article, free speech, Journalism, life, politics

50-50 Democracy: India is a sinking boat for freethinkers

Ramachandra Guha very rightly characterised India as a 50-50 democracy, which upholds certain aspects of democracy with staunch rigidity like elections, while remaining uneasily lax about law and order as well as seething political corruption. India has time and again shown the extent of the culture of intolerance practised in the name of democracy. While ‘intolerance’ may be understood as someone’s democratic right, it cannot encroach another’s right to life and liberty. Taslima Nasreen is the latest (but not the first) victim of this intolerant strain.

Taslima Nasreen, who landed in Aurangabad with the intention of visiting Ajanta and Ellora caves, was barred from leaving her hotel premise by protesters, led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen MLA Imtiaz Jaleel. Her act was deemed offensive to Muslims residing in the city. Taslima has been in the past hounded by Islamist radicals due to her controversial views on Islam, which had caused a flurry in Bangladesh, leading to her exile from the country in 1994. And once again, with an apparent imminent threat to her well-being, she decided to leave.

Why do we as a nation promote the culture of intolerance? Books have been banned, writers roughed up for progressive criticism. A myriad of social factors, coupled with political complexities have made the political scenario unaccepting of voices of dissent. Freedom of speech has limits which make it hard, nay, impossible to voice opinions without hurting sentiments. We, as a society on the road of economic progress (and social, I pray), must realise that ‘Hurt sentiment’ is a part of the bargain we make to exercise free speech. We already have reasonable restrictions placed on free speech – no state can concede this right without ensuring the safety of its citizens. But so long as speech does not incite or in Guha’s terms, ‘advocate’ the use of physical violence, it must be a right that our democracy must defend. You may hold opinions in opposition to those of a writer but no sole individual or group can claim authority over the movement of an individual if he/she so wishes. This is undemocratic and unlawful.

Taslima Nasreen believes herself to be a crusader against religious fundamentalism; she desires to prove that Islam is not outside the ambit of critical scrutiny. The author’s criticism, which stems from contemporary political and social scenario, may be flawed. Although Bangladesh has, in recent times, seen many intellectuals being hacked for holding dissenting opinions.  To arrive on common ground, a culture of debate is needed, not that of brute force and hooliganism. A creative confluence of ideas is the bedrock of a democracy, which we promised to ourselves in our constitution.  But a set of archaic rules give the state a lot of latitude in placing limits to freedom of speech, which often pander to religious sentiments above individual liberty. We need to free India from the grip of identity politics that work, through the lens of caste and religious, to effectively throttle freedom of expression. Let the government not cow down to political considerations and rise above to reclaim India from its descent into a dark abyss of intolerance.

article, movie review, Uncategorized

Christopher Nolan outdid himself with Dunkirk

The movie is practically immune to spoilers so you may read this without fear

Nolan’s movies have an uncanny tentacular grip in my head and I often go back to them when time permits. I never expected any less from the man who gave us the Batman Trilogy and Inception. The mastermind Anglo-American director has never believed in a linear plot as his movies transverse several timelines. He does the same with Dunkirk, where he basically throws his audience in the deep end of the pool – an intense evacuation. I was at the edge of my seat throughout the film. Hans Zimmer’s music perfectly complements the cinematography. Travelling through land sky and sea, with the divisions never too clear, Dunkirk is one of the finest films I have ever seen. Like the sea which is a constant presence in the movie, dawning both death and life, the movie bobs and weaves for 2 hours, managing to keep you on your toes.

Centred around the historical rescue of stranded British and French soldiers at Dunkirk during the second world war as they are incessantly pounded by the Nazi forces, you may realise that you know the story before its even begun. But you don’t. The characters, adrift in time and experience are what make this story multi-dimensional – the soldiers barely surviving on the beach at Dunkirk, grasping their helmets and lives; the brave requisitioned civilian rescue boats that fight their way through treacherous seas and the pilots who circle the skies, taking down enemies.  Nolan pursues larger questions about life, time, memory and identity, deliberately stripping off all specifics of all character, their beginnings and ends like loose strings that can be tied at will. The experience is ethereal – the lost soldiers, dealing with personal identity amid a crisis that is manifested both internally and externally. These experiences on screen – Nolan-esque in portrayal – are metaphors of our daily life experiences anchored in great screenplay and outstanding cinematography. The different storylines run parallel yet overlap and it is heartening to see all of them come together in the end after a diligent struggle in space and time.

Unlike war genre movies that I have seen so far, Dunkirk doesn’t shove over-sentimentality down your throat nor does it rove on about struggle and some moral enigma. This film is less about war and more about survival – it brought to my mind GB Shaw’s ‘Arms and the Man’ which deviated from the norm of showing buck swaggering valiant soldiers to show the grim reality, the fear of death even in the bravest of men. Dunkirk is nothing but cinematic perfection and is yet another feather in the Nolan’s cap.

 

Picture: YouTube/Warner Bros

 

article, dharamsala, friends, india tourism, life, LOVE, memories, road trip, traveling, Uncategorized

The Road Trip

We pulled into Dharamsala around as the sun was first rising, with two fingers of light on the horizon. We crossed the breezy but narrow roads into the city limits, making our way to a bus depot.  Rubbing my sleep-filled eyes, I tried to peer through the hazy glass, at the snow-covered mountains on my right, the sky turning the color of light orange with wispy blue clouds at the edges, like froth at the top of a drink. Most of my classmates were asleep, the target of my envy —for the rumbling-swaying bus devoid me of the much-needed rest—considering we had a long day ahead of us.  I had stayed up, flitting in and out of sleep, leaning in, my weight on the shoulders of a friend, who had blissfully slept, much to my chagrin. We walked up to our hotel, with the taste of our exhaustion livid in our mouths, slept on the bed in the same outfit, only to wake up an hour later, drink a cup of coffee in the beautiful terrace area and later, drive to our first destination.

We had the trip of our lives, with the fear of imminent placements put mutually on the backburner. I have no adjectives to describe my classmates— they are the most eclectic bunch of people I have met! Our class would throw their hands up in the air and relax, with music in the background and a cigarette in their hand, than battle out political differences. This educational trip, or so it was meant to be, was a proof of our symbiotic association. We travelled all day, amidst the cliffs which were marked by tall trees along the roadsides, their arms up like they were being frisked. We ambled along a clammy-smelling, muddy trail to the Tibetan parliament in exile, and trudged lazily from a library to a human rights discussion. We braved the sleety rain ricocheting off the rocks. We were bemused by the plight of the young children at a Tibetan Children’s school and amused by the extremely cheap desserts at the Tibetan café.

We would come back to our hotel, exhausted from the day but pumped up for the night. Groups were fluid as people drifted in and out of different rooms with ease, some fumbling around for shampoo, and some for a matchbox. Amidst all the clamor of our incessant bickering and bluff sessions, we all felt united by one purpose—that we did not let our fears prevent us from missing out on this trip. We shared childhood (read embarrassing) anecdotes and danced to old Bollywood jingles into the night (well some did, I slept. Huge regrets.) I trekked — or something close enough to a trek —with my friends, without a care in the world, without any fear of being embarrassed of my child-like naivety. I’d like to think the time spent on a stony wall, within the reclaimed cathedral just off the road, brought us closer to each other. I’d like to hope that somehow, this short tour gave us all memories to store within each fleeting moment. Before we start feeling limited by our lives and jobs, penned in by money or family, we stretched out in our bit of the leg-room and somehow, just somehow, made this tour into the road trip we all dream about.

art, article, Donald Trump, HATRED, Journalism, social media, Uncategorized

Creative Resistance- How Art is fighting back Donald Trump

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Illma Gore knows that these words hold water. Having suffered backlash for her nude portrait with a micro-penis of the now incumbent President of the United States, Donald Trump, she began work on a piece of art, painted with human blood– 20 pints donated by those who share her cause- in association with activist collective INDECLINE as a protest against the election. Hers is not the sole crusade against the anti-feminist, anti-inclusion tainted president who now reigns as the leader of the free world. Another prominent artist, Shepard Fairey, released three politically charged posters, featuring an African-American, a Muslim and Latino women, titled “We the People”. All the three religious/ethnic groups had previously come under ire from the erstwhile presidential candidate, and Fairey felt the need to visually depict the same, in order to highlight their imminent vulnerability under his administration.

Another piece of art came under the political spotlight and it belonged to Richard Prince, an artist whose Instagram picture featuring Ivanka Trump, had earned him a $36000 bounty. In an act of protest, he denounced the work and returned the payment. His argument stated that as a means of an honest protest, he had to exercise his discretion regarding the Trumps, and that they ’are not art.’ Mr. Trump himself is apparently not an art person at all, his government planning on drastic cuts in the spending,including a probable elimination of National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, The Hill reported. The massive outburst against the palpable concerns of a population that considers the election as a national catastrophe is majorly pivoted around the same issue, if not having stemmed from it.

What prompts these protests? Such a collective response to an election, on a scale that has never been witnessed before, prompts an intense soul-searching, although it doesn’t take long for the water to boil. The populace that voted against Trump and his policies are now trying to galvanize fear and angst against his election and stand in opposition to his decrees. Many artists supported a strike on January 20th, which called for an “act of non-compliance” and urged museums, galleries, theatres and galleries to remain closed for the day. The J20 Art Strike witnessed response from places around the country albeit in different ways. While mass outspoken dissent has taken over the stage prior and following the election result, those whose voices have no public platform for outcry have taken to social media and visual medium to cut across barriers. Dozens of banners with messages of inclusivity and anti-racism adorned the buildings across Philadelphia and Atlanta on the Inauguration day.

All the dissenters speak one tongue, inspite of different mediums which emphasizes non-acceptance of divisive attitude, corrosive of the ideas of equality enshrined in a democracy. The paradigm shift in the concept of identity and the argument of white supremacy that underlines Trump’s narrative is the fodder that fuels the artistic cannons, whose call for arms is loud, distinct and unavoidable.

cover picture: fusion.net

article, fake news, jaipur, jaipur literature fest, jlf, Journalism, life, politics, Post-Truth, social media, Uncategorized

What is the brouhaha around POST-TRUTH?

The culminating session at the famed Jaipur Literature fest was dedicated to this deceptive word which made its appearance in the Oxford dictionary as the word of the year and has since been doing the rounds. What is Post-Truth to be precise? And why does it bug the eminent so much that we had to sit through an hour of grueling high-spirited cacophony that was the ‘debate’?

Apologies for the monotony but Post-Truth refers to ‘Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Makes sense. But its sudden encroachment of the entire spotlight in the modern political debate is rather baffling. While in India, political debate has always been framed around appeals to emotions, the original area of Post-Truth cultural debate was discussed around Capitalism. But now, since the latest events have turned all the predictions of political pundits upside down, the word has made a come-back in the dominant narrative, fueled primarily by the anti-establishment wave that brought Brexit supporters and Trump to power.

The eminent panelists at the JLF debate titled ‘We are living in a post-truth world’, included names of Barkha Dutt, Shashi Tharoor, Suhel Seth, Anne Waldman, Prasoon Joshi, Swapan Das Gupta, Luke Harding, Ashutosh Varshney and David McWilliam.

With the onslaught of fake news on Social Media, and a platform to voice their opinions, people have turned opinion-makers in the online culture, with little discretion between right and wrong, fact and fiction. This was the peg of the debate which took different roads with no conclusive decision. All the panelists, saving Luke Harding, talked about the multiplicity of truth, it being a subjective unquantifiable idea, and differed on the exactness of the phenomenon. While Barkha Dutt set the tone of the debate by arguing in the favour of the motion, she was countered by Prasoon Joshi. Joshi talked about how all the concepts have emanated from an emotional anchor. However it is the situation of lies being paraded as facts that was a bothering notion to him, instead of the glamorous idea of Post-truth. Anne Waldman, who reiterated that we have always lived in a post-truth world, went a notch higher, criticizing the word to be patriarchal.

Suhel Seth was at his witty best; while blaming Barkha Dutt of audience-manipulation, he claimed the idea of Post-Truth to be a media cook-up. Public discourse is manipulated around the world to suit individual agendas. Seth spoke on how, ‘we know how to distinguish facts from lies, even if lies get perpetuated. Thus we do not live in a post-truth world, ‘he declared, adding ‘the idea that we only live in a world of truisms and not lies, or only lies and not truisms in itself is facetious.’

Luke Harding made a very accurate point of the world witnessing a ‘new breed of authoritarian leaders’ like Putin and Trump who have monopolized knowledge of certain events and hence are in the position to disseminate ideas, strutted as Truth through media. Ashutosh Varshney was sombre compared to the animated debaters Swapan Das Gupta and Suhel Seth. Quoting Nietzsche, Gramsci and Foucault, he argued how this concept is not a sudden idea, and has been talked about by scholars in the past. The ruling elite in any economy will always have the power to mould social consciousness.

Tharoor on the other hand, started with an anecdote and concluded with the supremacy of Truth and also the truth of one’s entitlement to an opinion but not the facts. It is not a Post Truth world; only a world where it is easier to spread lies, and counter them.

The malleability of facts, which has eroded the credibility of journalism, is worth contemplating. Relativism has crept its way to Post-truth, with multiple narratives giving way to factual inaccuracy. India has almost always lived in a Post-Truth world, with a diabolical existence that speaks volumes about the contradictions of the country. One of the key debate discussions included that of the Demonetisation drive, which was promulgated with the intention of helping the poor but has in fact aggravated their dire condition.

While Barkha Dutt, who claimed that ‘Lies and propaganda have always been the bedrock of politics’, tried to reign in the diametrically divided opinions of the vociferous speakers, the debate concluded just like it had started- loud and ambiguous.

featured image source:hindustantimes.com

article, jaipur, jaipur literature fest, jlf, life, literature and books, Uncategorized

One Great Literati Gathering

Jaipur Literature Fest, 10th edition

To all the art lovers, Jaipur Literature Fest comes as a breath of fresh air amidst the entire socio-political chant. It’s our escape into a literary world, which manages to allure the most disbelieving of people into its fold.  A 5-day extravaganza that is held in the pink (and ostensibly rich) city, Jaipur Literature Fest is an annual pilgrimage of sorts to most ardent of its lovers. One of the greatest literary shows in the country and with 10 years of history to its credit, JLF has hosted eminent writers, poets, business leaders, entertainers, thinkers, historians, politicians and humanitarians from all over the world on a common stage, their voices easily accessible to the masses.

In the decadal celebration of the amalgamation of literature, music and ideas, 2017 JLF promised to be bigger and better than before. Diggi Palace Hotel, which serves as the venue for the largest free literary festival in the world, is an erstwhile royal residence, which is still partly occupied by the royal family, who also run the hotel. The lush lawns and grandeur of the frescos and architecture, the place itself has an intoxicatingly rich history.

While many question the viability of the commercial idea behind the event, and whether bigger translates into a ‘better’ event at all, JLF has only gone from strength to strength as its attendance has grown each year and has turned into a motley gathering of authors and artists. This year is no less as the illustrious line-up made for a promising show. This year’s keynote address was delivered by two poets of international repute- Gulzar and Anne Waldman.

Gulzar’s speech was pivoted around the diversity of Indian Languages and how the term ‘regional language’ was for all we know, derogatory to the potency of the languages, which make up an extensive and exhaustive body of literature. He also laid bare the importance of being ‘grounded’-rooted firmly to our beliefs- in order to succeed in life. Anne Waldman, Beat poet and activist, was her poised self as she spoke poignantly about the dark contemporary times, and recited the poem-song Anthropocene Blues. She also described the present political scenario as a ‘war of imagination’ and reiterated the relevance of literature and poetry as a spiritual practice.

Among other revered authors to speak at the event include the likes of Man Booker Prize winners Paul Beatty, Alan Hollinghurst and Richard Flanagan; Kunga Tenzin Dorji, Journalist, Broadcaster & Musician; Mark Tully, Writer, Journalist & Broadcaster; Guillermo Rodriguez, Writer & Cultural Activist; Shashi Tharoor,writer, politician and an event veteran; Barkha Dutt and lyricist Prasoon Joshi.  With over 300 speakers and multiple sessions spread across five days, the festival has all the makings of a huge success.

Time Out says for the fest-“It’s settled. The Jaipur Literature Festival is officially the Woodstock, Live 8 and Ibiza of world literature. The Frankfurt Book Fair and the Booker Prize Awards are like watching the Pope sleep compared to an ambience best described as James Joyce meets Monsoon Wedding.”

 It couldn’t have been said any better.

article, marine life, ocean, REALISM, road trip, sea, traveling, Uncategorized

Jamnagar’s limestone fortress

Ankle deep waters glistening under the bright sun, with beautiful marine life, all culminate into a dream-like day. Gujarat’s town of Jamnagar, nestled near the western coast in the Gulf of Kutch, is an uncommon place for a vacation, often subdued into near oblivion by its sister towns Rajkot and Dwarka.  Jamnagar plays host to India’s first Marine Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park spread across 162.89 Square Kilometers of Marine National Park and 457.92 Square Kilometers of Marine Sanctuary.

The drive to the marine park is marked by a narrow road into the reserve. We would’ve been oblivious to its existence had my dad’s curiosity not led us to the gates with the aim of discovering that which no one knows about. And we were in for a pleasant surprise. Not just that. An archipelago of 42 islands (which are not inhabited by more than a dozen people at any time) the best being Pirotan, Karubhar, Narara, Poshitra are accessible by boat rides. One needs to carry bottled water for the lack of drinking water facilities. This untouched serene beauty is a spectacle in itself.

The coral walk, which is the most celebrated part of the Jamnagar tourism, is conducted during the low tide and takes about 3-4 hours. Coral reefs are discernible in the 1-2 feet shallow water, with mutable colours, host to a variety of small fish. During the low tide, the water recedes enough to enable a walk into the wide opening spread across a vast expanse of ocean bed, which reveal the veritable underwater forest. You don’t have to dive deep into the sea to be a witness to the marine life that makes itself visible to the naked eye in this marine park. Discovering the place on foot is marvelous. The guides will pick up a stray slimy octopus or a puffer fish, with jaws strong enough to chip off a coral! Sea turtles, lobsters, crabs, dolphins, ray fishes, jelly fish, star fish, sea anemones are other vibrant specimens of oft-sighted marine delights. . If one is lucky, dolphins can be seen rising to the surface for the delight of all the watchers. In winters, migratory birds dot the sky as travellers make their way through the shallow waters. The tranquil waters of Chejja creek are complemented by mangroves forest on both sides which trail the path to one of the islands. We walked about a kilometer into the park, with bent necks hoping to catch a glimpse of this beautiful show.

The colourful but fragile eco-system at display is unmarred by human existence owing to its almost non-existent common knowledge beyond the edges of the city. As we made our way back to our car, we looked back to see water slowly filling up the space our footprints had left. The park will live another day, safe from our destruction.