The Thin Ice of American Dream

Dear America,

I guess you’ve realized by now that the rest of the world cares far more about you than you do about it. Yes it’s unrequited love on most part, except for the cases where it actually has seemed like getting reciprocated, only to find out in due course, that love isn’t same as being used. Our dear neighbor, for instance, knows how that feels. Being used, being owned. But then I digress.

You must be wondering, in those few moments when your narcissism is dampened by some internal crisis — everyone is supposed to have those, right? — what have you done to deserve this interest? On a remote chance that you actually have wondered, let me spell it out for you. Again, I not being you, I could actually be wrong. But let’s use the trick that one uses while watching movies: suspended disbelief.

It’s strange. I give you that. From the vantage point of any neutral observer from distant lands, the choice you have today is curious: xenophobia, racism, sexism, authoritarianism, pathological dishonesty, every-kind-of-bigotry, combined with the exact same virtues of capitalism — incompetent fool inheriting wealth and using every trick in the book to serve self-interest — on one end; and systemic corruption, political establishment at it’s ugly best,  a will to get power-at-any-cost, on the other end. Yes, I give you, that the choice is not pretty.

And consider us, sitting outside. A part of us should ideally be saying: “God knows, they deserve Trump. Why should only the rest of the world suffer? Let ’em Americans suffer a bit too. Or a LOT”. But seriously, you know what, we still wish you well. I know you’re baffled about that, so let me, as I promised I would, help you with that.

For the greater world out there – especially the non-European world, which you guys fondly call third world, and which you guys sometimes bomb into the stone-age, in an effort to make lesser humans there understand the value of western democracy, which is on trial today (or tomorrow, for I still haven’t adjusted my mind clock to account for your DST); America is land of dreams. I know, I know, it’s not your fault, that we choose to believe in a myth that you beamed into our bedrooms, via your terrifically talented media, that sold us this post-racism, post-sexism, post-feminism, post-religion, post-xenophobia, land of equal and abundant opportunity, where everyone has a chance to move up, and reach the top. You even had a serial about a white guy with a white girl adopting two really cute black kids, and another one about a quaint little town of Rome, Wisconsin,  where an ethical and upright white police chief, a Jewish defense attorney, a black public prosecutor, a white judge, all lived happily ever after, dealing with issues of prejudice, and ethics, and morality, and religion with adult, almost saintly, composure. You had your legal dramas, where the underdog won, more often than not.

You had your first amendment holding up a mirror to the third world, which could not even dream of that. You had your non-hierarchical, talent always prevails, kind of corporate setup with written ethics, and all. You had your diversity programs, and anti-hate-speech laws, and what not. You made us believe, that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to create just societies by creating right legislature, and by making sure it’s enforced correctly, by sticking to democracy at all cost, because, in the end, it will help in the triumph of the right (not the political, or religious, just the right), and the just.

And for this, we looked away when your foreign policy made sure that much of this dream is denied to parts of the world where your “strategic defense interests”, or oil, or ideological interests, mandated you to start and sustain wars, which your non-privileged foot-soldiers fought, while the privileged dunked drafts and became Presidents, and trumpeted glories of American penchant for freedom in the larger, third-world. When your unholy alliances supported or replaced with another/worse dictators, provided weapons for most wars fought anywhere on the earth, killed unarmed civilians and tagged them “collateral damage”, supported dangerous religious extremists/terrorists, supplying them with  weapons and intelligence, all for balance of power in your civilized world, then killed some of them and made America safe again. We looked away, because, in this seriously screwed up world, we needed to believe in a myth, to survive, and to become better.

If you should go skating
On the thin ice of modern life
Dragging behind you the silent reproach
Of a million tear stained eyes
Don’t be surprised, when a crack in the ice
Appears under your feet
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
With your fear flowing out behind you
As you claw the thin ice

The Thin Ice, The Wall* by Pink Floyd

Today, you’re an inch away from taking away even that myth. So you see, why we care?

We care, because we don’t want the thin-ice to be broken, and for us all to fall into an abyss from where there is no return. We care, because we want to believe, that a better, more equitable, more just, more humane, less suspicious, more embracing, world is possible, if we all, to borrow Rushdie’s words, concentrated a little. But then again, don’t let our expectations of you hold you back from the path of self-destruction. Maybe we need to see that abyss under the thin ice, and to find new beacons, more worthy of that title. Maybe you showing the world your real heart is what the world needs — for its been blind to it so far, despite all you have shown us. Maybe you need a president that truly symbolizes you. Maybe you really need Trump.

With Love,

from the-third-world


[*]: Not that Wall

Shourie’s Catch 22

BJP High Command: Mr. Shourie, we’re deeply hurt by your remarks about the party president.

Shourie: So, are you going to expel me?

BHC: Err. No. You’ll have to clarify the remarks.

Shourie: But I wrote 7 full newspaper pages of explanation.

BHC: Oh that’s not clear. You need to ‘clarify’.

Shourie: I already did.

BHC: That’s not acceptable

Shourie: So are you going to expel me?

BHC: Are you saying that you refuse to clarify?

Shourie: No. I am saying I already clarified.

BHC: Then we can’t expell you.

Shourie: So what am I supposed to do?

BHC: Clarify the remarks, till they are clear.

Shourie: And then I can be expelled?

BHC: No you cannot be expelled then, for you’d have clarified.

Shourie:And what happens if my clarification is not clear? Can you expell me then?

BHC: No. If your clarification is not clear, we do not know if you actually said anything that needs desciplinary action.

Shourie: And what if I refuse to further clarify? Then you will expel me?

BHC: No. You can only be expelled for your remarks, which won’t be clear till you clarify.

Shourie: So there is a catch?

BHC: Yes. Catch 22. It’s the best that is there.

Let the marathi manoos choose!

How does that sound, Mr. Junior Thackeray?

But wait, the marathi manoos already has chosen! What else explains him going to a rajsthani/marwari shop to buy his groceries, or choosing a bhaiyaa for his laundry work, or work for an institution that’s started by non Maharashtrians?

I live in a locality that’s predominantly marathi speaking, in a city that was never known for being cosmopolitan. In fact, not long ago, the central area of Pune, the so called peths (no I don’t live there, thank God!), were so dominated by Marathi people (and a particular sub-caste of a particular caste), that it was the heaven the “Maharashtra for Marathi people” could never have bargained for. Err, it was, wasn’t it? I mean, sure. If you wanted to buy a frigging ball-pen at 1PM, you’d have to walk miles. Where at 8:30AM a hotel owner might have told you, the tea is over, and if you were five minutes late, the lunch mess would proudly tell you that there is no more food.

Anyways, today morning I climbed down to buy some stuff, at 8AM, and every single shop that was open belonged to a non-Marathi owner – a bhaiyaa here, a rajasthani there, except for a dry-cleaners shop. There used to be one small shop that sold bakery products and stationary, that belonged to a ghati. It’s been sold off to a marwari now. It used to open at 9:30 on good days.

So, if Marathi people (who’re still a majority in area where I live – a very strong majority) want to buy from Marathi shops only, surely those Marathi shops wouldn’t have closed down. Surely they’d have had more business. Surely Marathi people would have said: hey, I don’t mind waiting till 10 to buy a bread from apna guy, rather than buying from this marwari/bhaiyya who’s taking over our Maharashtra.

No! Marathi manoos has chosen, and chosen wisely. That’s why Shiv Sena, Raj’s original party, has stopped making noises about such things (err, well almost — I mean sure Uddhav has to make noises to show his followers that Raj is not the only one who cares about Marathi people, but that’s about it). They know there are no votes there anymore.

I hope this madness subsides soon. Mumbai was never made by Maharashtrians (alone by any stretch). In fact the single greatest contribution to building of Mumbai by my fellow ghaatis has been their openness to people outside, their almost nonchalant tolerance. Financial hubs cannot be created where divisive politics rules. And financial/business hubs cannot surely be sustained in such environments. In a single stroke Raj is undoing the real marathi contribution to Mumbai. One election, and he’ll learn his lesson. Sadly, before that, everyone has to pay for his education.

The Power of Hate

In Karachi, Pakistan, twin bomb blasts rocked Benezir Butto’s convoy, killing 165 and living more than 200 injured. Yes civilians, like you and me, on the other side of the border. The death toll is sure to mount. I read the news on rediff, stunned, and with the reflex of checking the comments, that I’ve developed as a blogger, I checked the comments. I don’t know what to say.

“Hindus copulate in order to Populate !!!“, urges someone going by the name Ganapati Hegde.

But this one takes the cake:

HEY ANYBODY KNOWS WHERE CAN WE CHECK LATEST SCORE ? I MEAN NUMBERS 4 HOW MANY DEAD?

There is “tit for tat”, “you reap what you seed”, and so on. Going by these comments, there is almost a euphoria, on this side of the border. There is also a call for killing of more kafir’s in revenge from someone, allegedly, from the other side of border.

I think, the good old days, of grieving for innocent victims are gone, unless those victims belong to our race, to our religion, to our country, to our family. Maybe, the hate has finally won the long drawn battle. It’s hard to feel hopeful.

I guess that makes me a pinko, a paki sympathizer, a bleeding heart liberal, a pseudo-secularist, a traitor to hinduism, to india even (surely you cannot sympathize with those dirty pakistanis, for god’s sake!). So be it. I’m still sad.

Murmurs from the Congress Camp

Congress had convened an emergency meeting to discuss the fallouts (sic) of the 2004 elections trends and results. There was a complete confusion. First ten minutes were spent with everyone pinching themselves, just to confirm that it’s not a dream. The sequence was broken when someone accidentally pinched Rahul Gandhi, who screamed out loud, “Mommmmyyyyyy”… Mommy was busy pinching herself, as she wasn’t at all convinced even after multiple pinches that she wasn’t dreaming. Prinyanka, ever alert to the situation rushed to Rahul and scolded him for his childish conduct. “What would your Grandma think, down in the hell.. i mean up there in the heaven?… You could be the next PM, Rahul, if the other parties don’t like Mommy’s foreign origins! Gather yourself!”…

“You mean Prime Minister? Me?. Mommmmmmmyyyy”…

Finally Soniaji was convinced she’s awake. “Kaun hai woh jo mere bete ko rula raha hai?”, she screamed out word-by-word, only to find Priyanka next to her son. “Priyanka.. why do u trouble him?”

“But I was only telling him that he could be the next PM, mom..”

“Muze Mom mat kaho.. ab se hum sab hindi me hi baat karenge.. maa kaho.. ab main hindustaan ki maa hun..”

“Mom, we still don’t have the majority.. and your origin issue..”

“Shut up.. Mera matlab hai, chup raho.. main kuch nahi sunana chaahati.”, turning to Rahul.. “Rahul, beta why are you so tense”..

“She says I could be the next PM!”

“So you should be happy”

“But mom you only said that I don’t need to worry about being a PM till 2009! Now I don’t even know what a PM does! They don’t teach that in business school”

“But that’s okay.. Even I don’t know it.. Even your dear father — who lost his life in selfless service to this country, just like his mother (may peace be upon her) — didn’t know it either. You’ll learn”

“I want to be the PM”, screams Sharad Pawar, and then realizes that he is not fit.. asks for a glass of water and sits in the corner.

“What if they oppose Soniaji?”, asks someone..

“Who would oppose her”?, thunders Priyanka.. Anyway, we’ll have Left support, and Left doesn’t believe in trivial issues such as nationalism”..(in a low voice) “aur rahi baat pawarji ki, unko raksha-mantripad de denge phir-se”..

“Nahi… Main Soniaji ko PM nahi banane dunga”, pawar having taken his rest break, manages to speak out.

“Then we’ll have to go in for Mulayam”, Priyanka adds, “he wouldn’t mind even Imran Khan being our PM. And as it is you just have nine seats..”

“Well, I’ve changed my mind!”, Pawar chips in.. “Afterall, Italy and India both start with an I, and have five characters each.”

“It’s settled then, let’s go to that Kalam fellow”, Sonia says.

“Mom, we still haven’t talked to the left”, reminds Priyanka..

“oh.. yes.. silly me.. I just can’t wait to be the PM.. the meeting is adjourned”

“Sonia ji ki jai.. ” (chorus)

Time for some Pizza…

Post Script

After posting my last blog (What Do People Vote For?), I looked at NDTV site, and there was this poll (under the heading “Straight Talk”, ironically):

BJP falters: What went wrong ?

  • Incumbency factor
  • Cong ‘promises’
  • Can’t say

Just proves my point about simplistic media spins. How about Bad Alliances, Overconfidence, Misjudging the extent of caste-politics. You get the drift. It’s the very choices that they’ve given irritates me. Of course there is a “can’t say”, but the simplistic choices reveal the media mentality to say the least, as if it’s either BJP’s performance or Cong’s promises. Utterly hopeless…

What Do People Vote For?

Bachi Karkaria’s article (Rise of Citizen Cane, TOI – May 12) is a classic illustration of the mainstream media’s utter failure to catch the voter’s nerve. Not surprisingly, no one could predict the Congrees and allies surpassing BJP — if the early trends as of now are to be believed. Media is caught up in the variations of roti-kapada-makan paradigms to explain the voting trends, but are they reflective of the Indian political scene?

Mum-bais or Chennites, Dilliwale or Chandigarhwallis, they all had only one question of the candidate who came calling: ‘‘What will you do about sewers, streetlights and the security of our young women and old parents?” You’d think it was a municipal election.

Are they, really? Okay, so Dixit factor turned Delhi around, but what about Govinda taking Ram Naik to the wire? What about TDP’s complete rout in TN? What about BJP taking a beating in Gujarat? Can all this be explained by :

It’s a disturbing blow to our metropolitan arrogance: bijali-sadak-paani is as compelling a metaphor of urban discontent as it is of rural anger.

Of course, not! Indian political scene is a kichadi of caste, religion and region. Bijali/sadak/paani is actually the main casualty, to the extent that voter has now accepted that no political party is every going to make that their priority — and that’s why they vote along different lines of caste and creed.

Why is BJP suffering badly even after a decent (if not great) performance on economic and indeed infrastructure front? Of course, Bachi accepts that region/neighborhood is a main factor. But why is media hell-bent on fixing the data into its ideological curves? Roti-kapada-makan, paani-bijali-sadak. If it’s that simple, why are all political parties missing the message. Every time Rajdeep Sardesai shrieks, that people want good governance — pointing to anti-incumbency, why are the BSP and SPs the king-makers? What is their record of governance? What is Congress’ record of governance — the party cannot even boast of a national level leader?

These results are indeed retrograde. They have proved that “communal politics” is what pays — BJP’s Assembly triumph in Gujarat, BSP’s rise in the UP (caste-based politics is a form of “communal politics”), Laloo’s Yadavi politics winning in Bihar, whereas moderate and development centric politics (NDA’s National level performance, to a large extent) doesn’t pay. Hardliners in the BJP will gain strength because of these results, again. And that’s unfortunate, because if ever BJP deserved a mandate, it was this time. The rise of BJP as a moderate national party will suffer a setback with this election, and it won’t be surprising if the Mandir and other agendas become louder again. And that would be a pity.

The performance of Congress in these election is nothing but shrewd tie-ups. They have no agenda, no leader, no program’s.. Still they seem to be set for a claim to the power. The message is clear. Indian political wisdom is more of an art. Each region has it’s idiosyncratic voting patterns, that are subject to change on random factors. That any theories of roti-kapada-makan and it’s variations are simply too naive to explain Indian politics. I just hope that Indian media learns it this time around.

Exit Polls and the Media

NDTV’s panel debate, the Big Fight, was chewing on the issue of exit polls. For once, the BJP and Congress panelists were on the same side: ban ’em polls. That’s the beauty of Indian politics. Politicians do agree on issues — okay, so what if those are the ones that involve their own fate?

Let’s take, one by one, the arguments against exist polls that we’ve heard recently

Polls Influence the Voters
It’s argued that the exit polls of previous rounds may discourage the voters from voting at all, or influence them (herd mentality). Any conclusive evidence for this claim? No. Assuming that there is, what’s the problem? In this country where voters are influenced by cast, religion, regional issues, money, violence, film-stars, cricketer, sympathy waves, family legacy and what not, what’s wrong with exit polls influencing the voters?

Polls are Inaccurate/Unreliable
Of course, I won’t dispute that. The point is, compared to what? Every news paper, magazine keeps on talking about possible outcomes of the election. Such reporting is: extremely prone to biases and pressures, uses much more unsound methods, etc. So do we stop the news-papers? And in any case, isn’t that what the media keeps telling you all the while — that they are unreliable. Why deny voter a closer to reality estimate about the current standings, while giving them all sorts of (more unreliable) info like trends, speculations, etc?

Don’t work in Indian conditions
This is a claim made by Abhishek Singhvi, the congress spokesman. My point is, okay, so what? Let’s assume that exit polls were perfect. Would then it be okay to declare the poll results in the interim? Exit polls are just another barometer of moods, say. They will get better over the time, once the specific Indian realities that cause them to fail are accounted for in some way. It may or may not happen. But still, voters have the right to that information, however inaccurate it is. Why? Because, anyways voters rely on various other inaccurate information to make his “reasoned choice” (or emotional choice). For example, say there is party A, B and C. A voter would have voted for C, ideologically but s/he sees that if s/he does that B will benefit, and as it is C has no way of coming to power (this is the trend/assumption s/he is relying on). So s/he votes for A instead. Now that’s the voter’s choice! And if exit-polls assist that choice, they are good for the voter.

Power to Media
In fact, that seems to be the biggest cause of concern for the political parties, that the information channel is not really controllable. With normal reporting, one can afford to be diagonally wrong, but the credibility of the media is not under threat. With polls, there are specific claims made, and the credibility is very much an issue. That is why it is unlikely that media will manipulate the polls, they’re themselves to lose. There are ten other guys publishing the polls…

However, a more important point is, how many people watch the polls? And who are these people? There is a curious paradox here.. The very people who watch the polls — the educated middle and upper-middle class, are the most apathetic of the voters! So pray tell me, how is this class going to change the outcome of an election? And if it’s not, then what is all this brouhaha about?

The Indian blind-spot – Marxist Fundamentalism

Last week I was in Mumbai. While traveling in a local train, I noticed this strange (to say the least) pamphlet — or rather a leaflet, the kind you see posted on a local train — which said, in essence — “Shun the elections, Join the revolution”. The undersigned were: Communist Party of India (Marxist – Leninist).

Of course, they’re not the only party advocating people to shun the elections — they’re in a good company, the great Hurriyat Conference! But that’s a digression. This is a basic rejection of the Indian constitution. Not that it is surprising coming from communists — they have had a history of negating the very idea of India, of strong affinity to external legacy, etc. But the matter of fact rejection of elections — and mind you these aren’t elections that are run on a gun-point, or rigged by the party in power, or anything like that — is eerie.

Ironically, these very people take moral highroad in any political debate — when they’re against the founding principals of Indian constitution. Of course, it’s their utter frustration because of a prolonged and multi-point failure which gives rise to such excesses.

  • dismal record in governance, economy, human rights
  • lack of penetration in most states of the India
  • the global failure of Marxism/communism on all counts
  • loosening of the grip on the intellectual scenario, which is going to get worse, with the ubiquity of Internet

It’s hard to keep on taking blows on after another, and keep one’s sanity, as an individual or as an organization or as a pseudo-political party. But I suspect these slogans are essentially what Marxist/Communist rhetoric is all about, right from the start. It’s just that Indians, cannot seriously believe that someone in their sane mind can say a thing like that. (Hurriyat, of course, was never taken seriously anyways ;-)).

Problem isn’t with CPI-ML. The problem is with India, where some party which does not believe in the fundamental device of democracy is allowed to contest elections! It’s the ultimate Indian fallacy — of being so inclusive that even the exclusivists are warmly embraced. If anything needs to be shunned, it’s the exclusivists.