November 30, 2006

Yet another mob, yet another rampage. Jai Bhim!

Nov 30, Maharashtra: Dalits protest against vandalisation of an Ambedkar statue in Kanpur. Mobs burn the Deccan Queen, stop trains, pelt stones, shut shops. It's a free for all. Come, join the mob, express your hatred for humanity, scream your lungs out, leave. Do it all in the name of "protecting a national icon" and consider yourself St. Baburao or St. Pandurao.

This is one of the few times that I'm not going to be frivolous. I hate - yes, I positively HATE - these protests. For the mindlessness, the pointlessness, the hypocrisy, the vested interests, the losses, the politics. We're protecting our national icons, eh? We can't bear a blemish on them? We hold every mark of them as sacred?

What exactly is a "vandalisation of statue" anyway? Mud thrown on it? Portions broken off? Deliberate damage by person/persons unknown? Fine, take the worst case - a group of people who HATE Ambedkar, came along and broke the statue (if possible). Let's say there were five of them. Now a sensible nation with sensible people would probably catch hold of them and punish them according to the law for defiling public property. But the bottomline here is, we aren't exactly a sensible nation.

What we do is go on a rampage. We break, burn, injure, kill, stone. Remember a similar incident in June/July when there was some dirt found on Mrs. Minatai Thackeray's statue? The Sena decided to avenge that by declaring a "Mumbai bandh," burning buses, breaking shops that stayed open and basically bringing the whole city to a standstill. The whole "protest" was widely identified as simply a Sena tactic to show its power and existence, but you can't ignore the damage done.

The utter mindlessness is something that fascinates me. Dirt on a statue as a reason to kill people (who, by the way, sir, had nothing to do with it)? Vandalisation of statue as a reason to stop and burn trains? Heck, even 'Rang De Basanti,' (which I didn't like) had a shadow of a reason for killing. (Illogical movie, by the way, as Sharman Joshi himself says hysterically at one point, "Haan haan! Sabko maar daalo na! Tish tish tish!") That's somewhat similar to the present-day scenario.

Rebels without a cause. Avengers with no reasons. Martyrs from whom sacrifices were never required. Why?

It's the mob mentality. If you watch anything carefully, you'll realise that it all boils down to this - the psychology of the mob. Not one man in the mob is capable of protesting alone, on his own footing. Not one. Each man in a mob is fully dependent on the others. Because, when you come right down to it, each one is a coward.

These are men who, in their daily lives, rue the state of the nation on a personal basis. Many issues in the nation affect them personally - and, may I add, they affect them much more than the vandalisation of an Ambedkar statue. Health, education, cleanliness, discrimination, human rights. But they do nothing except swear at the government in their houses. Why? Because they don't have the courage to fight something in the way it should be fought. They don't have the courage to walk up to their government office / Ward officer / MLA's office and lodge complaints or protest peacefully.

But on an issue like this, all the anger from their personal lives and their frustration comes boiling out. Hell, this isn't even an issue - but they make it one. Because this is an event where they can join and be joined by hundreds of other men. It becomes the perfect opportunity to vent frustration. Each man is surrounded by five others. Not one of them has to raise his voice individually. The "cause" is apparently a patriotic one. Great. So now they're like brave lions, roaring all over the city and causing terror.

If any single man was singled out from a mob, and asked to do exactly what the mob was doing (burning buses, trains, and shops) without being backed by the hundred-odd people behind him, would he? I don't think so. To be able to express your anger ALONE, and in the face of opposition, you need: a. courage, b. a cause that you really believe in, c. a willingness to even die for it. They have none.

And there's always the political scenario. The CM goes from place to place, trying to calm down crowds. The rest can just go from place to place, instigating them and offering votes. Nothing like riots between communities to get a stronghold over votebanks.

(In passing mention, I just saw this mystifying video on NDTV of MLAs in West Bengal having a free-for-all. The caption read "Mamata protesting against Tata plant in Singur." Now I don't know where Singur is, or why the plant is being set up, or what problem they have with it - but then again, I doubt if the protestors know either. Seeing them protest really brought me face to face with the fact that our politicians are nothing but... erm... a bunch of hoodlums. I can't paint a word-picture here, you have to see it to believe it - utter chaos, huge tables overturned and broken, Legislative Assembly furniture being broken, official papers all over the place, politicians shouting naras. One message to all the goondas, sorry, maananiya netajis out there - Dude, break your own ghar ka furniture! And tear up papers that have drafts of your own speeches! The money for Legislative Assembly furniture documents comes from my pocket, as does your own salary, housing, food, electricity, car, driver, transport allowance, dearness allowance, and pension.)

Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand, what is it with these people being national icons who have to be defended all the time? Would they have asked for mass protests against the desecration of their statues? Would they have asked for killings? Would they have asked for huge losses to the economy?

And come off it, is Ambedkar the property of only the Dalits? Is Minatai Thackerey to be protected only by the Sena? Why does the vandalisation of a statue by a handful of people (of indeterminate class/community/creed/colour/race) make this a community-against-community war? Were the vandalisers upper-castes (in the Ambedkar case) or Muslims (in the Minatai case)? Does anyone know? Does anyone care? All we care about is that our "representative" has been "injured" and society, as a whole, must pay. I REALLY fail to understand how the one-community-against-the-other facet comes into play. Ambedkar is a nationally respected figure. So why do Dalits feel that it is their duty, nay, their religion to be his sole defenders?

I could go on for ages. But it wouldn't matter. Because somewhere out there, the damage continues. We can only hope for it to stop if there are more people who understand the truth, and more importantly, who can do something about it. There can be a change only if every man in that mob which is burning trains, understands a simple fact - that if he can't protest alone, it's not worth protesting against.

November 02, 2006

What does Aishwarya Rai get on her birthday? An extended family.

India, Nov 1: Aishwarya Rai (Miss India, Miss World 1994) turned 33 on Wednesday. And the nation went into paroxysms of delight.

People in Allahabad ushered in a new year for Ms Rai by celebrating her birthday. Unfortunately Ms Rai could not be present, and they had to make do with her photograph. They lit candles and cut a cake, with the scintillating lady's photograph in front of them at all times. Citizens were also eager to give interviews to the omnipresent and faltoo press, which had no news that day to cover except Ms Rai's birthday.

Citizens of Allahabad insisted that they were celebrating Ms Rai's birthday not only because she was their favourite actress and they loved her stellar performances in memorable movies like 'Bride and Prejudice' and 'Mistress of Spices', but because she was now their "bahu". Children of age 8 told the press (direct quote), "Ab woh hamari chachi banne jaa rahi hai... hum bahut khush hain." And we thought that any self-respecting child of age 5 or above would rather drink milk five times a day than come on national television to call an actress his/her chachi.

While the mass-adoption of Abhishek Bachchan by Allahbad as their son is very touching, the Bachchan family, which on most occasions is prepared for such situations with diplomatic statements and press releases of "Aapke pyaar ke bina toh hum kuch bhi nahi" type (which is actually truer than they realise), on this occasion, had nothing to say - either because they were "not available for comment" or because the media finally realised the futility and utter idiocy of covering "news" of this kind.

IBN-7, which is associated with CNN and is run by Rajdeep Sardesai, ran a special feature on the occasion of Ms Rai's birthday, called "Aishwarya Rai ke Affairs" at 8.30 p.m. IST. That's India for you - a land of contradictions, where Allahbadis call someone their "bahu", the media runs the story of the citizens and follows it up with a story of the respected lady's affairs, and all the while the average person watches both with equal enjoyment, and can still believe in privacy, human rights, respect for individuals and Indian culture and tradition.

J. P. Dutta, meanwhile, in Mumbai, rejoiced at home over a glass of Scotch. By remaking 'Umrao Jaan,' he had realised too late, he had bitten off more than he could chew. But the secret of Bollywood directors' psychological survival is the fact that they believe that there is no movie so pathetic that it cannot at least recover what they sunk in it. And this time, thought J. P. to himself, is something that I've never had before. Star's birthday, rumours of impending marriages, promos that look like advertisements for Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri, and a budget big enough to feed an entire African country. God bless the age of free publicity and tabloidism.