The Mob is Ready, and Blind

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In mid-1998, I made my first solo train trip to Kerala in South India from Delhi. I was in a reserved sleeper class, the train had pulled up in Pune, and it was late evening. I’d just finished my dinner and was preparing my bed on the upper berth when we heard a loud trumpet of bum bum bole, followed by the clatter of footsteps of people boarding the train. It was a mob of Shiv Sena, a far-right regional political party, who, in their saffron attires, and with some carrying trishuls, emboldened one another to grab not only the empty seats but also the ones that were occupied.

A mob can infuse dread in anyone: their terror is synonymous with terrorism, only that their ideology isn’t firmer or clearer yet to push them into taking their own lives, as happens in terrorist killings; plus, the fear of the law softens some of their fury. I was lucky that no sainik wanted a share of my seat, but not everyone was as fortunate. The passengers who happened to be in the toilet then, lost a good percentage of their seat space when they returned; and those who protested, received some choicest local Marathi abuse. Shiv Sena was running the state of Maharashtra in an alliance with BJP, which is the ruling party of the Indian government now.

It was a mob of RSS – a right-wing Hindu nationalist organization – and VHP, its outfit, that demolished Babri Masjid five years earlier in Uttar Pradesh, and it was the same mob that was active during Gujarat riots three years later. These fiendish events, etched into our collective memories, had resulted in deaths then and in the aftermath, when sorrow and revulsion were the feelings shared by both communities. A mob pattern was emerging which – with the tacit approval of the states, BJP-ruled in the above two cases – attempted to assert that India is a Hindu nation (almost 80% are Hindus) and the minorities, especially Muslims (14% follow Islam), should know this.

It’s been almost 18 months since the BJP came to power. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been travelling the world, talking of investments, and talking Mann ki Baat on radio. He was given a grand welcome by several Heads of States, NRIs, and the media overseas, until a journalist in London asked him about the climate of intolerance in India. His response was confident that India is a land of Buddha and Gandhi and that her culture wouldn’t accept anything that is against the basic social values. Two months prior, a Muslim man was wrongly suspected of having beef in his fridge. A mob barged into his house and lynched him to death. This was amidst the frenzy of beef ban the BJP-ruled states were imposing, the monitoring and implementation of which was leased to the religious zealots who became the mob on the ground.

Cow-reverence being a practice in Hinduism, has a political history to it. In the book “The Hindus: An Alternative History,” the author writes: “The first agitation over cow slaughter in the Raj took place in the Sikh state of the Punjab where cow slaughter had been a capital offense right up to the moment when the British took over…In 1888, a British court in Allahabad ruled that a cow was not a sacred object, that Muslims who slaughtered cows could not be held to have insulted the religion of the Hindus, and that police were to protect Muslims who wanted to slaughter cows…At the Bakr-Id festival of 1893, riots broke out involving the entire Hindu population of villages, and thousands of people attacked Muslims…Cows continued to provide a lightning rod for communal violence from then until the present day.”

Modi’s condemnation of the lynching wasn’t specific, as he appeared to restrain himself. Agreed, this happened in Uttar Pradesh where SP, a regional party, was ruling, but a local BJP senior justified the mob’s action. Besides, the Prime Minister hasn’t reprimanded the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Sangeet Som, the party hardliners. His limited reaction to their polarizing statements has been vague; and his party unleashed fingers at other parties’ hardliners, including a Muslim political party that threatened to unleash bloodbath against Hindus.

The truth is, if the PM – who has the people’s mandate – doesn’t nip the Hindu fringe in the bud, the impression he leaves is that he’s in agreement with them and that this is part of a conspiracy theory.

Since India’s independence from the British, the Congress party has ruled the country for six decades. The 42nd amendment of the Constitution of India, enacted in 1976, asserted India’s secular identity. The state has to enforce religious laws instead of parliamentary laws, and respect pluralism; whereas in the West, the concept of Secularism envisions a separation of religion and state. Congress has long shown a contrived secularism mindset, which their opposition contests can best be construed as minority appeasement. Six decades is a long period for generation after generation of Indians to have faith, though shaky at times, in the secular fabric of the country.

There were communal riots under Congress’ rule and though, the party has had no alliances with religious fundamentalist groups, it failed to prevent the riots or maintain peace. What perhaps worked for them was that if a communal fire was lit somewhere, the top leader of the party, more often than not, would address the nation condemning the riots, appearing to do the right thing. In retrospect, this looked more like the appeasement of both sides for political survival than an effort to bridge the religious divide.

In my growing up years, I have heard not only Hindi-Chini bhai bhai, but also Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai. Congress’ minority appeasement politics, the BJP has long said, took the majority for granted. The vengeful BJP is now reversing the trend: appease the majority and take the minority for granted. The danger of doing this, which the BJP ignores, is that majority of Hindus don’t want to take their religion seriously: at least not serious enough to consider other religions inferior. The recent BJP debacle in Bihar elections was an eye-opener for the party.

Now: if the seed of conspiracy has been sown at all by RSS/BJP, it’s not working — because as I said above, Congress’ rule has prepared a comfortable secular mattress to sleep on for the majority of us, and our genetic code is peace-personified to begin with. However, if the theory blooms, it’ll take decades for the majority of Hindus to have an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder about Hinduism, and the OCD once diagnosed may only be to countervail Muslims’ obsession with Islam. How secular or communal we will then be, only time can tell.

Intolerance has been the darling word of the media for some time now, often used against the Hindus in matters of religion to favor the Muslims. However, if a Muslim family refuses to stand up while the rest of the crowd does when the national anthem is being played in a theater in Mumbai, it calls attention to their strange conduct. The government guidelines say that one must stand up when the national anthem is played or sung; the crowd that stood up in the theater might also have Muslims among them. The crowd’s jingoistic bullying of the family to ensure they leave the theater, wasn’t perhaps as harsh as the family’s intolerance to the anthem. Media may want to coin the use of intolerance both ways to bring balance and depth to debates.

Recently, Aamir Khan, a famous Indian actor, expressed his views that there was intolerance in India and that his wife was scared to live in the country. There was an immediate backlash and people reviled him. Several reactions flooded the internet including that he became a superstar because majority of Hindus had paid money to watch his films, and that he’d played a “Hindu” good guy killing a “Muslim” bad guy in a movie.

Let’s look at this in the right perspective: Aamir Khan was born a Muslim. He’s free to follow his religion and verbalize his thoughts. He became the fall guy, however, going from the one who beat up the Muslim bad man to the beaten one himself. Was the problem with Aamir Khan or with people who’d adored his films? Had they expected Aamir to extend his reel characters on to his real life? Was there an implicit agreement between the ticket paying majority and him that they’d watch his movies only if he never spoke his mind? His speaking his mind doesn’t make him a Pakistani. And the loud cry now to boycott his future films? Well, the majority will still flock to the theaters to watch him; the fringe minority will continue to burn his effigies outside.

We are in a democracy, not theocracy.

The Prime Minister was on the cover of Time with paragraphs chronicling how he’s the dynamic leader of a vibrant democracy. I have personally experienced a transformation here as people look at Indians with a lot more respect. Though India’s economic growth was talked about in the West under Manmohan Singh’s government, Modi is touring the talk, and his broader objective is development indeed. His vision appears to be that of an India where each citizen is strong and self-reliant; also, where Hindutva’s representation of cultural nationalism is understood not as an attempt to get a Hindu nationhood, but rather to attract all of the communities under one mainstream fold. But, could the development agenda mask for now, or eradicate for ever, the communal agenda? As things stand now, he only knows his Mann ki Baat.

When the train departed Pune that night, I wasn’t looking forward to a sound sleep, as loud lullabies of bum bum bole reverberated through the compartment. A Shiv Sainik who seemed comfortable under a white sheet, grinned at me from the opposite upper berth. When I asked him if he really was a Shiv-bhakth, his response was abrupt: “You pay me Rs. 50 and I’ll become Krishna-bhakth, Ram-bhakth or any bhakth.’ He smirked, then continued, “We make more money as sainiks than as laborers, you see, and we don’t have to carry weights.”

Sugar’s the Target

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Target, the retail chain, announced that it’d remove signage that has long communicated separate aisles for boys and girls. Boys’ aisle had toys and action figures whereas girls’ had dolls and costumes, mostly.

Reactions came pouring in after the announcement and were divided among the shoppers. A lot of them complained that the removal of signage was nothing but stupidity, that boys and girls would always be boys and girls. I too felt the signage was necessary, as it carried forward a long-held tradition, also saving shoppers their time. But, when a lot of shoppers welcomed the announcement and I understood why they supported it, I scrapped my deep-seated rationale and appreciated Target’s move wholeheartedly.

The belief that boys can’t wear pink or girls can’t play with action figures is a fundamental mistake. If a boy wants to play with a barbie doll, or a girl wants to imitate a superman figure, let them. Let’s not decide what they should have or which aisle they must avoid. When we make these decisions we apparently are limiting their evolving worldview. What let-them-be will do is that when they grow up, they may be far more schooled about gender diversity and complexity.

If a girl loves action figures, her inclination to take up a sport or join the military in the future may be natural. Similarly, a boy’s fascination for dolls may, in later years, put him at ease when caring for a baby as a father. Being natural is always effective.

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Sugared drink manufacturers will go to any length to make sure consumers sip Coke, Pepsi and other drinks. They were covertly funding some scientists to come up with findings that a good exercise could offset a bad diet.

There hasn’t undoubtedly been a single evidence to prove that if we exercise every day, we can eat anything. When food enters our system, it causes metabolic and hormonal changes, and exercise can only do so much. Science says that the more sugar we consume, the more pressure we put on the insulin to process it. Insulin will gradually lose its power and make way for diabetes and other diseases.

Isn’t this shocking enough that a can of sugared drink has 15-18 teaspoons of sugar?

I see people drink their coffee or tea without sugar, leading by example of how much they value their health, only to drink a can of sugared soda.

Acceptance, Publication.

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It’s unthinkable that I’ve been away from blogging for almost four months. Four months! It’s a long time and yet doesn’t seem long, as though a truck whooshed past in slow mo.

I sent a couple of stories out during those months. An online journal accepted one and it thrilled me.  They publish a new piece, once a week, every Monday. I waited to see my fiction appear on their website so I could write a post here linking it to the piece. I waited.

Eight weeks passed and Mondays continued to be menacing. I considered writing to the Editor to check on the date of publication, but decided against it. I thought my email query might be perceived as impolite. However, when the story didn’t appear last Monday, I wrote to them and got a response within an hour that my piece would be published on May 23, 2016. What?

I rubbed my eyes, scratched my head, and comforted myself thinking the month of May this year was still away. No. We are already in August, and the year mentioned in the response was 2016. Huh.

There was a note in the Editor’s reply that though my story would certainly appear on their website, it might also be in print if chosen for their yearly anthology.

I wanted to send them a mail to seek clarification on the bewildering year-long gap between the dates of acceptance and publication. But I stopped, and surfed their website thoroughly. The contributors, whose posts have appeared, are published writers with some having been published in ten other journals. This journal with categories like Fiction, Non Fiction, Academic, Poetry, and Multimedia, chooses one story from among these categories per week. The last short story under Fiction was published six weeks ago.

Math: 4 pieces per month multiplied by 12 is 48. Since their reading periods – when one can send the stories – are three months in the beginning and three months in the middle of a calendar year, they perhaps accepted about 45 stories for publication before they accepted mine. They claim that they receive hundreds of submissions every year.

Which means May 23, 2016 is rewarding, nevertheless. A truck whooshing past in slow mo is comforting.

 

Glass guts gravity

My legs shivered and feet appeared to slip. I feared the glass would break.

But the note written on the wall to my left in big, bold letters “The glass floor can withstand the weight of 14 large hippos” redbulled my legs. Tragedy however happens – was the thought in my head – that a dozen-plus hippos might not be heavy after all. My palms were moist.

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It was sunny that morning, but Toronto trembled in the treacherous December chill outside. The observation deck of CN Tower, with this straight down view, could terrify even those without acrophobia, at least for a few seconds, as they stood afloat 1,122 ft above the ground.

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I was still standing, braving the baby steps. But some children laughed, as they jumped and ran on the glass ground. I stepped to a side and squatted, and placed my hand on the glass. The sweat on my palm disappeared, leaving cold trails on the glass.

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Don’t you worry, you are safe: 256 square feet of solid glass, which is five times stronger than the standard required weight, should be the factual thought in your head.

Virtues

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She’s quiet, but there’s a flow
of unvoiced thoughts, her glow
has warmth of color, they blend in,
like the bows after the rain.

She smells pure
like the dews of the morning grass
her presence, her lure
seen a gerber in a vase?

She smacks his forehead
might hurt — glad it’s a sign
that she trusts his word
as they toast Mumm Cordon.

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But: like a gazelle, she’s ahead,
in a jungle, as the lion pursues
she finds a cave, is almost dead,
she sees that he sees her virtues.

In a world where happiness is rare,
where pretense is the new care
she loves as he lays bare
his truths, nothing more to share.

Refreshing is the breath of the spring,
when awash in the warmth of the sun,
their shadows are proportional, they grin,
their creating memories, moments of fun.

Now she isn’t quiet
her words sound right
she sees that he sees her,
gives him permission, her.

The Bond of Brothers

For the Day 5 of my B/W Photo Challenge, here’s the proof that I’m not only a proud father but also a proud uncle.

My brother and I are two kids in the family. The elder in the pictures is his son and the younger, mine. Both were born – 5 years and 7 seas apart – on the same day (Indian Standard Time), April 20/21.  Why they are “the Bond of Brothers.”

20131103_144459 Casual

IMG_5001 Shush

20131103_144840  Observation

IMG_4382  Embrace

IMG_5024Camaraderie

 

The Empire State Building

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Clouds may gather, dusk may approach, and people may whisper – the Empire stays true to its name.

For the Day 4 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I show you the 360-degree views from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I have posted pictures of the Empire State in the past, but these are from atop the structure.

We seek moments of happiness in the sea of structures. We can be in or among the concrete, but can’t become one ourselves. We can’t afford to be numb; it’s a short life.

IMG_3046The South view: Downtown Manhattan, Brooklyn, Hudson River, New Jersey. The Freedom Tower stands tall.

IMG_3078The North view: Midtown, Uptown, Central Park (being an oasis).

IMG_3148The East view: East River, Queens, Brooklyn. 5th avenue, in particular, is a memorable walk in Manhattan.

IMG_3066The West view: New Jersey, Hudson River. It’s a beautiful river separating Manhattan from New Jersey.

IMG_3051A panoramic view covering the East River, Downtown Manhattan, Hudson River, New Jersey, and a slice of the observation deck itself.

I link Sabiscuit for this challenge. Sabiscuit is an impressive blog.

The Yacht Man

For the Day 3 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I present to you the Yacht man. I took these pictures in the evening from the living room of our apartment.

He was up on the mast, perhaps repairing the halyard. But when I was clicking him I wondered as to what he had for lunch – if he had fought with his family that morning – and strangely – if he had added coke or soda to his vodka.

DSCN1555I don’t think he’s checking his mobile here. He may want to as the altitude might give him a good reception.

DSCN1564Here, he’s clearly trying to pull a tool out of his repair bag; he’ll have to find it first.

DSCN1553The work has begun, and he’s peering in the direction of Brooklyn.

DSCN1554Is someone calling him from below, or is he gauging the altitude? “Will I survive if I fall – and if I survive – what will be left of me?”

DSCN1562He has a good view of downtown Manhattan, and with dusk approaching, the Hudson River traffic will peak.

DSCN1545That’s the full view of the yacht and the man. Quite a way up.

DSCN1559A wider view.

DSCN1561The widest view the camera could capture. Can you spot the yacht man?

DSCN1565This is the most zoomed-out click. He looks tired.

It turned out by the end of it all that I had forgotten to eat lunch, had fought with family in the morning, and that I’d add coke or soda to my vodka when I drink.

I link Blewbird for this challenge. This blog has several breathtaking pictures. Please visit.

Love/Hate Snow 2

For the Day 2 of my B/W Photo Challenge, I want my snow assault to continue. But I promise that I’ll kindle you with warm subjects from Day 3 onward.

IMG_0359Have you ever tried sitting on them? If they are flurries the first five seconds would feel cushy. Thereafter: sit at your own risk.

11053084_10153219093570625_6815545349298158174_nWorkers shoveling snow was a good sight – because the sun shone bright, made their shadows bigger and kept them warm.

IMG_0329Most of us may frown at this when we don’t have to answer nature’s call. But when we have to, this may be the best thing in the world. Still, there are those who want cleaner options in times of crisis.

11025163_10153219094380625_8579846165506570706_nWhat the wheels could do to the whites: they become muddy, slushy, and lose what, the white.

IMG_0371All of us have a long, lone journey. We come and go, alone. It is the only truth, and once we understand this, we’ll be freer than before.

I link Maniparna for this challenge. Her posts are interesting, and her pictures mesmerizing.

Love/Hate Snow

This is my B/W post for Day 1 of the 5 Day photo challenge. The wonderful Prior linked me for this challenge.

We all know what happened in Massachusetts when it topped 100 inches of snow in a record breaking winter. Contrary to what the weathermen predicted, New York, New Jersey and some other states in the East Coast were spared the assault.

Though it’s been snowing in NY and NJ intermittently, snow fell for two consecutive days last week and showed more purpose.

Five pics from those days:

DSCN1816This gull is perched comfortably on a snow-kissed railing. If you look into its eyes, you see purpose without a purpose. Now that’s contradictory. Let me explain: (I feel) gulls live a purposeless life, but to be purposeless they have to be purposeful. Can they be the spiritual gurus of the birds fraternity?

DSCN1838If the bicycle were a man, he’d tell the snow, “Leave me alone. Attack a Mercedes instead.” 

DSCN1867These are not my footsteps, they could’ve been mine. I followed them, some followed mine.

DSCN1869A bed of crystals, upside down.

IMG_0379“Whose car is it?” “It’s mine.” “What will you do about it?” “What will you?” “Nothing.” “Nothing.”

I link the fascinating Kim Gosselin for this challenge considering she is a lovely photographer too.

Keeping it real and raw.

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