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.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Who is the next face after Prime Minister Modi?

 India’s current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP),  rose from the ranks of  the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The RSS is a Hindu-Nationalist Rightwing organisation which spawned the BJP. However, even though the BJP draws its ideology from the RSS,  Modis  tenure as the Gujarat Chief Minister and his subsequent 2014 national election campaign gave the illusion of him being his own man. In his campaign there was no blatant mention of a Hindu agenda or the construction of a Ram Mandir which his party has worked for earlier. Modi spoke of his 56 inch chest, alluding to him being the Alpha Male. The promise was to build an India that Indians could be proud of, an India that would hark back to the ‘glory days’ of yore.

Modi led his party to a resounding victory in the 2014 national elections even though the opposition made much of the Gujarat riots during his tenure as Chief Minister. As India’s 14th Prime Minister, he hopped across the globe basking in the adulation of the Indian diaspora as his image managers built a profile of global appeal; a form of ‘Halo Effect’ on a much larger scale. During the election he portrayed himself as the THE Indian; with his foreign jaunts he gave a new face to India. The image of Modi playing the Taiko drums in Japan, bear hugging leaders of foreign lands sent a message of arrival to all at home. The RSS had been trying to create an image of a macho Hindu to deal with what they believe was its emasculation over the last hundreds of centuries caused by non-Hindus ruling this land. This need to regain their perceived lost manhood could explain their quasi martial rites and the use of violence or its threat by organisations spawned by it. Modi with his exploits brought a long absent sense of bravado and machismo, revitalising and infusing a sense of purpose into the lives of many people who felt wronged by history.  

The new found post-Modi-victory-virility has percolated to the the tone and depiction of Hindu memes and religious motifs. One of the iconic images of the monkey king Hanumanji, the much loved devotee of the Hindu god Shri Ram, has been of him tearing open his chest to show the image of Shri Ram and his consort Sitaji. However, Hanuman has gotten a makeover, he has been converted into a monkey king with a dark  sinister and hostile look that promises violence . The genteel beatific look that shone through in the countenance of Shri Ram and Laxmanji in their individual pictures or as they stood together has changed. Today they are ripped and look hard and determined, their long hair ruffled but contained.  

The creation of these images and their oozing through society goes hand in hand with the RSS and their cohorts constant desire to undo and rectify the past, to remove the black mark on, what they believe, is an otherwise unblemished history. One outcome is  patriotism morphing into rabid saffron hued nationalism. Is an environment similar to that before the ‘Kristallnacht’ being inadvertently created? 

Which brings us to the choice of  a nationalist Hindu priest - Yogi Adityanath -  as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of  Parliamentary seats (80) out of which the BJP won 71 and is also the state where the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janma Bhoomi (birthplace of Lord Ram)is located. The RSS and Hindu nationalists want to build a temple on that spot. Building a temple there has religio-nationalistic overtones. Its construction will, in one swipe, sanctify the birthplace of Shri Ram,  begin to undo the destruction, and the resulting psychological scars’, caused by the Muslim invaders  and simultaneously cock-a-snook at fellow citizens who are Muslims.
When Adityanath was chosen as the new Chief Minister, media houses tripped over themselves to show that he was not rabidly anti-Muslim. They wrote and broadcast stories of how Muslims work as his staff without fear. Strangely these stories never came out when this very same man spewed venom on Muslims over the last many years. 

With a Hindu priest as Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh, the RSS has an opportunity to make real part of their fantasy. The success of their venture in this state has the potential of  galvanising other BJP led states into further action.  Modi was the image for the aspirational Indian who was given reasons to begin shedding the burden of self-anointed victimhood foisted by history. In this new enterprise, Yogi Adityanath will become the face of the Indian who finally realise their India’s aspirations. Will Yogi Adityanath then become the First Priest and Prime Minister of India as a Hindu state?