Sunday, October 26, 2008

Where is our Obama?

Through Krishna, the protagonist, Maharshi Veda Vyasa has this brilliant saying in the BhagavadGita :

"यदा यदा ही धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भावती भारता। अभ्युथ्थानाम अधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम। परित्रनाय साधुनाम विनाशायाचा दुष्कृताम धर्मं सम्स्थापानार्थाया संभवामि युगे युगे।"

"Whenever righteousness is on the decline, O Bharata, and Adharma is on the rise, then I will incarnate, to protect the innocent, punish the evil doers and establish dharma, I will incarnate in every yuga"

If you look at the BhagavadGita as the allegory it was meant to be, what the poet is saying is that societies produce great men and women at times of distress, great men and women who fight lawlessness, injustice, and ignorance, and attempt to establish an order of righteousness. Think about it - the darkest period in Indian history, that of occupation by the British produced some of our greatest heroes. Interestingly too, each one perished as soon as his ordained job on the planet was done. The Mahatma was killed after India got independence. Sardar Patel died soon after integrating the princely states. And you could say that Nehru passed away only after laying a firm foundation of democracy and secularism in India (although I myself may not agree with that). My favourite columnist, Rajeev Srinivasan once wrote about precisely the same issue, although with a slightly religious bent here.

No, I have not become a religious person overnight. I still don't think that a God re-incarnated, or that the Mahatma and Sardar Patel were destined to do what they did (I used those words in rhetorical flourish). I do believe though that societies that survive for long, produce from within themselves, heroes on a regular basis - heroes who challenge the status quo, who inspire millions to fight against the injustice of the day, and who change the history of the society irrevocably.

Every lasting society has seen such people. Heroes like Washington, Adams, and Jefferson guided the country through its creation. Lincoln, JFK, and Lyndon Johnson came in to bring equality. And today, Barack Obama has become the harbinger of promised change after eight years of 'Bush-raj'.
At a time when the very existence of India is under theat, when those principles that put Indian citizenship above considerations of language, religion, caste and region are under severe stress, where, I ask, is our Obama? Where is the Sardar who can fight the 'Raj' of the Thackeray clan? Where is the Nehru, or the Shastri who'll inspire the people to put the nation before themselves? Or the JP who will put the law above petty considerations of religious vote banks?

Little men, huge and fragile egos, a sound-bite ridden media and an uninterested educated class. The perfect recipe to kill the Indian experiment with democracy.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Indian man and the wall.

Have you noticed how most Indian men are attracted to walls? To them (I deliberately won't use the word 'us', because a decent minority is an exception to what I'm going to say), a clean wall is what a canvas is to an artist, what a sheet of empty paper is to a poet, and what a pole is to a dog. In fact, these worthies like walls so much that they even named a person after that.

Ofcourse, not all of them have the same sentiment towards the wall. A clean wall brings out the artist in some, who by wavy motions of their hips etch out their self-image on the wall. For some others, it brings out the literateur, and encourages them to sign off on the wall, and for most, a clean wall brings out the animal, forcing them to mark out their territory with the zeal and enthusiasm of their four-legged ancestors.

And there are the mechanisms of 'delivery'. Some prefer to stand at their full height, as though they are covering themselves in glory. Some others squat, hiding their faces in shame, as they imprint their pathetic selves on the wall. Still some others focus intently on the 'job' at hand, ignoring everything happening around them.

You know what I'm talking about - rivulets of shame that adorn all public walls in the country. If someone unaware in the way of the Indian man were to look at our walls, he/she would have to be forgiven for thinking that it was some form of post-modern depiction of mountainous scenery.

Try stopping these worthies from carrying out their business, and you'll face a flood of abuse that is only rivalled by the trickle they are letting go on the wall. You are first asked if you own the wall, or if your father inherited it, and if you reply in the positive, you are accused, among other things, of being a wall-owning elitist, who can't even stand to share it with those whose need for it obviously exceeds yours.

Ingenious methods have been devised by wall owners to prevent their walls from falling victim to a passing 'painter's fancy. Messages like "ಇಲ್ಲಿ ಹೇಸಿಗೆ ಮಾಡಬಾರದು" are regularly ignored both by the literate and the illiterate. I remember many years ago, the BMP introducing sign boards like this one in the city, and one man went about doing his job squatting under the sign. Apparently, he thought that it was only wrong to stand while 'doing his job', but squatting was perfectly acceptable.

The only sign that has worked though, is to embed into the walls, pictures of gods. Now, with India being what it is, a secular democracy, people have even gone to the extent of including gods of all faiths - I once came upon a wall that had Ganesha, Jesus, Guru Gobind Singh, and the cresent moon and star sign on the same side. Apparently, this had worked, as the wall was spotlessly clean!

Just ranting on a holiday. Happy Dasara folks!