the state have led to an ordinance that overturns a Supreme Court ruling on the game.

The question is what happens the next time a community decides it is going to use state/ cultural/ regional/ tribal/ caste pride to protest a law which it believes is against their culture. And protests to carry on their way of life? The best Jallikattu analogy here would be that individual sub-cultures can be like raging bulls, the one who wins would steer the bull his way, not one who gets steered by the bull. Because if you get steered by a raging bull, it is going to gore you sooner or later. It is a lesson India learned after Rajiv Gandhi yielded on Shah Bano. One can only hope that we don’t have to learn the same lesson all over again.

Sep 152016
 

I wrote this for She the People, earlier this week

Many years ago, I read Margaret Atwood’s, dystopian novel, Handmaid’s Tale. Set around a plausible tomorrow, it looks at a world where fertility has plummeted, and there are a special category of women   who are kept especially for reproductive purposes. As I read the “Politics of the Womb” by Pinki Virani a frightening today began to emerge. Where there are women, whose only value to the world seems to be the eggs that she produces, the uterus that she has, and the womb that she rents.

A riot, in very slow motion, is being engineered on the woman inside her body; to take her apart, part by profitable part.

The slow rampage is in the name of God – for hers is the womb and she shall conceive.

In the name of science – for hers is the hostile uterus and medical evaluation must arbitrate. ……The world over, the combined might of religion and science has converged to martial many a uterus with a child. At any cost; to the woman, to her baby.

The opening lines of Pinki Virani’s long hard look at the surrogacy industry, hits you in the gut, and pulls you into a narrative structure that takes you into the universe of uterus pimp; the woman (who is the walking uterus; IVF clinics that charge, and charge, and charge;  the desperate, would be,  parents who want to have a biological child; and the mad rush for designer babies. Politics of the Womb – The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy and Modified Babies is both a behind the scenes look at the new industry that seems to have grown without regulation;  the ethics of such work; and a normative framework for regulation. It is also a manifesto of the rights of the unborn child. Someone has to speak for the child, and Ms Virani makes a very strong case for children born of IVF.

 

The books looks at how expensive  IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) treatment  is being pushed as the first option, on desperate parents, when there are a gamut of other options, that could spare the prospective parents both an expensive bill, as well as physical and mental trauma. There is between 72-80% failure rate per IVF cycle. Less than a third of people who start the IVF treatment, come away with a baby. The costs-  financial, physical and emotional – are seldom publicized or discussed. And, all this in the backdrop of an  industry that sells a myth of fertility, and downplays the medical risks both to the mother and those that may occur to the child. Virani  looks at the data surrounding IVF and birth defects, that leads to children being born autistic, and  with mental retardation. The risk of babies conceived through Ivf or Icsi (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) is 37% higher than babies conceived naturally. “Collateral damage” says a doctor, on the side effects, and birth defects.

Virani’s anger against the commoditization of the uterus, and its commercialization, is palpable. When she quotes doctors, involved in the baby making business,  she lets their callousness and utter disregard for the woman’s body, and the reproductive process , stay there unvarnished. “What is a uterus, it is like a room. Repaint, redecorate any number of times”’, Virani quotes a doctor saying.

Surrogacy is in the news of late, because of the bill being discussed in Parliament, as well as the Government’s banning of commercial surrogacy. In light of the high pitched conversations around this topic, it might be worthwhile to read the “Politics of the Womb” to look at the issue in a holistic manner.

412nppi0ycl

(Politics of the Womb; The Perils of IVF, Surrogacy & Modified Babies; by Pinki Virani; Viking; Rs 599; Pages 304)

Aug 242016
 

Speaking to The Indian Express, Maneka said, “Paternity leave can be considered only if, once the woman goes back to work after her 26 weeks of leave, we find that men are availing their sick leave for a month to take care of the child. Let me see how many men do that. I will be happy to give it but for a man, it will be just a holiday, he won’t do anything.”

I am appalled by the minster’s statement. There are men, and men, and men.

In an extended family set up, where there are other people who can help with the child, or with the mother – i can still imagine what she saying to be true (not really, but i am willing to give her the benefit of doubt). But, in nuclear families, and much of employed India is moving there, new fathers are increasingly playing a role in the nurturing of their new born, bonding with it, helping his wife – who is recovering from the delivery, and so on.

Many moons ago, my father did everything except ‘breast feed us’ (my mother’s words, not mine). I have seen my male friends and cousins do much the same – be doting fathers, cooing over their kids, fussing over their wives/partners, run around and do chores, open the door when the bell rings incessantly, and more. My driver, took time off when his kids were born, to help around the house. I have seen men across socio-economic groups do this. For a man to bond with his family, is important. Part of it is work. the other part is empathy, and sharing, caring. If the minister wants to build a more gender equal society, she needs to throw her weight behind paternity leave.

I think men will be better fathers, if they bond with the new born at a younger age. Better husbands, by looking after their spouses in the post recovery time. Be all round better people, if given the time off to be so. I would rather not have men lie about sick leave for this, but take something that is owed to them as right.

To write off all men as those who will treat “paternity leave” as holiday, is the same kind of gender stereotyping women have been fighting against. As a feminist, as someone who supports gender rights – i can’t but support the right the of the father to bond with his family.

Maybe, the Minister can use her good offices and get TV shows, and ad producers to create positive messages around a new father. And, how he dotes on his new born (and most do). Rather, than write off all fathers are lying layabouts.

fatherhood-youre-doing-it-right-15-guys-that-get-it

Jun 062016
 

Most mass media practitioners will tell you that classical music is elitist. that it is mean to be enjoyed in rarified atmospheres, with others in their social class. There is a general perception that mass audiences will not enjoy classical music. And, that, ‘mass’ is defined as lower socio economic classes.

54f3d7137fa52ef85622ab2adcead570Like most mass audience assumptions, this is untrue. As children, even as young adults, when we went for concerts – usually open air concerts in various grounds across Mumbai, what you would see is a sprinkling of people across classes – auto rickshawallahs to CEO’s and promoters – sitting next to each other, and just becoming part of the music.

Consistent litigation, and the banning of open air, all night concerts – i have been to one, at shivaji park,  where it began with a puriya (at 7 pm, and ended with an Aahir Bhairav at dawn), – and consistent middle class intolerance with other people enjoying themselves; as well as judicial intervention has led to the mass dissemination of classical, and mass participation, declining. Also, it has led to a decline in innovative solutions for noise pollution.  There are technical ways of limiting sound within a given perimeter. Ban is so bloody binary. solutions are so much more interesting.

But, i digress. One of the reasons why classical is considered elitist, is because we – mass media professionals – like stereotyping our audiences. If you are 16-18 you must be a cool chaser; if you are young, you must want edgy and rude; if you are a guy you must want to watch other guys talk about sex; if you are a girl, you must talk about men, kids and make up. Which tells you why there is such a rate of churn on shows, and why so many films flop. Formula work, till a point that they don’t work. And, in today’s market, most tried and tested formulae are failing.

Unfortunately, audiences are people And, people are complex. And, in a digital world, these assumptions are not just wrong, but to work with them, is suicidal stupidity 🙂

Just as a case in point, here is a video from America’s got talent. Hear the singer (from the second minute) and more importantly, watch the audience. And, note your own reactions to the song. And, tell me, you won’t mind sampling, watching or listening to stuff like this

Laura Bretan sings.

Btw – this is Pavarotti with Nessun Dorma –

i don’t understand a word of what he says, but the music my soul understands.