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, 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.

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, bosphorous, istanbul, life, LOVE, traveling, turkey, Uncategorized

ISTANBUL – A trip to the Turkish Delight

Istanbul, the gorgeous capital of Turkey, can boast of many things, being an exciting amalgamation of the old and the new, the traditional treats and the modern breath. Napoleon Bonaparte rightly exclaimed- If Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital. It has had an adventurous journey, having been founded in 660BC as Byzantium, and then falling into the hands of the Roman conqueror Constantine, who christened the place as Constantinople. It earned its new name, Istanbul, in 1930, after Turkey became a republic in 1923.

Sitting on the famed European-Asian border, the city has much to offer in terms of stunning architecture, historical delights and boat trips on the Bosphorous, one of the world’s busiest waterways, connecting countries to the Mediterranean.

The Grand Bazaar

The bazaar is famed for being the oldest and the largest covered market in the world, with over 4000 stalls to entice any shopaholic’s interest. Situated in the Old City, Kalpali Çarsi has an assortment of thoroughfares from carpets to brassware. Be sure to haggle, for the merchants are known to often bend a little.

The Topkapi Palace

Home to the stunning 86 carat Spoonmaker Diamond, the palace was once the palatial residence of the Ottoman Rulers. The garden is a stunning piece of art, and overlooks the Sea of Marmara. Containing four courtyards and a number of other smaller structures, the palace’s Construction began in 1459, ordered by Sultan Mehmed II. It became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985. It is now a museum and shows on display beautiful Ottoman jewelry among other artifacts.

Hagia Sophia

It transcended a journey from a church to a mosque and now finally rests as a fine museum and one of the city’s favourite destinations. The byzantine architecture, with the intricate mosaics and marble pillars make for a beautiful scene.

The Basilica Cistern

All Dan Brown fans out there will remember the mention of this place in his book titled INFERNO, where the 6th century structure does not fail to impress even the most unassuming. Known locally as the Sunken Palace, one must make an eerie-full descend into the cavern which houses three hundred and thirty six columns with bases in a few feet of water. It was earlier used to store water for the nearby buildings. It might remind you of the nail-biting end of the movie, the dramatic setting of which will make you visit this place for a closer look.

The Bosphorous

Istanbul’s waterway, which forms the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, is straddled by the metropolitan population. It divides the Asian Turkey from its European counterpart, but what it does better is give the travelers a beautiful boat-ride.  The city’s official ferry company, Sehir Hatlari, offers short, full and night cruises to suit individual needs; and for a more breath-taking local experience, hop onto a ferry bustling with Turkish tea-sippers and catch a glimpse of the sun setting across an orange sky.

Hamam

For those jet-lagged days and sore travelling feet, the experience of Hamam is a must. The traditional spa experience in the old city includes masseurs engaging in the ritualistic series of soaking, scrubbing, exfoliating and rinsing treatments. It all varies according to the bathhouse; however, if one wishes to splurge, most hotels offer modern versions of the same experience.

Galata Tower

The spectacular view of the city from this towering structure is a must see for all first-timers.

Istanbul Modern

A perfect glimpse into the contemporary art scene of the city, the converted Warehouse near Karaköy on the banks of Bosphorous, showcases works of Turkish artists, sculptors and photographers. Book a table at the outdoor terrace Restoran Im and mix Cuisine with culture which makes for a sumptuous visit.  A set of Rainbow stairs nearby join Findikli to Cihanger.

Rumeli Hisari

The ruins of an old fortress, Rumeli Hisari,are located in the Sarıyer district of Istanbul, Turkey, on a hill at the European side of the Bosphorus. Since the 20th century, the place has been a museum and also doubles up as an open-air theater for various concerts at festivals during the summer months.

 

Lastly try the Turkish coffee, which is a thick concoction of black unfiltered coffee. ‘Mandabatmaz’ is one of the most famous variants!

*Featured picture credit- onorient.com

animals, article, cat, life

Diwali Blues

via Discover Challenge: Animal

While most of my peers were busy uploading Diwali pictures in pretty clothes, much to my chagrin, I was nestled in the warm albeit dark corner of a cozy closet, which had doubled up as the nursery for my pregnant and visibly-in-labour cat, Hyde*. It all started on the night before Diwali, and the entire day was spent comforting my little kitten that was quickly (and annoyingly) on her way to motherhood.

With my phone in one hand, I probably spent hours surfing the internet, and hissing at random posts of people busy in Diwali festivities. I am not much of a festival fan, but I like getting together with people and dressing up in great clothes once in a while, so yeah, you get my point. I was almost fuming, as I sat on my bed, comforting Hyde, who was getting more anxious by the minute, with her tail constantly fluttering around my face, her way of catching attention. I petted her head and ran my fingers along her shiny coat. I could almost read her mind, as she jumped from the bed to the table, knocking a few things in the process. She must’ve been blaming Zaru, my elder male cat, who was probably the reason why she was now visibly exhausted (and fat).  Exhaustion was something we both had in common I guess.

So Hyde’s pregnancy had limited my Diwali revelries to the confines of my room, with my sister and mother in tow, who were both busy in stocking supplies and preparing probably the most weirdly comfortable birthing area for our cat. And that’s how the closet was chosen since it was dark and cozy, both things a cat’s favourites. We all manned the gate and alternated between attending to guests and pampering Hyde. Her condition worsened and we were overcome by a sense of foreboding- maybe her inexperience was hindering the delivery. Three years ago I had lost a cat to labour pains, and I couldn’t bear to think of past repeating itself.

In all the tension and chaos,Diwali came and went. The next morning, my mother called up the Vet in order to ensure that Hyde was tended to by a professional instead of us amateurs. But of the only two days his clinic is closed, Hyde had inadvertently chosen one. My mother hustled to find another doctor. In the entire frantic search for help, we left Hyde alone for a while. When my mother next checked on her an hour later, at around 9 in the bright sunny morning after Diwali, Hyde had become a gorgeous mother to two babies who looked just like her and were nestled carefully in the curve of her stomach.

One look at the kids and all my vanity vanished into thin air. I couldn’t remember the disappointment but only joy enveloped my mind. My mother finds solace in the belief that our love for them comes back to us through each happy day that we spend with each other. And I’d like to have faith in her faith. The quiet Diwali blues are a thing of the past. Those tiny fur balls were worth sacrificing any damn festival.

Always.

 * the cat in the picture is Hyde, with her two pretty kittens, Max and Cooper.

 

article, life, traveling

To the Roots of Immortality

Trekking to this entangled mass of root is every man’s dream and no child’s play

Meghalaya is quite a serene state – the only welcoming sounds are the bubbling streams that overflow the narrow banks as the rain fills them with gushing water. And I am not romanticizing to the point of exaggeration. The state can boast of a lot of things, among them, having one of the wettest places in the world as a tourist destination – Cherrapunji. The monsoons are the best time to visit our Eastern counterpart. The southern Khasi and Jaintia hills are humid and generally moss covered, the dense woods resonating with chirping birds that fly across swelling streams and crisscrossing rivers. The trees are a different green, carpeted across as far as the eye can see. I remember driving into the quaint, quiet town, panning my head left to right lest I missed something. The beautiful interiors, with tiny wooden huts strewn on the sides of curvy roads lead your imagination to distant places in some far off imaginary land. It literally rains almost all the time, the pitter-patter of the rain makes for your lullaby and the morning wake up call. Cherrapunji is about 3-4 hours’ drive from Shillong, the famous city that often overshadows the little rainy town.

Nestled deep in the forests, at the slope of these hills, lie the quaint root bridges that are a treasure trove of wondrous sights. Those who come to Shilling and drive up to Cherrapunji, cherish their decision for perpetuity. The Ficus elastica, a species of Indian rubber tree with an incredibly strong root system thrives and flourishes in this area. The tree produces secondary roots from higher up its trunk; roots which can comfortably perch themselves atop boulders across riverbanks. The Khasi tribe – which has been long credited for recognising the ingenuous trait of the tree, and utilising it as an opportunity to cross the area’s many rivers – use sliced and hollowed betel nut trunks to assemble a guiding system for the roots. As the roots cling to the betel trunks, they reach the other side and are allowed to take root in the soil, leading to the final magnificent structure: a sturdy, living root bridge. There is something eerie about them, and they wouldn’t really look out of place in a fantastical world.

THE TREK

One special root bridge, believed to be the only one of its kind in the world, is actually two bridges which are set naturally one overarching above the other and is called the ‘Umshiang Double-Decker Root Bridge.’ The trek to this bridge starts from a narrow path which descents as one travels further. Some 3500 steps guide you down to crystal clear streams which form a small pool at the base of the trees, the roots of which hang above it like an earthly chandelier.

With each subsequent step, the noise of the world is left behind and the chaos dies a peaceful death. The steps are moss covered and all you have are sturdy bamboo sticks to help you balance out. You have to be careful, or you might break a couple of bones. A good pair of shoes may be your lifesaver in the treacherous trek. The trip is exhausting, but nevertheless it’s the last thing that will cross your mind after you reach the destination.

Going down the stairs is not an issue- gravity lends a generous hand too. It is the walk back that is the daunting task. The steps are extremely intimidating – I am a regular trekker so I don’t say it lightly. But the on-foot exploration of the place is to be waited for, with bated breaths. The slope works against you and you might feel your feet buckle occasionally from all the strain, but when you see local children trot down the slippery slopes in oversized broken chappals sans sticks, it rejuvenates you and you begin to take strides with renewed vigour. The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional. They’re extraordinarily strong. Because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time and most of the ancient root bridges in Cherrapunji may be well over 500 years old. The trail helps you unearth many beautiful aspects of the place.

 

How can such an unnerving trek feel like walking headfirst into the lap of nature and being one with the surroundings?

Seeing the bridge at first makes your heart skip a beat. The place which appeared to be inaccessible suddenly looms in front of you, larger than life in its dimensions and looks like the work of some gifted craftsman who weaves magic with his hands. The sight is etched deep and clear in my head. The stream, which flows silently underneath the huge structure, reflects the beauty as the sun sparkles off its surface, making the place almost ethereal. I remember people being extremely quiet after the arduous trek, and I still believe they were all trying to drink in the magic and beauty of the place, capture its essence for eternity.

While the sun is still high, it does well for one to lounge around, sit with the locals who often pass by the place. You might stumble upon some legends of the place that make for great stories around the fire. These root bridges are an integral part of the culture of the Khasi tribes, who have, through their efforts over the generations, taken the onus of saving and celebrating all that nature has to offer. What makes this union of man and nature more special is that it is a specimen of a man using his constructiveness to project a microcosm of nature’s abundance.

While modernisation coupled with fast paced industrialisation threatens to trample tribal culture in a major part of eastern states, to see some still live at peace in an antiquated hamlet brings peace to me in my mundane metropolitan existence. While life is hectic all year round, visits like these make for the perfect escape and it doesn’t take much to realize that it is imperative for us to protect these natural wonders for the sake of the future which is inextricably linked to our present.