Tuesday, January 2, 2018

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Over the last week I was bombarded with a thesaurus of festive wishes - these include ‘Happy Holidays’, ‘Seasons Greetings’, ‘Merry X’mas’ and ‘Merry Christmas’. Along with these rainbow of felicitations are messages denouncing some of these greetings as not kosher given that they seem to ignore the religious aspect of the festival. You could say that this once again shines a spotlight on how divisive religions and their practice can be. It may also suggest that the interpretation, practice and celebration of religions must expand to embrace the evolving human mind.

This Battle-for-the-Correct-Christmas-Greeting had its most famous proponent in Donald Trump. During his 2016 election campaign he had promised to bring back the usage of ‘Merry Christmas’. On Trumps election, his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said  “You can say again, ‘Merry Christmas’ because Donald Trump is now the president”. Trump in a recent speech said ‘We are going to be celebrating Merry Christmas Again’, he also tweeted the following on the 30th of November ‘Today is a day that I’ve been looking very much forward to ALL YEAR LONG. It is one that you have heard me speak about many times before. Now, as President of the United States, it is my tremendous honor to finally wish America and the world, a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!’.

Given Trumps track record it was par for the course for this leader of the freeworld, who has made his billions through capitalism and with his fathers money, to play to the blinkered evangelist gallery with this Christmas thingamabob. Capitalism is what has made Christmas so secular. Adam Smiths invisible hand of Laissez Faire directs this evangelisation of Christmas. It could also be argued that because Christmas celebrations, like other similar religious occasions, are socio-religious it provides space for everyone to partake in its festivities.

Sure people have forgotten that alcohol was earlier used as a preservative and to keep warm and not to bring in Christmas cheer. And that the ‘Christmas Spirit’ is not the name of some potent seasonal alcohol but the joy and gratitude which when shared is magnified manifold, something milked by marketeers today. So it comes as no surprise that malls have Christmas Trees and Santas at this time of the year and big named hotels organise the so called ‘traditional mixing of Christmas Cake’. But that has not prevented people from finding ways to keep this candle lit by coming together in homes to get their hands dirty with cake mix or from reaching for their wallets or from decorating Christmas Trees and constructing the Nativity Scene irrespective of religion.

Many fear that the reason for the secularisation is the watering down of the religiosity of this festival. There may be some truth in this dilution, but even so the cart is being put in front of the horse. This fear is an ill-informed trend in Christianity if not in other religions too. It has also percolated to how we practise our politics. The truth is that people are drawn to the person and not what s/he stood for. It is simpler to worship a person and celebrate the birth, sacrifice, victory or their return than to live by the ideals preached and practised.

Does one need to be of a certain persuasion to aspire and work towards being a Maryada Purush?

The words of the greetings for this season should not distract us from the life of the first Che’ Guevara born over 2000 years ago. It should not blind us to the fact that we don’t know the date of Christs birth and this celebration is more about the principles he stood for and is an opportunity to put into practice those which are acceptable to us.

The Spirit of Christmas cannot be bottled or sold. There is no one way to share the joy of what this birth and life stood for. By debating the form of greeting an opportunity is lost to share a moment of joy or do an act of kindness. Isn’t finding occasions to give back, to show gratitude and thankfulness part of what makes life worth living ? And if it is so shouldn’t the Spirit of Christmas and other festivals be around 365 days of the year?  

Friday, October 27, 2017

Love is.....

They say love is a many splendoured thing, it is even said that love makes the world go round. But, I say love and its various participants who are called to play a part in it are nothing but the life and times of a piece of news on television.  

First of all lets breakdown the modern day news as seen on television to its key constituents. There is the news maker or event, then there is the journalist who reports on it and the journalist in the studio who is more of a moderator than an anchor for news shows, the experts whose knowledge, emotions and urge to speak are harnessed and moderated and finally the audience who watch the news.

The two lovebirds and their love are the main news event. However, the life cycle of this piece of news is such that the duo play many roles. In the beginning, like investigative journalists, they dig into the past of their lovers directly questioning the other or sussing out information from others on the sly as a means of understanding the other and also wishing to find new nuances to this person. Undeniably, these efforts are also to check for skeletons a positive fall out of which is the reinforcing and validating of the commitment made to the relationship. As experts, they share their life experiences/lessons to support and bolster the other and to find other streams of confluence. This sharing becomes an opportunity for each to enact the role of a moderator encouraging the other to explore and dissect what is shared while suggesting different angles from which things can be looked at. Interestingly, both are also the audience, avidly consuming what is shared.

With the freshness of the story comes the desire for social approval. The lovers individually report this moment with closest friends and family. These people provide expert opinion and dissect snippets of conversation and incidents that one half of the loving pair share with them. On account of their experience-lived or otherwise, they suggest the next steps that need to be taken to their friend without actually meeting the other half of the duo. These discussions and viewpoints add to the excitement in the stories and to the enthusiasm of the pair.

Soon, the story enters the next phase when these experts become the audience. The lovers go public and introduce themselves as a couple to the world. In other words - ‘ the word becomes flesh and blood and dwells amongst them’. The audience plays the role of a fact-checker corroborating the information about the other given to them by one part of the loving duo. The freshness of this news event is enhanced by the lovers PDAs, quick surreptitious snogs, each telling the others story and so on. All are surprised, including the couple, when they inadvertently complete each others sentences or share a thought simultaneously. This is taken as unassailable proof of the deep love that the lovebirds share.

This is the time when the experts turned audience inadvertently become closer by imbibing in the common delight of watching this pair. Consequently they begin discussing the love birds amongst themselves in private. They generate and consume news of the lovebirds away from the lovebirds. Rumours and gossip float around as all wonder about the credibility, worthiness of each individual of this pair and their viability together. When the grapevine brings such talk to the ears of the pair it is vehemently denied and doubts are cast on the source of such tattle even as motives are questioned.

The transformation includes a chosen few becoming moderators. Their role involves everything from being a sounding board to mediating a tiff between the lovers to stemming the flow of gossip.

In time the lovebirds find that there are no new angles to be found. The kind of response that their first holiday together or the first cake one baked for the other elicited is not matched for similar events. The freshness of the love, the thrill which the lovers felt and which was shared with the audience cum experts is long past. Even as this love gets relegated to ‘less important’, the lovers still generate news between themselves which is consumed by all. Such events are piecemeal, far and few between and does not sustain the main news which is now declining in novelty and news worthiness.

The audience disengages and disinterest sets in as the lovebirds have nothing more to offer.  The moderators and experts whittle down to a few with the lovebirds  having nothing more to delve into. Regular news of increments, examinations, office politics etc regain lost space in the lives of everyone. The lives of the new couple also get consumed with the everyday. Eventually, in the natural course of things the couple become the newest members of the audience waiting for the next piece of news to surprise, enthrall and engage them.

Friday, October 6, 2017

What does Swaach Bharat Undermine?

India is getting over the annual hangover of cleaning the country. Narendra Modi, in one broom sweep has created an eternal monument to himself. Whenever a broom is picked up in front of cameras thoughts go out to our dear Prime Minister. Many also point out that he has reduced Mahatma Gandhis philosophy to that of just ‘cleaning up’.

Mahatma Gandhi, by cleaning his own feaces indicated that we should be responsible for the dirt we generate. He was also putting the Indian community on notice for the horrifying treatment they had been meting out to sections of people for millenia, which continues to this day.

By working on the photo-ops that the Swaach Bharat campaign generates our leaders and their followers are doing very little to really clean up the mess. In modern parlance the Swaach Bharat campaign is all about End-of-Pipe solutions.

Cleaning up is what one does after things get dirty. So, the question remains why should we allow things to get dirty? Therefore shouldn’t the campaign be about not dirtying India? The answer to both is a socio-economic one.

The Social Aspect
‘This is not my job’ is what the caste system and Dharma is about. For centuries the caste system insured that there was somebody else to clean up after the rest. Dharma also stated that one should do ones duty according to ones caste. Thus there was one particular group of people who were supposed to do just that - clean up after others.

Not long ago I was speaking to a cleaner at a hospital who shared an incident with me. She said she had stopped a person from spitting on the wall and had asked him who would clean up. He answered that was her job.

But, this is nothing new, as Indians we constantly litter and spit. It has got so bad that walls have tiles portraying Hindu gods and symbols to prevent people from spitting there. It is not that there are no bins, people refuse to go close to the bin to dispose their waste. Like bad hoopsters they throw their waste from distance, hoping it enters the bin. So, one finds the area around bins covered with waste. People are unwilling to make the minimum effort to properly dispose the waste they generate.

Which brings us to another issue, the habit of keeping a home clean at the cost of their surroundings.  Amitabh Bachchan has been promoting the Mere 10 Guz initiative. As per this campaign people are asked to keep a few square feet around their house/office/shop clean. Where will all the waste and dust go? This campaign could inadvertently begin ‘border violations’ between neighbours.

The Economic Aspect

Tapping the bottom of the pyramid has not only increased the quantum of non-biodegradable waste but has introduced it to new places.  Capturing new markets, both in terms of consumers and geography, packaging has played a pivotal role leading to more waste.

Growing consumerism increases the quantum of waste generated - both biodegradable and non biodegradable. One does know that composting or bio-methanation are ways to deal with biodegradable waste, but what about non-biodegradable waste. What does one do with the 1 Re sachets and the kaleidoscope of packaging? The easiest answer is convert them them into fuel pellets. This is once again an End-of-Pipe solution which is not only polluting but also exonerates the companies who use and push such kind of packaging. Companies that manufacture and sell products need to be responsible for the packaging they use. What this means is that they should have a system to ensure that the packaging is returned to them. Thus, Coke and Pepsi would have an empty bottle collection system, a similar system would be necessary for white good manufacturers. As the size of products sold by FMCG companies varies they should pay a fee to municipalities for the waste they cause and for the proper collection and disposal of the packaging.

Currently these companies are not paying any social and environmental cost for the use of packaging. Indian citizens are paying a social, environmental and health cost because of such packaging.

Further, is it hypocritical to promote such a campaign even as the government simultaneously goes hammer and tongs in promoting dirty and polluting technologies like coal fired thermal power plants?

The Swaach Bharat campaign has led to clones. The Rally for the Rivers is an example. The Rally for the Rivers suggests growing trees on the river banks to save rivers. Like the Swaach Bharat campaign this one too is foisting an untenable End-of-Pipe solution. No mention is made about the rivers dying because of agricultural run-off and the dumping of raw sewage into rivers. The photographs of the aftermath of the Ganesh and Durga poojas shows another aspect of the threats faced by rivers.

The Swaach Bharat and other similar campaign undermines the nations ability to act responsibly and seek accountability from others. The solution it suggests is a facade  that prevents acknowledgment of a greater problem which is our ingrained mindset that permeates our social and economic behaviour.